Thursday, August 31, 2006

Several Things

1. I have been without television, internet, and telephone service since tuesday evening. The television and internet privation was vaguely bearable. The phone thing, on the other hand, was more than I could stand. I use the phone a lot. I like the phone a lot. Foreigners like to use the phone a lot.

2. Boy1 said to me yesterday, 'I love you more than my heart can stand.'

3. I was tucking Boy2 into bed last night. I said, 'Goodnight my monkey.' We had just finished reading Hand Hand Fingers Thumb, which features many monkeys drumming on drums. And he said, 'I not monkey.' And then gave me his real name. I asked him what my name was. He said, 'Mama.' My other name, I suggested. 'Oh, Nicole.' I asked him what Husband's name was. 'Papa.' And his other name? 'Cheri.' Which tells you how often I call Husband sweety.

4. The phone line repair guy was here this afternoon trying to reestablish order and I stepped outside onto the sidewalk to answer a couple of questions and have a look at the mess. (Some tree and ivy trimming fellows got a little carried away and snipped through an important wire.) When I returned 5 mintues later, Boy1 was in tears, convinced I had abandonned him for life. It took 5 more minutes to calm him down. And 5 minutes after that, I had my life my phone line back.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dans La Cuisine

Husband and I have recently begun our first house-hunting adventure. We, or maybe I should say I, know what we want. City center, 19th century or before, yard. That's about it, in terms of absolutely essential things. All of which make husband cringe because something in the suburbs built about 50 years ago would be a lot cheaper. But jeez, it's so nice that they have liveable city centers, and old houses are cool, and kids need a yard.

So we've visited a few houses. One was very nice but the first floor was really narrow. And entertaining is already really limited in the house we have now due to small spaces so I'd like to move on to something a little more accomodating in that sense. Another, my favorite so far, is charming, very nice first floor with lots of space, smallish bedrooms on the second and third floors, small but cute yard, 4 blocks from Boys' school. The downside, the bathroom needs some major work. A third, neither one of us really liked the house, but we both loved everything else about the place. A great yard, a guest house (!!), and a green house.

All the places we have seen have one very terrible thing in common. And it is something that seems to contradict one of the cornerstones of French culture. They love food and all things about food. And yet, the kitchens are ridiculously small. What is up with that? Why are all the kitchens here so small? Why? Why?

In all the years I have been here, I've seen two kitchens worth notice. One was in a château and one was in a hôtel particulier (a mansion). Nothing similar will fit into our budget so I'm left facing the reality that I'll probably never get my dream kitchen. All the other kitchens I've seen are like little food laboratories. You have everything you need to get the job done and no more. No corner benches, no desks, no window seats, no reason to stay once the job is done.

Maybe that's why. There was a time when guests were limited to certain rooms in France. They didn't go into the kitchen, they stayed in the living room or dining room or sitting room and that's it. Closest friends and family might have access to the guts of the house, but that's it. Socializing didn't happen in the kitchen. Which still baffles me because at home, correct me if I'm wrong, but, at a party, where does everyone end up hanging out? In the kitchen.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

M et Mme Massot

There is a heavenly place 4 blocks from my house. It is the bakery of the Massots. They make the best bread. EVER. Flutes (like a baguette but much thinner and smaller and softer crust) with chorizo. Flutes with bacon. Flutes with sharp emmenthal cheese. Hearty loaves with apples, hazelnuts, and raisins. Loaves with goat cheese and herbs. Loaves with pears and roquefort. Leavened baguettes, country baguettes, regular (although nothing about them is regular) baguettes. And my personal favorite, spelt loaf (épautre), more flavorful than wheat flour but not too whole grainy that makes you feel like you're eating rope.

At lunch they set out fougasse, which is kind of like a French foccacia. Topped with feta and grilled tomatoes or bacon and goat cheese. They never sell sandwiches.

And then there's the sweet stuff. Baguette viennoise (which is only like a baguette in its shape - which makes sense because baguette really means wand, as in magic, which this bread is, by the way) with chocolate. Baguette viennoise with nouagtine. (Viennoise bread is kind of like brioche but less butter and more milk.) And of course the standards, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant), brioche, brioche with chocolate, croissant, and pain au raisin. During the winter they make their own ginger bread loaves. And in the spring, lemon pound cake. On wednesdays, which children have off every week, they make chouquettes. I've talked about these before. Cream puffs without the cream and topped with little bits of rock sugar.

