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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Post in 2010

It's been a long year in 2010.  Well, I would say that except things have passed by so fast I haven't even seen the year past.  Just one year ago I was with Brian and his family enjoying the end of 2010.. glasses of champagne were raised, we ate an amazing meal and then.. in a sad way.. we separated in January to do a long distance relationship for 6 more months.

During the first half of 2010 I was constantly wrapped up in my studies, getting A's and putting in the back of the mind the fact I would be leaving in June to live in France.

Time flew, tears flew, another airport trip and the horrible 12 hour flight and I was in the arms of France herself.  Summertime was a mess of apartment hunting and minor discoveries; a trip to Spain with the family left me about 10 pounds heavier and happy as ever.

School started and I realized French was a force to reckon with, I fell on the Velo'v and totally busted up my knee.  The knee was destroyed during my birthday, I turned 23 years old, I had a dinner party, I had another party, Brian turned 23.

My French family invited me for a Thanksgiving celebration, I decided not to make pumpkin pie because when I described it in French the resulted look was disgust.  I welcomed my baby brother to France; had a beautiful Christmas, had a crazy experience in Amsterdam; received my first Le Creuset.. and french parfum.

It was a beautiful year and I welcome 2011 in France, my new life, my new city.  I love it here and I'll always consider both Portland and Lyon my homes.

I have great expectations for the new year.. and I am excited.  Here are some of my favorite memories/posts in 2010:

4 Days in France
My First Marche Experiences
Suddenly Two Months Passed
Amazing Discovery of French Food Prices
23.. Messed up Knee
Got involved in a Riot
Baby Speaking Adventures
Christmas in France
My Resolutions

It was a beautiful year.  I look forward to another wonderful year in France in 2011.


See you in 2011!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Advice: Accord and the Wines

Every dish in the French repertoire comes in multiple intricacies. First, which ingredients go into the dish (the freshness of the produce, the quality of the meats);  second, what recipe to use that allows the dish to have the most natural and authentic flavor;  finally, what wine will go with the dish.

Wine with the meal is a tradition in France that is as built into the society as hamburgers to the American system.  I recall when I was a child, sitting around with my family and my mother would tell me about the French culture- how from the time children were 12 they were given wine to taste; often mixed with water.  That tradition has changed, as it came from the 50's, following the war; but the tradition of a perfect matched wine with meals remains intact.

This is where I find myself in a very American in France dilemma- tomorrow night is the 'Reveillon' or the 'News Year's Eve' celebration at my French Family's house.  I found out what they will be serving and I've endowed the responsibility on myself to pick out a nice wine to go with the meal- or at least to start it.  Where can an American go to get some of these wonderful insights?

First off: Directly to a 'cave' or a specialist in wine sells.  Nicolas is a very popular cave in France, and simply by describing to the patron what type of meal, what the price range should be for the bottle and how many people will be there- he will flourish a bottle of wine perfectly matched.

French not quite strong enough to detail a meal?

Try this websitehttp://www.platsnetvins.com/  It is a wine-accordance website written in French.  Simply write into the search box the type of plate you are trying to match (such as Fois Gras, or Porc) and the results will pop out a listing of wines that will match perfectly with the plate.

Still feeling a bit lost; or looking for more specific?

You could try a course in being a Sommelier; or 'Oenologie'http://www.vin-restaurant-lyon.com/cours-d-oenologie.php  it's about a spendy 300€ but you'll be guaranteed to have a great outlook on how to match meals.

Some people have told me they live in France and rarely drink wine- it's very rare and sometimes it happens, even in French Families, but the common stance is simple.  France is a wine country.  It's easy to find a cheap bottle of Cellier des Dauphins in the grocery store for a mere 1.45€ and it will go well with dinner.  A glass of wine a night is a healthy lifestyle and it may be one of the many secrets to living a long life- who knows.  All I know is I enjoy the wine life and I'm trying to open my mind more in 2011 so I'm not just blindly picking red wines.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obligatory Julia Child Post

Any expatriate living in France has had a moment of happiness with Julia Child, people who love to cook even more, people who love people- the most.  I spent my day in bed yesterday and I got around to watching old episodes of "the French Chef" and realized how amazing she truly was.

More than just the woman who brought French cooking to America, she also was one of the pioneers in documenting the true France before it began getting overrun with other cultures.  She witnessed the changes in marchés to supermarchés, she detailed her love affair with the sole meunière.  Ironically I was first introduced to Mrs. Julia Child when I was 18 and had no care for cooking- but was an avid addict to the Food Network.  I received the book Julia & Julia and ravished it; it took be about 2 days to finish and although I loved the funny humor surrounding the giant Mastering the Art of French Cooking I found that Julie Powell left little for those who have a deep seeded love for France and cooking.

Hungry, I found copies of the French Chef, Child's series from the younger years.  I watched her flipping and messing up potatoes, squirting garlic juice everywhere, making giant messes, losing her train of thought- but always turning out delicious plates of food.

I read through her biography and felt a certain coven within her words; but even moreso when I moved to France 7 months ago.  I recently picked up the book from it's shrine (I don't really have a shrine.. ..) and started reading through it once again.  Her mishaps in the market, the language barriers, her beautiful relationship with Paul, her love for French food and the French market; I realized that Julia Child is the expatriate's dream... she can relate and yet humor the differences.

Kinship.  She describes in a simple phrase that she found herself floating more away from the American culture into the French culture, as if she, herself, were meant to be French.  Her friendships with the French women, the fact that although French people seem cold, they are in fact the warmest group.  Every word is true.  I'm sure that if Julia Child had an expatriate blog, hers would surpass mine in quality and essence.  Her trips to the marché reminded me of my fiasco with the peach vendor in the summertime, her evenings with friends to the 'American Gut' that can't handle French food (as she says, it's not so much the French food but the fact that dinner is multiple courses, all rich and drowning in different wines)/

Mastering the Art of French cooking is a sort of cooking bible, especially for the American girl trying to feed the French guy.  There have been many times I needed her recipe for the Quiche Lorraine or Salade Niçoise.  French people are particular about their meals, moreso now that they have official gastronomic status in UNESCO standards.  From types of potatoes (there are many) to what kind of lentil to use, French cooking is an art, one that is a necessity for an expatriate to master.

So, in this obligatory Julia Child post, I want to send my love to the woman and thank her for making my transition to life that much more easier; giving me the balls to discuss the products with the veggie market vendor and know that I should never apologize just move forward.  Besides, what happens in the kitchen when you are alone, is no one's business... except maybe Ms. Child's.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Beautiful Christmas

This weekend was a beautiful Christmas; it was one of those events that you can't forget and will always be a happy memory.  Everyone went to bed on Christmas Eve around 3:30am, following in extensive French dinner.  Unbeknown to me, my Bro detests seafood- and by chance the entire meal was of a seafood theme.  Starting with small toasts spread with eggs and 'crustacean butter', following with a decadent supply of oysters, smoked salmon, a seafood main dish composed of 'Coquilles st Jacques'.  The end of the meal marked the end of seafood for my bro for a LONG time.. but for those of us less picky the meal was a success and was quite delicious.

The spirit of Christmas carries over even when you are in your 20's... at 9am exactly, even if we didn't sleep very well the night before, our eyes popped open.  Bri was in charge of getting everyone else up and I was in charge of keeping the bed warm.  By 10am we were eating a light breakfast and 10:30am gifts were being opened.

Everyone got beautiful gifts, Bri got an electric razor, a new shirt and a Kinect, Bro got his complete French outfit; Brice got a selection of nice clothes, his girlfriend got some perfume and other lovely gifts- everyone got something and it was about a 2 hour opening session.

Bri got me something so amazing, knowing that I am not the typical jewelry and makeup type girl; he searched his heart to buy a gift he knew I would love and have for a long time.

My very own 'Le Creuset'.

He was beautiful, the deep enameled surface that guaranteed the lifetime of the product- the bright red color and the beautiful wooden handle.  It was perfect.

It didn't stop there, not only did I get my first 'Le Creuset' but I got by first French parfum.  I always see the pubs on the television describing the perfect smell and perfume- it's a part of the French culture.  Never once did I actually buy the perfum; but his parents decided it was time.  I had lived in France for about 7 months now, Bri and I had been together for almost 2 years and it was time...

of course they know, as well as Bri, that I am not just for the superficial and for a safe measure tossed in a set of cocottes and a cookbook... just in case.

Christmas presents lasted for about two hours, and in the end we were all exhausted and not very hungry.  We ended up eating another huge 'Christmas Lunch' at 4:00pm, as tradition enables, and that was another incredible meal; this time with a beautiful Christmas turkey, cardons and more Yule Logs.

