Coucou! It’s summer!

Coucou! What’s up? I’m back in Lyon, chillin’. I loved Italy but it was nice to come home. I wish I had eaten more pasta.

I’ve had to go into work a few times (“work” at this point consists of watching students take exams. Exciting stuff!) but other than that, this is basically summer vacation. I’m not ready for it. The constant scramble of the school year has been replaced with an abyss of time, and I think that most people will tell you that an abyss of time is not all it’s cracked up to be.

It sounds nice, and you make a lot of lists, but it’s hard to get much done, and that pushes you into an American-style guilt trip on productivity, even though there’s not really anything you’re supposed to be doing. So it’s more of a general guilt trip since you haven’t failed on any specific counts, except maybe vacuuming.

Continue reading “Coucou! It’s summer!”

2016, so far

2016 is a big year of change. I’m feeling excited and anxious about the big move to California, and sad to leave Lyon and see most of my expat friends scatter all over the world as we all move on to the next chapters of our lives.

Recently, Hugo and I got a little taste of California life – one of my oldest, dearest friends got married this May and we flew to California for the occasion. She had a beautiful outdoor country wedding that belongs on Pinterest – vintage family dress, DIY centerpieces and bouquets, maid-of-honor hairdresser (that was me! So much pressure!) Her husband is an awesome dude. He cooked all the food. For 150 people. I repeat, he cooked all the food for his own wedding. And made the cake. (He is a good cook!)

So we spent a lot of time out in the countryside – way out in the countryside. I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, like the paranoid city girl I am. (Did you know they coil up like that to spring at you?! And that they can spring really far?!) We also hung out with my parents, did some shopping, and toured some nearby town like Pacific Grove and San Juan Bautista. We made a trip up to San Francisco, where we wandered around gaping at the gorgeous Victorian houses. It was a speedy trip but I tried to throw in some fun new places that Hugo hadn’t been before (you know, like Target).

Other fun vacation stuff: my mother taught him the words “curmudgeon” and “kerfuffle.” (You can see where I get my love for funny words.)

And now we’re back in France and I’m planning my travel for this summer! (Trip to Rome, Florence, and Bologna in the works, and Lisbon a bit later. And I’d like to squeeze in some shorter trips if I can swing it. Major European travel FOMO here. Suggestions welcome!)

Classes are out, exams are graded, and there’s still a bit more work to be done but it’s quasi-vacation in that I don’t have to go to work every day or plan lessons or grade exams. Which is weird, because this semester (the whole school year, really) was so busy and intense. I kept trying to enjoy my last days of teaching, but I was constantly stressed from being in the hamster wheel. But I had some lovely students this year, and I certainly learned a lot. (I hope that having been a teacher will make me a better student. When I was in undergrad I was very passive and afraid to participate or ask questions, and I would have learned so much more if I had been more active in class. And from my perspective as a teacher, class is so much more interesting when students ask questions.)

Before the wedding, I squeezed in a trip to Paris to see another close friend, aka my partner in crime. We strolled the Marais and Place des Vosges, walked the Coulée Verte, and climbed the fence of the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railroad that circles the city (but that’s another story). I also got to see a dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier at the Opera Bastille, which was so cool! I loved getting to see behind the scenes, and I remembered how much I love Strauss.

(Speaking of music, I must take the time to tell you about Arts Alliance soon – they’re an awesome organization that makes London opera, dance, music, theater, and art available all around the world. They are killing it on their YouTube channel.)

I don’t write about Paris much since everyone else already has, but I may round up some of my Paris favorites at some point since I do love exploring the city. Anything you want to know? I’ll be back in Paris before the summer’s out, so if there’s anything cool you think I should check out (or eat) while I’m there, let me know!

Going to Paris really kicked off a new season for me – I was mostly chained to work for the first four months of the year and I didn’t travel at all. There is always more work to be done, whether it’s prepping lessons or writing exams or grading them, so taking a weekend trip would be more stressful than anything. Thank goodness for the supportive group of lectrices at work!

I didn’t even leave Lyon during the week-long vacation in February – Hugo’s sister was expecting her second baby and I wanted to be here when he (as it turned out) arrived. It was so worth it to be here for that important day. Hugo and I got to tell her two-year-old that he was a big brother, since the baby came during the night. I’m really going to miss getting to see those little guys and their cousins grow up while we’re in California. It’s one of the hardest things about leaving, because unlike everything else, they will change so fast, and we’ll never get that time back. Will they even remember us? (I’m an only child, so no nieces and nephews on my side.)

