mercredi 30 mai 2007
Friday evening we got out of Marseille as soon as possible (which was about 7 pm) and drove to his parent’s house. His mother fixed a nice meal and a cake, but the nougat biscuit that I had saved especially was terrible. I guess they just don’t save well. Oh well. Will just have to order a cake or piece montee for every anniversary.
I also managed to grab the wrong bottle from the refrigerator, so instead of champagne we had Blanc de Blancs, which in my opinion did not taste very good. I guess we will have to save the champagne for Christmas now.

Saturday morning we woke up and drove to Avignon, which is not very far by autoroute. We managed to find our hotel without too much trouble considering the narrow one-way streets. I had found and reserved the hotel over the internet. We parked outside the ramparts, where apparently everyone parks and nobody pays. We left our luggage (one overnight bag and our jackets) at the hotel desk as it was too early to check into our room, and went exploring. We walked around for awhile, then went back and checked in to the room. It was a tiny room, with just about enough space for the bed and tiny little bathroom. In high tourist season and being in the center of the city, you can’t expect the Hilton. Besides, I would rather pay for a small room in the center of the city (and be within walking distance to everything) than be in a bigger (American sized) hotel room and have to take the car in to visit and go out to eat (plus it is much more difficult to roll home after a big dinner when you have to drive. And by ROLL I mean because of eating too much, not necessarily because of drinking too much.)

The hotel manager was very nice, it is a good location, not too expensive (62 € plus breakfast for two included), and I recommend it. We went to a restaurant in front of the main entrance to the Palais des Papes. We sat outside, which was agreeable until the wind picked up. The servers finally had to take down all the umbrellas because they were afraid someone would get impaled. We visited the Palais, which took about three hours.

Perhaps we are just pokey, because the lady who sold us the tickets said it would take about an hour and a half.
We used the audioguides, which are informative and easy to use, but detract in a way from the experience in my opinion. After the palais we went to the Pont D’Avignon, at which point it was decided that it should rain like crazy. We huddled in the tower for awhile until it let up a little. Perhaps it was the weather, but I was not feeling inspired to dance on the bridge as in the song. Returning to our hotel to get ready for dinner, a wedding party passed us, horns honking like crazy and people shouting. I don’t know what came over me, but I burst into tears. I guess it being a combination of it being our wedding date, and seeing how happy the guests were, I got emotional. Alain thought I was nuts. We stopped and had tea at a little english tea room.

For dinner we ate at a restaurant called “Les Artistes” in a small square. The price was tolerable- I had the menu for 16 € and Alain for 24 € I believe. We were seated next to an American couple from North Carolina. It is always strange for me to come across other Americans just in a store or on the streets. I guess because there are so few in Marseille, that when we go visit more touristy places I am caught off guard. We had a good evening and not-quite rolled back to the hotel at around 10:30 pm.
Sunday morning we had a continental breakfast (croissants, baguettes with jelly, orange juice, and tea or coffee), then checked out of our room, put the luggage in the car, and continued exploring. Alain wanted to see the Museum Lapidaire, which was archeological artifacts, mainly Celto-Linguirian, Roman, and Egyptian. After that, we visited the Museum Calvert. They were having an exposition on Northern Masters, I guess artists from Germany and the Netherlands mainly. We had another audioguide for this. We then spent 15 minutes dashing through the rest of the exposition before it closed at 1 pm. We could have returned with the same ticket after lunch, but we didn’t feel like it.

