Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Back to business

O pretty days! How you have been filled with fun!

Fun of seeing the small chateau (one of many) in the nearby village (a generous term) of Frontenay:

Poking around corners of Chateau-Chalon:

Basking in the freezing spray of the waterfall next to Baume-les-Messieurs (set inside a canyon, surrounded by cliffs, next to a cave! It's a geological funhouse!):

And why did I spend so many days out and enjoying myself? Because I got a visit from this particular cute head.

Luckily for me, the week that Jim came to visit was also the week that HALF of my classes were cancelled - all because of official meetings and training for my oldest students. I'll show the rest of the week later, when the internet connection is a little less patchy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Damn. My place is so clean.

I would like to disclose, right now, that when I finally have a place with a washer and dryer in the home, I will be one of those people who launders clothes, like, every other day. My mother is pumping her fists in victory right now, since two of my favorite things in the world have become a clean home (and wasssshhhhhed flooorrrrrssss) and fresh laundry.

In other news, I've become old.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rules were made to be frozen!

A snow day!

So, I guess it snowed in Chicago? My parents sent me these great pictures from their yard.

Look at all of those big trees! It was mighty nice having such a big yard growing up.
No snow here, though. It was a very bright, pretty day. It started out very foggy, though, and I found out that there's a cover of snow about 5 miles south, a bit farther up the plateau.

I've borrowed some movies from the Houvilles. When I perused their selection (of completely legally copied movies. Really.), I picked out all of those with french titles. It turns out, they're mostly all American films. Well, technically all, since "A Very Long Engagement" was produced by an American company, the french considered as such and wouldn't consider it for any national film awards, despite the fact that the entire cast and crew were French. And it was made in France. About French people. Anyway.
Last night, I watched "Pere et Fille." Any guesses?
Okay, it was "Jersey Girl." Not very good, but at least it didn't make me want to swallow my tounge like "L'amour sans preavis" did.

Woah! Wow, this is really strange. Before looking up that last film, I thought about the song "Taking Care of Business" and was planning to add as a parting thought, "They really should start using that song Taking Care of Business in movies again. It's a shame it has become outmoded."
Then! I looked up that last movie to check the spelling of the french title. I was intrigued by the user review titled "Very good movie - contrary to other OPINIONS" and read (emphasis mine):

Some of my favorite scenes include the one where Sandra Bullock has eaten too much and has to go to the bathroom while they are stuck on a bridge in New York City. Adding the music "Taking Care Of Business" was really a stroke of genius. The "Bobcat Pretzel" scene was equally funny. The interjection of the appropriate music adds much to the results.

The people have spoken.

Maybe you think "Well, you just remember that they used that song in the movie!" Uh, that's definitely not the case. In fact, I really only half paid attention to the film, since I was also busy writing a letter to Tim about how horrible it was.

I think that I'm clearly on to something. In fact, I think I've got some business to take care of.

(Cue music: Taking Care of Business)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hobby #1:
Every morning, I take a picture of the sky outside of my window. Before I came here, I had seen only a handful of sunrises -- limited to super-early morning trips to the airport and during my student teaching, when I was travelling across the city at 6AM. Since Poligny is nestled next to a ridge that's 200 meters higher, the sun rise is a bit later for us -- and my window faces directly east, so I get a good view. Most mornings, I wake up to pink clouds streaked over the trees. Well, most mornings before these last two weeks. Even today, the sky seemed clear but in the last 20 minutes (as I was loading these pictures) the fog rolled in over the town. The most bizarre thing is that I can see the outline of the sun through the haze -- I'm sure if I went to the first town up the ridge, Plasne, that it would be a perfectly clear day.

Hobby #2:
Octopus playing drums. He's really getting better! I drew this one yesterday during class, while the two other kids in the room worked on a writing activity. The boy who was there wrote the french word, Pieuvre, underneath.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Last weekend's episode of "Living on Earth" (distributed by NPR, available as a podcast on iTunes) discussed the levels of mercury in fish.

