Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chocolat Chaud

It was recently suggested to me that I might do a guest blog on a site here in Provence. Kind of cool actually, and though I don't yet know if it will pan out, I was pretty excited by the whole idea. The site,, is a plethora of information about the area and I check it out every day. In fact, it’s run by a transplanted Wisconsinite who now lives here in Provence.  Her suggestion was that I might want to write about Aix en Provence; things that I love like restaurants, historical sites, shops, etc.

The problem is I really don’t go to a lot of restaurants or do a lot of shopping. It’s just not in the budget. And being without a car prohibits those spontaneous afternoon explores outside the city.  But it got me thinking about my favorite things here in Aix and if they are even worth writing about. And I’ve decided they are. They’re not big or grandiose…they’re everyday things that just make me happy. And today I’ll treat you to my “winter” happy thing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Text

Monday flashback...again. The encouraging thing is I can now read (most) texts in French and can actually write them. However, I am still completely unable to comprehend my electric bill! 

The problem with having no particular plans on any particular day is that your mind seems to lose its ability to keep a schedule. The brain no longer needs to spend its time making sure you remember to be where you're supposed to be at any given time and finally decides it's no longer in its job description.

Thus, Saturday night I made plans for two different events at the same time. My friend Cedric wanted to take me out for an oyster dinner before he moved to Argentina the next morning. He seemed very concerned that he would never get to slurp down another one of these creatures again and was in the mood to over-consume.  And my friends Linda, Pierre and Anne had asked me over for dinner and some dancing. Since Cedric was leaving, I decided to have dinner with him and then after dinner I would join the others at Anne’s apartment.  I apologized to my friends, told them of my altered plans and all was right with the world. At this point, people were very willing to forgive all my transgressions because of my language handicap and I was willing to let them. Because in truth, the language issue was a predicament when trying to explain, in French, that the mix-up was caused by a progressive case of brain atrophy. In fact, if I even tried to explain that, they would probably send me to a Pharmacie, which beat lingerie stores in popularity here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Earth Shattering, Mind Blowing, World Changing Questions About France

I've decided to periodically ask meaningful questions about my new country of residence. I'm hoping somebody can give me answers....reasonable or not!

1. How can an entire country eat soup without soda crackers?

2.What's with all the pink toilet paper?

3. How do french people make their lips do "that thing" when they talk?

4. What's with all the black clothes?

5.Who eats all that great looking stuff at the patisserrie?

6. How can a country with so many religous holidays, have so few people that go to church?

7. In the same vein, are the constantly clanging church bells a desperate attempt to change this situation?

8. Why is there not an actually word in the French language for 'hug'?


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Long Term Effects

GEY84MF792BM (please ignore)

The question was innocent enough. I mean, I realize that it’s something people want to know. But I’ve actually never been asked this question point blank…. up front…. in my face. And I was completely stymied. And a little bit freaked out.
The question was: “what is your long-term plan?”

The husband of a friend made this query as we were talking on Skype. They are coming to visit France this summer and we were talking rental cars, train schedules, and hotels. She had to leave the computer for a minute and he and I started talking. That’s when he dropped the bomb.

And it felt like a bomb. Really. My girlfriends and family have asked this question before, but in a much more roundabout way. And when such a question is asked that way, it’s easy to contemplate and answer in an equally roundabout fashion. Such is not the case with “what is your long-term plan?”. Geez, leave it to a man!

And he really expected an answer. How do I reply to a question like that?

“No, but eventually I’ll think of something’? Or…..

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's a Girl Thing

It's Monday again and time to play "same time last year". It's fun for me to read these articles from my first days in France. I've actually learned so much since then even though it often doesn't feel that way.

There are apparently several things you need in order to be a woman in Aix en Provence. The first and most horrifying thing on the list seems to be no body fat! Mind you, I’m just an observer and a new one at that but these Aixois women have really got it going on. Apparently they are not eating brats and bread slathered in butter because they look great! However, this is just not an option for me...there are too many delicious things to savor for me to even consider taking off any weight. The true dilemma will be not putting any on. But there are other items that are most necessary in order to fit in that I think I can accomplish.

Next on the list are the boots I mentioned in an earlier article. I wear a size 9 ½ or a 41 in European sizes.  A size 41 is the largest shoe you can find in this town! Period. End of story. Finding the boots was my first mission and I took it very seriously. The first week, after days and days of behaving like a hound on a scent, I found a pair that actually fit my apparently massive feet and went over my obviously enormous calves with enough room to spare to tuck in my jeans.  Fashion dilemma number two...solved.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joyeuse St. Valentin

In celebration of Valentine's Day, I walked down to the Béchard patissierie on Cour Mirabeau here in Aix. I pass this store almost everyday and periodically I go in just to admire.  It's a lovely old store; in fact, it's been around more than 100 years. In a city (and country) full of incredible bakeries, this one is considered the best in town although I think Pâtisserie Weibel is fabulous as well. However, when I paid a visit to Weibel's yesterday, they were closed for the midwinter holiday! Can you imagine? A bakery closed over Valentine's Day!  Just goes to show you how important "les vacances" are in France! 

