A Travellerspoint blog

J'arrive!

Monday, October 24, 2016

'Arriver' is one of those verbs that is used all the time. At first, I was wondering how so many people could be 'arriving' so much! I mean, it occurred constantly in conversation, and when I had initially just, well, arrived, and couldn't suss out very many words in a quickly-spoken sentence, I wondered why they were always announcing their arrival. After some research, and more familiarity, I realized that particular verb is used in many contexts: to physically arrive somewhere; to succeed (in life or at a particular task) as in 'I have finally arrived!' or 'Got it'; to occur or happen, as in an accident or event. Another well-used phrase is "J'arrive" to mean "I am coming" or "Be there shortly." And it is in this context that I can finally say "J'arrive!"

As I look back on this adventure, I consider what I have gained in this time. Obviously, there is a bit more French in my head now and slightly more confidence in my use of it. Not as much as I had hoped but my fifty-year-old brain wasn't quite as elastic as I thought. But I also learned (or was reminded of) other things along the way, and for that learning, I'm grateful:

  • If your mood isn't good, wait a while and it will change
  • Celebrate the small victories
  • You've got to get out -- a lot happens by serendipity
  • It's good to get away once in a while -- it makes you realize how good you have it back home
  • Often when others laugh at you, it's really quite funny and you should join in
  • If you try to learn French and aren't willing to speak, it's not going to work
  • Try as much of the local food as you can
  • Don't wait to get to know people; jump in with both feet
  • You've just got to roll with it
  • Living in a different culture with people speaking a foreign language, you miss most of the conversations, you live on the fringe and, in fact, you often feel as if you aren't even there. I expect it may likely be how a hard-of-hearing person feels in our world.
  • Having the courage to meet a fear head on makes you stronger
  • There is a limit to how often you can have zucchini in one week
  • Usually, if someone speaks to you in English, if you speak back to them in French, they will then use French
  • Teenagers are teenagers in any culture
  • Sometimes, even I need to be alone
  • Be open to friendships, even in the most unexpected places
  • My husband can still surprise me
  • French bread is really, REALLY good
  • Lice is not nice (and no, I didn't end up getting them)
  • Changing your expectations can do a lot to improve your outlook
  • Often a situation provides you with lessons you weren't expecting from it
  • The French are actually very polite
  • Don't refuse an opportunity
  • Sometimes it can be much lonelier being in a roomful of people than being alone
  • There's no place like home
  • Twelve weeks can be a very long time
  • Sometimes 'Type 2 fun' (experienced after the event) can be more important than 'Type 1 fun' (experienced during the event)
  • If something is happening you don't like, you need to be the one to take steps to change it
  • Things are rarely as difficult as you think
  • (Conversely) This was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!

Thanks to those of you who followed along on my journey. While this blog was initially meant to be a journal for myself, some of my motivation at keeping it up came from knowing that others were mildly interested in the adventure as well.

Posted by mzemliak 08:43 Archived in France Comments (3)

Les Visiteurs

Monday, October 24, 2016

Given that much of my time here has focused on trying new foods, eating well, learning how to cook French meals, shopping for food, prepping food, etc,... it seems appropriate that the last couple of days focused on, well, yet more food.

On Sunday, as a thank you to the family, I took them out for a dinner in Nancy. Letting them choose the restaurant with the only caveat that it not be MacDo, I looked forward to seeing where we would end up. They selected Les Freres Marchand, a restaurant currently run by three brothers, carrying on the tradition that had been supported in the family for six generations, since 1880. The menu offered various meats, fish and even vegetarian dishes but most of us quickly bypassed those to review the 'Menu Gourmand,' a four course plan that made me, for one, salivate. Throwing caution to the wind (as well as the pocketbook and our waistlines), four of us ordered that while Myriam ordered à la carte, to accommodate her intolerances. The feast started with a small plate of 'saucisson', which was followed by a heavenly 'fois gras' served with toasted bread and sweetened onions (sorry, Abby, but I couldn't hold out any longer). We were then served a plate of quenelle (cooked, creamed fish), potato cutlets, and veal with mushroom sauce. All very rich, creamy, and decadent. Profiteroles was the last course, served with ice cream, chocolate sauce and cream. We rolled out of the restaurant about 3 PM, having enjoyed the repast and good conversation.

The evening was spent with four of us playing Settlers of Catan, a game to which we had introduced Nico when he was living with us. We had purchased the game as a going away gift for him and he has been promising for three months to play it with me, knowing I remain a big fan. Realizing we were getting down to the wire, he dug it out and we played a rousing game, ending in Myriam beating the rest of us handily. (She's like a French Judy, however, apologize for making offensive, strategic moves and shrugging her shoulders with contriteness when winning).