I was amazed while discussing with my French family the fact that so many French people think that life in America is so grand.  They asked me if I thought it was better there than here, if I wanted to go back, what opportunities were different.  I came to the conclusion that the United States is a great country if you have a lot of money; if not, as a poor student or family, France is much more idealistic and offers many more opportunities to live a normal life.  A person can live a French life in America if they have enough money, there are replacement grocery stores like Zupan's, and it's possible to have that $3 baguette  every day- if your budget is big enough.

All in all it was a successful Christmas; one full of smiles and happiness and one where I got some very nice gifts to take home- I cannot WAIT to try my Creuset!

The Three Boys (Brian, Brice, Jason) on Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Found: Rue de la Charité

The other day I was venturing to my typical Super Marché (U-Express) when I took a wrong turn and ended up down a street that I didn't recognize.  I thought I had labelled every little street on my Googlemap, the places with the good boulangeries, the fromageries- but this was a new discovery!

From Place Bellecour, there's a little street called, "Rue de la Charité".  This street is a little hidden gem in the metropolis we call Lyon; a small street, one way even.  Along this street there are several different merchants within one block;  2 boulangeries with high quality, yet modestly priced bread-goods; 1 fromagerie where I found a decadent 'St. Marcelin' for only 3.95€.  A vegetable market (although more expensive than the marchés), a boucherie and to top it all off a 'multi-use' store by the U brand... where one can find the basics that a Target would offer back home.

Between 30 to 60 Rue de la Charité one could do all their shopping in style, the prices are not excessive; and it's a nice change from the typical super marché atmosphere; besides this is part of my long list of resolutions.  Julia Child would spend a day hunting for the perfect ingredients for a meal, even though this time has been condensed into Super formats- I still find a little excitement from smelling the cheese shop or talking directly with the guy who is butchering my meat.

Googlemaps haven't quite caught onto this little street of dreams; and I hope it remains in it's little secret space.

Happy shopping!


Friday, December 24, 2010

What-What: Christmas in France

It seems as I get older the year seems to slip through my fingers- and now I find myself, once again, in France on Christmas Eve.

Christmas has many connotations for many people; if you are religious, then you know the whole nativity story; you may also know the story of King Harod and his whole fit to kill all the babies- those stories are not so much my cup of tea.. so I tend to see Christmas as a gathering time; a time where we all can get together and eat until we explode, drink until we can't see straight and wake up to pillage whatever is under the tree.

In France, there is so much more; traditions of course are around- the typical sapin de Noël and the Christmas buche.  However, I find, here we tend to enjoy just a little more.

Tonight will start with an enormous supper...

Course 1:  Oysters and champagne
Course 2:  Smoked salmon, buttered toast and Foie Gras (if you're a vegetarian.. you are missing out) w/ a nice sweet white wine.
Course 3:  Some main dish of meat/a side of vegetables
Course 4:  Fruits
Course 5:  Assortment of delicious cheeses
Course 6:  Bûche de Noël, or a 'yule log' a rolled up cake... with buttercream frosting.
Course 7:  Digestif and Papillotte

At the end we will all roll around the house and digest while plotting when we will deliver our gifts downstairs.  The goal is to not be seen by anyone, a sort of pseudo-Santa.

To describe what it's like to experience a Christmas in France would be like trying to describe the delicacies in a Foie Gras; it's 10x better than any Christmas in America because it incorporates this sentiment with food.  Eating is always an integral piece to our culture here, but Christmas ups the ante and makes it a holiday where you can't leave your seat because you are so full.  Yes, the moral apprehensions with Foie Gras remain- but it's simply a part of a culture.  If you're going to drink the Champagne from France, you have to try the Foie Gras.

Tomorrow I'll be getting pictures up, so the enticement of the meal will be before your eyes.  I hope anyone out in the States will be eating heartily as well, and if not, I 'chine' to you and will eat a piece of Foie Gras and some oysters on your behalf!

Merry Christmas and Joyeaux Noël!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Resolutions

Every year we all make those promises that often we never keep.  I am more of a 'multiple resolution' type person and tend to make very specific lists of goals for the upcoming year.  Some of them are so specific, but some are general.  It makes me feel good knowing a new year is here and everything starts fresh in 2011.

  1. Lose the 10 lbs I probably gained during French Christmas
  2. Start walking fast..
  3. Start jogging..
  4. Start running..
  5. Try to do some yoga videos a few times a week
  6. Learn a complicated French recipe
  7. Invite a group of 5 to the apartment for dinner
  8. Try to buy veggies at marché as much as possible..
  9. Going with #8, try to get up at normal hours
  10. Pay closer attention to my friends
  11. Do a good job for my new job
  12. Try to keep apartment in suitable condition for living
  13. Go on a Beaujolais tour
  14. Try to go for brisk evening walk after dinner with Brian each night
  15. Get into a Master's program and get visa renewed
  16. Take more pictures to share with family
  17. Replace the toilet paper when it runs out- I never do.
  18. Try to pay the basics and then.. pay off my credit cards
  19. Learn a new dance
  20. Get into one of those fancy French clubs
  21. Plan something epic for our 2 year anniv'
  22. Try some new French cheese
  23. Totally shop at the marchés, veggie market, boucheries, boulangeries and fromageries... no more American shopping!
  24. Call my brother back in the States at least 4-5 times a week
  25. Study my French more often and make an effort to speak 'en Français' with Bri
  26. Make more unique meals
  27. Write all the books that I've been keeping in my head
  28. Write more advice columns and get back on board with the daily bloggin'!
I'll stop at 28 to avoid a total explosion of resolutions.. I have such big plans for 2011, but the first priority is to finish 2010; Christmas is in a couple of days and I guarantee that it's gonna be a biggin' this year.

What are you resolving to do in 2011 in Lyon?


    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    14 Hour Delay & 3 Boys

    12:30am on Friday night all 4 of us (Bri, bro, Bri's bro) were having difficulties sleeping, it was like Christmas the next morning... we were going to Amsterdam!

    I'm not sure what I was on when I decided to go to Amsterdam with 3 guys.  As a sort of anthropological phenomenon, they tend to change into something else when in groups.  They resemble a band of apes... of course there is that normal behavior of jumping around, but now we add to the rapport:  pulling/punching each other, which immediately makes we worry someone will break an arm or bloody a nose by accident, but I know all is well when I am trying to intervene and there is a big smile on their face, much like human-puppies.  The worst of the list is the loss of bodily functions and social manners.  Before when burping at the table was followed by a polite, "excuse me" and the seat was always kindly put back down for ladies- now all is out the windows.

    I'll leave a room for a few minutes to use the restroom- the seat is up, often (most disgustedely) sprinkled with urine.  I put the seat down, return to a room of mania; one decided to let gas loose, another is waving around frantically laughing so hard they too let gas loose and the third decides to top it all off with a grotesque bellowed burp.  All rules that they mother taught them does not apply, and I am definitely not in a Alpha position to say otherwise.  I think this is why in the animal kingdom there are often more females in a troupe than males; too many males would just be chaos.

    Not everything is bad travelling around with 3 practically grown guys, I also feel very protected.  Even if I am older than all of them, I know that if anyone tried to bother me or disturb my peace, 3 of them looks better than 1 of them, and no one wants to mess with angry brothers.

    So the 14 hour delay..

    I finally got everything into bed by 12:30am that night and stuffed some earplugs into my ear to get some sleep.  3 hours later, 3:45am, we were up, shuffling around, eating breakfast, chanting our Amsterdam songs.  Breakfast down throats. Check.  Coffee in me.  Check.  Bags ready to go.  Check.  Wait- gloves.. *followed by 30 minutes of chaos of finding Bro's gloves, not succeeding, being told mom would always have a plan*

    We were out the door on the RhoneExpress before we knew it.  Perfect timing, everything was going great!!  The light dusting of snow had remained light throughout the night and the only indication for a late flight was about an hour delay.

    Oh boy.

    We got to check in, dropped our bags and wandered to our gate- me more like herding the three big guys and ensuring nothing was lost along the way.  The hour delay turned into two hours, then three, then a cancellation.  We ran back to the ticketing line, got put onto the next flight at 10:30, which they assured looked better.  Repeat.  The security guys were beginning to become my close friends!  At the gate, two then three hours later.. canceled.  Repeat.  By 1pm we had been canceled for two flights and decided to take a chance for the evening flight.  Repeat.  Cancelled.  People were exhausted, camping on the floor, giant circles under their eyes.

