June 29, 2008

Today Paris, tomorrow the world!

Posted in Air Travel, Babysitting, Food tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 10:33 pm by Lauren

Maybe “the world” is a bit of an exaggeration, but between the two of us tomorrow, Allen and I will set foot in France, Germany, Ireland, and the United States. Not bad for a day’s work. So yes, we’re flying separately because we bought our tickets different times. I’m taking Lufthansa through Frankfurt, and I remember a little too well how that turned out the last time. Meanwhile, Allen is flying through Dublin on Aer Lingus, which he hadn’t heard of before this trip and which he therefore says as if he were mouthing the name of a tricky disease. Both of us arrive at Dulles in the early afternoon, and Allen’s parents will be picking us up and bringing us to our house in DC.

Our (mostly) packed bags are gigantic. It’s ridiculous. Though they’re the same bags we came over with, we’re looking at them and wondering why they are so big. And – the horror! – why are they so full? I dread the overweight fines that may be in our future.

We’re doing very little today aside from packing, emptying the fridge, and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom. Our landlord invited us to dinner, and while we appreciate it, we probably shouldn’t have accepted. We probably won’t get out much today.

On the other hand, we spent the entire day out yesterday. We rose early to “finish packing.” It seems like we finish packing every day, and then we have to do it again the next. Once we were both showered (with the other packing during non-shower time), we took a pile of clothing and shoe donations to Secours Catholique in the 7th, which allowed us to go to the Grande Epicerie of Bon Marche one last time. We walked back towards Saint Germain, stopping at a couple of tablecloth stores, one jacquard and one provencal.

We met Mimi and Jack and the kids at the park at Rue des Ecoles and Rue de Monge, and all of us ate delicious sandwiches from Kaiser, spread out on the grass. We were joined by Samantha, formerly of Sam de Bretagne fame, and Kerry and family. Spending a couple of hours at a playground is a great way to say goodbye. I didn’t cry (I was a little surprised), but I think it may be because we’ll see Mimi and Jack and Michael and Katharine in August.

It seems so much harder to say goodbye to kids, particularly the tiny ones, because they won’t remember you the way you will them, and you may not ever gain back the level of closeness you had with them if you don’t live nearby again. I will miss the way that Katharine says “shoul” when she wants to get on your shoulders and the way Michael shows you all his artwork from his four years of life every time you walk in the door. I suppose I could say I’ve been fortunate enough to know many kids well enough to miss them like that.

Enough quasi-depressing reminicenses. On with the day! After the picnic, goodbyes and repeated hugs, we went back to the tablecloth store to buy a jacquard tablecloth and napkins. And then we were poor. Ha! Coming back, we ran into the Gay Pride Parade. They were not messing around when it came to noise level and number of people. I don’t think Katharine and Michael had a nap after all. We skirted the parade route but benefited from the music and energy all the same.

The next outing was to Shakespeare & Company books, where we sold a bunch of hardcovers (for about 50 centimes each). We walked out with 7 euros, which we immediately spent at FNAC for new headphones for my ipod. Allen and I had decided we either needed books for the ride over or an audiobook (and therefore, headphones for me, as mine have been out of commission for months). We came back home and purchased the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma for our ipods. I can’t wait to listen to it on the plane!

Phew! But the day wasn’t over for us yet. We had reservations at l’A.O.C. for one last nice dinner in Paris. We sat outside, the weather finally cool. I sipped my last Cerdon aperitif there and learned that it was in fact a sparkling rose wine (rather than a mixed drink, as I thought). Perhaps I’ll be able to track it down. I decided from the outset to skip dessert in favor of a delicious salmon and ginger tartare. (Not a bad decision. The salmon tartare was outstanding. Plus, how fun is it to say tartare au saumon et gingembre?) Both Allen and I chose one of the night’s specials for our plat: lambshanks with potato “palettes.” Also an excellent choice, but then, we were at A.O.C. Allen chose a moelleux au chocolat for dessert, his favorite. When I said I wasn’t having dessert to the waiter he said, “Perhaps you’d like a little spoon?” I smiled back and him and said it might be useful. And was it! Allen’s dessert was delicious. We returned home afterwards happily full of delicious French food.

What more is there to say? A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about leaving Paris and coming back to the States. I feel just the same as I did when we came here last year. I’m happy to go but sad to leave.

