The Electric Choice

Learning French

“So, I think we can fit you in for three weeks in March and April, yes?”  The woman at Alliance Francaise is sitting at a desk with her calendar out.  We have spent fifteen minutes comparing my schedule for the next three months with the school’s schedule of French classes.

“Yes, possibly more, I want to take classes for as long as possible,” I respond, sounding very much like a dedicated student.  “It is very important.”

“You know, really you should be speaking in French to me right now,” she responds.

“Then why are you speaking to me in ENGLISH, Frenchie-Trickster,” I want to scream but choose instead to give her a tight smile.

She continues.

“So, what is so important, why do you want to take French classes?  This is for work?  For school?”

“Because I was electrocuted and I like my eyebrows to be consistent.”

Rewind to one week earlier.

“Vous connaissez ce,” asks the esthetician, holding a glass wand in the air.

I am lying on my back on a massage table…mid-facial.

“Ah oui…”  I respond, looking at the wand.  This is the tool used in some facials to pass electrical current through the muscles in your face.  It is a procedure that I have endured before.

“Ah bon,” she says as she turns it on.

The wand starts snapping and I see the blue lightning bolts of current begin running through the glass just as she brings it to my face…with a much higher voltage than I am used to.

“Holy sh*t,” I think.  “This is a little intense.”

I try to figure out how to explain to her that I am fine with the treatment but that maybe we could use a slightly lower voltage.  However, my brain is not computing the sentence.  I race through my internal file cabinet of French words and can’t seem to be able to combine anything that would make a shred of sense.

“Wait…should I be tasting metal in my mouth?”

Nothing like a little mild electrocution to motivate you to go back to French school.

For months now, I have been looking at my schedule trying to sort out the time when I can go back and take a solid three months of French classes but something always seems to be in the way; I have too much work, or we have visitors coming in town, or a trip that has already been planned.  There is always a reason; but this is the last straw.  I have crooked eyebrows because I have been plucking them myself for the past year.  My skin is shamefully dirty because of my (apparently reasonable) fear of getting a facial without the correct language skills, and don’t even get me started on the state of my feet.

There are some things I can endure…like not knowing how to respond when a police officer asks you a question or having to have MB accompany me to the gynecologist; but dirty pores?!  JAMAIS!  I need to live in a world in which I can go and get hair waxed off my body without worrying about getting a third degree burn, a world where I can explain to my hairstylist that I hate short bangs, …a world where I can go and have a facial without fear of neurological damage!

And so…I am re-enlisting, for a better tomorrow!  A tomorrow in which I can choose to pay to be electrocuted at the exact voltage of my preference.

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Life and Foie Gras

French Food, Uncategorized

“So what do you think?”

MB and I are whispering in the kitchen.

“I mean, I guess we could,” he says.

“Is it too much?  Maybe it is too much.”  I am feeling doubtful as I look over at my guests.

“Well, it is probably too much but who cares?”

This seems like a good point and I grab the jar of foie gras out of the cupboard.  A friend of mine from the U.S. is staying with is for one night with two of his ski buddies that I have just met.  Even though they are not hungry and we are going to fondue later that evening, I cannot resist the urge to ply them with French goodies.  I have already put out a cheese plate and now I am pulling out a bottle of sauterne and onion confit for the foie gras.

“Wait!  We don’t have baguette!”  MB says.

“That’s okay,” I say, throwing on my coat.  “I will go and buy some!”

MB looks at me incredulously.

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s totally fine, you stay here and drink wine.  I’ll be right back.”

MB can’t believe his luck; this never happens.

Normally, to get me to leave the house at night time when it is about -10˚C (7˚F) there would need to be some sort of disaster, maybe there is a burglar or a fire…even then, it is possible I would choose death over being cold (depending on how much wine I have consumed).  However, the mere notion of being able to serve foie gras for the first time to two people I’ve never met has me shooting out of the house like some sort of weird food-oriented super hero (maybe with an “FG” logo on my unitard…and a slight pot belly).

Upon return from the bakery, I crack open the foie gras and pour the wine.  I watch, expectantly as our two guests try their first ever bit of foie gras.  Casually I take a sip of my wine, acting as though I don’t care at all whether or not they think it is totally amazing.

Slowly, one of them begins to speak.  “It’s-,” he breaks off and takes another bite.  “It’s not what I expected.”

“Not what you expected good or not what you expected bad?”  My voice sounds tense as I desperately try to keep my cool disinterest.

“Definitely, definitely not what I expected in a good way.”

MUHAHAHAHA!  SUCCESS!

I’m thrilled.

Throughout my entire life, I have cherished the moments when I’ve been able to watch someone else enjoy something that I, too, have enjoyed.  It’s like sharing a wonderful secret.  Once, in a book store a lady exclaimed loudly at me in excited terms about a book that I was considering buying, her family looked at her aghast at her show of enthusiasm towards a completely random individual; but I totally got it.  One of the most wonderful gifts of our existence is to share the things that give us joy.  It’s the reason your neighbor comes to make you fondue, or why you take your parents to your favorite spot in a new town, it’s why you sit through a movie you’ve seen a million times just so someone else can see it for the first, and it’s why, with a migraine headache in -10˚ weather, you will run out to buy baguette for two brand new acquaintances.

