Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

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We interrupt the promised programming to bring you…

… a summary of my stay of Europe (thus far) in glace.

As previously explained, Europeans have different taste in, well, just about everything, and this includes ice cream. They tend toward fruit flavors, which are almost exclusively sorbets, and which are distinct from crème glacée. And they like different fruit flavors, too.

Since my arrival in France, I have tasted:

  • Chocolat noir (Côte d’Or makes a spectacular one with choclate that’s 70% cocoa)
  • Pistache
  • Banane
  • Cérise griotte (cherry)
  • Abricot (it’s a shame they don’t make apricot sorbet in America, because it is delicious)
  • Cassis (black currant, a local specialty. I’ve also had crème de cassis, moûtarde de cassis, confiture de cassis… it’s everywhere, and it’s wonderful).
  • Noix de coco (coconut)
  • Fraise (strawberry)
  • Frambroise (raspberry)
  • Poire
  • Rubarb
  • Orange sanguine (blood orange)
  • Mangue
  • Pêche de vigne (literally translates as “peach of the vine,” but it’s pink, so I think it’s plum)
  • Pain d’épices (gingerbread of sorts, another local specialty)
  • Abricot roumarin (apricot with rosemary; only had a few licks of someone else’s, but it was interesing)
  • Citron basilic (lemon and basil; very refreshing at first, but the basil got to be a little overpowering)
  • Mangue épicé (spiced mango. Mostly mango, not much spice that I could decipher)
  • Fraises à la provençale (strawberry with olive oil, mint, and basil. Bizarre but wonderful)

On the list of flavors yet to try: groseille (red currant), pomme vert (green apple), caramel au beurre salé, and possibly frambroise violet or miel pignons (honey and pine nuts). The place with all the really interesting flavors also has pamplemousse rose, but I’m not sure if that’s pink grapefruit or grapefruit and rose.

I realize that that’s an awfully long list, but I have been here almost six weeks. Plus it’s hot and Europe doesn’t have air conditioning. So we have to cool off somehow. And this is the most delicious way to do it.

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Blogging Backlog

So it has come to my attention that I haven’t blogged in quite a while. The homework load here is fairly intense (I’m taking 9 credit hours… not the best decision on my part!) and we have required or recommended excursions on a regular basis. So I have a lot of things to write about that I haven’t had time to record.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time today either.

Sometime in the near future, expect details about the following:

  • Our trip to Geneva, including hiking on a mountain, my continued obsession with European churches, antics with a stuffed marmot, RIDICULOUS prices, and our stay in the red light district
  • Our final excursion to Bussy-Rabutin and the Abbaye de Fontenay
  • My trip to Paris with Kimmy and our adventures with blues dancing, aching feet, British tourists in an ENORMOUS cemetery, and various cathedrals
  • Our excursion to Vézélay, with its gorgeous vista and still-running abbey

In the meantime, I have places to go, homework to do, and souvenirs to purchase. If you want something that a) is reasonably priced and b) I can feasibly take home (I don’t exactly have much room in my suitcase), let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

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French Innuendo and Vulgarity 101: Things Not to Say Unless You Really Mean Them

In case any of you ever go to France, here is a list of thing of which you should probably take note. Some of these blunders have actually been made by people I know personally; others, I’ve just heard about elsewhere. Regardless of where/how I learned it, here is a handy-dandy list of things to bear in mind.

  • “Hot” and “cold” have the same sexual connotations in French as in English if you use them with être. To say “I’m hot,” as in “I’m sweating profusely and would love to sit in a building with A/C… except it doesn’t exist in France,” it’s j’ai chaud. Similarly, j’ai froid means “I could really do with one of those scarves you sell everywhere in France.” By contrast, je suis chaud means “I’m horny,” while je suis froid means “I have no sex drive.” Or “I’m dead.” Take your pick.
  • You can turn some French verbs into nouns and vice versa quite appropriately; others you cannot. Un baiser is a kiss, but if you try to make it into a verb, it means something quite vulgar.
  • Pronunciation matters. A brasserie is a bar; a brassière is a bra. Beaucoup (a lot) and canard (duck) can quickly become “nice a**” and “a**hole,” respectively, if you’re not careful.
  • There’s a good chance that any word beginning with “chi” is a reference to sh*t.
  • Everyone knows someone who tried to say “I’m embarrassed” in Spanish class and ended up announcing that they were pregnant, right? Some equivalent French scenarios:
  • Jam = confiture. While jam, jelly, and preserves are basically the same thing to most Americans, note: preservatif means “condom.” NOT jam.
  • If you are enthusiastic, thrilled, or delighted by something, say that you are impassioné(e)Je suis excité(e) is not the kind of announcement you make in public.
  • So you’re on your way somewhere and will be there shortly? Then use arriver. Sure, je viens translates as “I’m coming,” but it’s got a dirty meaning in French too.

