12.19.2009

Christmas Time is Here . . .

December has arrived and with it has come two weeks of vacation, a ton of red and gold, a sprinkling of green, some spray painted trees, and even a bit of snow. I sit here sipping hot chocolate after a lovely breakfast of christmas brioche and watching the giant heap of presents at the foot of the little lopsided christmas tree, which has mysteriously appeared there sometime after the party last night and before the coffee this a.m. and I'm thinking how perfectly content I am. I've always loved the holiday season, but I'm mostly a thanksgiving and New Year's Eve girl rather than a christmas girl per say. Don't get me wrong, I love christmas too, as clearly displayed by instance on mangling every christmas carol I can get my hands on, and I adore christmas shopping, in fact I think christmas shopping is the tops! This is why I'm terribly excited about the upcoming week of shopping mania. Christmas shopping is condoned shopping frenzy, with an added bonus of good old fashioned, adrenaline pumping, giggle suppressing secrecy; what could be better?! This past week has been a bit of a winter wonderland, which did wonders to boost my lagging holiday spirit. Yes I admit it, my spirit was lagging a bit around the start of the month, which made me rather unhappy, but never fear, I think I've got it all caught up to speed just in time for the break. The week started out with a monday morning snow storm, well a snow sprinkling actually, but unlike New Mexico it continued all day long and then the next night, and is still here, making the whole week snow flurried, including but not limited to snow ball fights on the quad during break and dancing on the ice in the deserted park at lunch to the sound of church bells playing christmas carols. And next weekend I'll be jetting off to London, which I'm totally over the moon about, considering I've never been to England and I've always wanted to see London. Well more later, Joyeux Noel, Bons fetes, Joyeux Nouvelle Annee, a bientot,
e a la france

12.02.2009

Thanksgiving, Emma style . . .

Thanksgiving is known here in France as 'the american holiday,' and if you think about it, it is about as american as you can get: non-religious, its a totally unbiased holiday in terms of race and religion, no politically correct schools have ceased to decorate their halls with turkey hand-prints for fear of offending some one's belief system; over-eating, the whole point of thanksgiving is to share food with friends and family and eat until you can't imagine ever putting hand to mouth again, hypocritical, this is a celebration of the aiding hand extended to us by the native population whom we slaughtered, but not until after we had extracted all the useful information they had to offer us, and now we still use that one day of false friendship as an excuse to close the banks and be merry. Don't get me wrong, while I feel it is important to recognize the ridiculousness in the pretenses of this holiday, I love thanksgiving! Much more than christmas ever can, thanksgiving excites in me a holiday spirit. I crave the warmth of the candles on the table burning low because we've been delayed by the turkey, which is never ready on time. The excitement of no school and pumpkin pie with fresh whip-cream, simmering under the babble of the children, impatient to start the feast, bored from too many rounds of hide-and-go-seek chase which is really forbidden in the house, but in the rush of holiday preparations has been overlooked, is totally unique like a rare specimen butterfly.
It was with all this background of expected feelings that I awoke on Thursday the 26th this year. I felt sure something, some feeling or event, would distinguish it from all the others in my mind, but nothing...It was like any other day in every detail; nothing changed. It was a grand disappointment. However my host family knowing about Thanksgiving had decided before I even got here I think that we ought to celebrate it somehow. At first it was just going to be maybe a pumpkin pie, then a small meal substituting chicken for turkey, which is eaten for christmas here, and is regarded as the kind of meat one needs only eat once a year as its dry and does not in general illuminate the culinary imagination. However when I planned a slightly more elaborate menu it was decided we should invite Chrystal and Olivier and their kids Marion and Martin to join us, and with this edition came the idea we might need/want the quantity a turkey offered, thus a turkey was ordered and finally Gilles, Sarah's god father, was invited as well. We were a merry party of ten.
I planned to make corn-bread, apple and sausage stuffing, cooked separately from the turkey, cranberry sauce with orange zest, mash potatoes, sesame seed green beans, gougeres au cumin (little cumin bread cheese puff things from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook, or the cookbook of my dreams), and of course a pumpkin pie. Lists were made, kinks were smoothed, for instance my cornbread in the stuffing had to be replaced with extra french bread instead and it was determined I should make my own breakfast sausage as the french don't eat it, a date and time were selected: Sunday at 12:30. I planned everything out. I was to get up on Saturday and make the crust then that would chill and I would start the stuffing role out the dough chill it, continue the stuffing etc. The baking sessions were perfectly timed, and never were both pie filling and stuffing on the stove at the same time. However as these things usually go, nothing went how it was supposed to. I got up on saturday and realized that in planning all the shopping for my menu, indulging every item I thought to make, my host parents had saved the specialty stores for late saturday afternoon, namely the bakery for the bread and the butcher's for the sausage pork (and the turkey) both of which go into the stuffing, which I simply had to make the day before or I would never have time enough to finish everything. This error was easily corrected but it still through off my plans considerably and I started late. As the afternoon rolled away filled with my kitchen labors, the evening and consequently Isabelle's mother's birthday dinner loomed closer. My cranberry sauce was blended up, though the food processor wasn't quite strong enough to blend the orange peel into the tiny bits of zesty flavor I had envisioned but after a lot of pulsing and a bit of picking through it with a spoon all was well. My pie on the other hand was smooth sailing. While I'll admit the crust was not nearly as easy to handle as when I made the apple pie, after a bit of excess water, and a lot of patching I got it to fit in the pan, and look some what presentable (my fluting was a sad sight though, uneven and clumsy, but you can't have it all). I made the filling as instructed while the crust was pre-baking. It started out calm and careful and then become more and more rushed as I tried to get the pumpkin from the food processor to the stove to a shiny, creamy smoothness, back to the food processor and then into the crust while both were still warm. It was not an easy task; the crust was ready too soon, and I had to enlist an unsuspecting Thomas who wandered innocently into the kitchen to drop of his laundry and instead found himself trying to measure heavy cream in a third of a cup. Still the hot syrupy filling was rich and delicious, perfectly spiced, and I was pleased with the visual effect as I