We had lunch at the Place de l’Horloge, then walked through the gardens of the Rocher des Doms. Around 2:30 we decided that we were tired and had seen enough for one weekend. We walked back to the car (eating an ice cream along the way- good but not as good as the Italian Gelati in San Remo), and returned to Marseille, stopping again by his parent’s house for a bit. I also needed to return the sweater I had borrowed from Josée. I hadn’t brought one, as I figured I would be sweating and in shorts all weekend. Wrong! All in all, it was a great weekend. Avignon is a clean and nice place to visit, and depressingly less expensive to buy an apartment than in Marseille. Alain says that he wouldn’t want to live there, because once you have visited all of the museums, what is there to do? I would be slightly more open to living there (once again, CLEAN) but in a way he is right. You would be invaded by tourists with the city practically unlivable 4 months of the year, there are no real non-touristy jobs to speak of, and at least Marseille has other attractions, such as the sea and Calanques to go walking. But it is close by, and one can always pop up to visit for a day or so.
jeudi 24 mai 2007
Tomorrow, May 26th, will be our one-year wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we are opening a bottle of champagne (left over from the reception), eating the Megan & Alain biscuit (I don't know how to describe it, it was part of our chateau piece montée wedding cake- couldn't save the top layer, so I saved that). It is hard to believe at times that it has been a year already. Then I look back at all that has happened- finishing my french courses, buying our apartment in November and moving in, being faced with sudden and unexpected renovations, going to Colorado for Christmas, starting a job. Wow. The year went by quickly but the months were long. Kinda like what they said about VMI- the days go by slowly but the weeks go by quickly, which was totally FALSE in that case. The only thing that went by slower than each day at VMI was week after endless week. Anyway, back to happier things.

We are going Saturday to visit the city of Avignon, about an hour and a half north of Marseille. Neither of us has visited it before. We will visit Saturday and Sunday, then drive back Sunday evening. It should be a fun time. Hopefully it won't be too hot.

In the meantime, I leave you with some pictures. The first shows the piece montee (you can see the Megan & Alain thing in front) and one picture from the place where we had most pictures taken, plus a link to Avignon on Wikipedia.

For more wedding recap, click on Weddings either below or on the right.
mercredi 23 mai 2007
This morning I had an appointment at the US Consulate to renew my passport. It actually expires next March, but with the name change and the fact that I need proof of name change on my passport to change it other places (taxes, Social Security, etc) I decided I might as well do it. There are lots of automatic photo machines here in France, so I went in one at the train station in Aubagne while waiting for my train (thanks SNCF! still lovin' ya!) Some stupid teenagers (side note: why are teenagers universally awful?) must have removed all of the signs showing how to operate the machine. There were four buttons blinking happily at me, and I had no idea which button was for which set-up- portrait (yeah, because these machines take such great portraits), 4 ID photos, or 16 small photos to attach to resumes (can you imagine how quickly a US company would be sued for requiring candidates to attach a photo? It would be breathtaking). So anyway, I had no idea which format I chose, so just pushed a button at random. I was hunched down, looking at the screen rather puzzled when it took this picture. Fabulous. The machine kept blinking at me, so I didn't know what was cancel or OK. So I pushed, and out spit the picture, sixteen tiny pictures of me looking puzzled that no way I would ever attach to my resume.

Sigh. I decided to try again this morning, so went in the same machine at the Metro station. There the coin slot seemed to be broken, so I took the Metro to my stop and tried again. This time I finally managed to get it to work, and so got four rather bland photos as follows. Do not smile! It didn't help that we are now entering muggy season.

So I arrived at the Consulate, whereupon the guard immediately said, Oh no, those aren't the right type of photos. Sigh. After turning in my paperwork for the new passport I went to find a photographer able to take US passport pictures, 2 for 5 €. These pictures were only slightly better as by now I had done quiet a bit of walking in the heat. Sure glad these passport photos will haunt me for the next ten years! Ten years pass quickly right?

Returned to the Consulate, gave the guard my photos and self-addressed stamped envelope and continued on my way.

Total money spent: 13 €
Total number of pictures: 22
If anyone would like an official bad photo of Megan autographed on the back, let me know.
Lessons learned:
1) next time, read the fine print on the Embassy website
2) don't push random buttons on photo machines randomly
3) take pictures only in winter
mardi 22 mai 2007

Well, despite a lack of the official cheese book, we will have to just forge on ahead with the Year of Cheese. If I find it later, I will make updates where necessary.

