Wordy Actions

“Stop it,” I snap out testily.

“Quoi,” MB is trying to be innocent but is laughing so hard that he can barely get his one word response out.

“I see what you’re doing,” I say, waving my finger at him.  He mimics the gesture back at me with exaggeration, totally cracking himself up.

“What am I doing,” he asks, flailing his arms about wildly.

I press my lips together in a tight line and sigh loudly while looking plaintively at our friends.

“You see what I have to put up with,” I ask them, while outlining his form with my hands.  My life is very hard and wearisome.

“I’m just trying to learn your language,” he responds, grinning, while creating even more gestures.

I turn back to our friends and give a “voila!” type hand wave towards MB’s direction.

He just starts laughing even harder.

***

So yes, there is it, I will admit it, I am a hand-talker*.  It is virtually impossible for me to carry on a conversation without accompanying gestures to bring emphasis to what I am saying (in fact, I am gesturing in my mind right now as I type this…yes, that is so possible).  I just get so excited when I talk about things that the words themselves just don’t seem like enough.  Anyway, everyone loves a pantomime, right?  RIGHT?!

Well, Jerry Lewis does at any rate.

MB loves to tease me about this and makes jokes about how he needs to translate my language but here’s the deal, at the end of the day, he already knows it.

The importance of spoken language cannot be debated; it is crucial to basic communication and one’s ability to ask for what they want or to communicate complicated information.

For instance, years ago on a trip to China I watched a friend try to order a soft-serve ice-cream at a fast-food restaurant (yes, yes, FINE, we were at a KFC in China…it had been a long trip, we just wanted something that tasted like home.  Don’t worry, we were punished for being such philistines about an hour or so after the fated meal).  My friend did not speak or read any Chinese and walked up to the counter as the rest of us watched from our seats.  We had all taken the easy meal deal that was photographed so that we could just point to it but she was determined…soft-serve ice-cream happiness would be hers!

As she stood at the counter, we watched, both amused and horrified (mainly amused, we may not have been the nicest group ever), as she brought her fisted hand to her mouth and made several circular motions before making continued in and out movements.

I’m not sure if I’ve described this correctly but just think about it for a moment…

“Ehrmergerd!  She totally just made a super inappropriate sexual gesture…soft-serve ice-cream has never been so dirty!”

We were practically falling out of our chairs as the cashiers did their best to stifle their laughter and procure her pornographic ice-cream.  This was a situation where more of the spoken language, as opposed to gesturing, would have come in handy, I mean, no one wants to go Jenna Jameson in a KFC.

However, I have also noticed over the years that there are a variety of situations in which spoken language isn’t necessary.

It is possible to communicate emotions with nothing more than our facial features and commonness as human beings (um…except maybe like the Iceman).  Regardless of culture or language there are some things that are just funny or just sad.  We’ve all shared laughs with strangers over something that we both watched happen and I have often had an encouraging smile from someone across a room on a tough day.  How does that person know that I am sad?  I haven’t said anything, I haven’t spoken to them but they inherently understand something that I am communicating and, perhaps more incredibly, are able to communicate back to me in total silence.

Excitement can be shared without speaking as well.  I remember watching, amused as my Father and MB’s Uncle, neither of whom spoke the other’s language, shared an animated discussion about the wines they were drinking.  I mean, how is it possible to have an in-depth discussion about palette and wine quality while speaking in two completely different languages?  Somehow, it is.

As humans, we have been given a unique style of communication**, one that allows us to communicate and share the strongest and most important information…happiness, sadness, joy…whether we share a spoken language or not.  It is an inherent gift that we have been given so that, even in a strange land, we need never be truly alone.

***

“Oh please,” I say to MB.  “You do it too, we all do it!”

MB grabs his chest in protest, “I do not, I hardly use my hands at all when I speak.”

I give him a rather drole facial expression, scanning the use of his hand against his chest.  He drops it quickly before beginning to explain how he doesn’t really use his hands to express himself.

My friends and I exchange looks, a silent joke shared, regarding his hand movements as he speaks.

I guess actions truly can speak louder than words.

*It is a trait that I come by honestly, as my Mother is, perhaps, the most epic hand-gesturer ever to be born outside of Italy.  You could potentially create an entire dictionary from her gestures. 