I don’t believe that fear of change is a reason to avoid it. I’m not afraid of something new and unknown, but I’m a little heartbroken that I have to let go of so much in order to move forward in my life. I wish I could have it both ways, but as they say in French, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter (which makes more sense than “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” because you don’t exactly part with the cake when you eat it, whereas you must part with your money to buy butter. Unless you are a butter thief, I suppose. Butter thief, teach me your ways!)

I’m terribly sad to be uprooted from the life I’ve built in Lyon, but I am looking forward to building new roots in a new chapter of life. I’ll let you know how it goes.

All I know is that 2016 has been hurtling along at an alarming pace, and I don’t anticipate that it will slow down any time soon. All aboard the TGV of life!

 

 

 

 

Spring, Life, and Tacos

March is the worst month. It’s the tail end of winter and everyone is dying for spring to arrive, and for me, it’s the middle of the semester when all my students take their midterms at the same time, which means I have to write all the tests and then correct about 400 exams in the span of a few weeks, on top of my normal workload. It’s a little like running on a treadmill in high heels.

I’m so relieved that it’s April – spring has definitely arrived, the semester is almost over, and I’m starting to ponder where to travel this summer. (I’m thinking Italy and Portugal, but I’m also tempted by Croatia, Spain, Budapest, Berlin… so many adventures, so little time. Where are your favorite places in Europe?) Even though traveling in France doesn’t always feel as exciting as going to a new country, I’d still love to spend some time down south, and maybe over on the west coast of the country where I’ve barely been at all, and there will definitely be a trip to Paris where I have big plans to Eat Stuff.

Speaking of Big Plans, I’m heading west in the fall – really far west. We’re moving to California!

Continue reading “Spring, Life, and Tacos”

Blatant racism in France

I can’t not write about this.

I went to the market yesterday morning. Marché Saint Antoine, down by the Saône river. Some young men were handing out pamplets. I took one automatically. It was propaganda against Islamic immigration. I threw it out. It took me a minute to process. Had I misunderstood? Was this seriously racist propaganda in the middle of the Sunday market?

I turned around and studied the group handing out the fliers. They were all white young men, not a terribly attractive bunch (not that it matters). I sat and watched them for awhile. Most people refused their pamplets, or trashed them when they realized what they were. An older woman wearing a hijab passed by. They didn’t offer her a pamplet, and she didn’t look at them.

I couldn’t believe that no one was saying anything to these bigots, telling them they should be ashamed, but on the other hand, it’s pretty common to distribute fliers about all sorts of things, and you had to actually take one and read it to get a whiff of what these dudes were all about. They weren’t chanting “White power” or anything. One man said to them, “I don’t agree with you, I support immigration,” as he refused their pamplets. Everyone else just ignored them. At least no one seemed to be on their side. People seemed disgusted, but didn’t call them out.

I snapped their picture from afar. Why shouldn’t I? They had a racism stand right in the middle of the market. One of them saw me and got very nervous. He went around to his cohorts, whispering and pointing at me. I ignored them and remained seated outside the market – I hadn’t done anything wrong.

After awhile, one of them walked toward me without making eye contact. He shoved his phone in my face, took my picture, and then walked away quickly. It happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure which of these pimply white dudes had taken my photo. Who does that?! (Immature racist losers, I guess?) I know I had taken a photo first, but from quite a distance – I didn’t shove my phone in anyone’s face! If they had a problem, the appropriate reaction would have been to say, “We’d prefer not to be photographed, would you mind deleting your photo?” not to sneak attack me with a close-up! Super creepy.

I walked over to their ringleader.

“Hello, are you the guy who just took my photo?” I asked him.

He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Was it you?” I asked the man-child with the camera around his neck standing a few feet away. He ignored me.

I probably should have stayed calm, but instead I said what I had been wanting to say to these jackasses.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” I asked the first man. “Aren’t you ashamed of being so racist?”

“No, I’m not ashamed,” he said, a little defensively. “Immigrants are ruining France and must be stopped.”

“I’m a foreigner,” I said. “Are you against me too, or am I okay because I’m white?”

“No, it’s the Muslims. You know that most of them are in prison, don’t you? They are criminals.”

“How can you say that an entire population of millions of people are all criminals? You should be ashamed.”

“Don’t you care about the women in Cologne? Hundreds of women were attacked by Arab immigrants. That’s what happens when you let in refugees. Multicultural society doesn’t work, you have to admit it. If we don’t do something, we’ll end up like Lebanon.”

I was in such a rage that I was shaking. I could yell at this man all I wanted, but it wouldn’t rattle his bigotry.

“Aren’t you listening to me? Listen to what I’m saying,” he insisted, condescendingly. His teeth were crooked and discolored. Maybe he had eschewed braces and taken up chain smoking in high school in an attempt to be cool, but grew up to be human scum with hideous teeth.

