Sunday, November 30, 2008

Repatriation

Although we arrived in France back in April I feel like I am only just starting to get my bearings. Spending six months on a tour bus visiting Europe was wonderful but not helpful in making me feel at home in Paris. 
Grégoire, however, is taking to Paris like a fish to water. After a matter of weeks he fell back in love with his mother land. Feasting on duck confit, nutella crêpes and tiny cups of espresso, he is re-assimilating at an impressive rate. Yes, these days he looks, walks and smokes like a Parisian. I have to trot to keep up with him, I can store things in his new French man purse (he claims that the English translation of sac makes it sounds much girlier than it is) and I enjoy knowing that he has matches on hand. 

Here is a fun set of before and after shots. This top photo was taken in 2007. We stopped for fried chicken on our way home from a weekend in Manzanita Oregon. Note the bud light being consumed directly from the bottle, the country style table cloth and Greg's van T-Shirt. 

This second shot was taken last weekend a few blocks from our apartment. Note the ever so French mustache, the man in the béret behind Greg, and of course the cigarette au bec.

Oui, a frenchman in his native environment is both a beautiful and dangerous beast.  

 

Monday, November 24, 2008

The BIG Day

By all reasonable measures the party was a success. We woke up the following morning to find my underwear on the kitchen floor and dishes piled up in the shower. So. Yes. It was a fun night.

It was not, however, all smooth sailing. Far from it.

Allow me to present article A. This innocent looking little piece of paper almost ended my marriage. As Grégoire and I sipped coffee discussing the big day ahead of us, he asked me a few questions, like when are you going to put the turkey in? What time are we eating? All fine questions which I thought I gave fine answers to. Turns out he was unsatisfied with my vague answers and decided we (read me) needed a schedule so we would not double book the two burners and one stove. Did I mention that Greg is a quarter German?

He breaks out the colored pens, scissors and graph paper. Then asks me questions like how long does the turkey need to rest. My reply was, "well at least 20 minutes but it can rest for up to an hour if it is tented with tin foil". Then he asked about the green bean casserole, "how long does that take to heat back up?". I say, "well if we preheat it on the stove then top it with the onions then pop it in the oven, then we would need about 15 minutes of stove time and 10 minutes of oven time. But we could do the whole thing in the oven and that would take more like 50 minutes.". At this point Greg throws down his pens and says, "Mary you can only give me short answers like yes, no, or a number. How can I write 20ish minutes on this graph? and how do you want to heat up the beans, oven or stove?! Just pick one!" Needless to say, things spiraled from there and we butted heads for about an hour.

In the end, as you can see, the schedule was created and although I HATE to admit it, it was mildly helpful.

The second obstacle hit around 4 o'clock. We have the discount electricity plan which heats our water during off hours (11pm to 7am). When we wake up in the morning we have a fresh tank of hot water that is supposed to last us all day. This is usually no problem. However, that day, I was using hot water like never before. I own two pots and one pan. I would boil the beans in my one large sauce pan then pour them out and quickly wash that pan so I could put the potatoes in it. This heavy rotation caused frequent dishwashing, which when combined with our two showers meant that we ran out of hot water hours before the party began. Reaching back to my food handlers permit class I am pretty sure not having access to hot water is an issue. I would boil water in a pan but of course they are all full of mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and according to Greg's schedule the burners are fully booked from now until 8:30. The show must go on.

Grégoire's two main tasks for the day were cleaning the house and getting the table and chairs set up. Moving any kind of furniture in Paris is a pain and damn near impossible when you don't own a car and neither do any of your friends. Greg was able to borrow the van from work and picked up two unbuilt ikea desks from the new office in the 9th and brought them home. He was hammering and screwdrivering all afternoon and then it dawns on him that he doesn't like the lighting in our living room. AHHHH! For those that don't know. I HATE with capital letters the lighting in our living room. For the past five months we haven't been able to decide what to do about it thus the bare light bulbs are still in place. 45 minutes before the guests arrive Greg announces that he is going to run an errand. Where is he going, you ask? Castorama. The French equivalent of Home Depot. Why, you ask? Because he has decided that NOW is the perfect time to fix the vintage lamp I bought in June and pick up some christmas lights.