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June 27, 2008

The end is near

Posted in Babysitting, Daily life, Food, Working tagged , , , , , at 2:06 pm by Lauren

As of Wednesday night, we are basically packed. There are a few slips of paper and other flotsam in disorganization (naturally, all mine). There are some toiletries, mostly perfume and cologne, which still need to be properly packed. And aside from that, only the food and cleaning need to be taken care of before we leave.

It’s very unlike me to be packed almost a week in advance. But there’s a logical reason. If we hadn’t already packed, we couldn’t know how much space we had left to fill with souvenirs from France! As it is, there isn’t much room. But Allen and I plan to purchase another French tablecloth and maybe some clothes. En plus, the twice-a-year sales just started this week! We’re in luck. However, we had also hoped to bring back some art, but our full luggage won’t allow it. Any bets on whether we’ll be charged for oversized luggage?

This week has been full of emotional confusion. Monday was a rare day off for me, and i worked on some of my graduate school research. I’m currently taking my last masters course; the first part is online (started in March) and the classroom portion will keep me wholy occupied from July 16 to July 25. (Who wants to celebrate on July 26? Alternately, that might be a good day for a nap.) So Monday I tackled some of the transcription I need to do as part of the data collection for my action research project. In the evening Allen and I continued our packing efforts for a while. Then we ran off to Fuxia, our Italian place, for what was probably our last dinner there. I had a glass of prosecco and the Scallopine Limone. Allen had his usual, the Lasagne Carne. We both finished with panna cottas, getting our own so that he could have a red fruits sauce, and I could have caramel.

Tuesday was the hottest day I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I sweated from about noon to midnight. I got my haircut in the morning, and on the way I realized with horror that I’d left all the cash at home (and the salon doesn’t take credit cards). I decided to continue and just explain my problem, fearful of losing my appointment if I showed up too late. Vicky was very understanding and cut my hair anyway. (And it looks great. She has given me the two best dry-on-its-own haircuts of my life.) Then I took the metro straight home to pick up cash and straight back to pay the hairdresser. By the point, I was running late to babysitting. I babysat, tutored, the usual, and then metroed home to try to avoid the heat. I met up with Allen, changed into a dry shirt, and we walked to Mimi and Jack’s apartment. They’d hired a babysitter so that the four of us could go out to dinner together. We walked around for a while before we decided to eat at Le Bar a Huitres. The air was thick with fruit flies; I’ve never seen anything like it. The little flies looked like pollen or dust, but kept landing on us. Fortunately, though the windows at Le Bar a Huitres were open, very few flies actually joined us inside. Still, I fished a few out of my wine, and I think I ate a handful. Aside from the unintentional protein, the food was delicious! Jack and I both opted for the Menu Homard, choosing 9 oysters and a lobster each. Mimi and Allen both chose a grilled shrimp entree, followed by a tuna steak for Mimi and a crab for Allen. Dessert was ice cream all around – lemon sorbet with limoncello for Allen and I and chocolate and cafe liegeoise for Mimi and Jack respectively. The staff were all talkative and friendly, and I believe it was the owner who paid a visit to our table and ended up showing us how to get the meat out of a crab. The food was very enjoyable, and the company was better. Afterwards, we went to El Sur, an Argentinian restaurant across Blvd Saint Germain from Mimi and Jack’s apartment, and had a round of drinks. The owner (who knows Mimi and Jack) plugged the pisco sour, and for good reason. It’s probably a good thing that I won’t be here to drink many more of those. Afterwards, we made plans to see them again on Saturday, so we wouldn’t have to say goodbye quite yet.

Wednesday’s highlight was babysitting Rafaela because we went to the park to meet Kerry and her kids so that Rafaela and Liese could play together. Mimi came with the kids too, so we had a big jolly gathering. Katharine was walking all over the playground clutching a bag of lollipops, so all the bigger kids surrounded her to ask nicely for one, and she was blithely handing them out to anyone who lined up. She put three or four in my purse when I said no thank you. When I went home afterwards, Allen and I threw ourselves into a frenzy of packing and cleaning. Hooray!

