jeudi 31 janvier 2008

mercredi 30 janvier 2008
Went to work yesterday and spent the day annoying my coworkers with my constant hacking. It was one of those days where if you are at work you feel sick enough to just want to be home and in bed, and if you are at home and in bed you feel well to feel guilty about not being at work.
I got home and took a hot shower, as hot as I could stand it. I wanted to vaporize my lungs. Not vaporize like Star Trek, just vapor-ize. Not sure it helped or not. When the frenchman got home, he said "you must have a fever, take your temperature." I told him I had just taken a hot shower, but he made me take my temperature anyway. It was 38.8. That's not a fever! I informed him. Oh yeah? The average body temperature in Celcius is 37. Oh. Whoops. I took my temperature on Monday, I can't remember what it read, either 36 or 38, so I might have had a fever since Monday. Which probably would have been useful information for the doctor to know. Guess I skipped the chapter on Temperatures in the book "Welcome to the Metric System: living and loving it" by Knott Reelly.
Spent the rest of the evening sweating it out under heavy clothes and a blanket, and spent all night tossing, turning, and drooling on my pillow due to the inability to breathe through my nose. I never used to be a drooler before moving to France. I have a system- flip pillow, rotate pillow, that I do in my half-sleep during the entire night. This ensures that when one area becomes too warm for my cheek and too wet, I have a nice cool dry area to begin again on. When the entire pillow is used up, well, then I just migrate over onto the Frenchman's.
Woke up this morning when my alarm went off at 6 am. Took my temperature, it was again 38.7 (over 101 F). Decided, nah. I'm not going to work.
This afternoon I have to go over to another doctor's to get another sick note to take into work tomorrow- my last day!!! Also will explain this fever thing. Perhaps it is the flu? Gosh I hope not. I had better be alright by next Monday.
lundi 28 janvier 2008
I have been harboring a cough all week, ever since my cold went away. I thought it was just due to the dry weather, but woke up this morning achy all over. Even my eyeballs hurt. I crawled out of bed, checked webmd for bronchitis signs- commonly follows a cold. Check. Dry cough, painful, some muccus. Check. Aching body parts. Yeppers. Fever. mm, fever? (goes to take fever- realize I have no real reference for what "fever" is in Celsius) No, I guess not.
Webmd helped me five+ years ago to self-diagnose my appendicitis. I was staying home from work. Only four days left and my replacement has started anyway. Spent the morning trying to sleep and not hack up a lung, then slowly plodded to my doctor's for his open hours starting at 2:30. Waited a good hour to be seen. There were all of two people in front of me- that drives me nuts about French doctors. They don't have assistants to do the basics, like take the temperature, blood pressure, etc. so the doctor does all of it, and you end up waiting 30+ minutes per patient in front of you. Finally got seen, and I guess I don't have broncitis, just an infection that descended down into my throat/lungs after the cold. Got a packetful of prescriptions and headed out.
On a good note, I have lost some weight, which was a surprise to me after the foodfests of Christmas/trip to Rome/New Years.

Cost for visit- 22€, most of which I guess will be reimboursed.
Cost for medicines €4.76.
Day spent in bed- priceless.
samedi 26 janvier 2008
And the rest of the time I merely dislike them.

No, that isn't totally true. I think in general there are very nice, open, caring French people. Heck, I wouldn't be living here if I didn't think so.
It is just hard to remember sometimes that when someone is rude to you that they are doing so because
A) they are a rude person
B) they are having a hard day.
It is much easier to chalk it up to "They are just being French and French people are (rude, ungracious, haughty, fill in adjective here)."
If the same thing happened to me in the US, I wouldn't blame it on them being American. I would blame it on them being a jerk.

But anyway, today I was doing some shopping the center of the city. A woman stopped me, obviously doing some sort of poll or something. I was about to say sorry and walk away, when she said "You get a free sample of a new perfume".
My ears perked up, so I said okay.
Then she said "Oh, you aren't French are you?"
(thinking that perhaps they needed French nationality people for some reason)
I said no.
She said "Oh, well we need people who live here"
"Well, I do live here in Marseille".
"No, that's okay. You wouldn't understand."
"Excuse me but I understand just fine."
"No really, they call you up and ask you questions and there are a lot of complicated words."