    Broken we returned one final time to the counter and got it changed to Saturday (today) at 5:45pm.  Almost two whole days lost.. and we were all depressed and broken from waiting those 14 hours.  The excitement has turned to fear and we are watching closely.

    I'll either be writing tomorrow about the horrors of waiting once more, or I won't be back before Tuesday and have a mass of stories to tell.

    Until then.


    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Culture Shock: Type A Personality in Europe

    I was 15 years old when I decided what I wanted to do with my life.  I made a very specific list, finish highschool, finish college, get my master's, start up a business consulting International business... I had an obsession with day-planners... by the time I was 17 I had about for different methods of charting my day/week.  On my Apple computer, though iCal, then on my paper copy- in case I couldn't get to my electric copy.  I always knew where I needed to be, at what exact hour, at what exact place- with who?  How to get there, a list of the different busses.. how much time it might take to get there.. numbers of people..

    I was anal about time.  Never late, always exactly on the second; people had to schedule with me a week in advance as they all knew I had everything planned for the week.  I scheduled in the time to brush my teeth, take a shower... I made advanced lists of what I would eat- and contingency plans in case I couldn't do exactly what I had planned originally.  I had plans for my plans.

    As I detailed this to my little Swedish friend she stared at me aghast.  About 10 minutes into my rant about the joys of scheduling in time to use the bathroom I stopped.  I smiled, knowingly, and said, "But that was in America." It was my old habit that died when I moved to France.  I understood her disgust, the idea of working full-time while going to school is not even a plausible thing to say for a European (except Germans, which I find an odd fellowship of workaholics like me).

    Life isn't worth living if it passes too quickly. I nodded.  I knew.  I always knew, but the joys of opening up my planner and seeing it full is still a thing I love.. unfortunately very rarely in France do I have a full planner...

    In France..
    I have to schedule about 2 hours in my day if I plan to have a coffee with a friend.  French people are notorious about taking their time for breaks.. we could easily get lost in a conversation drinking our miniscule coffees with our pinkies out.  We sip that one mini-cup for the duration of 45 minutes; until the coffee is cold and foam rests.. nothing compared to the 'grab-n-go' mentality of Starbucks in America.

    Dinner?  If I have dinner plans forget about even trying to contact me for the night.  Dinner easily lasts from 8pm in the evening to 2am the next morning- and often we start late.  It's foreign to me because I never spent more than an hour at dinner in America- we always knew it'd be done after and hour, hour and a half tops.  Here there are no limits.. and it drives me CRAZY.

    Forget about scheduling anything other than a dentist appointment... and even that might take a few hours.

    Type A in Europe
     So I find myself in another expatriate conundrum.. I often will busy myself trying to keep things organized but find that instead of scheduling.. I make a list of things that should be done in the time allotted.. dinner with friends, is now more like:  Hey, wanna come over around 8pm?  Instead of, Hey want to come at 8:15 and leave by 9:30?  Everything takes longer especially because I live in the center of the city.  5 minutes walking through my corrider and up my stairs, 10 minutes lost biking to school... the Type A in me counts the minutes passing and knowing there was nothing scheduled.  The first few months I was going crazy.. Brian what are we going to do today?  He would smile, shrug, and tell me we could go the marché.  I'd throw my jeans on and then find myself waiting about an hour for Bri to shower, eat breakfast, take it slow.


    I think that's the best way to describe Europe... everything is done slowly.. or 'doucement' in French.  I feel like I'm from a country that drives 100k/m an hour living in a country that moves at 10k/m.



    I kind of like it.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    What-What: Fêtes des Lumières

    I finally have a moment to breathe and write a little somethin'-somethin' while the chicken's cookin' away in the oven and bro+bri are out geeking on their computers.

    This year, specifically last week, I witnessed something so incredible and psychedelic the only means to view it would be to have a load of mushrooms on hand- or to go to the Fêtes des Lumières.  Originally considered a religious holiday to celebrate the Virgin Mary saving Lyon from the terrible plague (or more scientifically the fact that people were most likely more clean than around..) every year on December 8th the city of Lyon would place lighted candles in the window.. a sort of tribute to the higher-ups.

    Over the years more and more people got into the habit and it became more of a celebratory event than a solemn religious thing.. and finally transformed into the Festival of Lights that it is today.  From December 8th to December 11th, the city of Lyon is bouncing with psychedelic party lights; all hosted by the city government.  From 6pm to 1am the next morning, all the most famous monuments around the city are covered in lights- resembling a spray painted and tagged ancient history blending into the new millenium.

    Some buildings bounce with images of the history of construction, while other fountains are highlighted in candescent colors.. to which my younger Bro kept shouting.. ACID TRIP!  ACID TRIP! And Bri's brother kept shouting, AMSTERDAM AMSTERDAM!  The buildings moved, swayed and talked to us about who they were.. and no need for chemicals!

    Would you like to see yourself?

    I thought you would.

    Thank Bri because he put together this little diddy...

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Story Time: The Small Jeans Fit

    Mom was sweet, she shrink wrapped and shoved every piece of love she could into my Bro's bags.  From brown sugar to bags of Portland coffee, the bags were practically bursting with different items... including my skinny jeans.

    I believe all of us have them, they are those absolutely gorgeous pair of jeans that used to make your butt look so awesome and you felt great in them.  About a year an a half ago those jeans were folded up and put in a 'never going to fit again' pile in the back of my Parent's house.  It was a big part to do with visiting France- the fatty foods, the lazy days... I gained about 10 kilos simply by being in France and spending most time indoors.

    Bro is here now and I'm trying to spend every ounce of energy showing him Lyon- my own personal goal is to show him every corner of the city I've taken 6 months to discover.  This means that every day we cross the city, from the Old Lyon to Bellecour, up to Fourvière and back down- it's been a constant walk.  I spend at least 3-4 hours walking from place to place, strolling and viewing everything.  It's been a constant walk around the city and it has caused me to forget eating times, snack on some light things and squish into my skinny jeans.  All the jeans I ordered from the states are billowing in the tummy area;

    Funny enough, my 17 year old Bro is getting tired of the walking.. the climbing up our 5 flights of stairs.  I realized how much we walk in Europe and how much we are really in good shape... it also creates some logic around the 'French Paradox'.. we simply just don't walk enough in America.

    If you're in the States and you'd like to try and fit into your skinny jeans, get to walking about 2 hours a day.  If you're in France and you understand what I'm talkin' about.. well good for you.  Go buy another pair of skinny jeans and make a new goal.

    Tomorrow I'll be getting some really funny photos of my Bro in France... it's been tiring but equally as hilarious having him here.


    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    A Sleepless Night

    I live with an elephant and a nocturnal squirrel. Many would read that statement and declare me insanse, potentially put me against my will into a mental institution- until that person would spend one night in my apartment.

    It's bad enough that the two boys (Bro and Bri) are nocturnal beings and sleeping at 12am is considered insane, but the fact that Bro is jetlagged and wandering around at 4am Skyping friends doesn't help. It was 7am here in France when I heard a voice, it got louder and the doors opened... stomping around the apartment. Fortunately I found a 19th century apartment, most likely built for a small nobility for super cheap. Unfortunately this apartment has paper-walls, and the wandering around sounded like a warzone.

    I pulled myself out of my dream and out of bed, found Bro in the bathroom (apparently our sink facilities are interesting enough to show off on Skype) and begged him to stop and go to his room to Skype. He cut me off, waved his hand, stated,"Mom and I Talked about this." End of conversation.  I wandered back, lost, and thought, Yah, you may have talked to mom, but SHE DOESN'T LIVE HERE.

    An earplug in tow I had a fitful morning until 8:45am when Bri had to get up to go to school. He was just as bad.  Bri got up, slammed around the apartment, stomped into the kitchen for breakfast and blew his nose- for like 20 seconds.  It sounded like an elephant with constipation, loud, annoying.. and I could hear it through my earplug.  It stopped, cereal was poured and out he stomped back into the living room.  I could hear Bro chatting away (5 hours later) in his room and Bri crunching away on his cereal.  I thought, Am I the only normal person here?  Can I sleep now?!

    Not all is bad.  It's good to watch my 17 year old Bro go through the motions of culture shock.  He's noticing the oddest things however... there are more calories in MacDo (not true), people in France are terrible drivers (sometimes true), he is magically fluent in French when I'm not around (probably not true), everything is written in French (obviously true) and French people eat a lot of bread and weird cheeses (definitely true).

