mercredi, septembre 14, 2005

Frais means "Fat," I think

The milk over here.

For at least 15 years, maybe 20 or 25 I've drunk only non-fat milk. But non-fat milk is a thing unknown in France, even in Paris. The best you can do is something they call Lait Frais 0,5 (I'm respecting their maddening preference for a comma over a decimal point--how do these people run an economy and engineer automobiles with commas substituting for decimals?!)

(Oh, I guess I answered myself there)

This milk only comes in one litre size, which looks like a quart. They don't offer the gallons we are used to in the States. And that's probably good, because boy, is it rich. Nothing like nonfat (water with some white dissolved in it). I can only handle a quart at a time. We have to get used to going to the store nearly every day if we want to keep ourself properly supplied. The small 'fridge here keeps us from any extravagant stockpiling.

I still like cereal in the morning. The Special K over here is great. But with this milk, it's like eating my morning cereal in a bowl of ice cream.

It's that rich!

So I'm trying to cut back on my milk intake. I don't want to become one of those fat Americans, esp. after going to the trouble of moving to France.

(And regarding the French know-how low-blow: I know, I know, Renault just won the Constructor's World Championship in Formula One, and God bless 'em--but they sure didn't do it in a Twingo, Mégane or Espace.)

Please Note: Photo added after the fact, once I learned how to do it.

mardi, septembre 13, 2005

Tuesday is Mardi

Last night we resisted the overwhelming temptation to sleep until 9:30PM, which is just after nightfall here. Once all was dark we gave in to magnificent slumber, not stirring once in our heavy, dreamless sleep until the next day.

3:30 the next day. 3:30 PM, or 15:30 as they say over here.

That was some kinda sleep!

After 18 hours motionless and unconscious, we rose stiff and bodily disoriented. Food? Let's go out. Just down our quiet street (disorientingly quiet--"Does anyone live around here?") we came upon the noise and bustle of bigger avenues. In the midst of this pie-sliced intersections of Rue Monge, Rue Cardinal Lemoine, and Rue des Boulangers is a preeminent delta, and on this sits the Café du Cardinal. It looked mighty fine.

And it was. In the spirit of a new life, of starting over, I ordered a salad with ham, potatoes, tomatoes and egg, no coke, a cappuccino, and a litre of Badoit sparkling water. Dear wife had tea and the Omelette du Cardinal (3 eggs, chicken and ementhal cheese and tomatoes). The bill came to 28 euros. There was some smoking around us, but in our expansive mood, basking in the newness and endless possibilities of what lay beffore us, we were untroubled by this, each of us silently noting our ability to withstand second hand smoke while eating. "This is fine--in fact, it's damn good!"

Despairing over getting our alleged internet connecction running, we walked down to a cyber café just across the street from our apartment. We used one of their PC terminals, (which was strange to use, after years and years on Macs--"So this is how the other half lives. Huh. Tough fer them.") and with a little trouble, we were able to get our email. A young man ran the place, a slightly built asian guy with a hip haircut and outfitted in the current interrnational uniform of the acceptably hip: a nylon tracksuit top, tee, jeans with a modest flare that brushed their frayed hem against his bright fashionista running shoes. So the guy looked absolutely indistiguishable from many many guys I would encounter daily in San Diego, esp. in the hipper areas of town. And so often had I spoken to these guys ("Can I have that Chai with nonfat milk?") and so often had their voices answered, all sounding exactly alike--kids raised in America, of mixed race parentage (I don't know if that's unPC to say, but I felt uncomfortable just typing it--"I mean no disrespect!"), which is to say american kids, with all the self-conscious posturing and pronunciations endemic in their age group.

So it was very disorienting to see one of these guys over here running a cyber cafe, and though I ventured to speak to him in French at first, it was sort of a sham, and I expected him to reply in broken French just as unruly as mine and then he'd begin telling us how to log on and how much they charge per hour in that perfectly predictable American English hipsterease.

But of course, mais non, he spoke French and only French, and when my French failed me (somewhere after "Bonjour,") he was left to speak in low tones that I found completely incomprehensible. He looked just as confused when I spoke English.

Thank God Dear Wife was there.

lundi, septembre 12, 2005

Chuck de Galled

A typical, hazy arrival in a foreign land, the two of us walking across the tarmac (ah, fresh air!) to crowd into strange airport buses, exhausted from pre-departure responsibilities that precluded much rest, and airline seats that precluded much comfort. We left San Diego on the eleventh of September, and arrived the next day.

September 11th, an anniversary on which I've flown twice now, and this time it was very noticeable how the solemnity of the day had faded to imperceptibility. In all of the air terminals and airline aisles I spent the day wandering, no one seemed particularly mindful of this anniversary, by simple forgetfulness or deliberately, I couldn’t say. The only real marker of the date was TSA’s higher level of emotional preparation and fastidiousness. They seemed consciously up for the responsibility of 9/11 duty (which one of them would not fear being the screener caught on tape handing Mohammed Atta, Jr. his briefcase of boxcutters?); they appeared less visibly defeated than I'd seen during recent air travel, a sense of importance in their mission somewhat restored, maybe a little more communicative with the passengers, and a little more civil in addressing each other. It was like they felt they were being observed a little more closely, a sort of "special inspection day" vibe, which went unnoticed I think, by everyone, except for the unhappy increase in procedural fastidiousness. And this is what had everyone miserable, the insistence by EVERY screener and official on seeing your ticket at every possible juncture in our miserable migration through the metal detectors. Never mind that the TSA flak now asking you for your ID just watched you show it to their partner 3 feet away.

And I sensed for the first time people not only resenting this—which I've noticed people beginning to do slowly over the last two or three years--but seeing the futility of it, for the first time seeing the futility hellish and futile world created by some overall scheme of incompetence and misdirected energy that couldn't be blamed on any one person but suddenly seemed an inescapable part of being American after the wars, the hurricanes, the unceasing violence and the endless continuation of everything we were told would change, the unchanging misery and stupidity that we all hoped would end. People were burdened by this, and it overshadow and even tainted the Sept. 11th anniversary.

To me this seemed a sobering watershed, everyone impatient in our overcrowded security line, the words, "God-damn-it" on the verge of slipping past the clenched teeth of every fuming face. Even I was pissed, and usually I'm very patient with that stuff, always finding jet travel a mortality gut check, reminding myself to imagine how terrible it would be to fall from the sky with hundreds of other helpless folk, and how truly awful it must have been on one of those hijacked planes. But now people are past that, and even for me the horror is fading, and now we just want to get on our bankrupt airline flights and get our damn shoes back on.

So we arrived a day after leaving, 11AM or so on the twelfth, and lingered in the Charles DeGaulle Airport to change travelers’ checks at the AMEX office in the terminal (Dear Wife discovered this convenient place in her preparations for our trip, and it worked great). I suggested we take a commemorative photo of ourselves in one of those great photo-booths that live in the nooks and corners of so many public interiors here.

I think we looked damn good, considering.

We tried to decipher the scant signage referencing taxis, but were confused by what little we found, and I asked an airport worker for directions in what I thought was French-ish, if not actually French. He answered in French (I understood nothing) and then asked if I was Italian. I considered this a moral victory and didn't correct him. We kept wandering—you know the scene, disoriented couple pushing overloaded baggage cart, awaiting disaster....

We drove into La Cité in the biggest mini-van taxi I could find (declining a continual stream of taxis after we'd reached the head of the inevitable queue, waving our fellow travelers past until we were offered a rig big enough for the job—and even this one ended up being a tight fit!). We had a lot of luggage to load--did I mention our luggage? My second checked suitcase (the fourth in our complement of full-sized checked baggage), is one of those hard cases made of hi-impact PVC, and into which I packed everything heavy—like all our books (and we thought we left behind SO MUCH!). This weighed in at 95lbs, and that cost us an extra $125.00, but mercifully all of our other bags were allowed the OLD maximum weight (75lbs?), whereas all four would have carried transit surcharges if they’d applied the new, post-bankruptcy standard. As it was, we had to do with the crimson shame of multiple “HEAVY” stickers applied to every piece of luggage we put on the scales.

I helped the taxi driver by loading some of our bags, but when he moved to lift my monster case (the Porta-Studio), I told him to wait for my help. He didn’t care to wait, and tried to give it a solo heave anyways—I found the look of sudden shock on his face very gratifying.

And thank God they allow us males a laptop/briefcase AND a carry-on!

dimanche, septembre 11, 2005

On Our Way

Airline travel causes my Dear Wife great anxiety. Always eager for a trip, but never happy to hear the announcement that our group is now boarding, she will sit silently as the plane begins to back away from the gate, craning her neck to look about for the source of every new sound. Once in the air any rustling of the fuselage (esp. those sharp hydraulic throbs and jabs) causes her to leap. If not totally discombobulated, she certainly has a hard time remaining combobulated. When the turbulence becomes stronger, she will resignedly fold her upper body forward and literally rest her head between her knees, all without complaint. It is actually very touching. I have always wished I could help her. And now I have a found a way.

Move to Europe.

We've been so long preparing for this trip, on every front, logistically, financially, and emotionally; and then, unable to rent our house, we decided to put it on the market two weeks before leaving. I would say all this craziness kept us so occupied and preoccupied that after weeks of racing just to finish as many tasks as possible, we were glad to get on the plane--but we weren't even glad. We were just out of body.

Trying to figure out what we should bring for a year living overseas left us boggled and baffled. I surrendered to the overwhelming sensation and let my hand be guided by a sort of instinctual attraction. A suit? Yes, I like suits. I think I'll take three. Heavy wool sweaters? Um hmm.

"If we need (BLANK), we can just buy it," Dear Wife and I would shout to each from different rooms, packing the morning of our flight.

Now that we're here, a soft fear has risen in my chest that inevitable calamities begotten by our inevitable oversights shall soon be visiting us. Did I cancel that service? Did I properly enroll for online bill pay with all of my outstanding accounts? We even changed banks three weeks before departure. Total chaos.

We left behind the printer/scanner. We brought software. We left music CD's (I'd barely copied any to my hard drive before leaving--just didn't have time to get much beyond "The Mellomen" and "The Firehouse Five plus Two"). We left DVD's ("I regret this most", Euro Chino and Dear Wife, in unison, Oct. 29, 2005). And our largest suitcase wound up dominated by anatomy books and drawing gear.

In the short drive to the airport, Dear Wife's father (aka, Respected and Feared Father-in-Law), had been given packages to mail, pages of instructions for front door reassembly (lavishly illustrated by you-know-who), garage door openers, a begging request to go get my fabulous fancy ladder from my old studio (I left it behind!), and still more keys. His head full of all these missions and admonishments, he stopped at the terminal curb and we said our goodbyes (no tears, it's a positive thing afterall), and then we clambered (yes, clambered) out of the minvan, faced our obscene amount of luggage that still felt like half of what we needed, and waved "Au revoir, et à bientôt!"

And after all that, Dear Wife didn't really seem to care what happened to the plane.

Striking Northwest mechanics were picketing the terminal entrance, one with a memorable sign "Hope You're Feeling Lucky." Dear Wife shrugged apathetically. I wanted to explain to them, to say we bought the tickets months ago, and we hope there is a quick resolution they find satisfactory. I didn't. The ticket counter representative said she couldn't talk about the strike with an expression that could have been mocking our concern or signalling her sympathy with the mechanics, I couldn't tell. We were unnervingly delayed on our first flight by "maintanence issues" for an hour and a half. Dear Wife was unfazed. Still perfectly combobulated. Our late arrival in Detroit made for a tight connection, but when we checked the gate, people seemed to be milling around, waiting to board, so I thought picking up some quick Mc Donald's to bring along would be OK. But the counter workers at "McDo" (as the french call it) weren't feelin' it, and gave me a good blast of Detroit vibe while failing to fill my simple order in less than (seriously) 15 minutes--with all the items I'd requested just lying about in their little slots, waiting to come with me to France! I tried kindness, (smilin big, "Thanks!")--I tried authoratative calm ("That McNugget right there? I believe that's mine...."), I contemplated imitating Peet's urban cred, ("Hey yo'--them's my Nuggets, man"). Nothing. I kept looking back at the gate, watching everyone board, and soon everyone was gone, with just Dear Wife left alone, looking uncomfortable. I plead one last time to be handed the entirety of my order, grabbed what I could when refused, and ran to our gate.

And then stood in the jetway for the next 20 minutes along with 50 other people waiting to board the plane, my food getting cold.

One other food note: I try to order the Kosher meal whenever we fly, which has offered two benefits: I'm the first to be served, and it is usually damn good. The fact that it might put me in the front line of any hijacking situation by Jihadists is just a bonus ( TERRORIST: "Give me the list of everyone who ordered the kosher meal! Line them up here!--next, all the people that ordered the ham sandwich!!"). But aparently anti-semitism is becoming pervasive, because these meals sucked. Maybe it is a slyly anti-terrorist ploy, since those boys keep as kosher as any Orthodox Jew. I recall a frightening cabbie in Boston, circa '99 (the Sargent Retrospective at MFA) detailing how he and his "room mates" insisted on ordering their pizzas uncut, "So that we know it is untouched by the blade of the pizza cutter, which is defiled because it has touched pork."

"But you don't have any pork on your pizza," I said.

"But it has sliced other pizzas WITH PORK," he says with a menacing look in the rearview mirror.

We had a very nice flight attendant on the overseas leg who was from Germany and said I was cute. I fell asleep for a while until jostled awake by some turbulence. I looked over and Dear Wife had silently folded over and placed her head between her knees.