30 December 2008

Theres no such thing as a free lunch but i would crawl across hot coals for dinner

after a late start (i think this is how jetlag gets me, makes me groggy in the mornings) we decided to go west and do the modern art museum and phoenix park.

after a bus and light rail ride, we arrived near the irish museum of modern art. as we walked up the gravel path and through the stone archway we found ourselves standing in front of a historic stone building…really, you house MODERN art in here? ah well, its free admission, you cant go wrong right?

the building is square-shaped, with two floors. you walk through an archway and enter the huge inner courtyard. we located the main entrance, grabbed a map and ascended the stairs to the galleries. we have an artist friend who likes to rate art museums based on a series of items, one important one being flow. in terms of flow, i would give this museum a 2 out of 10. for some reason they dont utilize the full square of the upper floor. one quarter of the square is unavailable, so instead, they make two distinct galleries. one gallery has contemporary art (we couldnt really get into most of it) that you weave through, come to a dead end and then weave back toward the staircase where you started. then you pass the stairs and enter the other gallery with their small permanent collection (sean scully and a new artist to us, living irish treasure Patrick Scott), again weaving along to a dead end and weaving back to the staircase. strange…

(patrick scott paintings from google images, these 2 pieces actually werent at the museum)

we wanted to hit the park next but needed some food. we found the museum café on the basement level. we thought that it might be overpriced, but since the museum was free, hey, we dont mind…

first of all, the café was part of the franchise ‘itsa bagel.’ a chain that apparently imports ‘genuine article’ new york bagels and sells them to silly people (us apparently being among them). we ordered two sandwiches and sat down to wait for our food. while playing with the bendy straw in my water glass (bendy straws!? yes!) dave noticed that on the bill, they had converted our total to u.s. dollars and then charged us a 3.5% conversion charge before swiping our mastercard. they never told us, nor was there a sign, but the receipt basically says we lack the right to protest the charge. awesome. thanks.

of course, the bagels arrive and basically taste like imported frozen lenders bagels. chewy nonsense not worthy of the name ‘bagel’ and I masticate my sandwich through slitted eyes, giving the death stare to the café kitchen, i contemplate a free-of-charge conversion of their irish food into american waste right here at the table…

afterward, we inspected the museum grounds. they had a lovely groomed, walled-in traditional english garden. a nice pick-me-up after lunch. so, we were able to leave on a happy note as we headed to the phoenix park.
(in the garden, looking back at the museum; me in a dent in one of the garden walls)

phoenix park is the largest city park in europe. we didn’t get to walk much of it but it was nice. up on a hill and downwind of the guinness factory, we could smell the coffee and chocolate in the air on the way to the park entrance. it has a long driveway with groomed gardens on the side (and i think the irish presidents house was up on the right). up a bit further on the left is the wellington monument which was erected for the duke of wellington who defeated napolean. up further on the right is the dublin zoo which we couldnt enter since it was getting to be dusk. since we were chilled from the wind, we walked back to the light rail stop and headed back to the hotel.

after we warmed up, we decided to hit the restaurant half a block from the hotel called jo’burger. every time we have passed this restaurant there have been bucket loads of people inside. i was wary of a burger joint, but our feet were tired and we threw caution to the wind and walked through the steamed up glass windowfront to wait for a table. inside was where the magic happened.

the space was cozy with 4-5 long communal wood tables, a collection of kitschy overhead lamps, and wall murals of punk cartoons floating around the room. we sidled up to the couple next to us and peered at the menu lovingly sandwiched inside a childrens hardcover comic book. first you had to choose a meat: beef, lamb, 2 different types of chicken breasts, fish, or 2 different kinds of veggie burgers. all meet was organic and local. then you had to find the burger fixins you wanted amid a list of ~20 mouthwatering, globally-inspired combos. i ordered a beef patty, medium, with jarlsberg cheese, mushrooms, and avocado. dave got sweet potato fries and a beef patty, medium, with wild greens, pineapple chipotle chutney, and mayo.

the restaurant also had a dj who was expertly spinning a great mix of tunes. the food was delivered to our table and i cut my burger in half while i was grooving to the beat. i lifted one half to my mouth and as i inhaled my world went silent. all i could focus on was the scent from the burger and the layers of colors coming toward my tongue. did i smell cinnamon? and look at the sandy-colored bun, the plump, dark, shiny mushroom on top of the green avocado slices and yellow cheese sitting on the juicy beef patty. when I recovered enough to actually take a bite of this masterpiece it exceeded my wildest dreams. the bread was warm, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and finished with a faint cinnamon flavor. the meat was soft, flavorful and perfectly accented by the mild cheese, avocado and juicy mushroom. while blissfully bopping to the music and grinning like a moron, i savored the marriage of scent and flavor in every bite of my burger, occasionally adding a delicious sweet potato fry to the mix. mmm, this is what heaven feels like, im absolutely sure of it. (ps. dave deeply enjoyed his burger too).

(borrowed this from google images. we sat against the wall at this table. Jo looks like a demented Big Boy to me...)

so, with aer lingus restarting flights from rennes to dublin in the spring, im thinking its not absurd to buy an 80 euro ticket to come back for a food marathon of burgers, fish n’ chips, and fresh vegetarian food. a craving for a good burger should not be ignored, plus it seems like i need to explore more of what ireland has to offer...

29 December 2008

The luck of the irish

we explored the main tourist areas of the city center today and had ‘the luck of the irish’, possibly because dave is half irish (the o’hara clan)?

we hit st stephens green first. a lovely park with beautiful landscaping. there were actually lots of plants and trees flowering. its amazing how much life can grow when you dont regularly reach freezing temperatures during the winter.

when we came out of the park, we entered a main shopping area of dublin, grafton street. while strolling the pedestrian-only areas that were still decorated for christmas, we saw the patagonia store was having a sale. after poking around, dave found a divine pair of ski pants. they freakin’ fit perfectly! the ideal ski pant has eluded him for at least 7 years. every year we attempt to find ones that fit the bill, but always leave empty handed, until now! woo hoo, success.
(this was a sign i saw on grafton street. no joke. try and tell me this doesnt look like michael jackson...)

