Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Aren't people cool sometimes?

It was a normal day yesterday. A normal tuesday after a three day weekend. I worked in the morning and picked the boys up for lunch.

The house I live in is on a small street with sidewalks on both sides and parking places on both sides, parallel to the sidewalk. It's a one-way street in downtown Laval that runs north to south, one block east of the river.

I parked my car in one of the spots near the house, but next to the opposite sidewalk. Boy1 got out street side, looked both ways, and crossed. I got out on the sidewalk, undid Boy2's seatbelt and left the door open for him to get out. I went to the trunk to get out my briefcase and the bright yellow plastic crate I carry all my school stuff in. Yes, it's heavy and impractical but I haven't found a better solution. Suggestions are welcome.

I closed the trunk and Boy2 and I crossed the street together. We went inside and I fixed lunch. We ate pasta with sausage and tomato cream sauce and leftover chocolate torte with chocolate whipped cream, in case you're interested. Then the boys played and I cleaned up the kitchen and read a little and then it was time to go. We had spent about a hour and 15 minutes at home. We walked outside, I closed and locked the big iron gate and we all crossed the street. There was my car, as it had been left. Which was with the driver's side door wide open onto the sidewalk. It took up most of the sidewalk, there was barely enough room for someone to walk. I don't live on a busy street but I can be fairly certain that at least 20 people walked by my car and left it like that. No one took anything. And there's a lot to take in my car. Not of much value necessarily, but still. Three MAC lipsticks, a wooden finger rosary, three grocery store tokens, a thermos, 12 packets of kleenex, an umbrella that says merde, il pleut on it(a promotional gift from the radio station that interviews me sometimes), a winnie-the-pooh umbrella, 3 textbooks, and 3 clean cake pans, all in plain view of anyone who walked by.

Restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ah, les profiteroles

Otherwise known as dessert bliss. And I'm not exaggerating. I ate some yesterday. We had Easter lunch at a restaurant. I'm cooking an Easter meal today (Easter monday is a holiday here) and I really didn't feel like cooking two Easter-worthy meals in a row. So, we ate at a restaurant. I had beef carpaccio. Yes, the former vegetarian now eats raw meat. But it's just so good. With paper thin shavings of parmesan on top.

Anyway. For dessert I got profiteroles. Which is probably one of my favorite desserts of all time. And one that I never make. Ever. Because it seems like a pain, although that doesn't always stop me.

Want to know why it's my favorite? Because it's complicated and simple at the same time. It's hot and cold at the same time. It's chocolate and vanilla at the same time. It's crunchy and smooth at the same time. It's so many things at once and no one thing dominates or loses its integrity. You have to respect that in a dessert.

Three choux pastries -cut in half and filled with vanilla ice cream, a pond of melted dark chocolate for them to bathe in, grilled slivered almonds sprinkled over all, for fun.

What's your favorite dessert?

Friday, March 21, 2008

And while I'm at it

I didn't respond to any of yesterday's comments but only because I wanted to respond in a post.

In response to frequent criticism about the United States, I guess I am forced to ask the question, "Why?" Why do we feel so criticized and why do we feel the need to defend?

I'd say we're criticized because we do a lot of things we shouldn't. Or we try to lie about why we're doing them. We frame them in pretty pictures of 'we're helping the whole world' instead of just admitting that, like many countries, WE'RE SELF-SERVING sometimes. I'm absolutely NOT saying that everything about our foreign policy is bad, nor am I saying that we are a horrible nation. But we're uncomfortable with the political incorrectness of being self-serving so we say we're doing what no one else has the money or troops or morals to do. It may be true about the funds and the troops but I don't believe the US has the corner on the moral market. I'd even go so far as to say we're pretty two-faced about a lot of things. The US is like that bitchy girl in high school that no one really liked but had to be friends with because she was so popular. And why didn't we like her? Because she couldn't be trusted. She was false about her motives, you could never really tell what she was after or when she would turn. You had the very distinct impression she was using you. Which she was.

I'd also say that people of other nations may feel the need to criticize us because we give the impression of being pretty light on the self-criticism and examination that is necessary sometimes to grow. Do we give the example of being a nation that has learned from its mistakes? Or from history? I'm not saying we don't, I'm just asking the question. Do we?

As for seeing the points of view of other countries, gosh, where to begin with that one? The European Union, with all its issues, is a union of 27 member countries. 27 different countries who actually manage, with admittedly more or less success, to see different points of view and work together. Which is not to say that I believe the United States incapable of lifting its head out of the ethnocentrism that has dominated for so long. On the contrary, I hope we will. I believe we can.

Part of the problem is that, as a nation, I believe that we behave like an adolescent, which, historically speaking, compared to many countries, we are. What does a typical teenager do? She doesn't listen to ANYONE and thinks she knows EVERYTHING.

Here's a question for the day: when was the last time the United States listened to anyone? When was the last time the United States admitted to not knowing everything?

And lastly, I'd like to mention Ali's comment. Oh my. Again, another where to start. If you haven't read the comment, here is part of it:

The other day the local paper did a story on gas prices, and interviewed a few people at the pump. I quote:

Faith Dansby, who was putting gas in her van at a Shell station on New Circle Road, said she is coping by trying to cut down on trips, such as getting her groceries once a week rather than making multiple runs.

"As Americans, we shouldn't have to go through this," she said.

And as Ali said, "I was flabbergasted at the statement I bolded up there. WHAT? I found it very narrow-minded, and yes, chauvinistic. What about the rest of the world?"

Ali also provided a link which gave stats on gas prices in other countries. Do you realize that in France we pay over $7 a gallon for gas? And in most other European countries it's over $8?