watched it through the oven door like a stay at home parent on the first day of pre-school. I pulled it out of the oven after just 25 minutes and it was puffed, lightly cracked around the edges and jiggled scrumptiously: text book. Unfortunately, my stuffing was a bit more last minute with all the missing ingredients, and ended in a frenzied frying of pork sausage 7 minutes after the original departure time for the dinner, in two different pans at the same time. Of course I enjoyed every minute of it, well almost, the insane chopping of two and half cups of onions, minced, with a crooked, dull knife, on tiny chopping board was not so hot, but in general I delighted in my day in the Kitchen, warm and dry, while it drizzled on the other side of the windows. However I was afraid to make my whole family late, and thus taint my stuffing with the back weight of disaster, mistiming, and loads of dirty dishes. Luckily however I got ready so quickly that I was waiting for some of the others, and we arrived first of all the guests (though there were only two other parties to arrive so thats not really saying much). Still, the delay in the morning had left me with no time to bake the stuffing, and as it had a different baking temperature than my little cheese breads I decided to abandon them.
Sunday morning came, and I was the first up. I got the stuffing in the oven and got up from the breakfast table dutifully every five minutes or so to baste it with a little chicken stock so it didn't dry out and burn. The smell of my nicely seasoned sausage, and butter soaked apples, softened from a light cooking was very encouraging. It was finished just after we finished trimming the green beans and peeling the potatoes. Everything was ready and set out, all that was left to do was boil the potatoes and mash them and then fry the green beans. The turkey was roasting away in the oven and the table was set. I went to get ready, feeling a little restless and confused with no more preparations to make, no more spices to measure, or veggies to chop. I came back to the kitchen and started the potatoes boiling, standing by ready with a knife to test them. After the knife sunk sufficiently into their yellow, flaky flesh I pulled them out and set them to soak in some cold water on the counter to remove extra starch as I had been instructed to do by my father: mash potato Ph. D. The guests arrived; the chips, crackers, and cheese puffs were pulled out with the cocktails. Chrystal and Co. thought that we exchanged gifts as at christmas time, a very good natured and easy mistake to make, and they showed up with lovely little cadeau's for everyone.
With a glass of champagne in hand I eventually returned to the kitchen to pull together my meal with a few finishing touches. This did not go so well though. The pan was too small for the green beans and they took forever to cook, even in two batches, and then they didn't cook super well, but the real horror lay in the potatoes, my knife test was totally false, they weren't even half cooked! I had forgotten to cut them into quarters before boiling them, so they didn't cook except on the very outside. Poor Gilles, who offered to help me by mashing the potatoes in my pre-made butter, milk and cream sauce waiting on the stove, was the one who discovered this and he was also the one who pulled them out of the pot (and sauce) rinsed them off and re-boiled them, while I tried to make my green beans work and started the gravy. I hadn't thought about the gravy because when I'd planned everything I was going to be using chicken, which wouldn't provide enough juices for a gravy sauce, and I'd never made gravy before, yet after a short conversation about it with Isabelle, who'd never heard of it, and a last minute google search I found a presentably simple "old-fashioned" brown gravy sauce and was determined to try it. I flagrantly ignored the instructions I'd sought out earlier and followed my instincts with the gravy and luckily for me it was scrumptious: success! That leaves the score Emma: 3 (Pie, Stuffing, Gravy) to Murphy's Law: 3 (Green beans, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes).
After the potatoes really were cooked all the way through I set to mashing them, and they came out wonderfully, more butter than I care to confess, and the perfect amount of salt, they were eaten all once. Actually everything was good by the time it reached the table, even the cranberry sauce with its too large orange chunks was a big hit. The only thing no one liked was the green bean dish. I ate them and thought they were fine, but I think they were a bit too crunchy for everyone else, who preferred unseasoned, over salted, mush as is often the case with green beans, but veggies are not at all the point at thanksgiving so, tempis (too bad). My stuffing was the crowning jewel of the feast; soft and savory of the bread, flavorful burst of sausage and the sweet apples blended into a perfect thanksgiving classic.
Then for the pie. I had forgotten to tell Isabelle not to put it in the fridge or cover it with plastic wrap, thinking that my leaving out on the counter without plastic wrap would be enough, but she probably though I'd forgotten in my haste and took it upon herself to both wrap it in cellophane and stick with the stuffing in the unheated office, which they said was good enough to be a fridge. Luckily just before loosing consciousness that night, the possibility of this unexpected disaster crossed my mind, and I was able to pull my precious pie out from under the plastic tomb under which it had been trapped early that morning. Unluckily the cellophane had done its job and my crack-less, plumped pie of saturday had been metamorphosed into a slightly sunken sunday pie with a small but jagged cicatrice on its gleaming, umber surface. There wasn't enough whipping cream left after the pie and mash potatoes to make whipped cream, so though I knew it would end in disaster from multiple cases of personal experience, I let Isabelle convince me to mix creams. Then when that didn't work I gave into Gilles and his whipped creme fraiche, which was bizarre (picture trying to turn sour cream into whipped cream if you can't picture creme fraiche) but he seemed completely satisfied with the odd result so I went with it and set it out on the table with my pie, and a spare can of store bought whipped cream. It tasted as good as I had expected it to, well seasoned, flaky perfect crust, creamy filling. I was well satisfied until I realized that neither Isabelle, nor Gilles, nor Sarah liked the taste of spiced pumpkin. This shocked and hurt me more than if I'd made an atrocious attempt at pumpkin pie and tried to serve it to them with bad results, but to see them muttering things like interesting, special, unique taste and texture, kind of like flan, and watch the obvious displeasure in their faces as they tasted something that disagreed with them, over my perfect specimen of a thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and knowing it was in fact the pumpkin spice flavor that I so cherish, itself as the cause, that was quite disheartening. It did boost my spirits considerably when Olivier finished the slices of both Isabelle and Gilles, because he liked it so much, however. Over all I considered my thanksgiving a smashing success. Everything was generally liked and I was swamped with compliments and almost everyone ate second helpings. I had really pulled it off, almost by myself, it was: thanksgiving, Emma style.