** So unique, in fact, that dogs have actually evolved in order to understand it.  If you are a dog lover and haven’t seen this Nova documentary, check it out: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-decoded.html

*** P.S. Pop on over to Bread is Pain Food and check out the latest post…unless you don’t like fried mozzarella (read: hate joy).

For the Love of Food

“Look what I have!!!!!!!!!”  I come bouncing into the kitchen with my grocery sacks.

MB turns around to see what I have brought him, no doubt expecting cheese or a spreadable meat or, at the very least, some sort of internal organ like gesiers.  He looks very excited, anticipating whatever delightful thing I have found at the store.  We are food people – food makes us happy.

“BAM,” I say with satisfaction as I hold out the small white paper package.

MB deflates.

“What is this?” He takes the package from me and looks at it, confused and slightly disgusted.  “I don’t understand, is this fish flavored crackers?”  He makes a face.

I laugh…silly Frenchman.  “No, they are goldfish crackers.  They have different flavors, like cheese or pizza, or sometimes they can come as pretzel goldfish.”

He seems comforted to know they are not fish flavored but still confused.  “But then, why are they shaped like fish?”

“What?”

“Why they are shaped like fish if they don’t taste like fish?”

I ponder this for a moment.  “I don’t know, they just—UGH—I’m not sharing any!”  I snatch the package back from him in a huff…he has ruined my goldfish cracker moment by pointing out that it is totally bizarre that they even exist.

“No, I’m sorry,” he begins.  “I want to try them!”  He seems desperate now that he realizes he may be about to miss something incredible (like the Kraft Mac and Cheese experience…I will always regret letting him try it since now I always have to share).

“We’ll see,” I say with a smile, clutching them to my chest.  “This is the first time I’ve ever found them here!”

***

Okay, now let me be clear, I am not obsessed with goldfish crackers or anything.  I mean, I like them, they are a tasty treat but it’s not like my favorite cracker of all time (that would be Triscuits…obviously, is there even another option?), but there is something thrilling about finding a home product when you are overseas.  It’s like getting a high five from your native land.

“What’s up, USA – appreciate the shout-out!”

“Word,” responds USA, slapping my palm. 

(This is how USA and I talk.)

When you are expat, you will get excited even about home products that you aren’t really into.  For instance, I don’t like Dr. Pepper (or any soft drinks actually) but it still makes me happy when I see it and I will tell every American expat about where I found it. Another example is the friend of mine who left an exuberant post on Facebook about finding cottage cheese.  That’s right, you just read the word “exuberant” in reference to cottage cheese.  I was so stoked that I ran right out to the store she mentioned and then called her in a panic when I couldn’t find it.

“What does it look like,” I demand into the telephone.  “I’m standing with the cheeses.”

“It’s green,” she says, “It’s Jockey brand.  It is with the yogurts.”

“The YOGURTS,” dread creeps over me.  “I’ll never find it on the yogurt aisle!”  The yogurt aisle in France is epic (salty dogs chocolate frogs).

After a few minutes of her talking me through it I find the outrageously priced cottage cheese and feel a surge of energy course through me.  “Victory is mine!  Cottage Cheese for dinner tonight, muhahahahahaha!”

I have never before or since had quite such an emotional reaction to cottage cheese.

But I have had many emotional reactions to food before.   During our honeymoon in Italy, I remember sitting at a particularly fantastic meal and telling MB that the food made me feel even more in love with him…and it was the truth.  There was some portal of emotion inside of me that the meal opened up, just as tasting an old recipe of your Grandmother’s might bring a tear to your eye or how the first bite of something deliciously sinful can make you grin (or moan if you are that type…you know who you are, you sexy food-moaners).  And it doesn’t have to just be in the eating, I love cooking for people as well, taking the time and effort to put together a creative and delicious meal to share with friends around the table is one of the great joys in life.

I know there are the “fuel for the body” people but I will just never understand that.  In fact, I remember the first time someone told me that food was just fuel for the body…I never invited them to dinner again.  Why would I want to share a meal with someone who doesn’t appreciate the beauty, the majesty, and the soul’s connection with food?

Food, whether it is typical grocery store fare that allows you to time-travel to your childhood or a 5 star meal that makes your senses dance – is emotion.