then, we located a lunch place on the top floor of the powerscourt shopping center, a vegetarian place called Fresh and it was AMAZING! an entrée and 2 different salads of your choice for like 10 euros. it was cafeteria style, but freshmade. i got lentil, mushroom lasagna with lentil salad and kidney chickpea salad. dave got thai red curry and his two salads. as i was laughing about my huge plate of beans, i put my first bite in my mouth. im in love! the textures and flavors were fantastic. every ingredient added something special to the dish. nothing was masked by salt or sugar, it was heaven.

floating on a cloud of beans (it wasnt a smelly cloud), we saw more of dublin. we entered the wooden arched door of the famous trinity college. what a gorgeous campus. school was out for the holiday of course, but walking around the gated and completely enclosed campus felt nice and inclusive and totally focused on scholastic endeavors. dave and i were thinking that if he ever saw a job opening at trinity…

(part of the trinity campus)

next up was the famous temple bar area, a couple blocks of restaurants and pubs. we exited to walk along the main canal of dublin with multiple bridges along the several miles of water. eventually we linked up with the path toward the Guinness beer factory, our end goal for the day. on the path we passed many stone churches, lovely civic buildings, and the Dublin castle. the historic castle is in the heart of downtown. very odd.

(a kitschy decorated irish pub in temple bar, love the chartreuse paint; part of dublin castle)

anyway, as we neared the brewery, i was struck with an odor of dog food. dry, mid-grade dog food. ew? as this scent died down the fainter wafts of chocolate and coffee tickled my nose. we both realized it was coming from the factory, duh…but dog food? we arrived and had prepaid (24 euros) thus allowing us to skip the huge line. sweet! as we rode the escalator to ‘ground level,’ we were excited to experience the #1 tourist attraction in ireland…ground level had the store (you had to pay to get access to the f-ing store!) and a glitzy exhibit on the 4 ingredients of beer: barley, hops, yeast, and water. ooo, fancy, likin’ it…next, level 1: some roasted barley you could touch and smell and some dull brewing process information. the tasting lab was a nice touch though. i actually tried some of the beer. ick, but at least i could taste a few different flavors on the way down and there was no after-taste, bonus.

alas, we soon lost interest in the rest of the place. level 2: information on the history of advertizing the beer and a coffee bar (to sober up?), level 3: the story of the brewery, level 4: the story of the building, level 5: a station where you could pour your own guinness and a restaurant, and level 7: the gravity bar where you get your ‘complimentary’ fresh-poured guinness with the coveted 360º view of dublin. basically, we hung our heads in shame that we fell for this tourist trap. 24 euros for learning nothing new, mingling with morons, and getting a ‘free’ pint of guinness (for dave) and a glass of orangina (for me). just get a guinness from one of the hundreds of irish pubs nearby.

(me in front of the waterfall in the factory; dave in the gravity bar enjoying his pint)

we headed back to the city center and stopped at a cool pub. the bull & castle. they had a good sampler of irish beer that dave loved. his favorite was an irish pale ale called ‘galway hooker.’

walking back to the hotel, i was thinking what a lovely walkable city dublin is. the weather is decent enough and people are out and they are happy and friendly and all the random places we wandered off the path felt safe. my favorite thing was the fact that i counted at least a handful of people walking the street in what are OBVIOUSLY their pjs or at least what i call ‘house uniforms.’ i love people like this, my kind of people. i could blend in here…

anyway, to wrap up, we chose to have mouth-watering fish n’ chips for dinner and it didnt disappoint. since apparently 1913, burdocks has been making cholesterol-busting chihuahua-sized pieces of fried fish. mm mmm. i was only slightly repulsed when we saw ‘jumbo batter burger’ on their menu. it was 2 euros cheaper than the meat burgers, leading us to believe that they honestly make a ‘burger’ consisting solely of a patty of fried batter sandwiched between two pieces of bread…tempting…tempting…

The smell of your grease attracts me

after a smooth bus ride to the hotel, we dropped off our baggage when we were told our room wouldnt be ready for another 4 hours. joy, we are tired, have travel clothes on, and have cotton mouth, no worries we can wander the city for a bit.

after fueling up a bit with tea, ginger cake, and a warm muffin, we strolled along the small canal near our hotel. we explored the less touristy area of town (saving that for the next day). we got a nice feel for the neighborhoods and shop-lined streets. also we got to see the irish stance on dog poo:


we found a pub with a live soccer match playing and went in for a beer and lunch. the place seemed like a locals hangout. there were two older men and two younger men near us and they were occasionally chatting amongst each other about the match. it was interesting that all of their accents were different. we had noticed this during the day. the ‘irish accent’ from movies is not a blanket representative of the country. i know i should have expected this but nearly every person has a slightly different way of speaking, pretty neat.

then we stumbled (due to fatigue, not drunkenness) back to the hotel, checked in, and crashed into bed for a nap. we woke up and it was dark out, a 2.5 hour nap. to wake ourselves up we turned on the tv, Friends was on! joy! once alert enough, we headed down to an internet café to check in with the rest of the world. we found a review of a good indian place in walking distance and headed there for some dinner carryout.

on the way, a friendly st. nick look-alike wished us a happy new year. how nice? and then, in the crisp evening air i caught several wafts of fryer grease…of fries, chicken…but what flashed memories through my brain was the smell of fried fish. fish n’ chips! we had the BEST time eating our way through the fried fish of new zealand on our honeymoon and i was overjoyed to have had such a happy olfactory response. mmm. coming soon to a tummy near me. but we did still go to the indian place.

we got cinnamon, coconut curry and chicken lentils. we picked up some alcoholic cider on the way back to wash it down (we saw 12 cans of bud light for 21 euros!). and everything was quite tasty. while dinner was being enjoyed we surfed the tv channels again and found a british ‘year-in-review quiz show.’ it was HILARIOUS. they can say all manner of things on british television. i thought i knew that before, but whoa, they can say anything. it was good to laugh that hard before bed. healthy for the digestion.