I was so pissed off I just walked away. Felt like yelling in English "F*** you b****!" Yes, I know, terrible. Excuse my English.

I was so mad about it, that I decided to return and give her a piece of my mind. I was going to say that she had insulted me, that I wanted her name, her supervisor's name and telephone number. I walked back to where she had been and didn't see her. Two other woman stopped me and asked me if I would like to answer a few questions. I could tell that they were part of the same group, so I told them no, that I had already been stopped, that the woman had so insulted me that I wanted nothing to do with them. I explained what she had said, that it has been two and a half years that I have lived and worked here in France, and that I found her behavior incredibly rude.
And walked away. It wasn't quite the revenge I was hoping for, but I bet they tell their coworker what I had said and I hope she feels bad.

I mean really, what sort of big complicated questions could they have asked? What is your NAME? Do you like this PERFUME?
It just really pissed me off that she had judged my level of French in a few one-worded responses.

One thing I will have to say about Americans, is that I don't think that strangers are so dismissive if someone has a foreign accent. But this has happened to me so many times in France. People will come up, ask for directions or what time it is, I will start to answer, then they will just say something like "Oh never mind" and walk off. It is so frustrating.
I hate to be that Crazy American Woman who just starts screaming obsenities in English, but it might just happen someday. I don't care if they can understand me and I don't care if they can't understand me.
vendredi 25 janvier 2008
Last Saturday I went to get my haircut. This has always been an interesting experience for me.
There are two certainties about French hairdressers:
1) They will cut your hair how they think it should look dammit.
2) They will try to eek every euro out of you that you can.
I went to a lady close by, whom I have gone to before. I told her that I did NOT want it too short, I still wanted to be able to put it back.

This must have gotten her hackles up.
"Well, if I cut it for you, it isn't SUPPOSED TO BE put up".
Yes, well, still, please don't cut it too short.

They (evil french haircutters) seem to be convinced that the only way to cut hair is with layers.
"I don't want layers"
"I don't want you to cut layers please."
"What do you mean?"
"I like how it is. Please do not cut layers."
"I don't understand..."

After a few rounds of this I gave in and said okay, maybe a slight layering but not too short in front.

I had washed my hair just a few hours prior so that I wouldn't HAVE TO PAY for the shampoo. I told the assistant that I had just washed my hair, so she just wet it down.
I come out of the Beauty Beauty an hour layer, Farrah-Fawcett wings, chin length layers, and 31€ less.
I guess it looks okay, but of course, I can't make it do that on my own so it mostly gets pulled back in a ponytail. Which is back to the reason why I didn't want it too SHORT. Moving on.
Dad says that he thinks I am looking more French. I don't necessarily agree.
vendredi 18 janvier 2008
This has been a very slow week. On Sunday I started to come down with a cold- always starts with a sore throat for me. By Monday, it was a full-blown cold. In my office of three, two of us were sick. One guy, stuck right in the middle of us, was not yet sick. He still is not sick after a week of sharing an office and shaking hands with us. A miracle.

On Tuesday we had "K par K" come so that we could sign the contract to get the window in our bedroom and window/door to the balcony on the street side replaced. We get quite a lot of street noise, and last Saturday we got an estimate for the top of the top double paned, super anti-noise windows- 4000€. Yikes. At least it includes transportation and installation. It is supposed to be 42 dB and is supposedly what is used in airport zones. Our current windows were installed in 1993, and are 27 dB. They help a lot, but not enough. I hope these new ones do the job. We had an estimate from another company for 35 dB I think it was, for 2500€ including installation. We figured that we might as well pay for the best. Then we at least know that we did all that we could.

Anyway, back to Tuesday. The technician was supposed to come at 7:30. When I got home from work I noticed that there was water all over the kitchen floor. Our water heater leaks, and we put a bucket underneath to catch the drops. Well, the bucket overflowed. I was moving the small table with the microwave and other electrical appliances out of the way, when all of the sudden the electricity went out. I checked in the corridor, and there were lights, so it was just our apartment. I got a flashlight and looked behind the small table- yep, the power strip had fallen into the bucket of water. Duh electrical engineer.