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Random Thoughts

I should probably be doing homework at the moment, but I’m in desperate need of sleep and can’t really think straight at the moment. Not to mention that my thoughts are starting to come out in bizarre multilingual constructions (no specific examples come to mind at the moment, but it’s usually English structure and nouns with French verbs and prepositions). So here, in no particular order, is a bit of what’s buzzing around in my head:

  • I need to track down a broom. My floor is dirty and my room is a lot messier than you’d think possible based on the amount of stuff I have with me.
  • I was told by two different people today that my French isn’t very good. That was kind of depressing.
  • At least the waiter was kind enough to phrase it, “Je vois que vous n’êtes pas de la région, donc je parlerai doucement,” (I see you’re from this region, so I will speak slowly) instead of “you’re an American.”
  • I still haven’t figured out how to take the “American” sticker off my forehead. Maybe by the end of our six weeks here?
  • I used the word “effrayant” in a sentence last week, only to be told it wasn’t a word. Au contrair, brought to you compliments of Word Reference:

effrayant~e /efʀɛjɑ̃/ /ɑ̃t/
adjective[sight, ugliness] frightening;
[thinness, paleness] dreadful.

  • So there.
  • I really wish we could adjust the shower temperature. Or that we were allowed to shower after 11 pm. Because now it’s 11:22 and I want to take a shower, please.
  • We went to a wine tasting in Beaune last Friday that really deserves its own post when I have the time/energy/brainpower to devote to it.
  • I also really wish that the windows had screens so that I cold study with the window open at night. It gets kinda hot in here with the window closed, but if I open it I will be swarmed by little reddish-brown gnat-like things. Most pleasant.
  • Apparently, I work more efficiently when my room is clean. And cleaning helps to get me in the mood to work. Especially if it is accomplished by dancing around my room to blues music.
  • One of these days I will leave my door open while cleaning my room so that people can see me dancing. I want to see their reactions.
  • Except not Babo’s. The guy in the room next store has told me that I’m nice and that I’m pretty in the two or three conversations we’ve had. They’re really awkward because he’s from Guinea and his accent is very different, so I have to ask him to repeat everything two or three or four times.
  • I really ought to buy that dress I found at the market. One, so I can wear it and tell people I bought it in France if they ask; two, because it’s pretty; three, because it’s cheap (20E); four, because the euro’s down to $1.19. Thank you, Greece!
  • Bread + noir pâté à tartiner (dark chocolate spread; like nutella, but darker and without the hazelnuts) + confiture de cassis (black currant jam) = a little slice of heaven.

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le 3 juin: An Absolutely Marvelous Day

Robbie and I recently discovered that we both fairly active (and cheapskates to boot), and thus would rather walk most places than take the bus, so we walked into town together this morning. Though, of course, we had to get breakfast first. We did so in the French manner: stopping at the local boulangerie for a pastry. This time I tried a beignet pomme, which was rather like a donut with applesauce in the middle. Not bad, but not my favorite. That honor (so far) goes to what is alternately called an oreillette or a croissant abricot – it’s something like croissant dough with lemon curd in the middle and half an apricot at either end. Delicious. Croissant amand are not to be scoffed at either, though the best ones I’ve had are sadly at the other town. These are croissants containing chocolate and slivered almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. Now that, my friends, is a good breakfast! Cheap, too: prices typically range from 80 centimes for a basic croissant to 1E40 for a fancier pastry.

Class met at Notre-Dame de Dijon and then continued on to La Musée des Beaux Arts, so we got to spend class standing in front of the works we were discussing, rather than looking at bad photocopies of black-and-white pictures. It was really nice. I’m finally starting to learn the French terms for different aspects of Gothic architecture, which makes it MUCH easier to talk about what I’m seeing. And it’s nice not to have to say, “uh… um.. un…” while I look for a way to circumlocute.

Best of all, it was over at noon, and then we were free for the day! So we met up with the people who weren’t in the art and architecture class and all went out to lunch. We found a very nice Italian place near Les Halles, though I don’t remember what it was called. In any case, the service was great (and very friendly), the pesto pasta was marvelous, and the prices were fairly reasonable, if on the higher side of mid-priced.

