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.

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