30 October 2008

The token american

today dave took the computer to work so i basically read and studied french all day. to break up the monotony, i went to the franco-american institute for their thursday afternoon english chat group.

this is a group of people who want to keep their english skills up-to-date with common phrases and usage. they are people of all age groups and nationalities who sit in a circle and just chat in english. however, i was actually the only american. there was a french-canadian man who seemed to be the group expert on the states, a couple of chinese people, a scottish lady, an english woman, several french people, and me. i was there for a couple of hours so the group dynamic changed a bit in that time. 

basically the group asked me some questions about where i was from and why i was here in rennes. at some point the conversation went to talk of the election. the french-canadian man said that he was listening to the radio today and they were interviewing someone from arkansas who said 'i dont want a *insert n-word* in office.' he repeated the word like 15 times to us and said how shocked he was that people still used that word. the english lady sitting next to me didnt want to hear the n-word anymore and asked me what people think about sarah palin in the u.s. i told her i was from ann arbor so anything i had to say would be biased, but we chatted for a bit. 

then the librarian at the institute said that the local rennes tv station called and wanted to hear some people talking about the upcoming u.s. election. a little later a woman came in and called me over to see if early next week i would like to possibly be interviewed for their show. i said i didnt speak much french but would be comfortable giving my opinion. she took my email address, so we'll see...

anyway, back in the group, conversation wandered a lot. i learned two french words for marshmallow (they were on the table as halloween treats...boy do they have a lot to learn; they dont celebrate halloween in france). they also discussed transvestites, legal prostitution, sheriffs in the u.s. south, gun possession, and hurricanes and why people live where they can be damaged by them. i found it amusing that one of the frenchmen who had lived in new york said that new york, california, and florida were the smartest and strongest states...he sited miami as the powerhouse of florida...i had to laugh internally. i suppose as a tourist site and well-known city it does stand out for florida. it was just an amusing stretch to call it one of the top 3 stand-out states in the country (sorry mom). they said that at one of the next meetings i would have to tell them about michigan and its 'great lakes.'  

as a quick aside, at one point, the chinese man asked what using air quotes meant. i think i had used them earlier while i was talking. he said he had seen the Friends episode where Joey incorrectly uses them the whole time and Ross tries to explain them to him. i thought that was amusing.

ahhh, anyway, as time went on, more odd frenchmen started showing up making french jokes and harassing the nice chinese guy. im not sure what to make of this group, but i suppose i'll figure more out next week. although, then it will probably be all post-election talk. which maybe i wont want to hear, maybe i will. 

28 October 2008

Give me your hungry, your gullible...

dave worked from home today so at lunchtime we went out to grab some lunch and run some errands.

for lunch we got the most unhealthy meal weve had since arriving. but it was delicious. dave ordered a grilled chicken and french fry sandwich. yes, his baguette came with meat, 'special sauce' (which dave thinks was ketchup mixed with mayo), and a steaming pile of salted french fries...heaven! i got a ham, cheese, and 'special sauce' panini that was bigger than my head. as i was eating it, sauce dripping down my chin, i could actually feel my arteries hardening, however, it actually caused my heart to speed up and put everything into hyper speed. i kept dodging over to daves sandwich and stuffing fries into my mouth as fast as my fingers could carry them, intermixing it with bites of my sandwich and occasional wipes with the napkin so that all of france didnt stare at me completely repulsed. i continued in this manner until every scrap of food was gone.

we then popped into a bakery because dave had been wanting to try these macaroon sandwich things we keep seeing. they cost a freakin' fortune. 4 euros for six small macaroons the size of a sack of sliders your drunk malibu barbie could eat poolside. anyway, i then scored the ultimate gluttons fantasy. i pointed to some pastry without a name and asked for one. the lady then pointed to a sign that said essentially 'buy one, get one free.' dave and i stared at it for a minute. this pastry was 1,30 euros, why would i be able to get 2 for the price of 1 when those macaroons cost a kings ransom? we didnt believe her, or we couldnt understand. and it was funny because she was asking us 'so, do you want one or two?' and again we were confused, like, is there a trick? you just said the second one is free...i felt like maybe it was a test to see if we were american. will you walk away with this mysterious pastry in the normal human portion of one, or will you pass the insanity test and actually let me give you two...we choose to get both. she shoveled the pastries into a bag and plunked it down on the counter. i casually grabbed it off the counter and nearly fell on the floor. the bag weighed like 50 pounds. what the hell did we buy? after marveling and walking around with it for several blocks, we determined that it seriously weighed 2.5 pounds. i decided to take a bite out of it/them. it was basically layers and layers of pancake/crepe dough oozed on top of one another. main ingredients were likely: butter, sugar, flour, eggs, maybe some honey, more sugar, more butter, and then powdered sugar on top for the kiss of death. i think there may have been a layer or two of chocolate as well. this thing is seriously insane. taking a bite basically stops your heart cold. take a look at this monstrosity...