We split up again after lunch, and Robbie and I headed over to the planetarium and botanic gardens. Well, the gardens were something of an afterthought, but they took precedence once we got there. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot so we wandered the gardens for a while. There was a quiet pond and stream down the middle, which played host to a number of ducks. The shade provided by a number of bushes and a couple of truly enormous sycamores (the trunks are probably a good five feet across!) made it lovely and green and cool.

Most of all, I think, we enjoyed the rose garden. It seemed to be past the season for roses, as most of them were past their prime, but I think I still got some good pictures. I’ll post one here; the rest should be on facebook shortly.

The planetarium was cool, but nothing particularly spectacularly. About half of it was devoted to a special temporary exhibit entitled “Lune et l’Autre,[1]” and the other half featured a good deal of geology. The fluorescent rocks were pretty cool, I have to say.

We sat down by the duck pond for a few minutes before heading back, because it’s at least a 40-minute walk back to the dorms, and we were both in the mood for a nap. Robbie discovered that the raspberries he had purchased from a stand after lunch had gotten a bit smushed, so he ate them while we sat (and I helped, a bit). “C’est la bonne vie,” I said. “Manger les framboises and regarder les canards.[2]

We stopped for ice cream on the way back; there’s a place across the street from the ever-popular Fnac (think French Barnes and Noble) with some truly wondrous sorbets. I’ve never had apricot sorbet before, but it was marvelous: sweet and tart and not a bit artificial. The place has 24 flavors, and I strongly suspect I will end up trying them all before we leave. I’m already plotting out combinations that sound good together: strawberry and rhubarb, green apple and caramel, mango and banana… and probably red and black current together, so I can compare the two. Reasonably priced too: one scoop for 2E, 2 scoops for 3E. Not cheap, but not bad. And well worth it for the quality.

[1] For you non-francophones, it’s a pun; “l’un et l’autre” means “one and the other”

[2] “This is the good life… to eat raspberries and watch the ducks.” It sounded more intelligent at the time.

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… pertaining to Pavillon Macard des Résidences Mansart, l’Université de Bourgogne:

  1. Why can’t Miami have these kinds of locks, with which you must insert the key from outside (or turn a bolt from the inside) of the door, thus making it impossible for you to lock yourself out?
  2. Why don’t the doors have peepholes?
  3. Why do we have to bring our own toilet paper to the bathrooms?
  4. Why can’t we take showers after 11 pm?
  5. Why have I been logged off of the WiFi four times in the past few hours?
  6. Why is there a McDonald’s within easy walking distances, but no real cafés?
  7. Why do all the sandwiches in the vending machine contain mayonnaise?
  8. Why do the Americans have a reputation for being loud and obnoxious when the the people running through the quad shrieking last night (at midnight) were very clearly French?
  9. Why have college-aged boys not yet learned to go to the bathroom without getting pee all over the toilet and the floor?

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le 26 mai: Des Léçons Appris en Faisent du Vélo à Beaune

Some of these were learned by trial and error today, and some at another date, but all were relevant to our day today.

