Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paris for Christmas

Being the hopeless romantics that we are, Logan and I decided to go to Paris for Christmas. Also because this may well be the only time in our lives that it costs 10,30€ to get there, rather than a few hundred. So I made reservations at the best restaurant in the world and at the hotel Logan and I stayed in last spring, and we hopped on the train. Another assistant, Darcy, was also going to Paris (to meet her family for Christmas), so we got to chat with her on the train. I love running into people I know randomly in Rouen; it makes me feel very popular.

Once we arrived in Paris, I realized that I'd forgotten to look up the address of the hotel. No matter, I boldly declared, I remember the street it's on, we just have to walk up it until we find it. Twenty minutes later, after walking up "Rue du Faubourg St-Denis" and down "Rue du Faubourg St-Martin" ("But I'm sure it's on a Rue du Faubourg St-Something!") and having two French people ask if we were lost and needed help, I admitted defeat and called a friend to ask him to look it up online. "Oh, Rue du Faubourg Montmartre! And it's in the 9th arrondissement, not the 10th... Okay, thanks so much!" We were relatively close, though, so we walked it, and 10 minutes (and infinite sense of direction jokes from Logan) later we were checking in. It's a lovely hotel, reasonably-priced (especially if you choose a room with a shared bathroom and shower - they have sinks in every room), and always scrupulously clean. And the neighborhood is friendly enough that you don't need to worry about getting mugged on your way back home. It's quirky, too - the rooms are all very oddly-shaped

and they picked turquoise and burgundy-red for the walls, which doesn't sound like it works but it does. We dropped off our luggage and had enough time to shower and dress all fancy-like (because it's us, and we're in Paris) before heading out to Le jardin d'en face, my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world. It's in Montmartre and I learned about it when I studied abroad two years ago, and I've been singing its praises ever since. It's tiny - only 26 seats - and the décor is nothing special, the tables are crammed together, the napkins are plaid, the silverware is not fancy... but everybody there is cheerful and friendly, the food is absolutely fantastic, and you can get three generously-portioned courses for under 25€, which is rare in Paris. So I enjoyed my œuf cocotte au foie gras (soft-boiled egg in a mini casserole dish with cream and foie gras, eaten with toast fingers) and my tartiflette au magret fumé (potatoes, onions and cheese baked in a casserole with thin slices of smoked duck and walnuts on top) and my wild strawberry and blueberry sorbet and then had to roll back down the hill. Logan had pumpkin-chestnut soup with crème fraîche and cheese and garlic croutons (I must find a recipe), filet mignon de porc with a gooseberry-porto sauce and mashed potatoes, and apple sorbet "drizzled" with Calvados (apple brandy) that turned out to be more "soaked" or perhaps "drenched" in Calvados - I nearly passed out just smelling it. But it was all so good - I have never once eaten anything less than spectacular there, and at this point I've tried most of their menu. If you are ever in Paris you must go there, no excuses. We got coffee afterwards and sat there talking and people-watching until after 11 (we'd gotten there at 8) and it was such a relaxing way to spend the evening. We went over to Sacré Cœur afterwards to take some pictures, which came out beautifully (I'd like to take some credit for that, but it's hard to take a bad picture of that place):

The next morning, Christmas Eve, we set out for the Louvre, because Logan had never been and we get in free because we're teachers! We meant to stay there for a few hours, then hit up the Musée d'Orsay, but we didn't get to the Louvre until 11:30, and then... well, it's the Louvre, and despite being tired and hungry we stayed there until nearly 4:00. We spent a lot of time in the Mesopotamian art section, because it's cool stuff, and there were statues.

There was also a pillar with Hammurabi's Code on it, with the whole "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" thing:

There was a handy translation of some of the interesting bits, as well, and I was surprised to see that it's not all horribly draconian, unfair punishments - there were some pretty smart ideas. For one, if a wife commits adultery, both she and the man she cheated with are tied together and thrown into the water, which is better than just the woman getting stoned to death. Also, if an adopted child rejects his adoptive parents and goes back to his birth parents, the ungrateful little wretch gets his eye pulled out. See? Harsh, but just, after a fashion.

