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March 30, 2011

Utopia

Today a group of my students invented a new country called "Ninasland." Its main industries were bio (organic food) and "nuclear," the state religion was Buddhism, and neither censorship nor the death penalty existed. Only people who really wanted to live there and were ready to work were allowed to immigrate.

The main drawback to Ninasland was that it's forbidden for humans to marry animals. Tant pis

This goat better get gone before Ninaslandians go all NIMBY on it.



March 28, 2011

In defense of peanut butter

When you give a Frenchman something containing peanut butter, the reaction is almost always:

"You Americans! You Americans with your peanut butter! You LOVE your peanut butter!" (accompanied by a chuckle and a shaking of the head and a refusal of what you offered)

or, more commonly:

"I can't believe you just gave me something with peanut butter OMD I need to spit this out immediately before I get fat and DIE."

When you try to explain that peanut butter has lots of protein and can actually be pretty healthy, so long as it doesn't have too much sugar in it-- whoops, there they go racing to the kitchen to clean their mouths out with chocolate. 

In France, chocolate in all its forms is considered the main part of a balanced breakfast, preferably when coupled with butterific carbs. Chocolate bars inside a croissant (pain au chocolat). Chocolate-hazelnut spread on baguette (Nutella). A chocolate square imprinted with the image of a little schoolboy stuck to a buttery biscuit (les Petits Ecoliers). Chocolate shavings mixed in with your cereal (Fitness). Hot chocolate. Chocolate sprinkles. Chocolate brioche sandwich with Nutella and Petits Ecoliers and chocolate sprinkles, and hot chocolate to dip it in. N'importe de quoi. 

But peanut butter? (Insert image of hands flying away from one's butt and belly and cheeks ballooning to their largest size to indicate massive weight gain.)  

Non merci!

March 27, 2011

Vive les Petits Fraçais


Whilst on a stroll during a beautiful spring evening, the Dude and I happened upon the strangest site I've yet to lay eyes upon in Digoin. In the middle of a field near the canal sat three tiny houses with unfinished roofs. Too big to be dog houses, too small for les enfants to play in comfortably, too carefully wrought to be someone's Fischer-Price castoffs.
There's but one possible solution to these houses' existence. They must be ruins from the terrible famine of 543, when nutrition was so poor that the French shrunk to the size of garden gnomes. Making matters worse, the nearby Belgians, who had grown inversely larger thanks to their diet rich in snozzcumbers and frobscottle, took advantage of their relative giantism to raid the tiny French villages on numerous occasions. 

What we happened upon could be nothing but one last group of relics from that nightmarish time in French history. The roofs may have been ravaged by time's unforgiving blows, but one last remnant of a carefully wrought lace curtain remains as a testament to the heartbreaking, brittle lives (and bones) of les Petits Français....



Or, you know, maybe they're just forgotten playhouses from the early 90s. We'll never know.

March 25, 2011

That Happy-Sad Feeling

When my little brother was younger, he came up with a series of Mixed-Emotion faces to amuse and delight his three older siblings. Sammy (also known as "The Face") was blessed with a supremely flexible facial epidermis, which allowed him to encompass multiple emotions à la fois. His most successful of these caricatures is that of the Happy-Sad face, as illustrated below:


Happy-Sad perfectly describes how I'm feeling this week.

Cloudless skies and temps warm enough to wear a dress. Happy. Saying goodbye to some of my favorite students, urging them to write me if they ever come to America. Sad. Knowing that when I return I'll be living in Uptown Minneapolis with my favorite roommate of all time, and just minutes away from many of my other Lovely Lady Lumps. Ecstatic. Knowing that I have to go back to a real job and real responsibilities. Gloomy.

Feeling famous as students shout my name and give me les bises as I walk down the street. Excited to be anonymous again. Knowing I'll miss being surrounded by French. Knowing I'll love being enveloped in the nasal vowels and Oh Yahs and the You Betchas. Eating baguettes still warm from the oven and cheap but fabulous cheeses and wine while I still can. Dreaming about mojitos a the Kitty Cat Klub and sushi at Nami and the tuna melts at the French Meadow Bakery.

Wishing I could make this idyllic, perfect French experience last forever. Itching to get back to my life and loved ones.

So much to miss, so much to come back to. Happy-sad. 

March 23, 2011

What did you do this weekend?

"I make zuh party wiz my fwend."
With just one other friend?
"Wiz my fwend-ZUH."

"I play zuh veedeogame."
Which game did you play?
"Collodoody."
What?
"Collodoody."
I'm not familiar with that one. Is it a French game?
"Coll...ov...doo-tee."

