Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's ALL Chinese to me!

When I wrote last week's cockroach story, I had no intention of it being a whine fest. I really thought I was being funny. But at the same time, the way I had been feeling was very real. Bless everyone's heart...I received all sorts of words of encouragement through comments and email and I thank you all. The following arrived by email from my "cousin" Cory who lives here in Aix and has himself gone through these transitions. It's one of those forwarded emails and I have no idea where it originated. Don't worry, you won't have 7 years of bad luck if you don't send it to 12 friends within 9 minutes of reading it! But I think it's perfect as a follow-up to my troubles. Anybody learning any language has the cockroach now and then.

We wonder why people have trouble learning the English language -- even those of us have it as our first language!!!

Read all the way to the end..............  This took a lot of work to put together!!!
You think English is easy???

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce .

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could  lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear..

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France .. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house
can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this .

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other
two-letter word, and that is 'UP..'

It's easy to understand
UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP ? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends. And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP  trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP! an appetite, and think UP excuses.. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP. We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed
UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP  almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP . When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP...

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.
When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.
One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, so......it is time to shut UP!

Bon courage!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Have the Cockroach

Each day I’m becoming a little bit more French, I think. This became clear this last week when somebody asked me how I was. Instead of the usual, “fine thank you”, I actually told them how I was. I couldn’t believe I did it! Particularly since things weren’t all that great.

I don’t know if this is true everywhere in the U.S. but normally “ How are you” is a pleasantry. People don't really expect to get much more than a "great...and you?" Here in France, when you ask, people often actually tell you. Good or bad, but frequently the bad. And I’m assimilating.

So my job this week was to learn the French way to explain just how crummy I felt.

So, you ask, how are you Delana? Go ahead, I dare you to ask!

I’m not going to turn around the pot here (beat around the bush).  I need to call a cat a cat (call a spade a spade) I’m really not on my plate (I’m out of sorts) and I have the cockroach (I have the blues).  I have more than fifty brooms (I’m over 50 years old) and I have borrowed a road (taken a path) that, at least this week, I’m not sure I should have taken.

Just one of those down weeks I guess. A week when the French language seemed indecipherable (this article might help you understand why!)  Though I am perfectly capable of telling the well-coifed woman at the salon that her little dog just dropped a pile in the middle of the floor, I still have not reached the point of being capable of having a deep, meaningful conversation with my French friends. And I so want that. I’m sure that it won’t be long before they feel that I am like a beard (boring). I have fallen on a beak (come up against a snag) and sometimes it’s just not a chest of drawers (it’s not easy).

It’s a little like floating all the time. I have no family here though I do have friends. But my friends really don’t know me nor I them, because we haven’t reached that point of communication. I live in a furnished apartment where I own almost nothing; prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Yet I don’t want to take my clicks and my clacks (clean up and clear out). When I visit the United States, I am just that…a visitor. Yet, I’m really a visitor here.

I have no job because it’s against the law for me to work, so I’m really not a contributing member of society. I’m a mother by telephone, a daughter by skype, and a sister through email. And sometimes, at least this week, it makes me feel like I count for butter (count for nothing).

Yes, I want to have the butter and the money from the butter (have my cake and eat it too). This move to France was my choice and I have no regrets. But some weeks it just gets to be too much.

Today it’s raining ropes (raining cats and dogs). Not so good for the mental health.  Maybe I’m just dreaming that I'll ever understand this language. It might just be when the chickens have teeth (when pigs fly). I just don’t want to make white cabbage (to fail completely).

So I need to continue to put my hand in the dough (put my shoulder to the wheel). Because by the time I reach the point of eating dandelions by the roots (pushing up daisies), I want to be able to have a true conversation in French.

The carrots are cooked (the die is cast) and it’s not all cooked (not in the bag). I have not left the inn (I’m not out of the woods).

