He was my Friend: A Memorial Day Tribute

Uncategorized

I wanted to re-post this again for Memorial Day.  Never forget. Thank you to all who have sacrificed for our freedoms.

I remember years ago, when I was living in Washington D.C., waking up on a Memorial Day morning (okay, fine afternoon…it was the afternoon, judgers) and deciding to take a walk down the National Mall to all the memorials.  It was an odd decision for me to go by myself as I am a social creature by nature, but for some reason I bucked the trend this day and headed out the door solo.  I knew that it would be crowded, but it was a beautiful day and it seemed like a nice gesture to go and pay my respects.

Now, I had been living in Washington for a while at this point and it certainly wasn’t my first time visiting the memorials, but for anyone who has ever gone, you know, every time feels like the first.  Walking through those beautiful and haunting structures always makes my heart ache while, at the same time, instilling in me a profound, sometimes overwhelming, sense of gratitude.

This particular Memorial Day, I found myself blinking back tears as I slowly made my way through the throngs of people at each memorial, veterans embracing each other, families laying down flowers, tourists giving silent “thank-you’s.”

Slowly, I walked through the Vietnam Memorial, reading names and trying to think about each one of those men…boys…men?  Even at that time I was older than so many of them had been.  There were people everywhere, having hushed conversations, taking rubbings of names, holding each other’s hands.  It is funny the things you notice, how sometimes your brain seems to shine a light on something or someone in the midst of a crowd.  “Why them,” you wonder later, “why did I notice that particular thing?

To my right there was a man with a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old.  The man was crouching down and asking the boy, “do you see that name, do you see it?”  The boy shook his head and his Father picked him up and placed his hand on the name etched into stone.  Small hands traced the letters, fingers fitting into the grooves.

“Who was he?” The boy asks his Father.

The Father takes a beat as he holds his child in his arms, both of them looking at this name.

“He was my friend,” he says.

 

The simplicity of that statement devastated me, and even now, nearly a decade later, I can still remember it and feel the power of those words.

It has been an interesting feeling for me, living in France over the past 2+ years.  History is so alive here, stories, tragedies, wars, are all so much more tangible in daily life.  In every village there is a Memorial for WWI and often the newer names that were added such a short time later during WWII.  You can hardly turn a corner in Paris without seeing a plaque reminding you of what happened on said spot so long…yet not so long, ago.  In Grenoble, there are reminders of The Resistance everywhere and just down the street from my apartment is a memorial for twenty such men who were lined up and shot on its place just a few short months before the end.  I think about those men a lot.  Did they live in my neighborhood?  Were they from the mountains?  Were they from other countries?  I read their names and I think, “you were someone’s friend.”

I spent much of my life hearing stories of wars, of sacrifices people made, of horrors that people lived through.  One of my Grandfathers fought in the Pacific during WWII and was on the U.S.S. Franklin when a Japanese pilot dropped bombs that blew the ship in half.  What an odd sensation it must be, to live your life knowing that you just happened to be standing on the right half of a ship one day.  My next-door neighbor, a Jewish German lady, had stories as well but only told them to me in our last conversation before she died.  My Great-Grandfather had been in France during WWI and was here when the Armistice was called* and my other Grandfather was here during WWII, fighting with Patton in the final years of the war.  How many friends they all must have had!

I think about myself living in a country that two generations of my family fought for.  I think about the friends I have made here…did someone from my family, long ago, help yours?  Did someone from your family provide a meal or shelter to a young man whose arms I would later run into as a little girl?  I recently discovered that I have a dear friend here whose Grandfather also fought with Patton; he was in the French military in North Africa.  The chances that her Grandfather and mine ever met are slim to none; they were in different theaters…but still, still, there seems something so beautiful to me that these two men who did something so scary at the same time, fighting for the same thing, for the same commander should have grand-daughters who somehow stumbled across each other in this large and cumbersome world, grand-daughters who became friends in the very place that they and their many friends shed blood for.

I like to think of these two young men, to imagine it.  Maybe at a field hospital, maybe some point during leave, or if there is any likelihood at all, maybe in Paris after it was all over…

I can see it in my mind, streets crowded with loud-talking soldiers, jubilant French running and embracing one another, hands being shaken, backs being slapped, streets flowing with champagne and wine and sheer unbridled…finally, unbridled…joy.

