Monday, June 25, 2007

Urgent News Bulletin

Do not be fooled by common misconceptions. These subjects have
not simply chosen to "tune out" of the art gallery experience.
They are in abdominal crises resulting from acute vegetable overdose.


25 juin 01:15 heures

Today at lunch it was brought to my attention (I was in fact, forcefully informed through a complicated verbal discourse) that there is a direct, cause and effect link between eating too many vegitables and stomach aches.

Furthermore, apparently more than one or two teaspoonsful of the offending food element is more than sufficient to produce this undesired condition.

This phenomenon may reach critical mass as any subject approaches the age of three. However each individual is advised to make his or her own informed medical and nutritional decisions.

No further information is available at this time, however rumors are circulating of a massive and well financed mis-information campaign that suggests consuming as many as five or more individual varieties of the offending elements in each 24 hour nutritional period. Given the current medical alert, any such campagne is clearly directed towards destabilizing the core family unit with chronic abdominal discomfort.

Caution is advised.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Continued Kitten Saga

Well, we are still in major kitten search mode here. Fortunately. The reason I say fortunately is that we went through a couple of days of crisis, where it was almost decided that spending money on a kitten at this moment is totally insane. Which it is. Totally. There is the hardwood floor to be installed. The new “artsy” radiators have to be mounted. We are only just back from throwing money at frivolous objects like flip-flops in London. The list is long and deep and the pockets are not.

That is not the point. The point is, I want a kitten. All pretense that this kitten is for the kids has fallen by the wayside. All pretense that a pet is a good teaching tool, a great mechanism for affective development, is finished, kaput, irrelevant. The only thing important now is that I want a kitten. I need a kitten for my personal well-being. And furthermore, not just any kitten. I need (a) George. Exclusively dog lovers, will never understand. Tant pis.

So, as you might see, I was falling into a major slump. Full-on depression. Turn me into a do-not-talk-to-me, the-world-sucks-lemons, monster. “You want to finish the electrical work in the living room? Don't look at me, I’ve got important blogging to do.” “Finish surfacing the walls in the hallway and paint? Keep dreaming.” “Frankly, I don’t care if the library* stays just like it is - it has books in it - what’s the problem?”

The problem is clear. Some sort of re-incarnated 17th century warlock without his familiar, I have suddenly become a loose, kitten-less, canon. Everything is in danger of being destroyed until this hunger is sated.

Problems of this sort are frequent on the French socio-political scene. And although I didn’t reach the point of taking my cause to the streets with assorted flags and banners, my French companion decided in typically shrewd French political fashion, that it would be prudent to indulge the beast. “What the hell, we might as well go ahead a find a kitten.” Yes, that is, if you ever want to eat another decent meal in this house.

The search for (a) George continues.

By now, the close observer has figured out that the original potential George as posted previously, is a moot case. Sold, vendu, as in doesn’t have a brother, go away, don’t bother me, yes I am a French person raising rare cats for sale, don’t even think I need to be nice to you. Case closed.

So why not just any kitten? Because. Just because. As I said, “I need (a) George.” And just any kitten is not (a) George. A kitten can be cute, even adorable, and still not be (a) George. The kitten can be male or female, but the kitten must look like (a) George.

I will try to illustrate, with 19th century photos from Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) and contemporary photos from Madame Maurel (a nice, courteous, French woman who raises cats at Les Scottish Du Garlaban **)

This is (a) George.
Without pretense, George.
(George Sand, by Nadar around 1864)

This is not (a) George.
She is beautiful,
but not a George.
(Sarah Berhardt, by Nadar
around 1864)

This is (a) George.
Note the lack of pretense.
The calm, matter of fact,
melancholy demeanor.

This is not (a) George.
Adorable, panting,
puppy-like, "pick me",
I can do somersaults,
but not (a) George.

I hope that is clear now. So don’t send me any more pictures of cute, adorable, kittens. I will only entertain the purchase, adoption, or otherwise procuring , or publishing the pictures of (a) George.

Bless you,
Yours Truly,

PS: * Do not take away any fancy misconceptions by the use of the term “library”. The library also happens to be the kid’s room, the office, the guest room, closets...
* *If you are in the market for a British Shorthair or Scottish Fold kitten, do not even think of trying to beat me out of the race to get one of hers. This is a battle that observes no conventions and takes no prisoners. I will use my 17th century warlock powers to have you destroyed.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lesson in Lazy

No excuses.
Just lazy.

Does anyone know the name of this oddly flattened peach? They were delicious. Light peach fuzz on a thin skin. Smell just like peaches. White flesh, delicately sweet, with a teeny tiney pit about 1/2 inch in diameter.

They were brought to me from one of the outdoor markets yesterday. Sort of like when your cat leaves a mouse on the threshold of the front door. Voila, just for you... see how much I care.

But I need to know what their name is. Where they come from. How much they cost. How long is the season? Are they likely to be there next week?

I mean really, some people just don't use their head.
"I am too appreciative! But I need to know this stuff!"

Anyway, I'm going to do like the plant people say, stick the pit in a plastic bag with some soil-like junk in it and let it uglify my refrigerator for a while. Then I can give it to one of my rich land-owner friends to grow into a tree and 30 or 40 years from now when I'm dead and gone, everybody can get together and have delicious peach deserts from my tree.

