Totally Frenched Out
From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
I woke up this morning and took my time getting up, enjoying the feeling of sleeping in my own bed for more than a few nights at a time. As I lay there, I started thinking about all the good things planned for this summer. And then it hit me - today marks one full year that I've been in Paris.
On May 28, 2008, I arrived at the Gare de Montparnasse, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get to my new (and supposedly temporary) lodgings. The mom had talked about taking a bus - but what did I know about taking a bus in Paris? Little did I know that the trajet would soon become so familiar that I would be able to do it blindfolded and walking backwards.
But up until that point, I'd just been going and going and going. Trying to keep moving so that I wouldn't break down. But once I finally got here and was able to breath and set my bags down for more than a day, I was suddenly hit with panic. I thought to myself "What are you doing here? You've never lived on your own before. You don't know really anyone in Paris besides Kendra - everyone else is just from the internet. And besides, you don't even like France". I felt so alone, thinking about how my whole life had done a 180 in just a matter of a few weeks. Still not believing that I'd gone from living in a lovely stone gîte with all my nice stuff to a tiny chambre de bonne with practically nothing. And I cried myself to sleep that night, fearful that I'd made the wrong decision.
But the next morning, I woke up, opened the curtains and saw this:
And I said to myself "Suck it up, there are worse places in the world to pick up the pieces and mend a broken heart." Sure there were a few rough times, namely in January when I wasn't working much and the weather was terrible. But I have to say that Paris has been good to me. I feel like myself again, and am no longer the shell of a person that I was in Bretagne. I've made a life for myself here. And I'm oh-so-very happy I stuck it out and that I've been able to get to know another side of France. On my own terms.
Tonight is girls' night out, so I will toast to that - and to all the lovely ladies I've met in the past year!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
A (long) weekend in Bourgogne
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I was thinking about writing a post about David Lebovitz's book reading tonight, or maybe one about how touching and poignant I thought the 25year Cosby Show reunion on the Today Show was, but instead I got side-tracked by a link Crystal posted on Facebook. It's of Ellen Degeneres' commencement speech at Tulane University and it cracked me up:
I never used to be a big fan of hers, but her style has evolved over the years and she's really grown on me. For those of you outside the US, she now has her own TV show. I rarely ever get to watch the whole thing, but I come across clips of it now again online, such as this one:
I don't really have any point to this post, but both of those videos made me laugh out loud, and hey- we can all use a little extra laughter in our day, right?
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Last night, after coming home from listening author & blogger David Lebovitze read from his new book, I somehow ended up watching reunion special on the Today Show, celebrating 25 years of The Cosby Show.
It was really heartwarming to see all the former cast-members there together, and to listen to them reminisce about various episodes and topics covered. I have to admit though that I was thrown for a loop when Matt Lauer asked if they thought they were part of the reason that President Obama was able to get elected in today's day and age.
And again - same as when all the issues around race came up at election time - it was just something I'd never considered. As a caucasion child growing up in the Midwest, skin color was never really something I considered. It just wasn't an issue. I don't know if that's because of my family or what, but even as a child, I don't ever remember thinking of the Cosbys' as a black family. I grew up watching them, but yet their skin color wasn't anything I ever thought about.
I can see how, at the time, especially for the older generation, they made a huge impact by portraying an African American family with a doctor father and a lawyer mother as normal. How by covering subjects that every family dealt with - adolescents, money, heart-break, etc - they And Felisha Knight acknowledged that by saying "This American family has existed for decades - we were just new to television."
Monday, May 18, 2009
Summer O'Fun v2.0
It's a nice to change to be able to wake up on a Monday morning in my own bed instead of in a hotel room - it's been a while. But this three-day week definitely won't be spent sitting around - I've got loads of errands that have piled up over the past two months and lots of friends to catch up with. And then Thursday, we will be taking advantage of the long weekend to visit The Justin in Bourgogne. I'm really looking forward to a fun weekend of friends, sight-seeing and wine tastings.