A young French man sits alone in a café amidst all the insanity.  Somewhat awkwardly, an American soldier approaches him.

“Bonjour,” he says in a horrible accent.  “Sorry, that’s all I got.”  He is sheepish but friendly.

The French soldier gives him a smile.  “This is okay,” he responds.  “I have English.”

“Would it be alright if I join you?” The American asks him.  “My buddies are off god-knows-where and this place is packed and I don’t know a soul.  I just want to get a drink.”

“Bien sur,” says the Frenchman before correcting himself. “Of course.”  He holds his hand out as the young American falls like a sack of potatoes into the chair. 

The American holds out a pack of Lucky Strikes to the Frenchman who takes one with a smile.

The Parisian waiter comes over and asks what they would like.  After a discussion about what is available they decide on a beer and a glass of wine.

“Boy, I’ll tell ya,” the American says.  “I’d do just about anything for a Jack Daniels right about now!”

“Jack Daniels?” Asks the Frenchman.

“Tennessee Whiskey. Tennessee,” continues the American. “That is where I’m from.”

The Frenchman nods.

“What about you?” Asks the American.  “You from Paris?”

“No,” says the Frenchman, “South of here, near the mountains.”

The American nods silently, they are both thinking the same thing, wondering what he will find when he returns home.  The waiter comes and sets their drinks down.

“Ah,” the Frenchman says, smiling. “Nothing can be too bad when there is a drink in your hand, eh?”

The American laughs and slaps the table. “Ya got that right!”

The knock each other’s glasses.

“A toast?”  The Frenchman asks before continuing, “To old friends…”

“And to lost friends,” the American add solemnly.

“And to new friends,” the Frenchman says, giving the American a nod while signaling the waiter…clearly they would be getting another drink.   

I like to think that they talked the whole of the evening, sharing stories, swapping tales of home and happier times, that they shook hands when they parted, glad to have spent the night with a new pal, walking off into the darkness…never guessing that two generations later their blood kin would be doing the same thing one random evening on a side street in Grenoble.

That’s what I like to think.

***

This post is to all the friends – the lost, the found, and the loved.  May we be ever grateful.

 

* This is the post referencing WWI

 

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6 Years and 6 Things

Life in General, Living Abroad, Uncategorized

Recently, the folks over at HiFX contacted me about contributing to their expat tip page which is part of a new campaign they are working on to give expats some helpful and honest advice and it couldn’t have come at a better time since this week marks the 6 year anniversary of when I left the United States.

6 years.  That number still amazes me.

Since then it has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs (mostly ups) in which I have lived in 3 different countries, 2 different hemispheres, had 6 different jobs, met some of my best friends, and stumbled across a French man who became my husband.  As I think about everything that has happened over this time period, I consider all the things I wish someone had told me beforehand, the tips I would have liked to have had.

So, without further ado, here are 6 things (get it?  6 years, 6 things…très cute) that I would have liked to have known beforehand:

#6. Making plans is hilarious.

When I left Washington D.C. and my job and life and friends and family and country…and…(yeah, you get it) for Wellington, New Zealand I repeatedly kept telling everyone that I would be back in one year.  Conversations would go like this:

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you are leaving!  I’m never going to see you again,” said by wailing friend.

“Puh-leeeeese, it is a one year visa, it’s like I’m going on a vacation.  I’ll see you this time next year,” said by over-confident and foolish me who had no idea what I was talking about.

It was 3 years before I even so much as visited D.C. again.

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” and I couldn’t agree more.  Over the past 6 years I have repeatedly announced things that were going to happen, like when I would return to the USA (…there have been multiple timelines for this – sorry Mom), how long I would stay in a particular country (just 1 year in France, right…), what type of work I would have (I will finish my Master’s Degree and get a job in HR…), etc.  Every time I would proclaim a particular plan something would happen to change it (I think the Universe has a perverse sense of humor), often, these changes weren’t bad they just weren’t in line with my original “plan.”

It would have been nice to have been aware of this little joke earlier as I would have been saved many awkward conversations in which I backtracked and had to announce changes to my “plans” (I can’t take the word seriously enough anymore to write it without quotes).  Now I just dodge questions as best I can and try to go with the flow and I suggest that any new expat does the same.  Don’t get too sure about what is going to happen or not going to happen, instead be open and prepared for all sorts of different eventualities.

