Archive for February, 2007

homework assignment

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

My French homework for Friday is to pick an object that is important to me and be able to explain what it is and why it’s important… in French. Bill said at least it can all be done in the present tense. Now that I think about it, it can’t. Dang, this is hard.

A biento!

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

This afternoon, Annabella and Vito left for Italy. Vito speaks Italian, so he should have better luck there with his meals. Or at least he’ll know if he’s about to be served a tomato and mozzarella salad without any mozzarella in it.

                I am so tired. I have stayed up later the last few nights than I have stayed up in years.

Tourist in Grenoble

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Today Bill went to work, Kaitlyn returned to school so I got to play tourist for the day! (notice, not tour guide)

                    Since Annabella doesn’t want to see snow (she left Boston to escape it) and doesn’t want to ride the bubbles, that made tourism in Grenoble something of a challenge. She likes factory tours and museums. Vito goes along with those votes.

                    We started by going to the distillery tour for Chartreuse, the nasty green liquor made by monks here in Grenoble. Some of it was interesting, like the fact that there are two monks who work in the facility and they are the only ones allowed in several areas . But if only two people in the world get to go into the rooms where the work happens, well, there wasn’t much to see. We didn’t actually see any of the liquor being produced, unless you count staring at the barrels where it ferments seeing the production. The tour includes an incredibly cheezy 3-D movie. I hadn’t thought of it until we were sitting down to watch, but just how does one make a 3-D movie about liquor? It was about the monks building their monestary then inventing the nasty-green-drink. So they showed someone chopping wood with the chips “flying” toward you, junk like that. What do you expect from a free tour? It ended in the tasting room (conveniently located next to the gift shop). Each tour participant gets one free taste of something, so each of us ordered something different. One shot of the green liquor, one of the yellow version (the guide book said it is milder) and one of a walnut liquor. The walnut one was actually ok; surprising since I don’t like walnuts. It didn’t take big sips for us to agree: the yellow Chartreuse packed just as much of a wallop as the green. Both were drinks one makes faces while consuming. But it was free, so Vito finished it off for us. Hate to let it go to waste. No one wants to leave empty handed, so Annabella bought some Chartreuse filled chocolates. Amazingly, that was not disgusting!

                    Before moving on, I plugged in my cell phone (of course, battery was dead) to call and make dinner reservations. When I hung up Annabella said “You did well. But you just made reservations at seven noon o’clock.” I love my mastery of the language.

                    Our next tourist trap was Vizille and the Museum of the French Revolution. I’d been told that Vizille is where the revolution “started.” To avoid lots of driving back and forth we agreed to just take our chances on a restaurant near the museum.

                    That was when I learned it isn’t just time I have a problem with in French. Annabella did most of the ordering for us… I did ok with mine until I got to the salad. Tomato and mozzarella. I think the guy was just being rude claiming he couldn’t understand me because I wasn’t saying the words “just right.” Whatever. I don’t love tomatoes but I’ll eat a couple as an excuse for a plate of fresh mozzarella slices. Ordering complete, Annabella got up to go to the bathroom. Naturally, that was when the waiter came back to the table to ask us a question. Come to think of it, he may have been lurking around the corner actually waiting on her to leave. He addressed Vito more than me, which was a bad idea since Vito speaks no French and at least I speak some. We heard the word mozzarella, so we knew he was talking about our entrees. And we heard the word basil. So we said “uh, oui.” Later, when our entrees finally arrived at the table, we found out what he was telling us. They were apparently out of mozzarella. Vito and I each got a giant plate of sliced tomatoes with some vinegar and oil and big leaves of, yes, basil. Annabella is now forbidden to leave the table until our meals have been served. And even then it’s questionable.

                    The main dishes arrived and, as I’d predicted, Annabella and Vito were mystified at what had been set in front of them. They ordered fillet mignon. Which here is usually pork. They don’t believe me. Even after eating it, they say I am wrong. They agree that it wasn’t beef but they insist it wasn’t pork. I was going to ask the waiter, but he already scoffed at my French. Besides, if he’d said “oh it was horse” they’d have never gotten over it.

                    At the museum my French continued to shine. The woman asked my post code and I couldn’t remember how to say 400. I kept saying 40. Which is a much different number. It would be so much easier if the French said 38410 as “three – eight – four – one – zero” instead of “thirty eight – four hundred and ten.” Once past that challenge, I realized I should have asked for the free English audio guide. All the little signs were only in French. I thought they might be in English since the signs on the door (push and pull) were in both languages. We saw some dishes, some sculptures and a lot of paintings. Nothing that appeared to be an actual relic from the war. Maybe one sentence somewhere explaining the significance of Vizille. Nothing that actually taught me a single thing about the French Revolution. Oh, well, c’est la vie.

                    We picked up Kaitlyn from school and drove to the supermarket. They wanted to see it and Annabella wanted to buy some noodles she’d seen in my pantry to show her class. (She is currently a substitute teacher for a French teacher in middle school.) Once we got everything we needed, and argued over whether or not a bottle of Orangina was the drink of choice for their train ride Tuesday, I suggested using the self check out. It’s faster and you can choose English on the computer screen. First, the lady who monitors all the self check outs told us we couldn’t take our cart through. Ok, fine. So we started unloading it (there were only a handful of items) so that I could take the cart around another way. Instead of seeing and appreciating how we quickly responded to her request, she came over to yell at us in English. Well, that just did it for me. Finally, a language I can defend myself in! I yelled back that we were doing just what she’d wanted. Oh, it felt good. But then when Annabella struggled to get the thing to accept her American credit card, the woman sat staring at her screen, offering no help. Annabella finally gave up and stuck in some cash.

