31 January 2006

And the postcard goes to...

Congrats to Ryan Cooper for his winning caption...

"Given the fact that she was only nominated in ONE category and LOST to Rachel Weisz, a quizzical Johansson doesn't know how to respond to Spacey's comment in which he congratulated her for taking home two magnificent Golden Globes."

Since I have nothing new of value to say, I refer you instead to the following Youtube video:

http://www.youtube.com/?v=bAfZGUIDcJs


Cheers!

30 January 2006

The Old Dog and the Stairs

[Posted by Colin.]

Over the last couple weeks, I've observed some interesting new behavioral traits in Didg. Before describing that behavior, however, everyone needs to be aware of three facts:
  1. Next Monday, Didg turns 6 (that's like a human turning 40, according to the most recent way of counting dog years). Stay tuned next week for a tribute to Didg going over the hill.
  2. Our apartment sits at the top of 97 steps in a spiral staircase.
  3. There is a tiny custom-made elevator that stops between floors, on the opposite side of the spiral from the entrances to the apartments.
When Didg and I come back inside, I start heading up the stairs so that I can get some exercise. Lately, however, I've noticed that when I reach the first floor, Didg is still at the bottom of the stairs. The other day, I looked back and called him to follow me. He looked up at me briefly, with those massive brown eyes, then dropped his head and started slowly walking in a circle, kind of kicking his heels as if to say: "You know, daddy, we could—if you really wanted—take the elevator...I mean...I don't have to, and I know you like getting the exercise of climbing the stairs, but—well, never mind, I'm coming."

Needless to say, our dog has a very expressive face. Then he lifted his front paw and started up the steps. But, rather than just walking, he limped. This dog—who had just been happily sniffing every tree in sight, greeting all the passersby, and bounding after every baguette—actually limped up the stairs as if he had arthritis in every joint of his stubby little legs and in every vertebra of his back!

He got as far as the elevator and stopped, turning to look up at me with the saddest puppy-dog eyes he could muster. Again that look: "You know, daddy, I am getting older. See all this grey hair I've got? And my back and my legs, they hurt so bad. I mean, I could do the stairs, but the elevator is just right here and there are soooo many stairs. What do you think, daddy?"

My cold-hearted response, emanating from about 20 steps above him: "C'mon, Didg. Hurry up!"

Didg continued limping the rest of the way to the first floor. Then, after another little breather, moaned his way up to the next elevator door and shot me his most pathetic look. Another shout to "hurry up" got him to limp up to the next landing, where he seemed to be hoping that he would be rescued by François and Charlotte (the two kids Amy has babysat).

When the kids didn't appear, Didg looked up and finally gave up the act. He sprinted the last three flights of stairs to our apartment, arriving breathless but grinning as the blood pumped through his herding-dog muscles.

29 January 2006

Attack of the Bonjours

Muriel and I braved the Saturday afternoon crowds to do a little "soldes searching." Unfortunately, I didn't find much to buy (which is probably for the best, considering that I live on a fixed income!), but it was nice to be out and about town. Plus, I was lucky enough to find a skirt that I fell in love with back in January -- marked down to half price! Woo hoo!

Unfortunately, a lot of the employees at these stores are annoyingly similar to salesclerks in the US. Every time we walked into a store, we were assaulted with the "Bonjour, mesdames!" of desperate commission-addicts. The worst was in a Chatelet/Les Halles store called La City. This hyperactive early 20-something girl pounced on me the moment I showed a remote interest in a rack of clothing. "Can I help you find a particular size?" she asked me. No, thanks, I responded. Ah, but that wasn't good enough for her. She immediately launched into a full sales pitch for the sweater I happened to be touching at that moment. (Not that I needed to have anyone explain to me that Angora is a high-quality wool...) My favorite part was when she reminded me how nice it is to wear a warm sweater in this kind of weather. Never mind that it's freezing outside, -- I'm being reminded of this unpleasant fact by a sales girl wearing a spaghetti-strap tank top. Lady, maybe you need the sweater more than I do!

On to other topics. As I alluded to earlier, Didge has a new girlfriend. Her name is Sophie, and she's originally from Southern California. You can see her on the left, standing next to Didge. I'm calling Sophie his girlfriend mostly because she's female. As you can see from the height difference, there isn't going to be any, um, "displays of dominance" on Didge's part.

Sophie belongs to Maggie and Colin, a couple that just relocated to Paris in December. Colin works for Deloitte & Touche, and Maggie is in the exact same boat as me: unemployed, yet incredibly busy. So, Maggie and I are trying to get the dogs together at least once a week to burn off excess energy. I posted a short video of them on Youtube - if you watch it, you'll notice that Sophie literally runs circles around old man Didge.

By the way, if I had tipped the camera up and over slightly in that picture, you would see the main entrance to the Louvre. Yes, my dog has playdates in the Tuileries. Imagine that!

27 January 2006

J'ai vu un accident terrible

I was all set to blog about Didge and his new "girlfriend" today when my afternoon took an unexpectedly gruesome turn. Didge and I were nearly to our apartment when we witnessed a traffic accident unlike anything I've seen before. This took place on av. du Général Leclerc, no more than 100 yards from my front door.

To simplify what happened: a motorcycle swerved too hard and fast while trying to avoid a car that had stopped suddenly in front of him. The cyclist lost his balance and fell sideways, launching him and his passenger into the air. The cyclist flew/skidded about 10 to 15 feet on his side, but his passenger wasn't so lucky. She flew under the back bumper of the car and firmly collided with its back end and tires. I heard her hit, and watched as she bounced back a bit and rolled over.

The cyclist got up almost right away, but his passenger didn't. In fact, I never saw her move a muscle after the accident. Everything else around her, however, moved at lightning-fast speed.
  • The driver of the car that she hit was phoning for help before he even got all the way out of his car.
  • Almost immediately after the impact, a person in a nearby car got out and covered the injured woman with one of those shiny silver emergency blankets that fold up to the size of a credit card.
  • Within a minute of the accident, a traffic-controller police car pulled up with its lights flashing (I'm not exaggerating on the time lapse here). The officer assessed the situation quickly and went straight to work.
  • A man on the sidewalk next to me - presumably a doctor - crossed the street at the same time that the officer arrived, and went over to check the woman on the ground.
In the 10 minutes time it took me to take Didge home, sit down to process what I had seen, and then pass the accident scene again on my way to the grocery store:
  • The car and the motorcycle from the accident had been moved to the side of the road;
  • There were two more emergency vehicles on the scene;
  • The traffic controller who was first to respond was now directing cars around the crash sight on the busy road; and
  • None of the people in the accident were anywhere to be seen.
When I came out of the grocery store, it was barely 35 minutes since the accident had happened, and everything was completely gone! No car. No wrecked motorcycle. No emergency vehicles. No traffic cop. In fact, the only remnant of the whole event was a small pile of broken plexiglass shards from the windshield of the wrecked motorcycle.