"I going in my muzzah."
That means you went inside your mother.
"I going in my muzzah 'ouse."

"I make zuh shopping."
One goes shopping. What's the past tense of to go?
"I make go shopping."

"I doing my 'omeworks."
Try again in past tense.
"I have do my 'omeworks."
Try again.
"..."
I did my homework. Homework is singular.
"I deed my 'omeworks."
Did you practice your English?
"Euh... no."


March 21, 2011

Decapitated Shaver Man


In an apartment full of peeling wallpaper, student-dorm-issue wool blankets and a host of creepy critters, this little guy is a welcome dose of personality. He lives in my salle de bains and I'm pretty sure his name is Guy Flaubert de Montluçon (yes, he's a noble). I like him because he's doughy like my countrymen, he really likes to shave, and he has a healthy amount of hair for his age. I'll miss him when I go.

March 20, 2011

Where the magic happens

I realized that I've never shared with you the place where I indoctrinate young minds. Want a tour? OK!


Here's my salle, in all her glory. What's not pictured is the particularly springy leather chair that my students can't resist bouncing in like little kangaroos. Also not pictured is the secret room behind the chalkboard where I keep extra handout copies, incredible prizes for when I play games, and the carcasses of all the cell phones I've had to kill when I see my students texting on them during class.

The one teaching tool I have at my disposal is that chalkboard. And boy, is it a beaut:


It has tape stuck all over it and one inexplicable giant gouge in its upper left region. It's actually really hard to write legibly on chalkboards. Plus the kids already have a hard enough time reading my sloppy handwriting that is not at all up to French Perfect Script standards. Sorry kids.

I've been teaching for about five months now, and I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of it. I know what kinds of discussions gets them excited (stereotypes! Facebook! American high school life!) and what bores them to tears (politics! American football! racism!). My classes the last couple of weeks have been consistently good (well... there's still one class that casse-s my couilles, but the rest of them are petits anges), and, of course, highly entertaining.

One of my most amusing lessons to date has been on speed dating. I cut these pictures out of some magazines with my children's left-handed scissors and taped them to construction paper left over from my Francegiving decorations.  I don't have my camera cord on me so I had to angle my laptop's webcam over the table to take this picture. I really hope no one was spying on me when I did this, because boy was it awkward.


I asked the students to come up with a profession for their character, three of their likes and dislikes, and five qualities they're looking for in a partner. After a group of seniors had speed dated each other, I asked them to share what they had come up with. The girl who had chosen Kelly Osbourne ("Joan"), had decided that her character was a secretary looking for a man to do the cooking and cleaning. "And I 'ate chill-ren!" she said. "I 'ate zem I 'ate zem I 'ate zem!"

I now use her as  a cautionary tale in other classes as to why aspirating your "h" is so very important.

As my time here draws to a close --I only have one more month to teach them about processed foods and gun laws and private healthcare and all the other really wonderful things about America-- I've been reflecting on all the things this experience has taught me. I had a sneaking suspicion before I left that being a foreign language teacher might just be the coolest job on the planet. And guess what? I was right. I'm so grateful to all my little ninnymuggins (pronounced nee-nee-moo-gahn) for helping me distill what I want to be when I grow up.

Vous me manquerez. 

March 17, 2011

Ring a ding ding

I thought, after nearly six months here, I had this place figured out. I had tamed France. I was no longer getting flustered with simple daily interactions and social protocol. I had even lost my fear of making phone calls.

But ever since the Dude got here, my other-ness is made even more conspicuous due to all the American I now speak with my new-found companion whilst running errands. And now France is rejecting us. Specifically, French grocery stores are rejecting us.

This is tragic, for grocery shopping is my favorite pastime out here in Cow Country. Last week, on the Dude's first full day in Digoin, I wanted to share with him the joy that is browsing the aisles and gazing in wonder at all the bizarre and magnificent wares on display: all that pink toilet paper, the canned livers of various beasts, the entire aisle devoted solely to yogurt...

It was all going really well (the Dude was sufficiently impressed by all the quality 3E wine that's available) until we were about to check out. As the Dude passed through the security sensors they screamed in protest. He dutifully opened his bags, took off his jacket and turned out his pockets to show he was no thief. But the sensors rang relentlessly.

Our checkout lady called security, and a man arrived to question the Dude. Evidently unsatisfied, the guard led him away from me to the LeClerc Back Room, and I was left wondering if I'd ever see my intended again. A few minutes later he returned, confused and mortified. You would be too if you were led to the LeClerc Back Room and asked to drop trou.

