(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

summer is winding down ...

went to a dinner / barbeque Monday night ... will be about the last (felt like it anyway) of the summer's outdoor fêtes. school starts on Friday ... at least six of the guests are teachers and they are gearing up for the year.

three picnic tables were drawn together and covered with colorful cloths. when I arrived there was a huge circle of chairs, with everyone seated ... glasses in hand. I made the round of bises (everyone rose and there were only one or two vous-es in the group)

one of the guests manned the rosé and sirop de pamplemousse. there were all sorts of apéro nibblies, smoked salmon cake, huge bowl of melon balls, a gorgeous pate de campagne and another of rillettes de canard.

about 20 adults, plus kids. me, the only non-French. I managed some topics and followed several conversations. there were some fast talkers there! as dusk descended, it was not too cold and the bats made their whooshing appearance to partake of their daily apéro, insect-hunting high in the sky and treating us to their acrobatic swoops and swirls.

later it was a simple meal. i know some of you are always curious about the meal: bbq'd sausages (merguez and chipolatas - good quality ones), some big salads (endive, apple & emmenthal, bow tie pasta with tomatoes and onion, a big rice salad with vegetables) ... oh and an absolutely amazing ham quiche ... made with the real savory, unpackaged ham, a bit crispy and just divine ... then a huge platter of cheese and beautiful bread ... desserts : pear tart, raspberry tart, chocolate tart, nut tart ... and good red wine throughout. we finished with coffee. so yeah, not haute cuisine but simple and delicious and seasoned with laughter and friendship under the stars.

I sat eating and staring up at the leaves of the enormous tilleul tree tossing magical shadows on the buttery stone walls ... entertained by the musical notes of french voices filling the air and realized that I have indeed connected with this place. the smells, the sounds the colors of my life here resonate like no other. if I were a believing kind of person instead of the stubborn atheist that I am, I would think that I have lived here in former lives ... based on the fact that I have been drawn here for years and years like no other. and the sense of belonging that I have discovered since giving in to that pull and finding a way to get here.

but I was talking about summer's end. my fourth summer here. still head over heels.

the nights are starting to get a little fresh. summer is backing out of the room. soon flashy autumn will be here with her colorful, attention-grabbing glory and start stealing the show.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

talk about seeing fur fly ... eep!

living in a centuries-old stone house means not a lot of closet space. Okay, basically NO closet space. so you get creative. of course, armoires, chests etc.

but I have also used the stairwell to the third floor attic as a storage space. I rigged up a crossbar and have hung a couple of hanging shoe thingamajigs; as well as using the steps as storage places.

so this morning I am rummaging through the shoes to find some grey boots, grab them and as I am getting ready to close the door I have this impression of something fuzzy and grey brush my hair and shoulder and then I hear a plopping sound.

I look down and see a mouse kind of bellyflopped on a step.

screech. ensuing door slam. minutes of shudders.

no, I didn't reopen the door. why oh why did my cat run away? she had plenty of options here! tempted to get another but in my current state of flux, doesn't seem wise.

anyone willing to stop by and check my cupboard?

Friday, August 26, 2011

funny little things I am forever finding in french

so four years into my life here and I still don't consider myself fluent. lots of people who know me disagree but I feel I have kind of plateau'ed for the moment ... and for the life of me I still blow most of the verb conjugations for "ils" ... j'ai un vrais tête de bois!

but here is another funny little thing just found ... the french view american eating habits as disastrous. (no that is not the funny little thing, I have known that for quite awhile now). I have heard lots of comments about folks who have been appalled after visiting the states ... things like americans are ALWAYS eating ! you walk down the street and people are eating as they walk! you drive in your car and look to your left and there is someone behind the wheel, eating! and so on ...

and yet, not only is there a plethora of comestibles in the metro here, but there are named times throughout the day just for eating.

maybe that is the trick, you eat at these designated times or you don't eat. a little more discipline is in order! I remember how shocking I found it on my first visit that if you didn't arrive at most village restaurants by 1:30 pm or so, you will have missed lunch. "complet" you will be told, and tant pis for you!

Here is a list of designated eating times

petit déjeuner ~ breakfast, early and usually simply coffee and a small pastry or baguette and butter with jam

en cas ~ just learned this one, "in case", typically a small something either tucked into a school child's pocket or worker's sack ... a small piece of fruit or bread in case you can't make it till lunch.

déjeuner ~ lunch and it begins at noon and is a proper meal. You sit at a table for it, cutlery is required and this includes the schoolchildren. You will have a starter and a main, fromage or dessert. You will finish with coffee and nobody will look askance if it is accompanied by some wine. Everyone has time for a real meal since, except for big cities, all of the shops, banks, and other stuff will have closed. For two hours.

quatre heure ~ 4:00pm, another small snack ... mostly children indulge but I know many adults who rub their tummies and take something as well.

apéro ~ 7ish, a beverage and little salty somethings such as nuts or a savory cake. Aperitif is not just for adults, kids have a sparkling beverage. It lasts no more than an hour and is a civilized end to the workday, a chance to connect with friends before returning home for ...

diner ~ yes, dinner time and traditionally during the week (although this is sadly changing and fast becoming a concern in France) this will be a lighter meal than midday ... perhaps a soup, a bit of pasta or a protein and a vegetable which balance out the midday meal.

I don't know if there is something yet after dinner. Since I just discovered 'en cas' this week, it is highly possible!

So yes there is ongoing eating in France as well, but it has been a more formal affair ... and until recently, it seems the population has been in better shape physically, as a result. But there is some concern that lifestyles of the younger generation are morphing towards american values.

there have been some national awareness campaigns to try and reverse this trend. The schools are involved in this effort, and in addition to the balanced meals they present to the kids, they keep the parents informed and even recommend possible evening meals that are appropriate nutritionally to complete the day's regime.

I suppose americans would say all of their non-mealtime eating was just 'en cas'.

probably ... ^cough cough^