mardi 25 décembre 2007

A trip to Rome!

A few months ago, we had talked about going to Rome for Christmas. He has always really wanted to go. We let the subject drop, but when I found out I didn't have to work over Christmas break, I secretly bought the tickets, found a place to stay (harder than I thought it would be, since almost everything was booked for the New Year). I was hoping and hoping that I would be able to keep it a secret, and miraculously did. I told Alain last week that I would have to work this week, as I didn't want him to plan anything. His whole family was in on it. I bought this Rome travel guide, printed out the tickets and put them inside, wrapped it up and gave it to him today in front of his family. He opened it and then was shocked that we are going to Rome TOMORROW! We will be back on the 31st. I can't wait! Hope everyone had a great Christmas.
lundi 24 décembre 2007
Every year, around December or January, we invite friends over for a traditional "Raclette" meal. This is similar to fondue, and comes from the France/Switzerland border area. What you do is buy a certain type of raclette cheese, that is usually pre-cut into square or round slices. These slices are then placed on little pots, which are then placed into a heater, which melts them. Then you scrape the cheese onto various high-calorie items, like potatos, bread, ham, or sausage. Sometimes you can be really healthy and have it on apples or carrots, but let's not get carried away. In the picture, you can see the raclette machine where you heat up the cheese slices, which are placed on the utensil just to the right of the knives. The wooden thing is to scrape the cheese off.

Why do we do raclette every year? Well, besides it being a very good winter dish, there is also no actual cooking involved. (besides cooking the potatos, which I can actually manage).

So this year we invited most of our friends here in Provence one couple couldn't come because the woman was about 39 weeks pregnant (and has since had her baby), another couple was out of town. I was pretty tired as I had spent the entire week working hard with a visiting US engineer but Alain and I managed to get the apartment cleaned and the groceries bought in record time. It was also a good occasion to use various wedding gifts that don't get used as much as they should.

The raclette should be eaten with a salad and white wine is supposed to be served. For dessert we had ice cream and a coconut pie that Veronica, a lovely Argentinian, brought. Her husband, Sebastian (Argentinian as well), works with me.

It was a very nice night.

The night wen
dimanche 23 décembre 2007

As far as doing my own laundry is concerned, I have had some memorable moments. The first was when I realized (in graduate school, the first time I had to do my own laundry on a regular basis) that for the past six months I had been using just fabric softener in the washing machine. Yep, no detergent. Well, my clothes were soft at least. Hey- I thought Snuggle did both.

Haven't severly discolored anything, but my latest mishap came yesterday afternoon. I was drying some colored items, when the classic "What's that smell?" question was asked. Something was smelling not good, and coming from the kitchen. Went in the kitchen and it smelled like it was coming from the washer/dryer, but not particularly. We pulled everything out and started to fold. I thought perhaps the rubber lining the door was a bit burnt or something, until I came across my long underwear/winter pjs. The top had hardened and shrunk to a size that not even Manon, our 4 year old neice could wear. It smelled horrid, like burnt wool. The entire apartment quite quickly picked up this smell, and we had company coming over in an hour. We opened all the windows (in winter, but not TOO cold) and tried to air it out as best as we could. Yikes. Learned that lesson. I was sure I had washed it before, but perhaps I didn't dry it in the dryer last time.

Here it is, hanging next to a normal sized ankle sock for comparison.

vendredi 21 décembre 2007
One of my new French Christmas traditions is to go every December and buy one (or more) small Santon figurines for our nativity scene or "creche". In Marseille, every year from the end of November to the beginning of January, there is a Santon market, where all the local artisans come and display their creations- large, small, clothed, painted, unpainted, (the Santons, not the sellers) small buildings, etc. are available. This year, I went at the beginning of December to the usual spot near the ice skating rink and there was no one! I was quite confused, but then found out that they had moved it to the Canebiere. Alain and I went together last Sunday, and together we decided on what to get. After considering some camels and a few angels, we finally decided on a donkey. We got the lying down donkey because Alain said of the standing-up donkeys "Oh poor donkey, he has to stand up the whole time." So we bought the donkey and brought him home. Next year, I am holding out for a camel.

According to French tradition, you aren't supposed to put the baby Jesus in the scene until December 25th (well, midnight exactly). And the wise men aren't supposed to be there until the 6th of January. Some French will put them far away and then each day move them a little closer. Anyway, I don't care. I am having a gosh darn American nativity with the baby Jesus AND the three wise men. Otherwise, everyone else is just left standing around (or lying, in the case of the donkey) looking silly for a couple of weeks.
jeudi 20 décembre 2007

A few Sundays ago, Alain and I decided to put up the rolls of sound insulation that had been sitting in our living room for weeks. I bought eight rolls of 5 meters each, for about 22€ each, and two pots of glue, which the guy at the hardware store assured me was definitely enough. (lesson for next time: ask the guy if he has actually done this himself. No? Okay, get twice what he just said.)

We slowly shoved all of our furniture away from the Infernal Wall (no, not that infernal wall, the infernal wall separating us and our elderly neighbor's blasting tv). We cleaned off the wall, then got prepared to put the glue on the wall, then place the rolls of thick foam. Except the glue was really goopy and it was impossible to cover well the wall. After one miserable attempt, we quickly realized that the best was to lay the roll on the floor, cover it in goop, and then place it against the wall. (hey, we don't have advanced engineering degrees for nothing!)