I'm not sure if I was more shocked because A) I witnessed such a dramatic event, or B) I have never, ever seen such an efficient, effective handling of an emergency situation, much less by a set of government workers. I take back all the nasty things I said while waiting in line at the police station - when it really matters, those folks have their act together.

I remember that one of my first thoughts almost immediately after the crash was, "Wow, no more violent movies for me." I mainly thought this because I was troubled at my lack of a real emotional response. It was the same for everyone around me, too. No one panicked, cried, yelled, or even looked mildly upset at the whole thing. Amazingly, not even the people directly involved in the crash argued or looked the least bit upset. It was like being in a surreal dream sequence. Had we all been exposed to so many horrible scenes on TV and in movies that nothing could phase us anymore? How callous has our society become, when the sight of two bodies hurling through the air hardly raises an eyebrow?

My faith in myself was restored a few minutes after the accident, when I stepped into our apartment building and teared up a little bit. I didn't break down and cry, but I was definitely relieved that I was starting to have a more appropriate emotional reaction to what I had witnessed. I guess "big city life" hasn't jaded me completely!

26 January 2006

Jeudi Gras

For foreign women, getting the carte de séjour is a lot like Mardi Gras in New Orleans: flash your boobs at a couple of key people, and voilà! They throw it at you!

OK, I'm exaggerating. Slightly. As you might guess, I finally got my residency card today. Colin has already explained the process in a previous posting (and been harrangued about the cheesy photo I took of him on the same day), so I'll skip re-explaining the sequence. I will say, however, that this place was the model of efficiency -- very un-French! Even though the process went very quickly for me, I was pleasantly surprised at how well I did speaking French. I'm not sure if it's because the employees there are used to poor French and knew how to speak incredibly clearly, or if my three-hour conversation with Isabelle earlier today doubled as a prep session. Either way, I rocked!

Anyway, I only had to show my "Golden Globes" to four people: three people in the X-ray room, and one doctor a few minutes later. I'm not sure why, but I was bound and determined not to be embarrassed about being topless in the doctor's office. So, when my little door opened up, I just stood up straight, fought the urge to cross my arms over my chest, and walked over to the machine. After all, it's not like the three women in that room were seeing anything new, right?

The second time I took my shirt off, I was allowed to keep my bra on. Like the first time, it was very quick and efficient: I walked into the doctor's office and closed the door; she told me to take my shirt off. I made sure to clarify that this is what she actually wanted before acting because the last thing I wanted was to take off my shirt only to have her look up and say, "What are you doing? I asked you for your passport!"

The odd part of the whole experience was that the doctor immediately told me to take my shirt off, but didn't examine me right away. Instead, I sat - in my bra - in her guest chair across the desk from her and answered questions. The first request was to confirm my birthdate, which is a bit tricky because I had to work out how to say 1977 in French (mille neuf-cent soixante-dix-sept) under unusual conditions. (Hey, my French teacher never made me take off my shirt before saying numbers, so I wasn't properly trained for this!) After several questions about my health and a short lecture on the fact that I hadn't had any vaccine booster shots since I was a kid, she finally came over and listened to my lungs. Just as the X-ray on the wall showed, my lungs were completely free and clear of tuberculosis.

At long last, my mountains of paperwork, translations and photocopies has been reduced to a little plastic card that proves my worthiness to the French government upon request. Just to spite them, I think I'll go get infected with tuberculosis! (Wait, maybe that's not the best way to get back at the government for all of the long lines, ridiculous paperwork, and pointless meetings.)

24 January 2006

Menu #2: Truite arc-en-ciel pochée

Last Saturday, I made an auvergnat feast for Amy. The recipes all represent Auvergne, a mountainous region in the Massif Central of south-central France. We skipped over the salad/entrée course, but here's what we did have:

Plat: Truite arc-en-ciel pochée aux oignons, avec aligot d'Aubrac [Rainbow Trout poached with onions, served with aligot, a mashed-potato-like dish from Aubrac]

Start with the aligot (which takes about an hour), then work on the trout.

Aligot d'Aubrac
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 kg (2 pounds) of new potatoes
  • 400 g (14 oz.) tomme cheese [outside of France, look for a mild, white, cow cheese]
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 150 g (5 1/4 oz.) butter
  • 10-15 cl (about a 1/4 cup) milk
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Peel the potatoes. If they are large, cut them into quarters. The pieces should all be the same size to assure they cook uniformly. Boil them for about 45 minutes in a stewpot of salted water (10 g/2 tsp per litre/quart). They are done when the point of a knife easily punctures them.
  2. Strain the potatoes and mash them. Stir them with a spatula for 2-3 minutes to dry them.
  3. Away from the heat, add the butter and stir with a wooden spoon. Gradually add in the milk while stirring, until the potatoes have a fluffy but slightly firm consistency.
  4. Cut the tomme into thin slices and distribute them on the potatoes. Place the stewpot over low heat, adding the garlic (finely chopped) and stir vigorously. Little by little the tomme will melt and form strings (in French, l'aligot va "filer").
  5. As the aligot gains elasticity, lift the spoon higher and higher. When the tomme is completely melted, the aligot ready. Season to taste and serve immediately from the stewpot.
Truite arc-en-ciel pochée aux oignons
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 rainbow trout (or 8 filets)
  • 50 cl (about 1 pint) dry white wine [I'd recommend using Muscadet, but any cooking wine will suffice]
  • 1 onion, cut in thin slices
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 shallot, chopped finely
  • 20 cl (about 1 cup) Muscadet wine
  • 250 g butter
  • 1 lemon
  • a handful or two of girolles or chanterelles (both are flavorful, trumpet-shaped mushrooms)
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Combine 2 liters (2 quarts) of water with the bay leaf, the sliced onion, the dry white wine, the salt, and the pepper. Bring to boiling, then simmer.
  2. Poach the fish in this for 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare "beurre nantais":
    1. Combine the muscadet and shallot and reduce.
    2. When that has reduced to 3/4, adding the butter while stirring. Don't let the mixture boil.
    3. Squeeze the lemon's juice into the mixture and add salt and pepper.
  4. While keeping the beurre nantais over low heat, sautée the girolles/chanterelles.
  5. Pour a bed of beurre nantain onto each plate, add the trout, and then garnish with the girolles/chanterelles.
[Let me just say one thing about this recipe. Amy hates most fish, I hate most things involving mushrooms; both of us loved everything about this dish!!!]