I hope I don't have to let it sit in my refrigerator until next year. My generosity has limits. Remind me to tell you how long my dilapidated 1959 Hillmann Husky sat in my sister's driveway. We don't be wantin' the word "trash" batted around in the same sentence with our family name.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

From Eggs to Babies

Can you die from eating eggs of questionable age? They didn't smell bad, and the omelet tasted pretty good. Oh geez. Maybe the herbs hid the smell of imminent death. Maybe I'll just spend the evening kneeling before the porcelain throne - wishing I was dead. Why didn't I just throw the eggs out? I can't die yet, my family needs me. The little monsters are hardly more than babies.

Speaking of babies. Do women just loose all sense of reality when it comes to infants or what? Have you seen some of the examples being splattered across the blog-o-sphere lately?

I've been following (at a safe distance) several examples in our own little expatriate microcosm. The list is too large, and you are unlikely to follow all the links so I'll just give you one example.

Doc, at 10 Rue De La Charme, has added a charming young lady to the list. To whit she has posted a photo for all to see of this unsuspecting child all done up in a Sumo wrestler fashion diaper, captioned "Hope this makes you giggle as much as us." Pause. Where is Doc? Where is the woman of superb dry wit that can reduce a sacred subject to melted jello? This was the woman who could deftly and mercilessly place the killing blow to my already weakened sense of fashion self respect. It must be postpartum hormones. Or maybe it is simply the genetic female response to seeing a newborn infant. Yes, it must be that. And forthwith all those comments of beautiful baby solidarity.

All, or at least most babies are ... charming? They certainly have some sort of pull on us. But beautiful? Ladies, I'm sorry but I have yet to see a beautiful newborn infant. There must be a hormone thing going on here. A genetic compulsion programed to keep women from grimacing and drop kicking that red, wrinkled, mass of unformed flesh into the next field. Wait. Don't get me wrong. This is a good thing. They do turn into cute and beautiful babies at some point. A good 6 months or more if ours were any example.

Here you see an example at over 3 months, still bordering on hairless grimlens, not to mention the very spooky eyes. I don't have the nerve of showing anything younger. Way too scary.
They probably shouldn't let guys see babies soon after birth. Although, personally, I think it would help if women could get a grip with the hormones and be just a little more honest about this beautiful baby thing. A lot of guys must think they are wandering around in the twilight zone when they hear all those comments and look at the subject. We are in a try to match the words with the image game, and it kind of makes us feel like there must be something wrong with us. "Uh, yea, er, sure, of course, he's gorgeous." (Oh my god, my kid is going to look like J. Edgar Hoover.)

It is a wonder I didn't have a heart attack.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

As usual, there is lots of catching up to do. Any number of subjects to broach. Photos to post. Smiling faces. Tears.

I'll get to it.

But first, this is George.

Well, for the moment he is a potential George. He may actually be a Fred or a Tom or more likely a Pierre or Jean-Luc. He may already belong to another family because I was late in finding the advertisement in the kitten column.

The monsters are absolutely cat CRAZY. Anything cat or cat-like. And since I come from a very cat oriented family, and am very susceptible to little girls whining with batting eyelashes, and little boys plaintive si-tu-plait-ing, we are in the market for a furry feline. At 3 years, I'm figuring I can convince them not to squeeze all his insides, out.

George is of course adorable and George is more likely to have a personality that allows himself to be dressed up in doll clothes, pushed around in baby strollers, and otherwise tenderly tortured. But there are all those other Georges and Georgettes out there with little chance for a warm, stable, wholesome, and reasonably well decorated home.

Not that I care about the drapery ending in shreds, but my experiences with street smart genetics have proved risky in the past. And forever bandaging wee little hands and drying tears because the fur ball won't leave the security of his under-the-sofa-hideaway is not the purpose. What to do, what to do.

There is no question of physically going to an animal shelter. Speaking of risky past adventures. The resulting car filled to the brim with a collection of dogs, cats, hamsters and assorted furry critters is just not acceptable. And I own up to having no, absolutely not an ounce, of willpower when faced with all those pitiful little upturned faces.

I'm going to nap on it, and we'll see how it all pans out.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

French Fashion

Yesterday, we wrapped up the the twins' long weekend with a trip to the pediatrician in Beziers. One of those rare, normal looking family moments, bio-dad and bio-mom, each with an armful of squirming apprehensive child, arriving at doctor’s office for a 34 month check-up and a couple of shots.

Upon arriving in the room filled with the very coolest toys, all apprehension melts away. Boy is a little surly but cooperative except for removing socks. “Why would the doctor want to see my feet. They are just feet.” Girl happily sheds the dress and lounges on the examination table with a demure smile, eyes rolled slightly into her eyebrows, in as much to say “get a load of this, am I delectable or what?” Or, one could imagine in a gravelly Marlene Dietrich voice, “go ahead, Doctor, whatever you need to do, I am all yours.”

Measure, weigh, poke, peek, and stick. All perfectly normal. Everything within the norm. Actually, not just within the norm, but exactly on the nose, to the centimeter, to the kilo, to the wiggle of the toes. So what is wrong with this picture? Nothing of course. It is just, well, how does such a “special” family end up with such “normal” offspring. She is so “girly” he is so “boyish”. We, who are so well prepared to deal with any hint of uniqueness... no one to profit from all those years of dealing with our own experiences of being different. Sigh. The crosses we have to bear; it just never ends.