There, aren’t you so happy you asked how I am?  In fact, the blues have passed. This happens from time to time and at least now I am aware of it and also aware that it will go. But I thought you should see what I’m up against! I mean geez, it’s enough to learn vocabulary and grammar. But when somebody says something like “you’re running on my bean” in French, how the hell am I supposed to know they actually mean “you’re getting on my nerves”. It kind of puts a girl in nice bed sheets (in a fix).


Monday, November 15, 2010


It's Monday Memory time again. This article was written a year ago and I still continue to admire the French way of living with less. There is one paradox I have since learned however. In spite of the fact that France uses, per capita, somewhere between half to one-third the amount of water compared to the United States, the French drink 3 times the amount of bottled water. That's a lot of plastic bottles going somewhere and a lot of oil used to produce those bottles. This one, I have yet to figure out. 

Yesterday my jeans climbed off the chair, marched down the stairs and crawled into the washing machine. All by themselves. I swear. They were so dirty that they were able to perform this feat on their own…along with the rest of my dirty clothes that I had been saving until I had a full load. And I’m just a wee bit proud of my dirty jeans. They’re a symbol of some of my lessons learned.

When I lived in the U.S. I would generally wash my clothes after 1 or 2 washings.  And I had a lot of clothes. As a matter of fact, I am quite sure my closet was bigger than at least one of my apartments here in Aix en Provence. When I lived in the U.S., I often left a light on all night. It felt safer. When I lived in the U.S. I would sometimes start my car and let it run until it was nice and warm before venturing out into the cold. And, of course, I used my car for everything...and then went to the gym!  Sometimes I would take a long, hot shower, just because it felt good and my children, in spite of my grumbling, seemed to feel that long, hot showers were their daily right!  My groceries were carried home in crisp, new paper or plastic sacks, which were eventually thrown away.  In spite of this behavior, I really did consider myself ecologically aware.

I am proud to say, I don’t behave this way anymore.

We were having a conversation the other day in class about waste or gaspillage (I love that word!). It was one of those discussions that was meant to entice all of us into voicing our opinions in French. We were reviewing facts and figures about how much the French waste and how terrible it all is. I finally had to stop the dialogue and explain what real waste is. It is not my practice to spend time bad-mouthing my country, but in this particular case, I was not proud of some of our practices and had to say so.

Within the first week of living here, I became painfully aware of our nation-wide wasteful lifestyle.  Aware, because things are done so differently here. I’m sure that our habits stem from a perpetual feeling of abundance that is naturally part of our national psyche but I think, in this case, we have some lessons to learn from our European neighbors.

The French consume, per capita, a little more than half the energy that Americans use. Dryers are not necessarily the norm, nor is air conditioning. Lights stay off during the day and the shutters are closed to keep out the sun. Clothes are washed much less and people have fewer of them. Of course cars are smaller (there is no choice, the damned streets are so narrow) and more fuel-efficient.  Most people take their personal shopping bags or caddy’s to the grocery store or market. The lights in the hallways and corridors of buildings are off until someone enters and it’s up to the person entering to switch them on. Afterwards, they turn off automatically. When stores are closed, they are completely dark and often even seem dark even in the middle of the day.

The stores are not air-conditioned to the point of causing teeth-chattering (you know what it’s like to go to an American grocery store in the summer. It's almost essential to bring along your down parka!) And offices building lights are extinguished after business hours.

I’m not sure that these are things that have developed from a French national consciousness about ecology. I think the bad habits just never developed.  Nobody misses them because they never existed.  Mind you, I’m not saying France is a perfect world. Far from it.  What I’m trying to say is being here has opened my eyes to the fact that living without certain things and particular niceties is no harder than living with them. Just different.

My friend Holly and I were laughing about this the other day. How our laundry has to fail the spot and smell test before it actually gets washed. And sometimes, even when it fails, we give it one more go. She spoke about traveling with an American friend who wanted to leave the air conditioner on in the hotel room while they were away so it would be cool when they got back. She was flabbergasted.  We laughed about how freakishly weird we have become about turning off lights and leaving the house dark until we must turn on the lights at night. We laughed at ourselves because we remember how we lived before and are so happy to have learned such a valuable lesson.