Fromage: Cantal
This is a hard cow cheese with an AOC designation from the department of Cantal. We prefer a Cantal entre-deux, but you might also enjoy the less-aged version (Cantal jeune) or the more-aged version (Cantal vieux). [AOC stands for "appélation d'origine contrôlée" and is applied to French cheeses and wines. It signifies that the given cheese or wine has been produced in a specific geographic region following very stringent processes. Only the best cheeses and wines get this designation.]

Dessert: Cornets de Murat [Horns from Murat]
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 8-10 minutes
Makes about 20 cornets
Ingredients
  • Cornets
    • 2 egge whites
    • 100 g sugar
    • 50 g butter
    • 60 g flour
  • Crème chantilly
    • 200 g sour cream
    • 60 g sugar
    • 1 pouch of vanilla-flavored sugar [You can probably substitute 1 tsp of vanilla extract and add a little extra sugar]
Preparation
  1. Cornets
    1. Gently stir the sugar into the egg whites for 3-4 minutes.
    2. Add the flour, then the melted butter, and quickly stir into a batter.
    3. Spread teaspoon-size drops of batter on a cookie sheet. [They will expand while cooking, so leave at least a couple inches between them.]
    4. Bake at about 150 C/300 F for 8 to 10 minutes. [Be careful not to overcook them!]
  2. While they are baking prepare the crème chantilly. [For the Americans out there...this is like making whipped cream.]
  3. As the cornets come out of the often, roll them into cones [cornets].
  4. Fill the cornets with the crème chantilly.
[As a side note, I bombed on this recipe. If you know how to make crème pâtissière, I think that would be even better. We learned the hard way that I do not know how to make crème pâtissière. Plus, I overcooked the cornets a little, so they didn't roll into cones very well.]

Bon appétit!!

22 January 2006

Pourquoi, Francophobia?


[posted by Amy]

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently been "researching" why Americans love to hate the French. I put "researching" in quotes because I am limited to what I can find on the internet. Boy, I never thought I'd miss having full access to a university library, but I do right now! Admittedly, my knowledge of French history (much less European history) is sadly deficient. But, I had to start somewhere, so I just started reading what I could find on "Francophobia." (This is kind-of a weird term, given that it literally translates to being afraid of the French.)

The more I read, the more questions I have. But while I know I have a long way to go on mastering French history, one thing I have resolved is this: I now know why I cringe every time someone tells me a French-bashing joke. Up until now, I didn't have any real basis for that reaction, other than the fact that I used to work with some really nice people who were originally from France. As it turns out, the real reason for my discomfort had less to do with wanting to stand up for my friends as it did for this:

"The fifth reason for Francophobia is more a condition of possibility than a cause per se, but it is quite important. It is the absence of any kind stigma attached to anti-French discourse in the United States. This is probably explained by the absence of any large French-American community in the US, which means there is no painful history of anti-French violence or oppression in the United States and makes France-bashing fair game. Francophobic stereotyping and anti-French jokes would be unacceptable if they dealt with the Japanese, the Arabs or the Mexicans, but one can freely talk about French national cowardice or body odor. No sense of political correctness vis-à-vis the French stands in the way" (Vaïsse 2003, 25-26).

Voilà! What was really bugging me was the fact that we (i.e. Americans) felt so comfortable with making very crass jokes about a specific group of people. You would never get away with making the same joke if you exchanged "French" for "Jew," for example. Why do we feel so comfortable bashing some groups of people, but feel so terrified of being branded as racist for making the exact same comments about another group? Is it solely because the US doesn't have an embarrassing history of specifically persecuting French people?

I think that's how it got started, but now, I think the average American "hates" the French because everyone else does. If pressed, I suspect that the same person who insists on eating "Freedom Fries" wouldn't even be able to find France on a map, much less give you a specific example of how the French are backward or ungrateful for the help in WWII.

Does that mean that I think the French are innocent little angels, being picked on by the world bully? No, of course not. While I do feel a need to "stick up" for my current country of residence, I won't pretend that it is perfect by any stretch. And goodness knows, there is plenty of American-bashing by the French, for better or worse. (OK, it's mainly President Bush bashing, but still...) Both "sides" have earned their fair share of criticism throughout history. But taking pot shots at an entire group of people doesn't make sense. All it really does is perpetuate a culture of mistrust, which doesn't do either country any good.

OK, off my proverbial soapbox!

--------------
The article I referenced can be found at:
http://www.brook.edu/dybdocroot/Views/Articles/fellows/vaisse20030725.pdf

20 January 2006

Talk amongst yourselves...

Since I'm feeling a little verklempt, I'll give you a topic.

Kevin Spacey and Scarlett Johansen ... what's the caption to this picture?

Winner gets a postcard. Bonne chance!

18 January 2006

Menu #1: Rôti de porc à la normande

[Posted by Colin.]

While Amy is taking a couple days off from blogging, I'll jump in with some posts about our culinary adventures. One of my goals this year is to learn traditional recipes that represent five regions of France. Last fall, I learned some simple recipes from Savoie (part of the French Alps), Provence (southeastern France, including the Riviera), the Pays Basque (southwestern France, up in the Pyrenees Mountains), and Normandie (part of northwestern France that is on the English Channel). Just for fun, I thought I'd share of few of these, so the loyal readership can get a better taste of our life over here.

First up, Rôti de porc à la normande (Norman pork roast). The regional cuisine of Normandie is known for a few things—camembert, crêpes, pork, apples, and cider. So, to make a nice menu out of this, you might do something like this...

Entrée (French for appetizer): Salade cauchoise
  • 300 g/11 oz new potatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 85 g/3 oz ham, cut into strips
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped, or 2-3 sticks of celery
  • 150 ml/5 fl oz double cream
  • ½ lemon
  • ½ bunch of spring onions, slice
  • 3 black olives, chopped
Dressing
  • ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons grape seed oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Mix the ingredients for the dressing together and season to taste.
  2. Boil the potatoes (with or without their skins) until just tender, then drain well. While the potatoes are still warm, mix them with the dressing and leave to cool.
  3. Cut the potatoes into chunks and add the garlic, ham and fennel or celery.
  4. Add the cream and some salt and pepper and mix well. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and mix very lightly, otherwise the cream will separate. Mix the spring onions with the olives and scatter over the salad.
Plat: Rôti de porc à la normande
  • 1kg 200 (2.5 lbs) pork roast
  • 50 grams (1.75 oz) of butter
  • 300 grams (2/3 pound) of white mushrooms (finely chopped)
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 apple (chopped)
  • 30 grams (1 oz.) of thick sour cream
  • 25 cl (10 oz.) apple juice
  • 12 cl (5 oz.) of dry white wine
  • half of a celery stalk (chopped)
  • thyme (1/2 tablespoon of fresh leaves or 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Glaze the roast with butter in a stewpot.
  2. Add a finely chopped onion.
  3. After the onion has browned a little, add the white wine, cover, and cook over medium heat for 75 minutes.
  4. Finely chop the mushrooms and sauté them in butter in a frying pan for 3 minutes.
  5. Remove the roast and set it aside. In the stewpot, add the cream, the apple juice, the chopped apple, the thyme, the chopped celery, and the mushrooms.
  6. Stir and heat to boiling.
  7. Put the roast back in the stewpot and cook another 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fromage (the ubiquitous cheese course):
Camembert is probably the best choice here, but Neufchâtel would be good, too.