You might think that with two recent, very filling restaurant meals, Myriam would feel content with cooking simply on my last day. You might think that she had already prepared enough local dishes to give me a sense of what it means to live in Lorraine on a daily basis. You might think that I should focus on activities like gift shopping and packing as I didn't have much time left. In which case, you'd be wrong. Certainly, I did manage to get packed and readied for my early morning leave taking on Tuesday, but not without pausing for the more important activities of eating and spending time with the family.

Myriam had realized on Sunday that she had not yet made me homemade 'choucroute' (sauerkraut served with fried, boiled potatoes and various types of sausage and ham). Therefore, she was compelled to buy the ingredients at the local store and spend a few hours preparing the dish for Monday, as it was best prepared ahead of time, to let the flavours deepen. Now, I have never much liked sauerkraut so I wasn't encouraging her strongly, lest she be disappointed. But, she had confidence that I would like THIS sauerkraut. And, indeed, it was a more mild version of the cousins I had tasted previously, but with the fried potatoes and meats, was still very flavourful. And, of course, filling. That seems to be mandatory around here. She made huge platefuls of the stuff, and with us eating mid-afternoon, we all swore we wouldn't be needing an evening supper.

Ever since I arrived in France, I had been hearing about the movie Les Visiteurs, a French comedy released in 1993 about a medieval French knight and his vassal who travel to modern day times. Young and old alike would mention it as a movie I could not miss, and many times, there would be references to it or a repeating of its famous lines within various conversations. Therefore, I knew it had become a real cult movie in this country, with popular sequels coming out in 1998 and 2016. I know now I should have seen it when I first came but better late than never. As I wanted to buy the family a parting gift, and Myriam preferred that I not add another apparatus to their already-stuffed 'placard,' she suggested purchasing the three-movie set. We did that Monday afternoon and settled down to watch . Fortunately, it came with English subtitles which was necessary, as it was a fast-paced show. Funny in its own right (in a slapstick sort of way), I found it even more humorous because I was now recognizing the various phrases and words that had made their way into the popular culture and were used extensively by my French friends. Sadly, we only had enough time to watch the first two in the marathon and I had to refuse Myriam's offer to send the third disk home with me.

As Myriam and I were finishing up the first movie, Thierry came home from the grocery store to cheerfully and proudly announce he had bought the ingredients for 'raclette,' another heavy French meal to which he realized they hadn't yet treated me! Yikes. We all groaned, as we were still full from the 'choucoutre.' However, he was determined so retrieved the 'raclette' maker from the cupboard, from where it was nestled against the plancha grill, the crepe maker, the pressure cooker and however many other appliances are key to the French kitchen. Raclette is actually a semi-hard cheese most often used for melting. In French households, it is often served in an informal dining situation using a table-top grill (see pictures) where the cheese is melted in small, individual cups. We gathered around the large coffee table, Thierry having made a sizable pot of steamed potatoes, served with sliced ham. We then each peeled the small potatoes and poured our melted cheese overtop, eating the dish with the ham and pieces of baquette. Thierry was the only one partaking of the white wine that traditionally complements this. The meal served as the perfect accompaniment to the second film, and despite the Poirots having seen the films a few times before, it seemed impossible for them not to laugh along.

Posted by mzemliak 08:20 Archived in France Comments (2)

One Last Tour

Saturday, October 22, 2016

As this was the last weekend, Myriam and Thierry felt a trip to Strasbourg was in order, and who was I to refuse? Strasbourg is an Alsatian city very close to the border of Germany. Within its 'Petite France' quarter are many examples of Germanic-inspired architecture. It is beyond quaint, with its medieval, timbered houses and copious branches of the river Ill. The city is architected so that the river is divided by structures several times, allowing for many water views and walkways. Our main touring was done on foot, meandering along the banks, taking note of the ancient buildings, stopping for a bretzel (soft, salted pretzel), and just generally soaking in the atmosphere. We stopped at the cathedral, the second most visited one in France after Paris' Notre Dame (personally, I think the one in Chartres should have this honor instead). For lunch, we dined in one of the 'winstubs,' or homey, Alsace restaurants that abound in the old neighbourhood. Ben would have loved it, as many of the offerings are akin to heavier, German fare. Myriam and Thierry selected 'choucoutre' (sauerkraut with sausage and ham); Nico, a 'flammekueche' (a cross between a pizza and quiche Lorraine with cream sauce, cheese and bacon -- sadly, he chose Munster); and I, a veal cordon bleu, in which I was not disappointed! It was very filling and held us for the rest of the day. Strasbourg is very walkable as many of the streets have been reclaimed from the cars and are now well-used pedestrian walkways. They also have a great tramway and many bike paths, being very successful in their efforts to transform the city into an environmentally-minded space.