That worked much better. Except that we got about halfway through the project and ran out of glue (which would SURELY be enough). One frantic call to his parents later, and they were able to stop by the store and bring over not one, not two, but three pots of glue. Except that the new glue wasn't the same. Sigh. It was actually much gluyier, and I had several painful "ripping my skin off the handle of the spatula" moments. We finally finished, cleaned up, put the furniture back, and waited for 7pm (the time of normal tv-blasting). And we heard--- almost nothing. I was so pleased- it was beyond my expectations. I told Alain we should put up another layer on her side, but he said no way.

Eventually, we will have to do something to cover up the grey squishy strips on our wall. But maybe after the holidays.

Unfortunately, after several days it is now less effective. Bummer!!!!! On to plan two- offer her TV headphones for Christmas. Plan C is to pay someone to break in and steal her TV....

And I am only slightly joking....
mercredi 19 décembre 2007

mardi 18 décembre 2007
Megan's award for Most Bizarre Game Show of the Year goes to this new French gem: Le Mur Infernal.
Before reading any further, you MUST click on this link, and watch the small video towards the bottom.

Okay, done watching? Honestly, who gets paid to make up this stuff, because I want that job!
Okay boss, here's my idea- there are two teams of three people each. You stand them on a platform above water, and you move them rapidly towards a wall, which has cutout shapes of humans. They have to match their body to the shape in the wall as they pass through. If they break the wall or fall off into the water, they lose the round. Then, to make it more complicated, you have them do it in two, threes, backwards, jumping, etc.
Sure to be a hit!
dimanche 9 décembre 2007
Please see my first post about the kitchen:

While my parents were here, one of the main things that we focused on was fixing up our kitchen. The first order of the day was removing the big ugly metal and glass hood over the stove area. No idea why it was there, but it seems that older kitchens from apartments built in the 50's have these. It doesn't actually serve any purpose, as there is no vent or opening at the top. Well, it does get greasy I suppose. Anyway, Alain and dad spent a good day or two removing this thing. First they had to remove the glass, which they had to break to get out (shards of glass flying everywhere). Then, the metal frame was not screwed to the wall but actually coming out of the wall, so they had to cut it out of the wall. Then the wall had to be patched up.

Dad then spent a few days making the walls smooth while mom removed the rest of the wallpaper. One Saturday morning, Alain and I went to Ikea to buy everything. Well, everything except the dishwasher. It took us about one hour to order it, one hour to receive it, and one hour to figure out how to get everything into the car. Poor Alain had to drive the car back with his seat about five centimeters from the steering wheel and the wooden countertop board above his head.

We then spent the afternoon painting the walls and ceiling white. The next day, mom and I assembled the cabinets and the guys put them up. We got the left side finished on Sunday, but still had to do the area over the sink, which mom and dad finished up on Monday. We still need to redo the electricity (add more plugs and lights), and place the new sink, dishwasher, and countertop (which needs to be cut to the correct dimensions) in place.
Yesterday Alain put the knobs on the cabinets and started to put the molding around the tops of the cabinets. We also need to eventually buy a hood and another shelf to put above the clothes washer/stove area. But at least now it resembles a kitchen. I think we choose really well in order to maximize our small space. (Notice the wine rack on the far end.) Good job everyone!

samedi 8 décembre 2007

On the first of November (yeah, I know, this post is really really late) Alain, my parents, and I went driving through the Camargue and then stopped at the cute little town of Saintes Maries de la Mer. Legend has is that the three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome, and Mary Jacobe were cast adrift in a boat after the crucifixtion and landed on the coast of France. Um, yeah sure, I believe it. It is also a pilgrimage destination for gypsies.

Anyway, we spent a nice hour or two exploring the small town and church. Dad couldn't resist taking this picture of a dog using the doggie restroom

(there was a sign for Men, Women, and Dogs)

After that, we visited a museum about life in the Camargue (there is a lot of ranching in that area), then stopped for lunch at a small place on the side of the road. The highlight of lunch was definitely the woman who decided to change her baby's diaper on the table (which was definitely full) in the middle of the room. Ugh. I am surprised nobody said anything to her. Thanks for ruining my meal lady! I have seen this happen in France before though.

After lunch, we drove back through the Camargue, which by the way is a large marshy area that has been turned into a national park. We stopped in a town that produces salt (from the evaporation of sea water) and took a picture of the huge salt mountain.Finally, on the way back, we stopped at Carry-le-Rouet, a ritz town on the coast with a view of Marseille and some nice walks along the sea. We walked a bit, then had refreshments, and drove back to Marseille. Quite an adventurous day.

