(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Monday, March 31, 2008


Apparently I'm an even bigger blognovice than I suspected. My request to list my fledgling blog on blogher.com was rejected today. My blog has not lived for at least 30 days and so ... we do not yet pass muster for elbow-rubbing with all of the blogging Hers on that little parcel of internetland. My rejection was penned by a woman named Joy. Oh the irony.

Thank goodness the internets are vast and accepting of a little tumbleweed such as mine. I'll keep on keepin' on and soon, they won't have Non, je ne regrette rien (wow that's a mouthful, ain't it?) to kick around.

Until then, would someone please feed me a comment or two? All I hear is the whistling wind. (queue spaghetti western music).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

gin in my apron pocket.

So, I am such a blognovice it is pathetic. As I have stumbled across and around blogsites, pretty much by accident or sheer nosiness I came across blogher.com. Of course I'm sure you all know all about it. whatever.

Anyway, somehow I found a blog featuring one of my favorite subjects. Gin. People who know me know I love to date Mr. Hendricks around gin:thirty.

Who knew gin could be optimistically associated with weight loss and self-improvement? well well well. I found a loose-knit group described as MILFs who have done just that. Picture MILFs around the world banding around a common cause ... self-improvement via tiddly.

Okay. So I realize it isn't EXACTLY about the gin. But about the self-improvement. So since I helped myself to the link and the image (I checked first ... so did at least three other people), I guess I'll share a bit of whatever lame attempts I make to improve my outer appearance. After all, this entire blog is supposed to be about reinventing the inner me.

So did I tell you guys that I've started doing yoga. Well, yeah it is home-yoga. But yoga nonetheless. Five warm-up poses and five themed poses. Every morning. every week-day morning. pretty much.

Cheers! (reaches for apron pocket).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

losing it in Europe.

Yesterday was one of my closest friend's birthday. I haven't requested permission to post her age, so I'll leave that. Suffice it to say you'd never guess. This is my friend Christie, who has made several journeys with me to France. My earlier trips in particular.

Last night I joined Christie and her assorted family members at the coast for dinner. Several of Christie's family members have birthdays in the March/April timeframe. Apparently summers were good times for Christie's parents. So there we were drinking red wine and visiting in that kind of loud chaotic fashion families are wont to do when they all congregate in a smallish space.

They got started teasing Christie's sister about an airheaded phase she went through, say 20 years or so back. A phase where she did lots of silly things like lock herself out of places, forget stuff, leave things behind, etc. Now I've been in this phase pretty much all of my adult years. Of course, I wouldn't call it airheaded. I like to think of it as having SO many things to remember, be responsible for, to do... that my capacity just goes to overload and I'm kind of out of memory. You know, like those computer glitches. ahem.

Well anyway Christie and I got started reminiscing about a certain trip to France we took where apparently I lost stuff at basically every stop. I had begun to tell the tale of the ONE loss I experienced, when Christie pipes in and says, "No, start at the beginning ... it wasn't just ONE!" . Well, I still think she's blended multiple trips ... but here's how it is recalled now.

Lovely trip we'd planned. First down to San Sebastián to stay, enjoy the beach town in Northern Spain ... hop round to Bilbao to see the spectacular Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim. Then on up to Biarritz. Head over to the Loire for a couple of châteaux. Christie swears we hit Toulouse as well, but that was a second trip. Of course, as mentioned, her memory is many times sharper than mine. But still, I believe I'm right.

This was my second trip to France. And first to Spain. And our first time travelling together. I also should share that Christie has the patience of Job and I of a flea. Great match. I took on the driving (stick) and Christie the navigation (no stick ability). Christie had loads of travel experience, I little to none. So I had painstakingly researched and read and pondered in order to have some basic knowledge of the area. Christie on the other hand was like having a human Wikipediac on board. See, she had studied history and languages for years and could rattle off esoteric facts at will, and did so as we raced along the autoroute. I was instantly intimidated and cranky! (we can laugh about it now). In a nutshell, the entire experience was somewhat overwhelming.

We arrived in San Sebastián and made our way to our little pension. Prior to this trip, I had never even heard of a pension! This pleasant woman rented out rooms in her apartment. Ours was tiny, with a window overlooking a small courtyard. You could lean out and see all the neighbors. Which everyone did, of course. It was lovely.