On the way out of the city, we stopped briefly at the European Parliament; although much of the work is carried out in Brussels, the parliament is legally bound to meet in Strasbourg twelve times a year so there is much controversy about the heavy financial burden this imposes on the budget, for what seems to be inopportune and unnecessary. Nearby is the building for the European Council, an organization founded after the second world war to promote democracy and human rights in Europe. I would have liked to see inside and, if Ben were with me, we likely would have found a way, but as it was, the day was growing long and there was still a two hour trip back. The evening was spent digesting, preparing for the next big meal, planned for tomorrow.

Posted by mzemliak 06:01 Archived in France Comments (1)

Goodbyes 101

Friday, October 21, 2016

As I contemplate more goodbyes this week, I am reminded of the various ways I've heard the French bid goodbye to each other here. Many encounters end with 'Bonne journée,' (when it is still daylight) or 'Bonne soirée' (when you know they have an event yet in the evening or their night is obviously not finished); if you aren't sure and it's evening, 'Bonsoir' always works. If you're going to see someone again fairly soon (and this can be relative), you may use ' À bientôt,' 'Tout à l'heure,' or 'À la prochaine fois.' When someone is being left to face a task or challenge, 'Bonne chance' or 'Bonne courage' are common. Between friends and family, 'Bisous' (kisses) is a very common leave-taking; I would also see this often as the ending of a text or email, or a slightly more formal ' Je t'embrasse bien fort.' From my experience, the French never just leave without there being a formal goodbye of some sort. Even in the stores, 'Merci' is generally not enough when ending an encounter with a clerk.

Once my class was over on Thursday, I was struck that I no longer had any scheduled events left. It felt like a kind of freedom for sure and I anticipated that I would be able to use the time to finish off some tasks I had set for myself: finishing my journal, writing the family a goodbye / thank you letter, buying some small gifts, completing some 'back to work' shopping, and fulfilling a final request of Vincent's to tape a few English stories for his class. There seemed to be plenty of hours left yet.

But, it also turns out that Myriam and Thierry had a few more excursions, meals and experiences in mind for me to round out my stay so life continued on its busy course.

Posted by mzemliak 06:25 Archived in France Comments (4)

Bittersweet Goodbyes

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Today would be my final encounter at Myriam's school, teaching her and Vincent's classes one last time. It certainly was a morning of surprises. When all the kids filed in after recess mid-morning, they were guided to sit in the large foyer area. With all 130 of them crowded in there, it made quite the scene. Vincent then invited me forward and proceeded to conduct the kids in a rambunctious rendition of Fire’s Burning, a campfire tune he had researched and was convinced was a well-known song from Canada. Unfortunately for me, while I recognized the melody, I did not know the lyrics. Have any of you heard it before? Am I the only one born in the sticks? Regardless, I was touched he had thought to do that and seeing the kids perform for me was really something. A couple of them then presented me with a gift from a few of the parents, who wanted to thank me for my recent contributions to the school. It was a very thoughtful gift of several foods from the area (duck terrine, bergamot candies, canned mirabelles, mirabelle jam, etc.). Following the tradition I had taught them, I received many hugs as they dispersed. At the end of the morning, before school broke for their usual two week October vacation (happy smiles abounded), the teachers gathered me in their staff room and thanked me with yet another gift. I made my goodbyes, and with some disappointment, departed for Emmaus. That, too, was bittersweet as I bid adieu to Mabinti, Jean-Paul and a few others. (Mabinti had come in for my final day so that we could work together one last time.)

I must admit I hadn't expected to develop such affection for the children, the teachers and the Emmaus staff in such a short time. Developing relationships and sharing the experiences I have with the people in these various venues has really augmented my time in the Poirot household and added much colour to the adventure.

That night, Myriam, Thierry and I were invited to a dinner party at a former colleague's place. It included all the folks from Vincent's party a few days ago and a few more. The extent of the meal was similar, complete with the appetizers, plat principal, cheeses, baquette, salad verte and tartes aux pommes. When the conversation wasn't too quick, I could understand more and get some of the jokes, and even picked up a new gesture, equivalent to 'oo la la,' along the way. At about 11:30, as before, we arose from the dinner table and started bidding good night, completing the ritual about half an hour later.

Posted by mzemliak 08:01 Archived in France Comments (4)

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