Then we swung through Napoleon III's apartments, which had these really cool conversation chairs.

See? That way there's no awkward middle person on the couch that you always have to talk around. So smart, those Frenchies. There was also some classy gold/black décor, which was actually a haven of simplicity compared to the rest of it.

Then it was time for the objets d'art section, where there were SO MANY SHINY THINGS I kept getting really distracted. I'm like a magpie, really. First, there was this,

which is actually a feeding bottle from an old charity hospital. It's so gorgeous, and yet at the time was probably just a tool to facilitate feeding an invalid, nothing to be oohed and ahhed over. I like it, though.

Then there were cabinets and cabinets of tiny gorgeous things, only two of which I'll show here:

I was drooling the whole time, though. Little lacquered or enameled or gilded boxes with inlaid mother-of-pearl or lapis lazuli or emerald, earrings with pearls, brooches with diamonds, necklaces with rubies... I tend to forget how pretty real jewels are until I see them in person, and then I remember all of a sudden. Still, woman cannot live by jewels alone, so we decided to head over to the Musée d'Orsay to take in some Impressionism. The museum is housed in a former train station, so it's very light and airy and they kept the big ol' clock!

I had art history class there when I studied abroad, so it's nice and familiar and I look really smart because I've learned about most of the famous paintings in it. I even remembered why some of them were famous! We had to do a bit of a whirlwind tour because the museum was closing in an hour, but we did manage to see most of the highlights, and Logan got a picture of a lion statue so he was content. Then we got herded out with the rest of the tourists and wandered towards the Champs-Elysées and the Christmas market there. On the way, we got sucker-punched by beauty, which happens all the time in France (okay, maybe not in Le Havre) and had to stop and take pictures again:

That's the Grand Palais, seen from across the Pont Alexandre III, which is made of reinforced concrete (and is the only reason I know how to say "reinforced concrete" in French). Right after that, it started to rain and I got really hungry, so I got a grilled salmon sandwich at the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées, which was horrendously overpriced (thanks, Paris!) but delicious. Low-blood-sugar crankiness averted, we wandered through the Christmas market a little more, then went back to the hotel to dry off.

At about 10, we headed up to Sacré Cœur to attend the singing service at 11 and the midnight mass after that. We arrived at the church at 10:30 and it was already packed, but we managed to squeeze in at the back. The service was quite lovely, despite not being able to see much, and the program had all the words to everything printed out, so Logan and I learned a lot of French religious words that I'm sure will come in handy someday... We also got to sing Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming (with very different words), Silent Night, Angels We Have Heard on High, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Il est né, le divin enfant, so that made me very very happy. It's not Christmas until I get to sing Christmas carols! There were lots of call and response chanty bits as well, where a nun would sing a line and then everybody would mumble back in some vague semblance of a tune. It did make it more interesting than just reading everything, though. Then it was communion and I practically had to physically restrain Logan from going up to take it ("But they're getting crackers! I want a cracker!") because we're both heathens, at least in the eyes of the Catholic Church. When all the incense-swinging and blessing of the little crackers was over, it was 1:40 AM and we had a métro to catch at 1:49... The last métro, as a matter of fact. So we hightailed it down those oh-so-picturesque steps which are not nearly so picturesque when you're walking down or up them, ran into the station, waited for the elevator (Abbesses is the deepest station in Paris. I've taken the stairs exactly once, and it would take the four horsemen of the apocalypse to get me to do it again) and emerged on the platform a safe three minutes before the last train. The hilarious part is that we weren't catching the last train because of a crazy party; no, we were coming back from church.

The next morning was Christmas! We woke up, lazed around, ate breakfast, and finally got out the door at about noon. Our destination was the skating rink in front of the Hôtel de Ville, because really you can't overdo the "skating in front of Hôtels de Ville" thing in France. We rented our skates, left them our shoes, and clomped onto the rink. This time, there wasn't as much water on top, which was already a plus, and they had a separate area for kids and people who can't skate, so the ice was nearly free of tripping hazards. It was sunny, too! We alternately skated and took pictures (and sometimes did both at once, with hilarious results) and it was a lovely way to start Christmas. Here's proof, since it didn't happen unless my feet were there:

Then we went to the Jewish district for lunch, figuring that things would be open there. Sure enough, there was a huge crowd of tourists who'd thought the same thing, but we still managed to wander around and get some falafel (oh sweet delicious food of the gods, how I've missed you). Then we walked back to the Pont Alexandre III, clearly becoming our favorite bridge, and took more photos, this time of the Eiffel tower because it's purty.