Yesterday was a nice day as well. The weather had become more temporate, and I met Leigh for coffee and to return some books she let me borrow. We’d met a couple of times before, but I wish we’d made more time to get together. We talked so much I ended up running late to babysitting again. I’m not proud of it. But babysitting went well – we spent the whole time drawing, and there were popsicles involved. Then I did my final lesson with Adrienne. I took it easy on her and we sang all the songs we’d learned, and I gave her a bit of an oral quiz. In the meantime, I gave her a French braid so she’d be ready for the concert at her school that night. I got to drop her off a bit early and said a warm goodbye to her and her parents. Then last night, Allen and I cooked dinner and then spent a few hours babysitting Kerry’s kids so she and her husband could have a night out in Paris.

And that brings us to today! Allen and I both have our last days of work today. I’ll have my last yoga class tonight (somehow I doubt I’m going tomorrow), and then the weekend will be filled with a picnic, shopping, cleaning, and saying goodbye to Paris.

June 23, 2008

Le Nooooord

Posted in family, Les français, Travel, TV and movies tagged , , , , , , , at 1:38 pm by Lauren

This last weekend we finally visited Allen’s French family in the north. We stayed with Allen’s aunt and uncle (his mom’s sister and brother-in-law), who are also Allen’s godmother and Stephanie’s godfather. Charles and Jacqueline live in Maubeuge, which is in Pas de Calais, close to the Belgian border.

Jacqueline is a wonderful cook, and she served us spaghetti bolognaise (homemade sauce, of course!); a tagine of dates, apricots, almonds and lamb with couscous; a spicy Moroccan soup; a crab, avocado, and tomato salad; and many other delicious plates. Each time, it was a typical French meal with a starter, main dish, sometimes cheese, dessert, and then coffee. The French certainly know how to live.

We were very impressed as well with Charles and Jacqueline’s impressive garden, from which we ate lettuce, radish, and strawberries. They also had several fruit trees: pear, apple, and cherry, plus red currant bushes. We hope to grow a small garden when we get back to the States, so we’re keeping their garden in our minds as inspiration. (However, I did admit our failed gardening attempt in the Arlington Community Gardens, where Cate, Allen, and I went back several times to weed and clear our plot, with so much time in between that that’s all we managed to ever do.)

We spent most of the weekend just chatting, and I got to hear stories about Allen and Stephanie when they were young.

On Saturday night, we headed out to the movies to see Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis. Les Ch’tis are the inhabitants of the north of France, particularly Nord Pas de Calais, and they have a distinctive regional dialect that blends the French of today and the Picard dialect of years past. Charles gave us a briefing on different phrases so we wouldn’t be totally lost during the movie. (And still, it was hard to follow, but we got a lot more having had our little lesson. I’d say I was around 85-90%, which is pretty good for any French movie I watch.) The premise of the movie is that a man from the south gets sent to work in the north as punishment – and he really sees it as such, dreading the cold, the strange people, and the overall inhospitable atmosphere. But he turns out to love it…but his wife doesn’t believe him, so there’s a hilarious juxtaposition between the stereotypes of the north and the actuality, which culminates in…ah, go watch the movie! At the beginning, an old man tells him scary tales of the north, and say in a menacing voice, “Le noooooooord…” Charles got a real kick out of that. And apparently, some US film studio has bought the rights, so we’ll see a remake in the US in a few years. Allen and I were trying to guess what regions and people would star – sunny California and hilly West Virginia perhaps?

We had a great time with Charles and Jacqueline, and I was very glad we were able to get up there before the year was out. Maybe next time we visit, we’ll visit the sky-diving school near their house; this time we sat on the porch and watched parachutist after parachutist. Or maybe we’ll just watch again.

June 20, 2008

A big one

Posted in Babysitting tagged , , at 10:52 pm by Lauren

“Yoy-yun?” Noah called me to the couch. His outstretched finger had something pale stuck to it. He made a gesture that I knew meant he wanted me to get it off him.

“What is that, Noah?”

“A big one.” Well, I could see that. I was pretty sure it was a booger. I tried another tack.

“Where did it come from?”

“From this nose.” He pointed to one nostril. I got a wipe and made the big one disappear.

This is my life. It’s kind of funny and sad at the same time.

The countdown goes below 10 days…

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , at 10:48 pm by Lauren

Everything is flying by around us these days, and suddenly we’ve only got about ten days left before we return Stateside. Our lives and our thoughts are both jumbles, so this blog post will be somewhat of a jumble as well.