    The French teenagers are picking up on him; they find him like a large toy- he speaks English, he's blond and cute... he's American.  He's already made more friends than I was able to make in 6 months- even if he only understands and can speak about 60% at the normal rate.  It's fun to have him come home and recount the French teenager's asking him all about America and him trying to detail in Franglais.

    The potential for more sleep tonight seems unlikely in light of recent elephant/squirrel phenomena, however, I might just take a light sedative and allow them to scamper and stomp to their heart's desire.


    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Bro Who Visits, and the Horror of Flights

    I'm going to recount the horror of my 17 year old Brother's flight to Lyon because the way he detailed it to me rocked my guts and made me never want to step on a plane again.

    My bro is 17, very teenager-like and has never left the North West.  Considered a sort of 'outback boy' he grew up next to the ocean in the smallest of small towns, spent his days wandering around beaches and trying to not get caught by the law doing illegal things.  We decided that the first person to make a trip out to visit me would be my brother, so, we booked a flight.

    Not only would this be his first flight, but it would be his first international flight.  He packed up two giant suitcases and meandered his way into the flight, gutsy and 'unafraid'.  The plane food was as we all imagine it, terrible and bland.  It was a plastic covered dish of rabbit and some type of a liver dish.  Surviving by plane peanuts and watching 'Inception' three times in a row; the flight was awful.  It only got worse as it came into the field of Amsterdam... and too afraid to land, kept circling the city until the pilot announced,
    "Sorry folks, we are running out of gas.  We are going to swing into Germany for fuel and get back in the air."
    Forty minutes later the plane landed in some 'Worthsdorf' or another and refueled.  Everyone on the flight started to complain, and as the flight lifted once again into the air... no one knew if they would ever make it to Amsterdam.  Finally they landed.

    Bro, 12 hours into this trip, wandered into the foreign airport.  He later divulged that he drank about 4 glasses of complimentary wine on the flight and was feeling intoxicated.  Testing his new powers as a legal to drink teenager, he went straight to the nearest Heineken bar and ordered up a tall ice-cold beer.  As he drank he felt as an adult.. an adult that tended to chug his beer versus sipping.

    Three hours later, locked into the next plane... Bro arrived in Lyon.  When he came off the plane the entire place was a mess, children running everywhere, all the signs in French.  He waited by the luggage area, but no luggage came.  Afraid, without a cellphone and unsure as to where the Hell he was, he posted this (thanks to a good teen samaritan) on Facebook:

    Bro: Mom. Get sasha to get me
    Mom: Ok u r at Lyon?
    Bro: Yes. I am at the Lyon airport. My luggage is missing. So many Egyptians. This I scary.

    My mother promptly called Brian's cell phone, frantic.  He was lost.  He was at baggage claim.  Around me, thousands of Middle Eastern individuals ran around- a giant festival was going on outside.  Confused and scared I scoured that airport.  I ran upstairs and downstairs, I searched corners, I ran into hundreds of people- finally mom called me again and stated, "He's in the BAGGAGE CLAIM"!



    Finally we got to the phone and made the call.  As Brian explained, it sounded silly.  He's 17, he's American, first flight, he's lost in the baggage area, he doesn't know how to leave.  They were kind and sent a worker to grab him.

    Down in the baggage claim a worker asked him in broken Franglais, "You 17?"  When Jason nodded, afraid, the guy pointed towards the 'exit' sign.. and off he went.  There I stood, other side.  We embraced.  He looked terrible, it was a mixture of body odor and absolute exhaustion from 16 hours of travel; even worse the luggages were lost.


    Here we are now, he got a full night's sleep, still jetlagged; baggage arrived today.  I explained simply:

    Well.  Now that you've had the absolute worst experience flying, you'll always see every other time possible as much better than this!

    I guess taking your flying virginity is meant to be like losing your real virginity- awkward, terrible, inexperienced and leaving you with the slightest regret.


    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Librarie des Livres Anciens: Heaven for Books

    Sometimes when sitting around the apartment I get itchy feet.  In the States it was the kind that would push me to pack a light backpack and book a random flight to Europe.  Now in Europe it's the kind that makes me want to hike around my city and find those treasures or streets I haven't discovered.  It was today, on another itchy feet day, that I discovered the 'Librarie des Livres Anciens'.

    To preface, I must say that a Librarie in France is not like a 'library' in America.  In the states, the library is the place you go to check out books for a temporary basis.  Often these books are covered in plastic, new editions and sometimes stained by the previous borrow.  A Librarie in France is actually a 'bookstore', while a 'biblotheque' is an American style of library.  Confused yet?  Needless to say, there are hundreds upon hundreds of bookstores scattered around Lyon; same as the multitude of boulangeries, epiceries and wine shops.

    I took a big swing around Bellecour and decided to cross over the bridge to Old Lyon.  Old Lyon is a part of the city built around the 1400's.  The streets remained cobblestoned and impossible to walk on with high heels.  The tiny streets compliment the ancient architecture and the equally as ancient- but slightly more tacky- tourist attractions.  Crêperies, marron roasters... all the snaz of a classic city complete with a touring medieval church in the center.  Considered a tourist escape, hundreds upon hundreds of English speaking people pass through here every day- snapping up pictures and saving their memories.  I saw one just today, wandering into a boulangerie (as I was ordering my baguette) and snapping photos of the food, then, promptly leaving.  DO NOT EVER DO THIS... always buy something, a macaron, ANYTHING.  If one gets thirsty in this Old City, there are pubs owned by true Brit Expatriates lining the street.

    It was today I was wandering through this city, trying my best to appear as non-American as possible, that I caught a glimpse of a little shop.  I tend hesitate going into shops because I feel guilty I don't purchase.. but this one was an Ancient Bookshop (Rue du Palais de Justice) and I couldn't pull away.  I always wondered what happened to those piles of books I bought.. or were gifted.. and I imagined that books have been around for while... I began to wonder, where do books go when they retire?

    I paused and glanced at the window merchandise, scanning ancient copies of maps, a 19th century Lyon Cuisine book.. soon enough I found myself pushing through the solid door and quickly saying, 'Bonjour' to the man at the desk.  It was book heaven.

    It smelled pungent... quite opposite from the fresh smell of new books, almost like an aged cheese or a wine- refined.  I followed the signs, up the stairs.. and faced the Gastronomy section.  Every book I pulled of the shelf was old; covers were shredded, some missing a cover.  Of the books I looked at, not one was priced over 25€ or younger than 50 years old.  The oldest book had a simple black cover; it was a cookbook from 1834.  I smelt the inside, and leafed through the pages.  Instructions for the recipes were simple, 'cut, cook, serve'.  Often recipes were in 1 paragraph, and none with the quintessential listing of ingredients/times to cook.  I imagined the housewife who owned this book, pumping the oven with wood to create a warm enough fire to cook dinner.  With every ancient book, the history and life behind it was weighed between my fingers, and I couldn't stop myself.

    The old bookstore is more than a place for antique collectors, it's a time machine.  You can spend easily hours, browsing through these books and looking at old writings/drawings.  If lucky you may even find a prize..a book from another time that details 'gastronomy' in France, or 'history of france'.  The very old books are kept downstairs, and some may even date to before the 19th century.

    It was beautiful... and I will be there once again- soon.


    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Job Interview & Babyspeaking

    Oh joy of all joys, today I had the chance to interview with a real company for a real position.  It's a company based out of Paris that specialises in teaching and working with young children.  If any of you are looking for a job, don't hesitate; it's called "Baby Speaking" and honestly, it's legit.

    I found it by chance surfing around, doing the daily toll of trying to find a job or something to do... I already go to school, but as most expatriates from America can understand, it's not "right" if you're not running around constantly busy.  I grew up in a culture where we work full-time as well as going to school.  I already have about 4 years real-world business experience... I need a job.  I've been out of the loop for about a year now, and it is driving me bonkers.  I need to feel that pressure... I mean I didn't specialize in business because it was a random choice, I. Love. To. Work.

    I thank the French government for feeding into my lazy addiction.  The French system entitles us to a maximum of a 35 hour work week, obligatory pay for sick time, up to 6 months off for pregnancies- and hey, if you are a student, come to the CAF and we'll subsidize your rent.  You feel depressed?  Get it in writing and you don't have to work this week!

    The leisure is gnawing on my brain, my hardened American work ethic is beginning to soften... kind of like the beer belly of ethic.  So.  Even though I had no idea what or who this company was, I sent off my CV and my information in the hopes that I would catch something.

    A few months later, I got the call.  Interview set up.  Thursday, 13h30, at a... wait what?  Café?  Okkaayy..