Then we wandered around the Champs-Elysées for a while, going into lots of car stores because they were open, and because my travel buddy is a car fanatic. BUT! In the Toyota store you could make free buttons! Mine got ruined because the guy making them was an idiot, but Logan's lovely coloring job on a Toyota in front of the Paris skyline was made into a gorgeous button, which he couldn't stop taking out and looking at for the rest of the day.

Then we hopped a métro back to our street and got a Nutella-banana crêpe, which magically made all my tiredness melt away... We also found a few bodegas that were still open and bought cider and champagne and snacks. We drank the cider while watching a Charlie Chaplin movie that a French station had decided to air (with French translations of the explanatory frames - hilarity ensued), then put on more layers and headed out to the Eiffel Tower. There was, as expected, a ridiculous line, but we were excited so it didn't matter. When we got up to the top, we bravely ventured outside to take pictures, but couldn't last much longer than 10 minutes because of the wind, which was strong enough on one side to knock you back. We persevered, though, and got some lovely views of a lit-up and breathtaking Paris.

We also blew bubbles at the top, although, lucky lazy people that we are, the wind mostly took care of that for us. Then my camera ran out of batteries, so I just walked around looking at Paris from all directions until it was time to go back down. Paris, je t'aime...

Back at the hotel, we toasted to Paris at Christmas with our cheap champagne, then fell into a deep, well-deserved sleep.

With our one remaining day in Paris, we decided to go to another of my favorite museums, the Musée de Cluny, which is the Middle Ages museum. Not only do I love that place, but they were having a special Astérix exhibition, which is my idea of heaven. On the fences around the museum, they had Astérix parodies of famous art, and inside, in addition to all the awesome Medieval stuff, they had some of the original panels, Goscinny's typewriter, and some background on how Goscinny and Uderzo created the books. AND they had books for sale in the museum shop! I bought Astérix et les Goths, and now I'm hoping fervently that I don't already have that one in French.

We had time for one last crêpe (lemon and sugar for me, cinnamon and sugar for Logan) and then we headed to St Lazare and thence to Rouen. More photos in my Facebook album, if you wish.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt

The morning after our wonderful Hanukkah party, Logan and I got to see what a real Weihnachtsmarkt should be, in Frankfurt! The French train company, SNCF, was having a special Christmas market sale, so tickets from Paris to Frankfurt in a TGV (train à grande vitesse - train with big speed) were only 78€ round-trip. Plus, Logan's brother Austin was there for a business trip! So we caught that 6 AM train from Rouen to Paris (shoot me now), took a little ride on the métro to another Paris train station, and arrived in Frankfurt at 1 pm, where Austin met us on the platform. We went to our hotel to freshen up, then headed out to the wonder that is a German Christmas market.

Germans know Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmarkts, as they call them because they are German and short words just aren't how they roll. For one thing, the mulled wine (Glühwein) comes in real mugs, not little plastic cups like in France, and for another, they give you 25 cL at a time. Twenty-five centiliters of wine can make you completely forget about the cold, which is of course why they do it, since it hovered around freezing the whole weekend.

For another, Germans believe in good, filling food to fortify you against the cold. There were sausages and candied nuts and cheese-filled pretzels and sweet chocolate-covered pretzels and candies (mulled-wine flavored!) and French fries and flammkuchen and--okay I'll stop now, but you get the point. There was delicious food everywhere, and the smells alone could have kept me going for a few days. Plus, they cook everything right in front of you so you get to see how it's done! One place did this to cook their sausages:

That giant grill actually swings from side to side so they can regulate the heat a little bit, and every so often they chuck more meat on it and it sizzles and releases heavenly aromas and it's really quite easy to think you've died and gone to heaven, if it weren't for your pesky hands and feet being blocks of ice.