28 December 2008

Disneyworld how i loathe thee, let me count the ways

where do i even start? i can only define orlando and all things related to said town as the bane of my existence. everything about it makes me wanna dry heave.

the mega malls, the gadzillion dollars spent by families at the theme parks, the pavement and traffic and energy of it all, being landlocked, and the coup de grâce…the flights in and out of that town. every time i travel there my brain immediately tries to remove the horrible memories, only to have them all come flooding back the next time i step on a flight through MCO. the orlando to dublin flight was no exception.

we had no fewer than 4 shrieking children in our part of the cabin. they apparently drew straws before the flight for who would start the concert and then proceeded to create a perfectly synchronized harmony of wailing, whining, shrieking, and moaning to accompany nearly every minute of the 8.5 hour flight. i am not lying when i say there was no 15 minute period void of a childs musical death cries.

my favorite was the ringleader sitting behind us who can only be described as the bride of chucky. she cried for nothing, she cried for her dolly, she cried for her mamma, she cried for her daddy. nothing seemed to satisfy her. my favorite cry of hers came about 4 hours into the flight when she repeated at least two dozen times…’give me my toys. give me my toys. give me my toys…’ each time in a different tone. the best version was when she used her gravely satanic voice and growled ‘give.me.my.toys…’ the child was evil. occasionally, when she was refueling her tear pockets, the child a few rows in front of her to take over. both of the mothers involved seemed to be going at the disciplining (or lack thereof) alone. later on, while deboarding, I saw that both women had their husbands with them. way to go douchebags, turn those headphones up louder so you don’t have to take an active role.

along with the shrieking, the old couple in front of us decided to recline into our laps and read the ENTIRE flight. never once did they turn off their overhead lights. we were doomed, doomed to spend our first day in dublin a little more zombified than we had bargained for. oh well, at least the actual flight was smooth, that was a silver lining.

in summary, all flights into and out of orlando suck because of what a megahuge draw disneyworld is. and so, i heap the blame on you walt, mickey, minnie, and cinderella. my annoyances of riding through MCO:

1. it is guaranteed there will be crying kids.
2. it is possible there will be a child who barfs into his epcot center bag right in front of you.
3. extended families have usually saved for a long time to be able to travel together so they all wanna sit near each other and be loud and jockey their seating arrangements around a hundred times before the flight attendants tell them that we cant taxi to the runway until they stop playing musical chairs.
4. it is a given that you will have some first time flyers aboard who will think that take off is a rollercoaster ride and requires you to put your hands up and say ‘weeeee!’ these same people will also likely clap and celebrate when you land in orlando, ‘mickey, here we come!’ some children will also feel the need to mention the fact that we are still alive after take off or express their desire to not die during landing.
5. my mom sat near a deranged child once who wailed the whole way back to detroit ‘goodbye mickey. i love you mickey.’
6. there will be an overwhelming population of mothers traveling alone attempting to control 4+ children. some will be in strollers, some on leashes, some will be running amok around the terminal leaving you to wonder where their lazy husbands are who saddled their wife with this herculean task.
7. on flights leaving orlando, the overhead bins will be jammed full of disney garbage: shirts, balloons, stuffed animals, mickey ears, etc. meaning that you and your real person carry-on will have difficultly finding room.

27 December 2008

Fast times in florida state

florida weather can be nice when you are just visiting. i almost went into shock because we only had one day of rain. holiday with the family went quickly. i think this was the longest ive stayed in florida before, 9 days in a row, whoa, what a blur. the week in brief:

day #1 (fri dec 19): arrive from georgia. met my mom at her school and chatted with her schools french teacher. went back to the house and met the newest member of the family zoo, a puppy named marcel (in keeping with their M name theme). mom and i caught the movie Twilight. i must say it was almost subpar. it is a testament to how good the book series is that that movie broke a lot of records. most of the film quality is embarrassing. i will say the lead actors were superbly cast and i look forward to more well-done sequels.

(little cutie marcel. he toots a lot though...)

day #2 (sat dec 20): lounged around with the family. big event of the day was going with my mom to the christmas boat parade on one of the channels in the causeway. people had decorated their boats with christmas lights and were parading down along the area where the most bridges were so families could gather with their kids. it was a perfect florida people watching moment. you had the old couples, the biker dudes/chicks, and the families with their several children: parents with cigarettes, cozies of bud light, and primo parenting skills: allowing their children to sit on the bridge railing with their legs dangling into oncoming car traffic, playing in the murky water by the boat dock, etc.

day #3 (sun dec 21): me and mom went to see reese in Four Christmases. thought it was okay. reese did a good job of keeping it afloat. love her. mom and i took a bike ride near sunset through a quiet neighborhood where everyone owned a horse and had stables on their property.

day #4 (mon dec 22): dad and i saw the Day Earth Stood Still. thought it was okay. abrupt, silly ending but the lead actors did a decent job. dad and i picked up dave from the airport. he arrived safely after spending 5 days at his conference in san fransisco (it went really well!) and 2.5 days in calgary (the meeting went well but the weather was freezing!). i was super glad to have him back. that was the longest we'd been apart for months. having to share that tiny living space for so long makes you depend on the other persons presence. it was nice to have him back. :)

day #5 (tues dec 23): dave, mom and i went north to St Augustine. had lunch at a spanish restaurant and took a short walk around the town. on the way home we drove along the beach and stopped at a huge inlet. the weather was great, the beach wasnt busy at all, and the waves were huge!

day #6 (wed dec 24): had christmas eve dinner. turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, hot rolls, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin bars. yum! thanks mom!

(obligatory dave turkey carving pic with me enjoying some; family pic)

day #7 (thurs dec 25): went as a family to my brothers favorite fishing spot. chip caught his own bait. he found a fiddler crab and two crawfish that had quite a pair of pinchers on them! while they didnt catch any fish, we did see two dolphins surface near us and play around with each other, thrashing in the water and making waves. that was way cool!

day #8 (fri dec 26): mom, dave, and i went to the merritt island wildlife refuge. we saw tons of sea birds and i counted 9 gators! while unsuccessful at spotting a manatee at the manatee platform we heard some french canadians speaking and immediately my ears perked up. it was funny to be able to pick out part of their conversation...it was a good reminder that we are going to be thrown back into that environment shortly!

(dave in the mangroves; a huge gator watching us)

day #9 (sat dec 27): chip and mom took me to a manatee location near the house hoping i could see one before i left. no dice. i was looking away while one stuck his snout outta the water and he didnt resurface. bummer. theres always next time... on the way to the airport we stopped in orlando at the crazy florida mall. thank god we were coordinated and got in and outta there without murdering someone. then we went to MCO for our flight.