He arrived 15 minutes before the guests were scheduled to arrive and they all arrived 30 minutes late (very French) so in the end Greg had just enough time to rewire the lamp and hang the lights which looked beautiful. So, again, in the end he was right. But I experienced a very stressful 45 minutes while he was absent.

While he was out, I Skyped my mother to both complain about my insane husband and have her take a look at the stuffing. My mother's stuffing recipe is one of those mysterious Debbie Campbell recipies that has a little bit of this and a little bit of that and in the end I'm not sure anyone knows (including her) exactly what's in it. I held up my webcam to the bowl and squeezed the bread cubes so she could gauge the moisture level. She approved and I tossed it in the oven. Speaking of ovens. In addition to disowning my husband I almost killed his best friend Mathieu. He was supposed to arrive at 7pm sharp with his portable oven so I could start heating up the sides. He saunters in at 8pm. By that time the other guests had all arrived and we were busy eating deviled eggs and drinking crémant, so at that point all was forgiven since I had forgotten all about my side dishes! We fired up the second oven which was stacked on my washing machine and by 9:45 we were finally ready to eat.

I gave a short speech on the history of Thanksgiving and in true Campbell family tradition we all stood, held hands and went around the table to say what we were thankful for. This year I am thankful for the luxury of choice. Thanks to the support from my friends, my family and my loving husband I am able to choose things like what part of the world I want to live in, what kind of fancy cheese I want to buy and where I would like to work. I am able to take my time and am lucky enough to have a wide selection of things to choose from. Choice is a luxury and I am thankful for it.



Friday, November 21, 2008

Turducken

The butcher on Rue Lepic is my new best friend. Based on several measurements, discussions with my mother and online research I decided that a whole turkey was out of the question. I thought the next best thing would be a roasted turkey breast. So yesterday I dropped by my local butcher shop to inquire about a skin on, bone in turkey breast. I peered in to the case and saw turkey legs, wings and skinless boneless breasts but these turkey parts weren't going to add up to a platter worthy bird. So I asked the butcher for what I wanted using my sweetest, gee I'm new here voice. I told him that I need a skin on, bone in breast. He said he didn't have anything like that and didn't think that cut was a very good idea. I pleaded and explained that of course I would rather buy a whole turkey but given the fact that I am working with the smallest oven on the planet I think this cut wouldbe a good compromise. I would have the rib bones for structure and the skin for presentation which I would slather with butter and herbs and all the glorious white meat we needed. He frowned and said, "Come back tomorrow afternoon, madamoiselle,  so I can think about it.".
I returned the next day at 2:00 only to find the shop closed. They close between 2:00 and 4:00 so apparently by afternoon he really meant evening! Fine I thought, more time for him to think about my turkey. I popped back down the hill at 4:00 and found my guy. "So?!" I said, "what did you find?" He pulled a whole turkey out of the case and says, "Voilà!". Oh god. He didn't understand me at all. My eyebrows furrow as I explained, again, that a whole turkey simply isn't going to fit in to my shoe box sized toaster oven and he said, "No no my dear, just show me what part you want and I will cut it for you!". Perfect! He then chops off the legs and cuts out the backbone leaving me with a perfectly sized, skin on, bone in breast! Hurray!

As the butcher was preparing my bird, the man behind me, who overheard my duress, tapped me on the shoulder and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. We got to talking and he told me that last year he was visiting some American friends in New York for Thanksgiving and he had something called a Turducken. The butcher stops chopping at this point to ask what, pray tell, a Turducken is? It is, for those unfamiliar, a chicken stuffed inside a large duck stuffed inside a turkey. The butcher shakes his head in disbelief and disgust. The frenchman who ordered the dish agreed. "How absurd! How extravagant! Why would anyone do that?" they proclaim. I laughed and said, "I know. We are nuts. But this dish speaks volumes about good old American ingenuity. Yes, our taste for excess can sometimes lead us astray but what can you do?" I left the store turkey in hand, feeling relieved an oddly proud of my wacky compatriots. 