jeudi 6 décembre 2007
On our final bonus day of flying, we woke up at 6 and caught the shuttle to the Amsterdam airport. Trying to get through security with my two bottles of Korean liquor, I started to get hassled and finally had to go check them. As I didn't have my luggage, I had to just put them in a bag and hope for the best. Our flight back to Marseille was uneventful, and we finally arrived around 11 am. My father-in-law came to pick me up as Alain was at a karate competition. As soon as I got my luggage, I could smell the broken bottle of sake. Argh. We went to the car, he opened the trunk and put my luggage in, closed the door and said "Where are my keys?" In the trunk of course. We called MIL, who called SIL who came and brought the extra set of keys. While waiting, we asked the office in charge of the parking lots if they could open the car with a hanger. They tried but were unable to, so we waited for about 45 minutes for the extra set of keys. We then drove back to their house had lunch, then Alain finished his karate competition (he was just refereeing). Alain and I left to return to Marseille. Got home, I went to take a shower. About halfway through, the water turned icy cold. Turns out the hot water heater decided to go on vacation. We tried and tried but could not get the pilot light to turn on. So, no hot water and no radiators until Tuesday, when the repair guy was able to come and fix it. Welcome home! On top of it all, my digestive system continued to be in an uproar until Wednesday, when I threw up at work, came home early, threw up again, went to bed at 6:30 pm and missed Thursday of work. Not eager to go back to Asia any time soon but I am glad that I went at least once.
mardi 4 décembre 2007

On Saturday, our last day, we were planning on catching the shuttle to the airport at around 10:20. I wanted to wake up at 8, but some stupid people were talking loudly out in the hallway at 7, so I woke up at 7. I got dressed, packed my suitcase, then went for a little walk outside. There was a Daelim store, the mark of Alain's motorcycle. I wanted to see if they had anything like a small keychain or something that I could buy for him, but they were still closed. I planned on returning after breakfast, but did not get a chance. I went into a coffee shop and had a caramel moccacino or something like that, and a bagel. Sigh. One day, I will have a real bagel with real cream cheese outside of the United States. Got back to the hotel, ate breakfast around 9, when I was informed that we must leave for the airport NOW.

Apparently, we were unable to confirm our seats for the flights by phone and they wanted to get to the airport as soon as possible. So we gathered up our things, checked out, and took a taxi to the airport. (About 80 euros)

Once we arrived at the airport, the check-in desk was still closed. We walked down to the airline office, which was open, and confirmed our seats. We were speaking in French to each other when the Korean says in French "Oh, you are French?" and starts talking with us in French. Apparently he had studied in Paris for a few years. Just goes to show you, you never know when someone might understand what you are saying.

Once we finally went through security, we had about four hours of wait, due to mechanical troubles with the airplane. The Incheon Airport is full of designer shops, which rather just depress me after awhile. What is the point of looking if I can't even begin to think about buying something?

Anyway, I found some nice green pottery souveneirs so I bought them. Some were containers for their strong alcohol. The vendors warned me that I wouldn't be able to bring them through security, but since we were taking a connecting flight from Amsterdam, I figured it would be okay. The hours passed slowly, and we got ready to board the airplane at 3:30 when they made the announcement that in fact, it would be another three hours because of mechanical problems. This meant that we were going to miss our connecting flight and be stuck in Amsterdam. Sigh. I called Alain to tell him that I would not be coming home today. Finally we boarded the plane after a ggod 8 hours in the airport, and it took off around 7 pm. Besides one annoying (approximately) 10 year old seated in front of me, the flight was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Amsterdam around 10 pm. They would not give us our luggage, so I was unable to pack my liquor bottles in my checked baggage. The lady from KLM said that it should be okay to go back through security with them if they were still in the sealed Duty-Free bags. We took the shuttle over to the hotel (decidedly less-nice than all the others we had stayed at) and went to bed around 11:30.

vendredi 30 novembre 2007
Friday morning we woke up at 6 for a 7 a.m. pickup (except T. who forgot that Korea was one hour later than China and woke up at 7). We made the long drive back out to Incheon, where we again visited a factory, the largest of the ones we had seen. It was quite impressive. Afterwards, we had lunch in the VIP lounge, then drove to a parts warehouse in Amsam. The whole day it was raining like crazy. We got quite drenched. The parts warehouse is where they keep the spare parts for the engines, in case something breaks and needs to be replaced ASAP. Their system is computerized, with large robot/cranes that go in between the rows to the correct box.

We wanted to just head back to our hotel and not socialize anymore, especially since the next day we were heading back to France, but it was insisted that we go to this Japanese restaurant with them. Ugh. There is a reason that humans invented fire, and it was so that they could cook their food! After a moment I just could not take it anymore. I just couldn't. I had passed my limit a few days ago with the octopuss soup and I was not having any more of it. I'm sorry but no.

We made the long drive back again to Seoul (why didn't we just stay in Incheon?) and finally got to bed around midnight.
jeudi 29 novembre 2007
Thursday morning we flew from Shenzhen to Seoul. (All these S cities). We arrived, once again, around noon. One of our hosts, David, met us at the airport in Incheon and drove us to Seoul, about an hour away. He pointed out the Korean War Memorial and the American Army base. I was amazed by the number of US restaurants such as Bennigans. I would have been much happier eating at these American restaurants than getting my insides burned out by Korean food, but oh well. We checked into our hotel, and were all amazed by the toilets in the bathrooms. They had these controllers on the side, which we could not figure out was for. After further investigation, I realized that it was a bidet. Question- who really needs this anymore? I don't need to be squirted at then blowdried.
We then went down to the buffet in the hotel restaurant. They had a Mongolian barbeque, which was very good. After that, we headed over to their office for the commercial meeting, which lasted several hours. Then we went out to a traditional Korean place. In the middle of the table was this gas burner, on which you place meat, mushrooms, etc. then combine with the very spicy kimchee and other hot hot things on your plate. At one point, I felt tears coming to my eyes and was desperately seeking water, while they wanted me to translate something. "Gasp! Can't! Fire!"