    I get there during lunch hour, and it was very busy.  I wandered up to the bar, and flashed my "International Get Your Way" smile and asked the bartender where was the "entretien pour Babyspeaking".. I felt kind of weird asking, but he quickly replied, and pointed in the direction of the guy.  Antoine.  I ordered up a coffee, hung out and listened to the bustle of the café, it was not only my first interview in France, but my first café in the middle of the day experience.  Everyone was shouting out orders of coffees, macarons... one guys ordered up the special.  A table behind me was packed with professionals on lunch hour, sipping their mini coffees and snacking on their salads.  It felt so right, I felt.. like a French worker!

    As quickly as they came, my form was filled out, my turn came and it seemed the inevitable end of lunch arrived as well.  Everyone lined the cash register to pay, the bartender all smiles giving discounts to friends, ensuring everyone enjoyed themselves.  Silence filled the café and my interview started.  Poor poor Antoine.  For those who know me, they know I am quite the talker.  Despite my slow down, I found myself rolling out the puns, flashing smiles and being an American.  French interview is less small talk, less smiles and more facts, questions, to the point.  It is almost like meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time, trying to balance the polite nods, slow response and smiling while not looking crazy.

    But let me tell you, this guy is professional all the way.  I filled out my little form, a little weary of the position, but the minute I sat down and talked with Antoine; I was at ease.  He described the company Babyspeaking, it started 2 years ago, he is one of the founders and as it has been a great success in Paris, they are now looking to expand to Lyon.  He obliged my big American smiles and even my quips (which were not laughed at.. I was hoping for at least a smirk) and politely answered my questions.

    The position is simple, a babysitter or nanny.  You work directly with families, you babysit their child but you do it in English.  The less French you speak, the better!  The pay is very lucrative and I say it's gonna be a success.. We discussed, and, of course, it'll start slow... but as time goes on and that whole "word of mouth" spreads, this company is gonna make it.

    If you want to apply you can either go directly to their site (state me as a reference, it'll look even better), or email me and I'll pass along your information.

    Job starts in early January, based in Lyon, great pay, great founders... really its legit!


    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Snow in Lyon

    It's finally that magical time in Lyon- tomorrow is December 1st and we are going to welcome it with the first true snow.  It's absolutely freezing outside, creating a beautiful blanket of snow.  I wandered out today, with the intent to purchase a French news journal (for practice) and as I stepped out of my apartment I saw the most amazing coating of snow everywhere.

    I decided to profit from my apartment's location and I journeyed over to Bellecour to see the glory of the flurries.  They danced in the sky as I crossed over the square.  People were around me, some with umbrellas (it was really flurryin'!) and some bundled up with the most amount of clothes possible.

    The city is absolutely a beautiful place covered in this fluff... it makes everything brighter and almost lifts the spirit.. it brought me into the spirit of noel, that's for sure.  It's not enough to detail with my words... so.. without FURTHER adoooo!

    Enjoy the photos!
    Outside my door, Rue des Marronniers

    la Rue des Marronniers
    Velo'vs Covered in Snow
    Ferris Wheel.. can you believe the snow just started 2 hours before?!
    Louis XIV covered in snow
    Brian in the snow!!
    Me standing, sock uneven, hat in hand... ohh yaahh
    It's freezing outside, and our heating is terrible.  Worse, our windows are 'single pane' so thin.. and our building is very old.. so cold.  To survive we bundle in layers and try to skip from room to room briefly.. living mostly in the living room.

    So.  Enjoy the snow.  Stay warm.


    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Frustrations at the French System

    I thought i was over the whole culture shock thing, i was feeling good with my frenchy french friends and my collection of european buddies. Everything felt right and in place- until i received the schedule for our exams. Right there in front of my face, on the friday I am leaving for a mini vacation to amsterdam: tests on Friday. See normally I'd plan ahead of all this, but, i don't have any classes on friday! No logic in this. Worse they didn't even tell me there would be these tests.

    I immediately sent an email to the secretary and spoke with my professor. My professor informed me that, according to the 'method they follow' they can't give it earlier or later. Sorry. Has to be at that exact time. I asked then if "i missed the exams, what does that mean?" Considering that because of my above A grades, three missed tests would still equal passing.

    Nope. More 'regulations and methods'. If i don't take the tests, my entire term will not be validated, meaning, all the tests, all the 1000 euro i spent will equal nothing.  All for regulations.

    I looked at trying to change my flight, but it's a non changeable flight.  So my choice is:  miss a weekend to Amsterdam where I already paid for everything, and pass my class... or miss the class and potentially be forced to stay back once again in a below-my-level class.

    And so, I've decided.. if they truly won't be lenient on me for this one time, I'm going to Amsterdam and I will have to take the DELF B2 in January separate from the CIEF, hopefully receiving 50/100 and receiving the diploma.  With this I can push up into a level C1; which is more difficult and a challenge.

    My mother always said things happen for a reason, but for today I feel especially bitter towards the CIEF program and in general for the culture here.  Too many regulations, too many tests, too many papers.  It's a culture shock I may never get used to.

    Now, I gotta go make a pizza.


    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    What-What: Marché de Noël

    Since 1996, Lyon has opened Place Carnot (near Perrache) as the area for their yearly Christmas Market.  A Christmas Market in Europe is truly an experience for all ages.  In our home, Bri & I have what we call the Christmas Spirit.  We love Christmas, and the Marché is like walking into a small world of Christmas... the lights, the children laughing, the père noël... all amazing and brings out that bit of spirit.

    Each shop offers specialities for the Christmas season, some are decorations for the Christmas tree.  Some are snacks or candies that only arrive for the winter holidays.  A personal favorite is the 'vin chaud' or hot spiced wine.  As America is so stingy on their 'alcohol laws' this is something that will never exist in the public- but here anyone from 16+ can drop 1€ and get a cup of the warm stuff.  It's also wonderful to find unique artisinal gifts... I once bought a package of 'spiced wine mix' and now I make my own vin chaud 'a la maison'.

    November 26 marks the opening of this market in Lyon.  It's the final weekend in November and it represents the welcoming of the winter season.  This weekend the market will have specialities and deals on the seller's products, even a cheaper 'vin chaud'.

    For anyone who is spending their first year here, I recommend bundling up in your warmest and making the trek to the marché, especially in the evening.  It's located right in front of Perrache in the 2ème, in 'Place Carnot'.  Little cafés are dotted around the area, in case of a need for cocoa or coffee, and it's just large enough to spend about 2€ on some Vin Chaud and wander through.  Many times there are also crêpe makers and marrons roasters for a warm snack.  It's open daily until 20h at night.

    a+ and Happy Marché de Noël

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    First Snow and the European Union

    Bri is wandering around the apartment vacuuming everything in sight, singing Queen songs and taking breaks to vacuum is vacuum.. so I find myself with a moment to spare to detail yesterday's party.

    It was one of those chilly days, I shoved myself into an oversized PSU sweatshirt, a jacket, a scarf and some gloves.  I didn't care if it made me put on about 15 lbs, it was 15 lbs of warmth!  I wandered outside and there it was- the first snow.  I remember in Portland seeing the first snow, it always made me feel like I could accept the cold- a weather-justification.  Lyon is incredible with the flurries; the city is gorgeous, the lights shimmering as the snow is falling.  The old stone streets (of my street) and the people all bundled up like me.  The first snow represents the real 'winter' and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner.

    It also represented the day I decided to invite an array of Europeans into my apartment!

    I dub it the 'European Union', but in reality we only had 4 of the 27 countries represented.  Sweden, Denmark, Finland and France.  I felt like a pseudo-American summit meeting except in this meeting our only goal was to get drunk, laugh and show off all the languages.

    It began with wine, continued into cocktails and ended with some more wine.  The drunker we all got, the more we lost inhibitions but the more we lost our ability to communicate in a common language.  By 12am, the Swede and Finnish was speaking in phrased out English, the French abilities were shot from me and I resorted to making jokes about 'gros saucisses'.  It was really quite a wonderful experience, even though many of us didn't really understand each other but we were able to communicate and laugh.

    It's really something sitting with 15 Europeans in one room, every one of them were so dynamic and interesting- a few of the Frenchies were talking at me as if I was fluent... so I nodded along and sipped more of my booze, assuming that the mix of the drinking would improve my speaking skills.

    It did not.

    It did, however, hit me with a killer hangover to which I was bedridden until 5pm today.  Goes to show, you cannot outdrink Europeans; they have about 5 more years practice on me..