Deep Breaths

28 hours and counting until I am hosting my first solo Thanksgiving party. My poor little fridge has never been so full, my knives are dulling from all the nut chopping and my turkey is yet to be purchased. I have spent the last 5 minutes turning in circles and I have decided it would be prudent for me to sit down for a moment and take a few deep breaths.

I originally invited 6 people to this little soirée, the guestcount has recently grown to 11 and I am wondering what the safe maximum occupancy is for an apartment the size of my childhood garage. In addition to limited square footage, we also are working with limited supplies. I am cursing our romantic idea of piecing together mismatched vintage silver to create our collection of flatware. I currently own, 7 forks, 9 large spoons and 3 knives. Up until yesterday I owned 6 plates, I now own 10 which still leaves us 1 short of a load.

So what's a hostess to do? Out source. Our dear friend Matthieu is bringing the requisite bottle of wine in addition to his kitchen table and his portable oven. Other friends are bringing coffee cups, pies, butter knives and folding chairs. Should everyone remember the list of odd items, we should be in pretty good shape for eating dinner.

Dinner. That of course is the ultimate source of anxiety. Earlier this week I rode the metro 45 minutes away in order to find cranberries which cost €5.60 a bag. I dove deep into the Algerian neighborhood to find large orange fleshed yams and yesterday I spent 10 minutes trying to convince my butcher sell me turkey breasts with the skin on. He told me that he will think about it and that I should come back tomorrow.

As noted in earlier posts, I own an oven that is smaller than a conventional mailbox. No whole chicken, let alone turkey, would ever fit. Matthieu suggested that I let someone with a larger oven cook the turkey. Days later Kristen, who does indeed own a full sized oven (she is American), offered to preform this service. Grégoire accurately replied to Matthieu when he said that this idea was hors de question. That having someone bring the turkey to a Thanksgiving party would be paramount to asking someone to bring in an already decorated tree to a Christmas party. Matthieu shrugged not seeing why that would be a big deal either. Mary would never let that happen! I was simultaneously touched by how well my partner knows me and concerned that I may have a fatal case of MSS (Martha Stewart Syndrome) which was no doubt passed on to me from my mother during childbirth.

Speaking of my mother, her voice has been present all week. Unbeknownst to her, she made me buy the more expensive paper napkins, serve 4 side dishes instead of 3 and attempt to make gougères  just before the guests arrive so they will have a hot little snack when they walk through the door. Her voice almost drove me to bake individual banana breads as a party favor but that's where I drew the line.

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it. 




Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Metro Moments - Part I

This is the first of a new series called Metro Moments. While riding around the city on this amazing network of underground trains you find very fertile grounds for people watching. In this series I would like to share a few of my favorite moments in the metro. 


Here is one. This young lady is so starved for privacy in this crowded train that she is holding her scarf over her mouth to muffle her cell phone conversation. This technique also has the added benefit of shielding her mouth so that people can't read her lips. Why go to such extreme measures? I can't say. In my opinion she looks totally nuts and I argue drew more attention to herself than if she just talked into her phone like a normal commuter. Personally as soon as I saw her trying so hard to conceal her conversation, I leaned forward even further so that I could better eves drop on her conversation. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cats in Europe

I have often thought that in my next life it would be nice to be a cat. Specifically my mom's cat. That way I could laze around all day sitting on stylish leather chairs while being fed salami ends and fried up giblets extracted from the envelops inside whole supermarket chickens.