On guy, from the Center for Consumer Freedom, is disputing the studies that mercury in fish is a threat -- at all. One of his arguments is that the Japanese eat five to ten times more fish than Americans, and if there's any affect on cognitive development, we'd be able to notice it among that population. "Now I ask you," he asks, "are their kids woefully inadequate in math and science and cognitive abilites, or are their children out-performing ours in math and science?"*

He later added that, according to his research, mercury in fish actually increases childrens' abilities to play piano and violin!

*he actually did say this.

more moss

Oh my GOD today was BEAUTIFUL. We had sun! Real sun! The weather was so nice and pretty and warm.

So, I took a walk. The first thing I noticed was a tree covered in moss (and lichen?) The Jura is basically coated in moss - it's not at all unusual to see three or four kinds growing on a stone, a wall, in the sidewalk. Then there's the ferns sprouting everywhere... I think that it must help having so much fog -- the air is much damper, encouraging growth everywhere.

Here's the tree:

And here's the moss:

I'm quite relieved to see that those photos turned out nicely. I have suspicions that my camera has begun a slow descent, as the battery hardly holds a charge and the focus gets all confused.

See the horses?

I listened to Wilco's Yankee Hotel EP on the walk. You should too -- it's really good. How pleasant it is to find that music is even better after a few years.

This evening I'm going to a kid's house for dinner. I have to keep reminding myself of this (7 o'clock!) because otherwise I'll forget. Thanks, dad, for passing on a completely useless short-term memory to me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How 'bout you have a look at me punching you.

I'm still working on getting all of my paperwork-n-stuff in order. Isn't it ridiculous that this STILL isn't done? I've been here for 4 months! I'm more than halfway finished with my contract!

Anyway, the priority now is to get my social security number, then register for health insurance. That's the only reason, really - just so I'm part of the health care system. I'd like to do this for two reasons:
1. Just to be part of a system like this will tickle my little socialist heart pink. -er.
2. Might as well get everything checked out, since it's Free! and I'll probably have only Major Catastophe insurance when I get back home.

In a way, doing all this sort of makes me hope for:
1. An actual accident.
Just to know that I got my money's worth. (Like, 1050 euros worth (150 euro deducted over 7 months).)

Oh, the point of telling you all of this is that I went to the office twice today between classes. Wednesday is my (relatively) busy day, so I didn't have a large stretch of time to devote to waiting in the office. Of course, I didn't actually get to go in a drop off all of my documents. There was always somebody ahead of me; we waited 20 minutes just for the first person to go out; then I'd wait another 15 minutes while that next person was in the office; then it was time to go to class. I guess I'll have to try again tomorrow morning. Big fucking surprise. The second time I went in, I was walking towards the wall to look at the picture, and the lady waiting gave me this pointed, "Ah-hem!" like I was just going to sneak by her and barge into the office without waiting my turn. Back off, toots, I says.
  • I'm downloading the new Built to Spill album right now, so I can't post any pictures. I'm definitely not going to complain about how slow my wireless connection is, but let me tell you: it's very slow.
  • Apparently, it's like a little game for the boys to try to flirt with me. A gross game. In one class today, I asked the kids if anyone wanted to share anything. A boy raised his hand and said, "You have look very sexy!" This was a challenge to the others, so later in that opening discussion time, another kid told me, "My girlfriend is going away to another city for school this weekend." Me: "Oh, does that make you sad?" Him: "No! I am happy so that now you can be my girlfriend!" Me: "I'm not your type, kid."
  • I'm on a mission to send everyone I know a picture of an octopus playing the drumset. If you don't get one from me, that means I don't have your address. Sorry. Oh, and it's the same picture, but sometimes I make it better than others. You can make little trading cards and set up swap meets.
  • To anyone close to a yarn store: I'm trying to get a copy of the pattern for "Lace Leaf Shawl" distributed by Fiber Trends. I'd buy it online, but I don't want to pay more for shipping a dumb piece of paper as I would for the pattern itself. I'll totally pay you back if you get it and send it to me -- I just can't bring myself to shell out 13 bucks for a 5 dollar pattern. Thanks!