    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Crusade to Ikea

    Yesterday I had the chance to go on a great adventure to Ikea with my Swedish friend.  That should be on the list of 'things to do in one's life'; going to Ikea with a true Swede is absolutely an experience.  We bundled into our warmest winter clothes, since in Lyon this month the temperature has dropped, scarves over our mouths, gloves firmly on our hands- and headed to the tramway.

    The tram from the center of Lyon to the Ikea near Bron is about a 30 minute ride.  Riding metros in France is not the most enjoyable experience, many butts in people's faces, sweaty armpits reaching overhead to grab on to create equilibrium.  We sat in a corner staring at eachother or at the floor in the attempts to not make eye contact with someone undesireable.  Discussing a variety of subjects, we finally arrived at the stop and wandered out into the cold.

    At first we started wandering around aimlessly, a Swede and an American lost in the outer suburbs of Lyon.  She got gutsy and decided to ask some worker which way was our meatball mecca; he obviously didn't speak very good French but in three different broken French's we were able to determine it was around a parking lot.

    Looking back, it reminded of a sort of crusade; battling the freezing wind, the nasty people and a good 1/2 mile hike to get to that bright blue building.  In my Swede I had found another soul who was just as obsessed with Ikea.  We wandered into the bright building, blinded by the greatness of it all and warmed by the heat.  As we passed through the aisles, I'd pronounce random Swedish names of furniture and she'd reply, "That doesn't mean anything.. really!".

    The food court is really the reason we made the trek.  She wanted 'bronsauce' which is a brown gravy served on most Swedish food- and I wanted those little balls.  We ordered our balls and bronsauce and sat across from eachother.

    We ate, talked, laughed, at some more.  People stared at us in disgust, we were just too damn happy!  I made quips about 'Daim' sounding like, 'Daaayammn,' as in, 'daymn this chocolate is good'.

    It only got better as her French boyfriend joined us and we spent the next hour jumping on beds, testing kitchens and giving false presentations on the items; specifically learning the meanings of the words and making up 'non-sensical' Swedish gibberish... well I was gibberish, Swede was definitely speaking it correctly.

    The French around us were disturbed.  At one point I was testing a bed, wiggling around and checked for comfort when an older French couple stopped in front of my bed and started saying how weird I was being.  I smiled up and said clearly, "Désolé, mais je ne viens pas avec ce lit!",  Sorry, I don't come with the bed!  That made them turn on their heels and jet out of my vincinity, making me feel as though I had lepresy... but nonetheless it got them out of my hair.

    The final great thing was at the finale.  I was communicating in great French with her boyfriend and her, we were happy and full of laughter... and there, near the exit, a non-smiling (the French never smile in public) french woman with an array of samples.  Heck yes.  I gorged myself on 'stroogenfloos' and 'chocouten' (making up some names here) and waddled out of that Ikea stuffed with balls, laughter, cookies and a totally new experience.

    My advice.  Find a Swedish person, and THEN go to Ikea.  It's really like the complete experience.


    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Sleep Deprivation & Excitement for.. Yellow Pages?

    From Monday to now I have collectively stayed awake for about 50 hours- which puts me at an average of merely 6.5 hours of sleep a night.  I am normally a morning person, but, when I arrived in France Bri's schedule threw mine off in some odd 'jetlag horror' and now I'm more of a night person and less of a morning person.

    I am also in the attempts to go on a diet in France which I can say is on my 'Top 5 List of Miserable Things to do in Life'.  I'm not doing it because I feel like I need to, I'm doing in my preparation for Christmas.  How does one do it?  Well, breakfast is an Activia yogurt and some 'Krisprolls' with jam.  Snack is a jelly sammich (on small bread).  Lunch is a little tomato/young greens salad, with maybe a soup.  Snack is some popcorn.  Dinner is only one serving, no 'entrance', no 'cheese' and if I do have dessert it's a little square of Milka.  It's absolute Hell.  If I were in America right now I'd be in the works to get my stretchy pants and know, by this time tomorrow, I'd be waddling home with a Turkey Coma.

    You see, last Christmas, I came weighing about 129 lbs and left weighed about 145 lbs.  No exaggeration.  I gained 16 lbs in one month... it's not just the dinners- no- it's the fois gras, the stream of Champagne, the fatty rôtis, the delectable 'papiotte'.  Oh yes, I am in efforts to lose weight so that at least by January I will be equal to myself now.

    I also have found myself with a stomach that isn't agreeing with all this French food- it's too heavy, the microbes are different and the meat is different.  I think that I've gotten so used to 'highly processed' American eats that I've lost the ability to digest real food.  I've even gone to buying and eating Activia.  You know, the yogurt that's for old ladies that might have 'digestive issues'...

    I was excited yesterday, despite my sleep deprivation, to get my very own copy of the 'Pages Jaunes' or the 'Yellow Pages'.  I can't really define why it's exciting- but leafing through a giant book of businesses (many of which are not listed in Google) and scanning for Boulangeries that I haven't found, or that store that has expatriate items, it's a personal joy.  I was even thinking about it as I crossed the bridge to Bellecour (against traffic, apparently everyone comes when I leave).  Is that sad, or just one of those little pleasures that define us as 'unique'.

    Speaking of Expatriate items, I found a shop while parading about drunk on Beaujolais last Friday.  It's called 'Little Britain' and it's in the 6ème, 12 Blvd des Brotteaux.  Not much on their website, but I plan to make a stop in there some day.. just for the Hell of it.  Bet I can find cheddar...


    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Social Life and Pellegrino

    The title may not make a ton of sense, but let me preface by saying:  Pellegrino only costs .80 centimes in France.  Yes, I know, it seems such a minscule thing to feel happy about, but when dealing with graph paper instead of lined paper, and bagging your own groceries- it's the little things that keep us sane in foreign countries.

    Pellegrino is so fancy in the United States; we see in television shows the characters sipping out of glass bottles of the stuff- in America it's about 2 bucks a bottle; much more affordable for a little taste of minerals from Italy.

    That being said.

    Last night I tried Beajoulais Noveau for the first time;  our friend is a wine distributor for that region, and is also in the same relationship situation as us (American girlfriend, French boyfriend).  He invited us to a friend's apartment in the 6ème arrondissement in Lyon; AKA the LUXE area.  Rue de Sèze to be exact.  As I frantically biked down the Rue de Sèze, heart pounding and fear that a person would swerve in a drunken Beaujolais frenzy and kill me I begin realizing that I am really starting to get France.

    She's a complicated country, there are things I will never understand... but now I'm getting to the point of responding automatically in French to locals talking to me...a very cool experience.

    ONce we got there the spread was incredible;  I was too shy to start snapping pictures so I'll have to stick to details.  The apartment was about 130m2; which is about 1400ft.  Very big... twice the size of our place.  There were these artsy posters plastered on the wall, hardwood floors (another saving grace of France) and large windows overlooking the street.  The table was set up against the wall and covered with charcuteries, baguettes lined for the cutting, cheeses, more charcuterie... and lots of bottles of wine.

    Aurelian, the wine distributor, started us off my detailing each of the wines, what region they come from how the stones used to filter change the flavor.  Uncorked, all at attention, we passed around a bottle and checked the clarity and flavor profile of each wine.  Starting from the 'youngest', fermented a mere 3 months to a couple of years. 3 bottles in total. By the end a few of the younger girls (19-21) were pretty fizzled and I was involved in a very deep conversation with a Brit expat and a French girl regarding our weird writing obsessions.  Brian was raiding the food table stuffing himself with ham products; and I somehow agreed to do English Yoga on Monday.

    Today I wasn't hungover, which is a pretty amazing feat for how much I drank in alcohol... and I wandered around today with my Swedish friend, to the library to check out my monthly Anglophone book (which the library woman totally had a conversation with me and I was ABLE TO RESPOND!!) talking about girly things and eating chocolate éclairs.  I was craving a bagel or even a hot dog- but I found that while a hot dog costs 5€ in France, a chocolate filled éclair is only 2.50€; so I went for sweet.

    So even though the graph paper is something that will never be normal for me- I find myself adjusting with a bottle of Perrier, a selection of very diverse friends, a bottle of wine and the company of chocolate éclairs.

    P.S.  If you want to try a good snack:

    Buy:  Pellegrino (.80 centimes) Krisprolls (1.50€) and some 'cream cheese' or fromage tartiner (1.20€)
    WARNING:  This stuff is better than crack, or the equivalent which is 'Noah's Bagel Schmear' in the U.S.   