First up: the Chamois D'Or

"Who doesn't know the cheese "Chamois d'or" ? At least the name! It is a cheese soft and kids love it. I advise you to try it by letting it melt in the microwave or in the oven, on a piece of break. You will see, it is delicious."
Not my words, they have been stolen and translated from a cheese message board by some Cheese Monster.
I don't know, it seemed rather bland to me. I guess it is in the Camembert family. I found some listings saying that it was a good Vegetarian cheese, which left me rather stupified. I thought all cheese, except perhaps those with bacon wrapped around them, were vegetarian? And if not, then hey, I don't want to know.

All in all, a mild cheese, good for basic spreads.
lundi 21 mai 2007

I am not sure if these exist in the US or not, but over here in France there are a lot of these automatic video machines (not sure what the real name is). Sometimes they are independant and sometimes they are attached to a walk-in video store (for after hours use and adult videos I suppose). They usually don't have a huge selection, but are pretty easy to use.

First you insert a credit card (carte bleu) or the store card (which is usually cheaper). Then you scroll through the menus, choose a video, type in your code (hopefully correctly), and out spits your video. For the machines above, you have to choose your selection from the machine on the far right, then go to one of the ones in the wall to get and return the video. If a different one comes out than what you wanted, you are SOL.

There are normally different prices depending how long you want to watch it- less than six hours, less than twelve, less than 24. At our old apartment, there was one in the building next to ours, so we usually managed to return it in under six hours. (usually I made Alain go return it 10:30 pm). Now in our new apartment, the closest one is across the street and down a block, so we are usually too lazy to return it before 24 hours. The fee is usually 4.50 €. I would still prefer Netflix though. There are some French companies that are starting to copy Netflix, but they don't have much of a selection and the shipping takes a long time. We used to have a subscription, but stopped after a few months.
dimanche 20 mai 2007

I decided to try cooking again, which is always good for a hoot. I brought out my mom's yummy Abricot Bars recipe (which has no calories whatsoever). It helped that she also gave me a set of American measuring spoons. Sugar? Check. Flour? Check. Abricot jelly? Check. Egg? Check.

Vanilla extract? Uh oh. I went to the store and tried to find it. In the cooking aisle, I found something "nappage" in a medium sized bottle. They had various flavors: caramel, vanilla, orange. I realized that this was not vanilla extract, but read the packaging "pour apporter une touche caramélisée aux gâteau de semoule ou de riz." To bring a touch (hint) of caramel to cakes of semoule (whatever that is) or rice. Hmm, okay why not?

I grabbed what I thought to be a vanilla one and headed home.

When it actually came to cooking, I realized that this was Caramel with a hint of vanilla, and a thick syrop. Sigh. Perhaps it isn't that important.

The abricot "bars" actually turned out okay, but more of a crumble than a bar. Also, I didn't help that I had to dump everything last minute into a non-greased round pan instead of a greased square one (which I didn't have).

This morning I tried making Chocolate-raspberry croissants. I had bought nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread, for those uninitiated few), a jar of raspberry jam, and a roll of flaky crust (no way was I making the crust too). I unrolled the round crust, cut into eight wedges like a pie, spread on the nutella then raspberry, rolled them up, and popped them in the oven. The first thing that Alain said when he woke up is "What is that funny smell?" Thanks dear! They turned out okay actually, but not great and you couldn't really tell what the flavor was. It wasn't chocolaty or raspberry-y. Next time perhaps I will break out the peanut butter.
samedi 19 mai 2007

Thursday, May 17th, was the French holiday of Ascension, which we both had off from work. We had planned to go shopping at IKEA for some furniture for the apartment (mainly a shelf unit to organize some of the stuff still in boxes in the second bedroom) but right before we left I checked on the internet and both of the IKEAs in this area were closed. The trouble with public holidays here is that you can never know what is open and what is closed. Not all grocery stores are open. Not all regular stores are open. It is very random. Kind of like whether or not a store is open between 12-2.
Anyway, we decided to go to lunch instead. We first thought of going to Aix-en-Provence, where we have been several times to eat or visit the town, then Alain suggested Salon de Provence which is the town closest to where his parents live. Then I suggested that we could go to eat at the Chateau de Richebois, where we had our wedding reception. (okay, okay, the month of May makes me nostalgic for our wedding. I've already watched our wedding video).

