Thursday, September 1
Since I stretched myself so much the previous day, I took a rest on Wednesday. Now that I have conquered the town supermarkets, it's easy enough to accomplish a quick shop so I now consider that part of a slow day. I generally use it as an excuse for stretching my legs and to get some Vitamin D anyway. I bought some baking supplies and christened Myriam's new muffin tins using my favorite banana muffin recipe. My mom was surprised Myriam had never made muffins before because "they're just the perfect little snack." I had to agree and immediately ate two as soon as they were out of the oven. The family seemed to like them so I shall try other recipes too. As it happens, Thierry's brother brought us half a pumpkin from their father's garden so I claimed half of it right away for my anticipated pumpkin loaf and muffins. I made another new dish for the family -- Thai chicken curry -- it's a winner as it's both gluten- and lactose-free so Myriam and I have promised to trade 'recettes' shortly.
I try to help with laundry as often as I can, as Myriam is very busy with school prep and Thierry, with doing 'bricolage' around the house. The thing about laundry in Europe is that it takes so darn long. We found this on our European trip as well, that you had to have a good long time to commit to the cycle; it's easier of course when you can do it onsite and not have to wait at the laundromat. Often, I recall waiting 2 hrs for a load to finish; here, Myriam usually uses the 80 minute cycle. After that, if one chooses, one could use the dryer for 2 hours (2 hrs, 40 minutes for towels) or hang the load to dry, the latter being the preferred option in this house. The dishwasher also takes a fair spate of time as well. I'm not sure why the appliances in North America are so much faster but perhaps they are more energy efficient here.
I caught up with what Abby was doing, which was fun, except that cheeky little kid had the audacity to say that if I could parent her from halfway across the world, then she could be an annoying, long distance teenager in return.
On Thursday, I decided to be a 'tourist in my own (new) home town' and took the bus into Nancy, this time to the end of the line. Being as I am now 'un professionel de la ligne quatorze,' I had no worries about getting lost. Once I got off at the main bus interchange, la Place de la République, I hoofed it over to the main square, la Place Stanislas, and entered the tourist bureau. There was a sign there indicating they could serve people in five languages, one of them being English of course. I swallowed hard and began in French. Amazingly, we were able to have a short conversation and the guide handed over the map I was looking for as well as another of the wider region as I was able to convey I was staying here longer than most visitors. Armed with the handy 'centre of Nancy' map, and a few suggestions from my new friends at Emmaus, I resolved to see as many of the 40 listed sites as I could. So, this day was filled with small botanical gardens, a large park, some fountains, a couple of arches, a few grand gates that used to fortify the city, a handful of statues, and much walking. I decided I would leave the museums, art galleries and aquarium to other days, perhaps when the weather wasn't so agreeable. My favourite visits were to the impressive gates of Place Stanislas, made of iron and gilded with gold, and to the small but striking botanical Jardin Grodon. I am a sucker for those small green hedges that are used in such gardens to divide the distinct sections. Also, the imposing stone gates built in the fourteenth century and used to fortify the city's walls offered respite from the sun and, looking above me, I could sense some of the medieval atmosphere still present in Nancy today.
Halfway through my touristic experience, I started to flag, knowing that lunch was a must. I surveyed a few restaurants and hummed and hawed, not quite sure how to approach the places. In some countries, you sit down at a table and someone then comes by but, in others, you must approach a host-type person first and ask for a table. I couldn't see any clues immediately and everyone already seemed to be in the midst of their meal. But, when I passed by a gourmet pizza and ice cream place, the food on people's plates convinced me to try. I approached a small window adjacent to where prices were listed and initiated a conversation with the person there. A common problem for people learning a second language is that the person you speak to in French immediately responds in English. They recognize you are doing dastardly things to their language and you still sound so much like your native language that they can tell you are an English speaker -- either reason on its own is enough to compel them to try to 'make it stop!' but both together make it almost impossible for them to answer in anything but English, if they know the language. Such was the case this day. I determinedly carried on in French. As did she in English. It was like a jousting match, neither of us giving an inch. She told me I needed to order there and then choose a table for myself, a bit of an alternative approach. Once she came by with the food, I apologized for my French but explained I was learning, since it didn't seem that obvious to her. From then on, she gladly spoke French to me, asking why I wanted to learn and how long I'd be here for. She actually ended up being very nice and I appreciated the chance to converse a bit with someone after a day on my own.
The second common response to beginning a conversation in French is that the person assumes you can actually speak the language well and they rattle off an incredibly fast response in return, not realizing you just spent two minutes figuring out how to phrase your opening conversational gambit. You are left slack jawed and stuttering, with only the reply of 'Repetez, svp' or 'Pardon' available. Often, context can help and with the second repeating, some more of the meaning comes through. You then just assume the rest. At times, however, context fails me. With Myriam, we can be having a conversation and then, all of a sudden, it can veer off on a tangent in an abrupt way, as she mentions a French expression that has been triggered by something we've discussed. The other day, out of the blue, we seemed to be discussing Julius Caesar and I didn't see the path to how we got there!