(the closest i came to a manatee...)

inspired by the christmas song 'the 12 days of christmas' i made this little song up in my head about the holiday in florida:

in the 9 days of florida the sunshine gave to us...
9 gators [sun]bathing,
8 home-cooked dinners,
7 perfect weather days,
6 family animals (mickey, molly, maggie, marcel, moo cow, and copper),
5 outdoor adventures,
4 shrieking children (see entry 'Disneyworld how i loath thee, let me count the ways'),
3 pinching crustaceans,
2 playful dolphins and
1 itchy mosquito bite.

20 December 2008

Zero to 80 in 21 hours

roadtrip started thursday morning in dearborn and we arrived in melbourne friday afternoon. total of 21 hours of driving.

we had just about the smoothest, non-eventful driving experience possible. we had no bad weather, just a bit of mist in kentucky and tennessee. we had no construction or accident slow downs except for 20 minutes in chattanooga. we were able to stop south of atlanta to sleep on thursday night and were well rested to finish off the drive on friday.

it was actually kinda fun to do the drive after being in only one spot in france for a while. i was able to be in the snow of michigan, the slow roads and boring farms of ohio, the mountains and fog of kentucky and tennessee, the nighttime cityscape of atlanta and red earth of georgia, and the sun and 80 degree heat of florida. awesome! and i had an excuse to visit the only tolerable american fast food: taco bell and wendys.

17 December 2008

Mother Earth gives the gift of snow

woo hoo! SNOW!

due to my pre-planning abilities i was able to do and see so much while in michigan. i hung out with my old roomie jules tuesday morning before taking care of two important errands. caught lunch with my childhood swim buddies at comfort food place #3: Jerusalem Garden. i love you balls of falafel, mounds of rice pilaf, and smooth bowls of lentil soup, mmm.

had tea in the afternoon with my pregnant friend lisa. yay for the baby bump! then proceeded to drive on the nice dry roads of suburban detroit. i arrived in royal oak to a few whispers of snow. ten minutes later the snow was coming down and the roads were slick, slicker than normal thanks to my bald tires. i dumped the car at my friends house and we drive his AWD car to comfort food #4: sushi. my college friends were able to gather and eat a meal with me. love you guys! i learn some frightening stories about what its like to be a teacher (thanks miss!) and enjoy my old crew. when we left the restaurant we were greeted by a full on winter wonderland. i love white blankets of snow. i didnt know if i would actually get to see it while i was back and im SO glad i did.

wednesday morning i went with phil to his familys business, comfort food place #5: new york bagel. egg/poppy seed bagel toasted with cream cheese and a slice of cheddar...mmm. then i went back to ann arbor to have tea and lunch with my public heath friends at comfort food #6: thai food. tasty thai iced tea and yellow chicken curry...what fun! then headed to my grandpas to get new tires on my car and to pick up my brother who flew in to help drive down to florida with me. later that evening we ended up at my grandmas in dearborn for dinner and visiting and spending the night. i also got to check in on my plump cat nutmeg. she pretty much ignored me. she either hasnt forgiven me, or has practically forgotten that i ever existed.
(my friend phil in front of my fav bagels; huron river near where we lived in ann arbor)

16 December 2008

Love the ones you work with

today was partially dedicated to errands, partially dedicated to visiting co-worker friends. 

daves parents kindly acted as our shuttle drivers as we made our pilgrimage to our storage unit in canton. then we hurried over to julies apt to drop/swap/grab some items. then went to the um geology dept to get daves last items, said hi to his old boss, and enjoyed the gift of the bitter cold michigan wind. love you! missed you! we rewarded ourselves with lunch at comfort food place #1: NYPD. ziti pasta pizza and mushroom/garlic pizza...mmm...

later, i crept into the office building of my last job. i was super lucky that everyone i use to chat with was in at work today and wasnt detained by meetings. i caught up on all the juicy gossip in the lives of my cubicle suite mates (stolen laptops, wacky-themed weddings, etc) and then went to bother my old boss for a few minutes. what fun! theyre all such good people, i was sad i had to leave that work environment.

next stop was meeting up with another group of past co-workers. we hit up comfort food place #2: Olgas. yummy pita bread with oozing cheese and creamy, tangy yogurt...mmm. i enjoy hanging out with this group of women. when i worked in the lab they kindly folded me right in with their lunch group, which has now turned into a dinner group. they are very thoughtful people who can carry on a good conversation. one of them was taking care of our car for us while we are in france. now that we are staying longer than anticipated, i am taking it off their hands and roadtripping it to florida, joy!

its nice to realize that i have been able to remain close to many previous co-workers in my life. even far back: some of the kids i babysat are my friends on facebook and some of the tattooed guys at my high school pizza parlor job still remember me. my undergrad lab co-workers are good friends i still get to see from time to time, and my two post-grad school jobs have yielded fun relationships that i am lucky to have. you cant love everyone you work with, but i am glad i have been able to be surrounded by plenty of good people who continue to influence my life even when i no longer work with them. thanks guys!

15 December 2008

Train, planes, automobile

we are back in the u.s.! it seems like we were only on a 10 day vacation, weird.

saturday we cleaned up the apartment and packed. then took the 3 hour train ride to the paris airport. we hired a 14 euro cab ride to an airport hotel. the place was full of college kids in their pjs huddling in the front lobby buying 5 euro dinners from the pasta VENDING machine. i kid you not, i could not make that up.

sunday morning we got up at 7a and caught our flight to frankfurt. had a pretzel sandwich in the airport and boarded our plane to DTW. the flight was mostly uneventful except a lady near us had chest pains during the end of the flight (i think she ended up being okay, we saw her at baggage claim) and her seat neighbor was a woman who spoke NO english and was from Macedonia! the nice flight attendant helped her fill out her u.s. customs slips. i kept thinking about how she was both brave (for coming to a country where she spoke not ONE word of the language, alone) and silly (why would you choose to do this is the merciless u.s.!?).

we arrive in DTW at 4p (10p french time) and they confiscate the french sausage we brought back for gifts. :( trying not to be bummed, we burst through the exit doors of the terminal and daves parents were waiting for us at the gate to welcome us home. it was very lovely. we then drove home to clarkston with them (picking up his grandma on the way) and enjoyed ourselves some fabulous cheeseburgers, fries, and homemade apple pie. welcome back to america. my belly salutes you!