(for reference it is nearly the size of a salad plate and about an inch high of dense dough)

later, we were roused out of the food coma by someone buzzing our doorbell. who the heck is that? nobody knows us here...its a woman from the power company. she speaks a little english. she wants to see our electricity bill. she says our current provider is 90% nuclear, 10% local energy. she says that she is able to save us 10% on our bill starting in january by switching us to their provider which is 80% nuclear and 20% local and renewable energy. dave was like 'show me where to sign' and in 5 minutes we had given this person our contact info and our RIB (the bank info all service providers ask for here). she wore a badge and seemed to know what she was talking about. she took our energy bill with her along with our info and on her way out the door asked if people in france were being nice to us. we said that they were. she said 'good, if not i will beat them up.' and with that she was gone...

we stood there for a few minutes feeling like we had gotten caught with our pants down. what did we just do? nothing seemed to raise 'scam' flags...but still strange right? are we just preprogrammed cynical americans? good deal all around right? renewable energy, lower bill, plus worse-comes-to-worse we can always get our old provider back right? what is with these french people? why do they operate like this? i am perplexed. there must be a pile of meanies somewhere right...?

thus far these people have done several things that would never happen in america:
1. its okay to open this bank account with no money. you can even carry a negative balance. here, let me open a savings account for you as well. we DO request 20 euros to open that, if you can spare it...
2. you like that apartment you just saw? cool. come back in a week and we'll give you the keys. we have your letter of salary from you employer thats enough to hold it. just bring the money on the day of and its yours. no worries.
3. would you like to pay less for your energy and have if be from a more eco-friendly source? okay, i will kindly walk you through that process...

27 October 2008

Laundry day snippets

did laundry today. i was able to witness what happens when you use too much soap in a machine. apparently, it clogs up the venting system at the top. while some water was leaking onto the floor, rolls and rolls of steam were flowing out of this poor girls machine. thankfully at least it was by the door so the steam could vent outside mostly. i think her clothes will survive.

i was also able to finish my book The Bean Trees while waiting for my laundry to dry. i love it when media (i mean books, music, movies) presents situations that can affect you in different ways depending on the state of mind you are in. it allows for an altered interpretation every time you experience it. with this book, i got teary eyed a couple times. in one scene, the main character and another lonely character find each other, one woman starts smiling and the other asks her why she is smiling. she replies 'it's been so long. you talk just like me.' a simple, well-written story about people with issues helping each other survive and supporting each other in a makeshift family.

on an unrelated note, this picture has been staring at me for the better part of the day on people.com. thankfully zac efron is no longer jailbait so its okay to ogle all 47 inches of his washboard stomach. what is disturbing to me is that he kinda has an ugly pectoral region, followed by a to-die-for ab section, and im left furrowing my brow at the endless happy trail. he is practically naked, but his pants are still on, his crack has to be showing from the back, and yet the belt must be gripping onto something. it defies logic and physics, and i dare you to stop staring at it...

also, jake and reese went jogging in california...

26 October 2008

Those children at the park...

since we went to the south part of the city to explore yesterday, we thought we'd go to the north part today. this means we have basically seen all the areas of the city. we hope to get out and visit other towns on the weekends, good weather permitting.

it was grey and a little drizzly outside but we found a nice park, called Parc de Villejean, to wander around in. it was sandwiched between the highway that loops all the way around rennes and the countryside. so it was a little noisy but very green and was full of fun stuff to do. there were running paths with intermittent agility training stops and at the north end of the park there was a large playground filled with good two person toys.

(dave getting fit on the agility course)
(dave and i at the playground, this thing went up and down and around in a circle. very fun)
(a farm that shared a border with the park; a red fungus)

later on, dave went to ultimate frisbee. his first meeting with people outside the geology circle. there were a few people there and most spoke some english. he had a good time getting back into the swing of exercise and they told him that the more competitive games occur on tuesdays, so im sure its just a matter of time before he becomes enmeshed in that community.

and, from our balcony, at sunset there was a beautiful sky. dave captured the scene...

25 October 2008

Minor victories in the face of Wolverine defeat...

although the wolverines lost to the spartans, we here were at least able to have a few winning moments...

we woke up at 5:45a to make a half-assed attempt at a rendezvous with the geology club to go visit the apparently gloriously beautiful island of Groix off the southern coast of brittany. through some apparent miscommunication, this field trip did not work out for us, but it did set us on the course for the day. 

we left the apartment to meet in the parliament plaza at 6:30a. it was still dark out, but not too cold. it is eerie how a city feels at that time of day. in the plaza, there was a city street sweeper and a few drunkards milling around and all else was silent. while we were waiting for our ride which never came, we wandered around the plaza. i turned around at one point and a lone street light seemed to be created just for me to illuminate the poster telling me that, today, in the mayor's plaza, there was to be a public health fair/exhibition...eureka! something resembling my former life!!! i suppose its a small price to pay for missing the ride to Groix... 

being up this early, and it being a saturday, we thought we could go to the market and grab some things just as they were setting up at 7a. again, for super cheap, we got green beans, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, something spinach-like, and zucchini. on the walk home, the sweet smell of pastries wafting out of newly opened bakeries called us in. we got a warm chocolate croissant and a warm raisin and creme pastry. yum! and then back to sleep with me. 

at 11:30a, in the mayor's plaza, i was ready to concoct my meager french sentences to find a volunteer public health job. there were 4 tents dealing with the different foci of the city health department: water, animals, mental health, and children. the women at the childrens tent had less people talking to them. i spoke (poorly) to a very nice woman; once i reached the limits of my french, she handed me off to a colleague to spoke some english. this woman then introduced me to her director (who also spoke a little english). she said that they were very busy on a project now and without good french i might not be able to jump in. but in january they are getting some new projects, at least one will have a more european focus where english would be useful. score! she gave me her email address and told me where their office was located and to email her my contact information. while this isnt an instant gratification situation, i do feel like this could become something. she was the director for the children programs, perhaps she can forward my name to the other programs and i can volunteer for them sooner. or, if nothing else, my french class will be done in january and i will be more useful to them at that point anyway. please, please, please...

we then went to the franco-american institute because i wanted to try and set up volunteering with them too. the lady said they are having a halloween party for kids next week that i could help with, along with informal english speaking sessions every thursday where french people come to practice their english with native speakers. good good. i can do this. also, the bulletin board they had had some postings of people who wanted their children to be taught english by a babysitter a few times a week. i got some of that information too...

we decided to take the rennes metro to the furthest southern point and walk back, just to see more of the city. the southern part is mostly apartments, but it also seemed to be the more culturally diverse part of the town. their smaller market that was closing down when we got there, looked to have many more global food options. we will have to check it out next week. 