Yes, I know, it is super dangerous. I don't need a lecture.

I was standing there in the dark rather stupidly when the technician shows up, about 30 minutes early, and Alain still hadn't come home. Hello Mr. Stranger. Please come into my apartment when I am home alone in the dark. He was nice and helpful, and we managed to move everything out of the way. I got the ladder and we fiddled with the electrical box. Nothing. Alain came home and managed to fix the situation while the K par K guy sat out in the hallway and started filling out the paperwork. This must have been one of his more interesting visits.

Anyway, we got the lights on, he came in, we signed the contract. One thing that irks me is that people tend to ignore the foreign half of the couple, especially if that foreign half is a woman. It went from being Mr. and Mrs. P's project to just Mr. P everything. His name on the papers. His signature. His contact information. What am I, chopped foreigner? Anyway, soon another technician will come to take the exact measurements, then the windows will be made, which will take up to eight weeks, then they will be installed, which should only take a day. Perhaps finally I can stop sleeping with earplugs. I thought about asking how much the double-paned glass would be for the entire wall but didn't. Oh, one unexpected bonus is that the government will reimburse 1300€ of the 4000€ price. Not because of the noise but for thermal insulation.

And now, finally, it is the weekend.
mercredi 9 janvier 2008
The French don't seem to be quite as into making New Year's Resolutions as Americans are. They figure "Why make a resolution I am only going to break in two weeks?"
At any rate, here are my two resolutions for this year (keeping it simple).
1) Do well at my new job, starting in February.
2) Finish this apartment.
That's all folks.
mardi 8 janvier 2008
We woke up at 5:30, got dressed, and took our breakfast with us (though this time sans coffee as our host didn’t want to brew coffee at 5:30 am). We walked back to the train station, and tried to buy tickets from the automated machine. We selected one trip to the airport (5.50 €), tried to pay with our credit card, then put a 20 € bill in. It spit out the ticket, but no change. I thought that perhaps we could still use the money in the machine, so I pressed the button for another ticket. Nothing happened, so we put another 20€ bill in, and got our ticket.
Turns out that the machine doesn’t give change for more than 9€, it gives you a receipt that you then have to cash in at a ticket office. We took the train to the airport, figuring the ticket office would be open there. We arrived a little after 7 am, and the ticket office was supposed to open at 7:10. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, at about 7:25, we decided to go check in, and then come back. We went and checked in (why more people don’t use the automated ticket counters and prefer to stand in line I don’t know). Then we went back to the train station, to find the ticket office still closed. I think this beats even France. In France they would be there, just glare at you as they help you for actually wanting service and disturbing their early morning coffee. Oh well. We will try to call or email and get our money back, and if not, just chalk it up to traveling. Anyone going to Rome and need a train ticket from Fiumicino airport?

This time Alain managed to get through security, deodorant intact. This is why I think airport security is such a joke. The guy was much more interested in chatting up his female coworker than actually looking at the screen. Boarded the plane for Nice, and again got stuck in front of a kid. Why does this keep happening to me? We arrived in Nice at around 10:20, and the shuttle bus took just long enough so that we missed the earlier train to Marseille. So we sat outside at a café right next to the airport, had croissants, coffee, and then later sandwiches and a brownie before catching our 1:30 train to Marseille. Much fewer people this time.

Alain slept most of the way while I read my new book that I had bought in Italy. We arrived in Marseille at 4, took the subway back to our apartment, and were very glad to be home. To celebrate New Year’s, we made some special pasta that we had bought in Italy (pretty much the same as any store-bought dried pasta I think) and we watched Gladiator because we wanted to see the Roman Forum sites. I fell asleep after about the first five minutes, then stumbled off to bed about halfway through the film. Alain slept off and on, woke up a bit after midnight, said “Happy New Year” and came to bed. Supposedly I mumbled “Happy New Year” in response, but I have no direct knowledge of this fact. We lead wild and exciting lives. Happy New Year!
lundi 7 janvier 2008
(No pictures from this day because for some reason they don't want to transfer from the camera to the computer)