It is too many years ago to recount every aspect of this trip. We went to the old square one night for tapas and managed to find the center of the most hideous tapas in Spain. Stall after stall of mayonnaise drenched yuck! But we also found great drinks and a square with a ska band and loads of beautiful young people, rocking out. Many of whom looked like my half-Spaniard daughter. The predominant language in this Basque neck of the woods is Euskara. My general impression was that 'esses' and 'ess kays' (s's and sk's) take on the sh sound. Best way to describe it is "osh kosh b'gosh". To my entirely untrained ear of course.

We ended this particular night closing down a little bar and then walking along the beach walk back to our pension. In the morning, I realize I can't find my wallet. We retrace all of our steps that evening and as we approach the bar, I am greeted with recognition by the proprietors. They had my wallet, intact, and had been hoping to find me somehow. The Spanish reacted with genuine concern towards a basic stranger. Loss #1.

Another recollection of the Spain portion of the trip is driving through the most magnificent Pyrenees during a skycracking thunderstorm in the pitch black, certain the next turn held our immediate demise. Driving through those same mountains in daylight was like being in some kind of mystical land. These pointy peaks seemed to rise higher than any mountains I'd seen before. You felt you were in the middle of nowhere and then you'd round the bend and there would be a dense little city made up of high-rise apartments clinging to the side of the road.

The Guggenheim in Bilbao was also a contradiction. Here we were in this sooty, dilapidated fishing town. We drove out towards the industrial port area, rounded a corner and voila! there emerged a fantastical building out of a child's fantasy. The art it housed was grand, but the building itself was the best installation offered.

Okay, back to losing.

One of my choices, carefully researched, was a visit to the Château of Azay le Rideau. This was a small, romantic château that seemed to float on the water. The story goes that its owner/builder Gilles Berthelot, state treasurer for King Francois I, was suspected of embezzlement once the king got wind of the lavish Château he was building and he was disgraced and forced to flee. The king took ownership and promptly gave it to one of his minions. Sounds fishy to me.

Anyhoo. Driving to Azay le Rideau along one of France's inimitable autoroutes, we swing off for a pitstop. Now the autoroute isn't such that there's an exit every 1/4 mile. No you drive and drive and then like an oasis in the distance there is a self-contained detour spot with cafe, road books, restrooms, showers, knick-knacks ... oh, and petrol. Well in any event, we pop out and I decide not to take my purse. Just my wallet and keys. (queue impending doom music). Take care of business, back in the car and hit the autoroute, all the while dreaming of dreamy Azay le Rideau.

Arrive, park loads away from actual château. Tromp through appropriately charming village to line up for ticket. Approach ticket booth, reach into purse and ... yeppers, no wallet.

Mind you we are at least 45 minutes from the pitstop. One way. sigh. My Job-like companion and I return to the car. 45 minutes of awkward silence interspersed with my whining ensues. I'm in a sweat. My passport was in that wallet. I barely engage the parking brake and make a mad dash for the interior. Yes, my wallet was at the cashier. Minus only the cash. All credit cards, passport and sundry items were intact. Wish I could say the same for my pride and disposition. They reacted with disbelief at this irresponsible American woman who ridiculously left behind her wallet. Zero sympathy. Yes, the French ARE my people. smile. Loss #2.

Loss #3, you ask? Well ... even though it WAS on a separate trip, my third loss occurred in Toulouse, "la ville rose", or the rose city - so named because of the gorgeous, soft pink and rose colored stone used in so many of the buildings. Toulouse is in the heart of foie gras country. Our last night in the city, we had dinner at a quite magical restaurant ... whose employees were actors in their own right, just biding their spare time at the restaurant. We ate and drank and were much entertained and staggered into our beds at an unmentionable hour. We hurried the next morning to depart at the appropriate hour. My diamond ring was nowhere to be found. Searched the room high, low and all points between. Pitched a fit at the hotel. Called daily throughout the rest of the trip. To no avail. My wedding ring, to boot. double sigh.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

only in Oregon.

Snowy AND Sunny.

the old or the new. or both?