Americans are not the worst energy consumers in the world. Saudi Arabia gets that honor. But we’re right up there. And in spite of our abundance, we are citizens of the world. And I hope we are capable (actually, I know we’re capable…willing is a better word) of enough change so that someday, some poor French person who is living in America and writing and for a little French newspaper, will describe how America has moved to the forefront in protecting it’s truly precious resources. And they are precious.


I found the energy poster photo on photobucket...part of a campaign at Brown University. PERFECT!

Monday, November 8, 2010

French Dressing

It's Monday! I really need to write an article about my trip to the Dordogne but...I'm too tired and I have too much homework. So, as usual, I'm posting a Monday Memory....written a year ago before I cracked the mystery. I won't even attempt to try to get you to believe this photo is of me. But man, what I wouldn't give to own this little ensemble!

In one of my first articles I briefly mentioned French lingerie. I remarked about the number of lingerie stores here in France, how they were always bustling with women or women and their men, and how I really must explore this further.

I put the idea off because, in fact, these stores scared the hell out of me. All the fancies in the windows are so beautiful, or sexy, or coy, or dainty, or all of the above rolled into one. And so completely out of my realm of understanding, that I delayed my research project. In fact, I was such a scaredy-cat that I actually ordered my bras and panties in the US and had a friend bring them over during a visit.

I have had several people ask me to finish the mission that I initiated early on, so this fall I decided it was time to put on my big-girl panties and attack the issue. I began by visiting almost every lingerie store along my daily routes to and fro. And in this town, that amounts to a lot of underwear enterprises.

First observation: this stuff is gorgeous! Captivating color, delicious design, and embellishment beyond compare!  I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it all is. I had to touch it, see how it was made and revel in the exquisite color combinations.  It was completely overwhelming. How does one choose?

Second observation: This stuff is expensive! I visited numerous stores that carry lines of lingerie at all different prices, but even the cheap stores ain’t cheap! However, price point was obviously going to help me narrow down the choices.

But before I ventured any further I needed to find out who is buying this stuff and why? After a little on-line research, I discovered that French women spend more on lingerie than anyone in the world and they spend a much larger percentage of their clothing budgets on it. So back to that question…why? Okay, time to do a “man (make that woman) on the street” as we say in the news business.

So…. what’s the deal with the underwear? A French friend was a little incredulous when I asked her that question. She asked my why in the world I would bother to put on nice clothes if my underthings weren’t just as nice? She told me a woman is not dressed unless her underwear is looking as good as her outerwear. It just makes you feel good, she explained.

I brought it up with an American friend who has lived here for quite some time. What’s the deal with the underwear?  She laughed and showed me her two lingerie drawers. One for her American underwear, one for her French lingerie. I laughed and asked her how she could afford it. Simple, she said. French men buy it for you. Okay, now I’m even more intrigued.

I persevered and interrogated another American friend who has lived here for almost 30 years and is married to a Frenchman. What’s the deal with the underwear? She laughed too. Apparently, this is a question that many have asked. She explained that French girls begin buying nice underwear at a very young age. It’s simply a French Fact. Like the preponderant use of conditional verbs. She too asked me a simple question.  Why would you not buy something pretty when faced with a choice between utilitarian and lovely?

Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s uncomfortable, unnecessarily frilly, it shows through your clothes, it doesn’t give enough support, and…. who sees it anyway?

Well that attitude just flagged me as an imposter when what I really need to do is  assimilate!

You see, the consensus is, that French women buy these beautiful underthings for themselves first and foremost. In fact, it is a part of their complete outfit. Bras always match panties and the entire ensemble should match or compliment your outfit. Because if a little bit peaks out, (which is okay) you need to be put together. And if you feel good under, it makes you feel good over.

