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Archive for June, 2009

The gaping hole underneath my kitchen

The gaping hole underneath my kitchen

 

I might have mentioned this before, but my house is apparently either ready to cave in, or blow up. Or both.

Last Thursday, a few construction workers started jackhammering, drilling and blasting their way through the cobblestones and asphalt in my street. Since this is a French village, what I mean by “in my street” is also translated to “Two feet outside my windows.”

They’ve been drilling ever since – except, of course, for Saturday and Sunday.

I have no idea what they’re doing — only that they have a miniature bulldozer and, using it, have created a gaping hole directly under my kitchen. They’ve done the same thing to the street a few houses down from mine.

There are large metal pieces over the holes in the street, so when cars drive over them, it sounds like an army tank is coming through the village. It wakes me up multiple times each night.

To give you an idea of how narrow it is...

To give you an idea of how narrow it is...

Anyhow, today, one of the workers — who I feel as though is already intimately a part of my life, since he spends his days mere feet away from me — rang my doorbell.

I did my usual “Je ne parle pas Francais,” and he did the usual things French do when you say that, which is to say “Un peu?” and then continue speaking rapidfire French to me.

I heard “kitchen” and “counter” – and believe he meant “counter” as in the meter that my landlady (who, by the way, is out of town during this) reads to tell me my water and gas bills.

We stood there for a few minutes, until I gestured him in.

He took off his hat (how very cute) and looked under my sink, behind my ant-infested garbage (yeah, that’s right, guess where the ants go when someone drills into their homes? My house) and finally in the backroom where he looked at the meter.

Then he turned around, placed his hat back on and went outside.

A close-up of the hole

A close-up of the hole

When I left 30 minutes later, I felt like all the construction workers knew that I didn’t speak French, and were all staring at me as I left. Uncomfortable… but they were very polite.

Upon returning.. they were still drilling.

 Thank God the French have unreasonably long lunches, because at least I get about two hours of non-drilling every afternoon.

Anyhow, as of tonight, there are not only gaping holes under the street, but also one under my kitchen. And someone put a rolled-up tarp in there to “cover it up” as though now no small child will want to go exploring in it or something.

I’m just a little bit worried they’re going to somehow cut off my water, or gas, or, God forbid, my Internet.

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And it’s started — all the goodbyes.

The bad part about the accelerated one-year MBA program D. is taking is that everything moves really fast. The students (and their wives) who started the term before him are already graduating – meaning several people I’ve just started to get to know are leaving Fontainebleau for good.

Also, because INSEAD has split campuses, students – and their partners –  often move between France and Singapore for classes. Unfortunately for me, several of my friends are moving to Singapore. Since we’re not taking that option, that means I won’t see them again. It’s sad! When D. returns to classes in August, it’s going  be a completely different group of people that I will have to get to know, all over again. Some of my old friends will be here, but many will not.

The awesome Indian girl who’s teaching me Hindi? Leaving.

Two girls – from Pakistan and Egypt – who have been an integral part of my new Interfaith Group? Leaving.

The sweet New Zealander with the amazing, Great-Gasby-esque house in the country? Leaving.

The Californian I first got to know over dosais in Paris’  10th? Leaving.

In fact, she’s the first one to go – my first goodbye. She’ll leave for the US tomorrow, and after that, she’ll be elsewhere in Europe for her husband’s internship. After that, she’ll be in Singapore. So, we met up for a coffee today to say goodbye.

Everyone always really hates saying goodbyes, I know I’m not the only one. So this week is going to be tough! It’s hard thinking that you meet people who you could really become great friends with, but you just don’t have enough time to do so. Oh well.

We won’t always have Paris – but we will always have Facebook 🙂

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I’m on a boat…

Blurry... like my recollections of the night

Blurry... like my recollections of the night

Last night, there was a party held in honor of the European “National week” at Insead. They organized it on a barge, which was anchored in the Seine River, in the heart of Paris.

It was awesome.