It's funny though, because here I was thinking this summer was going to be tranquil and laidback - yet while looking at my calendar last night, I noticed I've got (mostly fun) trips planned for almost every week. Add to that the fact that The Company has offered to pay for a plane ticket back home, and it means I'm almost all booked up through the beginning of September. I'm really happy though because it means I can now attend my cousin's wedding this summer and I'll get to see all my family. Not to mention that I haven't been back to Minnesota in the summer time since....well, I'm not even sure when!
I'm seeing lots of sun, boating and BBQs in my future....
Sunday, May 17, 2009
As if I needed another reason to love this city, last night was the 5th edition of the "Nuit des musées", or the Night of Museums. This means that a good chunk of museums were open late and were free to the general public. So along with a couple friends, I headed over to the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou. The center was named for Georges Pompidou, a former French president, and the building caused quite the scandal when it was opened in 1977 because of how unconventional it was.
I have to admit I'm not really a huge contemporary art fan, so my favorite thing about this museum was the view. The picture quality isn't the best because of the glare and the rain, but we had an absolutely amazing view of almost all of the major monuments in Paris.I also found myself taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and thought to myself "What are you doing? You see this same view several times a night from your apartment". But yet I still found myself pulling out my camera again once it started sparkling to take this video. Who can get tired of looking at la Dame de fer?
Labels: Life in Paris
Thursday, May 14, 2009
There's something good in every bad thing
Greetings from Bretagne, where I have sat twiddling my thumbs for the past two days thanks to the French customs office. As it is now, it's looking they're not going to release our packages today, so I'm probably going to have to head back to Paris and come back here again next week. Oh Joy. But at least I got my cds, right??
And on the other hand, I'm staying in quite possibly the creepiest hotel in all of France - I've stayed here once before and had the same feeling. There's just something off and slightly scary about everyone who works here. Like they're secretely vampires or something like that. Plus the rooms are disgusting and smell harcore like stinky man feet. They have the kind of bathrooms that don't have shower curtains or doors, and since it's carpeted, the carpet gets all wet and then it molds. I'm severely allergic to mold, so being cooped up in this room for the past few days has left me with a massive headache. But on the other hand, having two full days with "nothing" to do has allowed me to catch up on a lot of work and to take on an extra translation project, so again, pour chaque mal, il y a un bien (did I make that up, or is that an actual saying?).
And I've had a nice view from my room (though the church across the streets rings every hour and half hour 24 HOURS A DAY. What were they thinking??
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
And the traveling continues...
This week I'm off to....you guessed, it Bretagne again. Whoopdeedoo. Though it's worth it because assuming all goes well, I will have my carte de séjour in my hot little hands tonight.Now if only Bretagne really was just 4,5km away...
Monday, May 11, 2009
L& B were also kind enough to humor my request to go to the walled-city of Carcassonne. I'd been wanting to go ever since Fab & I took our road trip to Spain a few years back, but the lure of cheap booze, ciggies & gas proved to be too much for Fab and we went to Andorra instead.
But I finally made it there last Saturday, just as the clouds were rolling away. We lucked out with there not being too many tourists around and spent the day exploring the town and the Château. The Château visit was especially interesting, and had signs that explained a lot of the history of the city. Not to mention the beautiful view it offered over the rest of the region:I had a lot of fun guys, thanks for taking me!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Friday night, L & B and I went to go see Tryo in concert. And it was fabulous!!! My only regret is that I didn't bring my camera with me, so I didn't get to take any pictures or video clips in person. Luckily B had his though, and got some great shots:
And here's a few clips of the concert from YouTube:
I really liked that they used all of the stage - that sometimes they came right up front and sang, and othertimes like in the pictures, they used the whole stage. And they played for a really long time as well - I was expecting them to play for an hour, but it ended up being almost two and a half hours. There was such a great ambiance too, with the lots of audience interaction and people singing along with the music. It's the second time I've seen them in concert and I'm already trying to figure out how I can go see them again!!
