mercredi 30 novembre 2005

Our apartment is located in the 4eme arrondisment, which is like a district of the city. Major cities are broken up into arrondisements, with the 1st being the center of town, and radiating out from there. It is a pretty good area, with parks and museums, and close to the center. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to my school which is in the center, which I have done several times due to the Metro strike. But that is another post for another time.

The apartment is located on a main street, one block from a metro station, with several bakeries/patisseries, general food and vegetable stores, a video club next door, the post office across the street, on the bus line, etc. Parking is a problem, as most of the buildings do not have underground parking, and there aren't a lot of empty parking lots. So mostly it consists of driving around and trying to find some empty sidewalk to park on. But that is also another post for another time, which will probably be entitled "Imaginative Parking" accompanied by pictures.

The building is over 150 years old. No big deal. The walls are thick and the ceilings are 3m high. We have wooden shutters on the windows to be closed and opened every day. You have to be careful to fasten the shutters so that the wind doesn't rip them off. Since the buildings were built before electricity and plumbing, when the lines were put in they just drilled holes from floor to floor and room to room, so everything is visible. The floor is a mixture of brick red 6 sided tiles, (as in picture) and newer white square tiles. We have an electric radiator in every room, which is starting to become necessary now.

On the ground floor there is a florist shop and a CousCous restaurant. The main entryway has all the mailboxes- for incoming mail only. All outgoing mail has to be put in a mailbox. In the back is kind of a common area for storage, hanging clothes, etc. There is a spiral staircase winding up the center, with all of the stairs tilted in towards the middle of the staircase. I heard that they are tilted because over the years housewives would throw out their mop water and it would cascade down the stairs, eventually wearing away one side, but I don't know if that is true or not. There are two apartments per floor. We live on the third floor, on the right. Sometimes this is noted on our address. "Troisieme etage, a droit". Correction, we live on the third floor, in french. In english, it would be considered the fourth floor. So all together, there is the ground floor, four floors with people living on them, and one top floor with more storage space.

Our kitchen is quite narrow. It came with no stove, and no refrigerator. Alain bought a refrigerator before I arrived and moved it in. So glad I wasn't here for that! The bathroom is quite large, with a sink and bathtub. The toilet is in another seperate room, as in many french households. Quite useful actually, as most places only have one bathroom. We have ten shelves. Alain's stuff takes up one shelf. We have towels on one shelf. The other eight shelves are mine.

Hmm, what else can I say about it? No laundry machines. Have to go down the block for that, to the little laverie that has all of two washers working and one dryer working, the change machine that doesn't work, and might be going out of business. A lot of people don't use the dryers as they just hang everything out the window. It is pretty soundproofed. Or perhaps the people above and next to us are quiter than normal. The house across the back from us is quite irritating as their terrace is slightly lower than our apartment. In summer it was worse because we had to have the windows open, no air conditioning Bien sur, and they were having late parties.

If anyone has any questions about it, please feel free to ask them in the comment section.
mardi 29 novembre 2005
Alain and I went with his friends Guillaume, his girlfriend Laure-Ann, and Olivier on August 4th to visit Les Calanques. We hiked along the cliff, found a spot where we could go into the water, and changed into our bathing suits. The guys went in, but the sensible women did not. The water was absolutely freezing. Painfully cold. They swam and showed off for one another climbing on the rocks, (all three are very much into rock climbing).
After we went back and had dinner at a little restaurant, called Le Mange-Tout. I tried pastis for the first time, and didn't like it very much. It is a very typical Provencal achololic drink, made with licorice flavors and star anise (badiane), anethol, various herbs, alcohol and water. "Ne perdez pas le sud"- Don't lose the south, is the advertising slogan for one of the brands. We also had little small fried fish, Mangetouts I think, for an appetizer.

Here is the description of Les Calanques from the guidebook Provence & The Cote D'Azur

Between Marseille and Cassis the coast is broken up by calanques - enticing fjord-like inlets lying between vertical white cliffs, some 400 m high, drop vertically into the tempting blue water. Continuing deep under the blue waters, they offer safe natural harbours and fascinating aquatic life, with glorious view from the high clifftops. Their precipitious faces provide a challenge to climbers. Pine and oak trees grow on the rocky slopes, home to woodland birds such as owls. Access to some inlets is by boat....

In 1991, a cave was found with its entrance 100 m beneath the sea at
Sormoiu. It is decorated with pictures of prehistoric animals resembling the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux in the Dordogne.

lundi 28 novembre 2005

Yesterday afternoon Alain and I took the metro down to the Vieux Port. From there, we walked along the Corniche, along the edge of the sea. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, but a little windy. We walked to the Monuments aux Rapatriés, which we had driven by many times, but never stopped and looked at. I thought that it was some sort of "Gateway to the Sea", but it wasn't. It is a Memorial for the first World War.

Then we explored the area Vallon des Auffes, which is described as "A tiny picturesque fishing harbour with large boats and small boats with pointed bows (pointus), well known for its fish restaurants." It is very cute area, like a tiny fishing village inside a big city. I guess it is the kind of place where if you are lucky enough to have a house, you don't ever ever sell, you just pass it down to your descendants. The houses are tiny and there are no cars. From there we stopped at a cafe and had a hot chocolate, then walked back to the Vieux Port, and took the subway home.
dimanche 27 novembre 2005

One thing that the Marsellais really love is Pizza. Even more so than Americans. Within five minutes of walking distance, there must be at least 20 pizza places. We have tried most of them (for purely scientifc statistical analysis purposes of course) and have found our favorite, Chez Cyril. Chez is a word that commonly means Place. It is used a lot for restaurants, but also means my place, chez moi, your place, chez toi, etc. In french the possessive 's is not used.
All are take-out/delivery. The prices are generally all between 7 and 10 euros. All small towns have at least one pizza place, and usually a pizza van too. The pizza vans like to park right by the Metro entrance, which is quite tempting when returning from school.
The picture above is of the first pizza place we tried. Okay, but not great. You can sit inside at the smoky bar if you want, or you can sit out on the street and watch cars go by. We decided to bring it home and eat.