Hmm, maybe there'll be something better tomorrow. Good day, sir.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

That's Madame Petite to you.

The infinite paperwork continues. Today I talked to the secretary at the school about getting my social security number. I also have to drop of a bunch of documents at the mayor's office because...uh, they asked me. Just so they know exactly whom to round up when the nationalist party takes over, I guess.
I definitely wasn't looking forward to it, since it involves talking about official stuff with people (difficult to understand) and making many copies (difficult to keep straight). Well, I did it, as much as I could, and it wasn't bad. Tomorrow, I'm going to drop off everything to get my social security number, then drop off everything at the Mayor's office. I have to go back there, once I get my SS#, as they want a copy of that as well, but I want to get as much of this stuff out of my hands as I can.

The best part about this morning was that, when I went to the see the secretary, I understood EVERY WORD. We CONVERSED. This is a very big deal. There's been a sort of shift lately -- the language continues to get easier for me to speak and understand. More importantly, I've gone from being the "amusing foreigner" to the "charming foreigner." In the last week alone, the following things have happened:

1. The woman who made the photocopies for me said that I have a pretty accent.
2. One of my students, when talking on the street, repeated the way I say "vendredi" (friday). I asked him what was so funny, and he said, "Nothing! I just think it's nice how you say that. British and American accents are so cute."

Plus, I found out that the students do, in fact, like me, from this embarassing moment: I was walking to class, and passed by a group of my older students on the street. I said hello, and they said hello back. One of the boys said, "Wait! Now, one, two, three!" They all said hello at the same time. From the back, I heard one of the boys saying, "Bonjour, petite." While this is not a rude thing to say, it's definitely not something you'd say to a teacher, as it's the equivalent of saying, "Hi cutie" or "Hi sweetie." I immediately demanded, "Who said that?!?" and they all laughed.

Weather: still crappy, in case you were wondering.

Pictures: Frosty moss!

frosty mosty. fross moss.

Monday, January 16, 2006

D2: dijon-ier

I went to Dijon for the second time on saturday. The last few weeks haven't been the best here, honestly. The weather has sucked, as it undoubtedly sucks nearly everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Here, though, it's been foggy. Excuse me, I mean FOGGY. This is how I learned that the french say "it's like pea soup!" too. Well, do we really say that? Perhaps I think it's part of the American vernacular just because it's mentioned in the stop-motion animated version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
Naturally, it's cold here, as well. The temperature is similar to the chicago area. Chicago has the wind (ugh), but the fog does a number, too. The fog makes the cold more liquid and icy, sliding underneath your hat, down your sleeves. You still feel like your eyes might freeze and fall out of their sockets, but perhaps slightly more slowly.

Ok. Sorry. Nothing's more dull than complaining about the weather. I'll stop.

(Similarly, Tim, expect a long treatise on why Two Weeks' Notice is the worst movie I've ever seen, in your next letter.)

Returning to my original point, I went to Dijon. During the week, I called Catherine and suggested that we meet there for the day. It's only about an hour-and-a-half trip for me, which is short enough for a day trip. Actually, it's only an hour of travel time, but there's always a half-hour wait at the transferring train station. We both arrived at 9:30, and lucky us, it was a beautiful, clear day.

Dijon is a very, very pretty city. It's a pretty weathy area, which you can sense simply from the number of places to go spend all of your money. The center of the city is a pedestrian shopping area. Obviously, there's trade-offs living in any country; similarly, some places really do things better. For example, America has Netflix. This truly is an amazing thing and, frankly, it will be years before other countries catch up. On the other hand, France (and many other places in Europe) has pedestrianized city centers. Oh, and universal health care. And free public unversities.

