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February 24, 2011

The best pizza ever in the world, Amen

Hey buddies. I'm coming at you from our hotel in Roma, where The Dude and I are killing an hour before our train ride to Firenze.

I know I've been ignoring you, as fellow Broad Abroad Emily kindly pointed out. The thing is, the week before The Dude got here I was forced to partake in any activity imaginable that would keep me from thinking, because thinking would make the time slow to an infuriating drip-drip-drip. That mostly meant watching an embarrassing number of episodes of Grey's Anatomy. Like, if I told you how many episodes I was watching you probably wouldn't believe me. Take whatever number you have in your head right now and add three.

So anyway. Rome. We got here on Sunday and we've been church-ing and ruin-ing and walking walking walking. One thing we haven't been doing a lot of, unfortunately, is eating that delicious Italian food we've heard so much about. We keep making really terrible restaurant decisions and paying way too much money for food that tastes like a step above Chef Boyardee. Plus they keep charging us outrageous prices for the bread on the table. Like 3€ per person!

But The Dude really hit on a goldmine in a restaurant we ate in near the Vatican. He ordered a pizza with dried beef, Parmesan and an herb translated into English as "rocket salad" (which I think might be arugula, but I like "rocket salad" better). It was so delicious and amazing and I kept requesting bite after bite of it. I've been on the hunt for such a pizza of my very own, and I finally found it last night in a restaurant called La Dolce Vita in the Piazza Navona. It wasn't quite as amazingly delicious as The Dude's, though, so I had no choice but to return to the Vatican today and the very same pizza as before.

So worth it.

February 11, 2011

Your Daily WTF (Welcome to France) Moment

It had been a while since I'd done laundry, and in that while I'd been hanging out with a lot of smokers. Well, mostly the same smokers, but the same smokers who've been around me many-a-time smoking many-a-death-stick and giving me the black lung. (Cough cough STOP SMOKING TOM! Cough.) Needless to say, my clothes were a bit PePé le Pew.

Doing my laundry is kind of an ordeal. First of all, it requires quite a bit of change. The washing machines cost 4E, 6E or 8E depending on machine's capacity, and it's 1E for every 10 minutes in the dryer. Second of all, the laundromat is a good 15-20 minute hike from my cell, which is a long way to go when you're one stumble away from all your unmentionables being scattered to the wind. Third of all, when I get up the gumption to finally go, I often run into this crazy lady who babbles to me in incomprehensible French the whole time and follows me when I move my clothes from the washer to the dryer. The whole place is about the size of my cell, so it's awkward to have someone tailing me in such close quarters. Plus it's cold in there. Really, really cold.

By yesterday my sock situation had grown dire, so I bucked up and trudged down there. I actually spent a pleasant, solitary 25-minute wash cycle listening to a podcast about French collaborators during World War II and perusing a travel guide for Florence while the afternoon sun actually warmed those frigid tile walls a bit. I put the clothes in the dryer and paid for 20 minutes, and then settled back into my chair for some more podcasting and perusing and sun bathing.

But at the end of those 20 minutes my clothes were still damp and cold. Attributing it to the amount of jeans and towels I had in there, I shrugged and paid for another 10 minutes. When they were STILL damp and cold after that extra time, I bit the bullet and called the number posted on the wall. I have a fear of making telephone calls in French because it's approximately 43 times harder to understand and be understood than when you're talking in person.

A woman answered with a gruff, "Oui??" I took a deep breath and explained my problem. "My clothes have been in the machine of the dryness since long time, but they still cold and wet." Did I push the start button, she asked? "Yes I push every correct button and it moving during 30 minutes but there is not the air that is hot. My clothes are not dry. Please, to help me." She sighed and told me she'd get there in 10 minutes.

Twenty-five minutes later she arrived, cigarette in hand. She took a look at me and harrumphed. I pointed to the offending dryer, and she ambled over to it. She switched the cigarette to her mouth as she opened the machine, and exhaled her smoke all over my freshly cleaned clothes.

Le sigh. WTF.

February 9, 2011

Walk hard

So for the longest time, whenever I wore thin socks with my brown Earth shoes and I was walking kind of hard,  I would get a piercing pain in my left heel. 

I often inspected that shoe to see if there was a rock or something in it, but I never found anything. I've been convinced that I had a splinter deep in my left heel that I was never going to be able to get out. Today it was particularly ouchy, and as I limped home I bemoaned the fact that my trip to Italy was going to be RUINED-- RUINED I TELL YOU! How was I supposed to romantically stroll among the piazzas and the vias and the gelatos if I couldn't walk?

But just now I had an idea. I took the lining out of the offending shoe, and sure enough, there it was: A NAIL. It was wedged deep into the sole, and camouflaged by the insert. It was a tiny little guy, but sharp as the tooth of a lion that's riding a shark.

I have been walking on a nail for months.

February 8, 2011

Freak Show

The sun managed to burn through the morning's gloom for a few hours, and I was enjoying a reappearance of those rare golden rays. Then, out of nowhere, things got all Brigadoon-like. One block it was cheerful sunshine, and the next: boom. Thick, sinister fog.