Friday, May 8, 2009
Besides several men referring to me in the "masculine" form in French, there were a few other things I found a bit strange. First and foremost was the number of men who touched me - now, not inappropriately or anything, but there was a lot of backslapping or arm-touching going on during jokes and greetings. Have worked in France for so long, I've gotten used to not having any physical contact with my customers other than a handshake hear or there, so it really took me aback. Even more so since it was in a country where women and men don't generally mix, and where foreign women are often looked down on. So now I'm wondering if they've just decided to treat me like a man because of my job?
The second odd thing was how they all completely burst out laughing when they saw me sitting cross-legged. Now, part of my job during these visits is taking inventory of all of their parts, and they sure had a lot of them, so I finally got tired of bending over and just decided to sit down. The main guy walked by the room I was in, and did a massive double-take. And then he came in and asked what on Earth I was doing. I was confused for a second until another guy walked by and did the same. The two of them were literally doubled over laughing at the fact that I was sitting cross-legged on the floor. A couple of other guys came over to see what the fuss was, and they did the same. They were all practically crying because they were laughing so hard. And I still have no idea why - I kept asking, but they were laughing so much no one could get it out. I thought I heard something about how they only thought Tunisian women did that, and they didn't ever expect to see a foreigner sitting like that. So maybe it's a demeaning posture? Later on, one of the other guys told me that all the women in his family sit like that when they make organ patties from the annual sheep killing (forgive me for not knowing the name of this celebration). But I still don't know what the big deal was.
And the last thing that I was a bit surprised about was how much they eat with their hands. They kept laughing at us wanting to use our silverware all the time. For anything - things like chicken, fish (heads, scales and all), coucous or these really yummy crepe-like things. All of that food is so messy that it just didn't seem polite to be digging in with my hands during a business lunch. But I guess maybe it's not a problem since the women and men usually at separately...
If anyone has any explanation for any of these things though, I'd be really curious to hear what it is!!
Mooooo-ve out of the way
For those of you not on Facebook, here are a few pictures from where I've been at this week - down in the south of France, in "les Landes":The town and village names in Bretagne can be crazy, but over the years, I learned how to pronounce such names as "Plonévez-du-Faou", "Locmiquelic" or "Ploublazlanec". Down here though, it's like a whole 'nother language, with names like "Arou-Ithorots-Olhaïby" or "Moncayolle-Larrory-Mendibieu". What on Earth kind of names are those??
I (stupidly) forgot to bring my GPS, and had just thought "Oh, well I'll just take a quick look at Google Maps before I go and get an idea of the major towns along the way" - but I had no chance of remembering names like that. So I got lost in the foothills of the mountains (several times) and ended up quite late for my scheduled visit.Being late though was really the theme of the week - how could I not be when I spent my drives stuck behind various tractors, trucks or other slow-moving vehicles. I had to laugh though when I was delayed due to the following:Can you imagine having to tell your clients "Sorry I'm late, I got got stuck in traffic behind a herd of cows!!"
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The highlight of my latest trip to Tunisia was getting to go to Carthage. Carthage has a long and interesting history, dating back to its beginnings in 814 BC. Yep, that's right, BC! For a long time, the city was one of the power centers in the Mediterranean, and a major rival of Rome. There were several wars between the two cities, and if you put on your history cap, you may remember hearing about Hannibal and how he spent 12 years marching an entire army (elephants and all) up through Spain, the Alps and into Italy during the Second Punic War.However the Romans finally won out, and they destroyed the city after the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC. They rebuilt it however and it remained one of the most important Roman cities until it was destroyed a second time in 698 AD by Muslim invaders. You can still see traces of the Roman influence everywhere though.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the historical importance of Tunis/Carthage is shown in the fact that the name of the entire continent (Africa), comes from the Arabic word for Tunisia.
I really enjoyed our visit there - it's just so mind-blowing to think about how old some of these ruins are. How whole civilizations rose and fell multiple times before the US was even a sparkle in the eye of its future colonizers.