  • Don’t try to order breakfast food from a brasserie at lunchtime, as it will take FOREVER. Long enough that you start to wonder if they’re out back collecting eggs for that quiche and waiting for your croissant dough to rise. If you want such things, go to a Boulanger, where they have them on hand all the time.
  • Any time my mother and I decide to go for a long bike ride, it will rain. Last time, we biked up to Lake Forest Beach from our house. It was HOT when we started, so we figured the rain would feel nice. We didn’t count on the rain dropping the temperature down into the fifties (or colder), and we ended up sitting in the bathrooms trying to dry off our clothes and borrowing sweatshirts from the lost and found for the way home. This time, at least, we were more prepared and outfitted with raincoats and quick-dry clothes.
  •  If the weather forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain, don’t go with your original plans and hope that there’s more than a 40% chance that it won’t.
  • When choosing a raincoat, make sure the hood a) can be tightened so it stays up in the wind generated, say, by biking, and b) does not flop down into your face, obscuring your vision to an absurd and unsafe degree. This will allow you to actually WEAR said hood while biking, keeping you warmer and preventing you from looking like a drowned rat.
  • When the guy at the bike rental place offers you a helmet, take it. Especially if it has a visor, as this will help to keep the rain out of your face.
  • Know that rental bikes are crap, and you will likely end up with a bike that  has no shocks, a seat that pitches you forward, handlebars  that aren’t meant for the racer crouch the seat wants to force you into, brakes that make an alarming crunching sound, and a front wheel that hits your feet when you try to turn, severely limiting your ability to do so.
  • Don’t stop halfway up a hill to wait for your mother. If you find yourself stopped with more climbing to do, find downhill or at least flat spot where you can start and gain a little momentum before heading back up the road. ANYTHING is better than trying to start up a muddy hill from a dead stop. (Told you, Mom.)
  •  DO NOT try to brake and turn at the same time on a wet, muddy road (knew this one already, but was rather abruptly reminded of it). Brake BEFORE that sharp turn at the bottom of the hill with a stone wall  on the downhill side, and after, if you still have to.
  • DO NOT try to brake too quickly while going downhill on said wet, muddy roads, especially if thy are not level (which they are not). Even if you are not turning, that back wheel will skid out from under you if it gets locked up, because the road is banked.
  • DO NOT sharply call out for your daughter, who is riding in front of you, to stop, causing her to brake too quickly and start to skid.
  • When you reach a fork in the road with a cross, behind which you can see that the sky up ahead is dark and tempestuous, while that behind you is reasonably clear, listen to your mother and take it as a sign from God to turn back. (I wanted to go on to the next little town/vineyard/whatever it was that we could see up ahead, despite the ominous rumblings of thunder. We got to the top of the hill, at which point I realized that the clouds where coming on much faster than I had anticipated, and it started to rain. So we turned back.)

  • If you find that you are on one side of a small, old, European city, and your destination is at the other side, don’t try to go through it. The streets are likely made of cobblestone, and bikes and cobblestone do not get along. Even if you go slowly. I’ve never tried to use a jackhammer, but I imagine that it feels something like that. Remember that you are on a rental bike that does not have shocks, and this will make the cobblestone an even more inhospitable surface. Take the ring road around the city walls instead, even if Mom wants to cut through.
  • Don’t try to eat at a restaurant that appears to have only one staff member present. The poor man was waiter, bartender, and (if someone wanted an omelet or a croque-monsieur) cook, and he had a bout nine tables’ worth of people.
  • There is always time for ice cream. Especially sorbet de cassis (black currants).
  • Check when the trains back to Dijon run before you leave the station for the day—and check when the desk closes. Chances are, the ticket machines don’t like American credit cards and you don’t have 16 euros in coins.
  • Don’t despair if you can’t buy a ticket for a short ride on the TGV. They might not even check to see if you have one.

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le 25 mai: Observations on French Culture

So we all know that the French like their bread, and their cheese, and their wine. And their cigarettes. None of this was news to me.  However, French culture continues to surprise me, as their preferences in many areas are very different than ours.

  • Pizza toppings. I have yet to see pepperoni listed on any of the menus I’ve seen. Or sausage, or pineapple, now that I think about it. Chicken seems to be popular, however, and I’ve seen seafood and snails. But the most surprising one? Egg. Yes, egg. Cracked right in the middle and baked there.
  • Beverages. Apricot juice seems to be much more common here. And the hot drinks are wonderful. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I had chocolat the first morning. What I received was not a pre-made beverage, but a creamer full of, well, cream, and a smaller one of melted chocolate – the dark/bittersweet kind. With sugar on the side, so I could make it as rich or as sweet as I wanted. Which, for me, meant lots of chocolate and no sugar. YUM.
  •  Ice cream. None of this cookie or candy in ice cream business we have at home. The French like their fruit flavors, it would seem; here’s a fairly typical list. So far, I’ve tried cassis, pistache, and mangue. And raspberry and banana gelato. All were superb.

  • Condiments.

o   Dijon mustard : the French as ketchup : Americans. No, it’s more than that. It’s been in every salad dressing I’ve had so far, and an undeclared ingredient in most of the sandwiches as well. And that was just while we were in Paris! Now that we’re actually IN Dijon, it’s everywhere. You can get it with basil, with honey, with white wine, with tarragon, with extra mustard grains, with nuts, with balsamic vinegar, with coconut and curry powder, with raspberries, with herbes de Provence, with currants… And holy cow is it strong. Sure, it’s not comparable with wasabi, but I still had to stop after every few bites of my sandwich this afternoon while my sinuses were thoroughly scoured.

o   Butter. The French serve bread with dinner, not before it and they don’t give you butter. Mom had to ask for it at every restaurant, and every time they looked at her like she was a little off her rocker, or like they didn’t know what she was talking about.

o   Peanut butter. The French don’t like it, so they don’t sell it. Anywhere. Even at Carrefour, the local equivalent of Walmart. Believe me, I looked.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If I come up with more, I will add them.