The nuts are made in gorgeous copper bowls with a mixer to keep them from getting stuck together, and if you're lucky when you buy them you get hot ones.

We didn't discover this all at once, however. For our first sausages, Austin led us to the stand he'd discovered the day before. I got a bratwurst, to stay classic, and Logan got a currywurst. These are reasons #147 and #148 that I am not a vegetarian (bacon is #1). Bratwurst are always 3 times as long as the little breads they're in, so they stick out either end and there's no way to eat them gracefully. For currywurst, they stick the sausage in a little chopping machine (so cool), pour curry ketchup over it, sprinkle more spices on, and hand it to you with a little forklet and a roll. Then you stuff the roll full of sausage bits and die of happiness.

Bellies sated, we wandered around further, pushing through the gigantic crowds of people and occasionally catching glimpses of purty things, like this church:

Then we ducked into a shopping mall to warm up a bit and I saw this Christmas tree in a store window:

Yes, those are teeny-tiny little sweaters!

How cute is that? I now have a brilliant idea for my Christmas tree next year...

By this time, Logan and I were asleep on our feet, so we headed back to the hotel to watch curling, which is really far more interesting than you give it credit for. A few naps later, we forced ourselves back out to an Irish pub because we heard the football game would be on. I ordered a 50 cL beer and managed to drink the whole thing in the time it took Logan and Austin to get through three beers each! I'm very proud. There was karaoke as well, so that was amusing to watch, but after a while Lisa was a sleepy little puppy so we went back to the hotel room and slept like the dead.

The next day, Sunday, everything was closed except the Christmas market and a few bakeries, so we went into an Austrian bakery. I ordered hot chocolate and they brought me a tall glass of hot milk, a little dish of chocolate paste, and a little whisk. Mmmm DIY hot chocolate. The paste dissolved really easily, and then I slid the whipped cream from its saucer onto the top, and then I took a picture so I could remember that moment forever.

I also had apricot strudel, which kept reminding me of that scene in Inglourious Basterds, but I enjoyed it anyway.

More wandering around the market, where they sell everything from incredibly tacky Christmas ornaments and decorations to adorable toys and hats and scarves, and then we went to the train station to see Austin off. Then we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap, and when we woke up this is what we saw out the hotel window:

The sausages were calling to us, so we went out again and this time I got a currywurst, with extra spices because I like to live dangerously. We also saw a large dog putting his paws up on a butcher's counter and begging for scraps, which he was duly given. Only after cooing over that did we see the big dog's little friend, who was being carried inside his owner's jacket to keep him warm. The puppy got scraps too, and the happy dogs continued on their way, leaving a chorus of "Awwwww..."s in their wake.

I finally got a clear picture of that gorgeous church, too:

On Monday, we... wandered around the Christmas market again! Neither of us had done any research on anything else to do in Frankfurt, so that was our fallback. Also, Glühwein never really gets old, and you can keep the mugs as a souvenir! The buildings around the main square were quite pretty, although we learned later that they're all new, having been rebuilt after Frankfurt got bombed to bits in WWII.

Hmm, half-timbering... Feels like home!

Then we found some ancient bath-house ruins and had to scamper around those for a while:

(This one's Doric - for Ionic and Corinthian see my Facebook album!)

Then it was off to the train station to leave Deutschland :(. At one of the stops along the way, there was snow! Thinking it would be the only snow I saw before Christmas, I memorialized it:

And here we are, relaxing in our TGV before our epic feat of awesomeness to catch an early train back to Rouen:

See, our train got into Gare de l'Est at 20h53. There was one train from Gare Saint Lazare to Rouen at 21h20, and one at 23h50. Everyone, including me, said it was impossible to get from Gare de l'Est to St Lazare in 27 minutes, but Logan said "Why don't we try? Nothing to lose!" so we did. It was like a well-oiled machine; we placed ourselves right next to the doors, hopped off as soon as the doors opened, and walked rapidly but calmly to the end of the platform, following signs for the RER E, which would take us directly to St Lazare. The signs pointed us out of the station onto a street with absolutely no indication of where the RER was. So we picked a direction, which turned out to be wrong. Unfazed, we turned back and realized that the other direction had a gigantic flight of steps up. Slightly fazed this time, we dragged our suitcases up and continued along the street, which was one of the creepier streets I've ever been on. Finally, after a few turns, we found the RER station, which was a multi-level labyrinth the likes of which I've only seen in Portal, or perhaps at my lycée here. There was a train leaving in a few minutes, and we managed to get to the platform just as the doors were closing. I started running, then gave up, seeing that I wouldn't get there in time. Then the train didn't leave, so we started running again and got to the train. I feverishly pushed the "door open" button, but nothing happened. Ever hopeful, I moved to the next car and tried that one. Miraculously, the doors slid open! Logan and I got inside, trying to look casual, the doors closed, and the train moved away. I got out the tickets for the Paris-Rouen train and we prepared our exit. We plunged out of the train and through the station, looking for the nearest sign for "Trains Grandes Lignes". Which again pointed us out to the street, because the RER stations are never actually connected to the big train stations. Luckily, I know this neighborhood a bit better, so I got my bearings and we started walking to St Lazare. Up the escalator (working this time! France likes me better this year than last year), through the hall, to the departures board to check where our train was, to the ticket-validating machines to stamp our tickets (boy do they get pissy if you forget to do that), to Voie 26 and onto our train with 5 minutes to spare. We ROCK.

Of course, we still got home at an ungodly hour, and Logan had to stay over and take the train to Le Havre in the morning for his 9 AM class, but all in all I was pretty proud of that. Twenty-two minutes for the win!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Awesome Weekends; or, I Love My Friends

My life is so much fun right now that I keep on doing awesome things instead of blogging about them, which is great for me but not so much for you guys. So.

On December 4th, we had our last English assistants training day. Afterwards, we all went out to O'Kallaghan's, an Irish pub (don't cast aspersions on us for not going to a "traditional" French café; O'Kallaghan's is one of the few places in Rouen that doesn't care if you bring 25 of your closest friends all at once to take over half of the bar) to have a few drinks. I got my favorite drink there, a Black Velvet, which is Guinness, cider, and blackcurrant syrup, because it's the only way I can drink Guinness (I know, I know, I'm ashamed). More assistants kept coming and bringing friends, so we got to talk to lots of people. Alex, an assistant from last year, even did some break-dancing for us! Then we all got hungry and decided to go to an Indian restaurant Kinzie knows about. So 15 of us trooped down the road and took over the restaurant, which was incredibly good but a tad overpriced. But I will do anything for naan and chicken korma so I was pleased. Then after dinner none of us wanted to just go home alone, so Kinzie invited everyone over for drinks and we stayed at her apartment, drinking cider and Bénédictine and wine, until 1:30 or so. It was really nice to trade cute and not-so-cute stories about our kids and learn about other people's experiences.

Saturday morning, we did absolutely nothing, but we'd made plans to go skating with Megan and Kinzie and Amber in the afternoon, so we managed to drag our butts out of bed in time to do that. As it turned out, even renting skates was free, which made my day. Except I got skates that were too big, so my ankles turned in instantly and remained so all afternoon.

And it was raining slightly, so the entire rink was covered with water, making the possibility of a fall even less appealing. Or making life more interesting, depending on your point of view. The rink was quite crowded, with little kids absolutely everywhere creating little erratically-moving tripping hazards.

I was very proud of myself for only bumping into one, who didn't fall because I selflessly and heroically fell down instead, then limped around with my damp leg for the rest of the afternoon. Here's the crew:

Finally, Kinzie and Amber decided to practice their twirls! Such grace, such beauty.

Then it started to rain in earnest so we headed back to our respective homes, after agreeing to meet for a rock opera that break-dancing Alex was crewing for that evening. It was at the university and it was AWESOME, albeit really really weird. Shirtless vocalist/guitarist with musicians in tuxes and masks, singing in English with French supertitles about breaking free from society's rules and not being sheeps (English plurals are hard). But the music was great, the keyboards especially, and there was a theremin! Which is my favorite instrument ever just because of the sci-fi factor. Here's the show's link if you'd like to experience the insanity for yourself:

Then after that, Kinzie, Amber, Logan and I went to the Boîte à Bières because it's my favorite bar in all of Rouen. Very low-key - people are there to talk, not to try to take people home, so you don't have to dress up and it's pretty quiet and there is a 12-page menu of beers and you can get sausage for a snack! So we stayed there until closing time, just enjoying the beer and the company and talking about everything under the sun. Then we wandered around and discovered a little tiny street with an arch over it that I had never seen before, so we had to explore that, and then we kept trying to say goodbye and failing miserably, and we didn't actually get home until after 3. I have such good friends.