This night is when the Shanghai, um, Shizzle started. Sweet dreams Megan!
mercredi 28 novembre 2007

After another morning of meetings/visiting factories, our hosts took us to a barbeque place, complete with live singing. At first I thought it was karaoke, but it was the same two people (a guy and a girl) singing over and over again. It wasn't horrible singing, but it was just not what I needed to hear while trying to eat. I asked our host, Sherry, what they were there for, and she said "To wish us a happy meal". Oh, so maybe that's why I had indigestion later...

After that, they drove us to visit the Forbidden City of Shenzhen. Very nice, very old, and if it hadn't been so freezing we would have spent more time there. I had brought my scarf and mittens, but my ears and nose were very very cold. After a running tour, we browsed some shops, where Sherry got yelled at by one of the vendors. She was helping to translate/negociate for us, and she said to us "Don't buy this, it is too expensive." Apparently, the vendor was mad and told her something along the lines of "You should be helping me to rip off these foreigners as we are both Chinese." After some more browsing in stores, we got quite tired and went back to the hotel. It was just the three of us for dinner, as we had begged off. The other two asked me what I wanted to eat and I said "Anything but Chinese". So we went to a nice French restaurant in the hotel. I think we were the only French/french speaking in there. The menu was in English and Chinese, which I found funny. The food was quite good but the waitor made me laugh because he kept whisking my plate away in his overeagerness before I was quite done. It was strange for me to be in a French restaurant, speaking French, with French, but with Chinese waitors. The price of the food was very low, but the french wine was very very expensive.
(what animal is it? You decide.)
mardi 27 novembre 2007

After a late bedtime and another early start, the three of us flew to Shenzhen, a two hour flight from Shanghai. This city is in the northeast of the country, near North Korea. When we got off the plane, we were immediately struck by how cold it was. There was snow on the ground. Our new hosts met us at the airport, and shuttled us into the city. I immediately felt like I had been transported to the Chinese version of Minnesota. Can I get a “yah sure you betcha” please? We checked into our hotel, another Four star place, with plenty of luxury shops in the lobby. I was hoping that being in China and with the exchange rate that I could maybe afford say a pair of Armani socks or something, but nope. Nothing doing. I really can’t understand why designer clothing is so expensive and why people actually buy it. Why do you need a scarf for 200$? Anyway, after another huge meal in which our hosts ordered way too many dishes for us and which we could have done with a good 3-4 dishes less, we went to visit their factory. We spent several hours at their factory, then went, again, to eat. This was at a place with individual dining rooms, a big round table, and a lazy-susan in the middle of the table to facilitate the passing of dishes. Some highlights included octopus soup, shish kebobs, raw salmon, tofu (firmer this time) and many many others that my memory is blocking out for self-preservation. We rolled back to the hotel and went to bed.
lundi 26 novembre 2007
The next morning, Monday, I woke up around 7, got ready, and went for a little stroll. There was a Starbucks across the street. I went in, wondering exactly how to say "Gingerbread latte" in Chinese. Luckily, I wasn't required to mime it, because they had it written in English. They also had the Chinese characters, which made me wonder exactly how Gingerbread Latte is translated into Chinese. If someone knows, please tell me.
We ate breakfast in the hotel, and then met up with our Chinese hosts and drove to their office/factory. We toured their factory, talked technical and price details, went to lunch, and then early in the afternoon drove back to our hotel in Shanghai near the airport. While the one in Wuxi had been very nice, this hotel was your basic near-the-airport kind. We took a taxi ride back into Shanghai (about an hour drive for a whopping 15€). We walked around, again admiring the lights of the city. There was a park filled with people, mostly middle-aged couples, dancing. No one asked us to dance, but I might have said yes if they had. It was like swing-dancing but slower. We found a restaurant and had dinner. It had a few other foreigners eating there as well. We had some Chinese wine (not terrible) and several different dishes such as tofu (which I normally like but this was too soft), some meat dishes, and then the two guys had crabs. We all got slightly tipsy, but managed to get a taxi and get back to the hotel without any incident.
dimanche 25 novembre 2007
I am now back from my grand tour of Asia (okay, China and Korea for one week, but it was my first time on the continent after all).

I left Saturday afternoon from Marseille. Our flight was supposed to be at 12:10. The four of us, mom, dad, Alain and I arrived around 9:45. We sat and had a coffee and waited for my three traveling partners to arrive so that we could all check in together. Turns out, the flight, KLM to Amsterdam, was delayed two hours. Yikes. The airlines thought we would be able to make our connecting flight to Shanghai at 5:35, but there were no guarantees.

The other two travelers with me, T and P, arrived. The fourth was not going to be coming with us after all. We checked in, and then I said goodbye to mom and dad, who were leaving Monday to return to the US, and Alain.

Flights were uneventful, and we arrived in Shanghai Sunday morning at around 11 am. Did sleep a little on the plane, but the sleeping pills I had bought were not as powerful as I had hoped they would be. I wanted total knock-out and got fitful spurts. Ah well.