It was the perfect time to check out the cemetery that's a block away from my abode. From the number of people I see frequenting it, going to the cemetery has to rank among the Top Five Digoin Pastimes. I've been wanting to visit for many moons, but I felt too conspicuous with my awkward gait and my pink camera sock and my Americaness. But fog provided the perfect cover for some stealth creepy photography.

One time I walked into my 11th grade English class and my teacher greeted me with, "Hey Freak Show." As I snaked my way through the crypts of Digoin's dearly departed I thought, "Yup. That's about right."

Sneak peek

My fabulous team of crafty elves in Minnesota has been hard at work making brooch bouquets for my upcoming nups. I couldn't be more thrilled with the result. I made an acrostic poem to best convey my feelings:

Sneezing? No thanks!
Please give me something pollen-free so that my
Allergies don't make me weepier than I'll be al-
Ready. What's that you say? Make a brooch bouquet?
Kill me with awesome, why don't you!
Love the way it catches the light,
Everyone will be so jealous of my sparkle motion

February 7, 2011

Beautiful day in the Diggy-hood... almost

 Today was one of those days where I was all, "La la la I love France." I had the day off from my arduous 12-hour-per-week-job-that-sometimes-is-only-nine-or-10-hours, and by mid-morning it was gloriously sunny and warm.

The morning frost was drip-drip-dripping off this tree by the canal as Mr. Sun reached out to give it a hug. Bonjour, Monsieur Soleil! Ça fait longtemps depuis je t'ai vu!

The weird knobbly branches on this ubiquitous species of tree looked so much less creepy against the blue, blue sky than they do when they're ensconced in fog. Bonjour les branches! Je vous préfère comme ça!

How sunny and warm was it? It was so sunny and warm, mes amies, that someone left their shutters partially open! Bonjour les volets ouverts! Maintenant je connais tous vos secrets!

After lunch I decided to read Tartuffe by the Loire, because the act itself struck me as extremely French and, as previously noted, I was in a "La la la I love France" kind of mood. The sun on my face was just the best, and I was feeling so warm and comfortable and happy and French that I even dozed off a little bit.

Not too long after I had awoken,  a small green truck drove by and its driver tooted his horn in greeting. In my post-doze haze I reasoned that only someone I knew would have done that, so I waved. I heard the truck turn around, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a rotund, middle-aged man get out and approach me.

He asked me if I was studying. I tried my age-old trick of being like, "Um... quoi? Je no speaka the Frenchy!" but he wasn't buying it. After asking me a few more questions about how I ended up in Digoin, he asked if I was married. I said yes, hoping that perhaps M. Soleil would help me blind this jerk with my bling. "Dommage," he said. "Mais on peut avoir une affaire en secret tout le même." I politely declined his offer of having a secret affair with a "non merci" (damn you, Minnesota nice!) and got up and left.

Au revoir Monsieur le Draguer! Mangez un sac de l'enfer!

February 6, 2011

Carrots for dinner

Dessiné par l'artiste Valentin
Sunday lunches in France are quite economical. I eat a tiny breakfast of tea and maybe a Speculoos cookie or two in anticipation. And afterward, I'm so painfully full that there's no need to eat dinner. Sometimes I skip breakfast the next day too because I'm still digesting.

After stuffing myself with course after course of the most delectable, gourmet food of my life at a New Year's Day feast chez ma famille française, I told them I was planning on eating nothing but a carrot for dinner. Today, budding 12-year-old artist Valentin drew a picture of me as a rabbit after another gigantic and delicious lunch of vegetables, chicken, crêpes and, euh, rabbit.

Très bien fait, non? Merci Valentin!

February 4, 2011

Neenuh, According to the French

"Hi! Nice to meet you! You're so pale!"

This was said to me by a French 20-something who I met in Nevers last Saturday night. The French seem to be extremely fond of telling me how pale, sick, and tired I look, none of which I appreciate that much. That, combined with the fact that I was un peu pété, led me to retort, "I'm always pale! I was born this way! Plus I'm from MINNESOTA!" Yeah, that shut her up pretty good.

"Hello America!"

One of the guys who works in my school's office loves practicing his English with me. I'm OK with embodying my home country, as in this greeting, but it's a bit annoying when I need to get something done and he insists on responding to me in his broken English. Last week, for example, I ran out of my allotment of photocopies and I went to talk to some of the secretaries about getting a new quota. As I was attempting to hold this conversation with her in French, my buddy kept piping up from the corner, "You done all your paper! No more for you! You need more but there is none! You wanting more!" in a strange, sing-song-y voice.

"Toi, tu est normale." (You, you are normal.)

I had a student stop by for some extra conversation practice... most of which ended up being in French. Oops.  The conversation turned to obesity in America.  He told me that he doesn't understand why Americans think it's so disgusting that the French smoke, because if the Americans are so worried about health, then why are they so fat?   He told me that he was "normal"-- not skinny, not fat, but normal. He lifted up his shirt and gave his belly a jiggle to show that he was starting a paunch. Then, staring at my chest, he told me I was normal too. Just to verify, he reached over and poked me in my tummy.  "Ne touche pas!" I yelped. "I'm from MINNESOTA!"