(this tiny car was near the market; it was being hauled by a mid-sized car)

we found a nice park with an outdoor ping-pong table and the lovely smell of greenery and pine floating in the air. 

(ping pong table and a cool drain tunnel; me at the end of the tunnel)

(some hydrangeas still in bloom; brittany is known for its hydrangeas)

after all that serenity, we launched ourselves into the french saturday mall madness. someone had told us about a megastore in this part of rennes, in case there was stuff we might still need. they werent kidding. there was a normal mall, attached to this store that was larger than a meijer. there were aisles and aisles. magazines, books, video games, bikes, sports equipment, washing machines, homegoods, tvs, phones, furniture, toys, clothes, body products, and food, food, food. ah!! we made it out alive, with one more errand that could have proved fatal...

(coulda been my employer; you may also note the 'Royal' burger on the menu a la Pulp Fiction)

in this same 'centre commercial' area, there was a store we had visited the night before and bought a floor lamp. it had been on sale, thus the reason we bought it. when we came home last night we realized we did not get the sale price and the lightbulbs we bought were not the right size...argh. how to fix this one...dave got them to understand the price adjustment and after 15 minutes that transaction was settled. woo hoo! we then had to go to a different part of the store to handle the lightbulb return. this was weird because it was only 85 euro-cents, but what are going to do with lightbulbs that are useless to us? anyway, this transaction would have gone smoothly if they had had a machine in this area of the store that could read my non-chipped credit card (im seriously writing a letter to mastercard). she had to take us to another area where they still werent sure they could do the transaction, so they ended up just giving us 85 euro-cents in coins back...but hey, it was a victory nonetheless! :)

23 October 2008

Spinach etiquette

nothing major to report, just a trip to the grocery store, alone...

yesterday i went to the franco-american institute to check out a couple books to occupy my days. i got Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (on julies recommendation) and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (on erins recommendation). i think next week i will ask about volunteer options there. i heard a few college girls playing with some french kids teaching them english. one of the moms also seemed to be setting up a babysitting-type job for one so she could come play with her kids in english at their home.

i then went to a new grocery store i found near our apartment. it was a much bigger store than the smaller markets closer to us, so my basket got heavy fast. anyway, the troubling part was the produce area. the broccoli and avocado i got were individually packaged, so no problem there. i saw a roll of produce bags and grabbed one since i wanted to get some fresh spinach. i put a couple handfuls of spinach in the bag and dropped it in my basket. good to go right?...wrong.

i get up to the cashier and no one is behind me, perfect. i pull out my bags (since many grocery stores make you pay for their bags) and attempt to start bagging my stuff. i get as far as putting the yogurt in my bag and the cashier starts asking me something about the spinach. i freeze. she has the bag of spinach raised and is kindly trying to ask me something about it. i tell her it is spinach. she doesnt care, there is something else i need. there is now a lady behind me in line and she says to me 'etiquette' and i start freaking out that i am being a stupid american. then the cashier says something brief in english but she clearly doesnt know enough english to tell me about the spinach, so i say 'i dont need it.' phew. problem solved...

i am trying to get my credit card out so that when the time comes, the 3 other people now in line wont have to wait for me to pay. i abandon the yogurt in the bag and get the card. i start swiping the card and it isnt working. the cashier has to help me with it (most card readers here like to read credit cards with a chip; apparently swiping your card isnt en vogue). there is a ridiculous amount of time spent on this in which i am pointing and gap-mouthed and blushing. the groceries still need to be bagged. finally there is confirmation it worked. i try to bag the groceries again. i throw the milk, juice, and beer in my backpack before there is another thing coming at me. the cashier starts handing me my receipts. the third one she wants me to sign, but i was frantically grabbing and throwing them into my bag trying to get out of there, so i have to fish the correct one out and sign it. now she starts dealing with the other ladys groceries and i am throwing my wallet in with my groceries just so i can get out of there. oh god. i double check to make sure none of my stuff is still on the counter. there is a bottle of 'erotic night' lubricant sitting there. it freakin' wasnt mine, was it there before i came? is it this ladys? holy crap get me outta here...

when i got home i was relating the story to dave. he said that when he had gone to the market one day with his boss, it was the procedure in the produce area to bag your fruit/veggie, weigh it at the provided scale, and label it with a sticker giving the weight and produce code. they force you to be more self-sufficient here in france than in the states where the cashiers have to guess which kind of produce you are buying. argh. lesson learned. anyway, dave thought it was weird that the lady said 'etiquette' to me, that it was kinda rude. after having replayed it in my head all afternoon, i actually thought she was trying to be helpful. i grabbed my french-english dictionary, looked up etiquette, and saw (along with the more obvious definition)...'label'. dumbass.

