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 croƻte". 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.