Sunday, January 24, 2010


Nicole and I went to a free jazz concert here in Orleans. It was really fun. The band played some pretty good songs, and we had amazing seats right next to the pianist. The saxiphonist had three saxes (alto, soprano, and baritone I guess), and he seemed to use each one for every song. It was a good show, and what I liked best were the reflections. I loved how the orange and pink lights reflected off of the brass and mixed with the colorful clothing of the band. The reflection of the pianists hands in the piano also created an eerie, surreal, ethereal feeling.

We keep magically getting really good seats at the theater. I hope it continues.

In other news, my young'uns showed off their dances to the other kids at school, to the applause of all. They danced Sellenger's Round and Sir Roger de Coverly, with a brief intermission to say the words they learned: "right hand, left hand, both hands, no hands, clap your hands."

Now all the kids want to learn a dance. Yikes?!? Yay!?!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Still Not King"

Galette party at my school

I have rotten luck. Five galettes in three weeks, and I'm Still Not King (heads up to you VSD fans). Last week we had a festive galette party at my school, in which I once again did not get to be king. Then we attended a party for assistants at a friends house, and of the three who were crowned that day, I was, alas, not one of them. Then, at our Tex-Mex potluck night, Patrick brough yet another galette, and I was once again unlucky. I've never even had the honor of being chosen as the King's Queen! Tonight there's another galette party happening at one of my schools, but I say "Enough already!" I'll just stage a coup and crown myself (this is me sticking my tongue out). And if that doesn't work, I'll go buy my own damn galette and eat it all myself and THEN we'll see who's King!
Party at Sandrine's
Sarah, making nachos
Tex-Mex night was a delicious success. Everyone and their mother brought chips and salsa and guacamole, but we also had some exciting favorites like chili and cornbread (made by me!), quesadillas, bean-bacon dip, nachos, and some other yummy stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting.
Kyle and Andrew pigging out
Seamus, our Irish friend, hiding under the table to dole out galette slices
Catherine the new Queen (of Canada)
Tuesday night Andrew and I taught a swing class to some assistants and a couple of French students. Yes, I said ME. I was his partner and helped out a lot. I was quite impressed with myself and plan on rubbing it in Andrew's face the next time he whines about how I never dance. :) It's definitely a different atmosphere when everyone else is a beginner, just like me. It's nerve-wracking when Andrew brings me to dancing venues where everyone is advanced like him. Who wouldn't hate dancing after that?

In other exciting news, we've been offered a teaching contract in China. It's a nice employment package, including a very decent pay, free modern housing, airfare, and medical insurance. But it's in the middle of nowhere. The middle of the Gobi Desert to be exact. Well, not really. It is on the border of the desert, but it's in a very green stretch of land and it's a big city and there's also plenty to do in that area, touristically speaking, but it's still pretty remote (24 hours by train to Beijing). We're most likely going to say no, as we don't want to spend 12 months in China if the situation isn't 100% ideal. Maybe we're being too picky, but for us, we've had enough of "roughing" it and don't want another Peace Corps experience. Also, we have so many options right now, among which are:

1. Stay in France until May 1, 2010, then head to China until May 1, 2011.
2. Andrew could possibly extend his contract until June 30, 2010, after which we would spend 1 month in Italy teaching English before most likely returning to the U.S.
3. Stay in France until May 1, 2010, then teach in Italy June and July, back to teach in France in August, find some random job for September, then renew our positions here until May 2011.
4. Stay in France until May 1, 2010, then teach in Italy June and July, back to teach in France in August, then head to China and do a 6 month contract, returning to Missouri for the months of March and April before Andrew starts graduate school in May in New York.
5. Stay in France until May 1, 2010, then teach in Italy June and July, back to teach in France in August, then teach the 2010-2011 school year at a university in France.