21 October 2008

Me american, you french

so today we ran some errands, i went to french class, and we went to a lecture at the franco-american institute about the upcoming elections.

we had to go to the bank to ask about getting checks and to figure out how to deposit money. the bank lady who first helped dave open an account heard daves voice and came running out to help us. i thought that was very nice of her. she answered all our questions and helped us open a savings account that will make it easier for us to transfer our money back to the u.s. when the time comes. i think it can seriously go a long way if you are willing to construct a few french sentences or even to learn some nouns, as i have, and grunt and point your way through things...while it has continued to be true that people are nice, i found out later that it doesnt always mean they will understand you...

i went to french class for beginners at this local place that will end up costing 500 euros (!!) but i need to learn. it has 6 hours of lessons a week and my classmates seem friendly. they are from poland, turkey, japan, sweden, india...anyway, i was able to keep up today and learned to talk about eating and drinking and food portions and buying and selling. good things to know. the japanese woman sitting next to me kindly lent me a piece of paper and the shared use of her book, i was dumb and thought there would be handouts to write on. after class, i asked where i could buy the book. the teacher told me where the bookstore was and a kind classmate clarified which edition of the book to ask for, since i would have to have it ordered. lucky me another classmate was actually on his way to the bookstore right after class.

his name was martin and he is polish. he speaks polish, english, spanish, and now he came to rennes to learn french. he was living in spain recently, working with children. he lived in seville, barcelona, and madrid. he is going home to poland after learning french to make money at his parents business and then come back to rennes to go to a good business school. he was very kind. he thought i was 18. and who wouldnt after i told him i had never been to europe and hadnt gotten on a plane until i was 17. anyway, he deposited me at the correct section of the bookstore and apologized for his english not being better...

i then mentally constructed a french sentence to say 'i need this book' and hoped perfect comprehension would follow after pointing to my sheet of paper. the woman helping me then proceeded to use words i didnt understand and all i kept catching was 'maison' and i was clinging to my french-english dictionary going 'why does she keep saying 'house' when i want this book.' she spent some minutes on the phone and typing at the computer and pointing. it ended when she possibly told me to come back monday or tuesday with a number she wrote down for me and possibly my book will be there? ugh, we'll see.

as i was leaving the store, the security guard stopped me because i had my french-english dictionary still in my hands. he thought i was stealing it. i blushed and thought 'oh crap.' while he was flipping through it looking for a price sticker all i knew to say was 'moi' or 'est moi' which is 'me' / 'is me.' after several minutes of the same thing falling out of my mouth and some added hand jesters for clarity, he winked at me and said 'say it in english' so i said 'its mine. i had it before.' he let me have it back with a smile and i said 'désolé. merci.' (sorry and thank you).

so, to boost my ego i really wanted to go to the election discussion at the franco-american institute because i figured there would be some english spoken. to my delight, it was in both english and french. whatever was said in one language was translated again in the other. it was very interesting because the sister city of Rochester, New York had its mayor in town to discuss the national and state voting process in the u.s. and what issues and outcomes are related to our politics. the french people had a wide array of comments:
1. hopefully with a new leader, the french language and culture will not be looked down on so much because of the french non-support of iraq which caused french fries to be renamed and french wine poured out in protest in the states.
2. will either candidate make it easier to allow europeans to get work visas?
3. it seems like democrats and republicans in the states dont really stick to their party platforms, but make opinions based on what the public wants to hear. what kind of implications does that have?
4. it seems like the 2004 election centered around morals and family values, and this election has more weighty things like the economy and war to highlight. does this have an impact on the public or how voting is viewed?

Livin' in a university paradise

we ended up taking the bus together to daves work because of my desperation due to lack of internet.  

as we boarded the city bus to the university, my favorite 90s rap song was being piped through the speakers. Coolio’s ‘Gansta’s Paradise’ instantly sent me back to those lazy american high school days where all you had to do to fit in with a crowd you werent a part of was to wear a black leather jacket and turn a chair around before you sat in it. oh how i wish it were that simple michelle pfeiffer. anyway, also amusing were the pair of people who got on shortly after us blasting their own personal soundtrack of crappy hardcore techno overtop of coolios song. it was truly a musical treat for my ears…   

after coming off of my internet high, some graduate students in daves department came by to invite us to lunch with them at the university’s cafeteria. we accepted. they were a very nice group of 4 women and one man who graciously switched to speaking english for our benefit. the cafeteria was not much better than those seen on american campus’ but somehow i was secretly expecting a little more. we got to have an appetizer/salad, an entrée, a dessert, and a piece of bread for 2,85 euros. this was quite a bargain, agreed. the salad thing we got was actually the highlight since it was flavored well and had a lot of different veggies in it. the entrée was a ‘steak’ (read bunless hamburger, of the gristle chunk and bloody variety) and sauceless bow tie pasta. the ‘dessert,’ if it can be called that, was a chocolate pudding cup… we did finish the meal time with a nice 20 minute chat by a bank of windows sipping tea and getting to know the females in the group. they were also very helpful in regards to practical rennes issues and thinking of places where i could work.

(this was a poster on the corkboard outside of the cafeteria; a masters in hip hop and the one guy with the UM hat made us laugh)

20 October 2008

IKEAnt catch a break

we wake up on saturday. we have the keys to daves bosses car to acquire furniture.

we head to the farmers market which is near where the car was parked and pick up some produce at wicked good prices: fingerling potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, apples, and bananas. There were also some lively musicians, one jamming on his accordian.  the day was off to a good start.