13 December 2008

Globetrotting plans

i have gotten a few questions about our travel plans so i am laying out a skeleton schedule:

dec 13 - train to paris to stay in airport hotel
dec 14 - morning flight to frankfurt, germany. flight from germany to detroit. arrive in detroit in the evening.
dec 14-17 - visit family and friends and get some ann arbor errands done. my brother flies up from florida to help me drive my car down to my parents. 
dec 18 - leave from my grandmas house to head down to florida
dec 19 - arrive in florida
dec 19-27 - hang out in florida. pet some manatees. eat some turkey. enjoy the warmth. avoid the beach. ;) see my family. watch some movies.
dec 27-31 - travel to dublin. hang out in dublin. drink daves heritage. try not to freeze our butts off.
dec 31 - arrive back in paris. catch a train back to rennes.
jan 8-12 - train, plane, and bus it to stockholm, sweden. mini-reunion with daves geology friends. try not to freeze our butts off in sweden. enjoy the 6 hours of daylight everyday.
march - attempt to ski the alps.
april-june - enjoy visitors(?)
mid-july - we are planning on leaving france in mid-july. i am in a friends wedding in michigan so this just makes sense for us. we will be driving the car back up from florida. and after the wedding, packing up for our year in halifax. we hope to roadtrip to halifax and visit a few friends on the east coast. seems so long from now...

yay for the holidays. i am very excited to come home and enjoy the things i know. ive had a good time exploring new things but a good comfy recharge will be nice. i found this cute Gap holiday ad with the lovely Milla Jovovich and her daughter Ever. cute:

Nights of the international round table

okay, it was a square table, but last night we hung out with a delightful new posse.

there was a holiday party at my french school last night. glen and i decided we would come with our partners. we were the only people from our class. we were required to bring a dish or drink from our home country. since coca-cola costs about 3€ per liter (are you f-ing kidding me?) we decided to bring a dish. we made macaroni and cheese. awesome. except the cheese wouldnt totally melt onto the pasta so it was kind of a sad glop of americana. oh well. we didnt stand a chance against all the french food and tasty desserts that were there. 

while the french party was winding down we ended up meeting a young german girl who was two french levels above us. she spoke english VERY well so we asked her where she learned. she said she had done an exchange year during high school in washington state. so this girl was tri-lingual and spoke both her other languages quite well. very jealous. at the end of the party we invited her to come with the four of us to the irish pub in rennes. she agreed.

at the pub, dave got his Newcastle beer and the others got irish Bulmer cider. we all crammed ourselves into the corner table and gabbed for a few hours. it was lovely to have an english speaking night out. i think i nearly regained all my speech and was able to laugh my ass off like a fool to the point where they were trying to cut me off...of water. 

our group consisted of glen (australian), his partner martin (french, but speaks great english), christina (german), and us (the americans). we discussed our countries: similarities, differences, pop culture stuff, etc. christina loves Friends (yes!), and we were telling martin about the episode where joey is trying to learn french. hilarious. 

at one point christina asked us what our home countries thought about germans. it was an interesting question and i was actually stumped to answer. mostly the american school kid impression of germany is what we learn from history. the war stuff. and while i was thinking of it, in the 80s and 90s at least, i remember several bad guys in action movies were german (die hard and others). so really, i was thinking i didnt have much to say that was good. while i am of german descent and i am proud of my family, i had never given much thought to my view of the germans, current day. well, christina told us that while she was in washington with her host family, there were kids at school who called her a 'dirty nazi' and that in her history class they learned about the world wars and afterward her teacher said something like 'what did we learn about the war? that the good people won and the germans were losers.' awesome. way to go u.s.a.

despite this blemish on the evening, i was thrilled to my toes to have met such fun and nice people from around the world. all i can say is that, the more i meet and talk to people from across the globe, i get to see firsthand just how painful stereotypes are. the most flamboyant, loud, rude, obnoxious, negative traits of a people are the ones 'worth' propagating because they bring the most humor for storytelling pass-it-on purposes. just like we dont all identify with or wanna be viewed as the fat, arrogant, selfish, non-cultured, materialistic religious freak american, other world citizens dont wanna be stamped with their countries weaknesses or traits of the few. i guess this is an obvious lesson to have been learned a long time ago, but in the states i can only attempt to dispel the stereotypes based on the people i meet. people of other colors, faiths, and sexual orientations from whom i am always learning and am able to remove my stereotypes there, and now ive gone global. and im enjoying finding the pleasant side of people. it creates more optimism in my world, which is always good.

11 December 2008

A plea for the return of my speech

after 6 hours of english for intermediates this week, my brain is broken. 

amending both the speed with which i talk and choosing easier words to use while conveying my points, i have found i feel almost like a robot. i obviously havent learned to detach when i go to class or reconnect with my normal brain when i leave. since i normally speak quickly i made a concerted effort when i first started to slow down. i also find that i use slang or words that paint more of a picture rather than tell the facts, so i have been having to adapt my speech for better comprehension. this is all fine, until i return home to dave. my normal-life partner who i should be able to have a regular conversation with...

got home from class last night and we had to make dinner. dave was asking for suggestions and i found myself unable to get across my thoughts. the convo, in typing:

dave:  what do you want for dinner?
me:  mmm. i. dont. know. may-be...pasta. yes? we have. pas-ta. in the fridge. that we should...eat. be-fore. we go home.
dave:  i agree, what else do we have to go with it?
me:  mmm. well. i did not go. to the bakery. for bread. be-cause. i didnt know. if we. were going. to eat together...

ridiculous. and for anyone who has gotten oddly phrased emails from me. that is also probably part of my condition. i need to figure out how to retain myself while still being a productive teacher. i didnt realize devolving back into a child would be such a quick process, perhaps my brain wasnt very stable in the first place...no comments from the peanut gallery...

my plea: please help me recapture my sense of self before i drool on my shirt. on my whirlwind tour of the states coming up, if i am lucky enough to get a chance to see you, PLEASE, speak quickly to me. use big words. throw slang and swear words at me. in short, get my vernacular back in shape!!!! please. all i have left of myself is the hand gestures and smiling. otherwise im barely comprehensible...

pret-ty people... me likey...