“You can’t- ah! gah!” I choked on my frustration. “You can’t blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few people! What about French-born Muslims? You know that they’re as much French as you are, don’t you?”

He continued to insist that multicultural society is dangerous. These xenophobic assholes were openly calling for a pure white France. What. The. Fuck.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “You are a disgrace and you should all be ashamed,” I said before walking off.

“Bonne journée!!” the slimeballs called after me. Infuriating.

It would have been better to stay calm, but I couldn’t. I’m still glad I told them what I thought, even though they were apparently unfazed. I wish I had kept one of their pamplets of bigotry so I could show you the awful things they were purporting. It really got to me – the whole scene circled round and round my mind, and I obsessed on everything I wished I had said for the rest of the day. I wanted to get the last word against these smug bastards, for them to suffer somehow, and it more than irked me to know that they would carry on, unpunished and self-satisfied.

But you know what made me feel a little better? A delicious falafal lunch at the Lebanese restaurant Les Delices du Liban.

Seriously, how good is falafel?

 

 

 

6 things to cook for your French friends

I stopped making crêpes in France. In Chicago, they were always a crowd-pleaser. They somehow seem fancy to us, even though they’re just flatter pancakes. Julia Child’s recipe was my go-to.

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But in France, Julia Child isn’t remotely famous, and crêpes are a culinary staple that Frenchies all know how to make when they pop out of the womb. (Hyperbole? No.) This means that everyone has an opinion. You’ve used too much butter, or not enough. Your crêpes are too sweet. Why would you add fleur d’oranger, or rum? Hugo puts beer in his crêpe batter. (It’s very good, except for that one time we ran out of milk and added extra beer to balance out the liquid component. That just resulted in beer-flavored crêpes.)

Honestly, if I was nice enough to make you crêpes, I just want you to shut up and eat them. I don’t want to hear about how I made them wrong. I love to eat, but I’m not a gourmet cook like my dad. So I don’t make crêpes for French people anymore. They are in charge of making the crêpes.

Instead, I make pancakes. Snickerdoodles. Quesadillas. Sesame noodles. And no one gives me any crap about my cooking, which is just how I like it. Here’s what I cook to make my French friends love me more.

Chocolate chip cookies

sugar spill

It’s not like no one in France has ever tasted chocolate chip cookies before. But ever since I found this salted chocolate chunk cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I bring them everywhere. And people are always happy when I do.

I had to get used to making cookies without an electric mixer – I either make sure the butter is close to room temperature so that I can cream it with the sugar by hand with a spoon, or I melt it, mix it with the butter, and put it back in the fridge for a bit. You really feel like you’ve earned your cookies that way.

Brown sugar is not as readily available in France as it is in the U.S. but you can buy it at Monoprix. It’s in a blue resealable bag and it’s called “cassonade douce.” (Don’t let anyone tell you that “cassonade” is brown sugar, because it’s definitely raw sugar, not the magical cookie sugar.)

Pancakes

It doesn’t matter if it’s brunch o’clock or if I need something to feed unexpected tipsy guests at 11 p.m. Pancakes feel good in bellies. They just do.

I rarely made pancakes when I lived in the U.S. but now, this Martha Stewart recipe adapted on Buzzfeed is my go-to. I like the tip about using yogurt or lemon juice to substitute for buttermilk. (Who has buttermilk in their fridge anyway?)

 Cupcakes

Cupcakes 3

So American, right? Cupcakes are kind of a trend in France… but many bakeries either don’t get them right, or charge an arm and a leg (or both). This chocolate cake recipe is amazing, and there’s a buttercream frosting recipe along with it. I don’t know if I would attempt the frosting without a mixer – I don’t have the upper body strength for that! It has been pointed out to me that frosting is not “très français” so now I just put a thin spread of it instead of a big swirl.

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

Sometimes I think I like snickerdoodles even more than I like chocolate chip cookies. You know how I like funny words. I always use this recipe. If I don’t have brown sugar on hand, I just use all white sugar. If I don’t have cream of tartar (and I never have) I just mix in some baking powder and baking soda. Nothing bad has ever happened.

Quesadillas

Quesadilla

Your French friends probably won’t know what quesadillas are, but their initial suspicions will be quelled when you stuff their mouths with cheesy tortilla and homemade guacamole. (They’ll call the tortillas “crêpes” or “galettes,” but nevermind.) I made these this week with Mexican rice.