For the past month, M et Mme Massot have been on vacation.

But now they're back.

Made my day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's all in the tilt of the head

It' s the small things about a place that remind you that you're a foreigner.

So many things are the same no matter where you go. We all laugh and cry and eat and sleep and drink and love and learn. But.

Heads don't tilt the same no matter where you go.

I have always liked books. My book budget is ridiculous given my ridiculously low earnings. I reread 3 of Jane Austin's books for the millionth time this summer. And I enjoyed them as much as the first time. But going to book stores isn't as fun here as it is at home.

No cafés inside book stores, no couches, no magazines, no lounging. But most of all, it's the way you have to tilt your head here. Think about how you tilt your head to look at book titles on the spine of a book. You have to tilt it to the right. Titles read from top to bottom. Wouldn't you think that kind of thing would be universal? Well, it's not. In France, titles read from bottom to top, so you have to tilt your head to the left. Go ahead, give it a try. Not just a quick tilt. Stand up, imagine you're looking at a big shelf of books and you have to stand that way for a while. Head tilted to the left. Not very comfortable is it? Or perhaps my discomfort in this position has more to do with my inflexibility when it comes to books and the selling of than my neck.

This is a very literary country. Books are a big deal here. Prices are set and book stores are not allowed to sell them at any other price. Unless they're in the clearance bin and that can only happen after a fixed amount of time after the publishing date. A HUGE deal is made about the literary prizes, Prix Goncourt and the like, and every Monsieur Untel knows who the winners are every year. There are used book stores, but not as widely developed as at home and frankly, they buy books for silly sums. 10 cents a book kind of thing.

Then there's the whole book cover thing. As I mentioned in yesterday's comments in response to Eric, the French are crap when it comes to marketing. And their books are perfect evidence of that. Millions of books are sold here with NOTHING on the front or back cover other than the name of the author, title of the book, and publisher. They make sure you can't judge a book by its cover.

I should be able to see the merit of all these differences. But I can't.

See, I told you I was inflexible.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dangerous liasons

I recently bought some facial cleanser, actually cleansing milk, if you want the precise term. On the bottle was written

Visage et Yeux (Face and Eyes)

in case I had any doubts as to which body parts I was supposed to use it on.

Eye is a funny word in French. The singular is oeil and I can't even describe how to pronounce it and I don't want to bore anyone with phonetic symbols. Anyway, it's a funky word. Un oeil, l'oeil, le troisième oeil...

The plural is yeux. I know. Ridiculous. Completely illogical. That one is pronounced with an initial y as in yeah sound followed by a vowel we don't have in English. The x, like many final consonants in French, is silent. Because y is a y, if it is preceded by a consonant, that consonant is pronounced, even if it's usually silent. Bear with me.

For example, les yeux. The s in les is only pronounced if the following word begins with a vowel or a y or an unaspirated h. Don't ask. Anyway, yeux is nearly always used with an article in front of it. Des yeux or les yeux, or deux yeux bleus. Which means that it is always preceded by a [z] sound, because final s and x are both pronounced as [z] in cases like this. This process is called liason.

So, when I read the bottle, over and over, I couldn't imagine how in the heck to say it correctly. You can't put the [z] in just gratuitously, there's no article in sight. But you can't leave it out because it just sounds so strange. And you certainly can't liase the [t] because that sounds even stranger.

I asked a few native French speakers. Without leading them. I wrote down the phrase and asked how they would pronounce it. No one could give me a straight answer. None of them wanted to add the [z] because there was no article and no one wanted to pronounce without because it 'hurt their ears'. (Seriously, two people said that.)

Which made me wonder if the [z] hasn't become a part of the word yeux now. A silent partner, if you will. It's always there, even when there is no evidence of it's being there, other than the feeling of offness.