Made it through Chinese immigration and customs just fine, and found our driver. Thankfully the company we were visiting had sent their driver to fetch us. It was a long drive, we were exhausted, and apparently even Chinese have trouble driving in this area. So we made the drive from Shanghai airport to Wuxi, about two hours to the north-west. Three things that amazed my about China:
1) extremely clean, at least where we were. Armies of workers spent their time cleaning the streets. I wish Marseille would import at least 10,000 of them. There was also no graffiti anywhere. However, it is really true that they spit all the time. More on that later.
2) crazy drivers. They honk all the time, and will do death-defying stunts. I was glad I was sitting in the back. Many many people were on scooters and bikes. No helmets. Going the wrong way on the highway. Child in front (perhaps six years old) standing on the front of the scooter between the legs of the father who was driving, with the mother behind. Wow.
3) tons of new construction. Rows and rows of identical new apartment buildings being built everywhere.

We checked into our hotel and took off to explore the city. We had some horrid tea at this park area on the left, browsed the shopping areas, took photos, then went to eat. We asked at the hotel where would be a good place to eat. They made some recommendations. We went elsewhere. It was horrid- cold chicken and sun-dried hard as a rock shrimp. I could have choked it down, but the others wanted to leave, so we paid for what we had eaten and walked out. I felt bad. We found a place that can only be described as slightly better than hole in the wall. I was sure I would be sick the next day, but wasn't. It was fairly good, except for my octopus egg-crepe thing.
The lights of the city were amazing. Here is a picture of a restored temple. We went to bed early, being jet lagged and all.
mardi 13 novembre 2007
Sorry for the lack of posts lately. We have been quite busy with visiting the sites of Provence and working on the apartment. This past weekend we bought, transported, and installed our new IKEA kitchen! So happy. Will post more about it when I get a chance, but not for another two weeks or so, as I am leaving next week for China and Korea for a business trip for one whole week! Yay!
jeudi 1 novembre 2007
Mom and Dad have now been here for a week. They arrived Wednesday, Oct. 24th. I went to pick them up at the airport, and had bought a bouquet of flowers. It seemed that everyone who walked past said "Oh, are they for me? Thank you." Their flight finally arrived, about an hour late and sans one piece of luggage. They promised it would be delivered the next morning (Thursday). After a day and a half of them waiting in the apartment for it to arrive, it finally did on Friday afternoon. The weekend we spent doing some work on the apartment, such as removing the large ugle glass/metal hood over the stove, sanding the walls, and applying a base coat to make the walls smoother. We also bought the mirror for over our sink, which Alain and I had been searching for for ages. We had found one we liked at Maisons du Monde, but the one that they had was damaged. They were having a "rupture du stock" and weren't sure if or when they would get another one. I called last Friday, just to see if they had received one, and they said yes, so mom, dad, and I braved Friday afternoon traffic going towards the Centre Ville. We parked in a parking garage, went and bought it (119€) and brought it back.
On Sunday we went to visit with Alain's family, to celebrate Pepe's birthday last week. Today, All Saint's Day, I have off from work, and I took tomorrow off as well. We are going to go visit different places in this area, such as perhaps the Camargue, Aigues Mortes, etc.
A year ago yesterday, we bought our apartment. It is finally starting to resemble something livable. But if I had known what I was in for (such as months of sponge baths in winter) I might have thought twice about it.
Happy All Saint's Day!
lundi 29 octobre 2007
(Note to all: My camera is not working lately, so I am unable to take and post pictures. Perhaps I will borrow Alain's camera til I can get a new one).
I have an alarm clock that is at least 15 years old. It is a Spanish Speaking alarm clock- you push a button on the top and it tells the time in Spanish. We got it as a gift when we were living in Ecuador. I am suprised it has lasted this long, considering the number of times it has been banged around in luggage, falled off the nightstand, etc. I wish I could find a French speaking one. I may have forgotten all of my spanish (besides Hola, que tal? Commo estas?) but if anyone should ever ask me what time it is in Spanish, I will happily chirp "Beep. Las cinco et cinquenta uno de la tarde".
In France there is an expression "parler Français comme une vache Espagnole" (to speak French like a spanish cow). No idea why they decided to use Spanish and cow, but that's how it goes. Sometimes they use it in a self-deprecating way, sometimes they turn it around and say "I speak Spanish like a french cow". Someone said this to me a few months ago- You speak French like a Spanish cow. I was too hurt and insulted at the time to think of a good comeback, but next time it happens I have one already ready "Well, you speak English like a French pig". So there.
lundi 22 octobre 2007
After several false starts in August and September, fall has finally decided to stick around. Alain and I have been busy preparing for my parent's visit. So far we have: bought a couch that pulls out into a bed (but it isn't a futon) from IKEA, with two single mattresses. Somehow we managed to fit two people and the couch into our Fiat Bravo. I felt like I was in a clown car. This past Saturday we assembled it, which took all afternoon. We also painted our bathroom walls white, installed a new light fixture (again, IKEA) that isn't quite bright enough. Alain has also been working on the toilet. He made a small shelf to hide the pipe/water counter. Will post pictures when I can. Last weekend we went over to his coworker's to watch the France-England game, then this weekend we had one of my coworkers and his wife come over to watch the France-Argentina game (they are both Argentinian). It was fun. No hard feelings.
Now two more days of work, then I am taking Wednesday off to run various errands before my parents arrive Wednesday evening. Have a great week!
samedi 13 octobre 2007
Time for my annual torturing at the opthamologists office (no idea how that is spelled, in English or French, and I cannot for the life of me pronounce it correctly in French- EYE DOCTOR). My eyes had been giving me trouble lately. And by trouble I mean- Bright Red about a half an hour after inserting contact lenses that requires immediate switching to glasses and red eye for about a week.
I went to his office a few weeks ago after work. He gave me a week's treatment of eye drops against some sort of infection and told me to come back in two weeks.
Yesterday I returned, though to his other office this time. No idea why he has two separate offices. My appointment was at 5:45. I left work on the dot of 5, then cursed traffic the whole way back to Marseille, whereupon I took the metro and then sprinted to his office. Sure glad I bothered since I didn't see him until 7. This time, they dilated my eyes so that no blue was showing, then proceeded with this horrid glass that is put DIRECTLY on the eyeball. What is worse, you have to press your eyeball against this glass. Yes, I do love pressure on my eyeball, thank you. Finally it was done and I was weeping yellow tears (from some solution they put in my eyes). They gave me some contacts and told me to return in two weeks. Sigh. Seriously starting to consider laser surgery now. I will talk to him next appointment about that. Oh yeah, it is now 2 pm the following day, and my pupils have not yet returned to normal.
Read my previous entry about the optho's here.
vendredi 12 octobre 2007
They DO exist in France! What you ask? Bagels of course! In a country that loves bread so much, I am surprised there aren't more of these. Last week, as I was doing my grocery shopping, in between my stop for cheese and crepes, I was walking down an aisle when I saw right in front of me, like a mirage in the desert, a new exotic food being introduced to the masses. Bagels!
Mr. Bagels.
4 Small natural special breads.
Low in fat.
Recommended use:
Cut your bagel in two and put it in the toaster for 1 minute. Or put in a microwave for 20-40 seconds. Delicious sweet or salty or as a sandwich.