When Alain and I were searching for a place to have the wedding reception, we searched all over the area around Lançon-de-Provence. Where to get married wasn't a problem, we both wanted to get married in Lançon, not Marseille. We got a list from the tourist office of places. We tried a local vineyard, but nope, they don't do marriages (too much hassle, imagine that). We looked at a Salle de Reception, but I didn't want something that screamed Children's Birthday Party! We looked at another place, where they presented us with the option of flying in on a helicopter. The place was quite large, and with only 90 or so guests, we felt everyone would feel lost.

Alain suggested a place that he used to go to while in college. A nightclub. Are you kidding me? He insisted we go look at it. I was quite sceptical, but we went. It was immediately perfect. The nightclub is a different area, it doesn't even bother the restaurant. On the second floor is the small restaurant and on the top floor is a large reception room, capable of holding about 200 people.

They explained how it worked- you pay a set price per person for the meal, and there was a range of prices depending on how many courses you wanted. And that's it. Included were the wine, service, use of the space, and chairs/table linens, etc. Alain immediately liked that- he didn't want to spend the next nine months searching for places to rent table linens and picking out which chairs go with which tables.

When my parents first visited for Christmas 2005, the six of us (us, mom and dad, and his parents) went to the Richebois so that everyone could see it.

I definetely recommend the Chateau de Richebois for anyone who wants a no-fuss atmosphere. Now, if you want to micromanage every detail of your wedding from the table linens to what kind of wine is served with the fish, go to the helicopter-place.

The food is very refined, though perhaps some of the Americans didn't like it.

On Thursday, Alain and I invited his parents to come along as well. We were thinking that the meal would be the set price of 15 euros, since it was lunch and during the week. It is, except for holidays. The next cheapest was the Menu Decouvert for 28 euros. whoops. Oh well. We had a nice lunch, and I will include pictures when I can.

The waiter remembered us, and said that they were entering wedding season now. Do I miss wedding planning and the wedding? I guess a little bit.

For the rest of the entries in the Wedding series, click on the Wedding label on the right.
samedi 12 mai 2007
It is true. I have made a careful two month study of them in their native habitat.

As I have been going to the gym on a fairly regular basis, I have been able to observe the differences between Americans (okay, well me, which is admittedly not a very large sample group) and Frenchwomen. Now granted, I don't have much experience with the typical American gym, but being from a military school along with the combined motivations of "let this be over with as soon as possible" and "I am not paying 49 euros a month to diddle on the step machine for five minutes" makes me want to be as efficient as possible. Now, I realize that some women and men go to the gym for the express reason of trying to pick up a member of the opposite sex, and therefore spend as much time as possible flirting among the weight machines. That is fine, but if you are going to just sit there, would you mind not sitting on the machine I would like to use and going down to the snack bar?
I have not seen one other women and thought to myself "Now she is getting a good workout" as I huff and puff at RPE 9 with rivers of sweat pouring down my face. They bring towels which they use to place between them and the machines (why, you aren't sweating?) and to dab at themselves carefully after each workout, but really it isn't necessary.

On the contrary, I have quickly realized that I can no longer wear pink or red shirts to work. The reason? Because here is what I look like in the afternoons.
Yep, that's right. Pink from hair line to navel. It is mostly due to my coloring, but if I spent my 45 minutes in Advanced Flirting instead of Body Step, I wouldn't be pink for the rest of the afternoon.

Americans also seem to take their workouts much more seriously- following plans, writing down what they did each day, wearing heart rate monitors, etc. I have seen no else at the gym do this.
Finally, one last thing. After the gym sessions, French women shower but don't usually wash their hair. This kinda grossed me out until I realized, they don't need to, they don't sweat. Whereas my hair has turned brunette and I desperately need to wash it. Even when not going to the gym, frenchwomen don't seem to wash their hair every day. If I don't wash my hair every day, one can definetely tell.
Once I didn't have enough time to workout, so I went, ate lunch (to take advantage of their microwave), and took a shower. They must have been wondering, What the heck? These Americans are weird.
lundi 7 mai 2007