***

And so, with that being said, starting next week I will be rolling out the Bread is Pain Food blog sharing some of my favorite recipes and dinner party ideas.  Everything from the simplest party dip to the menu for a 7 course dinners.  I hope you will come and check it out!

Here is a clip from the penultimate food movie: “Babette’s Feast” (in a close 2nd is “Like Water for Chocolate”). It is a long clip but perfectly elucidates the “fuel for the body” people vs. the “food is emotion” people. Enjoy!

Paris Tara

I love Paris, I really do.  It is fabulous to visit – so many different neighborhoods to wander through, so much to do, amazing museums, exceptional restaurants, history and art at every corner.  Every time that we go for a weekend I discover some new part of town that I’ve never been to before; I will never tire of it…of visiting it.

But what do you mean, visit it?  Why wouldn’t you want to live there?”

“Yeah, I don’t get it, why don’t you live in Paris?”

“I mean, when you moved to France, how come you didn’t choose to live in Paris?”

“Where would you live beside Paris?  Wait a minute, are you saying that there are other cities in France besides PARIS?”

“PARIS…PARIS…paris…PARIS!”

The way non-Frenchies (meh…and sometimes Parisians…you know who you are) talk about Paris kind of reminds me of the final scene in “Gone with the Wind” – check out this clip at about the 1 minute mark:

(SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT: If you have never seen “Gone with the Wind” this completely gives away the ending…also, if you have never seen “Gone with the Wind”, slap yourself and go rent buy this film immediately.)

 

Foreigners are obsessed with Paris; I mean, how many books, films, articles are written about the glories of living the expat life in Paris?  It’s as though if a foreigner comes to France they must be doing so in order to find themselves (“Um…their true self”, she says while straightening her Lisa Loeb glasses and sipping an organic chai tea) in the quirky, intellectual, and artistic world of Paris.  I mean, come on, Hemingway and Fitzgerald (both super happy guys, right?) did it and then Woody Allen made a movie about it and how he desperately wanted to do it so there must be something to it, no?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash on Paris or on the inspiration provided by that fair city.  I mean, hell, I buy it, man – Paris is dead sexy, wildly provocative, and classically romantic all at the same time…a combination which packs quite a punch.

I remember my first visit there; I went out by myself in the afternoon.  I dressed in skinny jeans and ballet flats with a loose tank top and a blazer thrown over my shoulder, I hardly wore any make-up and let my hair stayed tousled and messy.  As I stepped out of my hotel, I flipped my Ipod on and listened to Billie Holiday while walking along the Seine, I took myself to the Louvre, I got an ice-cream cone (Berthillon…obviously) and watched the boats float by while pontificating about life…it was all very Truffaut-esque.  Paris made me feel different; that is a power that Paris invariably has…especially for foreigners.

I’m just saying – there is more to France than Paris.

“OHMAGOD, what did she just say?”

“She does NOT know what she is talking about.”

“I don’t even…I’m just…PARIS!”

For instance, Paris: NOT the gastronomic center of France.

*GASP OF HORROR*

Paris is excellent for getting a taste of a lot of different types of French cuisine in one place and the classic French bistro is undoubtedly Parisian but Lyon is actually the major gastronomic city of France and areas like Burgundy, Normandy, Perigord, Provence, and the Southwest (just to name a few) all have their own regional cuisines.  Foie gras, escargot, brie, camembert?  None of these things are produced in Paris.  Boeuf bourginon, coq au vin, cassoulet?  Not Parisian dishes.  And don’t even get me started on wine.  Why buy the wine for 3 times as much at a restaurant in Paris without even tasting it when you can buy it for 3 times as much at the vineyard in Burgundy AFTER having a few sips?

The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles are super cool (hall of mirrors – what what!) but so are the Chateau’s of Loire, the Roman ruins in Provence, and the various medieval castles you see from the highway during a road-trip.

I guess my point is that Paris is cool but France is even cooler.  It is a virtual wonderland of food, wine, and history and Paris is a part of that…not all of it.

So go to Paris, don your sunglasses and walk around, maybe get a coffee and smoke a cigarette…even if you don’t smoke.  Wear attractive shoes even though you know you will be walking all day, never hurry, and think serious and deep thoughts… let yourself be enveloped by the city, by its contradictory combination of sensuousness and utter coolness…then get out of there and go see France.

 

 

Cake or Death?