Since then we've avoided LeClerc and instead frequented our other supermarché option, Intermarché. (Our à pied lifestyle means that we can only buy as much as we can carry, thus necessitating frequent trips to the grocer's.) The Dude never had a problem there until Tuesday night, when the security sensor went wild as he tried to pass. He again opened his bag, turned out his pockets and insisted as best he could in his adopted language that everything on his person was rightfully his. The checkout lady passed everything he gave her through the sensor, asking him to try again after each go and making the alarm ring incessantly.

A supervisor abandoned her register to investigate, and discovered it was Dude's wallet that was the offending item. She stood between the sensor arms as she meticulously went through his money and various other personal items. The siren seemed to be getting louder as it rang and rang and rang, and everyone stared and stared and stared.

"AMERICANS HERE! WE GOT SOME REAL, LIVE, THEIFY AMERICANS HERE! NO NEED TO WATCH LES EXPERTS TONIGHT, FOLKS. WE'VE GOT THE REAL DEAL! KEEP STARING! THEY MIGHT BUST OUT ONE OF THOSE GUNS THAT EVERY AMERICAN OWNS!"

Now Dude was pissed. So when we needed to get beer and another package of cheese for the raclette birthday party I threw him last night, we went to the friendly neighborhood Spar, which has no sensors with which to mock us. I realized I had forgotten to get dessert earlier, so I sent him home with the beer while I trotted back to Intermarché. I realized about 5 meters outside the store that I had still had the cheese with me, and the cashier at the friendly neighborhood Spar had neglected to give me a receipt.

I entered, and looked around in a panic for someone I could talk to about my pre-purchased fromage. There were no employees around but butchers and cashiers, all of whom were attending registers six-deep with rush-hour customers. I figured that it made no sense to stand in line just to tell them about my cheese, and then to go get what I needed and stand in line again. So after much internal turmoil I picked up a gâteau and headed over there.

As I approached him, I got extremely nervous, and thus turned beet red and started to sweat. "I have buyed this already at the store who is called Spar," I said. "Do you have a receipt?" he asked. "That is with my boyfriend, which has already returned to the house." I realized that this is exactly what a thief would say, and I got even redder and sweatier. "Why didn't you speak with someone when you entered the store?" he queried. "I didn't see no one and everyone like you had the appearance of being very occupied," I stammered. "I very excuse myself."

He eyed me suspiciously but in the end decided to let me get away with it.

The only clear solution to this problem is to make our next trip to market in the nude.

March 14, 2011

Fat Sunday

1. Foie Gras 2. "Lemon fish dream" 3. Garlicky fromage blanc 4. Dude's scared to stuff more food down his gullet, but will sacrifice for this pistachio soufflé
The Dude and I have been subsisting on mostly saucisson-et-fromage baguette sandwiches, cereal and questionable pasta salads whose recipes I "create" based on "inspiration," so I thought it was high time to introduce him to haute cuisine à la française. My Diggy buddies Suzanne and Christian were happy to aid me in this endeavor, and agreed to join us at Le Merle Blanc yesterday.

First there was an amuse-bouche of zucchini soup with a melty cheese making itself at home in the creamy depths. Then we had entrées of oeufs en meurette (eggs poached in red wine with lardons and mushrooms) and millefeuille croquant de rillettes de caille au foie gras (slices of quail foie gras in between crunchy crackers of puff pastry). Our main course was a faux filet de charolais (steak made from the local breed of cow) for me and filets de bar superposés en duxelles de champignons et beurre d'estragon (bass filet with mushrooms and tarragon butter) for The Dude.
 

Next was the cheese course. The Dude ordered himself a bowl of fromage blanc, a very fresh cheeese halfway between yogurt and cottage cheese, and he ate it à la bourguignon with salt, pepper and garlic. Ail ail ail! No smooches for you!

I chose the cheese plate, and was delighted when the proprietress wheeled over an entire cart of options. I went with reblechon, Saint Nectarin and a young chèvre, and opted for a dollop of fig jam on the side. If you've never tried this flavor combination, do yourself a favor and go immediately to the nearest grocery store and order up one log of chèvre and one jar of fig jam, stat. I'll leave you alone for the next two hours so you can nom this ambrosia in peace.


My stomach was near to bursting, but luckily I left room in my right shoulder for dessert. I have been dreaming about their apple crumble in a bed of luscious caramel sauce since my first visit to Le Merle Blanc last December. And I'll probably be dreaming about it for the rest of my life. Because: OMD. YUM. Dude had a pistachio soufflé, and that was good too I suppose, but it was no apple crumble in a bed of luscious caramel sauce.

And what do you know, after all that I still had room in my left knee for Second Dessert. You kind of have to make these sorts of sacrifices when Grandpère (of ma famille française) decides to make a confection or two. 


