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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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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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.