(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Monday, November 30, 2009

these are the days of my life ...

so then, as fascinating as one petite expat's tales seem to be ... I shall continue to regale you ...

today, a typical week-day (although I confess there are many days I have to stop and concentrate on remembering what day it is ...). I awaken around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. Not because of an alarm clock, but because that is when I awaken.

I don't rise immediately, I laze abed and regard the internets. with the time difference, mornings and nights are when I can connect stateside if needed.

usually by 8:30 or 9'ish I rouse myself and, if it is to be a solitary day, throw on jeans and a jacket ... grab my bike and head to the boulangerie for my pain au chocolat and demi-baguette. If it is a non-solitary day ... I'll do some level of maquillage and then head to the boulangerie.

I then make my coffee (italian espresso pot) ... a 30 second affair ... and watch Bruno dance at my heels while the coffee finishes. He knows if a morning bike ride occurred, there are bits of pain that await him...

I head back upstairs with coffee in hand (remember, this is that solitary day) and have another look at the 'puter. How the day unfolds is never certain but shall vary according to fate and my calendar! here's what happened today ...

After coffee, I went back downstairs and cleaned up the kitchen. I had 10:30 app't. In the meantime, I went out to the back garden and rummaged around for inspiration to make displays in the shop. Being frugal, I try to salvage first. I want some new and interesting displays for earrings and necklaces ... buying retail displays are expensive and not very interesting.

I gathered some old iron pieces, a meter of chicken wire ... and some other supplies from the shop (paints, stamps, shears) and organized my atelier (cough cough crappy former kitchen room now 1/2 junk room 1/2 work room) for further work. My 10:30 arrived to beg off and reschedule for tomorrow. I bid them farewell and decided to go down to the co-op and see if there were any cheap garden bits that could inspire me to transform them into wondrous displays. While driving there, I also decided to run over to the Controle Technique garage to get them to sign off on my papers (annual inspection which I had done and then had to get a few things fixed before receiving green light). I arrive to find he is closed Monday mornings (I'm sure I knew that) so headed over to the co-op.

A roll of new chicken wire was 12 euros, so I decided to stick with my original plan of cleaning up the old grody piece I found in the garden. A young man who worked there approached me hesitantly (I have the look of a foreigner!!!) and asked if I was "Anglaise". Nope, Americaine. Well, he wanted to invite me to an intercultural dinner next week and I figured what the hell so accepted. 14euros for a 'diner gastronomie' (anything involving canard is labelled such, ha). I then decided to spend the 12euros I saved on a copper bird feeder, a big bag of sunflower seeds and some greasy birdseed balls for my garden.

Hopped back in the car, ran over to the brico store for like inspiration, found none but bought a boxcutter since JY has made off with all of them.

Back to the house where I then got back to display making. Took an old frame, a used piece of styro I had, and used some plain, heavy-weight art paper to wrap the styro. Over that I put a piece of burlap. I cleaned and brushed a section of chicken wire, spray painted it white and wrapped THAT around the burlap covered section. Nailed all of this into the frame securely. Now I have an interesting display piece to hang earrings on. Yay me!

After finishing that, I heated up lunch (leftover veal paupiette, bit of purée and a mache salade). Looked at the clock and realized I had about an hour before my rendez-vous at the medecin (doctor) in Lisle. Decided to google directions, just in case. Also organized my various documents in the event I had to prove who I was, who my insurance mutuelle (top-up) carrier was, vaccination record, residence card, SIRET number ... (I like to be prepared...lol). Gathered my dossier, printed my directions and got on the road at 1:30 for my 2:00. Started stressing a bit as to if I allowed ample time. Cranked up the radio and the gas! ha.

I have recently received welcome into the French health system and as such, I need to select a doctor. I'm going to do a separate post on all of this for those readers interested in learning more about the process from someone who has stumbled her way through it. But suffice for now that I've had the good fortune to find an English speaking couple who are BOTH doctors, a 2 for 1 package of sorts!

Approached the shuttered-up village and parked in the centre place (plaza). Tiny town, figured I could find it. Walked up and down the main part ... hit up the bar and asked them. Yep, just 200 meters or so. Realized how bad I had to pee. in the rain. brrrr. backtracked and found the doctor's office.

door opened into a small waiting room, maybe 6-8 chairs in a tiny room with a little table in the center. On the table, a big package of surgical type masks for the taking (!). Bulletin board with a poster recommending food portion size and amounts from food groups (very familiar looking). Some support group info for cancer patients, people facing hospice. Some exercise groups. A rack of various health-related brochures. One other person is waiting here.

A door opens and Mrs. Medecin emerges and greets the other party. I wait another 15 minutes or so and then it is my turn.