What’s coming up? Saturday and Sunday, we’ll be in Maubeuge (near the Belgian border) visiting Allen’s French family. This will be my first time meeting them. Tuesday night we’re having dinner with Mimi and Jack, and they’re getting a babysitter! Next Saturday we may hit an art market. We’d like to get in one more dinner at L’Epicerie Fuxia (otherwise known as “the Italian place”) and one more at AOC. Other than that, we’re working every day (except Monday for me), and I’m going to cram in as many yoga classes as I can stand. There’s also a nice bottle of champagne to drink, courtesy of a family I tutor for. Maybe we’ll drink it while we finish packing.

Last weekend, we babysat Mimi and Jack’s kids for the weekend and let them get away. You can see some pictures from our trip to the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes here. We ate dinner at a creperie with Antoine and Typhaine last night, saying our first major goodbye. Mimi and I had sushi for lunch on Thursday, and we had a yummy Thai dinner and general talk-fest on Tuesday.

Other than that, we’ve been working, working, working. Allen took a short trip to the UK and played a round of golf up there. I have started making friends in parks (yes, the week before we leave), who tell me about/offer me babysitting jobs with many hours. Ha!

Then there’s the question of what happens when we get back. In July, we’ll be living in our house again (back in the upstairs room). In August, we’ll probably be staying in Allen’s parents’ house while they’re vacationing. Come September, our whereabouts will be a mystery. In the meantime, we plan to look for a place in Arlington, as we’re now reasonably sure that we’ll be staying in the DC area.

July will see us cleaning out the basement (lots of stuff down there that we haven’t used or seen in a year), attending Brian’s wedding, visiting my mom’s side of the family, and house hunting. I’ll finish my last masters course, take a standardized test I need for teacher licensure in Virginia, and actually apply for licensure. Allen will start a new position with his current company, as yet undefined.

So here we go, barrelling towards the “next thing.”

June 16, 2008

Riches

Posted in Food tagged , , , , at 2:59 pm by Lauren

With 15 days and counting down quickly, we’re indulging a little with the extra euros from my now full-time babysitting schedule. A crepe here, a carton of Berthillon sorbet there (citron vert these days), a choice from the wide assortment of meringues available everywhere. One of our favorite things to do is have what we like to call a “bakery dinner.” We visit our favorite bakery and pick up one salty thing and one dessert. I’m partial to the feuilletes for dinner – some yummy filling like goat cheese and spinach or chicken curry between thin pastry leaves – and Allen almost always chooses quiche. Then for dessert, it’s a red fruit tart for Allen and a banane (vanilla layer cake under a thick icing in the color and shape of a banana) or a strawberry tart for me.

I think I know what’s on the menu for tonight!

June 8, 2008

22 days

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , at 12:25 am by Lauren

A few weeks ago, my mom asked if we were counting the days. But we were still on weeks. But now that June is here, we are counting the days, and there are 22 more days to our stay in France. How did that happen?

We have 22 days, and I have 11 classes left on my yoga studio “subscription.” In the next 22 days, we’ll play parents for a weekend, Allen will visit England, we will visit Allen’s French family in the north, and I’m really hoping to buy a new pair of jeans or two. We have 22 days and 13 unfinished City Walks, 1 scheduled haircut (mine), and 4 suitcases to pack. In 22 days, we expect to have 0 visitors! (Elizabeth has just left – our first and last and most frequent visitor for the year.)

In the next 22 days, I expect some panic. But for now, I’m going to bed.

Gosap goes to Mexico!

Posted in Blogging, Travel tagged , , , at 12:16 am by Lauren

Just as Allen and I are Schmanz, our close friends Brandi and Steven are Gosap. And Team Gosap is off on an international adventure of their own: five weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico. The stated purpose* is to attend a language school to improve their Spanish, but the trip will be so much more. Steven (the Go- half) is returning to the homeland. Will he glory in his indigineous roots or feel uprooted? Brandi (formerly of -sap fame) will be vying for the title of Miss Blondest Mexico. She’s a real contender.

We’ll be following Border Crossings, their new blog, very closely during the next five weeks and suggest you do the same!

*Gosap, remember this? “State your purpose!” at the Cheesecake Factory in Arlington. “I’m here to eat!”