On this blessed day, he created delicious strawberry tartelettes and les choux-- a cream puff with a circle of candied caramel on top.

It was a good thing ma famille had Contrex on hand. It's a special diet water that makes you have to make water a lot, if you know what I mean. If you don't, there's a helpful diagram on the label.


March 12, 2011

Land of Funny Names

I was combing through my archives this morning and noticed this post, which I fully intended to publish about a month ago but didn't. Many apologies to those who have been dying to hear about my weekend in Switzerland.

My Main Meuf Missy (M&M&M) has friends scattered across the globe, and for her birthday her dearest wish was to have as many as possible gather in the Swiss town of Herznach. Where's Herznach, you ask? Oh, you know... just outside of Frick. You read that correctly. FRICK. Herznach is in fact smack dab in the middle of a cluster of towns with the Best Names Ever.

Check out this map my friend Kelly made of what would be the ultimate Land of Funny Names road trip, which takes you on a delightful voyage of Frick--> Stumpholz--> Schupfart--> Mumpf--> Bad Säckingen--> Egg--> Murg--> Butz:


View Larger Map

Since we had but the weekend, we were forced to save that epic journey for another time. But we did manage to knock two off the list.


We didn't see a whole lot of Frick, but what we did seemed very clean and neutral (it's in Switzerland, after all). We hit up every store we could think of to search for Frick-ing postcards, but left empty-handed and bemoaning the fate of our quest. "Frick!" we exclaimed when returning unsatisfied from every single store. "Frick..."

The next day we walked to Germany. It was a great motivating factor that on the other side of the river lay a quaint German town by the name of Bad Säckingen. I never found out where Good Säckingen was, but that was OK because we ate really good ice cream in the Bad one.

 
So there you have it. We went from Frick, Switzerland to Bad Säckingen, Germany, and then we ate some Fruithagel and Puur Hagel Slag. And then we died of awesome.



Why I have a crick in my neck

The ceilings, man. The ceilings in Italy were wild. Frescoed, sculpted, tiled crazy talk. I'm shocked I didn't break a limb walking into something while I was staring straight up. Although... at one point I had my elbows raised so I could take a snap of a dome, and I was still gazing heavenward as I brought my arms down. Somehow a woman of short stature had wandered under my armpit in that time, and I accidentally dropped a 'bow on her head.

But other than that, yeah, no ceiling-staring-related injuries...

Dome of St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome

Ceiling of Sistine Chapel, Rome
Dome of Pantheon, Rome
Ceiling of St. Ignatius' Cathedral, Rome
Dome of Duomo, Florence
Ceiling of library in Duomo, Siena
Dome of Duomo, Siena

March 10, 2011

Stylish? Moi?

This morning I was mining my blog stats (because if anything gets me going in the morning, it's statistical analysis... um, I'm serious) and saw that some traffic had been sent my way by Melissa at Fashion Me French. Turns out this Lyonnaise crowned me with a Stylish Blog Award two weeks ago, and I failed to notice because I was really busy stuffing my face with gelato and breasola-grana-rucola pizza for a fortnight. Merci Melissa!

Melissa has obviously never witnessed my sartorial choices in person, or she probably would have thought twice about giving me this particular award. Fart of the Week was much more appropriate.


Nevertheless, my duties as a "Stylish Blogger" are to tell you seven things about myself and then to pass the honor on to another worthy blogger. Without further ado, here are seven tidbits you always knew you never needed to know about Neenuh:

1. I have developed an appreciation for cured pork products. Before coming to France I was a very good Jew and abstained from pigs aside from the extremely sporadic piece of bacon. But les cochons are a bit more difficult to avoid here in Franceland. Lardons, little flavorful cubes of delicious bacon, are freaking everywhere, in boeuf bourguignon, tartiflette, and oeufs en meurette, to name but a few of my favorite local dishes. Lardons were my gateway drug. Now I'm eating... (you're going to want to cover your eyes, Tribesters)...  saucisse sèche with delightful noisettes sprinkled throughout. It's like kosher salami but better. The thought of eating a pork chop or any big chunks of nitrate-free pork still makes me gag, so that means I won't be smite-d with a lightening bolt, right?

2. I watched a lot of crime shows growing up, and as a result I spent much of my childhood free time practicing going up and down our creaky stairs without making a noise. This skill has come in handy exactly twice. I also make a point to leave a good set of fingerprints whenever I'm in a car just in case the driver decides to abduct me.

3. Sometimes I dance like this:

video

4. My parents sent me a box of sundry items this fall that contained glasses I stopped wearing my sophomore year of college, Twilight fan magazines and posters, and a tube of Gold Bond medicated foot cream. Thanks Ma and Pa!