Typical pizza- thin crust, not a lot of sauce, slightly burnt edge, cooked "feu de bois" (woodfire), with four whole black olives. You can order a plain cheese pizza, and you will still get the olives. You have to ask for them to not be put on if you don't want them. But they are very good.

Toppings are usually ham, spicy sausages, creme fraiche, mushrooms, onions, seafood, curry, eggs, herbs, chicken, and cheeses. This isn't your regular grated mozzarella cheese either, remember this is France. You can have goat cheese Chevre, blue cheese Roquefort, emmental, mozzarella, etc.
Most popular pizza- anchois. That's right, anchovies. The most feared pizza topping in the US is the number one choice here.
Besides pizza, you can order chaussons (like calzones), ice cream, sodas, biere, and of course wine.
samedi 26 novembre 2005
This Thanksgiving was my first time not celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional American style. I kind of missed it. Instead, I had school. Once a month my school, private school in the center of Marseille where I take french courses a billion hours a week, has a lunch with traditional Provencal food. First one was wine and cheese, second was a stew, and this one was Rouille, or a fish broth soup. It just happened to fall on Thanksgiving.
For the Rouille, you take a piece of toasted french bread, rub it with garlic, then spread this Rouille paste on it. You place the bread in the fish broth, add grated Emmental cheese if you want, and eat. It was okay, pretty strong.
At karate last night, one of the ladies asked if I had celebrated Thanksgiving. I said No, not this year. Our kitchen is not properly equipped. It is really hard to do a turkey when all you have is two hot plates, a microwave, and a toaster oven. Perhaps next year, if we are not living in the same place. I guess a group of Americans (and their french spouses) are getting together today for a Thanksgiving meal. The french lady said she had tried the Tarte au Poitrions (pumpkin pie) and that she didn't like it. The french don't seem to like pumpkin pie. I think it is because they don't cook it right. They don't used the canned stuff for one. They also don't like cinammon, which means they are just plain crazy.
Here are the instructions for Rouille.

1 1/2 cups diced French bread, white part only
1/2 cup fish broth (reserve some from the making of bouillabaisses)
4 to 6 garlic cloves, to your taste, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red chili pepper
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1 large egg yolk

Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
40 to 50 slices French baguette bread (about 1 loaf)

1. Soak the diced bread in the fish broth. Squeeze the broth out. Mash the garlic cloves in a mortar with the salt until mushy. Place the bread, mashed garlic (saving 1 garlic clove for the croutes), red pepper, saffron, egg yolk and black pepper in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds then pour in 1 cup olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, thin, steady stream while the machine is running. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Store whatever you don't use in the refrigerator for up to a week.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the croutes. In a large skillet, melt the butter with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat with the remaining crushed garlic until it begins to turn light brown. Remove and discard the garlic.
3. Lightly brush both sides of each bread slice with the melted butter and oil and set aside. When all the slices are brushed place them back in the skillet and cook until they are a very light brown on both sides. Set aside until needed.
Variation: Another way to make the croutes is to toast them first and then rub both sides with a cut piece of garlic.
Note: If the rouille is separating, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fish broth and whisk it in until smooth and re-emulsified.

Makes 1 1/4 cups sauce rouille and 10 servings of croutes

jeudi 24 novembre 2005

Going to the Post office is always an interesting study in communication.
Me: (pointing at box) "Boite"
Clerk: rapid stream of french.
Me: (to send) "Envoyer"
Clerk: (in french) To some foreign place?
(why do they always assume that? Do I seem foreign to them?!)

Heaven help me if I need to send something with insurance, to get a tracking number, or something out of the ordinary.

Tuesday I received a note saying I had a package, and to come pick it up. I went a little after they opened, got to the window and presented my slip. Oh no, we can't give that to you now, you have to come back after 10 am. Why, the packages are right in that room right there? Just because.
I return after ten and again present my slip. The clerk goes into the back, rummages around for awhile, and returns with a box, asking what my first name is. Megan.
The box was address to Dominque Schmidt, which even in French must be a long cry from Megan Smith. The address was completely different as well- street and number. I'm thinking there was no one by that name at that address, so they searched within a ten block radius to see who has a name even remotely similar. Sigh. And I was so excited about receiving a package too.
La Poste is where we have our bank account too. It is helpful in that it is right across the street and has an ATM. For any actual money transactions though (depositing checks, changing currency, etc) it might as well be non existent. Oh no, you can't change money here. You have to go to the larger post office. Sure, we can deposit that $50 American check for you. But it will cost $40 in fees. Getting my name added to the account was laughable as it took about 2 months to do it. We mistakenly made our first attempt in August, when all private companies are on vacation and the public services only pretend to work. They now have me listed on his account as M. Alain P____ and ith.
mercredi 23 novembre 2005

Hello Everyone.
My name is Megan, and I am 26 years old. I am living in Marseille, France. I moved here in July to be with my french fiancé Alain. Here is a picture of us, taken October 2004. I am currently taking French courses.
Please leave comments!
Au revoir,

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