Of course, the next important question is cream cheese. The closest seems to be spreadable cheese, which isn't quite the same, but it will do. I have found Philly cream cheese in Italy, when we went to San Remo. Thought about buying some then, but didn't see the point as there were no bagels. Ahh...

As for the bagel quality, I must say they are rather dry. Oh how I miss Bodo's....
jeudi 11 octobre 2007

This is one of Alain's favorite cheeses. The name is literally- bark of pine. Apparently, it is a cow's cheese (though the picture looks more like Great Dane- seriously, click on the picture, look at just the head and tell me what it looks like to you) that is wrapped in pine bark. It does certainly have a piney flavor. That is, I am guessing. Haven't gone around licking too many pine trees lately. It is from the Franche-Comté Region (on the Germany border, south of Strasbourg).
The suggested way of eating this cheese (from the wrapper):
A Delicious Main Course
Step 1: Remove the plastic film and wooden plate it is placed on. (Have to make sure everyone understands that).
Step 2: Make a 3 cm hole in the center of the cheese. (Notice how they are precise about the size, but don't specify how deep this hole should be).
Step 3: Fill with white wine. (What, no suggest year and vineyard? This is France after all, and two of the things they take the most seriously: wine and cheese.)
Step 4: Place in a small poêlon.
Step 5: Cook 20 min in a warm oven 180 degrees C.
Step 6: Serve with hot potatos, vegetables, and sausages.

Sounds yummy to me.

Five cheeses!
mardi 2 octobre 2007

On Sunday, Alain and I went with a group of people from his karate club on an outing. The leader of the club is an avid Vespa collecter- he has 17 antique Vespas in excellent condition. He lent some to the others, but Alain and I rode on his motorcycle. (oh sore rear!) We arrived at the appointed time, 9 am. in order to find that we were the only ones who had yet arrived. The others dribbled in over the period of an hour. Sure glad we slept the previous night at his parent's so that we could be on time! It took awhile for everyone to get there, get organized, get gas, etc. We finally left around 10 am, and then immediately stopped because one scooter was not working properly. The rest of us went to have coffee in Alliens. This was 11 am. We finally got back on the road a little before 12, and went up into the beautiful countryside near Gordes. Where we stopped again We stopped for lunch, whereupon I took this picture. The Vespas were blue, red, yellow, black, green, and purple. There was also an antique, topless car for extra supplies and for those who were tired of riding to sit in.
We had lunch, then headed back down to where we had had an appertif and the men played boules while the women walked to a nearby "vide grenier" (literally attic empty, like a yard sale). We rejoined the men around 4, and headed back to Pelissane. I was starting to feel quite sore, so I rode in the car, only to discover that that was worse. Had to hold on for dear life, and the wind was incredible. Unable to talk and had to cover up the face and head so that it doesn't get blown off. I was glad when the day was over.
lundi 24 septembre 2007

When I left this morning to head off to work, I had no idea whether they would come today to install the toilet seat or not. The "I'll call you before I come over" obviously never materialized, as they knocked on our door well before 8 am, as Alain was still in the middle of his morning routine. Turns out he had tiled too much (larger hole for the out was needed) so they had to break some of the surrounding tile.