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le 21 mai: travel and first impressions

May 20-21

Traveling was… well, traveling.  Not particularly exciting, although trying to navigate French public transportation was interesting. I don’t have the vocabulary necessary for this, I’m afraid. That’s going to have to change. Mom commented drily on my eagerness to jump into the pool with my French, but that wasn’t entirely on the mark. I’m pretty reticent about going up to people and asking them for help, even when the folks at the information desks speak English.

Eventually, however, we made it to our hotel and got our luggage stowed. It’s a little room with two twin beds in a place on Rue de Constantinople, which Mom has difficulty saying. And then we were ready for a walk.

Now, you have to understand that when we got off the Métro, this was the first thing I saw.


So I think you can imagine which way we started to walk. I said that I wanted to go to Sacré-Coeur, and Mom asked where that was. So I pointed it out to her. “If I can see it, we can walk to it,” she said, and off we went.

It was further away than it looked, as I knew it would be. Sacré-Coeur is BIG, and on high ground to boot, so it was visible from across the 18e arrondissement, where we were. And getting there was not as easy as it looked, since French streets don’t exactly follow the grid pattern we’re used to in America. And of course, as we got closer and started up the hill, it disappeared behind the nearer buildings. “Just keep heading east,” I said, so we navigated based on our shadows (east is blessedly easy to find at noon on a sunny day) and the occasional glimpses we caught through alleyways and between buildings.

At the bottom of the impressively steep and narrow Rue Tholozé, we were briefly distracted by the sight of a windmill. No, it was not the famous Moulin Rouge, though we were indeed in Montmartre.

So we climbed the street to have a closer look at what turned out to be La Moulin de Galette. Which was cool. But this was about as close as we could get.

So we resumed our quest for Sacré-Coeur, which Mom by this point was referring to as “the damn church.”

We’re getting closer!

At last, we made it, though we made a stop at St. Pierre de Montmartre first. I think. At least, the sign outside this little church said St. Pierre; everything I saw inside said Notre-Dame de Montmartre. But it was old, and stone, and Gothic. And quiet. And moldy, which mom’s nose did not appreciate.

I do not have pictures of the inside of Sacré-Coeur, though I wish I did. It was large and impressive, especially the mosaic on the ceiling. But there were signs that specifically requested that we respect the constant prayer and adoration that’s been going on there since 1885 and not take pictures or video, so I put the camera away. And I tried not to analyze the architectural features of the basilica and just appreciate it as beautiful… but at that, I failed. 

At this point, we decided to hunt down the infamous Moulin Rouge. And food, since it was going on 3 pm and we hadn’t really eaten since the plane. This was a little harder to find, as it wasn’t dead east of us and we couldn’t see it from a distance. So Mom asked for directions; they took us back down Rue Lepic and Rue Tholozé, where we stopped for sandwiches at a little outdoor café. And then, way down at the bottom of the hill, there it was.

That, however, was it for the day’s adventures. I got about two hours of sleep on the plane, which was most definitely not enough. When we flew to Hungary for the orchestra trip in high school, I remember getting three hours and still having the energy to make it to the end of the day without a nap. That, however, was in high school, when I was used to surviving on six hours of sleep every night. My body doesn’t really do that any more; having been deprived then, and then even more deprived last year, it now demands as much sleep as I can get. So by 2 pm (Paris time), I was dragging, and by 3:30, I was all but asleep on my feet.

Back to the hotel we went (and it seemed a much longer walk on the way back, even though it was downhill). I lay down at 4 to take a nap, causing Mom much consternation when both knocking and phoning the room failed to wake me up to let her in (she’d gone for bread and cheese at the marché across the street). It was only supposed to be an hour-long nap, but I most definitely did not want to get up when my alarm went off. So in essence, I went to bed at 4 pm. And when I woke up at 4 the next morning, I did some blogging.

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Please be patient while I get myself organized and find a decent internet connection…

I have TONS of stuff to say about the time Mom and I spent in Paris. I do. And some of it is even written already! But I don’t have time to post it yet, and the internet connection at this hotel is really, REALLY slow… 4 minutes to upload one downsized picture slow. So I leave you this as a teaser…