I'll end with a practical tip, should any of you ever want to go there - there are 8 major sites to visit in Carthage, and there is one entry ticket for all of them. The ticket costs 8 dinards (or $5.72 or 4.31€), and is valid for the entire day. So don't let the entry people try to sell you a new one for each site!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The El Abdine Mosque of Carthage
This mosque was sitting up high on a hill in Carthage. We saw it from quite a ways a way and decided to go check it out. I ended up talking the guards into letting us walk around its extremity, but as a woman, I was not allowed inside. So I tried to convince my co-worker to go in, but he refused since he's such a scaredy-cat. I was disappointed - the outside was so ornate, and I would've loved to have seen pictures of the inside.
The mosque is absolutely massive though, one of the biggest in the country. The President of Tunisia had it built as a sort of concrete trace of his reign. It has only been open since 2003, and was built on a hill called "La Colline de l'Odeon", just above the remains of an ancient basilica.The site was well-chosen, it offers a beautiful view of the sea and the mountains:A little background info on the president - Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has held office since 1987. He was reelected in 2004 with 94.5% of the vote - though when I asked my client about it, he said it was mostly because there were no opponents, not because everyone was happy with how he was governing. He also said that up until 2002, presidents could only be elected 3 times, but "surprisingly enough", that law was changed to an "unlimited amount of times" just before the end of his third term. He also raised the mandatory presidential retirement age from 70 to 75.Things like this is one of the reasons I like going to Tunisia for business and not vacation - it gives me the chance to talk to the Tunisian version of Joe the Plumber (or Monsieur Tout-le-monde if you're in France). I ask questions, they answer them -mostly- and we all get to compare experiences and cultures. And these past few years, I've come to understand that that's how my brain works - as long as I have some kind of tangible reason or historical reference for why things are they way they are, I can accept it. Ex: the French school system, the French administration, the French work ethic, etc . All of those things used to frustrate me to no end, but now that I understand how they ended up that way, I'm able to just do a gallic shrug and say "C'est comme ça" instead of getting frustrated by it. There's reason behind what seems like insanity at first glance, if you will.
I know not everyone works that way, but asking questions and trying to find the why behind things that once seemed so foreign to my American self has really helped me understand and appreciate France - and now Tunisia as well.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
Last Wednesday, we finished up around 3pm, which is definitely early for us. As we were leaving my client's, one of the employees came up to me and said "Hi, I live in the town you're staying in, would you like me to show you around?" We thought "Oh great, that's perfect - what better way to see a town than with someone who knows it?"
So we hop in the car and make the drive back. He and his friend laugh as a take a picture of this truck. They are such crazy drivers and they pass on the right, on the left, in the ditch, when there's oncoming traffic, etc. Normal two-lane roads are constantly turned into 4 (and sometimes 5) lanes, with cars come at you in all directions. So I had to laugh that these mudflaps were there to remind people to only pass on the left:When we got to town, he drove us straight to.....the Monoprix. Yep, you got that right - to the French supermarket chain. At first I thought maybe he needed to pick something up, but nope, he just wanted to show us around. I got out of it by saying that we'd already been in there and maybe we could see something else. So we get back into the car and drive over to the.....Champion. Another French supermarket chain. There's no getting out of it this time, so we all file out and into the store. We spend literally an hour exploring every single aisle of the two-level magasin. And the funny thing is - 90% of the products are exactly the same in a French Champion! But he was like "Look! We have mandarin oranges! And bread! And ice cream! And juice!" And, and, and. I cannot tell you how hard it is to find a million different ways in French to express how impressed you are by their product selection. And then it was on to the second floor. Look! We have computers! And cleaning supplies! In several different colors! And then we have tents! And feminine hygiene products!
My co-worker and I were both stealing glances when he was looking, thinking "What on Earth is going on here? When are we going to get to the good stuff?" Like the beach. Or the camels. Or the ancient ruins. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we finally neared the exit escalator....Only to have him veer off at the last minute and point out their lovely selection of photo albums and frames.