(do-gooder reese. the tagline is actually 'Beat the odds.' funny that it is a fundraiser dinner and the picture here says 'eat the odds'...; vamps land in paris to promote their movie)

09 December 2008

Hail, hail to bri-tan-ny...

day 2 of work (i wont write about it every day unless there is something of interest).

i am walking to work. i cross the street and shortly after denying a beggar some change i feel a plop of something land on my head and i think 'CRAP, karma got me back fast. i bet a bird shat in my hair. thatll go over well at school. look at me the crazy poopy american...' i quickly touch my head and look at my hand. while i inspect it for white goo, more and more plops land on my head. its freakin' raining. big droplets. i start scurrying to the part of the walk that is partially covered by street awnings. a minute later i am getting hailed on. hail. its my first here in brittany and i'll take it as holiday weather, as some sort of excuse for snow. yay, and gross. i was damp and battered by the time i got in to work.

tonight went much smoother in terms of my inner nervousness. i had to pull a few more teeth to get answers but i was able to joke around a little bit and i didnt have anyone staring at me making me uncomfortable. although, that kid did stay late at school to sit alone in the classroom directly across from mine (there are glass walls so i could see him). i think he was getting one-on-one help from another teacher or taking a test maybe. either way...weird. anyway, my kids were all nice (had a few shy ones) and sweet. the nerdy yet adorable kind. my kind of males. i did have two annoyances sitting front and center who did not speak english well at all and proceeded to have a french conversation under their breath through all of class. i wanted to kick them because they never responded when i said 'guys, quiet down.' thoughts on this from the teachers? i will have to stick them with some kind of embarrassing question next class. but it has to be at least one they can comprehend so they are forced to answer. mmm...

anyway, dave had a warm and yummy meal ready when i burst through the door so, yay! dinnertime. also, if i havent mentioned before, most all u.s. websites with streaming video wont let you watch anything here (NBC, hulu, itunes, netflix, amazon movie rental...). it stinks. we've had a hard time finding things to watch while we eat dinner. thank GOD for youtube. it still works. the other day though, glen told me about surfthechannel.com and videostic.com that you can get tv shows from. we tried it out and they had the new season of The Office! yyeeeeess! we watched the season premiere that we missed. i love you internet. i missed scenes like this:

Michael: does anybody have any idea what the #1 cause of death is in this country?
Dwight: shotgun weddings.
Jim: thats not what that is.
Creed: fright. being scared to death?

yay, things should get a little more interesting around the dinner table, no offense dave. ;)

and a hollywood ending with my favorite couple:

08 December 2008

Yes! i didnt crap my pants

sorry, that is vulgar, but i had the adapted SNL faux-commercial line in my head. and today i survived my first day at work!

we got up before 8a to be the first in line at the social security office to get ourselves into the health system here in france. i still need proof of health insurance to start work. dave has it through his job but we werent aware of it until last week when i was getting my paperwork for my job together. anyway, apparently "all you need" (we should be VERY wary of this phrase by now) to get in the system is a paystub saying you have officially started your job in france and paid into the system. we didnt have a paystub, but thought our bank statement might work. by now we should know better, but dave hoped it could be true. thank goodness we only had to wait 10 minutes before she told us to take a hike until we had paystubs. she wasnt the friendliest person. there were some free 2009 calendars on her desk though so you can bet i stole one of those suckers before i left! take that! it noted the governmental workers 2009 vacation schedule. all told, these people get 3 months off each YEAR!!! not including their personal vacation days, you can afford to be nice to me.

anyway, went to french class, met with glen afterward to prepare for class. started feeling confident, bought a sandwich, met dave at home. he went out to go looking for paystubs and came back shortly after because that lady wasnt at work today. of course. somewhere in there i started to be attacked by cramps. thank you, i love it! one hour before class i go to the pharmacy and explain to the lady, in french, that i have cramps and need ibuprofen (they even have minor pain meds behind the counter here in france. you need to explain every little ailment to get your hands on their drugs. maybe they are just voyeurs and wanna hear everyones sob stories). anyway, i down the drugs with cereal and head to school.

the secretary and HR lady are nice and welcoming again to me and glen arrives early to pump me up. im doing okay. i seat myself in a classroom. i only have 10 students (11 including a dingleberry who wasnt supposed to be there) and the room is big enough to seat 30 people. then i pass around a sign-in sheet and sit there fidgeting deciding whether i should talk/introduce myself while its going around or since english isnt their first language, they might not pay attention until they are done. i decide to wait and introduce myself. then butcher all their names, to which they politely nod and dont even try to correct me. and i begin describing the topic. 

my first hour was a discussion on whether "the average family can make a difference 'going green.'" there was a short text involved, i went around the room and made each of them read from to get a sense for their english. not bad. then i opened up the floor for opinions. two kind souls volunteered and i was able to float the discussion for about 15 minutes this way. only 3-4 people were brave enough to speak freely. i was able to pry a couple more into the conversation before finishing by breaking them into groups to report back what their partner did at home to 'be green.' 

the second hour was with slightly different students (they sign up for these sessions separately). i had 8 students and the topic was a debate: cosmetic surgery/tattoos/multiple piercings should be banned for teenagers. again i made them read the short accompanying text and split into teams. even though most people didnt want to be on the "against banning" side, they seemed to cooperate. we finished a little early but they had done a decent job.

now, for digestion of these events. first, all but one student was a male. i like to think of myself as someone with a lot of balls. but i still have a ponytail and it seemed to somehow feel like i was being treated like a female. coupled with the fact that i was nervous, i was unable to force the students to sit closer to the front, thus the non-participators had great seating in the nosebleed area. also, most of the students there are computer nerd guys who are thus gangly and awkward but still sweet. most were very shy. one was aloof and staring at me in such a way as i got the vibe that he was messing with me, or trying to intimidate me, or was too bored to care and was trying to let me know that. there were no troublemakers per se so i was thankful for that. also, most everyone had their laptops open and were either playing frogger, photoshopping my head on a wet blanket, or were furiously using translator software to read their french thoughts off the computer in english. 

mmm. so there is room for improvement for tomorrow which will be a repeat of the topics with different students. dave said it will only get better as i get more comfortable. when i mentioned the one "odd" guy in class to glen, he told me that he too had gotten the vibe that that kid was a 'prat' (hes australian) so i felt slightly good that at least my intuition hadnt failed me. although, i am willing to see if he improves upon further involvement. mostly, i survived, didnt sweat much, didnt appear to blush much, and didnt crap my pants. so i count that as a good first day in my book. 

i came home and dave took us out for restaurant food to celebrate. he had a beer and mussels à la creme (yum) and i ordered the "steak jockey" which was a hamburger patty with a fried egg on top. i couldnt help myself, i wanted beef, it was cheap, and i thought the name was amusing enough for the blog. so there you go. it did not satisfy my desire for a u.s. cheeseburger. 