Anyway, I really just intended to take pictures. REALLY! The ladies at Béchard's are accustomed to this so I went in and asked permission to take photos. No problem, Madam.  But when she asked me if there was anything I wanted, the monster was unleased! I just couldn't help myself. I decided to chalk this one up to research and began my drooling as I perused the endless treasure case. I chose what looked good to me, asked a million questions and finally just asked the clerk what her favorites were. And I left this beautiful store with a few photos and a bag full of the most gorgeous calories I've ever seen.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Messing with imperfection

Enough already!!! I've got to step away from the computer! It's sucking up my life!

I have hated the way my blog looks and being a complete idiot on this subject, I haven't really known what to do to change it or how, for that matter. And why does it really matter anyway? It's just a silly page among a gajillion others. Why do I frickin' care?!?!

So this's now 1:33 in the afternoon...I played around with it. I think I like it better. Certainly not what I ultimately want but I'm taking a break from caring. Resolution for today: Do not mess with blog site least one week.

Unless, of course, any of you tell me it sucks. In which case, I'll probably still be sitting here amidst the mess of coffee cups and wine glasses, perhaps with a stale baguette to nibble on and still in my pj's...UNTIL next week!

Bon Weekend. I gotta brush my teeth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lost in Translation

Last night, while reading my book (yes, wearing all my warm finery), I came to a paragraph where Julia Childs describes her sister getting rear-ended by a Parisian driver. In total indignation she whips the car into park, sticks her head up through the sunroof and angrily screams at him, “ Ce merde-monsieur a justement craché dans ma derrière!”.  I get what she was trying to say but what she actually said was “ this shit-man just spat out into my butt!”

And so it goes. Trying to learn a language and being only partway there causes all sorts of these continual language mishaps.  At first you’re mortified by your mistakes, but eventually you learn to take them in stride and laugh them off. You have to. They happen every day.

Yesterday I was telling a friend a little story, in French, about John Travolta flying a jet to Haiti to deliver food and medical supplies…. and a few quack doctors. I never got to the quack doctors part because we got stuck on the first few sentences.

My story was interrupted as my friend cocked his head quizzically, and said “Vraiement? (Truly?)

Yes, really!

Mais, je ne comprend pas pourquoi! (I don’t understand why.)

Because he was trying to help, I suppose.

Non! C’est vrai?

Yes it’s true…why would I lie to you? He’s a pilot. He flew his jet. Nice, yes, but not that unbelievable.

This ping-pong game continued for several minutes until I finally realized what I had said and why all the skepticism. I had actually told my friend that John Travolta had stolen a jetliner in Florida and flew it to Haiti. And my friend was a little stunned by this news, particularly since he had heard nothing about it.

Last week I was happily bouncing around because I had gone all-out and purchased a new, heavy-duty frying pan. I excitedly told a friend, again in French, that I had bought myself a present…a new, big, strong…. chicken.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spring is Nature's way of saying "Let's Party"

I remember distinctly a moment when I was around 11 years old. May was moving into its second half and suddenly I realized the trees were sporting their fully grown leaves, the earth was soft and the grass was green....and I had missed the transition. We had gone from winter to nearly summer and I hadn't bothered to take notice. I hadn't taken the time to breath in the arrival of the scented air or notice the tiny, lime green leaves as they unfurled.  The memory is seared in my mind because I felt so sad. And I promised myself then that I would never forget to notice again.
Sunday afternoon I went to the park and I'm so glad I did. Because spring is really is. I didn't expect it so soon....but I have the proof.

For those of you still buried under snow, I apologize. I'm really not trying to rub in in. I just wanted to remind you to keep your eyes open. It won't be long now!

By the way, the title is Robin William's quote, not mine. I wish I'd said it first!

Monday, February 8, 2010

French Red Tape

It's Monday! Which means a story from this same time...last year. But after a year here, I know things would happen exactly the same way if it were today.

Charles Dickens called it, oh so eloquently and precisely, the Circumlocution Office.

“…the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, 
keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How 
not to do it, in motion.  Because the Circumlocution Office was 
down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or 
who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of 
doing it…”

I’m not sure if there’s a direct translation for circumlocution in French but with or without an actual word, it is most definitely here!

Today began with a visit from my landlord, Lilane.  The plan was to go to the bank so I could get a certified check in order to pay my rent. We went to the bank, where after a good, healthy Provencal line-stand, I was told I could not get a certified check without an actual account. Even though I had cold, hard Euros to give them. The women suggested we go to the Post Office where they would be happy to do it. We set out for La Poste, where after another queue, a lovely gentleman who spoke some English, explained that I could not get a bank check from anywhere without proof of a local bank account. How do you say in French, “Hey Buddy, I’ve got cash here. Who cares?”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cold...Inside and Out

GEY84MF792BM (just ignore this..dumb blog stuff)
I'm just so cold. How can a woman born in Minnesota, who lived in Wisconsin for 30 plus years, be cold in the south of France? Geez!