Sunday was pretty relaxed because of the sleep deprivation and the POURING RAIN that started 5 minutes before we were going to leave for the market... So no market for us. The rain did stop later, though, and we went out to the Christmas market near the cathedral and bought some roasted chestnuts and mulled wine and enjoyed the festive spirit and pretty lights.

Then I had a pretty uneventful week at school, except for Friday, when I got to bake Christmas cookies with half of my favorite class! I gave them the recipe in English and told them to speak English the whole time and they did remarkably well. At first they were shocked when I finished mixing the dough with my hands, but after 15 minutes they'd all gotten into rolling and cutting and decorating. They were helpful and funny and they asked great questions and I want to take them all home with me... I'm so glad I get to see them every week!

Friday night was the first night of Hanukkah, so my part-Jewish roommate Megan and my fascinated-by-all-things-Jewish roommate Lauryn and I had a Hanukkah party! Megan made amazing latkes (and had to grate all the potatoes with our laughably small grater, for which she deserves an award), Lauryn brought delicious cinnamon star cookies, Logan and I made kugel, and Kinzie made matzah ball soup. Then we realized that we didn't have a dreidel, so Kinzie made one out of matzah meal!

But we didn't have much matzah, so the dreidel went into the pot as a matzah ball. Then I realized that we only had 3 bowls, so we got creative:

Then we improvised some yarmulkes for the boys:

Everything came out beautifully, despite the improvisations, and we mumbled the blessing and stuffed ourselves silly and drank most of the alcohol in the house and sat around talking until the wee hours.

Kinzie also whittled us a dreidel out of a cork, because that woman has mad skillz.

Finally we had to kick everyone out at about 2, because Logan and I had to wake up at 5 to catch our 6 am train to Paris, and thence to Frankfurt! To be continued...

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Yes, did you not get the memo? Thanksgiving is now celebrated in December. Yupyup.


Okay, so I'm really just a horrible procrastinator and have not gotten around to writing about the absolutely phenomenal Thanksgiving celebration we had at Kinzie's apartment. So here we go!

On Thanksgiving, I got to school to plan lessons for a bit, then went to lunch. Because of a group of American high-schoolers who were visiting, the cafeteria had made "Thanksgiving dinner"! There was turkey with airelles, which are huckleberries. Or maybe bilberries. Or perhaps whortleberries. My dictionary doesn't even know. In any case, they're the closest thing to cranberries that exists on this continent, and they're pretty good, just smaller. Because everything is bigger in America, as I tell my students. There was also Waldorf salad (with a helpful explanatory note, because the French kids were confused), spicy potatoes, and lemon meringue pie, all of which was incredibly good. It was really sweet of the cafeteria workers to do that - we all appreciated it very much.

After lunch, I had 4 hours of class in a row, so I did 4 hours of Thanksgiving lessons in a row. I showed the kids a lot of pictures of foods and of my family ("This is my cousin, and that's one of my aunts, and my uncle, and another aunt, and another cousin, and a few more uncles..." "Madame? Vous... euh, you 'ave a very large family?" "Yes, my father is one of eight children." "QUOI? Euh... what?") and of Bush pardoning the turkey because this picture is absolutely priceless:

So the lessons went pretty well - it got a bit noisy but the kids were interested for the most part. I was exhausted, though, so when I went home I had to relax a bit before starting to make the pear crumble I'd promised for the meal.