Now that I've started with this blog, I'm pondering where to focus. Originally my intent was to write about my experience of leaving a very good job and the adventure of establishing my outpost in Brantôme. To share some anecdotes and encouragement for anyone following their dreams. Of how dreaming about reinventing my life pans out in reality. And possibly helpful details about undertaking living abroad.

But looking back over the last 10 years, I've also taken many wonderful trips all over France and have lots of experiences to share. My close friend Christie and I have been on several mini-adventures throughout the country. Since my memory is crap and hers is nigh on to photogenic, I'm sure she could keep me honest!

So tales of the Loire, Burgundy, Cognac, Provence and others? Cities like Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nice, Bilbao? or stories of the future, as they emerge?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

building my sidebar.

So, I confess I'm kind of getting in to this thing called blogging. Wonder if it will stick? There's a lot I don't know ... like when and if it is okay to link and or hotlink to other pages.

I sent an inquiry to a favorite site of mine, a basic question regarding if it was permissible to link to their site. The response I received was a rather incredulous "Of COURSE you can link to our site" ... translation "geez you crazy technophobe, can I have some of what you are smoking?"

Well, ex-CUUUUUUSSE me.

Oh and by the way, I have several new links in my sidebar. Smile.

my first trip to France.

My first trip to France was in 1997. My daughter Johnelle, 17 at the time, was living with a family in France on a study abroad program and it was time for her return. We had agreed that we would spend her last few weeks together. It would be an opportunity for her to show me "her" Paris, and for us to explore a new region together.

Because I had only dreamed a small bit about France, I relied upon friends to recommend their favorite aspects of Paris to me. A friend and colleague, Bill Moreno, had a brother who had lived in Paris. He recommended an arrondissement (district) to me that he thought I would like. I was introduced to Le Marais, which to this day remains my favorite district in Paris. It crosses the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, on the right bank of the Seine (or le rive droite). I'm not sure if it is my favorite because it is now familiar to me or because I have watched it revive over the last 10 years. This first visit presented a district marred by graffiti and still populated with empty storefronts. Today, years later, it is a bustling mecca for shoppers, tourists, and a funky mix of young families, gay culture and the inhabitants of a centuries-old Jewish quarter. An added benefit is le Marais is one of the few districts that is bustling on a Sunday, shops included. So on good weather Sundays it is rocking!

Le Marais emerged from a marshland in the 12th century. In 1612, the Palais Royale was established here and continued until the court moved to the Louvre and Versailles. Two notable items of interest in le Marais are the Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris and a truly remarkable spot to laze away an afternoon. You can stroll the Arcades, have a gourmet meal at one of the notable cafés or picnic in the park. Or "une experience gastronomique" at L'Ambroiserie, a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. On our first trip in Paris, Johnelle and I spent many an evening tromping off our excessive dinners by strolling (repeatedly) through the arcades.

One of the best evenings I have spent in Paris was viewing an outdoor film at the Place des Vosges. Near dusk, an inflatable screen was erected and we reclined on blankets in the grass to view Les Miserables.

A short walk across Rue de Turenne brings you to Rue des Francs Bourgeois, an exhilirating shopping lane where you can easily while away an entire afternoon, emptying your pocketbook in the process.

Another treat in le Marais is to explore the venerable Jewish quarter. Seek out Rue des Rosiers, home of a vibrant Jewish community for six hundred years. Here you will find bookstores, synagogues, Jewish schools and, of course, kosher food.

Johnelle had a number of good tipsters herself and planned some perfect first visit activities for us which I would also recommend to any newbie visitors. Paris is made up of endless tiny neighborhoods, each with their own personality and style. It would be easy to get lost in one or two of these and leave from your first trip without a good overview of the city as a whole.

So, try starting out with one of the open-air bus tours which traverse the city. Yes, they might be a tad touristy ... but they provide a great feel for what the city has to offer you. With the bus tours, you can disembark at various stops and explore further if the spirit moves you. Pick-up the next bus that comes along and see more.

Another completely different way to view the city is to try the Bateaux Mouches. A cool thing about these boat lines is there is also a water taxi of sorts, the Batobus. You can buy a pass and hop on to get around Paris, up and down the Seine, as an alternative to bus or metro. Very nice option in the summer.