The French bankcard is different than US debit cards. For one thing, bank cards are not for credit (credit hardly exists here in France) and they have a chip inside that requires a four digit pin code every time you pay for something. Well, not every time. For things like highway tolls you just stick in the card, but for everything else- groceries, ATM, restaurants, etc. you have to compose your secret code. Etiquette demands that everyone in the immediate area discretely look away as you tap in your code, and you usually try to cover it with your other hand.
They are called "carte bleu" or blue card, I don't know why. Also notice who issued the card to me- yep, my favorite people (after the SNCF) La Poste! Remember when I said that La Poste can't decide whether it wants to be a post office or a bank so they decided to take the middle ground and do both inefficiently?

Alain had warned me that if I put in the wrong code 3 times, the card gets blocked up. I didn’t know that he meant immediately and permanently however. A few weeks ago, when I was late getting home due to the darn SNCF strike (grr) I tried to call him from a public telephone. I stuck my bankcard into the phone and mistakenly started with our phone number instead of putting my code first. After two attempts, I realized that something was wrong (after about 6 numbers the dial tone kept going dead) and stopped. I figured that after 24 hours or so the card would reset the number of attempts back to 3.

On Friday night I went to rent a movie from one of the automatic dispensers near our apartment. When it came time to put in my code, I had a total mind meltdown. I could not for the life of me remember my exact code. (I guess after a long week of work I had too many numbers floating around in my head. I actually started to type in my parent’s house address). Wrong. Card blocked. Dang it. Went home without a movie. The next morning, I tried to buy groceries and the cashier told me my card was blocked. Whoops. How embarrassing. I was able to pay with a check, then had to spend the rest of the morning trying to get through to the financial center before they closed at noon on Saturday (what service) in order to get them to unblock my card. Turns out that they can’t, so they will send me another one. Sigh. Lesson learned.

Just try handing clerks American magnetic strip credit cards and watch them flip out and not know what to do. Quite amusing while wedding planning.
vendredi 4 mai 2007

... For an American.

Today at work I called a company in the US to get some information. I didn't identify where I was calling from right away, and when he asked me for my contact info. I said "Well, we are in France."

And he said "Wow, you have almost no accent!"

How about that? What a surprise!
I have gotten that response before. People have complimented me on how well I speak English too.

Thanks, I try my best.
The thing that gets me is the "almost". I spent the past ten years in Virginia, and the company was in Virginia. If anything, I should have a slight Virginia accent. Perhaps some people who know me might disagree, I don't know.

mardi 1 mai 2007

Today, we celebrated the "Holiday of Work" by "Not Working". As it fell on a Tuesday this year, about half of my workplace took Monday off to "faire le pont" (make the bridge) and have a long weekend. We had great plans to visit the Pont du Gard or Saint Remy de Provence, but it was rather overcast today, raining off and on, so we didn't. Instead we went over to see his grandparents, stopping to buy Lily of the Valley at the many flower shops/roadside stands on the way. I guess this is the only day in the year where anyone can go and pick the Muguet and sell it, without having a license to sell flowers. We stopped at one place and bought two groups of three stems, wrapped in clear plastic paper with lilys and butterflies on it. On the way there, we thought we might need more (for each of the womenfolk) so stopped at another place. I bought two, and was given two free (hmm, perhaps they are trying to get rid of them at the end of the day?) So we gave one to Meme and one to Alain's mom, who in turn gave us a small pot with two planted. We have quite a bit of Lily of the Valley in the apartment now. It is okay, because it smells nice. I reckon the cut ones won't last long either.
The muguet is suppose to bring happiness, though some believe that only the muguet picked in the wild (not bought in a shop) counts. It is also the national flower of Finland (who knew?) and symbolizes 13 years of marriage for French.
Unlike last year, we didn't go to the Community Fete. We have changed communities, by about three blocks, from Les Chartreux to La Blancarde. This area feels less neighborhoodly, so perhaps they don't do a community party. Ah well. Back to work tomorrow.
(the trains are still on strike BTW). Vive la France!

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