Nevertheless we are surviving and they are apparently prospering, at least mentally and physically. Alas, normal or not, growing up in a “special” family with Dads who are supposed to have strong decorative instincts obviously doesn’t guarantee that you are going to be on the cutting edge of fashion.

I design homes fashions, not clothing. You see the evidence photographed during the highpoint of the weekend. An outing at a farm designed to delight the child in all of us.

You will note the adult, funky hat, flowered shirt and geeky glasses. Moving on to the boy child in two-sizes too small small polo shirt over mid-calf jeans, and clear blue Crocs with socks. Ouch. Mademoiselle is more conservatively dressed in the classic “little black dress” (perfect for a barnyard outing), over a similarly sized, chicly “patinated” long-sleeve “T”, and finished off with the same demure Crocs in rose.

This belated invasion of the dreaded Croc has been much commented on by the more fashionable Americans in France. To which I respond, one must bear in mind that World War II set Europe back by a few years, and it hasn’t quite caught up. (This of course ignores the principal fashion trends that spread in the opposite direction, and does not even consider all the fake YSL bags wagging their way across all 50 states.)

Fashion faux pas or not, any shoe that you can stick in a bucket of disinfectant is OK by me. In fact I am thinking of designing a disinfectant walk-thru outside the apartment. But I want it to wash hands and faces as well as feet, and if it can wipe a butt, all the better. Certain jobs being eliminated by computerized robotics wouldn’t bother my left-leaning politics in the least.

Which brings me to my most impressive revelation of late to conclude these brief comments on the homo-parental experience. This is a confession. Not just any confession. For a professional arbiter of taste (ok, home fashions, not clothing), born and reared in the finest Puritan tradition, he who cannot curse in print... will aid and abet his children to urinate in public without the slightest nod towards propriety and little if any privacy.

I am being punished for every unkind thought I have ever had towards anyone acting less than correct in public. Do the math, one man out and about with newly potty-trained twins - read as tiny inexperienced bladders - who insist on doing everything at the same instant. In the park, on the street, behind trees, next to telephone poles, mailboxes. Anything remotely considered a visual shield from at least a portion of the passers-by. We are there. The dogs and the street-folk got nothin’ on us. For some of us, that is truly a life changing experience. For the rest, I guess it is just one more puddle to cross. Yuck.

PS: No, I am not completely handicapped. I can use the word pee in print. Pee, pee, pee, my children pee in public. And now it is out there for the whole world to find. And step in.

Monday, May 21, 2007

say Fromage

This is for Loulou. Well it is Chez Loulou inspired because she started talking about cheese every Tuesday and asked if anyone wanted to join the game.

Hardly one to pass up a chance to eat more cheese, I thought OK, I'll give it a whirl. And a whirl it is considering my schedule. (I am not too old to whine.) But I picked up two versions of one of my all time favorite cheeses to "share". One from Corse and one from the Pyrenees.

I am a brebis fan. Especially the ones that are firm and slightly salty, but not as much so as the Italian Pecorinos which you usually shave or grate. Before being completely initiated in the TRUE, the ONE, the ONLY language (cough) I never knew that I was a brebis fan. I though I liked sheep's milk cheeses.

But on one of my first extended excursions deep into the French heartland I had a discussion with my then future MIL during the course of dinner. She had asked me what were my favorite cheeses. There was no intention to trap me, she doesn't have that sort of mindset, she is quite a phenomenal woman. It was just a way to make conversation.

At the time my French was limited (enormous understatement) and I responded that my favorite cheese would be sheep's milk cheese. I put it "fromage de mouton."

Being polite and somewhat proper, she responded that, uh, but there is no such thing.

And I am like, but of course there is. Mouton, sheep, the one you where you get wool, you can also get cheese.

And she's like, but no, it is physically impossible.

Meanwhile the more bi-lingual savvy are pounding their fists on the table, rolling on the floor or otherwise amusing themselves. They, the evil ones who left us in this stalemate.

For those fluent in French it is fairly obvious. Yes, a "mouton" is a sheep, but generally speaking a male. A ram. While a female sheep or ewe is a brebi. So in her eyes I was trying to insist that you could get cheese from the ram. And that is as far as I will go with this.

Nevertheless, I still love fromage de brebis.

My favorite of the two was from the Pyrenees. It was a little sharper, nutty, lightly salty, and a little firmer. Still no trouble to slice but if you didn't handle it carefully it would crumble. The crust was nice and grungy looking and became thick in spots.

The brebis from Corse was from a smaller round. It suffered a little because the crust was a bit ammoniated. Still it was very good once separated from the rind, "la croûte". It had a smoother consistency which held together easily when sliced thinly, and the taste was milder, and more buttery with only the tiniest hint of saltiness.

I suspect the ammonia odor came from being cut and wrapped too long in plastic. (I wasn't at my favorite fromage shop, and I normally wouldn't have bought something I recognized as a potential problem.) Otherwise I have a feeling many people would prefer this one from Corse.