11.21.2009

Parties

So tonight is Saturday night, which means for the French: Party! So far I've been to two real parties, both on Saturday nights of course, but both were with my host family, for their family friends, and one of them was thrown by my host family themselves, so its not like they were too wild. Still there was plenty of loud music and dancing and refreshments, and general merriment. Tonight marks the third of these parties and its Gilles' nephew's 18th birthday. The French basically party like we do, though later and with more dancing, and probably harder than most middle-aged american parents party on an average Saturday night. The real difference comes in the fact that each of these parties has had a theme beyond the basic birthday party, or dinner party, or cocktail party etc. that americans are so fond of using. At first I thought it was just one wild exception, after all its not unusual to have a theme. This first theme was black and white, and we were all entreated to wear black or white, or get really wild and inventive and scramble the two. Not too hard, luckily just this summer I bought myself a 'I'm-going-to-France-for-a-year-right-on!' gift in the form of a black short-sleeved mini dress with a wide window pane stripe in thin white lines, from American Apparel, perfect for a black and white themed huge crowd dance party celebrating someone's fiftieth no? . . .yes! Well the next one, being thrown by my host family themselves, I had a bit more warning. They're chosen theme: Caribbean! A fun summery theme with good food, and great dance music to lighten up the month of November. Unfortunately, even with all my extra warning I still didn't have time to go shopping before hand which left me with two options, a little bright green sun dress, or a bright yellow thin sleeveless blouse with . . . I had no bottom save for a light purple over sized scarf that I attempted to wrap as a sarong. It would have worked too, but it was a little too little fabric between the unsuspecting friends of my host family and my 'bootie-shorts,' meant to be worn over a leotard in Dance class, which I employed as a safety measure; after all there would be dancing. As you might have already deduced I went with the sun dress.
Now I'm on to number three, and again there is a theme, which must be dressed for. This one is by far the hardest yet, and also the least respected ( already Thomas and Sarah have neglected it completely and Isabelle and Gilles haven't tried much harder). After must frustration, a 20 minute video chat, several minutes on the floor, and I lot of wishing for my Fairy Godmother to come change brunette (the dog) into a sports car for me, and get some local birds to sew me an outfit, I finally decided on my Ochre yellow tights, (very thick and opaque, and very yellow) a pair of grey tweed shorts and a black sweater.

11.20.2009

Snacker's revelation

Every Friday afternoon, while we are school, a trip to the super market takes place. We are invited, in fact we are encouraged to add to the shopping list in the day preceding this trip. At first I was shy about adding things to the list, and I still try to keep my additions to a minimum, but I feel more confident in adding a need or craving to the list thursday afternoon. However, the really exciting part about this fairly normal, and universal endeavor is not obtaining an item I've pined for, but in seeing what new and delicious completely French goodies have found their way into the cupboards. Every friday I come home to a multitude of pastries, cookies, yogurts, chips, jams, cheeses, drinks that I've never seen before. Its the most glorious feeling; I think it must be akin to the feeling a child growing up in East berlin felt surging in his breast, and stomach upon first entering a supermarket after the fall of the wall, and the introduction of capitalism was well underway. Since a child I have cherished the 'snack', almost always in miniature size, which in itself appealed to me in several ways, first children like things children sized, second, I never ate much as child so that meant it was the right portion, being a picky eater I enjoyed most this time of choice, when the options were totally open. Plus, one always eats snacks at happy times, in the middle of school: time to socialize with your friends without the intellectual burden of classwork, after school: when you have that nice sense of accomplishment for having survived another day, in the middle of the night: the pleasure of being the only one awake, a no man's land, the adrenaline of an act not quite sanctioned, yet not really forbidden, no matter when you eat them snacks=good, its just a fact! Not to mention, snack food is almost always just plain yummier than real food. So imagine the ecstasy of finding a whole new world of snacks only ever dreamed of in the abstract during times of great hunger awaiting, its a snackers paradise, and I am a snacker, the very definition.

11.11.2009

October Vacation


I know I haven't written in forever but as today is the French version of Memorial Day and as my absence was not in the slightest due to lack of things to write about, I shall use this holiday to catch up: on blogging, on sleep, on emails, and on homework (though I'm not really behind on that last one).
The last week in October all the schools in France have a break. My host family decided to use this break to start off the traveling around France and Europe that they've planned for me. This first trip we stayed in France, but saw two different regions outside of the North, which was fun for me, as again before this year I'd never been anywhere in Europe outside of Paris, and the suburb towns of Paris. First we went to the South, where Gilles' sister has a second house. Her house is in a little town called Barjac, and is ancient. Its built in huge slabs of white stone, which is very common for the farm houses in the South. Its probably about 400 years old at least. The inside has been redone of course, but there remains the original fire place big enough to stand in. I'm told that when it was built it was designed so that you could put two chairs, one on either side of the actual fire (probably being employed for roasting a large hunk of meat) in the fire place along with the fire to keep warm. The whole south looked like a setup for a postcard.
It wasn't like every now and then you could find a view fit for a postcard, the whole thing was postcard-worthy, everywhere you looked. It was so beuatiful, and I think that October was the perfect time to visit, because many of the leaves had turned and the landscape was a rich ocher color. Rows and rows of vineyards, where the leaves looked like they were dripping sweet honey. and next to the vineyards were rows of lavender. The farm houses were all in ancient white stone with little painted shutters and bowing olive trees. They had tall square walls and almost flat perfectly square tiled roofs. Every now and then you drive in to a town and the road would be covered with a tunnel of huge trees, the leaves of which were burnt umber, and fluttered in the thick mediterranean sun. It was 27 degrees (late 70's up to 80) the whole time we were there, and we were sunbathing on the terrace of the house every afternoon. The first lunch we ate a fresh roasted chicken with potatoes and farmer's market goat cheese with olives and white wine, and the most wonderful baguette (I love France!). It was really quite picturesque, which is why I have included a picture. That afternoon we got back in the car (Barjac is 9 hours from Marchiennes by car) and headed on down to Avignon to see Le Palais de Pape, where the Pope lived when he lived in France for a short time; I believe there where nine popes who lived there. It was beautiful, like being in the Tudors or some other period piece movie. Full of winding stone staircases and turrets and huge feat-halls and hidden pa
ssages leading away from courtyards and arched double doorways. Then there were the painted rooms which are frescoes on the walls, ceiling, and seem to extend by means of painted tile, to the floors. Most of the frescoes, which once covered all the major rooms, have faded but they've been restored or kept in good shpae in a few rooms, which are really remarkable. We also saw Le Point d'Avignon, which is quite famous. It has some religious connotations,
but I was much more taken by the sunset visible from the point then the history involving a shepherd and some miracle boulder moving. It was splendid, never have I seen such a sunset, and I l
ive in New Mexico which is quite renowned for its sunsets, though it was perhaps not my favorite ever, as I'm picky about color and backdrop, it was breathtaking: picture time. What I really wanted to do was walk through the evening streets of old Avignon, which were alive with shops open to the last of the warm weather, and little sidewalk cafes and gelato shops, but everyone was tired and hungry, and we had to drive all the way back to Barjac, so I said I didn't care if we stayed and walked or not. I think Isabelle wanted to walk too, but we decided to leave, which was fine.
The next day we headed down to Marseilles. We left the car in the parking lot of Notre Dame de la Garde, which is called La Bonne Mere, because the huge gold plated statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus mounted atop the Moorish style cathedral is supposed to protect the city and watch over it with a benevolent eye. We then took a little tourist tram down the huge hill to the 'vieille porte' or the old Port, which has been a functioning sea port since the Roman Empire owned it, and its biggest import was Salt. We walked around there and the streets around it for an hour or so before lunch. We stopped during our wanderings in a little confiserie, (or candy shop) and stalked up on artisanal cookies, lollipops, chocolates, bonbons, etc al in a variety of flavors. The shop displayed its goodies in a painted wooden front window with matching shutters and on the interior in large glass cases, with open tops and little baskets and cooke tine filled the shelves about them. A second story was visible from the first as it simply encircled the shop with an open middle. Everything was well lit and there were shop girls in matching aprons handing out samples to everyone. While the cookies were perhaps a little dry, and the bonbons were so-so, the lollipops and chocolates were wonderful and everything was so perfect you couldn't help but be impressed and cheered by atmosphere and merchandise alike. The raspberry cookies which were tinted pink and had soft, but not too chewy fillings of the real fruit were delicious. Then we went and had lunch outside a little cafe. I had the most wonderful salad, which was comprised of a small green salad, with a vinaigrette, and a small caprese salad. It was so hot though that I hadn't much appetite, and I only ate half of it to save a little room for the pasta I'd ordered which was so-so, I think I ordered the wrong dish, but I guess you live and learn. The other discovery waiting in marseilles was the specialty candy which was sold at the confiserie and given out with the espresso in the restaurant: Calissons. They are little almond shaped spongy things with a white icing glaze over the top. They have a kind of citrus-y taste, and are made from almond paste (which you can taste as well as the citrus) and candied fruits.
On the way back to the car the little tourist tram took a longer route and showed off some attractions the city possesses. I think my favorite of these attractions was the prison where the novel The Count of Monte Cristo is set, which can be seen far off on its island in the sea, looking dark and somber in a sea full of hot bright turquoise water, which makes you think of sunglasses and fruit juice and happy hours of vacation, not at all a dark cell and torture. I like Marseilles, though I could tell it deserved the reputation of being France's dirty, industrial city from the surrounding area, the old port and the narrow lively streets leading up the hills around it were fun and full of the mediterranean spirit. On the way back to Barjac we stopped in Cassis for a half hour to see the little town, but mostly to see the ocean. It was spectacular. I have a special soft place in my heart for the sea, living as I do in a land-locked desert. I covet all glimpses of the calm vast expanse, and I have to tell you it had been almost seven years that I had not touched the ocean, though I'd gotten a chance two summers ago to eat on the board walk and be near the water for an afternoon, in California, which was wonderful. However, there is something about putting your feet in the sea which is a thing all to itself, and this feeling was magnified enormously by the fact that it was the mediterranean sea. I really liked what little I saw of Cassis. It seemed like the perfect place to spend a summer, as it possessed the desired mixture of calm beach own cool, and jet-setter excitement that one likes to have during the summer, though I'm sure this would not be a cheap summer, being so close to the sea, and in the South of France no less.
I still have to tell you about Gap, but its dinner time now so I'll have to finish this later. Not to worry though as I have no school Saturday so plenty of time, though Saturday is the night of the big Caribbean themed party my host family is throwing, which should be quite an event, and I must say I'm awfully excited.
a bientot e

10.21.2009
























2 Wednesdays
















1). I finally made chocolate chip cookies last week. I was totally freaked out about them the whole time they were baking and cooling, as I was 100% sure they were going to be too thin and disgusting, but they turned out really well, so I had nothing to worry about. I was so freaked out in fact that I was chatting with my mom while I made them and she actually tried to console me and tell me that I should give the whole baking thing a rest, as I obviously wasn't having much luck, I couldn't be with all the complaining I was doing about how terrible my baking was, between the flat pancakes and the over orange-d crumble. This only made it worse of course and I had to send her pictures of my cookies to convince her that they I was over exaggerating, which she conceded upon viewing the pictures. So here are my cookies: (above)

2). Today is once again Wednesday. There is a new food item I tried this week: Tartiflette is kind of like Raclette only all the ingredients (potatoes, ham, cheese sauce, lots of cheese sauce) are thrown into a covered dish and baked. It was very tasty, even though the cheese was a strong one, and sometimes a whiff would catch me off guard, the taste was way milder after being baked, so it was all very pleasant, though of course very hardy. Other than that I'm really just ticking off the days until my family takes me off to explore other parts of France, as I am super excited. Look for more posts next week, as I will try to post tons of stuff including oodles of photos, stay tuned,
a bientot,
e

10.20.2009

Eureka!

I have to tell you about today, because while nothing special happened really, it was a very odd sort of day. Firstly, I was tired: Sunday night I had to set my alarm to 6:55 because last week was that week when the exhilaration and adrenalin of having to get up early every morning, and try and be alive and functioning by the time you arrive at school wears off and you just can't make it, so that by wed. you're late and thursday is only a little better. That was last week, and this week is the week where you self-reprimand and get up super early every morning. Next week would be the week where you slip back into the normal rhythm of things and get up as late as possible, while still being on time, except that next week is October vacation!!! I'm so ready! My family and I are going to the South of France to visit Gilles' sister at her really cool ancient stone house (I've seen pictures) and then some traveling around the South of France, we're going to stop in Marseilles, where Isabelle says we will have to try Bouillabaisse, as that is the specialty of Marseilles, and neither Isabelle nor I have ever actually tried it, so I'm going to put my dislike of all seafood behind me for his one special occasion, who knows it might totally reinvigorate the seafood eater in me, but I think not. Then we're going to the Alps to visit Isabelle's cousin. This means for you that there will be oodles of blogging and pictures galore. Speaking of which, tomorrow being Wednesday, you can expect the rest of the Curcurbitades pics, and a nice long catch-up post and maybe even some pictures of the house.
Anyway, after the fatigue, which I am sure my parents think is a constant because whenever I talk to them its when I'm tired, but really I'm quite energetic usually. I said earlier that I'm always tired, but I think now its more that my internal clock has gone in to standby mode because its so confused. This means that I have no concept of when its early evening, or late night, when its dark its dark and if I think about whether or not I'm tired the answer is always yes, its dark, time for bed. The same for the morning, I'm tired when the alarm rings at 7 (now 6:55, blah) because its an alarm that wakes me up, but on the weekends I wake up naturally and well rested at 7:30, though now its more like 8 or even 8:30 if I'm lucky. Then I had two tests, both of which went as well as can be expected. I was totally ready to go home around 1:00, but the rest of the day wasn't too hard. However by the end of the afternoon I had a terrible sore throat, and we're not allowed to drink even water during class so the feeling increased ten fold knowing that I had a water bottle in my bag next to me and couldn't have any water to make my throat feel better, and a bad headache. Thomas had a dentist appointment an couldn't go to swimming, and I didn't feel well, and then Sarah's friend wasn't there so Sarah didn't want to go all alone so we all ditched and came home on the bus instead. My throat's feeling better now, and the headache is almost gone, after I took some medicine around 6 and then ate something warm with protein for dinner. I always find eating protein makes my headaches better which I think is completely psychological left over from when I was a child and a terribly picky eater, so much so that I refused to eat almost any form of protein and consequently suffered from self-induced malnutrition that made my hair fall out and gave me terrible headaches now and then.
I'm sure right about now you are thinking her day is normal, except the sore throat and nothing odd has happened, wtf? However what made the day seem so odd to me was mixed among this tuesday feeling (of fatigue and long hours of tedious school work followed by exercise involving spandex and getting completely wet), were two discoveries, kind of Eurika moments which totally changed my attitude; I actually thought after the second moment 'Today is a good day." which is funny as that was at the hight of my physical discomfort. The first moment was today at lunch. As we were walking toward the main building, were each day we drop off our bags before heading off to the cantina, so we don't have to lug them through the lunch line, we ran across one of Thomas's good friends, whom we don't eat with and after walking with her for a bit, she said "okay, I'm off to eat at the 'Thermos,' bon appetite" Now, I'd heard the term 'Thermos' before when talking of lunch options, but the wheels were really turning now, as all the pieces started to fall into place but just to be sure I had to ask Thomas. And here it is: the Thermos is where all the kids who bring their lunch sit and eat it! Kids do bring their lunch, ha ha, I knew it, ha, Eurika! I'd seen through the door in passing the remnants of what looked like lunch room clean up in the big room on the first floor of the new building, but as we always ate in the Cantina in the middle school, which has all the fixings of a lunch room, kitchens, a line, trays, etc. I figured it was for the teachers, or a special occasion or something. And I'd always wondered why Alex, thats the girls name who we were talking to when I had this realization, never ate with us. This may not be big for you, but its been bugging me since the first week of school, so I'm damned well pleased with myself for figuring it out.
The second realization happened on the bus ride back from school. Everyday we stop, going and coming at a corner, with a building, which is obviously commercial, maybe a restaurant, but abandoned. It has a gravel parking lot and at the front of the parking lot there is always a sign for a fritterie, with a large arrow. I noticed the sign the first day I took the bus. And then everyday after that I would look for it to see if it was there again, and its been there everyday so far. Now one day, bored and exhausted as it had been an especially long day, I decided to amuse myself by looking for said fritterie, as I'd never seen it in passing though we drove up from the direction in which the sign pointed. I looked on both sides of the bus as carefully as I could for a fritterie or any other signs but nothing. A few days later I looked again, nothing. This has continued for two weeks or so, looking every now and then when I think of it, and yet that one sign has been the only proof of the fritterie's existence, until today. Today staring blankly out the window, on the opposite side of the bus from where I usually sit, in the corner of a muddy dirt road a yellow square catches my eye, and its a sign, almost the exact same sign as the original. Of course I look up as quickly as I can, because I don't want to miss my chance, and realize I'm looking at nothing but a lot of trees, a dirt road, a pond in the distance, and this sign. Well that sure confused me, but as we move past I see it: a stand, just like all the other fritterie stands I've seen here, peeking out over the trees next to the dirt road. Eurika! And thats when I thought, watching the little pond pass out of sight, "Today is a good day."

10.14.2009

so behind on blogging!!!

Okay, I know I've promised you those two stories, and don;t worry you'll get them, but I'm so behind on my blogging, as there are about a million things I wanted to write down here, including but not limited to: a funny weather story, some terribly sad news, new baking experiment, new ideas, swimming, and photos, and my shopping experience. Well I will try to get through as much as possible tonight, but the fact is it is already night, on wednesday, and that is not according to plan at all, ugh this slip of time. Also it will probably be very disjointed, as I have only little bits and pieces which don't fit together chronologically or in any other way, so I'll apologize now.
My first story is the dog story. Last sunday I woke up thinking what a lovely day it was going to be, after sleeping in as late as I possibly could, which was 9:30 with the help of a good blind on my window, which I always forget to draw, and a late saturday night, due to raclette eating. I thought, I know exactly what I want to wear today, and I hope the weather is gray, but without rain, and not too cold. I got up out of bed, and drew the blind up to reveal a light grey sky, perfectly smooth with cloud coverage, and not a drop of rain in sight. I got dressed, taking as much time as I pleased, not a luxury during the school year, and then proceeded to the kitchen. I was the first awake so I emptied the dish washer (I wasn't afraid of making too much noise because the house is very spread out and insanely sound proof, so that with the kitchen doors closed there's no way they could here me upstairs in the bedrooms). , then set the table. By the time I'd finished Gilles was up too, he made coffee, then invited me to accompany him to the bakery, which I did happily. Only there was a foot race in town that day, apparently fairly well known too, and there was no place to park, so Gilles sent me with the money to buy a baguette and a pain coupe, or a loaf thats been put through the slicer. Nervous as I was, baguette cam out fine, but Pain coupe got a bit mangled so the woman behind the counter got this clouded look in her eye, and then brightened and went around to offer me an eclair. I think she automatically thought eclair because judging by my accent (which I can't really hear, but I know is there) she knew I was american, and americans when they come to a French bakery want two things, a baguette, and an eclair. I have to admit for a fraction of a second I considered just conceding and trying again to order a pain coupe after she served up the unwanted pastry, because I was embarrassed at my failure, but I plucked up my courage and said politely as I could, "non, pardon, mais je voudrais un pain coupe, s'il vous plait." which means, 'no I'm sorry, I would like a sliced bread loaf please,' and it worked! So there I was with my loot walking back to the car, feeling proud and very French. When we got back I made myself some oatmeal, no one else wanted any, and ate it with a slice of baguette, and my coffee. It was very tasty, and I was feeling quite excited as Isabelle had a wonderful pot of veggies and meat on the stove for the anticipated sunday lunch with Gilles' mother, plus an apple tart in the oven. Later that morning, bordering on noon, Gilles came down stairs and started getting ready to go fetch the grandmother, and Sarah came over inquiring whether or not she could come. The reply was yes, but then she wanted to know whether or not they were bringing the dog. Now Brunette has on several occasions come along in the car, so I didn't think too much about this. However when almost forty-five minutes later the car pulled up and there was a large commotion at the door, I was ever so surprised to find Sarah carrying, not Brunette, but a larger white dog. Do to the fact that I had to be introduced to Gilles' mother, and such, I didn't really get a good look at the dog until later, sitting on the couch watching the two dogs now running about together. It was hideous! Like a bloated, beached wale, wallowing in its grotesque size, with a rather long whip like tale attached at the back. Its face, oh my god, its face was squashed and stretched so that the mouth was like that of Marlon Brando's in the Godfather, only with tiny pointed teeth jutting up from the bottom, and a smell wafting out of it that could have turned yogurt to blue cheese. As is often the case with little dogs like this one, or little dogs that have become not so little, its eyes were encrusted with crud, crud that was a reddish brown and ran down the full length of its terror-inspiring face. Whenever the playing got to be too much for Brunette, she would climb to the safety of the couch, where the grandmother was always waiting with open arms, and the other dog, Bijou (which laughably means jewelry in French) would stop and stare longingly up at the couch, where it was simply too fat to be allowed. It was easy to tell my host family, had pretty much the same impression of this dog that I did, but the Grandmother simply adored it. Whenever no one else was sitting on the couch with her, she would let the thing get up on her lap at the same time as Brunette, and stroke it lovingly, while whispering little words of comfort and nicknames to its disgusting mug. That day for lunch, along with the veggies and broth served over couscous, there were also some lovely merguez sausages and some lamb, cooked on the bone. The bones went, naturally, to the dogs outside. However, after we had finished eating, Sarah overcome with annoyance at the racket the two things were making at the door, went to let them in, and accidently let them come inside with bits of bone in their mouths, well actually only in its mouth; Brunette was too well trained to attempt that terrible a crime. This as you can imagine unleashed chaos on the household. Bijou began dropping bits of chewed bone on the floor, which Isabelle found. She flipped at, as the greasy lamb bone bits had come to rest on her living room rug. Sarah, guilty as she was, and being accused of her crime, set about trying to get bijou, and thus the lamb bones, outside again. Unfortunately, the coffee table in the living room was comprised of two large squares of wood, one resting on the floor the other suspended half a foot or so above the first to serve as the table surface, thus leaving a gap in the middle. Bijou, scared by the commotion centering on him, and his food, took shelter in the gap, rendering him unreachable to Sarah. Gilles, who had had just enough of this monster's havoc, tried to help Sarah by luring it out with another lamb bone it had dropped earlier, while yelling 'Bijou, vient, vient ici!' (which mean come, come here). Sarah meanwhile had reached for the Grandmother's cane sitting next to the couch, on which the grandmother sat, and tried to use it to scooch Bijou out from under the table forcefully, but alas, he was just too damn fat. Isabelle was now trying to wipe the rug off, and pick up little bits of lamb bone while reproaching Sarah for letting him in in the first place, and encouraging her to get him out again, all at the same time, and with great zealous. And all this time the grandmother sat in her spot on the couch, smiling and thinking how delightful her little companion, truly man's best friend, was, and how entertaining he could be, in between watching a program on TV. And me, I tried to help pick up lamb bits, though I was much too frightened to touch the thing. I couldn't laugh no matter how funny the whole thing looked, as no one else seemed to be able to see the hilarity in the whole situation, save maybe the Grandmother, who didn't seem to realize the terrible scene her horrific dog was causing right under her nose. I didn't laugh, not even a suppressed giggle until later that night, as I recounted the tale over video Skype to my parents, when I was over come and forced to roll around on the bed with tears leaking from my eyes, as I remembered the full thing unfolding as it did, and my disgust for this thing called a dog culminating in its final and spectacular fall from grace!
My second story takes place at school on a particular crummy day. I looked and felt like crap, and I'd just had a run in with the English teacher, whom I don't like in the hallway. I managed to escape to the girl bathroom, where I sought refuge from all this, but there was no toilet paper. Now you may be thinking, why didn't she just go to another stall, but you see in France in many public bathrooms, especially those of students, have one large roll of toilet paper in the front near the door, instead of in the individual stalls so when a bathroom is out of toilet paper, its really out! So I went to the bathroom in the other building where I had my next class. This bathroom is by far much nicer than the others, not so much because the others aren't clean, or the toilets clog easily, or there is a lot of graffiti, but because this one was more spacious, and it had both mirrors and a lovely second story window, which made the whole thing full of natural light and thus more pleasant than the artificial lighting of the others. Just as I was setting my bag down near the window, as in a school you can do that, a teacher came out of the stalls. Instead of going to wash her hands though, she came over to me, and said "but, what are you doing in here?" Well, this off the wall comment, shocked me greatly. Firstly, what else would I be doing in there, it was a bathroom! And secondly, why was she asking me, and in such sharp tones. Well I was so flabbergasted at being accosted in my place of refuge by a figure of authority, as yet unbeknownst to me, on my crummy day, that I simply stared at her, and shook my head slightly, as my mouth opened silently a few times. After asking a second time and then recognizing the bewilderment on my face and the tears budding in my eyes, she softened and said "oh you don't speak French." I shook my head, and muttered the phrase I've used so often here, "um only a little," and she left me alone, as abruptly as she'd come, and with no more explanation. Shaken greatly now, all I could manage was to lock myself in a stall and pity myself for a few seconds, then hiccup and hold back my tears, and then breath and tell myself to snap out of it, that I was fine, and being a baby, crying in a bathroom stall, in what I now believed to be the staff bathroom. It all seems rather comical now, but I must say I felt deeply wounded by this stranger's attempt to discipline me in my innocent, and confused state.
The other day it was pouring down rain all day. Everyone was huddled under umbrellas and hoods. The bell rang after the last class, and we all trooped towards the door. The rain had really picked up during the last hour, and as approached, umbrella at the ready, a senior girl in front of me with a great leap yelled out "Vive La Nord," pulled up her hood and was out into the storm in one fluid movement. Here in la Nord, pronounced with a perfectly circular mouth and a long suggestive slur on the end so that it comes out, 'norrrre' everyone is bitter-sweet about their home. Its clear they love it deeply, but they mock it incessantly, and attempt to drive fear into the hearts of visitors, this emotion is perfectly captured by the saying, when you come to the north of France you cry twice, once when you arrive and once when you leave. Also by referring to the cold and winter by giving an all knowing little nod, and say ing "ah yes, you're really in 'la norrrre' now."
Last night was my second time going to swimming. Its every tuesday evening for an hour at a little pool in Saint Amand. Luckily its not a real team so there will be no competitions, but it was still plenty hard. The pool is clean and cosy, and the woman who sits at the front desk was so nice and helpful, that I couldn't help but be encouraged. Then the coach was very nice too, and even tried to speak English for a bit. Unfortunately it is required by the pool that you wear a swim cap, and my only two bathing suits are a bikini, I think not, and a one piece halter top, very stylish, but not exactly swim team wear, well that wasn't really a problem, but I intend to get a new one soon, maybe even this weekend. Last week there was just a few laps and exercises involving the crawl, breast, and back strokes, plus one where we had to place a kick board between our legs and attempt to swim with out the use of our legs all while balancing the kick board in its awkward position, which was particularly embarrassing, as I was the only one who really couldn't do it. Luckily no butterfly, which I've never done in my life, and the other girls were very nice. This week however: butterfly!!! Duh, duh, duh.... At first it was, if you don't know how to do it, pick another stroke to do instead, no problem. Then it was practice the leg movements, (What?!) which I skipped out on by just kicking instead, and finally do the arm part, while kicking, as its easier, and with a kick board under your stomach to keep you from downing. Thank god he explained how to do it twice, and then I third time just for my sake, when I apologized and said I really didn't understand. This week the water was colder, it was more tiring, and the coach was annoyed with my constant failures, but I will go back next Tuesday, because I need the exercise, because Sarah and Thomas will, and because I'm very competitive by nature, and as much as I want to, I will not give up that easily. Its only an hour once a week, and I always feel better in the warm car and the way home to a nice dinner, a warm shower and my bed.
I don't have much more in me tonight, but I feel obliged to tell you that this morning the daughter of Olivier and Chrystal, the couple we've been socializing with, who are very good friends of the family, passed away. She had a very serious genetic disease, but it is very hard on everyone here. While I don't want to be indelicate by posting this news here, I feel it is far worse to ignore it. My thoughts are with that family tonight, and I think its really hard on Isabelle especially but also the rest of my host family.

10.11.2009

to whet the imagination . . .

two of my favorite demons and one of a lovely fairy


More thoughts on a Sunday, including Curcurbitades, Raclette, and other exciting things of a similar nature

Sorry its taken me so long to write this, but I have lots to say so it should be a very interesting post, I hope.
Last weekend was the annual festival in Marchiennes, called Curcurbitades. It's kind of a welcoming for fall. This was very appropriate I thought, as it was the first day that really felt like fall, while its been cold here some, and even some rainy greyness, it was the first day that had crisp air and leaves in the gutters, and that earthy, smell that is inextricable with fall. I love fall, so this all made me very happy! The festival was very cool. I thought originally it was for Halloween, as there are many people who dress up, and it is also called the festival of the sorceress, but this is because the last night they burn the effigy of a witch, as a way to rid the town of evil spirits, I think. For all you Santa Feans that should be no stretch of the imagination, as we have our own burning of a large puppet, named Zozobra every year. You come into the area of town marked off for festival grounds and immediately there are booths lining the streets, selling nick-nacks and seed packets, and such. There are also a lot of waffles, crepes, and frites, as well as candy and caramel apples, which they call love apples, as they are died bright red. There were three or four stages set up around the grounds, where little shows and things were scheduled. Then every so often four or five girls clad in long white dresses and lots of glitter would get up on the stage with a box of chocolate coins. The crowds, mostly those with children, but also some adults in the spirit of things, would gather around and cheer, and cheer, while the girls held up the coins. Then when they felt the cheering was enthusiastic enough, they would chuck the coins over the crowds and everyone tries to catch them, or at least pick them up if they fell close enough. This went on for a good 15 minutes every time, and they threw tons of coins. It was quite fun because the crowd gets so into it with the cheering, and the competitiveness of trying to get a coin, and of course the girls were enjoying themselves immensely. We stopped buy a show put on by a circus type group set in ancient greek, replete with juggling torches. They asked for a male audience member to volunteer and then try to make him out as hercules by putting him through three tests, after each test, which involves some skill, trapeze work or tightrope walking, or juggling, he is rewarded with a bit of costume, by the end he was wearing a set of fake chest muscles, and a loin cloth. The really impressive part was when two members of the cast lit six torches on fire and proceeded to stand on either side of said hercules, and juggle the torches back and forth in front of him. After we'd had enough of that spectacle we stopped to buy waffles at one of the stands. There were two kinds of waffles being sold at the fair. Great big fat ones dipped in chocolate for 2 euros a piece, and then thin round ones which were then cut in half and filled with icing, which were sold in packs. As we were five and could purchase 20 of the little waffles for 6 euros it made more sense money wise to do that and each have 4, 2 of each flavor, vanilla and rum. They were tasty but the entire fair I could smell the other kind frying in the distance mixed heavily with the smell of melting powdered sugar, and I couldn't help think it would have been well worth the extra money to have a chocolate dipped one instead, oh well. The coolest part of the festival was not the waffles, or the circus or even the massive pumpkin display, from local farmers, but the stilt walkers. I mentioned earlier that people dress up for this, and its true there are some festival goers who dress up in solidarity with the real performers, but for the most part the costumes are on a variety stilt-walkers dressed as goblins and fairies, and other evil, or tricky spirits. There was one group of 4 or 5 fairies in all white with large wings who were followed by men with drums, on foot, also in all white, who were quite mysterious. Then a group that was much more colorful with masks that played music, mostly drums as well. However my absolute favorites were three demons who looked like the faun in Pan's Labyrinth, with long grisly hair, and hooves, at the bottom of their cocked knees. They had horns, and crazy noses, and long fingernails. There was a yellow one, a blue one, and a shocking red one. They would stand together towering over the crowd that would draw near to their alluring figures, very still for a minute and then let out a blood curdling screech and lunge into the crowd and chase the little children around for a bit, before moving off through the crowd and starting over again, it was very spooky, but none of the kids seemed terribly upset by it, though the screamed and ran their little behinds off if one pursued them it always ended in giggles, and I couldn't help thinking that in the US the little ones would be crying of fright, as they often do at halloween carnivals, so maybe French kids are tougher, I'm not sure, but it was so cool, and don't worry I took pictures. While I myself didn't end up attending the burning of the sorceress, so I don't know about that part, I'm told its exactly the same every year, and my family seemed a bit disenchanted with the whole thing. Isabelle and Gilles stayed home, while Thomas and Sarah and two of Thomas's friends and I went to see it by ourselves, but I think they enjoyed it none the less, and I certainly did. Though I have to say it was the first time I really felt home sick. I'm not exactly sure why I felt home sick as its a festival that only happens in Marchiennes, nothing like our fiestas, save maybe the Zozobra likeness, but something about it made me a bit sad. I think perhaps because it seemed like the kind of thing you'd want to go to with really good friends and family, and rendez-vous indoors afterwards for something hot and sugary, and while I'm very fond of my host siblings, it's just not quite the same.
The next thing to talk about is Raclette. It is actually a swiss dish I think, but its popular in parts of France and Belgium as well. Its similar to fondu, but apparently its the kind of thing where you have to pick one and be loyal to it. I really couldn't say which I prefer, but I like them both. Raclette is a type of cheese, and the name comes from the French word to scrape, as you melt the cheese and then scrape a bit off onto your plate. Well now they have nifty little contraptions just for raclette, that resemble panini presses, except that instead of opening the top is suspended an inch or two from the bottom and then everyone has a little triangular pan on which they set there slice of cheese, which is then inserted into the slit, and the whole pan is heated so that before long your cheese is melted and bubbling slightly, and delicious. You put your cheese on top of a boiled potato, which you have to peel and cut into chunks first. Then you eat it with charcuterie, or meats such as sausage, salami, prosciutto, ham, or pate, and cornichons, and pickled onions, etc. It's all terribly filling, but wonderfully tasty. We ate this at their friends house, the same friends whom we have been socializing with since the first week, including La Braderie, as they insisted that I try a raclette before leaving France, and there's no better time than a cool fall night.
I have two stories to tell you, one about the lovely lunch we had today in the company of Gilles's mother who was very sweet, but I feel I must tell you about her dog, and the other is of my encounter with a teacher in a bathroom, which was quite frightening. But I simply have no more energy tonight, but now that I have told you about them, it will encourage me to write sooner, rather than later when the edge has worn off. Hopefully tomorrow, while my chocolate chip cookies are in the oven. I still haven't had a chance to bake an all american apple pie yet, but I feel its coming, however until then cookies will be a nice baking adventure.
a bientot,
e
p.s. also coming tomorrow the rest of my curcurbitades photos.

10.04.2009

Tarte au Sucre



I found these two pictures online the one in the pan is a tarte au sucre as you might expect a tart to look; a crust and a gooey sugary filling. The other is almost like the little 'tartlette au sucre' that I bought the other day from the bakery and is easier to eat on the go.

10.02.2009

Friday at last

I'm feeling so much better today all thanks to my host family. They really are like the greatest host family ever, I mentioned that I was pretty sure I had a cold, that swooped out of no where and hit me hard (well not quite like that, but you get the idea), and Isabelle sent Gilles to the pharmacy straight away where he procured pills for Sarah and I who both have colds, and nasal sprays, as well as cough syrup as Sarah and Thomas both have coughs, and sore throats (thank god I missed out on that). Well today aside form a few sniffles, nothing like yesterdays torrential down pore of mucus, I felt practically normal. There was no filmy, itchiness in my eyes, and no far away bloated head, and no headache, and I wasn't drowning all day. Thank you Isabelle! I did indeed eat quiche a l'oignon for lunch today, but I had to stick with a good old fashioned pain au chocolat, instead of that other cake thing. Tonight: croque-monsieurs, as Gilles and Isabelle are going to a concert with friends it'll be just us teenagers, add they've left us this very french easy dinner.
I was however horrified to find that Isabelle had bought a pumpkin for me to make pumpkin pie with. I said I had a great recipe and wanted very much to try and do the thing justice around Thanksgiving, but my mom always uses the canned stuff, as I have always used the canned stuff for baking anything pumpkin-y. I have absolutely no idea what to do with a real pumpkin, and besides that I've heard form multiple, and very reliable sources that it never turns out as well if you try and start from scratch with a real pumpkin. I don't know how to tell Isabelle that I simply won't even try with a real pumpkin, and that I will do what I have to to search out the canned stuff instead. Well I'll figure something out, because I wan them to like my pumpkin pie, and I don't ant pumpkin gunk and seeds all over everything with nothing to show for it but a measly, stringy, inedible pie. That's all for now,
a bientot,
e

10.01.2009

Missing Links

I realized after posting that last blog entry that the long hand written entry I've yet to type up contains two very important pieces of information, without which it may be very hard to understand what I'm talking about. The first is my explanation of the French grade system and the other is my story about the English test. The French grading system is very different from the american one. While in the US everything is put into percentage and then translated into letter grades, the French system is a fraction out of twenty. This seems straight forward enough, just pull out your calculator and translate the fraction to a percent so you can see where on the letter grade scale you fall, right? Nope, not all, the French fraction does not translate into a letter grade. In the US only an 18-20 would be an A, while a 16-17 is a B, etc. and no one wants lower than a B, while aiming for a low A. However here a 15-17 is considered very good, an 18 or above is really great and 10-14 is respectable, satisfactory, but a little on the low side. I have so far received a 14.5 in Math, which is fine for where I am, especially considering that 3/4 of the test were word problems, a 12 in French, a 11.5 in Biology, which I have to admit miffed me a little, but its all written explanation, and I didn't fully understand what some of the questions were asking and the teacher wrote that's correct next to the grade, which I took to mean thats where you should be considering your language abilities not to mention the class average was a 12. The first test I took was pure memorization and I got a 19 (score!) and then I took an economics test and went down with a spectacular 3.5/30 points, yes! I think that is universally agreed that a 3.5 out 30 is simply atrocious no matter what grading system you use. However, as I mentioned in the last blog entry I got a 10.5 on the next economics test which, very much pleased me. After I got the first test back I went to the teacher and asked her if there was a time I could meet with her and discuss my epic failure, but she just assured me it was normal for an exchange student, and not to worry, it would all get easier, so I'm not worried, and it has gotten easier.
The next missing link is my story about the English test, which took place last Saturday. I haven't been taking any English classes as the english teacher clearly doesn't like me, nor want me in his classes, and as I don't particularly care for him either, and I certainly don't need the lessons that's fine with me. However last Friday I ran into him and he asked me to come into school on Saturday morning and take his two hour English test to "evaluate my level in English," yes that's right, this French man who is too scared he'll make an error to let me sit in on his class, wants to evaluate my, an American, English level, what?! Well, I went because what else could I do, and because as my host mother said its best to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is some practical reason for having me take the test. I was still a bit peeved though, as if I'm not going to take his class I'm not going to take his tests either. And now he has given me a 16.5 out of 20, the nerve. Well I'm going to find him and point out his errors, to raise my grade and redeem my good name, (is it just me or am I being a bit melodramatic?) and I know I did miss some things, especially the section of translating sentences from English to French, but I know I deserve more points. There it is my story of the English teacher and his dreaded interrogation. I'm not taking another, and Isabelle will back me up on that one, as she told me she would, so its all over and done with now. Hopefully you will be able to make better sense of the last entry with this information,
a bientot
e

I'm sick, and I'm whining, and tired, and its cold here, but my oatmeal cookies were a hit!

Alas, I still haven't had a chance to type up that other entry I wrote I have so much to say that I think I'll just let it wait until Saturday, when I have no school. As the title of this blog clearly states my sniffles, which have been here as long as I have, I think mostly due to the chilly air here, have turned into a cold over night and I feel like an anvil has been dropped on my head. Today sucked because of that, and I should perhaps not be writing blog entries right now considering I'm feeling very self-pitying, but oh well. I just feel like whining to some one and you are it my friends! Well today didn't suck completely as we ate in town today, a whole day early. I love eating in town, and I love the bakery where we buy sandwiches when we eat in town. Today I finally had a chance to try the curried chicken sandwich, and *oh_my_god*: its fabulous! I hadn't tried it before for two reasons it was either sold out, or I was too afraid I'd pronounce curry wrong in French that I ordered the one with mayonnaise instead. well today amidst my physical anguish and unending snot I was too tired and stuffed up to give a good damn whether or not I pronounced it perfectly or with a horrid american accent so I ordered it and it was glorious. I also ordered a Tartlette au sucre, of which I will try to secure a picture by means of Google images as its very hard to explain. It is basically a flat disc of bread-like pastry covered with a sticky, creamy, sugar based filling and some actual sugar on top. Kind of like a cinnamon bun only with sugar instead of cinnamon. It very good needless to say, and I was quite proud of my ordering skills while I devoured my goodies in the park. If I pull it together and go to school tomorrow, I hope we eat in town again, and if we do I make take the opportunity to try the quiche a l'oignon, and the little orange chocolate cakes which are perfectly proportioned for one's lunch time indulgence. The other reason today was good was the fact that my oatmeal cookies were a smashing hit! I made 17 yesterday, without raisins, as I detest oatmeal cookies befouled by the hideousness of gushy, savory, brown raisins! Blah. And its a good thing too, as Thomas doesn't like them either, and he was the chief partaker in my baking frenzy. Well, between yesterday afternoon and today the five of us ate all 17 cookies, yum, yum. And as if all that isn't enough to cheer a sick, and whining lump of mucus, then there's also the fact that I got a 10.5 on my economics test, which is a far sight better than a 3.5. It might even be called respectable. I was so proud of myself for this achievement that I almost didn't care that the English teacher gave me only 16.5 on his test, when I'm convinced he made errors in correcting it, and I deserve at least an 18.
Well that's all I've got, wish me luck on getting out of bed tomorrow, as it may or may not happen. I'll feel terrible if I stay home because Sarah and Thomas have had little colds for a week or more, and have gone to school anyway. I've only just gotten mine, but while I'd never presume to tell them how they feel, I think their colds are simply squeezing them between two huge walls of steel like some Indiana Jones movie, and I'm over here in Looney Toons Town, and the piano rope split right as I stepped out into the street, and now I'm flat as pancake. We shall see, I don't want to get the sickly complainer label, but I think I may have to sleep it off tomorrow.
a bientot,
e

9.28.2009

One month down, nine to go...

This one will be brief as mondays always make me very tired, but I wanted to write something, as today marks the end of one month here. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, a mixture of accomplishment, distress, sadness, eagerness, and laziness flood me all at once, I guess. Accomplishment because to my great surprise, and pleasure my French has improved. Distress because it hasn't improved a ton and there are only nine more months left to become fluent. Sadness because I like it here, and eagerness because I also miss Santa Fe (surprise, surprise, I know but its true). Laziness because, I am at heart a very lazy person and I have to work very hard to understand school, and nine months is a lot of school, and a lot of work, which the laziness in me (and there is a quite a chunk) wants to shrink from, but I'll do it because I have to, and because it is primarily that which will help my French. Well tomorrow is tuesday the hardest day of the week, and its late here so I'll say good bye, but never you fear another insanely long post is coming your way, I just have to work up the will power to type it up, as I wrote it by hand. Perhaps the laziness in me will be appeased by the oatmeal cookies I'm planning to bake as a means to use up the oats from my crumble.
a bientot,
e
p.s. I forgot to tell you coffee to go in the starbucks like coffee cups do not exixt in France, i guess coffee is just too important to the French to do on the fly. Unfortunately this means no quick coffee jolts in the afternoons for me, I have to wait until 5:30 when i get home from school and by then its better to just wait until after dinner, and then I'm usually to lazy (oh my laziness never ends).

9.24.2009




more boulangerie,
some little cakes: orange chocolate,
lemon,
and apple
plus some tarts




the boulangerie and the park




Peach Iced Tea, very popular here, very tasty,
my wonderful chocolate dipped cookie,
the street leading to my school,
the Tower,
the main square