Dessert:
  • A tarte normande is the obvious choice—an apple pie (open on top, like all the French tarts) covered in powdered sugar and apricot jam. (About.com has a pretty good looking recipe.)
  • Another good alternative would be a crêpe. My personal favorite here would be one flambéed with Calvados (an apple liqueur that is the eau de vie of Normandie) and topped with vanilla ice cream. One made with apples or with cinnamon would also be nice finish to the meal.
  • Barring all this...any apple dessert ought to be good.
Drinks:
Cider (brut, doux, or non-alcoholic, as you prefer) is a perfect accompaniment to any of these courses.

There's only one choice for digestif (the after-dinner drink)—Calvados.

17 January 2006

Taking a few days off

Hey folks,

I'm taking a few days off from blogging. There isn't much to report around here, and I'm assuming that no one wants me to start rambling about what métro lines I've been riding or what kind of cheese I'm buying at the grocery store.

In the meantime ... the Oreos cost 3 euros 50. I'm not sure what's worse: A) that they charge such a scandalous price for 9 cookies, or B) I paid it, despite my shock. (And no, it wasn't worth it: the milk is different here, and it doesn't go as well with Oreos. Sigh.)

15 January 2006

And the winner is...

Congratulations to my brother for the winning caption to this French warning sign:

"Frustrated when they were turned away from Family Day festivities for violating the bald midget in a dress rule, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me vowed to sue for one-meellion dollars."

Here's what the sign really means:

It's on the back of this sign, and it indicates that you have come to the end of the pedestrian mall. Really clear, huh?!

In other news...
  • Gotta brag on my hubby's cooking skills. He made an AWESOME French dinner last night, complete with profiterolles from scratch. Heck,, I'm still recovering from the au gratin potatoes that he made, let alone dessert. (Insert an overstuffed-tummy sigh here.)
  • I started a second blog to practice my written French skills. Want to help me out? Visit and tell me what my mistakes are: J'écris en français. Yes, there will be A LOT of mistakes. But, that's how we learn, right? ;)

14 January 2006

The Price is Right


[posted by Amy]

I submit to the jury a small package of Double Stuff Oreo cookies. For size comparison, I put it next to a Scotch tape dispenser, similar to the ones you can buy in your local store's school supply section. I bought this package of Oreos Friday at "The Real McCoy," the American grocery store in Paris (you know, the home of the famous unplucked turkey).

I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to think about how much a person should be expected to pay for this treat. (There are 9 cookies in the package, which made sharing them between two people ugly.) Once you have a figure in your head, answer the following question:




How much did this package of Oreos cost me?
50 centimes
1 euro
1 euro 50
2 euros
3 euros
3 euros 50
5 euros




Free polls from Pollhost.com

New Year's Resolutions

[posted by Amy]

Before I left for France, I had some theories on how I would react to having oodles of free time. Most of my former co-workers probably remember me joking about the likelihood of me sleeping through the entire first month. (For those of you who don't know me: I'm not a big fan of mornings. Given the opportunity, I will gladly snooze through them all together.) On the flip side, I also figured I would go through a tourism-crazed phase where I insisted upon seeing everything in Paris and the vicinity. Eventually, I would hit the "OK, I'm ready to have a job again" phase, which would only become more and more insistant as time passed. (Again, for those who don't know me, this is the first time in 17 years that I have gone an extended period of time without a paying job.) I wasn't sure what would happen once I reached that point. Mainly, I hoped that it would coincide with our timeline for returning to the US, so that I wouldn't have to endure months of feeling unproductive.

Well, I've done the crazed tourist thing, and I've done the excessive sleep thing. Both are nice, but like most extremes, they can only be sustained for so long. Instead, I've settled into a new middle ground that, given the time of year, I will dub the "New Year's Resolutions" phase. I'm not quite ready to have a full-time job again, but I definitely need new ways to fill my time here. Here's what has bubbled to the surface thus far:

1. Reading. My mom will probably shed a single wee tear when she reads this: my desire to read for pleasure is finally starting to return. I loved reading as a child, but graduate school pretty much killed off my desire to voluntarily open a book. (I finished my master's degree in 2003.) I'm still a little gunshy, in the sense that I don't want people telling me what I "have" to read right now. I need to pick and read books at my own pace, which is going to be slow for a while.

My first reintroduction into the world of the willingly literate was The Da Vinci Code, which I greedily consumed last Saturday. I just couldn't put it down! Plus, it's really interesting to know the places that he is talking about firsthand. (By the way, kids, the Priory of Sion didn't really exist, despite Dan Brown's claim at the beginning of the book.)

2. Studying. This one came as a big surprise to me. I actually had a craving last week to research a topic that interested me and -- get this -- write a paper on it! What the...? I never saw that one coming, that's for sure. So, when the desire to study strikes me, I look up articles on the subject of why Americans "hate" the French so much, and in turn, whether or not this dislike is justified. Eventually, I figure it will become a blog posting, so I apologize in advance if I actually go academic on y'all!

I've also renewed my appetite for regional geography minutia. (My master's is in geography.) To start, I printed up some maps in an effort to refresh my memory on where things are. I also ordered a European Geography textbook from Amazon.fr (hey, if I'm going to improve my trivial geographic knowledge, I may as well start with where I am.) The only downside is that this book is estimated to arrive in mid-March. (Damn you, customs regulations!)

3. Working out. This desire didn't come as a surprise to me at all. I tend to go through these phases every few months. But, as Oscar Wilde famously said, "Every time I feel the urge to take exercise, I have a good lie down until the feeling goes away." OK, so the "good lie down" is usually preceded by one to two weeks of serious attempts at exercise, but normally, my efforts don't last much longer than that. The one exception was when Colin and I went on a health kick together about two years ago, which lasted for nearly 8 months. Who knows, maybe I'll give that record a run for its money this time? Given my track record, however, I won't be making a New Year's Resolution to "get fit" because I hate breaking resolutions before the end of January. Plus, I found out today that one of Colin's New Year's Resolutions is to learn how to cook more French meals. So, I was screwed before I even got to the starting blocks!

Given my inability to fulfill New Year's Resolutions, I won't make any here. Instead, I'll just record these three "inclinations" as they exist, and have a good laugh at them in March.

Hey, that's when my textbook is going to show up!