We had quite a late start on Sunday, our last day. We planned to spend the entire day at the Vatican Museum, which I read in the guidebook was free on the last day of the month. What I didn’t take into account was that every other tourist in Rome had the same guidebook. We got to the Vatican about 10 minutes before noon, at which time the pope appears for his weekly blessing of the masses. We thought we would be clever and go to the museum line while the hordes were piling into St. Peter’s square. As we made our way up the street to the Vatican Museum entrance, it was definetely like swimming against the stream.
We stopped to eat (again from another street vendor- not good). I read a little further in my book and came across the “last entrance is at 12:20 pm on Sundays” awww dangit. There was no we would make it through the line in 15 minutes. Sigh. I guess we will have to save that for our next trip to Rome, which will probably be in 15-20 years. We decided to go up to the Janiculum area, a large park/residential area.
We spent a quiet afternoon wandering around the park and calmer side streets. We stopped and had a cappucino in a small bar. When Alain went to pay, the woman said “Four Euros” he assumed, after our previous experiences, that she meant four euros each, but no, it was four euros total. Just goes to show you what the difference in location can do to food and drink prices. We then went to a small museum with many old pictures of Rome, as well as some beautiful watercolors of Rome from the late 1800’s.
Finally, we went to another pizzeria, very small and crowded with one poor waiter and way too many tables of hungry customers. The pizza was good, limoncello is totally not what I expected (I was thinking it was a lemon fizzy drink, not a strong alcohol apperitif), and the cheese platter that I had as an appetizer was very good as well. No wine for us as we had an early wake-up call.
dimanche 6 janvier 2008

On Saturday, we were both a little tired from all the sightseeing, and Alain still had pain in his foot, so we decided to take it easy and just go to a museum. We decided to go to the Capitoline Museum, overlooking the Roman Forum. It had mainly Roman statues and Renaissance art.We arrived at the museum around 10:30, bought our tickets (7€ each again). We did not however pay for the audioguide, which was another 5€. The exhibits were fairly well-explained in English. I was having terrible trouble with my right contact and had brought my glasses with me but not my contact lens solution. If I took them out, I would have to throw them away. (I have been having lots of problems with my eyes this year, but that is another blog post). I was peering at all of the exhibits with one eye only, and finally went to the bathroom. I managed to take out the contact, turn it inside out, and put it back in. Ahh! I can see now!!! Continued on to see the rest of the exhibit. Our ticket was good for re-entry up to four hours after the purchase time, so at 12:20 we decided to quick go out and grab something to eat, then come back in again. We wanted to see the other museum on the other side of the Piazza, for which we could use the same ticket. We went out and bought sandwiches and gelati again, then went back in and looked at the paintings. At around 2:30 we left the first museum, crossed over to the other side, and told that we could not get in this way, we had to enter from the underground passage from the first museum. What underground passage? We went back into the museum, went downstairs, and managed to find it. (not well indicated). More Roman statues. Some were amusingly covered in plastic wrap, to protect them from bird doo I guess. I wouldn’t want that job- “Your task for today is to remove the pigeon feather and poop covered plastic wrap from all the statues and put new plastic wrap on.” -- Gee thanks boss!
We saw one statue that both reminded us instantly of our brother-in-law Nicolas. Well, his face. I couldn’t testify for the rest of his naked body. I took a picture of it to show my sister-in-law. Can you imagine how strange that would be, to find a picture, painting, or statue of someone that looks exactly like you?After the museum, we walked over to the famous Trevi fountain. On the way, we had a cappucino (5€ each). We then had another gelati (the one at lunchtime was to make up for the one that we didn’t have on Friday). This place was the best in Rome in my opinion. It was very very good. And the fountain? Who cares when you have good ice cream?We ate dinner in Trastever again, this time in a place that was filled with wine bottles. This time we were more restrained and only had half a bottle.
samedi 5 janvier 2008

Friday morning we woke up and managed to get going a bit earlier. We wandered over to the Vatican, where there was a huge line to get into St. Peter’s. You could either wait in the line and pass through the metal detectors (about 30-45 minutes wait) or you could wander up the left side, pretend that you are going to the Vatican Post Office or Bookstore, then sneak in. We choose option 1, only because we felt bad about cutting in line. Other people apparently didn’t, evidenced by the brazen line-jumping occuring all around. Well, anyway.