Noodles

I am obsessed with noodles right now. This year I found the Asian grocery stores in Lyon. (They’re in the 7th, by Guillotière.) I can buy sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a zillion kinds of soy sauce. I can’t stop making these sesame ginger noodles, and I’m working my way through some new recipes from The Woks of Life. (Although Hugo has made it clear – “beurk! dégueu!” – that he won’t eat any more hoisin sauce.) I pair the noodles with my favorite Asian cucumber salad. Sometimes I drink the leftover dressing out of the bowl. Don’t tell anyone.

I’ve only included links to recipes I love and use on a regular basis. If I have linked to your site and you are displeased, please let me know via my contact page.

          Other useful stuff

IMG_4739I use “levure chimique,” a levening agent that is sold for super cheap in little pink sachets, for baking powder. It’s probably not exactly the same thing, but I don’t really care.

The baking soda in my kitchen is the orange Arm & Hammer kind and it came straight from the USA, but you can buy it in France – look for “bicarbonate“.

Do not accidentally set your oven to 375 Celsius. Sometimes ovens aren’t even in Celsius. They just have numbers (like, 1 to 10) on the dial and you have to guess.

French spicy and American spicy are two different spicies. (I’m kind of a spice-wimp, so French spicy suits me just fine.)

Links

Ingredients for American baking in Paris by David Lebovitz

My Pinterest, where I got all of these ideas in the first place. (I’ve divided the recipes into dessert, brunch, and everything else, because I’m compulsive like that.)

What do you cook for your French friends? Or if you’re French, what is your favorite foreign food?

Lectrice Life: The First Week of School

You know in L’auberge espagnole when Wendy, the English girl, doesn’t understand why Xavier calls his university the “fac”? Well, I work at “la fac.” It’s a public university – I work in “la faculté des langues,” the language department.

This week was my official back-to-school week. I actually have classes and students now! (What was I doing up until now? Lesson planning. Let’s say I was lesson planning.)

The last time I had classes and students was in May. Then I went on vacation.

Just kidding. I graded a zillion handwritten translation finals and invigilated exams. ( I think we’re supposed to say “proctored” in American, but it’s kind of an ugly word, and “invigilated” sounds like a Harry Potter spell.)

Then I went on vacation.

I’m happy to be back at work, though. I’m teaching almost double the hours I did last year, but I still have good balance – a few early mornings, and a couple mornings where I make coffee, read, and do laundry, and teach in the afternoon or evening. (I love being at home in the morning with the washing machine running. It’s so cozy.)

And I do like teaching when I’m gifted with a reasonably attentive and inquisitive class. I hate discipline. (“Wear a tie and look mean,” the head of the department joked. “It always works for me.”) I love thinking about words and talking about language. I love when students ask questions that make me think about my native language in ways I never considered.

For example, two students asked me the same question this week: when we use “they” as a gender neutral singular pronoun, do we change the verb conjugation to singular? So, we normally conjugate verbs like this – I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat. Right? But, these girls wanted to know, when we use “they” as a replacement for he/she/it, which has become increasingly common, does the verb conjugation change accordingly? Do we say, “they eats” because “they” is now singular? Well, no, we don’t. I never even thought about it. But it was a reasonable and logical question, and I love when students ask me things like this.

What? Pronouns are cool and interesting.

On the whole, the first week went smoothly, better than I could have expected. I was ready to lay down the law about chatting in class – French students tend to be very chatty, and it drives me crazy. Then when I get mad, they have no idea why I’m upset, and I get the, “Mais j’ai rien fait!” (“But I didn’t even do anything!”) But this week I had class after class of attentive twenty-year-old angels who listened (and laughed at my jokes, bless them).

There was that one class where I fell off the stage because the whiteboard is longer than the platform in front of it, but the students were kind enough to make me at least feel like they were laughing with me, not at me. But otherwise, I did my best to be a good teacher and stay out of trouble.

And then there was Thursday. Thursday is a long day for me. I start at 8 a.m. and I finish at 8 p.m. My classes get zanier as the day goes on.

In the morning, I have three first year classes, and I actually have a couple students that were in my classes at the lycée where I was a language assistant! Isn’t that cool? But it makes me inexplicably nervous. It’s a little like how performing in front of a huge crowd isn’t as nervewracking as being on stage when you know someone in the audience.

I get a break for lunch, thank goodness, and in the afternoon they have me running back and forth to opposite sides of the building for every single class. PLUS I have to stop and pick up a video projector for one of the classes smack in the middle because the classroom isn’t equipped with technology.

Naturally, that’s the wild card class because I haven’t taught it before and I know nothing about first year history students. Or history. By the time I picked up the projector and walked what I can only assume was a mile and a half to the other side of the building, I was ten minutes late, and after we all shuffled into the classroom and the students crowded themselves into seats against the back wall, I realized I had no idea how to work the damn video projector. I looked at it dubiously and poked some buttons on the top.