A Visit from France on the Occasion of My One Year Anniversary

Conversations with France

France:  “Bon anniversaire!  Bon anniversaire, bon anniversaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaire, bon anniversaire!”

France is standing at my front door holding a cake with candles and singing.  I look confused.

France:  You going to let me in, huh?  I don’t know, maybe you prefer I stand here all day with this cake that I bring for you.  I mean, you know, it is warm out here, non?  Just February, just a deep freeze all through Europe.  No, it is fine; I will just stand here until you are ready, huh?

Me:  Oh right, so sorry, come on in France!  What is the occasion?

France:  Oh la la la la…you are serious?  All the same, you Americans.  I can smoke in here?

Me:  No, actually we don’t smoke in th—

France has already lit a cigarette and is walking around the apartment.

France:  So you don’t know what today is?

Me:  Uhhh…no?

France:  This is your one year anniversary in France!  I don’t know, maybe this is not important to you, I can go.  Enjoy your day, Americaine!

France says “Americaine” like an accusation.

Me:  Oh wow!  You are so right – I can’t believe I missed it!

France looks at me petulantly.

Me:  It’s just been so wonderful that the time has gone too quickly; it never seemed like a year already!

France is placated.

France:  Hhmmff.  Well, what do you have to drink?  Let’s have some wine, huh?

Me:  It’s 10am.

France:  You exhaust me.

Me:  I just (I realize defense is futile)…I’m sure I have something.

France:  What is this thing you people say, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”.

France starts laughing maniacally and chokes on cigarette smoke.

France:  (*cough cough* ) Sooooooooo (*cough cough)* stoopeede! (stupid)

I give France a very serious look.

Me:  You know, I can play the song for you if you would like.

France:  You have the song?!

More maniacal laughter.

France:  That is too good, that is great, I love you people!

I smirk at France’s amusement and pull out a bottle of red wine.

Me:  This is okay?

France:  Oui, parfais!  Vin rouge with a chocolate cake.  This makes sense.  Maybe we have some cheese first.  There is cheese yes?

France looks at me with narrowed eyes and suddenly I feel like I am being tested.

Me:  Cow, sheep, goat?  Which would you like?  Perhaps I put out some of each?

The side of France’s mouth twitches, threatening to turn into a smile before being consciously pushed back into a line of disinterest.

France:  Ouais, meexte (mixed) is good.

Me:  Ah – I don’t have baguette though!

France shrugs.

France:  Not a problem, of course I have baguette, huh?  I am France, non?

France pulls two baguettes out of the bag the cake came in.  Even though it is -7C (19F) they are still warm.

Me:  You know, there is some pate and cornichon as well, I can put that out too if you like.

France:  Ah ouais?

France seems surprised.

France:  Porquoi pas?

I begin to arrange the cheese on a board. 

France:  So…one year in France, what do you think?  You like eet (it); do you think you are different?

Me:  Why France, you never ask questions like this!  It’s so personal, so concerned, are you afraid that I haven’t had a good time here?

France:  WHAT?!

France appears horrified by the implication.

France:  No!  Of course not, you eembeceele (imbecile); only a philistine would have a bad time here!  Pfff…I don’t know why I ask thees (this) at all.  C’est obvious, you have not changed a bit.

France stubs out the first cigarette and lights another.

Me:  Oh France, don’t get your panties in a bunch –

France gives me a look of utter disgust at my phrase.

Me:  Of course I have changed!  You don’t scare me as much as you used to.

I smile thinking this is funny.  I get an eye roll in return.

Me:  I have eaten many interesting things.

France:  Ouais…

Me:  Horse tartare, fromage de tete, calf brains…

France:  Pas mal…

Me:  I’ve seen a lot too!  My first trip to the Mediterranean, the French Alps, 13th Century castles…

France: …13th Century…not that old…

Me:  …the Eiffel Tower!

France:  Pffff…the Eiffel Tower…ruined Paris, you know…

Me:  I’ve learned a lot of French.  I’ve realized that French women aren’t as intimidating as I first thought…

France:  …wait until you are here longer…

Me:  I’ve eaten Dijon mustard in Dijon and boeuf bourguignon in Burgundy!

FranceBourgnone, not Burgundy.  Pffff…what is it with you Americans and bouef bourginone anyway?  You are all obessessed because of this Julia Child person.  And why can none of you pronounce bouef properly, huh?  Boooouuuueeeeffff…c’est ne pas difficile!

I put my hand on France’s shoulder and give it a little squeeze as I place the tray of cheese and pate on the table.  France makes a barely audible sniff. 