I'll share more about my first trip to France later, especially of note was our trip on the TGV to Avignon, the papal seat for most of the 14th century. Breathtaking.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Louis and Bruno and Travel, Oh My!

Meet my expensive boy toys, Louis (all in white) and Bruno. Louis is coming up on 8 years old, Bruno is two. They are my companions, entertainment, and devoted worshippers!

So, of course, off to France they will go. If you are interested in travelling with your pets, stay tuned with me as I ferret out all of the mindnumbing details ... of which there are many. I'll be presenting what I learn which will basically focus on France and the UK.

The first thing I am asked is "Will you have to quarantine them?" and the answer is no. I have learned that THEY may get their first tattoo before I do! or a microchip inserted somewhere in their bodies (which under our current administration may be right around the corner for me as well ...). Also, France is comprised of endless geographical boundaries all of which have their own sets of rules and regulations. So it isn't just as simple as "I'm travelling to France, what do I do?" but "I am travelling to Brantôme, France, in the Southwest, the Perigord Vert in the north of the Dordogne ... you know, the Aquitaine region." And then complete the associated paperwork in quadruplicate and mail it off, expectantly. and patiently.

Given this, my first idea was to hire a pet relocator. Yes, they absolutely have such things! I had to get referred to the one I inquired with (no riff-raff wanted I suppose) and then humbly submitted my inquiry for the cost of 2 healthy pooches, one 13 pounds and one 6. I received an ever-so-courteous response, assuring me they would happily escort my 2 fellas for the princely sum of $3,300. Gasp! Why I could secure 2 berths in the first class section with me for that amount. Not that I don't love me some Louis and Bruno. But I think not.

So, instead I will be forced to regale you with stories of the adventurous journey of Louis and Bruno, one as carry-on and one as checked baggage. This should be fun...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

inspired by a sparrow.

The first time I heard Edith Piaf sing, I had never been to France. I had studied french in high school ... and had some romantic vague impression of it. I was at a friend's for dinner and I heard what I can only describe as the sound of warbling to my untrained ear. I had to stop and ponder for a moment before I realized the songstress was singing in French. The song was "La Vie en Rose" ... and I was instantly enchanted. I felt I had been transported to another time and a faraway place.
I wanted to know more about the woman behind the voice. Her songs conveyed longing, courage, pride, hope, playfullness. The more I learned about her trials and tribulations, her steely resolve, the more impressed I became. She overcame tremendous odds in life and inspired the love of her country's citizens.
What a treat it was when "La Môme" was distributed in the theaters. Marion Cotillard embodied the spirit of Edith Piaf and well deserved the Oscar and other awards she was bestowed.

my new home in France.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ma camionnette.

Anyone notice that French vehicles look like they've been zapped with the "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" gun? I know it is crazy but I bought this little white number on the left, sight unseen (well in person) ... can't you just see me in there with Louis, Bruno and my various/sundry French finds?
(The Big, Red Firemen's Van was tempting, imagine the stories it could tell!)

and the next day ... and the next day ...

So still laying around, feeling like its the week-end ... thinking of what I might want to cook tomorrow or get done because it will be Sunday and the week-end when I have an epiphany. Sure I can make soup tomorrow because it is Sunday. But then there will be the next day and the next day and ... I can make soup any day of the week! ... no more corporations ... at least in the forseeable future.

I'm needing fewer breathing sessions because I'm remembering a meeting or a deadline or an audit or ... *deep breath in, exhale*

I actually grocery shopped for the week with proper meats and veg ... because I will be cooking!

Very strange. veddy veddy veddy !

Friday, March 21, 2008

desperately seeking resolve.

The few weeks of build-up toward my big final day had my stomach in knots and my mind atwirl. In spite of brave attempts to keep my departure under wraps, the final end was anti-climatic ... nearly all colleagues and perhaps even distant acquaintances apparently were aware of the news. So I kind of limped through my last few hours ... wrote a quick adieu to members of my department and exited for the final time.

It was not long past noon. I headed for the mall. I decided to shoot my wad of remaining recognition dollars on a satchel. It is a striking blue color, the color of the walls in our décor shop, Mignonne, which my daughter and I own. Somehow appropriate. I followed that with a long, 2 wine lunch.

Went home. Sat myself down and pondered my future. hmmmmmmmmm