I'm allergic to sunshine

so, i spent the weekend in my bed. saturday decided to invade the right side of my face and sunday took my left. it was the first time both days of the weekend were sunny and no raindrops fell. i think im now allergic to sunshine.

i woke up with a sinus headache on my right side on saturday that went away after hours of laying on my side, playing cards, napping, reading. slowly, as dusk neared, i came out of my cocoon of pain and was able to witness the dirtbag parade and visit the bakery, joy! 

i thought for sure sunday would be better, i cant think of the last time a headache fell me for two days...anyway, the left side of my face attacked me as soon as i sat up sunday. i was nauseous and nursed myself through some more napping, reading, staring at the ceiling. as the day wore on and the sun mocked me through the curtain i began to get angry. i sent dave out looking for some meds. 

he went to every pharmacy in our neighborhood and none were open (being sunday and all). he ended up trying a convenience store that was open. the guy wasnt selling any medication, but he had his own personal stash he was willing to part with. he had an effervescent acetaminophen tablet that he gave dave and asked if he wanted more. dave said one was fine. the guy behind him in line agreed that this tablet was "c'est super" for headaches. the foil wasnt punctured or anything and the expiration date was okay so i ended up taking it. later, i did start feeling better. in time to eat dinner and go to bed. 

it brings up the point of the french and their meds though. there are nearly as many pharmacys in our neighborhood as there are bakeries. and the french love their bread so this tells you something. apparently they are known throughout europe as being med-mongers. i have yet to really understand this, and they dont make a big show about being medicated so at least they have that going for them. apparently though, their pharmacists have the ability to diagnosis minor ailments and to prescribe certain kinds of drugs on their own. you can even bring them mushrooms you pick from the forest to have them tell you if they are poisonous! rad man! and they sell many face creams and body products that are hypoallergenic. pretty neat. 

06 December 2008

Dirtbag parade

today, i think due to the music festival being in town, there was some sort of parade that passed through our neighborhood. it seemed to have an anti-establishment theme. so this wasnt your average childhood parade full of warm, fuzzy cartoon characters and floats that cost thousands of dollars, nor was it a mardi gras parade with glitz, glamour and extravagance. this was a dirtbag parade, centered around lots of Ds: dance beats, dreadlocks, drinking, drugs, dogs...

the police were helping escort this noise racket around the major streets of rennes. at least 12 'vehicles' were a part of this parade. old army trucks, sawed off vans, trucks pulling decrepit flatbed trailers, i mean these vehicles must have been scavenged from the junkyard, along with the float decorations. the only thing of value were the computers and sound systems playing the techno beats. and the colorful crowd of vagabonds following along and participating were something to be seen. most females had dreads, were dressed in the bohemian or 'street dwelling' style, were smiling, and wandering around throwing confetti. their male counterparts were clad in dirty casual-militant clothes, had either dreads or severe german hairstyles, were yelling and being obnoxious. if this is a portion of french fashion, i would have to say the inspiration came from zoolander, à la the derelict collection. 

no one seemed to be honking while this noise was occurring. those caught in the traffic simply sat and waited while the occasional naked butt was smushed on their car window. nearly every participating human had an open bottle of alcohol in their hands and were swigging on it repeatedly. and a third of these street people had dogs. none were vicious animals, but were still only as well-behaved as their owners. 

there were people flinging their double windows open from above the shops along the street dancing and staring and adding to the festivities. it was quite a sight. i quietly sat on a bench and tried not to draw attention to myself lest one of these people should come up to me and try to acknowledge my existence. once the parade made its way out of our neighborhood we went about our business. 


and our original reason for leaving the house was to buy some bread for dinner and something sweet. we went back to the tasty bakery that sold me the cookie yesterday. there is another bakery directly across the little street from it, but the bakery we liked had a line all the way outside and the other bakery had like 2 customers. 'nuf said. 

(the quiet christmas-decorated street to the bakery; the bakery goodies)

05 December 2008

Take a look inside my torso...

today was the doctor visit for the préfecture/carte de séjour process. they assigned us a date and time to get our health checked out so they could approve us staying in france longer than 3 months. this occurred today.

i was first to go. the lady was speaking to me in french first. she said something about stripping down from the waist up and putting my hair up. i didnt have a hair tie so THATS the part that caught me off guard. she re-explained in english, i was proud of myself that i had actually understood her in french. but i still needed a hair tie. she gave me a rubber band. thanks. so i get naked, waist up and step into this room and attempt to drape my arms across my front to make it look like i am totally okay with standing in the middle of a large xray room without a shirt on. the lady tells me to step into a box, smash my chest against the wall, and inhale deeply when she takes the xray. then i get dressed and wait for the next step.

another woman takes me into her office and asks about my immunizations, takes my height, weight (ive lost weight since coming here?) and tests my eye sight. then i get her paperwork and my xray and wait for the next step.

a doctor takes me to an exam room. i tell her my french is bad but she proceeds to speak in french to me. i understand what she is saying though, which is nice. but she is definitely one of those smelly french people. the room reeeeeeeked. anyway, she asks about my general health, hospitalizations, hereditary diseases, etc. then she has me sit on the exam table and illuminates my xray. my lungs are fine but what pops out at me is a large portion of my GI tract is lit up on the screen too...that seems bad. she remarks that it is very big and i must have lots of air in there. she mentions something about chewing gum...or not chewing gum and maybe chewing my food better before swallowing(?) so all those years that ive been able to make food babies after eating, this is why, my innards are near exploding. she didnt seem totally alarmed by it, just enough to mention it. she then took my blood pressure and listened to my heart and lungs and checked my throat. she then said something like 'take care of your intestines' or 'be aware of the issue.' mmm...

ive never had a chest xray, never in the whole memory of my life. they blast me with radiation and tell me that my intestines need to be paid attention to. argh. gee thanks people. why dont you scan my brain and tell me i never formed a frontal lobe while your at it. ahhh, anyway, when we get our health care straightened out i guess i will make a doctors visit. joy! in the mean time, the french government made us a present in the form of allowing us to keep our xrays:

(we stuck them on our window so you can see the houses in the background...my chest on the left; daves on the right)

as a treat for being traumatized, dave took me to a new bakery he found and i got a tasty cookie. nearly cookie dough...mmm, my favorite. take that intestines!