Hiking in the Midi-Pyrenees

Posted in Exploring, Travel tagged , , , , at 12:10 am by Lauren

I could reminisce for hours on the memorable places of my life. Last week, Allen and I revisited one of those places – the path through the Pyrenees known as the Sentier Cathare. We hiked from Quillan to Foix in five days, hoofing over 100 km (66.5 miles). We barely shut up the entire time, either. And along the way, I took a few pictures, which you can find here. I’ll follow up with a narrative as I’m able to catch up.

Did you just say French bureaucracy is absurd?

Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , , , , at 12:03 am by Lauren

Thursday I had a rendez-vous at the prefecture for my carte de sejour, or residence card. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since February.

I wasn’t really sure how it would go. I knew that I was supposed to show up at the prefecture at 4 pm, or possibly earlier because sometimes there is a long line outside the building. I was to bring many, many proofs that I was myself and that I should live in France and indeed that I did live in France, plus strictly regulated pictures of myself. And photocopies. I was also to bring Allen, in the flesh, as well as proof that he is himself, that he is my husband, and that our marriage is not a sham (harder to find proof of this than you might suspect). I might or might not need a doctor’s visit, I might or might not get my actual carte de sejour pasted in my passport that day, or maybe I was really applying for the first time since the woman at the February appointment hadn’t taken any paperwork from me. What’s more, I might have to pay up to 275 euros, possibly in cash. Big on paperwork and red tape, not so big on actual information sharing.

I suppose all that is to say, I had no idea what to expect. And I was scared. (I like to refer to this as “an appropriate fear of French bureaucracy” as I think the French actual foster this sense of uncertainty on purpose.)

Allen and I set a meeting time of 3:15 and promptly cemented two very different meeting spots into our mental calendars. At 3:40, Allen called me from the house, breathless from having run back there. “Where are you?” Then he ran back again, we met, gave each other a look, and got on with it. There was no line, so we breezed through the metal detectors. In the Europe-America-Middle East room (really?), we presented ourselves at the desk and got a number. (The woman at the desk said they were going to cut people off for the day because it was getting late, and there were a lot of people waiting. It was only 3:50.) Then we sat. (Sitting for a long time increases the appropriate fear of French bureaucracy, you see.)

When our number was called, only a few other couples remained in the waiting area. We presented my dossier to the desk agent, who flipped through it. She determined immediately that this would be a ten year application, meaning my residence card would be good for ten years without renewal. Happy third anniversary to us!

(Easiest immigration story ever. Ever. Okay, here’s what you do. Be American. Marry a French citizen. Be married three years. Then move to France and apply for residence. The end.)

But it wasn’t quite that simple. We didn’t have enough proof that our marriage wasn’t a sham. In fact, we had hardly any. It’s all home in the States. We don’t have a proper lease here, we don’t get utilities in our names, we don’t have any official French correspondence, we didn’t apply for health coverage, and we don’t have a bank account. We don’t exist (and neither does our marriage – nevermind that we weren’t officially married in the eyes of the French until December). So friendly French bureaucrat says we need to come back with more proof, in a few months.

Uh oh. We explained the part where we return to the States at the end of the month and don’t know when we’re coming back.

“Wait,” she says. “Are you living here or there?”

“We’ve been living here for a year, so I did what I’m legally supposed to do and applied for residence. But at the end of the month, we’re going back to the United States, and we’ll be living there.” I kept repeating something like, “I just did what I was supposed to, legally.”

“Applying for residence when you’re leaving in a month is absurd!” Our bureaucrat furrowed her brows. I agreed. (So very Parisian, the righteous indignation. So very French. Except usually it’s not on my side!)

“The Americans, they just come and go as they please!” The bureaucrat in the next booth chimed in, seeming surprised that I had bothered to follow the legal route. (Can I cite that as a legal French policy next time I move here?)

The two bureaucrats put their heads together and came up with a solution. I’d get a new recipisse, good for three more months. Along with that would be a document asking me to request an appointment with the prefecture to continue my application. I could request that appointment whenever I returned to the country – or not.

“Moins de boulot pour moi,” our bureaucrat muttered, “Less work for me.”

That worked just fine for Allen and me too. We didn’t really want to pay for the carte de sejour (275 euros, over $400, remember?) with just 25 more days to go in the country. And if we do move back to France, we can prepare a ream of documentation (plus photocopies!) to prove our marriage isn’t a sham – in advance.

We left the prefecture in high spirits and went straight for a Berthillon ice cream. Ah, to be an American in Paris.

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