Thursday, February 21, 2019

French Menus Can Be Tricky

Just when I think I'm beginning to get a grasp on French, a menu comes along and lulls me into complacency.
I always grasp onto the words that I know, and sometimes assume the surrounding words aren't that important, which is how I ended up eating lung for lunch one day.
Lung.
Ack. It still makes me gag a little, just thinking about it.
When Earl and I were in Mirepoix, it was a beautiful sunny day, but still chilly, so we stopped briefly in front of restaurants looking at their menus.
The sections of the old city have  these signs over them. This says Bastide des Metiers,
so it's the section of the old Medieval village for careers. 
This restaurant had three lunch specials, two which looked familiar, veal and linguine.
"Let's eat here," Earl said shivering in the shade, so we went inside.
Ironically, we spent quite a bit of tie debating what one of the words describing the linguine. We knew it was some sort of ham, jambon, but didn't understood the descriptor that meant pieces of ham. We asked the waitress and she described it as ham bits, basically. We didn't think to ask the waitress about the descriptors surrounding the veal.
My first clue should have been when she didn't ask how I wanted it cooked. Usually with red meat, I order it à point, or medium. The other option is usually bloody or saignant.
When the meal arrived, I thought it looked strange, but I cut off a bite and chewed.
"It has a texture like ham," I told Earl. The potatoes were good.
I ate about a third of it before Earl switched plates with me and I ate the rest of his linguine. We often order something we both like and then switch halfway through. This was ordering something we didn't like and switching halfway through.
Later, when our phone data was working, we looked it up and realized that the strange meat was lung. It made me gag a bit and the rest of the day, my stomach churned a bit whenever I thought about eating lung.
It was a lovely restaurant, in spite of the bad food experience

And the starter of bruschetta was tasty. 

We've run into organ meats by accident before though. When we were traveling in 2017, searching for the perfect place to live, we stopped in a beautiful little village and Earl had veal. The waitress explained that it was "rognons" and she pointed to her lower back/butt. I thought maybe it was veal rump. Earl bravely ate many of the little kidney bites which was mixed with mushrooms in a gravy.
We climbed to the top of the village and took a selfie
Earl persevered even after the veal kidneys

And, once again, the starter was lovely -- jambon de campagne and melon
Okay, from now on, we're going to ask more questions about the menus rather than making assumptions. But we've eaten some adventurous food in France.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sunny in Mirepoix

Many days I can’t go on adventures because I have to teach in the afternoon, but the Chinese New Year holidays provides me with some free time. 
Earl and I took advantage of a sunny day and drove to Mirepoix, a medieval village with a huge market on Mondays. 

There’s a cathedral and a piercing blue sky. You can see the canopies over the vendors, although I think many of them would have preferred to feel the warm sunshine. 

Once the market packed up, the business of lunching got under way. 

Aren’t these timbered buildings amazing? 

And on the drive home, we got a terrific view of the Pyrenees. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Elusive Carte de Sejour

When moving from America to France, you have to get a visa. Of course, you can always fly to France and stay for three months without a visa, but we wanted to move there legally. So in November 2017, we went to Chicago to request a visa and then when we arrived in France in January 2018, we had three months to get our carte de sejour sticker in our passports.
Because our permanent address was in Aix en Provence, we had to go to Marseille to get our carte de sejour. It was quite an adventure, and Earl's a few weeks later was even more of a challenge, but we persevered.
This year, we once again needed to renew our carte de sejour to live in France for another year. This time, with our address in Quillan, we needed to go to Carcassonne, to the prefecture, which is the government office that handles paperwork like driver's licenses and visas.
We made our appointment for February 7 since we were going home for the holidays, and our friends Jules and Jack had an appointment on the same day.
Each of us was scheduled to have a 20 minute appointment.
We carefully made copies of all of our documents and transferred them into French, paying an official translator.
We needed
the form filled out
Copies of our passports
Copies of our visa stamp from the previous year
Copies of our birth certificate and marriage certificates
Letters promising that we wouldn't work while in France.
A rental agreement or utility bill to prove where we lived
Something to show we had enough money to live in France throughout the year
269 euros worth of fiscal stamps, which is the cost of our visa
The day we were supposed to be worrying about our fiscal stamps, we just went out for wine. 
Clutching our forms, we went through the metal detector and into the prefecture. We told them we had an appointment and they gave us a ticket with our number. Jules and Jack had already gone into the prefecture while we parked the car because their appointment was first.
We'd barely sat down when Jules appeared in the doorway and waved us back. I was afraid she needed help understanding something in French, but she just wanted to see if we had the wrong number on our form. We didn't, but the polite French woman handling the paperwork was almost finished with them and she started on us after about 15 minutes with them.
By 9:30, we all had our temporary carte de sejour and were told that we receive a text message in about a month to come pick up our cards. This year, instead of a stamp in our visa, we have separate cards that we'll have to carry with us.
Our appointments began at 9 and were supposed to stretch until 10:20. Instead, the woman whizzed through all the forms and we stumbled into the bright sun of Carcassonne, free to enjoy breakfast in the square. We all laughed like school children with early dismissal.
This isn't in Carcassonne, but Earl's expression captures our feelings when we got our carte de sejour. 
Cafe creme and tartine with strawberry jam in the sunshine, followed by a toast with our coffee cups.
Then that night, we went out for a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant.
Dinner at La Chaumiere
My starter, artichoke salad with black olives and feta chesse. Yum. 