We finally got into the basillica. It was amazingly decorated and huge, but it left me feeling empty. Perhaps it was just too much- too many tourists taking pictures of anything and everything. Too many tour guides shoving other people out of the way so that their group can go through. Too much marble. Too much in general. It didn’t feel at all spiritual or holy. In fact, all of the Italian churches left me with this same impression. Beautiful- definetely. Overdone? Oh yeah. Alain felt the same way. He said “It just doesn’t feel serious”. I much prefer the quiet, albiet crumbling, Provencal churches. For lunch we ordered sandwiches from a truck on the side of the road. Not particularly good nor cheap, but cheaper than a sit-down meal somewhere. We wandered back over to the river to the Piazza Popolo, because I wanted to see the church Santa Maria en Popolo, (yes, again featured in “Angels and Demons”). Only this time, you had to pay to get in, which I thought was rather scandulous. We didn’t even have to pay to get into St. Peter’s for goodness sake! I guess it could have had to do with the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition taking place in the church at the same time, but we decided to keep walking. We walked towards the Spanish steps. On the way, we decided to have a gelati ice cream, so we went into a small gelateria-- where they completely ignored us and wouldn’t serve us. We walked out, quite frustrated. Alain still had pain in his foot, but was able to walk. We headed over to the Triton Fountain, then went to see the church of Santa Maria della Victoria, where the famous “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” statue is located. I am amazed that all the famous statues are still (supposedly) located in the churches. I would have thought for safety they would have been removed long ago. Perhaps they have actually and been replaced with copies, I don’t know. Afterwards, we walked to the fountain of the Four Bronze Naked Nymphs. Okay, that isn’t the real name, but I forget what the real name is. It was unveiled in 1901 and caused a flurry of dismay, even among Italian respectabilities. It features four naked nymphs, each perched with various representations of the different waters (lakes, rivers, ocean, and underground). We walked slowly back to Trastevere and had a good meal, splitting a bottle of wine between us. Luckily, we were able to take the tramway home and even got off at the right stop!
vendredi 4 janvier 2008
The next morning, we woke up around 8:30, took our showers, and got dressed. Our host arrived at 9:30 with our tray of croissants, coffee, milk, juice, crackers with jelly, butter, and cream cheese. (It was the same every single day). We ate and then left to start exploring the city. We hopped on the tramway and discovered that there was no place to buy tickets on the tramway. (There hadn’t been any on the quai either). We hoped that no controller would come by, but I was fully prepared to play the dumb tourist.