Some days, life can be over-whelming.  You know these days – the ones in which everything seems to go wrong, when you feel like you have the anti-Midas-touch (AMT).  A day when you wake up a little too late and jump in the shower to find that the shampoo bottle is empty, the milk for your cereal has gone sour, and your computer is frozen.  The days when you get stuck in a 45 minute traffic jam on your way to work only to arrive at the office and find out that your boss has been trying to find you for 20 minutes, the days when everyone on the street seems to be scowling at you and purposely walking in front of you in the middle of the sidewalk slowly (a personal pet peeve) so that you can’t get around them.

We all have these days, when it seems like the whole universe is conspiring to work against you and you are unable to fight it.

Earlier this week a friend told me about just such a day.

She is a public high school teacher (yeah, I know, but there is more if you can believe it) and this is exam week which means the students are all in the crazy itchy place where they are aching to get out of there.  Sunday evening she finds out that one of the other teachers is violently ill and that she is going to have to administer her own classes’ exams and help with the exams of this other teacher’s classes – good times, especially since the school decided to change their normal 6 periods to 7 in the past year meaning that the kids have 3 exams per day…and no study period, I mean, really, what do the kids need with a study period during their finals?  As if this wasn’t enough, she arrives that Monday morning to find over-flowing trashcans because the janitor just didn’t bother with her room and water leaking across the floor from her air-conditioning unit; it was turning out to be a seriously AMT day.

Throughout the day, things become progressively more irritating.  The technician who comes to check the air-con says that he would have to turn it off completely to be able to work out what needs to be fixed (which is not something you want to do in the deep South in late May), the substitute teacher for the other class can’t find all the exams and has to have the students help to actually get them together, and one of the classes that she has to help take-over is full of obnoxiously rude-pants teenagers (more than the normal amount of teenage rude-pants-ness) who mouth off to her during the entire period.

ANTI-MIDAS-TOUCH, people, anti-midas-touch.

Finally, her last period comes in and at this point, she is ready to pull her hair out.  The class is jam-packed with her last period students taking their exam but towards the end of the period extra students from an earlier class start trickling in because they still had to finish up their exams (she had allowed them a 30 minute study session since the school had taken away their study period…teachers are amazing).  As they are all coming in and settling in, she begins to explain to them about why there are extra students, about why there is over-flowing trash, about how she needs good behavior because an earlier class was really awful…etc.  In the midst of this, one of the students raises their hand and points to the floor, “the air-conditioning is leaking.”

The students later told her that she turned the same color as her pink skirt.

“I know,” she shouts.  “I KNOW!  I. Know.  But do you want air or a dry floor? Air? Or a Dry Floor?!  Because there is nothing I can do about it!  Nothing!”

I think this moment was the proverbial “straw.”

“And really you need to be quiet,” she keeps going. “Because I’ve got these kids finishing their exams in here, and they deserve quiet, and wouldn’t you want quiet?  It’s not all about you, you know!  Now, go get a mini-whiteboard or start communicating through interpretive dance because You. Can’t. Talk.”

Air or a dry floor?  Cake or death?  On the AMT days it can be really hard to see that “cake” is on offer.  Often, we just put our blinders on and zoom in our camera lens and only see the negative, frustrating things that are happening.

“What are you talking about?  There is no cake here!”

We feel like the universe is attacking us and our only choice is to put our heads down and muddle through.  To make matters worse, we often don’t realize that other people around us are having trouble locating the “cake” as well.

After my friend told me about her freak out in class, I asked her how the students reacted; I figured a group of teenagers, in the midst of final exam stress probably gave her grief.  This is what she wrote to me:

“And they’re shaking with laughter (and a small amount of alarm, I think, because there were some very wide eyes), but they got quiet, and I got the extra kids settled in chairs and working and start to get everything sorted, and after seven or so minutes I look over, because there has been movement, but no noise, in my peripheral vision, and…

…they are doing “The Wave”* around the room.  Without making a sound.

I laughed so hard, I had tears.”

Some days you can find “cake” in the unlikeliest of places and some days those around you will take the time to hand you some, you just have to choose to take it.

After all, it should be a simple choice, right?  Life is either cake or death.

Thank you to my friend for letting me steal her story and her words!

*For those of you unfamiliar with “The Wave” here is the wiki link and a YouTube video:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_%28audience%29

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NxLh-3DdaE