13 January 2006

Last call on contest

[posted by Amy]

I'm having a hard time picking a winner on the current contest. Anyone have a favorite?

As a refresher, here is the mystery sign:


And here are the comments thus far:

1. No gimp-legged child molestation allowed!
2. No romantic, hand-in-hand walking of bald midgets.
3. It is nice to see that the gimp-legged bald man is abiding by the law and is walking by himself!
4. "Careful, honey, don't hit your head on the red-hot pipe".
5. Frustrated when they were turned away from Family Day festivities for violating the bald midget in a dress rule, Dr. Evil and Mini-Me vowed to sue for one-meellion dollars.
6. NAMGLA is not allowed. (Of course, the sign says nothing about NAMBLA...)

I'm torn between #2 and #5 for the winning postcard. What does everyone else think? Or do you have a last-minute entry that blows them all away? No matter what, I'll pick a winner by the end of the weekend.

12 January 2006

Eavesdropping (ou, écouter une conversation privée)

[posted by Amy -- note: I wrote this on Wednedsay, but couldn't get it posted because of Blogger server problems.]

Despite Isabelle’s prudent warning, I decided to brave the first-day soldes crowds so that I could return a package of socks that didn’t fit Colin. First off, let me say that shopping for plain white socks in Paris at any time of the year is a pain! I bought Colin two packages of socks that claimed to be his size, and they didn’t fit. (He wears a 45 or 46, and I bought socks that were supposed to fit people who wore sizes 43 through 46.) So, thanks to poor sizing, I found myself in line at Go Sport this afternoon. (Go Sport is a sporting goods store, similar to MC Sports in the US.)

While Rachel and I were standing in line (a long period of time because EVERY customer ahead of us decided to apply for a store card), we chattered away to each other in English. After a bit, Rachel noticed that the woman in line behind us was watching us very closely. In reaction, she turned to look at the woman, and when they made eye contact, her natural reaction was to give a small smile. In response, the woman said (in English), “I was trying to understand you, but you talk so fast!”

Personally, I was so surprised to hear someone talk to us in English that I actually felt a little bit flattered. (I have no idea why I felt flattered that someone noticed me speaking English – it’s not really a compliment or anything. “Hey, way to speak in your native tongue!”) We chatted with the woman and her son for a couple of minutes, during which time she asked if we were A) American and B) Texan. (I decided not to explain that people from Texas are Texans first, and Americans begrudgingly.)

After we left, Rachel told me that she was a bit annoyed with that woman for eavesdropping on our conversation. Her reaction surprised me, but not because of her emotional response. I was surprised to hear her call the woman’s actions eavesdropping! Of course, that’s exactly what the woman was doing, but somehow, I perceived it as something else while it was happening.

This got me thinking: does the fact that we were speaking another language make eavesdropping acceptable? Her intent was simply to practice her aural skills in a language she doesn’t get to use much, which is more respectable than just being nosy. Does intent matter?

As another example, I was riding the bus about two months ago when I overheard a British couple trying to figure out where their stop was. As it happened, they wanted to get off at the same stop I was taking. I politely tried to ignore them for most of the trip, but finally, when we got close to the stop, I told them that I was getting off at the same place and that it was coming up soon. So, since I was being helpful, did that make my eavesdropping acceptable? I really didn’t think I was being rude, but maybe I was. (As a side note, it is nearly impossible for me to avoid eavesdropping when I hear people speak English here. It’s such a weird, rare occurrence that I always end up being fascinated by the sounds.)

So, here is the question of the day: is eavesdropping always rude? Vote now! (Or as Diddy would say, Vote or Die!)

(Wait, what the heck does Vote or Die mean??)







What is your opinion on eavesdropping?
It is always rude, regardless of intent.
It is OK *only* when you are practicing your aural comprehension of another language.
It is OK if you are able to help the other person in some way.
It is OK, as long as President Bush secretly approves it.
It is OK if you are a licensed detective.
It is not rude; everyone does it.
If you say the word "eavesdropping" really fast 57 times in a row, it starts to sound really weird.
Shh, I'm trying to hear what the people in the next room are saying.




Free polls from Pollhost.com

10 January 2006

The 2006 Bloggies


If you have some spare time TODAY, January 10, you should nominate your favorite blog(s) for the sixth annual Bloggie awards. Today is the only day you can nominate blogs, so if you want to, go there now! Here's the link:

http://2006.bloggies.com/

I've really immersed myself in the weblog world this year (for obvious reasons) and learned that there are a lot of really talented people out there! If you haven't visited the "Blogs I'm Reading" links in my right-hand sidebar, I encourage you to do so.

In particular, I really believe that Operation Eden should win the Best American (US) Blog and/or the Best Photography Blog award. If you have yet to visit this site, you really should. It is written by a photographer who grew up poor in New Orleans, and is trying to help his mother rebuild the pieces of her existence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The photos are stunning, and while his commentary is often very sad and angry, you can certainly understand why he is complaining so much. If you can spare some cash, give him a donation, too. Goodness knows he needs it more than I do!

Also, I think that JPTH International is worthy of a humor award, as well as a group blog that this author participates in, Useless Advice from Useless Men. Just my two cents, of course.

I've recently added another link to the "Blogs I'm Reading" list, Nuda v Brně? This one is written by a fellow graduate student in Colin's program, Jesse, who is doing research in the Czech Republic this year.

In other news, I read The Da Vinci Code yesterday. Yes, the entire book in one day. I couldn't put it down, so I stayed up until 1 am! I think Dan Brown must have written it with a blockbuster movie plot in mine -- it really strikes me as a screenplay in a lot of ways. Not that this is bad, mind you. After all, they are making a movie out of his book, so "Way to go, Dan!" I hear Tom Hanks is playing Robert Langdon.

Despite the fact that I miss having friends in town, I must say that it's nice to be back to my quiet routine of sleeping late, running laundry, and doing whatever the heck I want. Plus, the soldes start tomorrow! (The twice annual sales in Paris - ladies, we're talking DEEP discounts everywhere.) There are already signs up all over the place. From what I understand, I should envision two weeks where every day is just like the day after Thanksgiving in the US. Specifically, Isabelle warned me not to shop tomorrow, and to most definitely not shop this Saturday. (I believe she used the expression Quelle horreur! or something equally dramatic.)

Who knows? Maybe you'll see footage of me, punching out some woman for trying to take a cheap scarf away from me. Stay tuned...

08 January 2006

Zee Silly Americanzzz-uh

[posted by Amy]

Ah, the new year: a time for turning over a new leaf; a chance at a fresh start with a clean slate. For me, the old year involved a lot of picking on the French for their misuse of the English language. This was all in good fun, of course, but it has run its course. It's time to pick on someone else's poor language skills. Fortunately, I don't have to look any further than my home country to find ample targets. It took me a while to find examples of English speakers butchering the French language, but I finally found the classic example in a well-known cartoon character: Pepé Le Pew.