My preferred option is number 5, but it's very difficult to find a job in the universities here, and for the two of us to be placed in the same school would be doubly hard. And we wouldn't find out if we got the job until June or July, so it doesn't help much with planning things out. And because of the issues with renewing our work visas (some programs insist we return the states to get them), we might not be able to stay in France. And Andrew wants to start graduate school at Columbia in May 2011 (assuming he gets in), so everything also depends on his acceptance and finding a job that ends no later than May 2011. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Andrew gets to be King AND Queen

For Epiphany Day the French bake very large round cakes called galettes and hide a small porcelain figurine inside. They invite friends and family over, and the youngest person present has to hide under the table while someone else, usually the host or hostess, cuts the galette. The person cutting asks, "Who is this piece for?" and the hidden person responds with the name of someone present until everyone has a slice of cake. Then the deliciousness happens, and everyone eats their cake, keeping a close lookout for the hidden porcelain, which is very small and has been known to chip teeth or cause choking. The person who finds the figurine in his/her cake is then crowned King or Queen and may choose his/her Queen or King. We decided to try out this tradition ourselves, so we invited some friends over to celebrate. Sarah, our friend from Scotland, was the youngest person present, so she conceded with good humor to hide under the table and dole out cake.
Patrick, another American, was the lucky winner of this game, and thus we made him our King. There was near mutiny when he named Andrew his Queen, though. A couple of days later, the family we tutor for surprised us on Friday by whipping out a galette and taking us through the tradition. We feigned ignorance. It was Andrew who found the figurine this time. That boy has all the luck. King AND Queen, all in one week? Very suspicious if you ask me.

For the past week, we've had snow flurries off and on, and it's been pretty cold. It's made traveling to and from school a nightmare, but is very pretty to look at.

On Sunday, we went with Patrick and Catherine to the symphany. Unfortunately, they were completely sold-out, but for the bargain price of $12/person we could sit on "blocks" next to the orchestra. Turns out they didn't mean "blocks" so much as trashcans, albeit very clean ones, and sitting next to the orchestra meant we were actually on stage with them, right behind the violins. It was certainly an interesting experience, and it was kind of neat seeing the instruments up close and talking to the conductor as he shuffled on and off stage. At one point he told us that after two hours of close observance, we should be able to play the instruments now. We promised him we were ready to step in should any of the musicians suddenly fall ill.
Notice the black, upside-down trashcans

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Vacation 2009: Where Rudolph escapes the Christmas market, we accidentally walk to Germany, and Andrew dresses up as Santa Claus

This is going to be a really long post.

Christmas vacation started out nicely, with an extra day of vacation because of the snow. We spent the first couple of days sleeping in until 10:30 and reading in bed. We walked around the lovely Christmas markets, admiring the ice sculptures and chocolate displays.

Christmas market in Orléans

A couple days before Christmas, we ate dinner at my colleague's house. She and her husband and two daughters welcomed us into their lovely home and fed us til we were bursting, comme d'habitude. On the menu:

Kir: champagne with currant syrup
Black and white boudin: blood sausages (surprisingly good!)
Noix de St. Jacques "puffs": a kind of scallop quiche
Filet mignon with pears and potato puffs
A cheese plate
Chocolate mousse
Eau de vie de poire: really strong 45% liquor made from pears
After all that food, our hostess was dismayed because she forgot to cook the escargots, or snails for us. Needless to say, we did not leave her house hungry. We were so full it hurt.
Christmas Eve was another culinary adventure. We spent it with another of my colleague's family. All 21 of them. It was a long night, and we didn't return home until 3am. We ate and talked and drank and played card games until I could barely keep my eyes open. Her family was so sweet and welcoming, and insisted our French was amazing. They asked Andrew to dress up as Santa Claus to surprise the baby of the family, little 3 year old Leo. Santa Claus and Leo passed out a present to everyone there, including us! I received a French cookbook and Andrew a bottle of homemade eau de vie de poire, which was first introduced to him by this family.
Santa Claus, Sandrine (our hostess) and her son Leo
The menu was quite complex.

1. Kir à la liqueur de coing: champagne with quince syrup
2. An assortment of mise en bouche, or appetizers, such as sausages and quiches
3. Chantilly de foie gras de canard et ses mouillettes de pain aux épices: Duck liver pate mixed with whipped cream and served with gingerbread cake
4. 1 dozen escargots (me) or 1 dozen oysters (Andrew)
5. Charlottine de St. Jacques: scallop pie (Andrew)
Cassolette de gambas et écrevisses: shrimp casserole (me)
6. Pavé de biche au vinaigre de framboise et baies de cassis: venison in a raspberry and currant sauce (Andrew)
Millefeuilles de lasagnettes au homard: lobster lasagne (me)
7. Salad
8. Cheese platter
9. Bûches glacées: traditional ice cream "log"
10. Truffes: Truffles, made by me!
Sylvain, Sandrine's brother, eating my truffles like they're cheerios

Of course, each dish was accompanied by a different wine, and there was coffee and tea served at the "end" of the night. There were multiple choices for numbers 5 and 6, but I didn't want to write out the whole thing.

We returned home around 3am to notice that Rudolph, previously coralled in a pen right in front of our door, was missing. Andrew and I speculated that he must be off doing his job, since it was Christmas Eve, but the next morning we found out from our landlady that he had actually escaped earlier that afternoon and went running down the street! She's unsure of whether they eventually caught him. Obviously, Santa Claus needed him.
Rudolph, pre-escape

Christmas morning was fun. We exchanged presents, new boots and a toaster for me, warm sweaters and Tolkien Ensemble CD's for him. We also received a hand mixer from my mom, which I went to use to make cranberry banana bread. Amazingly, the inside of the mixer started flashing red, blue, green, yellow! Wow, a color-changing mixer! And then I saw and smelled the smoke. Oops. Products from the U.S. need a converter to handle the different voltage. Hopefully it's okay, but we're not using it again until we get a converter for it.
Christmas dinner was spent with our friend Anna and her parents who were visiting from the states, and three other assistants spending the holidays in France. We ate at a "normal" time, around 5pm, and had the traditional fare: chicken, cranberry sauce, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, etc. It was really nice being able to share Christmas with other Americans (and two Trinidad-Tobagans!). We did introduce a French Christmas food to our dinner, for those who were new to the game: Escargot!
Andrew teaching Sam and Megan (from Trinidad) to eat snails

We had another weekend where we mostly hung around the house, sleeping and reading and eating. On Monday, we took the train into Paris, where we met a French friend, Diane, who generously gave us the keys to her apartment. We finally ventured into Galeries Lafayettes, a gigantic 8-story, two building department store that sells everything from Chanel perfume to foie gras. It's way too expensive and I don't even like the designer stuff they sell in there, but everyone has been insisting we see it because they decorate the window displays at Christmas with moving stuffed animals. I guess it was cute. What was neat was the building itself, and the giant Christmas tree that extended up to the third or fourth floor.
We walked around a bit more and saw a new side of the city before catching a late train to Strasbourg, in Northeastern France, right on the German border. Strasbourg made me wish even more that we had been placed there as assistants instead of in Orléans (Strasbourg was our first request). I love Orléans, but Strasbourg was just amazing. There's so much to do and see, and it's not as expensive as Orléans, and I would have had a great opportunity to practice my German. We had heard from pretty much everyone in the world that Strasbourg had an amazing Christmas market and an even more amazing cathedral. Both were pretty neat, but the constant drizzle kept us from spending a long time outside. Instead, we spent three days visiting the various cool museums, walking around the old quarters of the city with its charming half-timbered houses, and eating regional delicacies, such as flammekuche, an Alsacien pizza on cracker bread, made with crème fraiche (kind of a mild sour cream) instead of tomato sauce, and baeckoffe, a four-meat stew with potatoes. One of the meats was an entire pig foot. Eeww. Other than the pig's foot, it was delicious!

Me rocking my new boots in Strasbourg
This cathedral is so big I couldn't get a good picture of it
My mother asked me if Andrew has a drinking problem...
This is what happens when he drinks...;)
Andrew gets to try on helmets at the History Museum
These are old grain chutes, used to spit out the chaff, on display at the Alsacien Museum

Strasbourg is not only the "Capital of Christmas," (a disputable claim) it's also the Capital of Europe (this was actually voted on). Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, which doesn't seem to actually do anything but mar the classical landscape with bizarre modern constructions and take up exorbitant amounts of space.

On our last day in Strasbourg, we decided to take a short bus ride out to what was supposed to be a very cool bridge. It was a cool bridge, and we decided to walk to the other side. We noticed tons of people walking back across the bridge, toward Strasbourg, with their arms full of fireworks. Strange. On descending the bridge, we noticed something peculiar: all the signs were suddenly in German, not French.
Yes, this little bridge connects France and Germany across the Rhine River

We continued walking until we reached the city center of Kehl, where people were actually speaking German! We had walked into Germany. The difference between the two cities, so close to each other, was remarkable. Most things were a little cheaper, including food, alcohol, and shampoo. There was even a 1€ store! In France, we have 2€ stores. As we walked the streets of the little town, my German came floating back into my head little by little. I tried to communicate as best I could, but when I couldn't, English was the preferred common language, not French. We ate a delicious, and cheap lunch of sausages and bread with a sweet curry ketchup sauce. Everyone was so friendly and wished us a good new year. We were a little sad to have to leave Germany and pass the stringent border control on the bridge (here, stringent= non-existent) to head back to Strasbourg and catch our train to Paris in time for the New Year's celebration. So we bid auf wiedersehen and bought some roasted chestnuts for the trip back to Paris.
Once in Paris, we met up with our Canadian friend Catherine and dropped our bags off at Diane's apartment. Metros were free, because of the holiday, so we zipped over near the Louvre with the intention of eating at Au Pied de Couchon, a restaurant that our friend Emily mentions often in her blog. Of course, being New Year's, it was packed, even at 9pm, so we settled for a decent, not-outrageously-more-expensive restaurant just next door. Unfortunately, it was a bad night for restaurants. The waiter wouldn't give us tap water, because it was interdit (not allowed) for the holiday, and everything on the menu had a (hidden) 2€ surcharge, which meant that even though we only ordered appetizers and drinks, much to the annoyance of the restaurant, we still spent $75 between the three of us. Not what I was expecting to spend on one bowl of soup, a bowl of risotto, and two drinks, but there wasn't much we could really do. We left the restaurant, much poorer and a little angry and headed to the Eiffel Tower to see the festivities. After a quick look around, Catherine had to hop back on the metro and catch the last train to Orléans, as she wasn't as lucky as us to find accomodation in Paris on New Year's.
For those who don't know, December 31, 2004 was when Andrew proposed to me, in Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower, at midnight while fireworks were bursting above us and lights were sparkling on the tower. So it was our five year engagement anniversary, and we were very happy to be in Paris. It was really cold and it seemed like the whole world was there. At least all the pushing and shoving kept us a little warmer! Andrew gave me a little key, the key to happiness, which opened a very pretty inlaid box that had a sweet little note written on it for me. We waited until midnight, watching the light show on the tower until at midnight, the tower was lit up in gold and white lights and the music stopped. We had expected a countdown of some sort, and fireworks, but there were only the crazy people who had illegal fireworks (from Germany, no doubt). Andrew's French friend told us today that every year many people lose a hand or a finger because of fireworks (300+ this year), which is why they're illegal in France, but people don't seem to care. We pushed and shoved our way out of the mass of people and walked an extra mile to get on a different metro line rather than fighting to get in at the Eiffel Tower metro.
Sacre Coeur Basilica
On New Year's Day, we slept in at Diane's apartment til almost 11am, then ventured forth to see Avatar in 3D (and English!). We both really enjoyed it but think it's not worth the extra money for 3D. The rest of the day was spent lazing about and trying to find a supermarket that was open so we could make dinner (we kind of hate restaurants right now). On the 2nd, we took a walking tour of Montmartre, seeing the Sacre Coeur, the Place Tetre, where all the artists paint, and the old windmills that distinguish Montmartre. Of course we walked by the Moulin Rouge (if I ever have money, I'll see a show and have dinner there) and the Cafe Deux Moulins, where Audrey Tatou works in the film Amélie.
Nicole on the steps of Montmarte, and one of the old moulins, or windmills

We then tried to get into the Musée d'Orsay, but despite our teacher passes they wanted us to wait in the general line, which of course was a mile long, so we went to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, just next to the Louvre, and skipped ahead of everyone with our free passes. It was nice seeing a new museum. It makes me feel like we're not just tourists. There were a lot of cool jewelry displays and even a huge PlayMobile section that the kids, and Andrew, were drooling over.
Noah's Ark PlayMobile display

From there, we made a quick stop at WH Smith Books, the largest English bookstore in Paris, and bought a couple cans of cream soda. We then picked up our bags and headed back to Orléans.

Classes started again on Monday, and unfortunately I've been sick, which makes it difficult. But it started snowing today, and it's supposed to snow even more tomorrow, which means that either I'll get really lucky and won't have to go to school because the buses won't be running, or I'll be really unlucky and find a bus in the morning going to school before the snow gets too bad, then I'll be stuck at school until someone can give me a ride home. The way my luck has been lately, it'll be the latter.

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Happy New Year!