The crumble finished baking 3 minutes before we had to leave, so my roommates and I set out for Kinzie's house, a few minutes away. Lauryn made cranberry relish that had apples and walnuts and other delicious things in it, and Megan made green beans with garlic and almonds that made the whole house smell like buttery garlic. We were definitely already in a Thanksgiving mood. When we arrived at Kinzie's, we met her mother, grandmother, and little brother, who are all incredibly lovely people. Sharing Thanksgiving with them was truly special, because it felt like they all adopted us for the day when we couldn't spend it with our own families. Kinzie's roommates Fabi (Costa Rican) and Xiao Liu (Chinese) were also there, as well as another American assistant, Darcy. And the food... Kinzie's family had been cooking all week, I swear, and Fabi made goat cheese and caramelized onion appetizers, and Xiao Liu made sautéed mushrooms and eggplant, and there were mashed potatoes and cornbread and real stuffing and noodles and carrots and olives and asparagus and oh my sweet lord in heaven it was all SO GOOD. I apologize for the blurriness but I was, understandably I think, a tad eager to eat at that point:

Also, there was way more alcohol there than at my family's Thanksgivings, which is a tradition I may just have to bring back - I brought my Calvados & Crème from last year (it tastes a bit like Bailey's) and my Bénédictine (sweet nectar of the gods) and there was wine and cider and it was nice.

Here is my plate, photographed while we were going around the room saying what we were thankful for:

It was a bilingual party, so everyone who could said what they were thankful for in French for Xiao Liu and Fabi, and then Kinzie translated for her family. It was wonderful to hear everybody's heartfelt thanks, especially since we were all away from home and needing our traditions. I am so lucky to be in France, in Rouen, and to have met all these incredible people. Especially incredible people who eat Thanksgiving with chopsticks:

"I'm much more comfortable like this!" she says.

So we ate and drank and ate some more and drank and had dessert (my crumble came out beautifully!) and talked about France and the US and our families and all in all it was one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. Sometimes you have to change your traditions a little to figure out what exactly a holiday means to you, and I've never felt this thankful to be where I am, doing what I'm doing, with the people I'm with. Life is good.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Photos!

Hello again my faithful readers, this just to give links to a few Facebook photo albums of what I've been doing lately.

First, the Foire St-Romain, which is perhaps the best thing ever:
 Oh carnivals, how I love you

Second, photos taken during a walk/goof-off session with Logan and Kinzie:
I <3 my friends
And a story to accompany them: After we had exhausted the hilarity of the merry-go-round-ish thing (go look at the photos, it's quicker than explaining) we hopped off, tottering slightly, and were accosted by the Frenchman who'd been watching us with amusement the whole time. "Hey, aren't you guys too old for that?" Kinzie and I replied, simultaneously, with "Bah non! Jamais! You're never too old for that sort of thing!" and continued our walk. Mystify at least one French person per day and your life will never be boring!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Le Havre: it doesn't suck quite as much as I thought it would

And we’re back to posting in not-so-real time… I started this post a few weeks ago and am only getting back to finish it now. So I’ll stick dates in to make things clearer.

Franglophone Fou has arrived! I went to pick him up at the airport on Wednesday (Nov. 4), which went off without a hitch (except when I got un tout petit peu lost… Shush. Charles de Gaulle is big and complicated). Here we are being cute on the train:

Sitting a few seats in front of us was my chorus director! She recognized me and said hi, although I have a feeling she was trying desperately to place me.

Logan was too jet-lagged to do anything much, but we did manage to cook dinner (roasted vegetable and goat cheese sandwiches again, because that’s never going to get old) before he went to bed. Then he was off to Le Havre on Thursday to meet his teachers, one of whom graciously offered to pick him up at the station.