It turns out the Europeans take pretty good care of the cats too. While Parisians are notorious dog lovers they also hold a great fondness for cats. Just this afternoon I was sitting in a park listening to This American Life and a perfectly normal looking lady sits down next to me with a very chic siamese cat on a thin blue leash. The cat comes over to me and the lady says, "Don't worry, she wont bite. When I see the sun shining like this I just cannot resist taking her out for a little fresh air." Italians would agree. Please note the nice old man parked on a bench in Levanto, Italy with his cat in a bird cage enjoying the afternoon sun and the view of the port.

The Italians, however, take thislove affair with cats to the next level. They don't just love their own cats, they love all cats and for anyone who has spent some time in Italy you know there is a lot of cats to love. Rome is crawling with them. There is a ruin in the middle of the city called Largo Argentina that has been officially transformed in to a sanctuary for disabled felines. While hiking between the Cinque Terre villages this summer I ran across a cat encampment. Complete with a donation box, free food and tents. Yes, Italian cats are familiar with the Dolce Vita.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oddly Affordable vs Annoyingly Expensive

Paris is expensive. It's expensive like London, like New York, like any other metropolis where the population is so dense. Produce is pricey, rent is high, and parking is outrageous. Moving to the big city we knew we were going to see high prices for certain items and services but every once in a while I still get sticker shock. Dental floss, for example, is wildly expensive, €5.90 the pop. Shoes are another crazy expensive item, I rarely see any shoes worth wearing for less than €90.00.

It's not all bad news though. We have run across several things that are surprisingly cheap!
  • Leg Waxing ~ €12.00
  • Bottle of decent wine ~ €6.00
  • Internet/cable/phone package with unlimited US calling ~ €29.00
  • Baguette ~ €1.00
  • Flying from Paris to Rome ~ €70
I guess it boils down to priorities.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Milk Honey and Rum

The French have a lot of unusual theories about what does and doesn't make you sick. Eating raw beef? Drinking expired milk? Pas de problem. Not wearing tights in the winter? Exposing your delicate neck skin to the wind by not wearing a scarf? Attention! These are sure fire ways to get sick.

Gregoire has a long standing belief that being cold can give you a cold. Whenever he brings this up I nod and smile and think how quaint. This theory must have come from the olden days in France when they didn't have microscopes and modern medicine. Or possibly the theory was launched by the booming scarf industry here in France and he is just a victim of the propaganda machine? Either way, until today I thought he was absolutely nuts.

As it turns out, he may be on to something. Yesterday I stood for three and a half hours (That's right! Enough time to drive from Seattle to Portland! Enough time to watch two movies! Enough time to bake a banana bread!) in line outside the Prefecture de Police waiting to have my immigration papers validated. The line snaked around the sidewalk, ducking in and out of covered alleyways and finally into the police station. The first two hours were cold and then it started to rain. In the cold, in the rain, I stood with the other people who love this country enough to wait in these kinds of conditions for the chance to live here legally.


France, I think at this point my feelings for you are clear. I do love you. I did stand in line for you. And what did you give me in return? A cold and another five week delay until my paperwork can be settled. This morning I woke up feeling stuffy and unwell. The only explanation for my cold is the exposure to the cold yesterday.

Tonight I am going to make an old French cold remedy to fight this French cold. A mug of hot milk, spiked with rum and sweetened with honey. They say this potion packs a punch. It should knock you out for the night and the next day you should wake up sweaty yet refreshed.
We shall see.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hip Hip Horray!



France celebrated with us this week. There was honking and wooping and dancing in the streets! Europe is thrilled with our choice of new president. I received this photo from Monsieur Senior this week! Check it out. He is wearing a T-Shirt of his own design. In case you can't read it, the shirt says "Change Yes YOU Can!".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Go Obama!!!

A few weeks ago I attended an early morning (3am to be precise) live broadcast of the third presidential debate. My friend Caroline is a camera-woman for BFM Télé which is a 24 hour news channel similar to CNN. She told me she was assigned to this event and I promptly invited myself to tag along. The event was organized by the Democrats Abroad and held in an Irish pub near the Louvre. The bar was packed with American girls looking rather French and sounding rather French but being very American in their choice of beverage. Smirnoff Ice straight from the bottle.... a dead give away.