I didn't care much for Pepé as a child. I only watched the annoying amorous skunk because he came on in between Bugs Bunny sketches. Mainly, I thought it was dumb that the cat du jour couldn't just stop and say, "Hey, you moron, I'm a cat with paint on me," thus ending the stupid chase. Seriously, why does the skunk get to talk, but not the cat? (If you can answer that question, you can probably also explain why Goofy talks and walks like a person, but Pluto is a "normal" dog.)

Anyway, I was reminded of M. Le Pew while trying to explain to Isabelle why Americans think that English spoken with a French accent is sexy. No, I'm not implying that we all fell in love with French accents because we watched a dippy cartoon skunk -- I merely used it as an example of how the French are stereotyped in the US. To illustrate, I referred her to the Looney Tunes website to watch a classic Pepé cartoon, Wild Over You. After viewing this episode for a few seconds, I wondered if she would ever forgive me for passing on that wretched Franglais. Here are some examples:

1. To make most things French, the writers threw in a "le" in front of a lot of words. Further, "le" is mispronouced in the cartoon (it should sound like "luh") whereas the characters say "lay." (Note that in Le Zoo, Le Hyena Ha-Ha says "Le ha ha," when introduced.) My personal favorite is when the dog sees "the skunk" (i.e. the painted cat) and runs away screaming, "Le YIPE YIPE YIPE!!"

2. On a slightly higher intellectual plain, the writers also mimicked French by switching the order of a few words, vaguely remniscent of the way French adjectives often come after the noun. Case in point with the newspaper headline: "Catte de wilde on le loose!" instead of "Wild cat on the loose!" (Oh, I guess that's "lay" loose.)

3. In high school French class, we often "cheated" when we didn't know a French word by adding a long A sound to the end of the English translation. (For example, "Je think-ay that you-ay are crazy-ay.") Using the same technique and adding a "vous" on the end, you get the cartoon subheader on the newspaper: "Disappearayvous!"

So, I guess I really can't claim cultural superiority when it comes to working with second languages. If nothing else, I have to credit the French for trying to reach out to a population that stubbornly refuses to learn or speak any other language but its own. In the end, however, I got a good laugh out of the Pepé cartoon this time around. After all, in a city full of Parisites, where else can I hope to hear such romantic and sincere proclamations as "You are zee corned beef to meee ... I am zee cabbage to you, non?"

06 January 2006

In Sickness and in Health

[posted by Amy]

Colin and I have reached the "wood" anniversary. Yes, folks, we have been married for five years as of today, January 6, 2006. In some respects, it's hard to believe that five years have already flown by; but mostly, it's hard for us to remember what life was like without each other.

Colin and I met in marching band in 1997. He played baritone; I played piccolo. He first caught my attention at band camp (no American Pie jokes, please) when he returned for his sophomore year with long hair and a goatee. "Wow, have you seen Colin? He looks so different!" everyone said. I looked ... and looked ... and had absolutely no idea who he was.

A few days later, Colin was standing in front of me on stage at Jesse Hall for an indoor music rehearsal during band camp. He was talking to someone else, while I happened to be looking down at the floor. That's when I saw the painted toenails. (Side note - at the time, guys who wore nail polish were considered fashionable, in an alternative sense. I was still into the alternative music scene at the time, so I liked it.) "Hmm," I thought, admiring his silver piggies. "This guy is really interesting!" A few weeks later, I found out that he had a serious girlfriend, so I dropped my "crush" and moved on to other things. Colin and I remained acquantances, but nothing more.

Fast-forward to one year later. Colin and I are both in leadership roles in the band, so we were invited to help out with the search for an interim marching band director. While asking the candidates questions, I caught Colin looking at me. Thinking that he was "checking me out," I remembered my former crush on him and took this as a good sign. I tried to call him later that week, but since he had just moved, I couldn't find a phone number anywhere. So, I sent him an e-mail, under the guise of "Hey, have you heard anything on the new band director search?"

When there was no response for a week, I sighed and moved on. Then, the e-mail came. Colin had been in Minneapolis for a conference, and was just now back to checking his e-mail. He responded to me, which kicked off a three-month exchange of e-mails over the summer of 1998. Finally, he suggested that we should meet for lunch because it was silly to just be e-mailing when we lived in the same town. "Finally!" I thought.

The lunch meeting was fine until I asked the all-important question: "What kind of music do you listen to?" (Remember that I thought he was an alternative guy.) "Oh, mostly oldies and art music." Whoa. I was NOT expecting that. He asked the question in return, and I proudly proclaimed my love for Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Garbage. We both left this lunch meeting thinking the same thing: "He/she is nice, but not someone I would date."

Later on, I decided that maybe I had been a bit hasty in my decision, so I tried to make a move: "Hey, what are you doing for the fourth of July?" Alas, I got shot down in a manner I really wasn't expecting: "My girlfriend and I are going to Jeff City." D'oh! How could we have been e-mailing for two months without any mention of a girlfriend?? I was crestfallen, but continued to reply to his e-mails, figuring that the friendship was worth it anyway.

Right before band camp 1998, Colin's girlfriend became an ex because she moved to the Dominican Republic for a Peace Corps assignment. The door was open again, but would I walk through it? I never really lost my crush for him over the summer, and I was still convinced that he felt the same way. (He didn't. He was 100 percent clueless that I was interested, much less flirting shamelessly with him.) Nonetheless, we started spending our water breaks and lunches together, but I didn't admit to anyone that I was smitten. But, I couldn't fool everyone. When I left uniform distribution early for him (something I had NEVER done because I had a leadership role in the process), my friend and fellow piccolo player Tabatha figured things out for herself. She found Colin the next day and said, "You know, Amy must really like you if she's willing to leave uniform checkout to give you a ride across town." Suddenly, the lightbulb went on in Colin's head that maybe, just maybe, I was interested in him. This wasn't such a bad prospect ...

A week later, when I picked Colin up to give him a ride to band practice, he mentioned that a mutual friend of ours wanted to know what was "up" with the two of us. Ah ha! Here was my chance! I asked him, "Really? What did you tell her?" Oh, did I put him on the hot seat! He squirmed a little bit and said, "Well, I told her that we're going to a movie on Friday night" (which was true). Grrr. I responded with a terse, "Well, that's accurate." We did end up going to a movie together, where both of us sat with our hands sitting palm up on our knees so that the other person could initiate the hand-holding. (For the record, it is the BOY'S job, not the girl's, to make that kind of a move.) Despite our lack of palm-to-palm contact, Colin went home and immediately instant-messaged a friend: "I have a girlfriend!!!" I went home pissed off, thinking that this guy was totally wasting my time.