#5. Be careful about your living situation.

Oh la la la la la la (this should be heard in French accent).  I cannot stress this enough and it applies whether you are 20 years old going for a year overseas or 35 years old and moving for an indeterminate period of time.  THINK before you sign a lease and get into an irreversible living situation.  Listen to your gut if something seems off, consider your finances beforehand, and know what your walking-away point is.

It can be really easy to get desperate about where you will live upon arrival in a new country, there is a need to be settled, and living in a hostel or temporary housing can be the pits.  But you know what is worse?  Living with crazy people people with whom you do not get along or moving into a house you can’t afford or a neighborhood that seemed fine at first but is actually super-inconvenient.  It is not always easy but try to be patient and wait for the right living situation, not merely the simplest…you won’t regret it.

#4. Take good opportunities!  

ARGH.  I still think about a job offer I had in Wellington, NZ – it was perfectly suited for my past experience and would work well to get me where I wanted to go professionally in the future.  It couldn’t have been more perfect…but when they offered it to me (and agreed to give me a visa – yes, I was this idiotic) they said they would need a 2 year commitment…well, I had only been in NZ for a couple of months at that point and I thought, “well, I’m not going to live overseas for 2 years” (see #6 about making plans) so I said I couldn’t do it.  ACK (read: epic stupidity)!

This was 5 ½ years ago and it still plagues me.  Don’t get hung up on timelines because nothing is set in stone.  I could have taken that job and still left after 1 year if I wanted, I mean, it wasn’t a blood oath (…or was it, things get crazy in New Zealand), or I could have ended up staying longer and building something really interesting.  It could have been amazing or it could have been a horrible experience, I will never know, the only thing I do know for certain is that I regret not finding out.

Now, I’m not saying jump at every little thing that comes your way but opportunities don’t come knocking all the time – when they do, take a beat and consider what your end goal is and then maybe say yes to something that seems a little scary.

#3. There will always be something to miss. 

“Being an expat is soooooo amazing, I never think about the past or the future I just live in the moment and I’m never going to be sad about things I don’t have anymore.”

EIH!  Wrong answer.

So being an expat is exciting and full of new things –TRUE – but you are also setting yourself up for some tough times…as my Mother constantly likes to remind me: “you’ve chosen a hard life” (Mom loves a truth gun) and she is right, per usual…so annoying.

You are going to have friends, sometimes best friends, scattered throughout the world and you are going to miss major events in their lives.  You are not going to be able to see your family as much as you might want to.  When you go back home you will miss things and people from your host country, if you stay overseas you will have a pang in your heart for your home and the things that you love there.  No place will ever have it all again and you will be doomed to be that obnoxious person who is constantly making mental comparisons in your head about which place is better (I say “in your head” because if you share these thoughts out loud people will find you super irritating).

This is one of the big tradeoffs that one makes when deciding to embrace the expat life and it is a hard one.

You will also miss certain junk foods.  KRAFT BLUE BOX 4 EVA!

#2. Oh my god, pay attention to your frequent flyer miles. 

There isn’t much to say on this other than the sad fact that MB and I are morons and didn’t rack up our FF miles the way we should have.  If we had been responsible, we could be super special card members with all sorts of lovely perks.  Consider yourself warned, I get irritated every time I think of it.  Le sigh.

#1. You are not ruining your life. 

When I left the USA there were a lot of people who thought I was nuts (don’t try to deny it – I saw your faces).

What people said:

“Ohhhhhhh muh-gawd, that is totes amazing, I sooooooo wish I was brave enough to do that.  You’re like, an inspiration.  It is going to be ree-diculous.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.

What people thought:

“Um right…brave my arse, she has lost her dang mind.  She is walking away from her job, her life, everything.  She is 27 years old not 19, when she comes back she will have to start from nothing.  This is an EPIC mistake.”

I get it, I was pretty freaked out about what I was doing as well.  Leaving a decent career (even if I wasn’t suited for it) and an established life was scary and there were a lot of nights before and even after the move that I was afraid I was destroying my future…but I didn’t.