One of the easiest "brebis" cheeses to find is called Petit Basque and is quite good if not as complex as some of the cheeses from smaller, less commercialized producers. I would also be quite happy with a Spanish Manchego.

They all run from 20 to 25 euros a kilo. Not cheap. But with a good glass of wine, they make a wonderful desert. And even if the French don't cotton to it, I love them with slices of fresh fruit, particularly figs in season.

those other ex-patriots

The empty coffee cup was sitting on the kitchen counter top, the corner of the list of American food products lying just underneath. In a typically lazy fashion, I tugged on the list, the cup fell on the stone floor, and ... nothing. It didn't break. Who says IKEA doesn't sell quality merchandise? My bare feet thank you IKEA, as well as the happenstance that there was not the usual steaming brew therein. And I didn't have to spend a half hour searching for shards of coffee cup which might pierce little feet as well as my own. We are a barefoot happy family.

Les Monstres just prefer life without shoes. My French immediate family, male and female, doesn't like shoes in the house as a matter of cleanliness. For me it is more a case of vanity. At age 54, my feet are about the only things left on my body that I think is sexy.

Nothing to do with a foot fetish. Just plain visual aesthetics. As a design/art/architecture person, I'm very visual. And therefore, I am less than thrilled about the degradation aspects of the aging process. The spiritual, inner beauty bit hasn't sunk into my acceptance process.

But on the bright side, I'm thrilled about my new "Crocs". Yet another way to show off my sexy feet.

If you don't think my feet are sexy, please keep it to yourself. Leave me this little shred of something to make my days bearable.

So the list I made before I had the scary coffee cup tumble, is about imported American food stuff I found here. No purchases have been made, but there are a couple of items for which I find comfort knowing they are available if I'm in a panic.

The food subject came up because I was stalking Amy at her blog, Chitlins & Camembert. I have a thing about southern literary types, especially if they are from Alabama or Louisiana. You can ask Sarah Shankman at wherever she happens to be if you can find her - somewhere in Greece or Turkey at the moment- or just Google her. Once upon a time she made the mistake of moving next door to me, and her life has been miserable ever since. It is probably my fault she hasn't even written a book lately. But I'm going to bug her about that in a couple of weeks when I stalk her in London. (Just because you travel does not mean you are safe.)

So Amy, although lucky not to live next door to me, poor thang, is just wait'n and wait'n to have this baby and probably isn't thinking too straight so she puts up a long blog about her mother's index card recipes. That's cooking recipes put on index cards which anyone who was born before 1980 might recognize as an integral part of the American homemaker experience in the middle of the 20th century.

Amy has just finished a 3+ year project of typing up all the information from those cards into a database or some sort of organized format on the computer. And, printed them all out. And, dolled them all up in a multi-ring binder. Need I say more. Well, she freely admits that she had run out of projects and had some free time on her hands. I say get that baby out of there and give this woman her life back.

But being the obsessed stalker that I am, I immediately ran out to find some of her missing ingredients. The inanimate ex-patriots. Wrote them all down on a list that I put on the kitchen counter, under my coffee cup. The one that fell. In fact I had already scouted out a few items I believed she had earlier reported as difficult to find out in the boonies of France. As a dedicated stalker one never passes up the opportunity to provide a service. "Woo-hooo, I can send you a bottle of Karo syrup and some pecans. They have them in a specialty shop just around the corner from me."

Also available: Pancake mix; micro-wave popcorn; maple syrup (ok, from Canada); Skippy peanut butter (crunchy or smooth); baked beans; Hellmann's mayonnaise (just in case you have a recipe card that specifies "Hellmann's"); Louisiana Gold pepper sauce; Louisiana "One Drop Does It" hot sause; cranberry juice; Grandma's Molasses; Ocean Spray cranberry (can); and the list goes on...

And in typical Southern fashion, "Where was I?"

Monday, May 14, 2007

First it was April almost gone, and now it is May half over.

This is not terribly surprising. This is life zooming past as usual. But all the same, I am just really, really jealous of the individuals who seem to juggle their family, their friends, their kids, their work, their home, the animals, the plants, the insects, the government, (those last two place side by side on purpose), the endless-list-of-stuff-to-do and still have time at the finish of the day.

I am in awe, or I am asleep. One or the other.

Here in the merry, merry land d'Oc, the end of April looked something like this. Awww.. sometimes being Dad is just the BEST.

The first of May was a trip to Nancy for a family wedding. A very pleasant experience considering the wedding was the day before the final election and under the circumstances a bit like being sent into "the mouth of the wolf" (French version) or into "the lion's den" (American version).

In spite of being a small (minuscule) business person, my political leanings have always been
somewhat left of center. Even if the objective is to arrive somewhere in the middle, I just feel more comfortable if the project starts somewhere to the left.

My friends on the right
obviously don't agree, but right wing, conservative governments make me nervous. Too much potential for really bad stuff. Just look at the damage a "Shrub" can do. (For those who think the "Shrub" has been innocuous, I have no response. And for those who claim oh, no, it isn't the same and it couldn't happen in France, I have no response.)

I realize that not every slippery slope ends in disaster. But if I have to choose between a political philosophy which is more likely to produce a government that gives away too much of my money to people who don't deserve it, and a political philosophy which is even slightly more likely to produce a government that thinks the solution is to blow up everybody you don't like... it is a no-brainer for me.