5. I miss things about Portland, OR every day of my life, including but not limited to: the man who would play his bagpipes while unicycling outside of the Saturday farmers market; the bike racks around which someone knitted a bike rack sock; the thick plastic glasses, ironic haircuts and all the plaid; our pink velour pullout couch that wasn't all that comfortable but I really liked having a pink velour couch; getting shamed for not frequenting my local independent video store and not using organic laundry detergent and not composting and actually bathing every day; Dingo the Clown Wizard and his open mic nights. But what I miss most of all is the fat cat that hung out around our apartment and always tried to sneak in through an open window while I was sleeping.


6. I'm constantly worried about the Dude getting lost. On our last day in Paris he told me he was going to meet me at the front doors to the Centre Pompidou at 3:00. I got there at 2:50. At 3:15 I figured he had been transfixed by the vulgar paintings on the second floor. At 3:30 I thought he must have found someone really interesting to talk to who was actually a witch in disguise, and he was powerless to leave of his own accord. At 3:45 I was convinced that the plexiglass tubes on the outside of the building had transformed into suctionators and he was being Augustus Glooped to lord-knows-where. At 4:00, I vowed that if I ever saw him again I was going to kill him, but then reneged when he finally arrived at 4:05 and I got lost in his pretty blue eyes.

7. Yesterday I asked my students to tell me what they did during their vacations. One told me, "I stolen seengs." I thought perhaps I had misheard, and asked, "T'as volé quelque chose? T'es un voleur?" I pantomimed snatching something. He affirmed. "What did you steal?" I asked him. "Zuh shooing-gum." "But why? Don't you have money?" "Si, j'ai des sous," he said, "boot ay no want pay foh zuh shooing-gum." This is the same student, by the by, who when I asked for New Years resolutions told me he wanted to, "fook more my wayf." I guess that's not really something about me, aside from the fact that nothing gives me more joy than transliterating the accents of my students.

I now pass the Stylish baton to my girl Emily of Emily in the Glass, who writes so beautifully it hurts. Plus I know for a fact that she is indeed a very stylish lady, and is the owner of a wool coat with the fanciest silk lining I've ever seen.

March 8, 2011

Vacation from our vacation

Italy was magnificent and beautiful and awe-inspiring. It was also exhausting and expensive and heavy on the communication problems.

The worst of them was when we were on a bus from Florence to Siena and I told the Dude to get off at the first stop whilst I finished zipping up my backpack. Confused as to why no one else was departing, he hesitated, and by the time I had reached the door the bus was already pulling away. "My dear Dude, wherefore didst thou choose not to alight?" I asked, but in a bit more colorful language. He raced up the aisle and tried to pantomime to our driver that we had erred. She stopped a few hundred meters down the road and we departed, but she started to pull away before we could get our baggage from the belly of the bus. Matt raced after it and slapped the door a few times to get her attention. She herself then descended and treated us to a five-minute tirade in Italian that I'm sure was just her commenting on how much she truly loved Americans. 


 After experiences like that, it was such a relief to come back to the bosom of Mother France, where I can understand and be understood (most of the time), where there is no such thing as a 3E per person, inescapable "bread charge" at restaurants, and where baguettes are fresh and plentiful. Except on Mondays. But that's another story.

My French buddy Louis invited us to spend our last weekend of vacation at his family's cabin in Solutré (near Mâcon), which is famous for a massive geological structure known simply as "La Roche." It's also smack dab in the middle of the some of the best white wine vineyards in Burgundy, which produce Pouilly-Fuisée, among others. 


As the cabin had no heat and the early March night temps were hovering around zero degrees Celsius,  first order of business was to build up a roaring fire. Luckily, the Dude's half-Canadian (many moons in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area counts, right?), and had coaxed some life-giving flames in no time.


The next day, after a very grasse matinée (fat morning), we were joined by some other Charollyians for a hike up La Roche. It was pretty durn sweet... a perfect way to wind down from the whirlwind and get reacquainted with La France Profonde, annoying boulangerie hours notwithstanding. 


March 7, 2011

Funny things I saw in Italy

I see Rome, I see Thebes, I see under your fig leaf.
MTGUE: Most Threatening Guard Uniform Ever. You gotta wonder what the Swiss Guard ever did to the Vatican to get stuck with fancy pants like that.
These little boars went to market.
We couldn't figure out why there was confetti littering the ground of every city we visited. We hypothesized that Italians lean out their windows at 2 a.m. and whisper, "Yay I'm Italian!" before blowing a handful of confetti in the wind.
It wouldn't be a vacation without some sweet mannequins.