My main course, veal with a potatoes au gratin serving. 

Jules looking beautiful with her duck gizzard salad

And we even got to celebrate my birthday early since we will be in Italy for my birthday at the end of the month. 
We could legally live in France for another year. More adventures to come. 

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Castle Afternoon

After our days in Paris and a drive to Southwestern France, I quickly got caught up in teaching to make up for the days I couldn't teach because of travel.
The days seemed to fly past as I would run in the morning (remember, my theory always is that runs help drive out illness, although mine has been determined to hang on), shower and start teaching classes at 11. Once classes were finished around 2:30 or 3, everyone else would be ready for a nap, so my days kind of passed staying inside.
Finally, one afternoon, I said, "Forget this! I could be living in Ohio for as much French life as  I'm getting."
So I asked Earl if we could go visit a nearby castle after I finished teaching, and he, of course, agreed.
I don't know enough history on the Cathars, yet, but I do know that the castles were built within view of each other so one could light a signal fire to alert the next castle, all the way down to Spain.
The Cathars had different beliefs than the Catholic church and were slaughtered by the Catholics in the early 1200s. So when were the castles built? Before then, although some of them might have been rebuilt by the French on the same site in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Peyrepertuse is the only other Cathar castle we have visited.

As you can see from the blurry map, there are plenty to choose, so I picked one that was close by, Puivert, and checked to see if it was open.  Yep, until 5 p.m.
It wasn't a long drive as we wound around above Quillan to Puivert. We got a closer look at the mountaintops sprinkled with snow.
According to those who have been here all winter, Quillan hasn't gotten any snow, even though there are frequent predictions of snow. On the mountains, it's a different story.
I probably should have looked up the history of Puivert before we went, but I expected there would be some literature handed out along with the ticket.
Our view of the castle from below
We parked in a totally empty lot and followed the path up to the entrance. Earl predicted that it was closed since no one else was in the parking lot, but I optimistically figured the workers got to park closer, taking the bumpy dirt and rock path nearby. He was right though. When we got to the entrance, a rope blocked the way and no one was within the ticket booth.
The sign said they were open until 5, but I could imagine the ticket taker on a dreary late-January day deciding around 3 p.m. that no one would be coming and closing shop.
The view from the entrance. 
Although I couldn't tell from this picture, apparently there is a large keep in this castle too. It must have been my vantage point that kept me from seeing the tower at the back of the chateau.

A much better photo from the Cathar Castles website
Since we couldn't go into the castle, we simply slipped under the rope and walked up to the castles doors. I suggested Earl try the door in case it might be open and he mugged for me as if the portcullis was coming down to crush him.
Earl in no danger from the portcullis above
After we returned home, I looked up some information on time, and it sounds like there is a lot of interesting stuff within the castle. Many times, they are merely shells, but this one even has statues in the keep.
So this was a Medieval Cathar castle that was overtaken by Catholics in a 3-day battle. Apparently, it was a place where troubadours gathered before the take over. It was rebuilt by the French in the 14th and 15th centuries. There's also a story that Dame Blanche who lived in the castle wanted to be able to enjoy the lake shore so workers began to make changes to the dam, which resulted in the dam breaking and destroying part of the Medieval city Mirepoix. Lots of interesting information about this castle, even though we were closed out.
One of the towers. Apparently, there are 8.
Someday, maybe when it's sunny, we'll be back to see the inside.