Part of the reason health problems like obesity and heart disease is less of a problem here is because people go out and walk around more often. In the country, it's very common for me to see whole families or elderly couples spending the afternoon walking. Hell, I spend the afternoon walking. There's a lot of clearly marked trails, which are very easy to access. In the cities, the cities (so far, I've seen it in Montpellier, Dijon, Lyon, Montbeliard, Belfort, and Besancon) have large areas with no cars. This also means large outdoor markets, sidewalk seating at cafes, space for the christmas markets or carousels, etc. Additionally, many of these cities are built on rivers, which means that they also have long riverwalks. It just makes it easier for people to be outside, walk around; to spend their free time outside, interacting with other people.

It was nearly as busy on saturday, a cold day in January, as it was when I went on a beautiful warm fall day in early October. Part of the reason why it was so busy is the sales; however, the sales in Dijon mean that you can get a chandlier for 300 euro instead of 500. A good deal, yes, but only for those who are currently in the chandlier market. Or antique couch market. Or the fur coat market. I often don't find myself in any of these markets.

We still had a wonderful day walking around the city. We even treated ourselves and got a real lunch. Oh, AND we went to the cafe to get hot chocolate. It was as good as I had hoped. We spent the day window shopping and seeing the city. It's a town of many different architectural styles and lots of adorable storefronts.

This is the large cathedral in town. It's got a whole lot of little men and gargoyles sticking out:

Yesterday was even nicer outside. Like last sunday, it was clear and warm. Like spring. I'm convinced this is just to taunt us, as today we've returned to the crappy weather. There was no reason to be outside, so I went to the grocery store in the morning, then spent the rest of the day inside. I've been working on a pair of socks for a friend who is a guy (one of you reading this, most likely) and it's made me come to this conclusion: we should resume the practice of binding feet. There's really no reason that peoples' feet should be this long.

Finally, a happy MLK day to all of you. If there's a special on public radio today in honor of the good doctor, I recommend listening to it. It hasn't failed to fascinate and humble me for the last several years.

Friday, January 13, 2006

You know that I have a soft spot in my heart for radio. Really, by 'soft spot' I mean 'gaping open cavern.' I love public radio. To the max.
This whole evening, I've been listening to Sound Portraits pieces online. Have you been lacking depression in your life? If so, head on over there, so listen to stories about lobotomies, the ghetto, or the death penalty! It'll cure what ails ya!

From the MY LIFE files:
Have been markedly boring. I've been playing the same game with ALL of my classes for the last two weeks. Have been working out to the TaeBo video that I got over christmas (one must do what one must do, n'est ce pas?). Have been eating butternut squash soup. Thought about need to tweeze eyebrows.

From the TOMORROW files:
Going to Dijon. Expect similar pictures from last time, but shittier light. Why am I going?
1. Get the hell out of Dodge.
2. See Catherine.
3. Soldes, obvs... what - you don't speak french? Well, let me explain. It's the bi-annual national sale in France. This is not required by law, but nearly every store has sales. Good sales, too - like shoes which are 50% off. Frankly, I'm saving the little money I have for a to-die-for pair of shoes in Paris, which I will hopefully pick up later this month. It's always nice to accompany a friend who needs to be talked out of Cute Pair o Shoes #349. All in a days' work.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Preface to the Two-day Anniversary Edition of Tim Fawkes' entry entitled "Tim's Top One Album of 2005."

I wrote this for the Second (day) anniversary printing of Tim Fawkes's landmark essay from 2006, reviewing Andrew Bird's album, "The Mysterious Production of Eggs." If you haven't read it yet, I recommend doing so first.

Tim introduced me to this album back in aught-5. Oh yes, we were heady young fools then, but Tim was always the most visionary amongst us. He put on the album - beautiful! but not too sappy, the beat keeps moving! Then, he pulled out the booklet by Jay Ryan, which made me kind of stop listening to the music. Sorry. Seriously, you should check out the booklet. Jay Ryan is very well known, in my opinion, in Chicago. I’m not sure if he has much larger exposure, but I feel confident that he will. His work captures a perfect balance of art and cute, motion and weight. And they’re silk screens!