It can be really easy to get sucked into societal pressures, parental pressures, and even pressure from friends about how you should be living your life and what timeline you should be on.  Don’t worry about it – if I had listened to everyone else (including my internal voice of reason) I wouldn’t be married to an amazing man, living in France and following my love of writing.

Be confident about your choices and chase them with intelligence and hard-work, don’t let the naysayers (internal or external) pull you from your path.  (Insert appropriate “Robert Frost, life is a journey, two roads, blah blah blah” quote here)

*While this post is directed at expats, I think that it applies to life in general no matter where you might find yourself living…especially the part about frequent flyer miles, keep up with that stuff, people! 

Wordy Actions

Life in General, Uncategorized

“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

Adjusting to France, Life in General, Uncategorized

“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!

A Month of Sundays: Encore Presentation

Uncategorized

*(Re-Post Warning:  So yes, I posted this a couple of years ago but in honor of the 1st day of August AKA “Month of Nothing” I thought I would put it up again.  Next week I will expound further on the France/August situation…until then I will be trying to be productive while nothing is open.

Enjoy!)*

This is a transcript of my most recent conversation with France.

Me:  Bonjour France!

France:  Oui, bonjour.   (France takes a sip of Pastis)

Me:  Guess what?!

France:  Quoi?

Me:  My semester ends the first week of August; I’m so excited.  I’m going to catch up on my workouts at the gym, read lots of books, work on my cooking; its going to be great!

France:  Ah oui?  Very…ambitious.  (France looks suspicious when it says this)

Me:  Yep, in fact, I think I’ll start by going to the gym right now!

France:  No.  I don’t think so.

Me:  Whaaa?  Why not?  MB is out of town for 3 weeks.  He’ll come back and I’ll be buff!

France:  It is so hot.  Do you really want to go?

Me:  Yes, I don’t care that the gym isn’t air-conditioned (actually I do, but that is for another post).

France:  Well, it is August; so I think that I will just close the gym.  (France says this nonchalantly but won’t look me in the eye)

Me:  You can’t do that!  I live here; I have a year membership!

France:  Pfff…not for the next 3 weeks, my little American friend.  (France pulls out a cigarette and lights it)

Me:  Fine, I will just hike in the mountains and take picnics.

France:  I will make it rain.

(I give France a face)

France:  C’est la vie.  (France says this matter-of-factly)

Me:  I don’t think you are using that phrase right, its meant to be a good thing, you know, ‘c’est la vie’!

France:  It is my phrase, huh?  I will use it as I want to use it.  Pfff…

Me:  Fine, I will sit inside with lots of good books from the library.

France:  (France takes a drag of its cigarette and exhales leisurely)  You think so?

Me:  Yes, I will get lots of cheesy romance novels about English speaking foreigners coming to France and falling in love…they will all have happy endings!

France:  (France rolls it’s eyes)  You think the library will be open?

Me:  YES.  I know they have vacation hours; I have checked.

France:  I hate to tell you, but I have closed the library too.

Me:  Seriously?

France:  Très sérieux.

Me:  So, I can’t go to the gym and I can’t go to the library…is the market open?

France:  Sometimes, but I will not disclose all the hours and days ahead of time.  I prefer for you to guess.

Me:  (I sigh loudly)  Well, maybe I will go to the sea!

France:  HA!  (France spits out a mouthful of Pastis)  Enjoy all the tourists!  Enjoy the backed up traffic from Paris to Cassis!  Are you CRE – ZEE (read: crazy)?!

Me:  So how am I supposed to fill up my month?

France:  Just relax, enjoy your life.

Me:  We’ve talked about this.  Remember Sundays?

France:  I know but you have to get over this need to be busy all the time.  (France motions to the waiter to bring another Pastis)

Me:  Okay, so what can I do?

France:  Its August, my friend, you can sit with me and have a drink.

A Yummy Slacker Post

Emelie and Lea Recipes, Uncategorized

Hello – sorry for my lapse in writing, have been traveling over the past two weeks.

In the meantime, here is another delish recipe from Emelie and Lea’s Secrets that is the perfect thing for Summer (it is finally summer, right?) cookouts and parties.  Enjoy and I promise I will have a post up early next week!