The only major difference I found between the French and Tunisian Champion was the lack of alcohol and the olive & spice selection:They were really pretty and colorful:And then all the different dried beans and grains used in Tunisian cuisine:We *finally* got out of the store though, only to have him say "Oh! Now we can go to the Carrefour!" I did my best to politely say that we'd rather go to the beach instead, so off we went. And we stayed there for a grand total of five minutes. Apparently it's not up there on his list of tourist destinations. LOL. We did get to visit his mom's house though, where she gave us sweetened tea and we all watched a children's version of Tunisian Idol. I'm wondering now if her house wasn't near your host family's, Sue - it was in the old quartier français, right near the beach.
We didn't end up getting out of there until about 8pm - which left just enough time to get back to the hotel and eat before going to bed. I enjoyed seeing the local side of the city, but man....a relaxing afternoon spent on the beach wouldn't have been all that bad either.....
Saturday, May 2, 2009
A story I will not be telling my mother, and pictures from yesterday's drive.
Some of you online may have seen my mention of a "sticky situation at a Tunisian gas station" yesterday. Here's what happened - my co-worker and I had a rental car, and we needed to fill up the tank before returning it to the airport. I said "Oh, no problem, we can stop at the gas station we stopped at last time". So we did, and it was one of the ones where they had men who come to pump the gas for you. I was feeling kind of cranky with my co-worker (plus that type of man usually refuses to talk to a foreign woman anyways), so I decided to let him deal with them himself in his practically non-existent French.I was looking at Facebook on my blackberry when I heard a commotion outside. I looked up and saw a lot of frantic hand gesturing going on between my co-worker and the pump dude. My co-worker does not deal with stress well at all and is very timid, so I decided to get out and see what the problem was. At first, the attendant didn't want to have anything to do with me, but I persisted and he finally said in broken French that they didn't take cards. I said "What do you mean? We paid with a card here last time!" And then he ignored me and started jabbering at my co-worker again, who by that time had shrunk into the corner. I went over by him and started insisting that we had paid with a card the last time, and he was just as insistent that they have never accepted cards for payment. I suspected he was just trying to rip us off.But he kept insisting we pay him in dinards and I kept telling him we didn't have any. I started getting nervous because it was late and dark and the other gas station attendants were starting to close in around us. We offered them euros or dollars, but they refused those as well. I was worried about them making my co-worker drive off to find an ATM - mostly because the freeways there aren't like in the US or France where you can get on and off easily. There, you get off and you continue on driving for several miles before you can turn around, and even then you can't get directly back on the highway. It's so easy to get lost. Not to mention my co-worker is a terrible driver and has no sense of direction (nor was I very hot on the idea of staying at the gas station alone at night with the scary men). We had been at a standstill for a good half an hour, when finally the owner of the station just happened to show up. He was an older men and they started shouting and gesturing at him in Arabic before he'd even stepped out of the car. He came over to me and I immediately started off with "I'm sorry, but we don't have any dinards". He looked me up and down for a second, and then stuck out his hand and said "Bonjour". Crap. I'd just broken the cardinal French rule of not saying Hello before launching into my diatribe. Not off to the best start. He invited us into his office (also scary) and we sat down. I explained the situation, and after talking a bit, he finally agreed to let us pay in euros (grand total: 14€). We were about a euro short though and for a minute there, I was afraid he was going to make us go pump gas to make up the difference. But then things changed on a dime. All of the sudden, he said "Obama! We love Obama!" and we were the best of friends and he was tu-ing me. I had no clue what had just happened, but I wasn't about to complain. So I sat there and talked with him for about ten more minutes. I learned that his wife was French and that he had homes in Nice, Strasbourg and St Malo. We talked about Bretagne, and then I made a joke about why on Earth was he giving us a hard time for a few piddly euros if he had money to buy all of those homes. He stopped for a second and I thought "Sh*t Samantha, now you've gone and done it", but then he laughed and came over and slapped me on the back and said maybe he would see me in Paris this summer. I thought he was going to bise me when we finally got out of there.
It was the strangest thing - and I still don't know how it changed from a semi-dangerous situation to a comical one so fast. It took at least a half hour for my heart to slow down afterwards.