All was resolved a few nights later when Colin was over at my apartment, watching TV. Finally, at some ridiculous hour like 1 am, I swallowed the lump in my throat and said, "So, are we ... I mean, because I wouldn't mind if we ... but we don't have to if you don't ..." He cut me off and said, "Yes." There you have it. A conversation without a single complete sentence, and we were dating. That night, I walked him out to his car, where we had our first kiss. (For the record, I initiated the kiss because Colin is a big chicken.)

Within two weeks of our relationship, I knew we were going to get married. I don't know why, but I just knew. I didn't tell Colin this, of course, for fear of giving him a heart attack. Besides, I couldn't help but wonder if I was just a rebound girlfriend, since we got together so quickly after his last girlfriend left.

Any fleeting doubts I had about Colin's love were put to rest in the winter of 2000. I came down with the most horrible stomach flu you can imagine -- seriously, I can't remember a single time in my life before or since when I felt worse. I was a total mess. Colin happened to be at my apartment when the symptoms kicked into high gear. After ruling out food poisoning as the culprit, Colin headed to the store to get Immodium, Emetrol, and lots of Gatorade. He stayed by my side the entire time, cleaning up mess after mess while trying to keep my hydrated. I remember being amazed at one point when he sat next to me in bed, holding a plastic wastebasket for me while I threw up for the umpteenth time. He administered doses of medication, and soothed me by petting my hair and back gently from time to time. The next day, I was so weak that I couldn't get out of bed. So, Colin came over, made sure I had food and drink, and even brought me my toothbrush in bed. I thanked him profusely for tending to me, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would love this man for the rest of my life.

So, here's to Colin, my lobster and my one and only someone. We spent the day in sickness (me, with a wicked hangover) and in health (Colin, taking care of me yet again). Nonetheless, it was a special day for both of us.

04 January 2006

Pompidou and Puppy Love

[posted by Amy]

Today was my first (and probably last) trip into Centre Georges Pompidou. This is the colorful "inside out" building that is home to a large collection of modern and contemporary art. We spent most of our time in the Dada exhibit, which thrilled Colin to no end. In fact, after two hours, he was only about a third of the way through the collection! As for me, I made sure to see the urinal ... er, I mean, "fountain" ... and the Mona Lisa with the mustache and beard, which took about 10 minutes. Don't get me wrong -- I like the whole idea of the movement. I just don't care much for row upon row of examples. So, my valuable introspective lesson of the day today is that I appreciate, but don't like, modern and contemporary art in general.

I suspect, however, that old Tristan Tzara would have been proud of my choice for "favorite piece" in the gallery. As pictured to the left, I was particularly fond of the green "flaming wheelchair" signs. OK, I know, they actually mark the emergency exits for handicapped individuals. But you have to admit, it kind of looks like a wheelchair with flames shooting off the back. Bad joke of the day: "Wow, that brings a whole new meaning to 'Chariots of Fire,' doesn't it?"

I decided to refrain from having a caption contest for this particular sign, since I don't want to come across as making fun of the physically handicapped. Actually, I think it's cool that the building's designers thought to incorporate a safe escape for everyone into their plans. Paris itself is not very handicap-friendly overall, but if you can make it to the Pompidou Center, you can enjoy weird art safely.

The bright side to my trip to Pompidou (other than the aforementioned sign) was the view from the tube. While it's not a great place to take pictures of the city, it definitely has a good view. I think this view provided my favorite look at Montmartre and Sacre Coeur to date. I don't think the view is worth the price of admission alone, but it's definitely a great bonus to the visit. Plus, it's a wacky place to take pictures of your friends and family, as evidenced to the right.

This evening, we took Joe, Kate, and Beanie to the Eiffel Tower. Since we had already been up to the tippy top, Colin and I brought Didge along and took a walk while the Webers explored Paris from above. I shot a better video of the Eiffel Tower as it "sparkled" the 9 o'clock hour, which is now uploaded to Youtube. Colin, Didge and I also checked out the view of La Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero, which is on the opposite side from the Parc du Champ de Mars. (A lot of guidebooks say that this is where the money shot of the tower should be taken.) I have to say, I disagree. In terms of a nighttime shot, you just can't beat the view from the park because there are no other distracting lights in the foreground. During the day, Trocadero might win out, but nighttime belongs to the park. The one thing that Trocadero has over Champ de Mars is that you can get better posed pictures with the tower in the background. If you climb up the stairs, the person in your picture can sit on the cement wall and enjoy good lighting from the Trocadero on their face. From the park, you'll be shooting largely in the dark, which would set your flash off brightly and probably wash out the tower in the background.

Since I'm on a recommendation tangent at the moment, I'll throw in another plug for climbing the Arc de Triomphe. I asked Joe and Kate what their favorite view of Paris "from above" was, and Joe named both the Arc de Triomphe and the Centre Pompidou as his two favorites. He ranked them over the Eiffel Tower, largely because he couldn't tell what everything was from the top of the tower. However, Kate said that going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower is still a "must do" in Paris.

Indeed, there is something romantic about La Tour Eiffel. Even Didge was overcome with love while sitting beneath her this evening:


In case you can't tell, Colin is getting some serious tongue action here. (Or is that necking? I can never keep these things straight.)


I think you can almost hear Colin's "arrrrrrgh!" when you look at this picture. Didge really nailed him.

03 January 2006

Potato Juice

[posted by Amy]

Well folks, this is posting number 100 on this humble little blog. Hard to believe I've had that much to say! Thanks for following our journey thus far.

Joe, Kate and Beanie got up early enough to grab some breakfast at a café this morning. Up until now, Colin and I have been nearby to help confirm pronunciations and handle the parler-ing as needed. This morning, however, was their first venture out on their own. Now, I should preface this story by giving credit where it is due: Joe and Kate are both doing an excellent job with French. (Beanie hasn't stepped up to the plate yet...) But, early mornings have a funny way of wreaking havoc with one's ability to communicate, particularly in another language. So, when the waitress asked Joe what he wanted to drink, he calmly told her that he wanted, "Jus de pommes de terre" (potato juice). What he meant to ask for was "jus de pommes" (apple juice), but as Kate gleefully pointed out as she recounted the story, that wasn't even an option on the menu. The rather startled waitress gave him a confused look, then chuckled and said, "Jus d'orange?" (orange juice?) He just sighed and nodded, settling for any fruit juice that would prevent him from having to speak any further.

Of course, Kate and I taunted him mercilessly all day long about this. But, as karma has a way of catching up to you, I managed to get my numbers confused at dinner tonight by ordering from the non-existent 30-euro menu instead of the 13-euro menu (trente vs. treize). This isn't quite as good as the time that I responded to the question, "How do you like your French class?" with "Je t'aime" (I love you) instead of "Je l'aime" (I like it). (Lori, do you remember that??)