I am so curious as to what is behind the door?! It opens onto a large and airy room, kind of pie-shaped. on one side is a fully-equipped examining area, with table and all the normal cabinetry and accoutrements. The other side accommodates a large desk and chairs, shelving, artwork, large window ... the doctor's office so to speak. I'm asked to sit and we look at each other for a minute...I'm trying to decide whether to speak French or English. She doesn't say anything. She's a youngish (30s) woman, obviously pregnant. Finally I just say, in English, that I'm trying to decide which language to speak. She says, in English, whichever I am more comfortable in. She has a British accent but I'm not certain what nationality she is. And I don't ask. I go on to explain I've just rec'd my carte d'assuré ... I have to select my 'medecin traitante' (primary doctor, so to speak), my neighbor and other friends recommended them so here I am.

I really have no health complaints other than my recently presenting trigger finger and the need for a new pair of eyeglasses. We discuss those 2 needs. She explains a bit more about the system... asks me about some of the normal female testing. I discover that I don't have to select a gyno, that in France once can use their GP. She tells me most French women use a gyno because they prefer a woman and most GPs are men. But I'm lucky in that with my package deal (Mr & Mrs Medecin) I can have her do it if I like. Which I do. I can already see I will like her, she is straightforward, matter-of-fact.

She tells me that many tests are automatically arranged in France based on preset norms. For example, I shall expect letters concerning mammography exams etc because they are considered necessary exams and are arranged for you. But she says, there are not a lot of these ... because the French health culture is different here and while preventive to a point, there are no mandated annual exams and few tests unless a health condition or symptom warrants it. We chat about my hand (I decide to wait until after January) ... and then she fills out my claim form (once I receive my plastic Carte Vitale, I won't need form, I'll just swipe my card and receive my reimbursement directly into my account.) She also fills out my selection form for the 'medecin traitante' and sends me on my way.

So, just imagine. A real, regular, everyday doctor. Private. Independent. their own little office. Seeing and caring for patients. Visiting in their home when needed. Spent a half hour with me and no exam was needed. Made the appointment last week. Can ring up anytime. My very own doctor. She didn't have to call anyone for approval on anything. fanfuckingtastic, my friends (americans in particular, can you even imagine???!!!) 22 euros. I have to mail a form for reimbursement but hey ... in the future, no.

I return home, brew another coffee and decide to sit down and fill out my forms. I get out the letter that accompanied my paper carte vitale (temporary) and decide to do a better translation of it. Upon doing this, I realize that the woman at Mati-Camons has requested my bank info along with the selection form. This is something else I just learned that, in my opinion, France has made more efficient. My insurance agent showed me this. You know how in the states if you want to get something either paid automatically or deposited automatically you have to give a voided check? and fill out a form? well here, along with the checks in your checkbook and the deposit slips there are some preprinted forms that you can just give out to the companies who want to set you up on autopay (Relevé d'identité bancaire). Very handy. Anyway, she had asked me for that and I hadn't really paid attention nor did I recognize the name of what she requested until reading it again, after my newfound knowledge from my insurance man. So, I organized the forms, made copies and wrote a cover letter (in French). Got that all printed out, in the envelopes, etc.

I decided to walk to the post office but before going decided I would also go to the perception and pay my tax d'habitation. I grabbed a copy of my lease for my recalcitrant tenant (another story) to prove that I had one and that HE should pay his portion (which is the norm ... tenants pay their own 'living' tax). I go to the post office and post my mail and then on to the tax office. She tells me I have to declare my unit in Perigueux first. So I go ahead and pay ALL of the tax and save that for another day. While there, I run into an English woman I kind of know ... she made a stab at running a brocante near me for about 4-6 weeks ... she asks about my coming Christmas fair and if she can bring some of her things to sell. So we arrange to meet prior, I give her my card and head back home.

I go out in the garden and install my bird feeders. Instantly, 4-6 birds appear and begin devouring sunflower seeds! smile. I get online and sort out some messages on Etsy. Pay for a few items. Write a blog post for Mignonne. Check some things on Craigslist and leboncoin. Read the news.

Decided to cook a quick meal. Made Jamie Oliver's terrific chicken breasts. Do you know these? literally 10 minutes to succulent deliciousness. Do try them, 'fast food' at its finest! Accompanied that with some of my homegrown carrots and a mache salad along with a glass of beaujolais.

After dinner, had a nice telephone visit with my daughter. she's just moved to a darling cottage, her life is going so well and I'm delighted for her. She works hard and is an inspiration.

Then decided to sit down and share a day in the life of this particular expat.

Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

cou cou

well, hello dave ...... and everyone ...

I've been suffering. from blogger's block. and loneliness. and winter malaise. and a bad case of the whines.

and I just couldn't seem to get myself to move the fingers to the keys.

I'm not out of the woods. but I've also been suffering from blogger's guilt. I mean, I love my dear little blog. and the few of you who seem to keep returning to hear me kvetch. or prattle.

when I go back and read the first year or so of my blog, it was much more regularly entertaining. not a rehash of my to do or got done list. so those of you who bear with me are especially dear, because you really aren't getting your money's worth lately, are you?

so let's see. I turned another year older this week! I ate a grilled cheese sandwich on Thanksgiving! I bought a 'mutuelle' policy that will even pay for 'thermal cures' and 'kine-massage'...basically a top-up insurance policy, including prescriptions, glasses and dental for 32€ a month! I have a crush on my insurance man, Mr. Saad. He's a quite handsome Algerian man, a former European footballer, semi-pro ... who has patiently explained all sorts of things French to me as pertains to insurance and the like (health, home, etc.). Of course, he will benefit too as I enroll in some of his programs ... he is a broker vs. agent for one firm, so that's a bit nicer, no? he brought me some lovely biscotti his wife made and next visit promises cheese.

what else. I attended an extremely cool blues concert on Wednesday at Les Toques in Perigueux. Les Toques is fast becoming a favorite hangout. It is a fairly quick 20 minutes or so from my house. It is a beer and wine bar, with good house wine and a broad selection of beers. There have been some missteps. Like the fact they insulted my good friends Amy and Eric, which makes me feel a bit traitorous about going (does it help or hurt that they have Eric's photo up on their myspace?). And the time I went to eat there and their filthy, lazy waitress made me not want to return (I was hopeful the last time I went, because she wasn't there ... but alas, this time she surfaced and seemed to quite drunkenly spend more time dancing with the guests than serving ... hmmmm, is she the owner's mate or something? ugh).

But I've been lonely and bored lately and this is a place I feel comfortable going alone (the proprietor is Irish, I believe, and always recognizes me and greets me warmly) and thus I've gone a few times recently and actually enjoyed two concerts, both blues. Last one was a French group ... but Weds was a treat with an American blues group. This group included an 80 year old bluesman named Tomcat and another fellow named Bob who has his own club in Phoenix called the Rhythm Room and looked like a 60s throwback with his mod styling and slicked-back hair. But this man could blow the harmonica like nobody's business. All I can say is that if this evening was any indication of the music to be found at his establishment, (and you live or are visiting Phoenix)...get there soon!

The club was packed with musicians, French, there to revel in some real down-home blues. I arrived hours early. The place was empty and I snagged a table right by the stage. I was treated to rehearsal and soundchecks, which was really like a little private concert. Tomcat was fucking amazing. 80 years young, dressed to kill, full of vim and vigor and flirtinglike there was no tomorrow .... (which in his case, maybe .... mais non!) what a hoot! not to mention the fact that he had this throaty, sexy voice and could play and sing his ass off. I stayed through their last set and got home around 1:00 a.m.

I also joined a 'ladies who lunch' group... a collection of 34 English women and (now me!) who enjoy a monthly lunch at local restaurants here and there in the area. I went for my first lunch on Thursday, at a Moroccan spot - tasty, and was entertained and amused at the scene. There were 23 or so in attendance at a long table, 12 and 12 facing. As the lunch and wine progressed, the group I was facing ... who had the couch and pillows side, were lounging about in groups of 2 and 3 ... chatting and visiting, reclining in front or behind each other ... it was like some sort of Roman holiday scene with ladies of a certain age in attendance. I joined to force myself out a bit, and I figured one day per month saturated with English speaking won't ruin all of my French. We'll see where this goes ... :P

I also attended a nice Art Expo night with my new friends Claude and Jean (French) ... it was at the chateau in Nontron and was quite lovely. There was a scene of performance art/poetry, sculpture and artworks and wine and hors d'oeuvres passed around. All very civilized and fun! It was here I discovered a tapisserie (upholstery course) teaching the old techniques for fateuils and such, and I've enrolled for January.

So you can see I've been making the effort to get out amongst them. In addition to these bits, Jean-Yves and I have spent a couple of our typically giggle-filled afternoons together. We've cooked lunch together, once at my place and afterwards we watched Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona together ... another lunch was at his place where he rustled up some of the biggest gambas I've seen in awhile.

But ... lately I've had these bouts of feeling like there's a sort of dark hole in my pond, where the water is swirling and swirling, trying to pull me downwards ... that dark hole has visited me before ... its a numb and lonely place that I don't want to visit ... the pull is steady and hard to avoid but thus far I've managed.

I'm tired of feeling alone and lonely. and that has nothing to do with France. Mostly it is fine. I'll be fine. I'm on the upbeat IRL ... hate complainers. but here with only my poor readers to suffer through the black moods I sometimes harbor, it is you kids ... you who pay the price. le sigh!

mais puis ,,,, je ne regrette rien!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

feeling pretty satisfied with myself.