As we stood, waiting for the bus to pick us all up at Insead, there were bottles of beer and champagne being passed around. This continued during the 1.5 hour ride into Paris – champagne, freely flowing.

It’s pretty cool driving into Paris at night. We could see the Eiffel tower all lit up and everything.

We partied on the top of the boat, looking at the Paris skyline, for several hours, and eventually made it home around 4 a.m.

Needless to say, when I was awakened early this  morning by a jackhammer directly outside our door ripping up the road… ugh. Felt like my head was ready to explode, for more than one reason!

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Hello everyone,

So, I meant to write about our awesome weekend getaway to Bruges today, but instead, I’ve spend the entire day dealing with the fact that my primary email account was somehow hacked into this weekend.

Nothing major happened, but somehow I got a little bug on my computer that we had to remove. The spammer also sent out emails to EVERYONE on my email contact list (a lot of people, considering this account has been around since 2002) trying to get them to shop at some online store – except the “link” is a virus. Ick.

Fortunately, I can’t imagine anyone actually clicking on the link, OR thinking that I actually sent the email – especially considering the poor grammar and spelling this person used. Honestly, spammer, if you want people to actually think I sent the email, why don’t you at least clean up your very poor English skills? Or use Google translate?

 “Also the price is good enough!

“If you have free time you can visite the site by yourself”

“I hope you have good mood shopping from the site”

“I am very satisfeaid with it!”

 Really? My contacts know I was a journalist, spammer!

Still, it’s annoying, because now, I feel like I have to shut the account down. So I’ve spent the day going through the nearly 800 emails I’ve collected over the years and either deleting them, or cutting & pasting them into files (a lot are things like recipes, sentimental emails, work-related emails I want to keep, etc).

On a happy note, I’ve been down memory lane now for a few hours. And, the spammer has helped at least one old friend get back in touch with me.. so, thanks? I guess?

So, I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully, with some photos for you all!

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A while back, D. and I went into Paris with some friends and paid a visit to the famous Cimetière de Montmartre. This above-ground cemetary reminded me of the one in Recoleta, in Buenos Aires, where Evita Peron is buried.

Except here, you can visit the graves of such famous Frenchmen as Emile Zola and Jacques Offenbach. At the front of the cemetery, there is a large sign listing many of the deceased and their claims to fame.

Look below and guess what caught our eyes:

The list of graves

The list of graves

“Romancier.”

In case it’s too small for you to read, the number 72 grave spot, between a “poete” and a “danseus”  is occupied by “Stendhal: Romancier.”

Really? That’s a job?

We all four sat around trying to figure out what kind of a country lists being a romantic lover as a career. Ha ha ha, we laughed.  I liked imagining this Stendhal character, whoever he was, wandering around in a red velvet bathrobe, smoking a pipe, reeking of a strong eau de toilette and spitting out Byron quotes at every turn.

So,…it turns out “romancier,” is just a French term for a novelist. Oops. Jokes on us.

But it also turns out I was right on the second one – Wikipedia tells me that “Stendhal was a dandy and wit about town in Paris, as well as an inveterate womaniser who was obsessed with his sexual conquests.”

He later suffered miserable physical problems later in life from complications of (and treatment of) syphilis.

I wonder what it says about the French that “novelist”  has the same root as “romance.” Linguistics people, where are you?

And, are you still considered a romancier even if you write novels about, say, mountain climbing and survival?

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I’m not sure if my refrigerator is just old and out-of-shape (too many croissants, perhaps?), but my food spoils a lot faster here in France. When I buy things, I’m never certain that they won’t be rancid when I open them — even when the expiration date on the package is a week or more away!

D. says this is because the French put fewer preservatives in their food (by the way, if you ask a French person, don’t actually say “Do you use preservatifs in your food?” because, if you did, you would be asking him if they place condoms in their food supply. That’s a mistake you only make once).

I guess D.  could be right – I’m not really knowledgeable enough about it to say one way or the other. If that is, indeed true, then great. But I’m not sure that it is – I mean, let’s not forget this is the country that somehow gets milk into a state where it can sit in boxes, unrefrigerated, for months at at time. Au naturel? I think not.