A little relativity is always good, it gives clarity to a perspective, it provides a reference point. Perhaps that is the problem. Where is our point of reference?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So what is it?

This post might piss some people off. Just letting you know in advance. See, there I go, being all American and politically correct and not wanting to offend. Be offended if you feel like it.

What I'd like to know is what is it that makes us (Americans) display the level of patriotism that we do. I'm not picking on Beth (I love her and she's an amazing and loyal friend) when I point out that she commented that she was 'thrilled' to be an American. I think a lot of people would say the same thing. And then there's the whole flag thing. But I want to know WHY we say and do things like that.

I've been living away from the US for 11 years and I've never once heard anyone of any nationality other than American say something like that. Or seen a flag hanging in front of a house.

Today in class my students worked an on article from about Obama's speech from the other night and the race issue and we started talking about patriotism and related issues. I questioned them about their own patriotism. They said it was something they felt but didn't show unless it was a regional thing (think Corsica, Basque, Provencal, Breton etc). They also tried to distinguish (but couldn't) between the notions of being chauvin and patriotique.

Le chauvinisme est une manifestation excessive et agressive du patriotisme et/ou du nationalisme. Il est le reflet d'une admiration exagérée, voire trop exclusive, de son pays. (From French Wikpedia)

Chauvinisme is an excessive and aggressive form of patriotism or nationalism. It reflects an exaggerated or even exclusive admiration for one's country.

I think there's something there. I don't think we are patriotic, I think we are chauvin. To an extent that eliminates our capacity to see other points of view. A cultural egocentrism that gives us a serious kink in the neck.

Monday, March 17, 2008

This post will be full of sweeping generalities

I read a study last week about eating habits and obesity in different cultures. One of the things the researchers found was that the French tend to take cues from internal signals to stop eating - feeling satisfied, not feeling hungry. And Americans are more focused on external signals - the plate is empty, the television program is over.

But the thing is, I think it's actually true in general too. I've always had the impression that the rules the French follow are not the external ones. Walk down the street here and you'll see evidence of that all over the place. People park where they want, drive how they want, refuse to conform to something as repressive as 'standing in line' and much more - there is a general tendency to grappiller et gruger. But still, this society is ruled by an internal iron fist. It's very hierarchical, full of unspoken (mais ça ne se fait pas!) rules that govern behavior, social mobility and economics.

As Americans, we are very good at following the external rules - we stand in line, pay for parking, and generally feel guilty if we cheat or break the rules. But on the inside? There is certainly no transgenerational iron fist. There is little there guiding us - which leads to an overdependance on external rules. I believe it's also why we can be so ridiculously ostentatious. It's not enough to recycle, everyone has to know we recycle.

Europeans often ask me why Americans will go over the top, crazy militant for a relatively small issue (think cigar) and then completely let the huge issues slide (think GWB and the past 7 years). I think we focus on the small problems that are easily identifiable as breaking one of those external rules because when it comes to the big stuff, we wouldn't even know where to start.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm in Paris

For the whole weekend.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Confit de canard

Nearly 10 years ago I was still sort of a vegetarian. Well, actually , not really. I had started eating fish again because being a strict vegetarian in France is just so impractical if you're living anywhere other than Paris. And, despite what some of you might think, I am practical, on occasion.

I was working in Nantes at the Chamber of Commerce, a lot of hours. On fridays I rarely had time to go home for lunch so I often ate in a little brasserie nearby. They always had fish on fridays (Catholic country). But one friday, I didn't want the fish. It was one of those really boney fish, more effort to eat than I was willing to make. The other special of the day was confit de canard. I grew up in a family of hunters (don't analyze that please) and had fond (and delicious) memories of duck, not confit, but still. And it was poultry, not meat meat (doubled intentionally). So I got the duck. And a glass of thick dark red wine, the kind I like most.

And I ate the duck. Oh my. The perfectly crispy skin, the most incredibly tender meat, the whole thing just melted in my mouth. It was amazing, that thigh that had soaked in duck fat for months, being infused and penetrated by flavor and fat. It was the perfect welcome home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On weathering time

Le temps et le temps. Time and weather. Weather and time.

What do they have to do with each other? I do not really know. Perhpas it is that they both must be endured sometimes. Like today.

It's stormy out. Dark and windy and rainy and cold. So you wait. Wait for the rain to stop, wait for the sun to come, wait to see, wait to know.

I suppose at other times they must be enjoyed. When the weather is just the way you like it - whatever that is. When time feels like your best friend, giving you two hours that feel like the sweetest forever.

How do you like your weather and your time? How do you weather time?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Under construction

In the car on the way back from school today (for lunch), Boy2 asked me what yo meant. I told him it didn't really mean anything.

His reply: Ah, then it must be a conjuction.

The good news: he listens.

The bad news: he repeats.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spiced and sweet

Balance in all things, right?

Which is why when I made the clementine and honey sorbet, I added ginger and cloves and cardamom and a bay leaf.

It really tastes spiced, but not spicy. Warmth from the cloves, pungency from the ginger and cardamom, and earthiness in the bay leaf from my front yard.

How do you find balance in all things? Where do you find your sweetness and spices?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dinner last night

Boy2: Mama, what does pitch in mean?

Me: It means to help, to contribute.

Boy1: What does contribute mean?

Me: To give time or energy or money or effort towards something. So, who wants chocolate sorbet and who wants clementine and honey sorbet?

Boys1&2: Both, a lot of chocolate and a little clementine.

Boy2: Mama, what does so mean?

Boy1: It means donc.

Boy2: I didn't ask how to say it in French, I asked what it means. And anyway, you stay out of it.

Me: So is a conjuntion among other things, it means different things depending on how we use it.

Boy1: What's a conjuction?

Me: Don't talk with your mouth full of sorbet.