(p.s. again…not my photography)

Emilie and lea's secrets

http://emilieandleassecrets.com/2013/05/31/bricks-a-la-feta-et-aux-herbes/

Of Lipstick and Tennis Shoes

Uncategorized

“That is awesome!”  I am looking in the direction of an older gentleman (like octogenarian old) and his two similarly aged female companions.

“What about them,” asks MB, taking a bit of his andouillette; we are in Lyon for a day trip.

“Are you kidding,” I ask back.  “Look at his outfit.”

MB turns to look back at the man walking down the street in a Kelly green blazer and light green pants with a pink tie.

“He looks great,” I continue.  “I mean, don’t you just love how old folks always dress up?  Look at the women, both in heels, both in hose, hair done and it is just a weekday lunch!  I mean, if I had my way I would wear workout clothes all the time and just forget about make-up and I have way more energy than them.”  (I have no idea if I have more energy than them, they are looking pretty spritely)

“I like you like that,” MB says smiling at me, “natural.”

I mentally give another high-five to the universe for putting this man in my life then smile before continuing on my tangent.  “They just put in so much effort – I respect it, ya know?  Like these ladies got up this morning and said to themselves: “yep, we are stepping out” and really took time to put themselves together.  And the dude, I mean, honey, how can you not give props to a man pulling off a jacket that color.”

MB smiles at me indulgently, “ouais, they look good.”

BABE,” He is clearly not getting this.  “Her blouse is even sheer with a black bra underneath.  That sweet little octogenarian over there is both sexier and trendier than me.”

MB laughs and then changes the subject and we continue our lunch.  I know MB would be happy to spend the rest of his life in jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops, never donning a suit again.  We are just not a particularly “formal” generation.  We are Generation X of greasy hair and plaid shirt fame – the generation that went into an Urban Outfitters craze, snatching up $100 pairs of ripped up jeans (this was in the 90’s – $100 was a huge amount to spend on jeans), something that my Mother never understood.

“I am NOT paying that amount of money to buy you something that is going to make you look trashy.”

“MOM,” insert appropriate 14 year old screech.  “They are not trashy, GAWD, they are everywhere, everyone wears these now!!!!!”

“Not everyone.  I’m not wearing them; your Father isn’t wearing them.”

I give her a flat, emotionless expression.  I mean, she is kidding with this, right?

She gets my drift and continues.  “Look honey, it just isn’t going to happen.  If you want to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a half-way destroyed product, be my guest, but I’m not doing it.”

So, I did.  I saved my money and bought an on-sale pair of Urban Outfitters ripped up jeans for $76.  They were so hot, in fact, if I still had them I would happily wear them now…unfortunately they fell apart after about 3 months and became completely un-wearable.  I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere.

The point is, my Mother couldn’t understand why we would want to buy new products that were designed to look like old, thrown away products; which is crazy because it makes perfect sense (wait, what?).  She had been raised by a generation of people who put themselves together and made an effort when they left the house…heck, even when they stayed in the house.  A people who 60 years later, while surrounded by jean-wearing messy-haired young people still proudly sport their Kelly green blazer to a weekday lunch.

My Grandmother was a perfect example of this generation – even when she was in the nursing home she would remove her oxygen mask for photographs.  HER OXYGEN.

Several years back when I was home for a visit, she and I made plans to go to the movies together (pre-nursing home days).  The night before I went out and tied one on with some friends and was therefore pretty tired the next day.  I got up and put on some yoga pants and tennis shoes with a t-shirt and just threw my greasy hair into a pony-tail; I mean, come on, it’s just a midday movie with my Grandmother!  I went to pick her up and we went to the movies and everything went fine…or so I thought.  About a week later I called her to see if she wanted to have lunch.

“Well okay, sweetie, that would be wonderful but maybe you could make a little effort this time,” she croons into the phone.

“Huh,” I say back to her.

“Well, last time we went out you didn’t look very good and it was a little embarrassing; I’m glad I didn’t run into anyone I knew.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point, I just burst out laughing, “Well okay, I’ll make sure to tart it up for you next week!”

“Well, don’t go too far,” was her only response.

My Grandmother wasn’t raised with “exceptions” on how you presented yourself.  It wasn’t okay to “dress down” just because you were going to be sitting in a movie theater; she was raised (and therefore my Mother as well) that you didn’t so much as buy a gallon of milk without putting on lipstick.