We got off and walked in the general direction of the Roman Forum. We had a wonderful time wandering around the forum. I wasn’t extremely impressed by the ruins, basically because there is pretty much the same thing here in Provence. It was amazing to think though “Julius Cesar walked right here”. It was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. For lunch, we walked over to the Campo di Fiori area, and had lunch where our host had recommended. The menus were always broken up into little sections, such as Antipasti, First Course, Second Course, salads, desserts, drinks. The prices for individual things were reasonable, so it lulls you into a false sense of security. “Oh, I can have this! It is only 7 €!” Yeah, but 7+6+7+8+5 per person can get expensive. The pasta was wonderful, but we had the wind knocked out of us when we received the bill- it was about 20€ more than we had expected. Alain had ordered a fish, and apparently they charge by weight. On the menu it was marked 3.50€ per 100g. Apparently that was one heavy fish. I don’t necessarily think it was 570 grams worth of fish, but oh well. Must watch out for that in the future. Or ask to see the proof when they weigh it.After lunch we walked to the Pantheon. This was a bit more crowded. It wasn’t at all as I had expected. I had read Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” and expected it to be different. How, I don’t know exactly, just different. Perhaps a bit bigger I guess. After that, we walked to the Piazza Navona, which had sort-of a carnival going on in the middle. The famous fountain of the Four Rivers was under restoration, which disappointed me. We were able to see some of it, because they had windows in the surrounding fence.Finally, we walked to the Castel Sant’Angelo. Alain hates asking people to take our picture, so I hardly ever get pictures of the two of us. We entered in the Castel (7€ each I believe it was). There were beautiful views from the terrace, and the other rooms were amazing as well. We were up there just as the sun was beginning to set. Alain began to have terrible pain in his achille’s tendon. We are not sure what caused it, whether it was the walking or his shoes or what, but he was in terrible pain for the rest of our trip.We walked back to the Trastevere area and played the nightly game of “Which Restaurant Roulette”. Basically, you join the hordes of other obvious tourists, walk from one restaurant’s menu board to another, and try to find one that appeals to you, is in your budget range, and still has space available. Eating outside was possible but not enticing, and most restaurants tried to cram in as many tables as possible. We finally found a pizza place. When I got my pizza, I was displeased to find out that Italians seem to like artichoke hearts on their pizzas. This seems to be standard fare, as it wasn’t mentioned in the ingredient list for the pizza I had chosen. We limped back to the B&B (I had pain too by now) and went to bed at around 10pm.
jeudi 3 janvier 2008
Alain and I spent the morning packing, charging batteries, withdrawing money, etc. At around 1:30 we left to walk to the metro, then took the metro to the train station. We arrived at the main Marseille train station at around 2 pm, our train was scheduled to leave at 2:25. Plenty of time! No problem! Well, it turns out that there was a problem in that the 2:25 train did not exist. Nope. Not displayed on the board with a sign saying “Canceled Suckers” or “Late because of Strikes AGAIN”. Nothing. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones who had bought tickets for the Phantom Train. Lots of other travelers were milling around aimlessly, trying to flag down SNCF information guys (who, as a rule, don’t know anything and just direct you to go stand in the 1 km line for actual information). I started to panic and just wanted to hightail it home, hop in our car, and drive to Nice. (which would then incur gas, toll, and parking fees but at this point I didn’t care I just wanted to get to Rome dagnabbit). To our somewhat luck, the train that was supposed to leave at 1 pm was an hour late. We were informed that we could change our tickets for this train. Yeah right. And by the time we get through the line and get our tickets changed, it will be 4 pm. We just hopped on and hoped for the best. So two trainloads of people were squeezed onto one train of space. I managed to find a seat after a bit, but Alain was left standing for a good hour. Just want to get to Rome… Just want to get to Rome….

We arrived in Nice at about our scheduled time. We took the shuttle to the airport and checked in. Alain got his oh so dangerous deodorant taken away (I won’t even go into how silly airport security rules are). We boarded the plane, and I got Seat Kickin’ Kid behind me. It is only an hour flight… It is only an hour flight…Arrived in Rome around 8:30 pm and had to figure out how to get into the city. Thank goodness for guidebooks because I was able to figure out which train to take. We eventually found the train station, managed to figure out how to buy tickets, then when I went to validate my ticket, it got stuck in the machine. No train, wait for me!! Just as we got our tickets validated, the train left. Drat. Half hour wait for the next one.

I had told our B&B hosts that we would arrive around 9 pm. That clearly wasn’t happening. We finally boarded the train at 9:30, had a half hour ride to our train station of Trastevere. At this point we were starving, but trekked off to our host’s, about 15 minutes away. We managed to find the apartment building with no problem, but had an unpleasant surprise when we could not find the name of the person that I had been communicating with on the intercom box. Which one do we press? I tried calling out Hello? but I guess no one heard. I tried to call the number that he had given me, but it was unable to go through. I was ready to just start pushing buttons when my cell phone rang. It was our host. He had my cellphone number (I didn’t remember having given it to him, but I guess I must have luckily). He was wondering where we were, since we were about an hour and a half late. Uh, we are standing outside your apartment building on the street. He buzzed us in. His apartment was on the fourth floor, and he apparently rented out three bedrooms. Luckily there were two bathrooms. He gave us the keys, and then left to go eat. We were still very hungry, and walked down to the main street, but the area was a residential one with no nearby restaurants that we could see. Finally, tiredness won out over hunger, and we went back to the B&B and went to sleep after a long half day of traveling.

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