Relax, we can still be friends. Just leave your handguns at home when you come for dinner.

Just to ruffle feathers, I like to tell people "back home" that I voted Communist in the first round. I love saying that. "Hello, I voted Communist." "What's up? I voted Communist." It really brings home the N
OT in the USA anymore.

Never mind that it isn't true. Since I haven't completely severed the cord and actually become French, I couldn't vote. But it's the thought that counts. "I would have voted Communist just to ruffle your feathers. All the best. Love, Ben."

In any case, the wedding was charming. Tastefully modest, and delicious. Which in my book means they spent all the money on the food and wine. The guests were warm and welcoming. And I am happy to say that regardless of political leanings, lefties and righties were equally open and accepting to our own personal version of family. (The bride is my partner's goddaughter.)

For once I was able to walk into a French "city hall" and not break out in hives. The church didn't make strange noises or give any indication that it would collapse as a result of my walking through the doors. And as a bonus, the bride and groom were genuinely cute, so it wasn't necessary to make up remarks about how "they make such a lovely couple" etc.

The only rub spending time with all those 20-somethings is that it makes you feel old. Well, it made me feel old. Aside from that, I got to wear my Prada suit which has been sitting in the closet for over a year, and was thus granted a reprieve from the pending sentence of being sent to the French version of the Salvation Army. And, I think there was only one photo accenting my shiny pate, which I will show and be done with now and forever more.

I was able to enjoy a little R&R. (OK - having a rightish side of the family provides certain side benefits - but it doesn't change the political philosophy bit.)

He is quite impressive, a sizable hunk of horse flesh at almost 18 hands, which makes a nice mount for my long legs. But something like 30 years have passed since I've done any serious riding, so I played it safe and kept my derriere firmly in the saddle and his nose away from the fences. For someone with younger bones he does a nice job of this sort of thing...

That was a nice bit of nostalgia and play time and then it was back on the night train and back to the real world.

Home in Montpellier, the next out of ordinary task was registering the wee Franco-Americans for this fall when they will start their first year at kindergarten (L'ecole Maternelle). Les monstres will be 3 at the beginning of August and - amidst the blare of heralding trumpets - they are finally "propre" or as you might say, potty trained. Well, almost. The big burly guy is once again lagging behind his sister. But there is much confidence that he will follow suit, and manage his bodily functions with the same aplomb he musters for the soccer ball. The stadium crowd is on it's feet shouting, "Ni-no Ni-no Ni-no."

The registration at school went quite well. Once again, a nod to Montpellier's progressive attitude, nary an eyebrow was raised when a collection of 4 parental types arrived with twins. The biggest quandary was how to fit all the names on the form. But with little hesitation and a little "white out" the head mistress added names in-between-lines and all was proper and in order.

They will be in the same class the first year, which will not help the timid guy break out of his sister's shadow, but everyone seems to agree that it is less traumatic for twins practically joined at the hip. Once step at a time.

That's the phrase for this month. Trying to get up to date. One step at a time.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mixed Blessings and Guilty Pleasures

April has almost gotten away from me. Maybe it has been the wonderful weather or the house guests or the intermittent clouds of cement dust wafting through the apartment, peu importe, but being focused and productive has not been the result.

Montpellier has a typically Mediterranean climate. We get cold and wet weather for parts of the winter, but it is tempered by the proximity of the sea which results in a milder climate than areas only a few kilometers further inland. Much like San Francisco, a land suited to palm trees and Bougainvillea.

Summer seems to have arrived early this year after an already mild winter, and in one fell swoop everyone has packed up their winter wardrobe and planted their beshorted derrieres in the outdoor cafes. You can feel this huge collective sigh of relief as if everyone had been trudging through the snow every day for months. After all, when you are accustomed to 300+ days of sunshine, a little rain and cold can put a real crimp in your winter. There is a telltale sound reverberating along the narrow medieval streets. Flip Flap Flop Flap. The thongs have arrived, and with them, the advance guard of tourists. (I am speaking of the thongs you wear on your feet, not those to be found on the afore mentioned derrieres. We are far enough from the beach that we are not generally subjected to that level of fashion faux pas.)

Still, we have a couple of months before the veritable hordes arrive from the North, and until then, the locals take full advantage. The Sunday mornings are particularly blissful. The youngsters are still in bed nursing their hangovers from the previous evening’s club scene so the old folks can hobble down to their favorite cafe, and calmly soak up a little sunshine.

On this particular Sunday these particular old folks were nursing their own hangovers from the previous evening’s 6 hour dinner party. By 11:30 we managed to drag our weary butts out of bed, grope our way to the local polling place, and then find a free semi-shady table in one of the squares which on any other day would be overflowing with tourists and university students. Along the way we ran into friends who decided to join us for lunch. And afterwards we all spent the rest of the afternoon at their killer apartment overlooking the rooftops, drinking coffee, talking design and antiques, and of course bemoaning the state of politics in the world. This taking us into the evening when it is time again to talk food and figure out what to do for the next meal.

Ah... house guests gone home, kids with the moms, concrete floor complete... one could almost
slip into the dream of a care-free existence.

What do you feel like doing for dinner?