At any rate, Joe, Kate, Beanie and I toured Versailles today. We had a lovely time - the weather was decent and the lines weren't painfully long. The real bummer is that the Hall of Mirrors is under renovation, so we could only see about a third of this spectacular room. It's not very impressive when you can't see the full length, but at least we could see some of it. This picture to the left is taken inside the temporary dry wall that is covering most of the hall. You can faintly see the Hall of Mirrors sticking out in the back.

Most of my pictures turned out dark in the chateau, but I'm OK with that. I didn't get good pictures because I obeyed the rule of no flash photography, unlike EVERY other tourist in the place. Honestly, it was really bad today. Everyone knows that repeated flash photography is highly detrimental to the paintings and artwork, but they value their own scrapbook over the well-being of a beautiful historic landmark. (Folks, this is why cameras are banned in a lot of museums. Please follow the rules so that you don't ruin it for the rest of us!!) Anyway, I did get a decent shot of part of the Hall of Mirrors, as seen to the right. (Again, this is without a flash!)

For the most part, the Rick Steves tour (a.k.a. the Rick James tour) came through quite well. There are a few little notes that I want to make for future reference, so feel free to benefit from them if you buy this book for your trip.

1. For the suggestions on eating, Rick fails to mention that you have to turn right when you reach the Marché Notre-Dame. (The road you take to get there dead-ends at the church, so you can't keep going straight like the book implies.) So, turn right, then follow the road around to the right when it curves, just before the open-air market. You'll find the restaurants he recommends there. We skipped those in favor of a Cantonese / Vietnamese restaurant that had lunch formules for 8 euros. It was great!

2. When you do the outbuildings (the Trianons, etc), don't go back out to the "street" after you see the Petit Trianon. Go to the back side of the Petit Trianon and take the dirt footpaths to the Temple of Love and the Hamlet. It's shorter and more scenic. (Alas, the Temple of Love was under renovation, too, so we couldn't do our Barry White imitations today.)

3. Personally, I don't think the insides of the Trianons are worth the extra entry fee. We bought the Versailles day pass to get access to the chateau and the Trianons, but in retrospect, I would only buy the 8 euro tour of the chateau. You can still walk around outside all of the outbuildings, and your time is better spent wandering through the Hamlet instead of looking at boring furniture in the Grand and Petit Trianons. (Speaking of the Hamlet, I posted a new video to Youtube of the super-fat pigs in the Hamlet.) Of course, if you have a museum pass, you can see all of this without extra cost, so you may as well check them out. But, your money is better spent on the slow-moving tram (assuming that you're exhausted from walking all that way!)

4. In turn, my suggestion for the day trip: take the earliest train you can to Versailles (we took the 9:25 train from St. Michel / Notre Dame). Go straight to the chateau, buy your ticket and tour the apartments (the main attraction in the chateau). After that tour, go to lunch in downtown Versailles, and then take the side entrance next to the Neptune Basin to walk down to the outbuildings. You'll have the whole afternoon to wander around the outbuildings, and then come back via the Grand Canal to see the rest of the gardens. (By the way, these notes are mostly for my own benefit. If you need more details, drop me an e-mail or a comment, and I'll be happy to give you better directions.)

That's my advice for the day! By the way, if anyone knows how to juice a potato, I know someone who would like your recipe...

02 January 2006

The First Contest of the New Year!

[posted by Amy]

Colin, Joe, Kate, Beanie and I braved the long line to see Ste. Chapelle this afternoon. We stood in the security check line for a little over one hour, but I'm pleased to say it was well worth the wait. Plus, we had nice weather for it, despite the gloomy weather predictions.

I almost hate to post any of my pictures of Ste. Chapelle's interior because they don't even remotely do this place any justice. It is, without a doubt, the most spectacular church interior in all of Paris. The mosaic tile altar in Sacre-Coeur comes in at a distant second, which is tough for me to say because I have always loved that interior, too. (Mosaics are in my top five favorite genres of art.) The Rick James tour says that this church is a quintessential example of Gothic architecture. This photo of the ceiling is one of my better pictures, so I'll post that instead of the mediocre shots of the spectacular stained glass windows.

If you want to see a video of the interior that doesn't do justice to seeing the place in person, I've posted one on my Youtube site. (Link is in the sidebar to the right.)

But now, on to the business of the day. I have a new contest! The person who comes up with the most humorous explanation of the following sign will win a postcard from me:


For a change, I do know what the sign actually means, so I guess I'm disqualified from the contest. If it helps, here is a photo that provides a bit of context around the sign:


Post your captions to the comments section!!

01 January 2006

I can go in, I can go out ...

[posted by Amy]

We rang in the new year rather low-key this year -- not quite what I expected from living in Paris, but good nonetheless. The city didn't have anything official to attend (unless you had at least 100 euros), so we joined some other Michiganders at a small apartment party. The wine and champagne was free-flowing, and true to form, I couldn't hold my liquor. So, on our walk home at around 2 am, I made sure to return the cheers of "Bonne Année!" to all of the other inebriated people whose paths we crossed. Ah, good times, good times.

Earlier that day, Rachel, Muriel, Kate and I met up for a serious afternoon of shopping up at La Défense. We enjoyed super-yummy tartiflette for lunch (potatoes, cheese and bacon in a cream sauce), our last chance to do so at the Marché de Noël there. This might not look like a very big container for lunch, but neither Kate nor I was able to finish it. (We hadn't had breakfast, either!)

After looking over the remaining items at the Christmas market (it was pretty picked over), we headed indoors to explore one of Muriel's favorite shopping centers. This place is a mall in the true American sense -- lots of retail stores under one big roof, with a food court at one end. We had a great time, though Kate and I couldn't get our priorities straight. Kate wanted me to try on all of the cute clothes she found, and I wanted to find cute outfits for Beanie! In the end, I treated myself to a new pair of pyjamas at Etam Lingerie, and Kate got two really cute layettes for a real steal at C&A.

At one point during our shopping excursion, Muriel stopped in the Levi store to see what they had in the way of jeans. While I wasn't particularly interested in looking for jeans, I did manage to find something to entertain myself. This came in the form of a t-shirt.


Everyone's reaction to this shirt thus far has been something along the lines of, "What does that mean?" My theory is that it is an instruction shirt for couples who want to get pregnant, but haven't quite mastered the mechanics of how it works. My proof of this theory is the label inside the shirt (apologies for the blurriness):


The brand is "Reproduction by Levi's."

The one drawback to my solution is the remote possibility that it's true. In that case ... if a person actually needs this shirt to explain and/or remind his or her partner of how procreation occurs, do we really want these same people reproducing? Kind-of reminds me of another t-shirt that I saw a few years back: "Hey you! Out of the gene pool!"