When I returned to Minnesota for my Christmas holiday it was -14 F (-25 C) degrees and I don't even want to know what the wind chill was! Here in Aix, it's between 38 and 45 degrees.  Yet, I feel like a mountain climber in a storm who feels no other option than to bury herself in a snow cave and wait to die. Okay, I'm being just a little dramatic but my bones are cold...really. If some freakishly weird scientist were to plunge a thermometer into my metatarsal right now, I'm sure he or she would exclaim "mon Dieu! C'est n'est pas possible! Cette femme est vraiment morte! (or something like French is horrible). Which basically means...this woman is too cold to be alive.

I know my readers in the north have no sympathy for my situation and I completely understand. But there is something different here.

It could be the fact that I don't turn my heat on. Heating systems here are unlike anything I’m used to, particularly in an old apartment like mine. The heat is simply a box on the wall that you turn on, pay for and receive no benefits...unless you are sitting directly (as in touching) in front of it. I really don't see the point. It could be because the floors are all stone and wall to wall carpeting does not least in my experience. It could be because my building is 400-plus years old. It could be the mistral wind that blows down from the Alps and gives us the most beautiful blue skies but makes us suffer for the beauty.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Whore's Pasta

This is not a food blog, I promise. But periodically I get going in the kitchen and come up with something really good so I've decided to share when a treasure comes along. 

My sister and I watched the film Julie-Julia while I was in Minnesota in December and it so inspired us that we printed off Julia Child's recipe for    boeuf bourguignon and went at it. We had a great time because we were doing it together and the house smelled so good...all day. That's because it took all day to make it!  There are times when "all day" is okay but really not very often.

Here in the south of France there are many traditional recipes that just scream "Provence" like bouillabaisse, ratatouille and petits farcis. The common thread in Provençal cooking is the use of locally grown ingredients and here in the south we got 'em! Vegetables of all kinds, olives and olive oil, garlic, lemons, seafood, and herbs, in fact, the same ingredients used in a lot of Italian cooking.  Which follows. This is France but it is also the Mediterranean. 

So in keeping with this tradition, the other night I made my version of Puttanesca. This basically translates into Whore's Pasta. (There are several stories behind the name but I'll let you look them up). This is my version of the recipe because I used whatever I could find in the fridge and a few things that just needed to be used up....immediately!  It was delicious and only took about a half an hour. Sorry Julia!

So here's the recipe:


8 oz. cooked pasta ( I used fresh from the refrigerated section)
1/4 C. olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 cans (the smaller size) chopped tomatoes (the recipe calls for 2 C. chopped tomatoes pushed through a sieve but I didn't have enough)
6 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped
2 T. tomato paste
3-4 T. capers
20-30 olives (I used pitted Greek olives)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 deboned chicken breasts (not traditional for this recipe)
feta cheese (also not traditional for this recipe)
1/2 pound or so of sliced mushrooms( guessed it....not traditional)

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and cook it in a little olive oil and a bit of garlic. Set it aside. In a skillet on medium heat, saute the garlic and mushrooms until...I guess until they're done. Add the anchovies, tomato paste, capers, olives, red pepper and tomatoes (if you're using fresh tomatoes add them before these items and cook about 5 minutes first).Add the chicken and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve on top of the pasta (cooked al dente) and sprinkle with feta and maybe little chopped parsley.

This can be a little salty because of the anchovies, olives and feta so don't add any until you've tasted it. The sauce is really flavorful so you won't need a lot of it. And whatever you think about anchovies, don't skip them. They're essential to the flavor.

So there you go...quick and easy. Not exactly French but Italy is only two hours away!

Oh yes, and if you try this, let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit!

Monday, February 1, 2010


This article was first published in the Wittenberg Enterprise a year ago. I know it's not "good form" to continue publishing old articles but in fact they tell the story of my first year here in Aix en Provence and though there are some who have already read this, many have not. So my apologies...but you're stuck with least on Mondays!

My jeans are resting comfortably on the drying rack after a lovely dip in the warm waters of my teensy, weensy washing machine. They are relaxing their weary seams and positively chuckling at their final good fortune. I fully expect them to jump up and dance as if they had the starring role in a fabric softener commercial. They were so weary and dirty after their very long journey…as was I. And when they’re dry (dryers are practically non-existent here) we will dance and laugh together. Because look at where we are!

I arrived in my new city, Aix en Provence, two days late because of the foot of snow that hit the entire Mediterranean coast. So…. I’ve just left a perfectly nasty Wisconsin winter to arrive in..... a perfectly nasty Mediterranean winter? I’m thinking perhaps I didn’t research my final destination very well!

However, as it turned out, this phenomenon hasn't happened in decades and thus they are ill prepared. The runways were finally cleared after a day and a half…. okay, cleared is the wrong word; they were rendered passable. (They actually looked just like our driveway used to when it was my husband’s turn to shovel. A couple of clean paths from the garage to the street, perfectly spaced the width of the chassis and wide enough for the tires.) This monumental job was accomplished with bucket loaders borrowed from construction sites all over the city and travel commenced, if not in a timely fashion. However, my bags did not arrive, and me, my jeans and my cowboy boots had to learn to live in harmony in spite of our growing mutual aversion to each other…. for another 5 days!  My feet were perpetually wet for 6 full days and this can never be a good thing!

My landlord, Liliane, is a lovely,