    Trust me.  Smear it on crackers, bread.. whatever.  It's amazing.. and cheap.
    Happy weekend.. and try to drink some Nouveau.. or some Pellegrino.


    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    What-What: Beaujolais Nouveau

    On my street, the Rue des Marronniers, small posters and streamers line the restaurants annoncing, 'le Beaujolais est arrivé!', this part of the season is amazing.  Thanksgiving back home- and the Nouveau in France.  While we're stuffing ourselves sick in the States, here they are drinkin' themselves to a stupor.

    Beaujolais is a region just outside of my city here in Lyon- the wine is special because it comes from this region and it is often hand picked at the vineyard.  It's also an event that everyone is excited for, and often, patrons or owners of bars/restaurants will wear a wicker hat.. a symbolic gesture.

    Interestingly enough, the wine itself is often very young- fermented only a few months- before placed on the market to drink.  The wine only lasts about a year, and it's better to drink it while it's young and fresh.

    Everywhere around Lyon from now (November 18) to the weekend will be celebrating this famous wine.  The packaging is special- comes in a bottle with a very colorful label... very recognizable.

    Here's a paragraph from CityVox:
    C'est en fait depuis 1985, que le 3e jeudi de novembre est la date officielle du lancement du Beaujolais nouveau. C'est la ville de Beaujeu, entre Lyon et Mâcon, qui a donné ce nom au vin. Quant à l’appellation elle-même, elle remonte au 13 novembre 1951. Pendant la IIème guerre mondiale, l’occupant tentait d'empêcher les producteurs de commercialiser leurs vins en leur imposant de nombreuses réglementations. Mais avec la libération, un arrêté autorisa la sortie des vins détenteurs d’une appellation d’origine contrôlée le 15 décembre, avec une dérogation en novembre pour les vins précoces."
    Basically it says:
    Since 1985 the 3rd Thursday of November is the official launch date for the Beaujolais Nouveau.  It's the city of Beajeu, between Lyon and Mâcon, that gave the name to the wine.  The production of this wine dates back to the 13th November, 1951.  During the second World War, the Axis tried to impose many restrictions to inhibit production of their wine.  Following Liberation, an order was put forth stopping these inhibitions and allowing the wines to be released.

    It's a cultural part of Lyon and Rhone-Alpes... and integral into our heritage and daily life.

    Speaking of which, there are a lot of festivals and parties to celebrate this release:

    Once again from the CityVox page:

    Lyon - 1e - Terreaux - Hôtel de Ville

    Lyon - 2e - Presqu'Ile - Perrache

    Soirée Beaujolais Nouveau à la Zone Verte  - Conférence rencontre atelier
    Du 18/11/10 au 19/11/10

    Zone Verte - 69002 - Lyon

    Lyon - 5e - Vieux Lyon - Fourvière

    Soirée Beaujolais Nouveau au Phosphore Bar  - Soirée
    Le 19/11/10

    Le Phosphore Bar - 69005 - Lyon

    La Tour-De-Salvagny - Aux alentours de Lyon

    Beaujolais nouveau au Casino Le Lyon Vert   - Soirée
    Le 18/11/10

    Casino Le Lyon Vert - 69890 - La Tour-De-Salvagny

    Belleville - Ailleurs dans le Rhône

    Nect'art Nouveau  - Musique Jazz
    Le 18/11/10
    Caribop, La Clique sur Mer
    Théâtre Municipal de Belleville - 69220 - Belleville

    Fleurie - Ailleurs dans le Rhône

    Marathon du Beaujolais Nouveau  - Évènement sportif
    Le 20/11/10

    En ville à Fleurie - 69820 - Fleurie

    There may even be more events... but you'll have to check out blogs, newspapers.. or even just walk into a bar and ask!

    a+ and happy drinking!  (bon dégustation!)

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Culture Shock: French Grading System

    It's that dreaded week in Lyon where all the students are getting back tests that count for 50% of our grades.  These difficult tests that comprise of written and even oral examinations based on information that is supposed to be memorized and regurgitated exactly as said.

    The teacher begins by describing how some of us really sucked at the test and failed with a really awful note.  He continues to rant on about the abilities we have to do better, some of us truly shined and many are in the middle.  He is disappointed and he is proud.

    In America we sweat it out, and receive it.  The highest note a person can get is 100%; if a test, for example, is worth 20 points, a student could receive 20/20.  Sometimes even more.  This sets up American Expatriates- such as myself- to be shocked at the French system.  It even led a fellow American friend of mine to cry at her 'awful horrible grade'.

    The Middle
    The middle in the French Grading system is always based on 20- so the middle, AKA passing is 10/20.  There are no letter grade "A" or "B".  Simply a number out of 20.  10/20 means you are passing, but maybe just sliding by.  (C)

    Failure comes in under 10... if you received 9/20 or below.. you have failed.  (F)

    Good Grade
    Good grade is 10/20 to 15/20.  15 is on the edge of a very good grade- an American equivalent to B to A-.

    My poor friend cried when she saw 11/20; she didn't understand the culture and worse she couldn't.  We are so conditioned to our 20/20's that we can't get a 11/20 being a good thing.

    An AWESOME grade would be anything 16/20 and above.  This is a solid A in American standards.

    You Cannot Get 20
    No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to get 20.  It's the whole French paradoxical rating system... they set the bar so high so it will always be a little under.  If you tell a French person you want a 20/20, they will laugh, then say, 'bon chance' and laugh some more.

    So.  To sum it up:

    9/20 and below:  F
    10/20 to 12/20: C
    13/20 to 15/20: B
    16/20 and up: A

    Betcha you're wondering how I did?

    I'm averaging 17/20 on my tests.. which is very very good.  Most of this is due to the fact that my level n the CIEF is a little below my tasting.  Either way that makes for lots of French practice and easy As!

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Story Time: France Years Ago..

    In class yesterday I learned a lot of very interesting facts about France.  My professor was detailing different family structures and then we got into a discussion about what types of technologies existed years ago and how quickly this has changed.

    Thing is, it's been an even more exclusive change in France- in America while we were testing cars and turning on lights France was years behind.  I got to thinking, Europe will always be slightly behind.  I have often heard that America was known due to it's contributions during World War II, but I think it's bigger than that.  America is an innovator... we are inventors.

    As early as the 1870's, lightbulbs were used to light homes in America.  Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, and soon it became as big as the iPhone or iPod today.  By the 1900's many homes had electricity in America.. and thanks to Roosevelt's "New Deal" it was everywhere in 1935.  but in France?  Electricity starting showing in densely populated areas in the 1920's... and up until the 1940's electricity still didn't exist in many rural villages.  Candle light and gas lighting... gas electricity and coal heating- that was often the used method of "electricity".  I knew an older woman in her 80's that still had a coal stove and no electric wires, she'd lived in the same apartment for 50 years.

    Many apartments in France, up until even the 1960's, only had a sink in the kitchen to bathe with.  Much like the 'wash basins' in the 1800's Americas; often a bath or shower was reserved to those with weath... specifically nobility.  My professor even remembered not having a shower.. which to me is absolutely incredible!

    Grocery Shopping
    In France, up until even the 1970's, buying food was considered a true joy.  Following the love for life, the 35 hour work week, social care for society... France also took joy in eating.  A weekly trip would often include several different shops:  a fish shop, a butcher's shop, cheese shop, pastry shop (in the mornings), vegetables from the marché and of course a daily visit to a boulangerie for the bread.  Supermarkets began popping up in the late 60's, modeling after America's grandiose shops.  It takes the joy of eating away, but it took a much longer time to integrate into the culture than America's 1940's prim/clean super market worlds.

    Talking with Bri made me realize that he was always a little behind me in the Internet world.  I had my first email address when I was 8 years old.  He had his when he was 15.  Internet became an integral part of my world in the United States as early as the late 80's; for France it took a little longer and didn't catch on until the late 90's.  Even though now Internet exists to connect us and thus helps to reduce that lag time between innovations- we still see a lag between America's inventions and programs and what exists in France.

