Monday, February 25, 2019

The Kindness of People

Since Earl and I sold our house to move to France, we have so often been reliant on others. It's not something we would have anticipated, that we would need to mooch off of people, whether staying with them after we sold our house or on our trips home, or getting their help in France when dealing with the paperwork.
It's often hard to accept things from other people. It puts me in mind of a song from church:
"Will you let me be your servant, 
let me be as Christ to you? 
Pray that I might have the grace
 to let you be my servant, too."
It's that second part that can be so difficult. Sure, I'm happy to help you out, but maybe it's harder to be humble and accept the help from others. Well, this year has taught me to accept the help of others, and I'm always so grateful. 
Recently, my friend Deb handed me a key to her and Greg's house in Columbus.
Deb and Greg took us to a hockey game on New Year's Eve. 
"It's lightweight and easy to travel with," she said. "Take it with you and whenever you're in town, you can stay here, whether we're here or not."
The lightweight key
And those words were so sweet, so giving. People open their homes and their hearts to us, without necessarily expecting that they'll one day fly to France and stay with us. Instead, they're just caring people.
The same can be said of Jules and Jack, our friends in France who welcomed us when we returned without a place to live. 

We'll probably camp out there again after the housesit in Italy until we move into our new apartment on March 15.  

My Mom and Dad welcomed us for more than a month when we came home for the holidays. We like to think that we were helpful, doing chores around the house and taking turns cooking dinner, but it's always a challenge to have house guests. 

And our friends Linda and Maurice in Paris have numerous times helped us, from loaning us their car to selling us their car, to putting me up on a last-minute trip to Paris when I didn't reach another friend's home in time to make their son's 25th birthday celebration. I contacted Maurice and Linda while I was on the train and they pulled out the trundle bed in their dining room. Such giving people. 
Dinner with Apero spritz makes everything better
And the people I've mentioned here don't begin to cover the support I've received, from late night/early morning phone calls when I'm stressed about life in a foreign land to a niece who got Grace's prescription filled after she broke her elbow and I couldn't be there to do it for her. 

So, in the past year, I have become the kind of person who relies on the help of others more frequently than I could have imagined. And I'm hoping that I have received their help and expressed thanks for their support adequately, and if I haven't, then thank you. Grace, Najah, Noreen, Pam, Sheila, Leah, Erin, Kevin, Dawn, Jennie and Dennis, along with everyone who reads my blog, encouraging me not to give up, but to be honest about my experiences -- thank you.
And I hope that the people who have offered us a hand know that we will happily reciprocate, and when it becomes our turn to help them, that they can turn to us and ask. Because just like it's okay to give, it's okay to receive, too.

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.
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. 


The problem with not blogging for so long, is that there is way too much to blog about so then it's discouraging and I'll never be a...