On Friday (Nov. 6), I headed off to Le Havre after my last class. About 20 minutes before we were meant to reach Le Havre, I noticed that the train was traveling more and more slowly. “Ah well, I imagine we’re going through a town or a small station – we’ll speed up again soon,” I thought gaily. An announcement came on and I snatched my headphones off to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen, because of [incomprehensible french word], our train will go more slowly than usual. Please excuse the inconvenience.” At this point, I looked out the window and saw a small lake alongside the train, then saw a signpost sticking out of the lake. Wait… Something is not right. No, that’s not a lake, that’s a road. Perhaps that incomprehensible French word was “flooding”? My guess was confirmed immediately by the sight of a warehouse with water past its foundation. The tracks were clear, though, so the Petit Train Who Could continued chugging gamely on. Then the train stopped. Completely. Nowhere near a station or a town or anything. Another announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, because of flooding and mud, only one track is open. Trains are taking turns, and we’re waiting for a train from Le Havre to come through so we can continue. Please be patient; the SNCF apologizes for the inconvenience.” Annoyed rumbles from passengers – I texted Logan and plugged back into my iPod. Half an hour later, the other train whooshed through and we limped on our way. I arrived in Le Havre about an hour late, and Logan was there to guide me through the rain and wind and ickiness. Because it was raining, of course – what were you expecting? Bienvenue en Normandie!

We took the bus back to Logan’s prison cell (not entirely an exaggeration) and made a lovely romantic dinner with the cheapest stuff we could find at the Super-U down the road. Also, the previous tenant (also an English assistant) had left wine glasses! La classe, hein?

The next day, we were very lazy (I blame jet-lag and the presence of Logan’s external drive and its oodles and oodles of movies and TV shows) and stayed in most of the day, only looking out the window to confirm that yes, it was raining. Again. At one point, the sound of the rain changed and we looked outside to see:

Yes, that’s hail. It continued for about 5 minutes, then stopped, and then the sun came out and it turned quite nice, although a bit windy. We decided to take advantage of this to go downtown and buy Logan a shiny new French cell phone. Handily, there were four cell phone stores in a row on a street near the Hôtel de Ville, so comparison shopping was very easy. After looking at every single pre-paid phone in every single store (and playing with all of them, too, which amused the saleslady to no end – I tried to explain that the feel of a phone is very important but she just kept looking at Logan incredulously) Logan ended up getting a very sexy slidey phone (you know, the kind where the top part slides up to reveal the rest of the keypad) which he still never stops playing with. We wandered around downtown a bit and found this awesome pedestrian bridge:

The next day (Sunday the 8th), we walked to a bakery we’d discovered the day before that is open on Sunday afternoons (Hallelujah!) to buy a baguette. Here is Logan, looking as French as you can get:

We walked down to the ocean to have a picnic, where we saw an adorable dog, chasing stones into the surf:

The ocean view was also pretty spectacular:

We had noticed lots of signs pointing to various tourist attractions and giving the walking time, so we thought we’d follow the ones saying “Jardins suspendus” (hanging gardens) because it sounded cool. They pointed us up a hill

and said “Jardins suspendus – 15 min”. Fifteen minutes? We can do that, we’re young and strong. Ten minutes later, nowhere near anything and with the signs still saying 10 minutes to the gardens, we started to doubt their accuracy, but figured we might as well keep going.

As we were walking up (and up and up), we spotted a little boy in a pirate hat, lion’s-mane-yellow velveteen coat, and rubber boots wielding a blunderbuss and running around. Fighting back jealousy and an urge to tell his father how awesome he was, we continued on to the gardens, which were closed. There are greenhouses and other things there, though, so we’re planning to go back in the spring. So as not to waste the walk, we headed out to a lookout point, where we found le petit pirate again! This time, we noticed that he had a leather belt and a Jolly Roger sash criss-crossed across his chest as well. Best. Costume. Ever. He and his (sadly uncostumed) friend were looking out to sea, shouting to their fathers about what they saw. “Daddy, look! It’s a pirate ship! I can go on it because I’m a pirate!”

(Pirate ship is teeny-tiny, clearly planning to board the cargo ship next to it.)
“Yes, you can. What do you see on the pirate ship?”
“Nothing, it’s too far away!”
“Look closer, I’m sure you’ll spot something.”
“Oh! Cannons, of course!”
“Yes, well done! But now we have to go home…”
The boys ignored him, of course, so out came the parental manipulation:
“Hey boys, who has the treasure map?”
“I do, I do!” (waving a piece of paper)
“So, do you think the pirates are on the ship? Or perhaps they’ve gotten off and are sneaking inland to our house to steal our treasure!”
“Oh no!” (running back to the car)

So that pretty much made our day. Then it was back to home sweet prison cell, and thence to Rouen on Monday (since I have Mondays free).