    Things that May Never Catch On
    • Microwave Popcorn:  Haven't seen it and I don't think I ever will.
    • Sizing Options:  The hips in jeans are cut thinner here, and MacDo will never have a 64oz soda.
    • Pop Tarts:  Why eat a pop tart when you can have a pain au chocolat?
    • Peanut Butter:  Most French people I talk to HATE HATE HATE peanut butter.
    • Sweet Potatoes/Marshmallows:  Don't ever make this for a French person.  They will turn their nose up.
    • Pumpkin Pie:  Also another anomaly to French people- salée/sucré do not mix in their minds.
    • Binge Drinking Cheap Beer:  In college, we all did it.  Beer pong.  Drinking games... I've never met a French person (that DIDN'T go on an exchange) yet that wants to binge drink cheap beer.
    • Cost of School: Nope.  It will always be that €400 inscription and not that $10,000 yearly cost.
    • Insurance Companies and Healthcare:  Healthcare will never resemble American culture.
    • CEO Pay Gap:  Here, rarely will a president of a company be paid 300x more than a base employee; everyone is more leveled here.
    • "Shut up and Take it" Mentality:  You know, the tendancy we Americas have to just let Government do whatever and complain we have no power... here it's all about the grèves and manifestations.  If you don't like something, say something.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Advice: American Eating in France

    Cooking is something I do every day, rarely making the whole frozen meal/highly sugarized processed foods- I make everything from scratch and fresh ingredients.  In France however, there are some key things to know that could help a person moving here in the whole 'ingredient' and food world:

    • Steak.  When ordering or making steak remember this:
      • A point:  Medium, Bien Cuite:  well cooked, Bleue:  blue, or rare
    • At a restaurant, opt for the 'pot du vin', which is often 5x cheaper than bottled and just as good.
    • Garni is the sprinkling of parsley, garniture is the lay out of ingredients.
    • Producer's Market offers restaurant quality produce for cheap.
    • Pastry Flour is most commonly used for baking, and it is amazing for anyone who says they cannot bake.
    • There are several different variety of potatoes for different dishes, be aware the French know this difference.
    • Never act 'American' when invited; meaning don't consistently ask what the food is and turn your nose up at it.  Just shut up and eat... smile and graciously thank the hostess.
    • Rice, coconut milk is 5x cheaper in Guillotiere.
    • Pate and Foie Gras are never eaten spread on crackers.  We always eat these with bread or for Foie Gras with toasted brioche.
    • When making toast, always touch everyone's glass while making eye contact.
    • Spices are more widely available in Guillotiere, ranging from Indian to Asian.
    • Kebab is a great afternoon filler if hungry, and often cheaper than MacDo.
    • Sushi is notoriously expensive in France and normally is just several variations on salmon nigiris and rolls.  To save money try Groupon to get discounts on Sushi joints. Some sushi joints:
      • Ze Sushi - 7 Rue du Confort, Lyon;  14 euro for 11 pieces during 'midi'.
      • Sushi Wa - 31 Rue Thomassin;  4 plates for 16 euro
      • O'Sushi - 72 rue Mercière;  between 5-9 euro for a plate of sushi
    Rumors of things that don't exist, but do, or replacements for things we love:
    • Baking Powder - exists, it's called 'Levure de Chimique' and it comes in 1 1/2 tsp packets in super markets.
    • Baking Soda - also exists, can be found in Guillitiere super markets.
    • Cornbread Mix - does not exist, but you can make it homemade, '2 cups flour, 1/2 tbsp salt, 1/4 cup baking powder, 1/2 cup french butter, 2 cups cornmeal, blend'.  Remember that cornmeal is available in Badouhrian or any Asian or Arabic grocery in Guillotiere.
    • Pancake Mix - does not exist, but again homemade is easy, '2 cups flour, some butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/8 cup baking powder'  blend with milk/eggs.
    • Popcorn - Available at most super markets for 1.50 a package, (about 300g) or from Producer's Market for 1.30 a kilo!
    • Sour Cream - does not exist, but a great replacement is '1 pot yaourt, 1 tsp salt and some chives, mix well'.  Plus it's lower in fat.
    • Taco Seasoning - 1 tsp 'piment en poudre', 1/4 tsp 'ail en poudre', 1/4 tsp 'oignon en poudre', 1/4 tsp 'piment du pizza', 1/4 tsp 'origan', 1/2 tsp 'paprika douce', 1 1/2 tsp 'garam masala' or 'cumin', 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper.  Mix and seal in a jar.
    • Tortillas can be made super easy at the house, '2 cups flour, 125 g butter, 1/2 to 1 cup warm water, some baking powder' blend thoroughly and set aside for about 20 minutes.  Cook on a hot pan for a few seconds each side (roll into balls and press first)
    For more extensive listings.. although slightly outdated- check Lyon Eats.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Cocktails and November 11

    Having cocktails in France tends to be a whole nother experience... sort of.  I was afraid to make my way over to the pub alone at night- I always have this never ending fear that I'll take a wrong turn on my Velo'v and end up in some completely unknown area.  Yes, the pub was straight down 'Rue de la Rupublic' and yes, that street is pretty much just a long street of lit up stores, fountains and restaurants.. but the incessant fear curls in my stomach every time I hop on a bike or head out.

    I bisou'd Bri goodbye and set off with multiple layers (10 degrees C yesterday) in tow.  I popped in my Velo'v code, hopped on and whhoooozzzzeee...  riding at night through the 'rue de la Republic' takes some guts and can be stressful.  I whizzed through the crowds, left right, left right.  Sometimes I'd stop and use my feet to 'walk my bike' before an old lady got out of my way.  About 10 minutes later I reached the 'Opera de Lyon' which is really a hub for some nasty characters (ironic, one would think the Opera is.. like fancy and full of richness).

    I parked in the one spot available and headed up.  Last time I went to this place it was dead, maybe a scattering of some French people.  This time it was PACKED... and I got to thinking, why?  I asked the girls and they motioned around and explained that "Tomorrow is a feriée" which means a one day off.  French people have so many holidays sometimes I think they invent a day for it.

    November 11, 1918
    Armstice between Germany and France ending World War I.

    Apparently November 11 marks the end of the first World War that ended in 1918; specifically the fact that the Allies and Germany signed for peace and resolution in France.

    What I get confused about is why they celebrate the end of World War I when after there was World War II; wouldn't one assume that the end of one WW would trump the end of another?

    I think I'm just confusing myself because I watched Inception last night... Hmmm.

    In all cases, for November 11 we get a day to relax and do nothing- most places are closed, most people are shuttled outside to the parks or the quai to enjoy the day.

    Sometimes there are special events, such as free drinks at the mairie, or a commemoration event at the statues- you'll have to read your local events to know for sure.  I'll be enjoying my day doing laundry, taking out a giant box or two of glass recyclables and going for a nice long walk.

    Tomorrow I'll be posting about how to recycle in France- because even though it would seem simple.. in the center of the city simple it is not!

    Here's my walk plan...

    View Visit Lyon in a larger map

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    As Life Comes Together

    Had to get up at 6:30am this morning in order to ensure I had enough coffee in me to make it through my Wednesday classes that start at 8am.  I am lucky enough to still have quite a bit of coffee my mother lovingly sent me... so no instant French for me!

    Life is certainly coming together for me, in less than a month my 17 year old bro will be making his way into our humble abode.  I'm hoping the issues or things going on in the States will be appropriated with his visit here... Bri and I are both so excited to have him in France.  He'll be the second person in my entire family to ever leave the States, and most definitely the second to come to Europe.

    I plan to show him everything.

    Speaking of siblings...

    I was walking down a street and saw this little Art Supplies shop... I immediately went on (in my head) to think about my sister.  My sister and brother are both very different than me.  My brother is a talented musician, and LOVES to be in front of the world.  My sister is a more reserved introvert, specifically, an artist.  I am a business person, type A personality thru and thru.

    It's really difficult to be away from your family, I hope anyone who is planning to live here is aware of that.. but I am finding myself beginning to adjust and truly feel at home in France.

    Tonight is my weekly cocktail with a couple of lovely French girls I met, mostly we just drink cheap cocktails and discuss our lives, our plans.  It's a little 'Sex and the City' or even Julia Child and Simone Beck time.  I love it.  I feel spoiled today because Bri promised to make dinner (quiche lorraine) while I simply get toasted at a bar. .. of course I think it's just a little obligation and tradeoff for all the dinner I make.

    People have asked me, what is it like to live in France?  Well.   That's a loaded question because everyone will have a different response, for me, it's pretty f-in amazing.  I live on a street filled with restaurants so every day I leave my apartment I am welcomed with the soothing sound of plates clinking and the smells of kitchens doing prepwork.  A personal fan of restaurant television, I sometimes sit myself on the ledge of my staircase and watch the workers in the kitchen moving around frantically calling the orders.  The building I live in was built in the late 1800's, so the stairs are worn in from a couple of hundred years of climbing/descending.  The view from my windows are of other buildings from the same time period, and sometimes on Sundays one can look out the window and imagine France in the 1950's.

    That's a piece of my life here... there's so much more.
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