“Any of you guys know how to work this thing?” It wouldn’t be the first time students have rescued me from dysfunctional technology. They look at me like I’m a weirdo. I give them a writing assignment while I try to figure out the projector box thing. It takes me twenty minutes to get it to work.

Getting behind schedule results in a domino effect; I’m ten minutes late to every class for the rest of the day. In my next class, second year translation, the first slide of my PowerPoint is “Come to class on time.” #fail

Halfway through the class, I notice my laptop battery is at less than 10% and I have no power cord. Why didn’t I bring a charger on a day when I’m at school for twelve hours straight? Maybe I thought the laptop faires would come help me out, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be so bad, but this isn’t my last class of the day. I have one more second year class, and the whole lesson plan is in a PowerPoint. Merde.

In the ten minutes before I show up late, I try to figure out how I’m going to get through a 90 minute class with no materials. I can do the introduction without it, and I can do the grammar activity without it. The problem is that the bulk of the lesson revolves around two videos that I now can’t show.

I fell back on a packet of grammar quizzes in my bag that I had intended to do with an earlier class, but then I’d changed my mind and decided grammar on the very first day might be off-putting. I was worried about how it would go over, but it ended up being a good refresher. They did pretty well on most of it, which I hoped helped build their confidence, but they were stumped by “either” and “neither” (I sang them a little Ella Fitzgerald and got blank stares) and phrasal verbs (Throw the sandwich? Throw out the sandwich? Throw up the sandwich?)

I went home feeling energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes Thursdays are bad go-home-with-a-migraine days, but this one was pretty good. If the rest of the semester goes as well as the first week, I have no complaints. Even though I have less time to work on projects I started over the summer, it’s nice to be back into the routine of teaching.

Well, I say that now. Talk to me in a few weeks when I’m grading 400 midterm exams, and I might tell you a different story.

Are any of you teachers (or students)? How was your first week of school?

Unravelling untravelling

You’d think that since I live abroad, I’d be a big traveler. I did move all the way to France from the US, didn’t I? And while I wouldn’t call myself nomadic, I seem to pick up and move every few months or so. I must be a great adventurer, right?!

London iron horse and me.jpg
Well, I did meet a horse in London with nostrils bigger than my head.

Not so much. Moving to France was certainly an unexpected adventure, and I definitely don’t live a predictable or traditional life, but I’m not a European jet-setter. (That would be cool, though!)

Since moving to France, I’ve crossed European borders, like, twice:  a weekend in London (loved it!) and a couple outings in Switzerland (and the only reason I know I’m in Switzerland and not France is that everything is cleaner and more expensive.) I think I did more traveling in the summer of 2009 than I have since I moved!

It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.

Sad, huh? Well, I’ve been busy! Job hunting, teaching, moving, surviving getting screwed over by three different jobs, battling bureaucracy, eating croissants – I mean, I have lots going on. And to be honest with you, even though travel is awesome, it’s not the only thing. The internet these days is like, “Travel while you’re young! Leave your job! Live on the road! Have wild adventures! Jump out of airplanes!” the implication being that you will grow old bitter and filled with regret if you don’t. And I do think that it’s important to leave home and learn about new cultures, and it’s often easier to start a wild adventure the younger you are, and that if you want to travel, you should. But I don’t think it’s wrong to want other things too, and to prioritize them over travel if that’s your choice. (and PS I have zero desire to jump out of a plane.)

So that’s why I’ve been focused on establishing a life in France, repairing my savings account, and spending time with people I love (and eating croissants) instead of jetting off to Italy and Croatia.

But I’ve been feeling restless lately, and my carte jeune (youth card) discount for France’s SNCF trains is going to expire soon forever (the horror). And it’s summer, which is both the season I want to go off on adventures because the weather is beautiful and the days are longer and I want to drink margaritas, and at the same time the season I don’t want to travel because it’s high season and I’m thrifty and it’s too hot in the south of Spain. Conundrum.

So I’m compromising with some thrifty adventures: some time in the south of France (not the Côte d’Azur, although I’m a fan, but the Languedoc-Roussillon region, to Sète and Montpellier), a solo trip to Barcelona (first time!), and finishing up the summer with a month in Paris (Paris doesn’t sound thrifty, but it is when you do it my way.) And in case you were wondering, I’ll be back in England sooner than later. Can’t wait for English cider and scones and hearing people say “alumINium.”

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Can’t wait for more of this…
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…and this. YUM.

 

Anyone else craving a scone now?