Somewhere along the line we have lost this sense of pride in appearance, maybe in longer work hours and busier schedules, in homes with two working parents and children to take care of…maybe by the time you have finished a 14-hour day you just can’t be arsed to put yourself together for a casual dinner out or a drink with a friend.  I don’t know what the reasons but it kind of makes me sad.  We’ve lost some of the glamour and maybe a little bit of magic – that thing that made you want to dress up in your Grandmother’s old clothes and wear her costume jewelry or try sporting an old fedora that is still in the attic.

I’m standing on the tram on my way back from French class as I notice an elderly gentleman step into my car (I am always keeping an eagle eye out for the oldies to make sure they get a seat if they want one).  I smile to myself as I notice that he is wearing a full 3-piece suit, complete with hat but is also sporting his grocery bags with wheels.  This man suited up for the grocery store…the grocery store.  I look down at my tennis shoes and blue jeans feeling like the ultimate slacker.  Maybe I’ll put in more effort tomorrow; maybe I’ll actually fix my hair and put on proper make-up…wear shoes that don’t have rubber soles.  The tram lurches off, rattling down the line and I watch the old man straighten his tie and vest, flattening them down as he prepares to descend at the next stop.  I feel an unexpected, maybe even bizarre, twinge of affection for him.  “Thanks for keeping it classy,” I want to say to him.

Then the tram stops and he is gone, disappearing down the road as I strain to follow his form as long as possible.  I grab the rail as the tram jostles me forward unceremoniously and I sigh; I’ll probably wear tennis shoes again tomorrow…but maybe I’ll manage a bit of lipstick.

P.S. I realize this isn’t a strictly French post – I like to deviate every now and again.  I hope you don’t mind indulging me!

Taking cheesecake to a whole new level…

Uncategorized

Okay – so this is not a FOR REAL post but a link to the fabulous Emilie and Lea’s Secrets which never ceases to provide something dangerous for the waistline.

Tomorrow, I will be posting in earnest about the time-honored French tradition of the witty insult and whether or not my skin is thick enough to withstand it (if I make this recipe it certainly will be, har har).

Cheese, bacon, and a bread/cake…yes, please!

http://emilieandleassecrets.com/2013/04/04/cake-au-camembert-et-au-jambon-blanc/

Of Hospitals and Cheese Courses

Cultural Differences, French Food, Uncategorized

Yes, I am being a slacker this week.  MB is having some health issues and afternoons at the hospital have proved to be uninspiring…except for the meals.

Now granted, I haven’t been in the hospital in the U.S. since the 80’s so my information isn’t at all up to date but what I remember of the food was pizza and jello (I was also 8 years old which might account for what stands out in my mind).  At the hospital here in Grenoble, however, MB’s meals are somewhat more sophisticated.  There is a potato soup, there is a tuna pasta, a freshly baked roll, fromage blanc.  These may show up all at the same time but this is basically a 3 course meal…in the hospital.  Yesterday he had saucisson…how is that a healthy choice?

Pfff…it is not healthy, it is good, you philistine; I am sick, not dead, eh?”   This is what I imagine France saying in this scenario.

Basically, what this means to me is that the French never surrender when it comes to food.

“You may take my life but you will never take my cheese course!”

It is a charming quality that I love.  I’ll never forget MB telling me how their school lunches consisted of three parts: a salad of some sort, a main dish, and then a bit of cheese.

“You had cheese courses in elementary school,” I asked him, incredulous.

“Mais oui,” he says as though it is the most normal thing in the world.  “What did you eat?”

Hmmmm…deep fried burritos?  Butter cookies that had so much butter that they would soak through the wax paper.

“We didn’t have cheese courses,” is the only response I can muster.

He looks at me baffled.

So, with these thoughts in mind I invite you, fair reader, to give me your favorite food moment involving France (I say involving because I don’t think you need to be IN France to have had a French food moment).  Whether it be your first French cheese or trying calf brains or just your first time at a French restaurant – let’s take the day to think about France’s most charming quality…their love of food.

*If you would like updates on when I am going to post each week please join my facebook page – I usually post a few little notes throughout the week!  🙂