Who's your silent partner?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Heads up

My mom, who means the world to me and many people in her life, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. While I am confident that she will recover quickly and completely, we could all use some help. So, those who pray, please say a prayer for her. And those who don't, good thoughts will work just as well. Someone once wrote that God/the Divine/Sage/Universe/Apple Fairy doesn't have the ego to care what name you use and I'm sure the love present in a prayer or a good thought is felt in the same way. Thanks to all.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Well that's not logical

And I do love logic. It's very reassuring, after unmelted footprints and the like. Anyway.

While we were on vacation I kept an eye out for interesting village names that would, of course, lead to interesting inhabitants of village names. And the day I saw Aigrefeuille-sur-Maine, I thought I had found a whopper. Not even, as Boy1 would say. Which is, I think, his version of As if, which he's probably never heard. He's actually taken to using that phrase with The Tone in my presence quite frequently. I suppose I'm going to have to do something about that one of these days, but I'm currently picking my battles, and that's not one of them.

For now, she said menacingly.

Back to Sourleaf on the Maine River. I looked it up on their website and it's nothing extraordinary. Aigrefeuillais, Aigrefeuillaise. The Maine doesn't figure into the equation like the sauté pans of the City of God sauté pans. Why? No one can tell me. They all just answer with that shruggy thing and say, "C'est comme ça." That's just the way it is. Whatever. I still wouldn't want to be known as sourleafy or sourleafesque or even sourleaved. Or would it be sourleafed?

I shouldn't be surprised. French can be logical and it can also be maddeningly illogical. Cheval, chevaux. Hôpital, hôpitaux. Carnaval, carnavaux? NON, carnavals. 3 girls are elles. 3 boys are ils. 3 girls and 1 boy are...ils. Majority and logic, despite all their claims of loving Descartes more than anything, do not rule here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tome 2 of things I've learned

1. It is possible to be too sad.

Yesterday, Boy2 and I took a nap together. He usually takes a nap on his own but he had dozed in the car on the way back and I was worried he wouldn't take one at all. So I offered to take one with him. He sweetly accepted. On the way to bed, he got a big splinter in his big toe. That I couldn't get out. I told him sleep was the only solution (I was REALLY tired). We got into bed and I said, "Do you want to snuggle for a while?" He looked at me with stricken eyes and said, "No, I'm too sad to snuggle."

2. It is possible to be too polite.

In the middle of said nap (which lasted 2 blissful hours), I woke up enough to roll over and sneeze quietly. Boy2 was curled up against me, his head against my shoulder. Without opening his eyes or even waking up, he whispered against my skin, "Bless you, Mama."

3. Road signs are sometimes very profound.

On the way to a historical theme park, I saw a sign on the highway that said:

Conduite souple.
J'économise et je pollue moins.

Which could be translated in two ways. One literal which I won't bother giving because it's not very interesting, although I am curious to know how one might define flexible driving. And the other:

Flexible behavoir.
I save and I pollute less.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Things I learned / ate / discovered on vacation

1. Nagging works. We were going to spend the day with relatives. Our boys can get a little rowdy when they spend the day with certain cousins. So, before arriving, I turned to Boys and said, 'Hey guys, what are the rules?" Boy2 took a deep breath and said in rapid succession, "No fussing, no hitting, no pushing, no fooling around, no whining, no bickering, no nothing! They managed to have fun anyway.

2. Weird conversations are just around any corner. While buying a vacuum cleaner (don't ask me why we had to do this on vacation), I asked a few questions to the small appliance salesperson about vacuum cleaner longevity. He said, 'Try not to suck things up with it." Isn't that the point?

3. The best butter cookies in the WORLD are made in Pont-Aven, which is also a beautiful little painters' city (Gaugin and many others lived there). Better than Lorna Doones (sp?), better than Scottish shortbread (sorry, Charlie), better than anything.

4. There is a walled city in Brittany I had been to before this vacation. Despite the fact that I had never been there. This isn't one of the those past life things, cause I'm not really buying that, and it's not one of those destiny thing, cause I'm not buying that either. All I can say is that walking down the cobblestone street, my feet were walking in my own footprints. Maybe it was the musicians playing dreamy Celtic stuff on one of the squares or maybe I visited this place in a dream, but, one way or another, my tracks had been left on the snow covering that ground and they never melted away.

Honey (s), I'm home!