You want me to install the door on the laundry closet?!

... Some people really know how to burst your bubble.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Where ARE You From?

I’m not the type to be homesick. For whatever reason, I never have been. Genetics or environment, who knows, but whenever I packed a bag or a truck and left home, I rarely looked back except to wave a hello to old friends and see how they were doing. To be honest, I’m not sure I really know what it feels like to be homesick. Weird. To think fondly of someone you haven’t seen for a long time. To reminisce fondly about experiences you had in a certain place and time. Those are concepts I have experienced. To be sad about missing someplace and have a longing to go back to where you were before? I somehow misplaced that part of my personality.

But this morning I was struck with a pang of nostalgia. At least I think it was nostalgia. I was avoiding work on a client’s kitchen design with problems that have me (temporarily) stumped. So in typical procrastinating fashion, since I was already on the computer... I started reading blogs. Chez Loulou was just getting back from Spokane, Sam de Bretagne is obviously blue and missing Minnesota, and then Living the life in Saint Aignan threw in a photo of San Francisco. All of which made me think of the 22 year old “boy” that arrived at California’s Golden Gate, all agog, in his VW van.

Was I ever really that young...

Along with the rest of his baggage, he arrived in San Francisco with a rather distinctive accent honed on those formative, rural years in Kentucky and Virginia. That is to say it had a certain farm-bred “southern edge” to it. So the first question everyone asked was “Where are you from?” That is WHERE are you FROM spoken with a sort of incredulous intonation. And this was the bane of my existence for at least a couple of years until I managed to soften it enough to pass without endless comment. (Although, I did learn along the way that there were instances when you could use that accent to advantage - which I did, mercilessly - and felt that it was justifiable revenge to do so.)

Now I’m back in the South, and once again my accent is often a topic of discussion. Are you English? Are you Dutch? American is usually the third guess, not because my French is any better than any other poor American struggling to make himself understood, but there just aren’t that many Americans flooding this area of France. It’s that Not Paris - Not Provence syndrome. I guess it is better than the old stupefied look followed by the where (in what godforsaken part of the country) are you from of my youth. Only this time, there is little hope of losing the accent.

And now with the miniature Franco-Americans running around the house, I can see the cycle starting all over again. Different generation, different South, same story. Regardless of what we try to do, they are blossoming into true Languedociens. They pronounce pain meaning bread like Americans pronounce pain meaning ouch. I kid you not. How funny is that. “Si tu plais, encore du ‘paeen’.” They are asking for more bread, and my mother would think they were asking for a whippin’. Please, more PAIN. No Mother, there is no S&M in this family. Not even when they ask for it politely.

PS: For the completely NON-French-speaking person who happens to read the above...
In "proper" French, and I use the word proper in the loosest of terms, the "n" in the word "pain" is absolutely not pronounced. It is a "p" then an "a" like the "a" in "and" but you don't close on the "n" UNLESS you grew up in a family in the southern region of Languedoc. Languedoc did not readily give up its occitan "langue d'oc" and numerous "peculiarities" linger on in the speech of the natives. Do I hear tom-toms beating in the distant hills?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Parental Learning Experience - No Pictures Please

Guess what:
Little bitty kids don't really know how to say they are feeling nauseous.
Not pretty.
Intense feelings of guilt for insisting that they try just one bite of food.
Adult gets to experience, first hand, the same virus.

Hindsight Hint:
When a 2+ year old sits at the dinner table in a pleasantly warm house, says he's cold and refuses to eat. He just might be sick... very soon.

Acceptance Exercise:
They get sick, you get sick. Get over it. Besides, you are lucky when only one at a time is sick. When they are both sick at the same time it is exponentially worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Home Sweet Montpellier

Montpellier is sweet. It is sweet in the hip slang sense like your old Corvette is cherry, or your old man is pretty cool. It is so sweet that I tend to be like my sister when she moved from the east coast to the California Napa Valley. “OK, I managed to get here. Now close the gates, shutter all the windows, and don’t tell anyone how great it is. “

Nudging all my little ducklings into place here took some doing and some luck. Mostly luck, but it still means that I have a vested interest in Montpellier holding onto its more endearing traits. Although there is probably no need to worry about “my Montpellier” disappearing, the region does have an astonishing growth rate compared to most areas of France. Still, not that many people are going to feel the same way I do about a smallish city of 250 thousand, a quarter of which are university students. Right? Even if the metropolitan area is close to 500 thousand, it is a far cry from Paris, or Marseille or Lyon, or Bordeaux, or Lille. In fact, it comes limping over the finish at number 8 among cities in France. So I don't really need to worry. Right?

It is not a big deal for some that there are two large opera venues, a world renown modern dance festival, or a strong theater and music scene, not to mention an “important” museum which just went through a 4 year renovation and has reopened to rave reviews. All that is true of plenty of cities, and Montpellier is a good 6 miles away from long sandy Mediterranean beaches having neither the glittering, gold-encrusted glamour of the Côte d’Azur nor the lavender caché of Provence. It does have a smart little airport with plenty of Air France flights to Paris, but if I “just gotta get outa town” I prefer to endure the 3 hours on the train to Gare de Lyon, or go Spain-ish and take the car to make the 3 hour drive to Barcelona. The burdons we have to bear. It doesn't sound that great. Right?