At 6am when the debate was all over and the bar was emptying, Caroline interviewed me and my clip made it on to TV! Essentially I told all of France that this last debate proves that Obama is going to be a great leader because he knows how to eloquently and politely express his views in the face of provocative and unpleasant politicians. What a man. Go Obama! Here is the clip!

video

Sunday, November 2, 2008

3...2...1..Sarkozy!

Last May I was lucky enough to be traveling through France during the presidential elections. As our election day approaches I thought I would write a little something about the French election process as I experienced it.

The presidential election dominated the news and cafe conversations. I was having lunch with my friend Matthieu, a radio journalist, who was trying to explain the French voting process to me. Mid sentence he stopped and said, "I know Mary! Why don't you just come with me to vote in the primaries tomorrow morning?! That way I can show you how it works."

So I woke up extra early the next day to stand in line with Matthieu. 84% of the French population voted in 2007 so the line was long (64% of US voters turned out for our 2004 election). We finally entered the gymnasium. Matthieu showed his ID card and signed his name in a giant book documenting his participation in the election. He was then handed an unmarked white envelope and 12 post-it size pieces of paper with one of the 12 candidate's names printed on it. Matthieu then ducked into the voting booth closing the velvet curtain behind him. All I could see was his feet and a waste paper basket.

Two seconds later he popped back out and dropped his envelope in the big box. "So? What happened in there?" I asked. "Simple, you put the name of your candidate in the envelope and you throw the other pieces of paper away. Then tonight they will open all the envelops and whoever has the most pieces of paper wins." Aside from the obvious environmental concerns (all that wasted paper!) I loved the simplicity and anonymity of this system.

Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union pour un Movement Populaire and Segolene Royale of the Parti Socialiste emerged as the two front runners. They now had two weeks to win over a majority of the electorate and piece together political coalitions with the remaining political parties. France has a mutli party system, there are roughly 18 parties ranging from the Parti Communiste Français to the Front National. This multi party system prevents any one party from dominating the political scene and forces politicians to work together inorder to gain enough support to win the national election.

Let the games begin! During the next two weeks the candidates were not immune from mud slinging, but it seemed to me that they both spent most of their energy talking about the issues. I mentioned this observation to the hotel owner I was dining with and they said, "Mais oui! In the states your election is a glorified beauty pageant! All you care about it personality, not zee issues." While I found that observation a little harsh, I could see where he was coming from. The conversations that I had been overhearing all week were all about complex tax policy and how best to restructure the French medical program with a level of understanding and detail that would be lost most Americans.

Two weeks later it was election day and I was sitting in my hotel room in Bayeux. The restaurants were empty that night so there was no use trying to get any book research done. So I was munching on my dinner (a sanwich) half listening to the TV thinking we wouldn't have the results for at least a day or two. Two film crews were following Royale and Sarkozy. The shots were jumping back and forth between the two official galas and then at 9 o'clock à la Time Square on New Years Eve the news anchor begins a countdown 10...9...8...shot of Royale...7...close up of Sarkozy...6...Royale...5...Sarkozy...4...3...I am thinking they can't be serious! Are they really going to announce the winner tonight?!.....2....1...The next great leader of France....Sarkozy! My mind was blown. How on earth did they already count all the votes? Don't they need to double check the for hanging chads? Aren't there any law suits? No scandals of voter discrimination? No. It all seemed so easy. So simple. It could have something to do with the fact that France comfortable resides in one time zone and only has 60million residents verses America's 305million, but still, I was impressed.

As our election day approaches I am humbled by the interest Europe has taken in our politics. The US election is consistently covered on the nightly news and makes the front page of most daily newspapers. The level of detail in which the French can discuss our politics is both flattering and slightly embarrassing. Their knowledge and interest inspires me to be the most well informed and active American I can be.