I just opened my mail and now hold in my hands my carte d'assuré social. I am now officially covered for health services in France. Yes, I still will probably get a 'top up' policy ... but for the really big stuff (hospital stays, etc.) I am covered and can sleep a little easier.

I'm feeling a bit proud because I've cleared another hurdle and all on my lonesome. Not because I married someone who gave me all of their benefits but self-reliantly. And on the up and up.

I've achieved legal, long-term residency approval. I've started a legitimate business. and now, I have social services that I legally qualify for. I will pay into the system via my property and business tax contributions and will benefit accordingly.

KNOCK ON WOOD. (taps skull). because I'm suspicious like that.

All of this has occurred with effort and perseverance on my part. But it hasn't been a horror story. No one made me feel like I didn't deserve these things.

I have no official experience with the immigration process in the United States. But my impression is that a lot of effort is expended on trying to figure out why someone should not be allowed to be there, to participate in the system, etc.

That's kind of what I expected here, given my impressions of the U.S.

not at all the case.

Monday, November 9, 2009

as requested ... pictures ...

ok ... not too exciting camera photos but here they are.

a pickled table. curvy legs and all.

chinese dumplings ... (I'm sure Riana's would be prettier ... but hey, I'm a novice. And the taste was extraordinaire.)

à bientôt!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

sunday ...

when I'm stressed I do one of two things ... kick into overdrive or stay in bed for 3 days (oh wait ... that might be depressed...)

well today was a day of activity, all home based. got up and rode down to the boulangerie and got my chocolatine and my demi-baguette and (uh oh) 3 beignets (donut holes).

I have had chinese dumpling soup on my mind for a spell...alas, there is a dearth of chinese dumpling soup serving restaurants nearby ... so next I stopped at the boucherie and bought some ground pork.

pedalled home in the rain. then rummaged about in the garden and cut hazelnut bush branches (the feeders that spring up) because I want to use them to make some crafty things for the shop. Maybe some little tabletop twig xmas trees, some twig snowflakes, etc. also cut some branches with persimmons (? think so only smaller)

headed into my little atelier/workshop and decided to try 'pickling' a table. this basically involves careful sanding and cleaning, then you mix paint and water 50/50. brush the mixture on ... wait a spell ... wipe it off. let dry. resand if necessary. coat with varnish. finished a table.

then I sanded and stained this really cool old stand I bought at a Vide Grenier. It looks like a very tall stool, and has this kind of Celtic looking pattern cut into the bottom shelf. It will be a plant stand or hold a bust or piece of art. I decided to use a similar technique to the pickling, but less coverage using a geranium colored stain. the wood is mostly showing with hints of reddish tones.

after that I scrubbed the kitchen. made a fire. debated weather to tackle dumplings. went for it.

and I'm glad I did as they are scrumptious!!! wouldn't be found within a 100km radius...and then who knows if as good?! not that I'm bragging. but here's what I did as Chinese ingredients aren't exactly crowding the shelves!


maybe half a cup of cooked chicken
half a pound or so of ground pork
1 minced carrot (my garden)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 minced very hot small red chile
1/2 yellow bell pepper, minced
1 knob very young ginger, peeled and minced
3 radishes, peeled and minced (from my garden)
1/2 head radicchio,chopped finely (no cabbage, worked beautifully; you can use cabbage or similar if you choose)
minced fresh cilantro (my garden)
minced fresh chives (my garden)
chili oil
sesame oil
chili powder
cumin powder

just mix all of the above together.

wrappers (go on, try it. slow food is beautiful)

1 part flour to 1/2 part warm water (eg, 1 C flour to 1/2 C water, etc.) depending on how many you want to make ... I should have doubled this ratio as I have lots of filling and will make more wrappers tomorrow.

1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp oil

just put the salt oil and warm water together in a cup. put the flour in a bowl. begin to add water bit by bit and knead dough until you have a ball that just stays together, in fact look a bit dry. cover this with saran wrap and let it rest about 15 minutes.

then knead, roll it out and cut circles. I used a coffee mug to cut.

put a spoon of filling in the wrapper, fold and crimp the edges so you have little half moons.

Now, you can either fry these in a skillet with a bit of oil or boil them.

I boiled them in my homemade chicken stock. You bring the stock (or water) to a boil, put in the dumplings for 4-5 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon and dip them in cold water. Return to the stock pot for a minute or so.

then DEVOUR with whatever dipping sauce you conjure up. I had no soy sauce and was too hungry to create a sauce. I used Sriracha. slurp.

so that is what I've done with my day. it is 7:40 now .... time for a beer.