And French women ARE put together. This is a subject that has been endlessly written about and is often a matter of controversy with American women. French woman seem to dress nicely all the time. Not necessarily dressed up, but dressed well.  Well thought out and not necessarily trendy. Clothing is more form fitting and they are very comfortable with that. I have never, ever seen a French woman walking down the street in a pair of yoga pants and sneakers (as was often my custom at home). Or, heaven forbid, a sweatshirt.

The conversations I have had about French underwear have often evolved into conversations about French women in general and I think that topic is one on which I’m not ready to write…. yet. One friend says French women are more narcissistic. Another friend says they are simply more comfortable being female and enjoy accentuating the differences between men and women.  I don’t know and since I have very few female French friends as yet, I haven’t uncovered their collective psyche. And I’m not saying their way is right and ours is wrong. I happen to like being able to go out in a big old fleece sweatshirt and my old white tennis shoes…. if I want.

But. …again…when in France. So back to the lingerie store; the only one I found on my previous fact-finding mission that I could even remotely afford. I perused my array of choices, passed by the inevitable section (always in the back of the store) that features American style underwear…. you know the flag words…. “comfortable”, “invisible”… and really kind of ugly!

With the aid of a most helpful saleswoman, I tried on, discarded, checked prices, and eventually passed by all the truly exquisite colors and patterns and settled on a little white bra with beige lace and an actual…bow! And of course, the matching panties. Yes, I know. I really haven’t moved very far along in my assimilation process. White and beige. One bow.

But it’s a bow, and the bra is little…and I match!

I obviously have a long way to go. But it’s a start. Perhaps I’ll try again in a few weeks and buy myself a gorgeous Christmas present…. the turquoise number in the window of the chic store down the street, beautifully cut, embellished with appliquéd flowers, in a multitude of rich colors…. and really expensive.

Which brings me to the last mystery. How do you accomplish the final feat of getting French men to buy the lingerie for you? I’ll venture to say that If I ever do figure that one out, I probably won’t write about it.


Addendum: One year later. I am proud to say that though I haven't got a drawer full (which means I must be doing something wrong), I am now the owner of a lovely red set...that I did not buy, and I am developing a relationship (strictly business mind you) with the guy at the market that sells last year's Charmel at a great price. He completely understands about pantyline. As he proudly told me as we were discussing correct sizes, "I am a man. I am an expert at watching women's behinds. That line is just not pretty".  He PROMISED me he would be at the market Saturday with new stuff...and he wasn't. Ruined my whole weekend! And, I have now spotted a few women wearing tennis shoes...but still no sweatshirts.                                           

Monday, November 1, 2010

Senior Rites of Passage

I wrote this article LAST Monday but didn't have time to post it. Today, we are in the Dordogne and it's absolutely breathtaking. In fact, we're beginning to take medieval castles for granted...if you can imagine!  When I can get back to my computer, I will post more of this lovely trip. But in the meantime, I've got a lot of foie gras to eat! 

My mom and my Aunt Miriam arrived Saturday. Amazingly, they arrived with no problems considering all the strike issues we’ve been having. As is my policy with visitors, they are not allowed to take a nap when they get here, even though they’ve likely been awake almost 24 hours. I’ve gotta get them off jet lag and on schedule! By the time I fed them that first night, they had both fallen asleep, sitting up, at least once during the conversation. Okay, I think they’re ready. Off to bed with you.

So we spent Saturday afternoon, wandering about Aix en Provence, them in contented fog and me trying to get them acclimated to a city where this is no small feat. Even my little sister, who possesses a near perfect sense of direction, gets all turned around in Aix. It actually scares her sometimes, because this just never happens to her.

The streets, some of which are the width of cow paths, go off in all sorts of directions, change names every block and not only that, they each have two names; the Provençal appellation and it’s modern French name. Add to that the more than 100 fountains that one seems to bump into at every turn and, well let’s just say… never tell anyone you’re going to meet them at the fountain just off the square…

There is a method to my madness in trying to teach two bleary-eyed travelers the layout of the land. You see, I must spend my days either at school or at home trying to write papers or prepare a speech in French. At least until my 5 day vacation begins Friday. Which means these two are on their own. And this scares me!