(saw this car on the way to the market; uber amounts of bird poop...)

we then went to the local secondhand furniture store and found a bookshelf for 15 euros. not bad, but i wish we had found more. have no fear…there is an IKEA in the city of nantes, about 1 hour south of rennes. we can go there! without experience on crazy narrow european city roads we made our way and without exact directions, we actually landed in IKEAland outside of nantes after a lovely sun-drenched drive through the rolling farmlands of brittany. 

if the french don’t want to be like us, i suggest they promptly dismember the suburban mega-one-stop-shopping-land we had to enter, immediately. it was like a mall because it had clothing stores and food courts and other typical things including asinine amounts of parking. however, it also had a huge grocery store and an IKEA attached directly to it, so people were in the mall pushing shopping carts. they even had to build flat, ramping escalators for the carts to travel between floors.
once inside the alternate universe that is IKEA, we promptly had 3 hours of our lives (and 130 euros) sucked away. we found the items we wanted, wrote down their locations, and crawled on famished hands and knees to the cafeteria. i had some pasta spinach dish and dave had the 15 swedish meatballs special including a heaping pile of fries. he ate EVERY bite. we then rolled ourselves down the stairs and proceeded to make our way through the rat maze with fellow deal-seeking psychos and their wailing children until we had heaped our cart full (complete with a trash can that looks like a devo hat). thankfully everything fit in the car and our credit card was accepted. once we found our way back to the freeway, we thanked our lucky stars we came out alive.
(saw this from the road to nantes and had to take a pic to acknowledge MI)
when we got back, we begrudgingly washed all of our purchases (dish and cookware) and kicked ourselves for forgetting to buy a kitchen towel, thus we used our newly purchased bath towel to dry stuff (which, for added gross-out affect, we hadn’t had a chance to wash yet). we also realized we didn’t have a screwdriver to put our new table and chairs together, so, after dave made dinner from the farmers market goodies to redeem part of the happy feelings for the day (and he made a good meal), we ate on the floor…

This much I know is true…

some things ive noticed since arriving: 

1. they enjoy their fashionable eyeglasses 
2. dogs get to poop wherever they want, only your shoes pick it up
3. they are very helpful when you bumble through their language 
4. there is no established sidewalk etiquette, walk wherever, whenever 
5. mopeds can go down any road 
6. they can make seriously delicious, unhealthy pastries 
7. only reservations seem to be used at restaurans, not waiting lists
8. there are no gyms 
9. they prefer phone calls to email 
10. door locks are weird (2 full rotations; need key to lock once inside) 
11. hallway light-up buttons only stay for a few minutes 
12. there is no fountain pop, only cans 
13. no billboards on the freeways 
14. rarely are public restrooms an option 
15. saturdays are MEGA crazy shopping days 
16. smoke detectors? we don’t need no stinkin’ smoke detectors 
17. chicken and turkey don’t seem to be favored meats   

i also know we have not had a defining dinner experience here. but for humorous purposes we did have a dinner last night.  
we went to  ‘the bone, the fish’ and chose to sit outside. the only menu they had was scrawled in unintelligible french on their blackboard. we had our typical language barrier problem so dave asked what the house specialty was and ordered their ‘cote de boeuf,’ a beef dish. it was also 6 euros more than any other entrée. i ordered tuna. daves dish came with a burning forest of thyme jammed into the meat. along with the entrees came a tiny basket with three slices of bread in it. we chose to eat this bread, which later came back to bite us in the ass, as they billed us 2 euros for eating it! for comparison, baguettes are state-mandated at a set price of less than 1 euro, so why we paid 2 euros for that is a completely irritating mystery. also forgot to mention earlier that i had ordered water for dinner, a carafe of tap water to be specific. and to be even more specific, it tasted like warm plastic. this french poison would also come back to haunt me in the form of 3 euros charged to my bill for the pleasure of natures urine put into a glass bottle at my table.
before i dip to the final low point of the evening, i will mention the highlight. we ordered the trio of crème brulees for dessert. a vanilla cup, a raspberry cup, and a cinnamon cup. cinnamon crème brulee is heavenly. finally, while freezing our butts off waiting for the ridiculous bill to finalize, the waitress came back and told me my card had been rejected. joy. i had noticed (back when we had internet) that some weird charges were posting to my credit card from the states. i emailed them and they apparently have canceled the card, which i cant deal with until i get the internet back, so we are now down to one credit card…

A box to call our own…

so i was without internet for several days there…nearly died. we were able to move into our non-furnished studio apartment on thursday (oct 16).

i had a bad head cold the night before continuing into the better part of thursday. dave ran around and got the rental insurance from the bank and did the lease stuff with the rental agency. we went to a nearby store for some linens for the first night. we had a hell of a time determining which size sheets went with which size bed since they only list the measurements in centimeters and not ‘twin’ or ‘queen.’ we ended up with all the right sized stuff though. we bought linens for a double bed, two pillows, and two towels. this cost us 132 euros…not very cheap. argh.

daves boss drove us and our crap over to the apartment. we later walked back to the city center to borrow a double bed air mattress and lamp from a work colleague of daves. we also grabbed a pizza at a place down the block and ate it on our floor. we didn’t even have cups or napkins. it was pretty sad.

friday we went to the local comcast, which is called Orange. apparently the whole city is wired with DSL and you just need to tell them your line number (on the door frame of every place) and they can set you up as a customer. after that, dave went to work and i scouted the neighborhood for grocery stores and home goods. i found some cute bathroom stuff on sale, which meant i finally had a shower curtain to be able to take a shower.

bottom line. we have a place (on rue duhamel). it is near the train station. it is on a quiet street but near to lots of stuff. half a block away are a cheese shop, a butcher shop, two bakeries, a seafood market, a produce station, a bank, a post office, a laundry mat, and a convenience store. not too shabby.