Came home, and was quite pleased to see the toilet, standing there in all of it's seat-less glory (they couldn't be bothered to install the cover I guess). Took a tentative trial run and was quite relieved- relieved to find that I was not sprawled on the floor with the toilet crushing my legs, dazed, wet, covered in waste and broken tiles. Not sure what the maximum weight that can be supported is, but for now it is holding up.

When Alain showed the plumber the broken tiles this morning he got a reaction all of "Oh. (pause). Darn". Wasn't expecting an overflow of mea culpas, but was hoping for a little more than that. Doubt we will get it fixed by them. (Doubt that on two levels- doubt they will offer and doubt that I would trust them to not do more damage). Might get a slight reduction. Not keeping my hopes up at this point.

Came home to find the house wide-open- balcony door open, windows open. Gee, sure glad nobody could get in. Also there was a message on our machine that something had been forgotten and to please give them a call and let them know when they can come pick it up. Yeah, I think I will hold that hostage until our tile gets fixed buddy. Don't think I would hire these guys again, but at least it is finished.


Number of tiles broken: 2

Number of emergency trips to hardware store: 1

Number of times eating at McDo: 2

Meters squared of tile bought: 4

Sunday was spent (on Alain's part) tiling like crazy. My part was spent internetting, sweeping, running out for another marker, and cleaning out buckets.

He managed to use up all the tile (sure glad I bought 2 meters squared instead of 1 m2 like I had measured), except there is one small square that is missing at the top left (not in the picture), so I have to go get one more square tomorrow. He had a piece of leftover tile that would work, but it would be cut on both sides, instead of cut on just one side. Unperfectionist me would have just put it and not cared, but he wants it done perfectly. He also managed to put all the white caulk as well.

Hopefully tomorrow the toilet will be functional. McDo two days in a row is enough. Not sure when we are going to get around to painting.
dimanche 23 septembre 2007
The closest publicly available bathroom to us is the McDonald's (or MacDo as it is pronounced here) the next street over. We went for lunch yesterday, then made use of the, ahem, facilities. They are going to love us. Unfortunately, they don't open until 8:30 am, which doesn't entirely solve our problems. Hoping the toilet can be installed Monday.
Alain spent all day yesterday cutting the plaster board, the holes for the in and out, and then attaching it to the metal frame. He managed to cut and pose the first layer of tiles, which were then able to harden overnight. We went to the in-laws again to spend the night, but I think that tonight we will be staying here. To stay at their place during the workweek would add an extra two hours to my day. No thanks. We returned at 11 am this morning, Alain driving his motorcycle back from their house. Felt rather anxious as I followed him on the highway, but he did fine. It is more what other people do that scares me.

Picture of first row of tiles (not sure what is wrong with the picture) and of Alain on his motorcycle (he does have a protective jacket, just wasn't wearing it for the picture).
samedi 22 septembre 2007
So the plumber came yesterday and tore apart our bathroom. When the boss had come a few weeks ago to give an estimate, Alain had specifically mentioned that the wall was thin, and asked if the frame could be installed without breaking through to the other side (ie the bathroom which we have just finished tiling after many many month). Yeah sure! No problem!


The worker came yesterday, managed to break the tiles on the other side, didn't hide the counter (which was one of the reasons I wanted the darn thing installed in the first place). Even better, the toilet may be too long now, and interfere with the proper functionning of the door. Well, I guess the door can still be opened, but whether people can get out of the bathroom without having to stand on top of the toilet remains to be seen. Furthermore, he was unable to hide the counter inside the frame (I was thinking that to take the reading, all we would have to do is remove the lid and peer down, but no).
But the absolute worst is that when making the holes in the wall, the broke through to the other side and cracked our lovely, just-posed tile. Enfoiré.

Alain is surprisingly calm about it, considering he is the one who spent all of August putting these tiles in place. I would have hit the roof. Not sure what we will do about it, whether we will try to remove and replace just the two broken ones, or cover them up somehow or what. In removing the two tiles, we certainly don't want to break all the surrounding ones. Argh argh argh.
Spent the night at the in-laws last night and today Alain is putting up the plasterboard, upon which he will then tile. Sigh. Here we go again. Keeping my fingers crossed that they can still put the toilet into service on Monday. And that they will give us a discount!!!!
What annoys me the most though, is that I know that someone who is truely professional (like my pops) would have explained to the customer what might happen (ie the toilet seat is too long, you can't hide the counter, and there is a high probability that you will pierce through to the other side) but hey, if you really want me to do it, I will, but you need to be informed of the risks. Then we probably would have just replaced the old toilet with a new one, and live with the pipes being visible. Sigh. On to phase 2.
vendredi 21 septembre 2007
I went back to Leroi Merlin on Thursday during my lunch break, determined to buy the tiles for the toilet (to cover the frame that the seat with sit on) as well as paint for the toilet room, two bedrooms, and the hallway. On Wednesday I had bought these three samples of blue-grey tiles (light, medium, and dark) to get Alain's opinion. Turns out that instead of scheduling our retoileting for some Friday in the future, they decided that this Friday would do.

I think it must be an excellent selling strategy. A client puts a downpayment for half of the work. You go out and buy all of the materials, thereby ensuring that they will then commit to having you do all of the work. Then you just fix a date, without waiting for them to dillydally around and change their mind.