February 3, 2011

Blast from the Past: Survival of the Toothless

Lately I've been thinking about wisdom, dental hygiene, and raps, which inevitably led me to thinking of this post I wrote back in January of '09. I hope you'll agree that it stands the test of time and is just as phat as ever. Mot à ta mère.

I got my teeth cleaned this afternoon at my new dentist office, where the Michele Bachmann-look-alike told me I must be more evolved than other humans because wisdom teeth have never taken root in my gob. That's where our race is headed, she claimed.

The following rap immediately ensued:
Yo, yo, yo yo, yo-yo yo
Listen up y'all
This be the tale of a case where being toothless ain't bad
In fact
It means you're all evolved
('n shit)


I got my mouth bones all ready and clean
'Fraid my dentist would get up in my face 'n be mean
See, I ain't had the very best toothal luck
My last dentite drilled me till I was screaming, "Oh (sh)uck!"

I was a little bit nervous and a lot bit scared
But my girl Michele told me no need to be afeared
My fangs were dense, tha roots nice 'n strong
When'd I get my wisdoms pulled? Had it been long?

I laughed best as I could wif her digits in my mouf
"Gurrl, I ain't never had them! Grumble mumble krawf."
She looked at me as if I was all human ills' solution
And called her assistants to gaze on a product of human evolution

Compared to me, she knew her own mouth had failed
Compared to me, she may as well have a prehensile tail
When it comes time for breedin', my kids might have gills
But one thing's for certain: they'll have killer grillzzzz!


February 2, 2011

My next year's going to be total crêpe

Before we begin today, I need you to admire this insanely awesome sweatshirt I got in Paris at a store where everything was 10E or less:

The big print says, "South Dakota/ It's all yours/ School/ Master/ Scheludes" (yes, scheludes) and on the bottom left it says, "South Dakota Middle School." France, I love you so much sometimes it hurts.

OK. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. We learned on Monday that France doesn't celebrate Groundhog Day, but apparently the second of February plays host to its very own French fête. La Chandeleur has religious significance like pretty much every other holiday here, but secularly (and, more importantly), it's become the day of the crêpe.

Lore says you are supposed to flip your crêpes with a coin under your thumb, and if you're successful you'll be graced with prosperity for the rest of the year. Below is a photo essay of how my next 365 days are going to shape up:

That's right, my next year is going to be terrible and unprosperous because I can't flip a stinking crêpe. This one landed right-side up. Another legend says you're supposed to keep the first crêpe you make on the top of your armoire for the rest of the year, but I was so depressed at failing my flip that I had to eat my feelings.

February 1, 2011

Attention à la prononciation!

Say you're hanging out with your French conversation partner; shooting the breeze and just talkin' turtlenecks--les cous roulés-- as you're wont to do. Soon the conversation might turn to homophones of  "cou." Coût means "costs," obviously. Do you know what coup means?

"Oh, like coup de foudre?" you might guess without pronouncing the last syllable as emphatically as one should. Your partners eyes would go wide, and she might ask you to repeat. "Coup de foudre. Coup de foudre! Coup de foudre? C'est quand on voit la personne on aime pour la première fois..." You'll try to explain that it's what happens when you see the person you love for the first time, and finally she'll understand that you were talking about a bolt of lightening.

You see, if you didn't pronounce the last syllable it might sound like you were saying, "Coup de foutre," which is neither love at first sight nor a lightening bolt, and she would think you were talking about being struck by a bolt of sperm.

So it's a good thing this is just a hypothetical situation and definitely didn't happen this afternoon.

A conversation about animals, translated for your amusement

Secretary: It's cold, no?
Me: Yes, I have much cold. But all the same, it pleases me to not be at home, where there is such snow and such temperature that is frigid.
Secretary: It's better in the summer. Even in the spring.
Me: Yes, I am in accordance. It's better for the promenading of oneself by the river. Listen, do you celebrate the little animal tomorrow?
Secretary: (blank look)
Me: In the United States on the second of February we have a celebration for the little animal who kind of looks like a rat, or a beaver, and he looks at his shadow. In English it's "Groundhog."
Secretary: No, here in France we don't celebrate animals. We mostly celebrate saints.
Me: This is true? I thought this animal was known by all the world. If he sees his shadow there will pass six more weeks of winter.
Secretary: No, in France we have some legends about animals-- for example, if you hear an owl sing and you are very sick, in three days you will be dead. Also, snakes. We don't like snakes very much.
Me: I am in accordance.
Secretary: Do you have an animal?
Me: I don't, but my fiancé's family has a dog who is called Ella. She jumps and she is a redhead. She is too cute and I love her.
Secretary: Me, I like cats. My cat sleeps with me in my bed every night.
Me: Yes, that makes you more warm.
Secretary: I think animals are more loyal than men because they will never betray you!
Me: I am in accordance...?

And.... scene.