Tim, being the kind and generous soul that he unfailingly is, promptly copied the music album for me. Like many great albums, this one waited patiently for months inside my small white poddy. In Tim's classic treatise on Bird, he mentions that "Skin Is, My" first caught his attention. For me, it was "Fake Palindromes." This song is so good and so catchy, it makes it easy to ignore all of the other songs on the album. It begins with a bollywood-esque wailing melody of violin and tambourine. From there, like “Skin Is, My” (and like most of the other songs), it grows and changes, sampling a bit from rock, folk, anything, but never entirely abandoning the original tone set by those catchy violins. Another big plus is the phrase “Monsters will walk the earth.” As Tim mentioned, even if you’re not a lyrics person – which I’m generally not – these will catch your attention.

Overall, “The Mysterious Production of Eggs” suffers challenges that many good albums do – namely, the required time and patience to grow and open up to the listener. This is not to say that the new listener can’t appreciate the album; however, in order to understand what makes it so good, and in order to fully etch it into the brain, multiple whole-album listenings are required. Without them, it would be too easy to classify this album as “really pretty” or “kind of slow.” After properly ageing, “too pretty” becomes “rich instrumentation”; “kind of slow” becomes “cohesively developed.” This is not an album, in my opinion, to put on, skip to a few songs, then scroll ahead to “My Hump.” As trite as this sounds, listening to “Eggs” is like Bird reading you a story. You need to get tucked into bed, be cozy and ready to listen to Bird spin his yarns in words and music. It’s not a concept album, by any means, but it’s an album whose growth and evolution overall mirrors that of each song. I’d recommend listening to it a few times when you’re alone for the evening. Then it will come to you.

Moroccas, too? Damn.

I keep forgetting to take my camera outside with me, so I haven't taken many pictures. There's one small series I've been doing, but I should keep working on it until next week - before that it will be even less than the marginally-interesting status that I hope to achieve.

Therefore, behold! Pictures my brother sent me from San Francisco!

Hey people familiar with the bay area in the summer: you know how it's all cold and foggy, and it's like, 'what kind of summer weather is this?' Make it colder. Replace 'summer' with 'winter.' Now you know what it's like to live here right now.

After my classes finished today, Bernard took me home with him for lunch. Guess what I found out -- the fog is only for my elevation. While I haven't been able to see the houses across the street for three days, it's sunny and clear just 200 meters up, on the plateau. What a nasty trick.
I ended up spending the whole day with Bernard and Pauline. It wasn't planned; I think they're just getting used to having me around. We had lunch, then drove over to see some property in a nearby town that they're considering buying. Before going back home, we stopped at Geiant. What kind of store is Geiant? GIANT! (Ha!). No, seriously. It's like a super target. But bigger! Really! They have a dry cleaners in the front! I know I've only been here for three (and-a-half) months, but one becomes accustomed to the scale and norms of a country rather quickly. I nearly had a gripper when I walked into a florescent-lit cavern big enough to have its own gravitational pull.* Electronics, a cafeteria, twenty gajillion cash registers, clothes pulled off the hanger, sales bins, more cereal than I remembered is possible, excessiveness! Wooooooooo!
I bought dish towels, pink. Only 2.50 euro. I'm rather proud of my purchase, especially because they will match My Little Kitchenaid.

I did a google image search for "octopus playing drums" and got this picture:

Not exacly what I was looking for, but a satisfying result nonetheless. Maybe I can get an honorable mention in this year's awards?

One final note: thanks for the letter, Tim!
(See what happens when you send me real letters that I can get in the mailbox? Public appreciation!)
(Since I don't want to appear ungrateful, I'll also thank my mom and dad, Brian, Jim, Katie, Mike, great-aunt and -uncle, my grandma Lori, and Rachael, who have all sent me things. Ok....now i feel kind of like a jerk. I still do like to get things in the mail, though.)