So Alain and I had to decide and quick. We picked the lightest of the blues, and so I went and bought a box of tiles (about 2 meters squared) for 20 euros, then went over to the paint section. When I had looked on Wednesday, I had seen that there were some 2.5 liter pots approximately the same color, for about 45 euros each. Since we had calculated that we would need 8 pots, it was going to be expensive. I asked the guy in charge of the paint section, just to get his advice. Turns out, it was cheaper to have them mix the exact color and type of paint I wanted (double layers, able to be sprayed by paint spray gun, matte) than it would be to buy the pre-mixed. I thought the custom color would be much more expensive, but no. I was able to get two pots of 10 L for about 50€ each. What a deal! Came home and Alain lugged it into apartment. Ready for Day 2.
jeudi 20 septembre 2007
Hello everyone. Just wanted to mention services such as They help to keep up with blog feeds, if you are like me and have several that you follow on a daily basis. You just enter the website of each blog that you would like, then log in to the single site, and see which sites have been updated since you last logged in, and then you can read the entries right from the site, saving time clicking on each one.
Also, if anyone has added me to your blog links, but I haven't added you to mine, please let me know and I will add you to the link of blogs on the right. I enjoy discovering new bloggers, whatever your nationality and wherever you are.
Thanks. Never fear, back to toilet humor tomorrow.
mardi 18 septembre 2007
Came home from work today, and was quite surprised to see a toilet sitting in my living room. You get extra points if you can use it in this position.
Today we had some plumbers come, who changed our gas pipes and removed the old radiator pipe in the bathroom. We had gotten a price offer from them to replace our toilet as well, and had decided that we would have it done, but weren't thinking it would be done today. Especially as they said that we would have to come down to pick out which new toilet we wanted, which we hadn't done yet. Apparently, they decided to just bring it anyway, deciding that this was the one we want. No real complaints for me. I don't have the energy to go down and argue about which shape of throne would be just right for our bathroom. A toilet is a toilet is a necessity.
We are going to put in a "suspended" toilet, which I guess is now the rage. It reminds me of work and airport bathrooms, but I guess it is easier to mop under. We are hoping that they will be able to come on Friday, remove the old one, then this weekend we will tile it, most likely with the leftover ecru bathroom tile. Then on Monday they will hopefully come and install the new one. So I guess we will be spending the weekend elsewhere. Just hope that halfway through they don't have scheduling problems and throw a "Year in Provence" on us, and not come back for months. Not having a shower is a pain but doable. Not having a toilet is just a pain.
Who can think of amusing captions for the picture?
dimanche 16 septembre 2007

This cheese, made from ewe's milk, comes from the Basque region of France. I didn't particularly care for it. It is supposed to be opened one hour before eating (I guess to air out, I don't know), and you aren't supposed to eat the crust. The cheese bible states that the production of these cheeses (with sheep's milk) is a very old practice in this region, and that most are artisanal, made with unpasteurized milk. The AOC label was given in 1980, and in order to be marked AOC, the sheep must have grazed in the mountain pastures from May 10th through September 15th. They are best consumed with white wines. This particular cheese- Ossau Iraty is from the manech breed of sheep. (no clue)

Wikipedia states "Ossau-Iraty is rather medium-soft light in color and very complex yet delicately smooth flavors. This cheese tastes slightly akin to cow's cheeses of similar texture such as alps cheese. Ossau-Iraty is complex and includes an edible slightly white-moldy tart rind; this offers considerably to the experience. This is a creamy, not bitter, not overly sweet, perhaps slightly nutty cheese with a gentleness and ability to please. Finishes rich and smooth.
It is safe for those who are lactose intolerant."

I took a few bites and decided that was enough for me. Too much of a sheep taste. To be fair though, we didn't open it an hour before eating, and did not try it with white wine, but in the future I will pass on this one. 1 cheese

jeudi 13 septembre 2007

Okay, I know I am really really behind on my year of cheese blogging. Believe you me, I have been faithfully sampling new cheeses, but sometimes have "le phlegm" to write about them. But I will try to catch up now.

(for the cheese itself: rating of 2 cheeses)

Here is a cheese whose name literally means "dung" or "droppings" of goat cheese. Yum! Get me some of that! It tastes pretty much like any other goat cheese, perhaps a bit drier in my opinion. Because I don't have much to say about this, I am including a recipe (which I have not tried and therefore cannot vouch for, but it sounds good to me).

Preparation: 15 minutes (which in my experience of French recipes, should most likely be doubled by at least two)
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Let sit: 5 minutes

Total time : 35 minutes (yeah, make that one hour)
For 4 people :
4 crottins de chèvre type Chavignol
3 Granny apples
basil leaves

1 Preheat the oven at 200°C. Peel the apples, remove the core and seeds (whew! sure glad they spelled that one out for me!). Cut them into fine slices.
2 Cover the bottom and sides of four small bowls with the apple slices.
3 Place one grated? basil leaf on the bottom of each bowl.
4 Place one entire dung in each bowl. Cover with the rest of the apple slices and cook for 15 minutes.
5 Wait several minutes before removing them from the molds. Place 3 small basil leaves on top of each.
Should be eaten lukewarm, accompagnied with toasted bread.

Anybody who tries this, please send pictures or let me know how it turned out.

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