France:  Well, this is good.  You realize the good things of France; I am happy for this.

France absently turns the wine bottle on the table, looking at the label intently and I detect the lightening rapid movement as a hand wipes an eye.  Then France crushes out the second cigarette and looks at the cheese tray.

France:  Ah mon dieu, what are you doing putting the epoisse like thees (this) on the tray, no, it must go in a bowl!  Pffff…what will we do with you?

I smile at France and bring a bowl over.

France:  Maybe we keep you for a bit longer so you can finally get things right, huh?

I lift my wine glass and smile to myself.

Me:  Yes, maybe.  I want to thank you for a wonderful first year, France!

France:  Ouais…

Me:  Santé!

France:  Santé!

France raises the wine glass but doesn’t meet my eyes.

Me:  FRANCE!  You know you have to make eye contact; it’s the rules!

France looks me in the eye and gives me a broad smile.

France:  Ha!  Americaine!

And this time Americaine doesn’t sound so bad. 

Fromage Part III: Satisfaction

French Food

“Oh, I’ve had fondue.  I don’t really like it that much…all that melted cheese, phew, sort of makes me sick.”

MB and our Savoyard neighbor (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Savoyard) look at me strangely.  They are not shocked or saddened by this statement…just thoroughly confused.   MB doesn’t comprehend anyone who doesn’t like to eat cheese…basically all the time, and for a Savoyard, fondue is essential to existence.  I can see their minds turning, “surely, she just doesn’t know what it is that she is saying!”  After a few awkward moments, our (rather shy) neighbor pipes up.

“You have not had it right.”

“I made it for her once,” says MB.

“Yes, but you are from Paris.”  Our neighbor says this matter-of-factly and with no quantifying statement; the facts speak for themselves.*

MB gives a laugh.  “This is true.  I think she just does not care for it though.”

“I don’t know,” I say.   “I mean, lots of melted cheese just isn’t my favorite thing.”  I shrug, innocently.  “What are ya gonna do?”  Obviously, my folksy charm will smooth all discomfort from the room.

“Next week, I will come over and make you a right one,” our neighbor says.

With this statement he gets up from his chair and says good night.  The sentence has been handed-down.

I look at MB, “it’s just melted cheese, how much different can it be?”

MB just smiles.

The following week, with frightening punctuality, our neighbor shows up at our door, equipment in hand.  He has brought three different cheeses, bread from the bakery, and his own fondue pot (apparently ours was not “right”).  I watch him setting up and think, “ah well, I’m sure it will be interesting”.  The next 45 minutes are spent sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine, cutting all the cheese into tiny little pieces.

“You want it to melt evenly and you can control better the amount of each cheese this way,” our neighbor explains to me.

Afterwards, he takes half a clove of garlic and rubs it along the inside of the fondue pot, before throwing it and another whole clove into the bottom.  Next he pours a moderate amount of wine into the bottom of the pan.

“Oh, so you do this differently.  When MB made it he used a lot more wine.”

The neighbor just smiles and gives himself a knowing nod.  I can sense him rolling his eyes and thinking “ah, silly Parisians!”

Finally, the cheese is added to the pot.  Creamy, oily, pungent…the slow mélange of tart, dry wine with rich, bold cheeses is awesome; it finds its way into my olfactory senses whispering the rumor of things to come.

As we sit at the table and I spear my first chunk of bread, a hush falls on our little group.  The neighbor watches nervously, not for the integrity of the dish but nervous as to whether he properly honored his regions most famous plate.  I roll my bread in the white velvet heat, slowly bringing it to my mouth.

It is a life changing moment.  The taste is indescribable in its beauty.  The serotonin rushes to my brain and I have the bizarre inclination to start laughing.

“I love it!”  I proclaim.  “It’s so…so…I don’t know.  I love it.  Wow.”  A fondue has made me speechless.

MB digs in and I go to spear my next piece of bread.  I look up and see the neighbor watching me, deep satisfaction on his face.

Once the fondue is almost completely gone we throw in a few pieces of bread and crack an egg which then forms the most delicious omelet I have ever had.  At the very end there are brown, crunchy, cooked lattices of cheese on the bottom of the pot which we scrape off and eat like spun sugar.  There is almost no clean up because we have consumed every single part of the dish.  It has been an evolution of cheese.

A love affair with food can be tempestuous.  Just as a good meal can make me elated and excited, a bad meal can bring feelings of depression and irritation.  When I cook for others, these feelings are compounded further; it is horrible to make something that you love and you know can be wonderful and not have it turn out the way you know it can.  I have spent nights awake in bed, analyzing small things that I did wrong or should have done differently when preparing a meal for others; just as I have had long peaceful nights of rest knowing that I had nourished body and soul.

As my neighbor leaves that evening he looks satisfied and happy; he has made a believer and I suspect that he will sleep very well.

 

* As a born and bred Southerner, from a particularly intense BBQ city, I fully comprehend this attitude.