Among my most disappointing spoilage stories is The Great Champion Milk Fiasco.

When our local grocery store was changing hands (From a Champion to a Carrefour) the store was undergoing a thorough reorganization. During this time, I went to buy some actual “fresh” (a.k.a. “refrigerated”) milk from the dairy case. The date on the bottle was a week or two in the future. I got it home, opened it up… and it was curdled.

I think the grocery store workers had been moving stuff around and weren’t exactly careful enough about keeping the products refrigerated, but I guess I’ll never know for certain.

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about: 

The offending English Muffin

The offending English Muffin

I bought these English muffins well before the expiration date listed on the package. I ate two. Three days later, I went to finish them and, as you can see, there is mold all over them. Even though I kept them in the fridge!

 Then there’s just the daily stuff – my veggies seem to go bad very quickly. Lettuce has about a 2-day turnaround, and even that’s stretching it. My potatoes often are already sprouting by the time I get them home. And even the weird non-refrigerated milk (which I’ve started to buy after the Milk Fiasco) starts smelling funky after about three days.

Baguettes, and other French bread, are, by law, not allowed to have preservatives in them, so they go hard after one day. I’m not complaining about this one, though – their bread is great, so whatever they are doing, works!

I suppose one might say I should just shop “fresh” going to the market everyday for my produce and dairy. However, since most stores are open such odd hours, and close so early, that really isn’t a practical way to live here.

I’m not saying I really like preservatives… but I could say that I’m slowly developing a greater appreciation for them  😦

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Those were the words that greeted us from the French policeman’s mouth late Friday night, as D. and I were driving home from a very yummy Tunisian dinner at a friend’s house.

As we drove through the center of Fontainebleau, two cops had blocked the road and were herding cars into a small parking lot, shining their flashlights at us and making us roll down the windows. They were the Drunk Driving Patrol. We’d heard about them.

One of them instructed D. to blow into the little machine, but he wasn’t doing it the right way.

“No, blow fortfort…strong!” the cop told him. “For seven second! I say stop!”

Ok then.

Fortunately for us, our lovely three-course meal with friends had – for once – not included alcohol. Our hosts were a Muslim couple, and another guest was in labor  (no, I’m not making that up. She went to the hospital that night and they basically told her to come back later, so she thought, “Ok, why not get dinner to pass the time?” and delivered several hours after our dinner party ended). So, obviously, it wasn’t an alcohol-saturated event.

It was very nice to know that we weren’t in danger of failing the breathalizer test, since the ramifications for DD in France are pretty strict. D. passed, the cop told him “Oh, zero. That is good. That is very good!” and let us go. He gave D. the mouthpiece to keep, and it’s now sitting in our car as a reminder to NOT drink and drive.

Still, the event provided an interesting point of discussion between us, on the way home. I was somewhat shocked to see, firsthand, that here in France, the police can just pull you over with no reason whatsoever and test you for alcohol. D., on the other hand, thought it was brilliant. In his mind, if you aren’t drunk, you have nothing to worry about, and, if you are drunk, you shouldn’t be driving.

It made me realize, once again, how very American I am, and how, culturally,we think so differently. Because, while I really am against drunk driving and think there should be stiff penalties, I’m really just not comfortable with the police being able to pull anyone ever whenever they feel like it, with no reasonable cause.

D. said, “Well, it keeps people safe!”

And I said, “True. But you could say that drug traffickers make everyone in Phoenix unsafe. At the same time, would you be OK with the police setting a policy that said they can pull everyone over and search their cars, randomly, to make sure they don’t have drugs? I mean, how far are you going to take this ‘safety’ thing? How many rights are you OK with it infringing on?”

He didn’t really have an answer.

I get that this isn’t America. It’s France. So they can do whatever they like. But I’m glad that, imperfect as our drunk driving laws are in the US, we don’t try to take care of it this way. 

What to do?

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