04 December 2008

A rumble of thundering excitement sounds a few miles out...

totally vague title makes for a completely unconnected posting. here are some recent items, starting with the most exciting first:

1. dave moved one step further in the job selection process at stanford. so, to back up. the 'job season' is typically november-february for academics so someone can get settled before september each year. last year, while finishing his PhD, dave applied for 3-4 jobs, which was a long shot. everyone knows this, this is why post-docs exist. anyway, this year he has chosen another 4-5 schools. this year he is aiming for the 'primo/choice' job openings because he still has a great opportunity lined up for next year. if we are in halifax next 'job season', then he will choose a broader range of universities. this year stanford, mcgill, scripps, unc, and st. lawrence make the list. so, daves PhD boss was in stanford a few weeks ago and mentioned dave would be applying. they received daves application and a few days later asked his references for letters of recommendation. this is the 'first step.' you submit your app, then the school decides if they want to go further. if yes, they ask your people for recommendations, then maybe invite you to give a talk/interview, then maybe offer you a job. so, dave made it further than last year, and at STANFORD no less! i am very proud and will be interested even more so to hear about his conference in san francisco, where presumably he will chat with some of these people. 

2. daves mom sent a package of past new yorker magazines. i dove into the food issue and now have the desire for more saliva and for more money to take trips to eat this food. 

3. i saw a group of young people protesting in the street today. ive never seen young people doing anything in a group except cheering for a sports team or wearing ill-fitting formal wear and corsages. anyway, these kids were chanting and drumming and may have had signs, i dont know i paid attention too late. then bringing up the rear was a police escort. the police werent stopping them. theres always some group striking in france so the police protect their right to do so. anyway, this pack of emo kids were protesting something about the transelectronic festival that is here in town. i think something about the venues or the restrictions. i am not quite sure. but intriguing none the less. 

4. at the laundrymat today there was a man. he kindly gave me the last bit of this detergent to use. i said 'merci' and hoped like hell he had nothing else to say. no such luck. he started speaking in french. i turned and dropped my mouth open. he asks in english 'you dont speak french? do you speak spanish?' then my brain fizzles and says 'un peu' (in FRENCH this means, 'a little'), seconds later i connect back to my spanish and say 'un poco' ('a little'). he asks me in english 'how long?' i ask 'in minutes?' (assuming he means how long does the cycle take). he says 'yes.' i look at the board and tell him 'trent-cinq [35, in french].' just a ridiculous sputtering of three languages.

03 December 2008

Fishing without bait sometimes attracts the perfect fish

so, perhaps 3 weeks ago i posted my information on three different boards around rennes that i was looking for english-french chat exchanges with people who were interested. i left a pretty vague message but i have actually gotten a response. 

whats most incredible is that it sounds like the man who responded is the prefect person to talk to. he is a middle-aged, early retirement gentleman who likes movies, knows a lot about brittanys history, and has many connections to the civil servant realm:

"i have been director of college training social workers and executive in social work and now i'm in early retirement.

i have a lot of commitment in NPO [non-profit organizations]. i'm honorary chairman deputy of an association taking care of homeless and beaten woman."

holy crap! maybe i can actually get myself involved in something that will make me feel like a valuable member of this city. i am sure teaching english will be enjoyable, and, depending on my students, may allow me to feel helpful and perhaps provide a bit of humor, but this interaction could hold so many more possibilities!!! i emailed him back, but with our long holiday back to the states i might not get to meet up with him for a while, but...we shall see.

now, i wonder what movie similarities i could have with a middle aged frenchman...i'll have to take a mental inventory on that one. hopefully he likes classics, i can do that. but right now, my current movie desires for my time back in the states are mostly a craving for guilty pleasures. perhaps i should hide this fact from him if i ever hope to be taken seriously:

Four Christmases 
Marley & Me
High School Musical 3 (dont stone me to death)

slightly more intellectual:
The Reader
The Changling
Secret Life of Bees
Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire (suggested by my friend meg)
Gran Torino 
The Wrestler
Revolutionary Road


01 December 2008

Goodbye desperate housewife, hello employed circus freak

well...i have a job. now i need to jump through all the paperwork hoops. dance monkey, dance!

i got to the interview and the only questions she asked me were what previous teaching/training/tutoring i had done and if i was comfortable in front of small groups of people. 'yes.' then all following information was what paperwork i would need to fill out, when and what i would be teaching (discussion, debates, job interview prep, english equivalency exam prep on mon, tues, and wed nights from 6-8pm), and how much i will get paid (€18 per hour, pretax). she asked me if i brought my passport with me...um, no, since this was an interview i did not bring any official proof of my existence with me. 

so i have to come back on wednesday at 11am (because they want me to start monday!) with the following documents:
1. my CV
2. their 2 pages of paperwork filled out
3. my passport and carte de séjour
4. proof of my employment at my two previous jobs
5. official copies of my undergrad and graduate degrees
6. a color photo
7. proof of health insurance
8. proof that i am not a criminal in my home country
9. my bank info (RIB)

they seem very nice and willing to work with me. i think if i get unofficial things to them first i can have official documents sent later if need be, but its just amusing that all the paperwork we had gathered for daves job is not useful at all for this job. oh well. im off on my wild goose chase. 

the school runs through mid-june which is perfect and will allow me to take thurs-sun vacations easily and probably can finagle other time off as well. woo hoo! perhaps i can supplement with babysitting or some other job to have some more money for fun and adventure. i found out glen and i are the only two english teachers, so at least we are friendly and can coordinate together. thatll be nice. and i didnt even have to step in any lucky dog poop on the way to the interview...

and now, some celebs to make me happy. same hotties, different day: