05 November 2007

Giggle Day

Today was just so full of giggles. At work, I was writing what was supposed to be an irritated letter to France Telecom. My colleague, Melanie, was helping me to express frustration in the correct tone of French...ultra polite yet fed up. I was trying to type quickly and I spelt success incorrectly in French. Melanie started to tell me how to spell it correctly when I used my best friend - the spell checker. I continued typing as she suddenly started laughing so hard she was crying. She pointed to the word that I had chosen from the spell checker...sucking in place of success. Basically I told FT that we had tried to reach them all of last week with no sucking. Guess that really wasn't what we were trying to convey. It took us all afternoon to stop giggling over that one.

Not two hours later, Nathan, Celia and I were on the tram on the way home. The tram was packed to the gills with university students after class. We were all scrunched standing up and holding onto this handhold that is in the middle of the tram. I looked down at Celia's hand and rubbed her fingernails and said, "You really need to touch up your manicure" She looked at me puzzled. Suddenly I realized it was the girl's hand who was standing next to her! Celia and I were in complete hysterics. The harder we tried to control our giggles, the more we cried. I looked up and there were people laughing simply because we were in hysterics. I never had the nerve to look at the girl whose hand I caressed. She must have thought we were absolutely loony.

04 November 2007

This and That

Celia and her friend Alex went Trick or Treating in the little village next to ours - St Drezery - and brought in a decent haul in the short time they were out. It was Alex's first attempt at this strange American tradition. It was made even stranger by the weak understanding of the ritual. Celia had to explain to some of the people what exactly they were doing and why. One gentleman suggested that if it was candy they were seeking, they might try the local Tabac (the cigarette store that also sells treats and magazines). But all in all, it was an entertaining night.

This last week was so incredibly beautiful, Mom decided it was time that we tackle the climbing of Pic St Loup...the local high spot. Some friends of ours took a tribe of kids up it for a birthday party just recently so how hard could this hike be? Well...after an hour of steep rocky twisting trails, we came to realize that this was no mild mannered stroll. We were incredulous as we saw pregnant women, people carrying infants in carriers on their chests, backs and shoulders, big dogs, little dogs, older men and women, and just about any other form of insanity pass us by. We reached the top after another half hour of slipping and huffing and puffing and wondering aloud who on earth suggested we do this beastly activity. In spite of it all, the view was absolutely beautiful at 658m (2159 feet) as numerous glider planes soared just above the peak. There was an ancient ruin of a castle at the next peak over... vineyards bathed in fall colors...by the time we reached the bottom, we had decided that for all the struggle it was to get to the top, it was a worthy endeavor for such a beautiful fall day. The jury is still out as to whether we would ever repeat this hike, but luckily for us, there are hundreds of other hikes that we have yet to do. This should prevent any necessity of repetitive hiking.
Mike left today for a three week trip to the States. We will all miss him alot, but we hope the beauty of the autumn days will linger in his memory enticing him back to this beautiful country.

07 October 2007

France Wins Over the All Blacks

Boy that was a nail biter!! 20-18!! The closeness of the score does not reflect the reality of the upset! France - definitely considered the underdog in this match - not only held but took the match away from the All Blacks. Mike compares it to the feeling when USA beat Russia in the 80 Olympics. Everyone considered it a done deal that New Zealand would win. We definitely heard the French fans at 2 am! So much exuberance and spirit - the fortified sort. France now faces England. The fever has intensified.

06 October 2007

Rugby World Cup

We were so fortunate to receive six great tickets to the Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and the USA. Montpellier was host to a good share of the matches as rugby is very popular in this region...second only to soccer.

Rugby fever has just taken over the country. There has been a truck with a huge screen TV in Place Comedie every weekend for a communal watching of the matches...giving fabulous revenues to the cafes selling the rugby fan's favorite beverages - beer, beer and...beer. We have never seen so many anglophones in our area and well lubricated at that. Before going to the match, we had a drink with our friends while watching the Argentine/Ireland match on the big screen. The plaza was full of all of the South African fans getting in their last minute preparations before heading to the stadium. Their warm up consisted of amplification of their voices as well as repetitive use of their elbow bending movement. It was quite a spectacle to behold.

Yesterday, on the news, it was rugby stories about everything from an actual church called Notre Dame de Rugby replete with rugby players surrounding the Virgin Mary in a stained glass window to memorabilia displayed like saintly relics to the selection process of the jerseys to be worn in tonight's all important (and probably final) match for the French national team contre the all powerful All Blacks from New Zealand...The French wear dark blue and the All Blacks wear...all black. Neither fan base wants their team to wear their traveling jerseys, but since one team must, the French in their ever present sense of egalite (equality) feel that both should have to wear their traveling jerseys.
Our village is hosting a community big screen party to watch the match and the village should be quite alive until the final score is digested...expected to be something along the lines of 80 to not enough. It has been diverting and educational to say the least. We know so much more about the game than we ever did. It is quite an interesting and fun game to watch.

03 October 2007

French word of the day - Bizutage


Definition: (school slang) hazing, ragging

Beaucoup de grandes ├ęcoles en France ne permettent plus le bizutage - Many of France's prestigious universities no longer allow hazing

But evidently the universities in Montpellier still allow bizutage. This whole month since school has begun, the first year university students have been out in the streets experiencing bizutage. One group had the students tied together and one had a can of whipped cream and another had a plate. They had to go up to strangers in the Place Comedie and ask for money to buy their drinks for the night. In exchange, the person would fill up the plate and the stranger got to smash it in the face of whichever of the two students they chose.

Another bizutage had the students...first year medical students I think...stand behind a big piece of painted wood with only their faces showing and the person who "donated to the cause" got to paint their faces.

According to Melanie and Catherine - my french coworkers - it is a rite of passage. A bit intimidating and humiliating, but if you refuse, the rest of the year - and forever long their memory is - you are considered outside the group and a party pooper...although that was my addition as that does not translate well.

Mary's Favorite Street Musician


Whenever I see this man playing, I have to stop and listen. He is so great and he just loves to sit and play. Always a lovely smile and a warm "Bonjour" when you give him change. Nothing like it!

04 September 2007

First Day of School 2007

Can you see past their beautiful smiles to the groans and the rolling eyes when Mom asked them to once again pose for their traditional First Day of School photo? Hard to believe that this is their third year at the Baillargues school. They are so happy to be back at school...lots of friends, soccer, a schedule and Mom off their back for 8 hours!

End of summer visit to Germany

Mike's cousin Claudia gave us a wonderful tour of the Stuttgart Zoo. She works with the garden part of the zoo. The gardens are so beautiful and it was an incredibly beautiful day for the zoo.

Stuttgart was a really nice and approachable city. It is built on hills and valleys giving it a neighborhood feel and not an urban spread scene. Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes AND Porsche!! Nathan could have bought a gazillion dollars worth of souvenirs! We went to the shrine to Mercedes Benz...a brand new and beautifully designed 6 story edifice. We thought we would go for the morning and then head downtown to sight see. WRONG!! By lunch time, we had not even made it to the 1960s in the history of Mercedes. We skipped through a few exhibits to the race cars after lunch and finished well after 6 pm. It was a great exhibit, but you really felt like you had joined a cult and had been thoroughly brainwashed.

According to Celia and Nathan, this is the type of vehicle that Mary drove in her youth...Ha Ha!

Nathan's favorite car that sells for a mere $500 000
These are the real race cars from the Mercedes team in this incredible display. It continues around the bend to display other race cars from the early 1900s. They look like toys in this photo.

12 August 2007

School Supplies

Celia's favorite time of year has come again...no, not Christmas...no, not her birthday....it is time to buy school books and supplies!!!!!!!!!! A new calendar, new smooth notebooks, a new pencil case...she is in heaven!!!!!
Oh and take note of her new look...she has new glasses just in time for the start of school...Glamour gal number one!! Can you hear her groaning in the background?

You cannot always count on Internet Translations!!

We saw this sign at the park in front of the Eiffel Tower. Obviously Google Languages is not always dependable!

Wine in Languedoc


This link will take you to a link to NPR for an article to listen to regarding wine makers in our region, Languedoc. In addition to the interesting struggle with the world wine market, listen to the accent of the non-English speaking wine makers. This is the beautifully thick accent that we have become accustomed to, but still struggle to understand. It will always bring memories to my mind. It is as distinct as the accent in the southern part of the States.

23 July 2007

The tour de France came through Montpellier this week. We watched it the first day in Lansargues which is a small village near us. The next day it began in the center of Montpellier. We watched the publicity caravan from the street and the actual race from my office which is on the third floor of a building near the archway that looks like the Arc de Triumphe.

The publicity caravan is actually the most entertaining part of the experience for us. The sponsors each have a vehicle decorated from which they throw things at you...key rings, bags, hats, coupons, water bottles, etc. The people in the village were waging a glorious battle for the possession of these trinkets...while the citizens of Montpellier stood dignified as the loot rained down on them. Needless to say, we dove for it both times and came away victorious with a bag full of stuff we will now pitch.

Balade de Degustation

While Mary and Jeff were visiting us, we signed up for a Balade de Degustation. These are somewhat serious hikes while tasting and eating through a six course meal. They are offered by the different regions to exhibit their wines. This one offered SEVENTY wines to accompany the food courses! I would have to guess that Mike tasted just about all of them. It was a very sunny and warm day and the hike was a tad more than a stroll. We meandered through the hilly vineyards and did a fairly good job at not stumbling over the extremely rocky terrain. We all voted that the entree course of a typical Languedoc gazpacho was our favorite...pureed eggplant resting under a herby tomato layer. Not the peppery type we were expecting. It is definitely an experience we will repeat at least once each summer in a different terroir each time.

21 July 2007

Des Soldes

The bi-annual sales in France began in the beginning of July and last through August 15th. The first week was absolutely mad in Montpellier. The day before the sales begin, the intense shoppers go out and try on everything they want to buy, place it strategically on the rack and return the next morning at 8 am sharp to buy! The picture above of the people in line is interesting because this is at noon. This shop sells sandwiches to go. On a normal day, you would only see a small line of at most two or three people. The French treat lunch as a religious affair...lounging under cafe umbrellas for a two or three course meal with wine and a coffee. The to-go shops did a killing during the first week of the sales.

01 July 2007

A Day at the Beach

After having mediocre weather and the pool not warm enough to swim in due to windy nights, we decided to hit the beach as my niece, Mayra, had not been there yet. It was a beautiful day and the beach was just crowded enough to be interesting. The girls buried each other in the sand as I meditated on the benefits of doing absolutely nothing.

The beignet seller has been our favorite for all of the three summers that we have gone to this beach. He is Monsieur Personality!! (See our past blogs on the beach for more!) Yesterday, he told us that his sons speak multiple languages and one is studying International Relations and is on a foreign study in Australia and the other is studying in Canada! The stories behind the ordinary people you meet are just so interesting!

On the Town

We tried a new apero bar/discotheque this weekend with our friends Alain and Sylvie, Bruno and Ariel. The French definitely put a lot of effort and design into their discos...and they will dance all night! This one is mostly outside with a pool. It was such a cool place. The bar boy's shirt even lit up after dark!

After a couple of rounds and needing more sustenance to absorb it, we took off for an impromptu late night meal at Bruno and Ariel's house. We drove home past the disco at 1am and two parking lots were absolutely completely packed with people still poring in. Clubbing is definitely a side of life here that we have yet to master. I just can't do the dance all night and sleep all day.

28 June 2007

Homework and Paris

Tonight we were playing Apples to Apples**. On Celia's turn with the word FABULOUS Celia had among her four choices PARIS and HOMEWORK She had an extremely difficult time choosing between the two. Of course Dad had put down PARIS and Mom had had put down HOMEWORK. How well we know our daughter!!

**Apples to Apples is a card game where a word is played like FABULOUS and all of the other players put down a card from their hand that best typifies this word...thus PARIS and HOMEWORK.

14 June 2007

Mary's Obsession

Celia absolutely adores Star Academy and Nouvelle Star. These are the French style of an American Idol...only much more polite and...French. They love to sing in English and not always successfully. Mary has taken to watching the shows with Celia in order to partake in a little of that Mother-Daughter bonding. Well best laid plans turned into a textbook obsession for Mary. She fell in love with Julien Dore...People magazine is calling him "the French Sanjaya" Oh puleeeze...something definitely got lost in the translation! His "Lolita" was a show stopper!! Celia absolutely hated him and vowed to throw things at the TV when he sang. Oh there is truly nothing like a little Mother-Daughter bonding!!

People magazine article

The infamous Lolita

21 February 2007

Wandering the streets and market of Nice

It was a bit grey, but still very interesting to stroll the streets of old Nice. The city is in a bit of an upheaval right now as they are refreshing the center plaza and building a much needed tram system. We walked the flower market that then turned into an antique/brocante market on Monday. Celia enjoyed nibbling on the marzipan miniature fruit and we snacked our way through the beautiful olive vendor's wares.

Dinner at the Negresco

We were fortunate enough to be able to meet up with Debbie Nelson and her colleague David in Nice for dinner at the Negresco. The Negresco looks older than it actually is...it was constructed in 1912. The dining room had real carousel horses that moved every half hour to music. It was beautifully painted with murals on every surface.

After dinner, we wandered around the lobby decorated with museum quality portraits, sculptures and furnishings. The chandelier was made for the Russian Czar. Its twin hangs in the Kremlin, but this one never made the journey due to the untimely overthrow of the Czar. It has well over 16000 Baccarat crystals on it.

But my favorite part of the lobby was the resident cat. This feline has the life! It wanders from luxurious rug to sofa .

20 February 2007

Mardi Gras on the Cote d'Azur

Mardi Gras in Nice was such fun! Confetti...silly string wars...goofy hats...loud music...weird and wild floats...it was something. Mike, Nathan and Celia got into a silly string fight with a family behind and in front of us as well as one two rows down and to the left. It was mayhem. We were covered with confetti and silly string by the end. The theme of this year's parade was the 2007 French election and the upcoming rugby world cup...so Sego and Sarko and Chirac were shown in irreverent and sporty costumes and poses. We felt pretty up on French politics as we were able to identify most of the caricatures...The gentleman sitting next to me kept asking who everyone was supposed to be. The only one we did not recognize was Arlette. But as we were walking around the city, we came upon a poster with her picture on it...it turns out she is a communist party politician and perennial candidate for president. You learn new things every day here!

08 February 2007

See what happens when you turn 40!!

You become a big LIAR after you turn 40!! Last night we dined with some friends. She is a wonderful cook and served us four fabulous courses each containing CHEESE. As most of you know, Mike has stated on numerous occasions and in front of many witnesses that he does not like cheese or yogurt. He not only ate his way through these courses with gusto, but he plowed through the leftover cheesecake again tonight (See picture attached marked Exhibit A). A partial list of the types of cheeses he consumed in this meal were: Chevre (goat), mozzarella, Parmesan, feta, a very moist bleu, more chevre, Camembert and a very creamy plain cheese cake. Now I plead my case to my friends once and for all...Is that a list of what a cheese hater would eat?????????? From this day on, I reserve the right to cook with any and all cheeses a recipe calls for. Mike has been put on alert that it is all fair game. There are an infinite amount of recipes over the last 16 plus years I have known him that I have just died to cook, but held back in deference to his taste buds. All that is over!!
As a final note, please also record for posterity that I have been secretly supplying him with yogurt since we moved here. I rest my case.

06 February 2007

No More Smoking!!!

It is truly a day to celebrate! As of the first of February, you are no longer allowed to smoke in public places in France. This means that we can now walk through the malls and not get overwhelmed by that horrible cloud of smoke that hung over every coffee bar that are strategically placed in the center of every mall. The first day of the new law, Mike and I went to have breakfast in the Polygone Center in Montpellier before his medical appointment for his Carte de Sejour (see our last post regarding Mary's appointment!). Much to our amazement, there were new signs everywhere that said it was forbidden to smoke in the center! Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Then we went to do our grocery shopping. In the mall where LeClerc grocery store is there are two coffee bars and a pizza restaurant. Previously, these were incredibly popular with smokers as they were the only places in the mall where smoking was allowed. Now not a single smoker was seen and again we saw the blessed no smoking signs. What a difference it makes to walk through buildings and breathe cleaner air!!

22 January 2007

An Alternative Look at French Bureaucracy

To date, our journey through the maze of French bureaucracy to reach the golden prize of a Carte de Sejour (residency card) has been long and twisty. Suffice it to say that we have lived here over a year and a half and still have never seen this carte.

Today it took a very surprising turn. I was sent a letter...called a convocation in French...requesting that I present myself at the offices of ANEIM...basically the medical office for foreigners...at 1:30 pm with a recent chest x-ray, vaccination records, medical records and my eye glasses. With much trepidation for a day of pure bureaucratic insanity, I arrived with only the first and last items and hopes that I could bedazzle my way through the missing middle bits. I was armed with a thick magazine, my latest knitting project and lots of anticipation. The receptionist at ANEIM was a master of keeping the flow moving. She was amazing. She knew every person in the waiting room and who they were waiting for. She kept telling all of us the status of our wait. At one point, a doctor had to leave to an emergency and she told us that we may have to come back on Wednesday. Then when another doctor arrived, she announced that we would definitely make it through the system today. Every time a nurse came out to take another person, she made sure that they were taking them in the correct order so that we all were seen as we had arrived. Her energy and friendliness were incredible.

First I met with a nurse who weighed and measured me, tested my blood sugar and eye sight and ran me through a battery of questions. Mostly we talked about the fact that she had lived in San Jose, California for a time when her husband worked for IBM. She was so sweet. She advised me on all the health issues that women in their 40s should be aware of and which doctors I should go see regarding these issues.

I then met with a doctor who examined my chest x-ray for TB and ran through a family history series. After a few questions, she took to explaining how the French health insurance system works. She emphasized that since I was here on a visitor's visa, I would have no insurance from an employer. Therefore, I needed to go to the Social Security office and ask to be put on the national health insurance and then I should cancel any insurance that we had paid for. She wrote down a list of the abbreviations of the type of coverage that I should ask for. She then reviewed the process where you pick a doctor and then they send you to the dentist, eye doctor, ob/gyn, etc...all of which are covered by this FREE insurance. I was flabbergasted. There had never been a mention that when you receive a visitor's carte de sejour, you win the insurance lottery.

The receptionist then gave me a thoroughly stamped paper to take to the mayor's office. Within three weeks he told me I would be the owner of my carte de sejour. On my way out of this truly wonderful experience that ended up taking all of one hour, all of the bureaucrats wished me a bonne journee et bon continuation with cheerful waves. Ah French bureaucracy...

13 January 2007

The Big 4-0

Mike is so enjoying joining the over-the-hill gang that he has decided to celebrate it on two continents! We thank you all for helping him to mark this occasion! The hat is just so Mike!!