Not that they’re not perfectly capable human beings. It’s just that my mom has a tendency to wander. Not a dementia driven sort of wandering. She just finds so many things interesting along her path and as we’re walking she often just drops off the face of the earth. (She’s always done this but now she’s doing it in a country where she doesn’t speak the language…or know the names of the fountains.) And the most bizarre thing about this is she seems to be unaware that she’s doing it. In fact, I’ve been known to find her (after a good hunt) still talking like I’ve been right beside her all along. When I call her on it, she claims she’s talking to herself. I have serious doubts about this.

Anyway, yesterday I did the driving up to Isle sur le Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse. Today their plan was to go to Arles and St. Remy and this morning, after they dropped me off at school, I reluctantly handed over the keys. I had gone over the map with them, marked all key spots and one-way streets, explained what a “do not enter” sign looks like and clarified that they need to watch how French drivers maneuver…and to do it more aggressively!  So armed with the scribbled-upon-maps, my phone that I keep strictly for visitors, and a full tank of gas, off they went. I went to school and tried not to think about it.

I got one telephone message in the early afternoon that said “we’ve been blown to Barcelona by the mistral winds so we’ll be a little late!”  Oh good. At least they found their way out of Aix! They called again around 7 pm and said they had been to Arles, were now leaving St. Remy on the D7 and where should they park the car when they got here? Oh good, only one hurdle left…. getting back into Aix. I told them to follow the signs to Centre Ville, use directions on the map to get to my apartment and call me if they had any problems. I tried to sound like it was all going to be simple but I knew better.

They finally called about 8:30 as I was sitting on Place Richelme, about to have a drink with my friend Tony.

“Where are you?”, I asked.

“Well, we seemed to be in town…but now we’re not. We’re in a posh residential area…. what’s a sign that looks like a T again?”

“Ah, that’s a dead end. You’d probably better turn around.”

“Okay the street is…I don’t know…what does sortie mean…. there are no street signs. We’re up high and there are gates on every driveway”.

First, I explained that sortie means exit (oops, forgot to explain that sign) and further explained that there are gates on every driveway…and I have no idea where they are. And that if they’re up high, go down. Aix is always down. And to call me when they find signs to central ville. I ordered a wine.

Another phone call 20 minutes later. We’re parking the car. We’re at a corner by a patisserie and in the center of the square there’s a fountain…. or a monument or something. Now what?

Oh geez! That helps. This is France. There’s a patisserie on every street here in Aix, a fountain or monument next to nearly every one of them. I still can’t help you. Can you give me a street name?

“I don’t know. Something with “art” in it.”

In the town of Paul Cezanne, this really doesn’t narrow things down much either. I was waiting for them to tell me they there’s a sidewalk café across the street and everybody is speaking French!

Between Tony and I, we sort of figured out where they might be and gave them directions to get them near my apartment and told them I would meet them when they got close. I settled back to finish my wine, having almost zero expectation that I’d ever see them again and if they ever did call, I would probably be good and drunk by that time!  Ten minutes later, another call.

We’re in front of your door! They sounded surprised. I was surprised. I hadn’t even finished my wine yet…. not even close to a buzz and, of course, not on the other side of my door. But within 5 minutes we were all together again recounting the events of the day.

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud of these guys. I still can’t find my way into Aix with certainty and these two pulled it off in just an hour from entrance to finish.  So tomorrow, maybe I’ll send them to Marseille. This should raise the bar. We’ll see if they can accomplish the same feat while trying to maneuver around mountains of old garbage that are rotting in the streets because the garbage haulers are on strike…or the cars people are burning because nobody has anything else to do while not working. If they can do that, I’m going to make them do the driving and navigating on our trip to the Dordogne next week.  I’ll be in the back seat…. sleeping while sitting up.