Montpellier is a city that was at it’s zenith during and for a couple hundred years after the middle ages. And coinciding with that history, it has one of the largest pedestrian quarters in Europe. About one square kilometer full of winding streets, charming squares, and architecture that just reeks of history. Scratch that, people flock to charming, Montpellier is NOT THAT charming. Perhaps I’m a little biased. Being a complete freak for historical novels set from the middle ages through the nineteenth century might put me in that category. Arthurian legends, swashbuckling musketeers, rob from the rich give to the poor type guys, their horses and carriages careening down narrow, cobbled streets. They rock my world. And here I am rolling out of bed to sneak out of the apartment, descending three flights of 300 year old stone stairs, and scuttling across the marble paved street to pick up the morning baguette. Looking up as I dash for the center of the street , I almost feel like I need to confirm that there is no risk of someone emptying a bedpan from the big windows above. How close to heaven can you get? ... Maybe a little biased.

And that doesn't even take into account that I spent half my youth watching my feet for signs of hair and waiting for Aragorn to come and rescue me. I was sure I was a hobbit. If you check Montpellier's history you learn that at the beginning of the 13th century the city was the dowry of Marie of Montpellier for her marriage to Peter II of Aragon. I walk past her house all the time, really, it is still there. But I just can't figure out why Tolkien didn't catch the misspelling of the name Aragon. Maybe it was the accent that threw him off.

I could go on, and probably will, but rather than regurgitate much of the basic information that can be found in any encyclopedia I’ll try to present a more personal perspective of this somewhat unruly little town. And of course, take some more photos.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Most of the French people I know (and I know quite a few of them) use a lot of sponges (this is a good thing - this is a sound ecological practice) unlike many Americans who have the habit of grabbing a wad of paper towel to solve every cleaning situation. Guilty as charged.

BUT... I have an issue. Sponges are great big succulent sources of bacteria. And I cringe every time I see that sponge wipe across the table after a meal and get tossed into the sink. Repeat the process. Repeat the process. Repeat...

In my house the French adult is a complete clean freak. Two showers a day, wear it once and into the clothes bin, vacuum, dust, bleach, mop the floor,... sans arrêt (constantly). But that sponge swings its way across the table top, the counter-top, the chair seat, and plop, back into the sink.

Since the French can be sensitive about any criticism, and since I love the French, and I don’t want them to feel I am criticizing anything, I have a personal quest. I try to keep it under wraps, but I think I can divulge it in an English language venue without too much danger of reprisal.

I go around popping sponges in the microwave. Shhhhh. Like my mother went around straightening pictures. Even in other people’s homes. No, not in the homes of complete strangers or casual acquaintances. But in the homes of other family members and close friends. OK, I don’t do it a lot. I’m too afraid of getting caught. But...

The odd thing is I have never run into anyone else who uses the microwave to sterilize something in this fashion. I also do it to wooden kitchen spoons and forks. Soak them in water and then into the micro they go. So I’m beginning to think I am the weird one. Doesn’t it seem logical that the microwave is going to kill any bacteria as it super-heats any water in the object, be it sponge, spoon, or anything else non-metallic and non-pet-like in appearance? Do I need to check myself into a clinic for improper microwave usage?

I know not to ask my son that question. He has learned to be skeptical of Papa and the microwave. No, regardless of how bacteria ridden he may be, I have never tried to stuff him into the microwave - I’ve read all the wet poodle stories - and I know better than to heat a bottle of milk in the microwave and then pop it into his mouth.

Are we ready for the cute kid story?

Ok, at the risk of “you had to be there”...

All French kids have a doudou. A doudou is a stuffed thingy, maybe a representation of a well known character, maybe an animal, or just a soft blob of fabric covered stuffing. The doudou is a BIG deal. I’m not really up to date on this practice with American kids although I know that I had a blanket that I kept as close as possible for as long as possible. But in France the child rearing experts insist the doudou is a completely necessary and vital element in the child’s early development.

So anyone halfway conscious gives their children a doudou right off the bat. If they are conscious and smart, they buy multiple copies of the same doudou from the very beginning so it can be washed and or replaced if, godforbid, you should loose it or destroy it in some unseemly fashion.

Being the progeny of model parents, my miniature Franco-Americans naturally have their doudous. Now passing the 2-1/2 year mark, the doudous can sometimes stay in a back-pack or even be left at home if everyone agrees that the outing is not likely to result in any sort of personal crises which requires the comfort of one’s doudou. Nevertheless when bedtime comes around, the doudou is in high demand. You never want to know what the consequences are of being without the doudou when it is absolutely in demand.

Background complete. On with the story.

So some months ago, when the twins both decided all of a sudden to ditch the pacifier, the boy started chewing on the ears of his doudou. My guess is he didn’t really want to ditch the pacifier, he was just putting out a dare to his sister and when she took the bait, he had no choice but to follow through. Backtracking is not an option - it’s a guy thing, even little bitty guys.

He chewed so vigorously that he would stuff an entire ear, and half the head in his mouth, which resulted in a doudou which was at the end of the day very wet and very disgusting.