Castle selfie
We didn't get the view from within the castle, but here is a mountain beyond with part of the castle wall.
I had hoped for a panoramic picture inside the castle, but had to settle for this
view of the snow-dusted mountain with a bit of the castle wall in the picture. 
If you read my previous blog, you might be feeling bad for me that I'm shivering in my French garret, but remember, if I stop kvetching, I can see some pretty amazing things around me.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Drawbacks of France Life

I know that more than once I have written about the fact that France was so far ahead of the United States during our pioneer days.
I'm always amazed that, as Laura Ingalls Wilder battled wolves and blizzards on the prairie, twisting cornstalks into fuel to keep from freezing to death, Claude Monet was creating masterpieces that we still gawk at today. Who can imagine that those two worlds existed simultaneously?
The mountains in the sun outside our village
Today, although France still has gorgeous art and an admirable lifestyle meant to emphasize the joy of living, the United States may have pulled ahead in some ways.
We've moved into a rental apartment for a couple of weeks until we go to Italy for a housesit. When I walked through the apartment, noting the bathroom, the kitchen with refrigerator and microwave, the closet space, what I did not think to ask was, "Does the apartment have heat?"
That's just not something you would ask in the States. It would be required to have heat. And guess what, the radiators in the main room and the bedroom of this apartment don't work because it doesn't have central heat. Instead, there's a paraffin heater that we can plug in and it will run for about half an hour. The electric heater in the bedroom gives off a bit of heat, but I'm nervous about it being so close to the bed covers since the bed takes up most of the room.
I got up for my classes this morning and asked my husband to get the paraffin heater going, my feet like ice cubes against the terrazzo floor.
The heater worked for about half an hour, nearly making me feel warm, before it just stopped. I was in the middle of a class, so could do nothing but pull a second sweater around me until Earl got out of bed again to revive the heater.
And the bathroom? Not even a towel heating rack, which many bathrooms in France have, and they manage to add some heat to the room. This bathroom has nothing but cold tile. I'm dreading a shower, which is why I have sent Earl in first to steam it up for me.
Maybe we Americans are spoiled, and obviously, we use too much energy heating our entire house, but how nice is it not to freeze running from one room to another. Even our friends' house where we stayed for a week, has heating in the bedroom and bathroom, but not the hall in between. The doors must always be kept shut to keep the heat in and that race from one room to another is invigorating!
I shouldn't complain because the weather is in the 40s and 50s most days, but no one wants to have their indoors in the 40s and 50s all the time.
On top of that, Earl and I are both sick (of course). Whether it's the flight, the change in climate, the change in weather or simply walking in the snow in Paris until our hats and scarves were soaked, 
A walk through the new-fallen snow in Paris. 
we've both been hacking away for more than a week now, so the cold is not appreciated.
The other thing that seems to lag behind in France is the laundry. Now, in the summer, I'm all for hanging the sheets and towels on the line and smelling the sun when I hold them to my nose,
Clothes hanging on the line beneath a gorgeous sky. 
but in the winter, socks and sweaters are draped over make-shift drying racks.
The laundry takes hours, and not just because there are especially long washing cycles in France. After a two-hour wash, then the wet clothes must be pulled from the washer and hung up. Depending on the weather and the heating situation, they might be finished in a few hours, or might still be wet in the morning when I get up.
Luckily for me, since I am teaching these days, Earl handles the laundry, but there is no quick way to get clean clothes. When I realized one evening before bed that I was out of clean running clothes, there was no way to wash and dry the clothes before my morning run. If I'd been in the States, they would have been ready in just a few hours.
The French generally don't have dryers.
My friend Jules has a washer/dryer combination, which is a genius idea, but it isn't perfected yet. The clothes are often balled together after washing, so the dryer tries to penetrate the mass of clothes, baking the wrinkles in. While we stayed with them, we never pulled clothes out that were actually dry. I don't know how much time that would take.
I think both the heat and the laundry come down to the fact that Americans are willing to use extra energy for convenience. We don't bat an eye at a $100 electric or gas bill. The French and the Brits do. They'd rather avoid the high cost of energy and suffer a bit.
I guess if I'm going to live in France, I'm going to have to adopt a different attitude about heat and laundry.
Update: A friend read my blog and insisted we borrow one of their electric heaters. The apartment is now warm enough that I took off my top layer and am down to only two layers of clothes! It feels much better. Thanks for your concern. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

FranceBookTours -- Are We French Yet?

Make sure you scroll down to the bottom to enter the giveaway!
You know that I'm going to devour a book that tells the story of two Americans moving to France. It's the same life I've been dreaming about for so long, and now am living myself. I love to see what experiences other expats have, so Keith Van Sickle did not disappoint.

I read this book on the plane as we jetted toward France. I love the adventures, the scrapes, the experiences that Keith and his wife Val shared as they tried to fit into their new life in France.
So much of it was familiar. Life is the same, but so many things are different.
They share their experiences of meeting French people and the overwhelming idea of how to integrate. It reminded me of a story that the blogger Corey Amaro told on Tongue in Cheek where she went to a French party and there were no chairs, so she sat on the floor. I imagine how mortified her French husband must have been. And Keith's stories are similar, showing how wrong assumptions can lead to mortification when in French company.
Trying to learn real French is another chapter that Keith wrote about, and I can relate. I thought I knew French, and then I moved here.
Moving to a new country is always a challenge, and I loved sharing the adventures of Keith Van Sickle and his wife Val. I imagine that every book  he writes, as each year passes, he will feel more and more like a true Frenchman.
Anyone who enjoys indulging in a new life is sure to eat up the adventures of Are We French Yet? by Keith Van Sickle.


= Global giveaway open internationally. 5 participants will each win an ecopy of this book

Friday, January 25, 2019

France 2019 --Year Two of Our Great Adventure

Lucky us! We arrived in Paris on Monday, just after any weekend protests, but before a beautiful snowfall on Tuesday.
Snow in Paris

Snow beside the Metro, Latin Quarter

Snow along the Seine
Since we get to visit more frequently, we don't find ourselves rushing from art exhibit to monument but are much more likely to saunter into a restaurant or cafe and while away the hours. We're sold on the French way of life.
Our plane arrived late on Monday and we didn't reach the hotel until nearly 12. We were supposed to arrive at 6:55 a.m., which is super early. That would have meant we would drop our bags at the hotel and stumble off sleepily into Paris for the day. Earl and I rarely sleep on the plane, so basically we lose a night's sleep.
Because we got here late, our room was ready. We checked in, had a shower and wandered to Rue Mouffetarde for a meal in the middle of the afternoon -- not lunch, not dinner.
Me, looking tired. 
My first meal in France -- canard de confit, bien sur. Duck thigh
There was a time not too long ago when it might have been impossible to find a meal at an odd time like this, but many restaurants and brasseries now offer "service continu," feeding tourists whenever they're hungry. That's one of the benefits of Paris rather than the small town where we live. The restaurant owners would definitely give us a judgmental look if we requested food between meals.
And that was it for us. We did some walking, but after our meal and some wine, we returned to the hotel room and slept for about 12 hours.
Luxembourg Gardens looking brilliant in the cold sunshine
Tuesday morning, we began our Paris day with breakfast at the restaurant next door. The hotel charged 15 euros per person for breakfast. We thought that a bit steep so entered the quaint restaurant next door where continental breakfast is 8,50 euros. Coffee, orange juice, a croissant, toasted baguette and jam. The orange juice is probably the most expensive thing on the breakfast menu, and I could do without it, The croissant was lovely and crunchy on the outside, flaking off into my coffee as I bit it.
Continental breakfast

The bar at the restaurant where we had breakfast. 
Our visit to Paris is also different this time because we have some things to accomplish. We are buying a car, so there is paperwork to complete. We visited the bank both Tuesday and Wednesday morning to get auto insurance. We hadn't settled the paperwork yet, so I went again on Thursday morning before our drive off to the south of France. The bankers are very helpful. There are just differences between the U.S. and France. They want a letter that says we haven't had an accident in the past three years, which we haven't. Our insurance agency wrote a letter saying that, but it didn't have all the information the French wanted. I ended up writing a letter in French and English and waited all day Wednesday on our insurance agency to email it to the bank. The time difference does complicate things.
What difference does the letter make? About $500 over the year. Our auto insurance quote was 38 euros ($43) a month with the letter. Without the letter, it would be 76 euros ($86) a month, or double the price.
After visiting the bank on Tuesday to get an appointment (set for Wednesday at 9 a.m.), we went for a walk in the snow.
Notre Dame is not far away. And then we walked along the Seine, watching the snow fall and feeling the crunch of the snow beneath our feet. I had on a hat and a scarf and they both were soon soaked by the fat flakes as we walked farther into the city.

Notre Dame in the snow
In front of the Tuileries 
That afternoon, we had a Charleston dance lesson, thanks to a gift from our children. The teacher met us at the metro stop and we all walked to the dance studio, which itself was cool. It was a practice space crowded with actors and artists and dancers.
We learned the basics of the Charleston, but don't expect to see up performing it any time soon. We also met a lovely couple who love in Spain. She's Macedonian and he's from the UK, but lived in Germany for 20 years so has a slight German accent to his English. They were as bad at the Charleston as we were, so it was all just a fun experience.
That night, we decided to try the restaurant next door for dinner. I had noticed on their menu that they served aligot, which is a delicious mashed potato-cheese mix that we had when we went hiking last summer in Aveyron.
But the restaurant turned us away because they were full. Luckily, they had an annex down the street that served the same menu ll La Petite Périgordine, which means the little girl from Périgord. From the crowd even at the annex, we knew that we had stumbled upon a good restaurant, and we weren't disappointed. 
We both started with scallops and leeks. They were served in a delightful scallop shell and the seasoning was amazing. The leeks were little slips of bites underneath the scallops. 
Yum, one of the best things we ate, leeks and scallops
I chose quail for my main course, which truthfully tasted like chicken, but in much smaller pieces. The meal also included zucchini. 
Earl got the beef with the aligot, mashed potatoes and cheese. 
I ended the meal with tarte tatin, like an apple pie, that included creme fraiche. 


I wasn't able to run while I was in Paris, which was a huge disappointment. Did I tell you I got hit by a golf ball while running in Florida? Well, it was my fault. The ball was bouncing across the street toward me and I thought I could lift up my foot to stop it with my shoe. Of course, it bounced higher and hit me in the shin. It stung like crazy, but I kept going. I ended up with a big goose egg on my shin. That didn't stop me from running six miles the next day.
The morning we were preparing to leave for France, I noticed that the bruise had dripped down to my ankle and my foot, leaving it an atrocious purple color. I texted a physical therapist relative and he recommended not running until the bruise had dissipated. I listened to him about the running, but I walked plenty of steps, according to my Fitbit.

On Wednesday, we had lunch with our friends Linda and Maurice. Linda blogs at Frenchless in France and they have been so helpful to us. This time, they sold us their car since they are living full-time in Paris. As expected, there was quite a bit of paperwork to take care of. We started it on Wednesday after lunch then finished it on Thursday once I had secured car insurance.
Thursday morning the letter from the insurance company had arrived, and I stood outside the bank branch at 9 a.m. The nice young man sat with me at his desk for two hours, missing an appointment (a rendez-vous) at 10 because my insurance hadn't been completed. We were on the other line with the bank man in charge of insurance, finally we were approved, both me and Earl for 58 euros per month rather than the 38 or 72. A happy medium I guess and we can continue to work on getting the price down.
Next, I walked to the bus stop to cross town to Linda and Maurice's apartment to fetch the car. But a sign on the bus stop said a severe accident delayed the bus for 16 minutes. I looked at the handy app for maps which told me that I could walk to a metro stop and go underground, avoiding the accident.
I love using the maps on my phone for directions. If I push "transit," it tells me which train or bus to take and which direction it should be going. That saves so much figuring out time.
The Apple map gives me the breakdown of how to negotiate the transit system. 
A brisk walk across the Seine, past Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville (city hall) sent me down the stairs. In a few minutes, I was on the street again and made me way to their apartment. Completing the paperwork let me slide behind the driver's seat of the 2001 Audi that we purchased from them.
I drove across Paris, slowly, calmly, avoiding other cars and drivers in a hurry. I pulled in front of the hotel and Earl loaded up the suitcases.
I continued to drive, following the GPS to exit Paris and follow the highway to the south. 
The road to Quillan heads south! 

French Menus Can Be Tricky

Just when I think I'm beginning to get a grasp on French, a menu comes along and lulls me into complacency. I always grasp onto the wor...