15 October 2008

French kiss my american butt...

wow, thats actually a frightening mental picture. the title is mostly for shock value cuz i wanna rant. 

so, on monday, when we went to the apartment agency to fill out paperwork, we had a well dressed frenchman who spoke english helping us. he was wearing pink and had pointy leather shoes and seemed to think he was very cool because he could also speak english. he was friendly and helpful and near the end of the discussion asked me if i was working too. i said i was going to look for jobs once i get the 'carte de sejour' since i cant work without it. he said 'its very difficult for foreigners to get jobs here' (duh, i knew that) and that 'its not like the U.S. where you can walk in anywhere and tell the manager you want a job.' (yes...you clearly have taken many trips to the states and seen this happen...). after we left i was only mildly miffed because ive gotten asked the work question about a billion times now. especially from people in this country, you know its hard to get a job here, so once i say 'no, i dont have a job' you can feel safe in the fact that i wont have one anytime soon.

anyway, on tuesday, we went back to the agency to drop off some more paperwork and the same guy was there so he spoke with us again. near the end of that conversation he asked me 'have you found a job yet?' yes dip-shit, i used the remaining 3 business hours yesterday to find the job of my dreams and this morning was my first day. they had me take a bubble bath with a unicorn and afterward, little faeries and talking mice dressed me in a gown made of leprechaun gold. i then was sent off to cure the world of infant mortality, and since i finished early i came back here after lunch to give you this piece of paper...

after the initial 'did you find a job' question, to which i replied 'not yet,' he then told me there was 'always McDonalds.' i thought he was joking so i said 'ew, never' and he proceeded to elaborate on why it wasnt such a bad choice: free meals, a paycheck, the uniforms, easy job...riiiiight. no thanks. i am not about to work in a place i wouldnt visit when i lived in the states. nothing would boost my self-esteem more than working in a grease pit of soylent green patties and formaldehyde french fries wearing a red and gold uniform complete with foam visor or trucker hat in a foreign country...ugh.

this wouldnt be so offensive if i was the kind of person who would be fine without a job, able to be patient, serene, peaceful and just enjoy being a 'lady of leisure' for a year. sadly, i was born with my happiness tied to a busy schedule. i always got the best grades in school when i had sports and difficult homework after-school. when my schedule was full from 5a-9p i was on top of my game, made national scholar athlete doing that. when i have little or no time to complete tasks, every minute is important, it cant be wasted and i love problem solving to make sure i use the most of every second. sure, i still enjoyed my vegging on a couch, but when you physically have to schedule it in, it somehow makes the vegging that much more enjoyable. some people like ice cream, chocolate, alcohol as a reward...i like pajama pants and a good movie. so i work hard for my free time. but when free time is handed to me on a plate, it doesnt really serve a purpose, i may still lounge around, but it doesnt do anything for me.

i remember babysitting as early as the end of 5th grade, working at the Limited for the christmas rush when i was 15, and getting a real part-time job when i was legally able to at 16. i worked during all my free time in college and grad school. when out of school i have always had a full-time job and looked for a new job when i wasnt feeling fulfilled at the old one. i enjoy working. i dont want it to BE my life, but i like it to be a PART of my life. with dave as a PhD, his job options are limited, so i definitely realize it makes sense to get him situated first in a good college town doing what he loves. i married him, i knew exactly how this would work and i am ready for that path. i never had a DREAM job in my head, so that fits just fine into daves necessary path. public health in the states proceeds from state, county, city health departments, national organizations, non-profits, universities, hospitals, bio companies...i have options. this may be one of those years where the universe attempts to teach me something new about myself. and thats fine. i am not at the stage where i can start looking for a job here yet, but once were more settled i will be out doing that. or at least looking for meaningful volunteer work. i just need to be doing something, anything that uses my brain and makes me feel useful/helpful. we'll see what i can find...

(this is a real street here; no, the rental agency guy does not live on it...)

13 October 2008

The secret password is: europole

so...we got up bright and early this morning for apartment hunting. we magically hit the motherload of english speakers today and its a good thing since we were doing the important kind of stuff you really want to have explained to you in a somewhat native language so you dont end up agreeing to share a 130 square foot studio with a dirty frenchman who works nights at the stinky cheese factory. anyway, after we saw the apartments, we had a favorite in mind but thought we would mull it over for a few hours and decided to locate this mysterious europole we had read about the night before in a brochure we had gotten handed by a random faculty member.

this nearly unmarked side entrance to a random building in town housed a wealth of helpful things. an english speaking woman was able to telephone her 'contact' at the prefecture and find out tons of helpful information for us that probably saved us several trips of frustration. she also gave us information about a furnished apartment she knew of (which didnt actually end up being a good option because it wouldnt have been able to get internet access), and she gave us a bag of brochures with maps, events, and language lessons information. she also gave us her direct phone and email so we could contact her with anything else we could think of...this place is a free service to help out foreign scientists get settled in france...daves boss is very nice, but has thus far not had a foreigner working for him so he just didnt know about this VALUABLE information...live and learn.

anyway, later we went back and decided to fill out paperwork for the nice, clean, small studio apartment we saw earlier in the day. we dont have any furniture and we want to save as much of daves salary for food and travel as possible so we dont mind small living quarters. it is approximately 250 square feet but with a good layout and nice balcony. it will be fine. an IKEA is opening in a few weeks and they specialize in that stuff. assuming the english speaking guy at the leasing agency wasnt messing with us, we could be moving in on thursday...

in the mean time, i found this picture on people.com of Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal walking the streets of London and it made me smile... :)

12 October 2008

Iffs you've never had a crepe in the french countryside...

apparently sundays, in at least this part of france, usually means a HUGE family brunch and much lounging and tv watching. however, dave's boss and his wife like to enjoy the outdoors, and we had a beautiful 75 degree day to go for a walk. they took us in their car about 30 minutes from rennes into the countryside for a 2 hour walk. we parked the car in the tiny village of Les Iffs. there were approximately 50 people living in the town. mostly farmers. they had a mayor office, a few stone houses, and a huge church. the church was from medieval times. very large and eerie, the graveyard was out in front by the large crucifix. apparently many, many towns have these crucifixes even when there isnt a church because they got used as landmarks back in the day and are now included on local maps.

on the walk, we came upon this ancient castle that was high on a hill and built on the edge of a small cliff. it had a huge moat and was used for protection against potential enemies. local farmers and their families would take refuge in the castle that they paid taxes to.

after the walk, we drove to the town of Hédé. they have a series of locks on their river that runs from the english channel into rennes. there is a paved path for biking/walking for 100+ kms.

after the locks we were starving. we drove into the actual 'main street' part of town and enjoyed some sweet crepes and a bottle of local breton alcoholic cider. we had a simple, traditional 'butter and sugar' crepe and the local breton speciality crepe of apples and caramel...yum yum.

11 October 2008

This little piggy went to market

rennes has, i believe, the second largest market in france and it occurs on saturdays in the plaza de lices (where back in the day they use to do jousting). we got to the market at around 9a. lining the streets, there were tons of flower stands, followed by rows and rows of produce. the fish and seafood vendors were also outside (duh, cuz theyre stinky). in the plaza there are also two indoor buildings. one of them was full of meat, all kinds and parts of all the animals you can think of, some of the poultry still had their heads and some feathers on. the other indoor building was heaven: cheese, farm-made yogurt, creams, sausages, fresh breads, sweets, honey...we ended up buying some apples, a croissant, an apple pastry, some berry yogurt, and some soft cheese. i bumbled through the cheese purchase using my dictionary, but it was fun. we definitely need to get more tasty stuff next week.

later on, armed with the paper and internet research, we went on a mission looking for apartments; this used up about 4 hours. it was gorgeous outside though, so at least the apartment stuff was on foot and we were able to enjoy the day. we have 4 apartments to view on monday which seems successful. we'll see.

after our apartment search, we grabbed a slice of vanilla flan and hung out at the Palais St-Georges...

then we went marketing again at the regular grocery store. hopefully we can cook a little more at the hotel kitchenette now. i saw this product in the grocery store and i had to throw it in here. too hilarious. way to stomp on the male ego...shopping in the feminine products aisle when your part is failing you...

10 October 2008

It's all fun and games until someone gets RIBed

did you notice that i havent had any complaints in like...a day? i know right? so unlike me... ;) we do have some practical issues to take care of here and those responsibilities need to be taken care of sooner rather than later. what an energy-suck on the day.

we spent the morning getting a bank account. they almost didnt give it to us, but thankfully daves boss was with us and was both our interpreter and the person who vouched for dave that he had a job. we didnt have to deposit any money to get the account but they have to send a certified letter to your residence, you have to sign it and when they get the signature your account goes active. no matter what, their checking accounts cost 8 euros a month to have. once the account is active and you have a deposit in there, then you can close that bank account and get a joint account. makes sense right...also, having a bank account means you get a series of numbers called your RIB, which you must give to everyone from your workplace to phone card sellers so that all in france know that if you dont pay for something, they can monetarily track you down with these numbers.

we spent the afternoon walking to the prefecteur to get our 'carte de sejour' which is the place where foreign people go with their long-stay visas to apply for residency. they were closing for the day...at 3p, but they gave us a list of things to come back with when they are open: 4 passport-size photo IDs, passport/visa, translated birth certificates and marriage license, proof of a place to stay, work contract, doctor visit confirmation. so, you know, no big deal...

current crap we need to take care of:
find a place to live
confirm info for bank/make deposit/get joint account
get HR stuff set-up at daves work: payment info, reimbursement receipts
get a bus pass
get documents together for prefecteur
get a phone card
get a bike
sign up for french lessons

Explore your surroundings

so we slept until 10a the first day in rennes, but got up and hit the streets before 11a. no one was really out and about, most of the little plazas were void of people. each plaza has its own character and story and history and kinds of people who frequent it. the people use these plazas as reference to the proximity of where you live, work, go to school, etc. right near the Place de Hoche we got our first pastry breakfast: croissant, chocolate croissant, and a brioche roll. yum!

(me being sassy in the Place du Parlement de Bretagne)

after breakfast, we wandered around the city centre. when the church bells struck 11a, the streets became filled with people and the place was alive. there are many building types in the city. early 17th century stuff was mostly burned in a fire hundreds of years ago, but there are still some parts of the city with these original buildings. then there are 19th century buildings mostly made of stone that are very sturdy and beautiful. apparently in the 1970s they built several new buildings when old ones buildings were getting run down, but they are considered so ugly that any new buildings in the city centre area need to be built with older design influences. everything looks beautiful to me.

(dave; gorgeous original 17th century building; black, shiny, slate looking building, beautiful in the sun; part of the old fortified city, it had a moat and everything back in the day)

we grabbed baguette sandwiches for lunch and i felt like butter, ham, and cheese has never tasted so good. i can get use to this... later, we met up with daves boss to take us over to campus. dave was shown around, met people, and it was nice to hear most of the people speaking english. it makes sense since european research gets published and presented in english, it was just a nice sound to my ear. later, we walked back from campus through the Thabor Park. it was absolutely beautiful. very colorful and tranquil.
(thabor park; me petting a scaly, spiny evergreen-type tree in the background)

after we walked out of the park, we went to the grocery store to pick up some food. apparently at 6p the store gets a mad rush of students, so we tried to make some quick purchases. everything we got is tasty. i love that my favorite cookies are called cigarettes, i just had to take a picture...

we walked a lot today and came back to just veg until dinner. we ate at an indian place down the street. it wasnt as good as shalimar in ann arbor, but we had a nice meal. the waiter spoke english so at least i wasnt too frustrated. also nice, in france the price of food on the menu already has 15% gratuity included so if you want to leave an additional 5-10% at the end of the meal that is fine, but not expected.

09 October 2008

Hello europe, frankfurt, france, and rennes

did i mention before that i had never been ANYWHERE in europe? oh...well, its a true statement. so anything i do here is going to be crazy new and fun/different...except maybe for the traveling to get there part.

we had an 8 hour plane ride from detroit to frankfurt, germany on lufthansa. nice airline, decent food, good flight over (except an hours worth of bumpy flying while we were over nothing but the atlantic ocean for miles and miles). arrive in frankfurt at around 5:30a, their time. get a frankfurt stamp in my passport. slept on some of their airport chairs and waited the 3 hours until our paris flight. weird that we could see buses and cars driving around the back of the airport by the planes and jet fuel...the paris flight was short and nice. we filter through a maze of walking escalators and end up at baggage claim. it takes so long to get our bags that when we get to train station we have to wait until the 1:15p TGV train to rennes. 

things have gone smoothly at this point but my ability to stay pleasant and awake is weakening. i fall asleep onto my luggage while doing a sidebend from the torso in my chair. i wake up needing to use the bathroom and spend 10 minutes looking around. i am now feeling completely helpless since i cant speak french. i finally see a bathroom but it looks like you have to pay to use it. i go back to dave to report and i start getting frustrated tears in my eyes. he gives me the 50 cent euro to go to the bathroom. i got a kick outta the bathroom. first, my favorite flushsavers from new zealand are back. you can push one part of the flush button if you wanna flush #1 and the bigger side of the button for a heftier flush for #2. also amusing was the public bidet solution. since a bidet either wouldnt fit or be appropriate for a public restroom, there was an attachment on the toilet paper roll that automatically shot mists of water onto your toilet paper if you waved a wad of paper under it. this way, you would feel 'fresh.' since i had paid 50 cents for this bathroom visit, you bet i put water on my TP. aaaaaaah, so fresh.

finally our high-speed TGV train arrived, we boarded, and promptly fell asleep. the train is so fast and smooth and the chairs are pretty comfy. i wish we had watched all of the french countryside speed by but i didnt have the willpower to keep the eyelids up. we arrived in rennes and met daves new boss, jean, and he helped us through the metro station to get to our hotel. rennes is the smallest city in the world to have a metro. they have one subway line, it goes north-south and has less than a dozen stops. it is also the cleanest subway known to man. we came to our stop (saint-anne) and went up toward daylight...

we came up into a bustling city centre of historical buildings, local restaurants, young people walking everywhere and tiny cars jumbling along the cobbled streets. i immediately, uncontrollably got tears in my eyes...this place is h-o-m-e...whoa. speechless...

our 'apartment' at the Citea is small and may or may not be where we stay the whole time we are here. who knows...
(the 'kitchen', the bathroom, the kitchen table with bed)

we shower and rest a tiny bit and get a quick tour of the city centre area from jean before he takes us back to his home for a homecooked meal. they have a wonderful apartment that is a renovated dentists office. as we walked back after dinner, at around 10p, the city was lively and music was wafting out of every pub. there was a lovely feeling in the air, and it carried us home to sleep...

06 October 2008

Goodbye to you.s.a.

still in denial that we are leaving. i guess that seems normal for such a big move. saying goodbye to people has been quite strange. i worked really hard to try and make time to see everyone before take off. i hope everyone felt like we gave them their due time. we are so grateful to have our friends and family and we wanted everyone to know how much we care about them.

i get mentally weepy when i think about how lucky we are to have so many different friends and family with a variety of interests and experiences. they have really enriched our lives. i never thought, especially as my introverted, depressed middle school self, that i would find so many to love and who would love me back. 

many of these special people showed up at our going away party at Corner Brewery on october 2. i was camera happy but i know these pictures will make me feel connected. likewise, daves sister, megan, got married this past weekend (oct 4) up in boyne, michigan. congrats! that event allowed us to see both sides of his family and get to say goodbye to all of them. it was a really great weekend for memories and well wishes and happy times. a nice glow of family energy to help us get back and finish the final packing. 

we got to the airport two hours early and had no delays. we are now sitting here in the new North terminal in Detroit, i guess Smith is now closed. its bright and clean in here but pretty sparse. its quiet and calm and these seasoned tuesday travelers are patiently waiting. i still dont feel nervous, i dont understand how my brain and stomach are just as cool as cucumbers. again, it just feels like this move is totally correct.  the weird airport restaurant directly across from our gate is even called 'Le Boulanger' (the baker). 

just sitting next to our Airbus A340-300 and still dont realize it is the vehicle that will transport me to my new life. crazy. i should go grab a snack and pack up to get ready to go on the plane. 

love you all and miss you all, until next we meet...