Round about one bedtime, Dad realizes, yikes, the spare doudou is not in the house, the drying machine is way too slow and noisy, and the doudou is at its dripping, disgusting worst. Of course, you know what is coming... the microwave. No metal, no problem. Ninety seconds in the microwave = no bacteria, at least for a while.

I probably don’t even need to finish the story.

This is also at the peak of the still current period when the miniatures are very concerned about things being hot. You don’t touch the stove, you blow on your food. “C’est trop chaud!” It may have icicles forming on it, but you need to blow on it because it is too hot.

In the meantime the doudou has passed his 90 seconds in the microwave and is waiting patiently in bed next to the pillow.

Enter boy child, who climbs into bed and picks up his doudou ready for a good night hug. Only mildly alarmed, but with big round concerned eyes, and clearly expecting some sort of remedy, “uh, papa, my doudou, he's still a little hot.”

Papa is useless, he can’t blow on the doudou because he is crumpled on the floor, holding his stomach, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Oh hell, like I said, you had to be there.
End with sheepish grin.

Thinking Out Loud

I’ve always been a bit of a “jack of all trades and master of none”. So the delimma about what form this blog will take is probably going to resolve itself in the same manner, and consequently wander around in different directions. Poke a hole here, turn over a rock there. Not the best format for developing a consistent readership, but since I don’t yet have any plans for the blog to be productive in any particular commercial fashion, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

I will try not to let the posts fall into a pattern of nothing but kid stories and parenting issues.

This is a challenge because being a parent takes up a huge portion of your brain and leaves very little space for dealing with everything else. A condition that is probably accentuated by becoming a parent at an “advanced” age after entertaining very little hope of ever having children. Note: There is no plan to go into the subject of how many brain cells were lost in the 1970s.

But I am only human, so periodically I am certain to fall from the intellectual heights of the great issues of our times and descend into the cutesy and somewhat banal realm of oh-my-god-look-what-my-kid-did. The time for that sort of post is limited anyway. Soon they will be old enough to resent any intrusion into their private lives, and not take kindly to public displays of their trials and tribulations. Under those circumstances, finding myself at the wrong end of the keyboard is not part of the plan.

Anyway... this is a very uninteresting post, but I felt obligated to wrap up the whole
what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-blog thing.

Now, to get on with life...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

quandary - un dilemme

Once again I leaped before looking. A person my age should know better. A person should take the time to reflect on the process, to consider the possibilities, to examine motives, to contemplate consequences. Just what it is you think you are about to do. But of course, that’s not me. If that was me, I wouldn’t be living in France.

Me, I leap.

Now, after having made the leap into the blogging world, I realize of course that I haven’t planned what sort of blog I expect this to be. Personal anecdotes or essays? A food blog? An American in France blog? A look at my cute kids blog? Political ranting and raving? An alternative family blog? A was-that-a-mid-life-crises blog? Serious or Silly, Touching or Sarcastic, Humorous or WHAT?

I tend to be a bit timid (yes, even for someone who at 49 displaced his life to a foreign county). I am not really a great cook (although it is true I grew up in a multi-generation restaurant family, and I enjoy cooking and I LOVE to eat). There are more Americans in France than I realized, and they all have a blog (but I think I might be the only 53 year old with twin toddlers, a wife, a boyfriend, and a substantial variety of extended family members in a semi-rural southern region of France i.e. not Paris not Provence.) Speaking of toddlers, there are of course thousands of cute kid blogs (no parenthesis required). I get all anxious when it comes to politics (a subject difficult to avoid in France, even more-so than in the US). That comment after “Americans in France” just about sums up the alternative family bit (possibly a touchy subject for some). And mid-life crises seem so banal (plus I think mine is pretty much over - now it is just a matter of dealing with the aftermath!)

So where is my therapist when I need her? Probably lunching at some trendy Berkeley eater about now. (insert expletive of choice)

In addition, I don’t even know who I expect to read this. Obviously, people who blog expect SOMEBODY to read, even if it is only their old English professor who nurtured the hope that she was tutoring the next Henry Miller. (Actually I have a cute, true, “old high school English teacher” story which I can tell... sometime.) Of course I am too old and too timid to become a Henry Miller type. Not to mention lacking in genius. But if I continue spending inordinate amounts of time on blog-like things that create no income I might yet achieve young Miller’s more dubious reputation for living grace of the kindness of others.

In the mean time, a decision not to make a decision is a nice cop-out and I will just throw up a couple more kid pictures. Hey. Almost everybody loves cute kid pictures. They make us feel all warm and cuddly happy.

By the way, I did ask permission. The boy said that frankly, he didn't give a damn. (roughly translated) And the girl said it was OK as long as she got to choose which shoes she would be wearing. Me. I figure it is OK until they are big enough to sue me. And it is highly unlikely any of their French friends will ever read this blog. That is an understatement.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


This Blog is going to start with a sort of geographical riddle.

(Such riddles may, or may not, become a regular thing in this blog - if it actually becomes a blog.)


Description of photo: Les Monstres and Le Responsable cooling it on a stone wall overlooking a small valley next to an ancient religious building found in the foothills of a moderately mountainous region close to a village known for its marble used frequently in the construction at Versailles.

Where are they in this photo? Hint: They are not visiting their relatives in Kentucky where Versailles is pronounced Ver-sales.