*Quick quiz, pizznuff players! What other mythical large entity also has it's own gravitational pull? You might need to check the book for that one...
And, uh, don't leave the answer in my comments, please.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I've often wondered what would make my life complete. Then I found this. Now I know.

The person who makes these is Erica Weiner. If you like jewelery, I recommend looking. I especially like the bugs and twigs.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Now more first-world than ever!

Apparently The Jura was tired of crappy, foggy weather, too, because we seemed to have skipped past the last three months of winter and started on Spring. The last two days have been beautiful and warm. I took a three hour walk yesterday wearing only a sweatshirt.

Well, pants and all that other stuff, too. But just a sweatshirt and no coat! Or scarf!

This morning, we even had a pretty sunrise, just like the good old days of two months ago.

While I'm sorry for those indigenous people in northern Canada, who are losing their native homes because of global warming and all that, this weather is pretty nice! I say, Damn the Kyoto, full steam ahead!

I don't have much to share because I haven't been doing much. Period. This is like, the fantasy life I've been wanting for the last three years when I was working full-time and going to classes most evenings. But now that I have it....yo, there is NOT MUCH TO DO. Last night, I replaced my iTunes folder with the music from my iPod. Why? Because I felt like making my life complicated AND I can make CDs for people of the new music I've gotten from other people's computers! Today I'm going to package up everyone's overdue christmas gifts and knit and...uh, I guess go buy some more blank CDs....and, yeah, that's it. I'd really like to take some day trips, but everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Don't hate me because I live an idle life. Yes, I do appreciate it. I would give anything for a decent movie theater or a yoga studio, though.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bow down!

Today is Epiphany! Epiphninous Epiphany to you all!

I began the day with several rousing hours of coffee-drinking and knitting. Then, to fight the Ass-Expansion of '06.... well, my ass never gets big- it's more my hips, so in order to fight the Great Hip Widening, I took a walk. I really didn't want to, as it was cold and foggy. Was? Pfft. Is. It is always cold and foggy during the winter here, as far as I can tell. There's a special quality to the fog where it seeps in under your clothes and makes you feel extra cold. Naturally, I didn't want to go outside, but I did.

It looks kind of sunset-y here, right? It was 3:30.

Luckily, too, as I saw the first patch of blue sky that's been around for weeks. See it?

This evening, I went to dinner at the Houvilles to celebrate Epiphany. What, you infidels don't know what epiphany is? Well, me neither!* But it's a holiday where you eat stuff!

At the table with the Houvilles and another family. I know them at "Patrick's Family" because I can only reliably remember the name of Patrick. They used to be the Houville's neighbors in Menetru, now they live, like 5 miles away. Patrick is a cooking teacher at school. They're an enormously delightful family.

Here's what you do on holidays in france: eat.

Oh, and talk.

But what's special to Epiphany is that you also eat galette du roi, or, king's cake. Judging from the picture below, it's an extremely somber event.

Ha ha! Not really! In fact, it's an event that required plenty of sparkling wine AND children yelling things from under the table. The tradition is that a small ceramic king is baked into the galette, which is a cake made with extreme quantities of butter and almond paste and deliciousness. At the table, the youngest child goes under the table while someone cuts the cake. The kid says whom each piece is for. Then, we eat the cake. Whomever finds the little king in their piece gets the crown, and is king for the evening.

Guess what ............................ I WON! Well, this didn't really involve skill - more, the kindness of Patrick's heart, as I saw him switch pieces so that I'd get the king-baked cake. Don't get all riled up, though, I was merely a figurehead for the evening and posessed no real power. Believe me, I tried to double our fleets in the eastern oceans but nary a vessel took to sea.

There's pictures of me wearing me [entirely impotent] crown. We'll just have to wait for Bernard to email them to me. I hope you're in this for the long haul.

*Actually, it's the day that the three kings came to visit lil' baby jesus; hence the king's cake.