                    Dinner out was to be a grown-up event. Kaitlyn went to a friend’s house and I just prayed she went to sleep at a semi-reasonable time. I also prayed that the restaurant had our reservation at my intended time. It did.

                    We chose a restaurant I knew serves a good Gratin Dauphinois, which is fancy scalloped potatoes. I ordered knowing that was the side dish I wanted, so I built my meal around that. I chose scallops for my entree then veal in cream sauce with the potatoes. Annabella of course managed to ask some questions and understand the answers. Vito ignored Bill’s advise not to get the sausage he chose. When it came, I think he was a wee bit sorry. It had, well, bits of things that one normally doesn’t eat. Or normally doesn’t have to actually see and recognize in his sausage. Everyone else enjoyed their meals. And Vito got to eat half of Annabella’s duck; so his evening wasn’t a total loss.

Our First House Guests

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Saturday night I found out what happens when a friend you haven’t seen in nearly 20 years comes to visit, if you’re lucky. You sit up until all hours of the night talking and laughing.

                Our first European house guests, Annabella and her husband Vito (who I’ve never met) arrived from the US. I was very excited until I went to the train station to pick them up. First, Clyde (my gps) gives horrible directions downtown and he kept telling me “turn around when possible.” Then I couldn’t find parking around the train station. I rushed up to the station just as I saw the TGV pull in. Whew. There can only be one TGV in Grenoble. I walked in the station, up and down the platform, back in the station, back up and down the platform. No Annabella. I presume no Vito, but I’ve only seen pictures. Just as I was starting to get really worried they appeared at the top of a staircase I’d have never thought to check, I just happened to be standing there.

                    Annabella said she wanted to experience some local culture (aka: cuisine) while here. Because she didn’t come to see snow, that left little else. So we started with a stop at the pizza truck. It was genuinely local fare. Annabella speaks French so she struck up a conversation with the woman at the pizza truck. Vito and I just sorta stood there. I live here; she chats here.

                    Sunday no one stirred early and the weather didn’t lend itself to doing much anyway. Vito won the “best houseguest” award by making breakfast for everyone. Well, it was more like brunch since he and Annabella didn’t get up until one in the afternoon, but that’s ok. I hadn’t cooked anything for us because I kept thinking they’d get up at any second!

                    Finally we decided to defy the drizzle and go out somewhere, so we headed downtown. That meant countless rides down the giant slide for Kaitlyn (how is it that she always sees that thing?). While she did that, Annabella and Vito got crepes from the little truck set up next to the kiddie slide. There, some man heard us speaking English and started talking to Annabella. Again, I live here; she chats here. Vito said she does that everywhere. (you can learn more about their travels at:

                    Eventually the rain returned and Kaitlyn got too tired since she slid through naptime, so we returned home. Bill volunteered to stay home with the grumpy child while the rest of us went out to dinner. Instead, Annabella and I left both the men at home and went to pick up Chinese food. (That gave some quality man/computer time we didn’t have to endure.) There is a restaurant in Uriage Bill has been determined to try, so we agreed to go there.

                    Chez Ngyuen. I don’t know, the name just is funny to me. But it is way closer than driving back downtown and that was really the only reason I gave in. When we went inside it was far from busy. There was one woman at the bar, she’d apparently also made a to-go order. Two men were asking for a table. In the corner of the bar there was a tv sitting on a table showing a French game show to keep the employees entertained in between customers. It appeared the tv was pretty handy in that regard. With Annabella’s help, we figured out enough of the menu to make our choices. Bill wanted soup, but you have to take your own container. Seemed weird to me, since they had to go containers for all the other food. Seemed especially weird to me when they held up a bag of what looked like eyeballs in syrup and said “dessert.” Lychee fruit. It’s still sitting in our fridge, although I don’t know why we didn’t just toss it. Who wants to eat a big bowl of eyeballs? Not me, thank you very much. With a soup container and minus the eyeballs, I’d go back I think.

Heeeeeeeere’s Kaitlyn!

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

                    I’m not sure exactly what our dinner guests last night thought of their dining experience Chez Radeline. If they were to write a review, they might say the food was good (yes, the company stew was perfect) but the ambiance left something to be desired.

                After the main course, the kids were playing in the family room and the grown ups were sitting around the table chatting. Kaitlyn had cried a couple of times that the bigger kids didn’t play with her.

                Then, she started to complain that her stomach hurt. I thought she was just trying to get attention because the whole play thing was still not going her way. Oh, was I ever wrong. Holding her tummy, she opened her mouth and, well, threw up all over the couch. Then while she was trying to get to the bathroom, she threw up all over the floor, dangerously close to our guests shoes all lined up in a neat row.

                The good thing about having guests with children is that they simply sat and talked to each other while Bill and I cleaned up Kaitlyn and the couch and the floor and whatever else fell victim to her tummy troubles.

                Once she was changed and lying down, it was back to serving dessert and coffee like it was just another ordinary event at any dinner. Luckily it’s not and luckily the guests were understanding. The raspberry tart from the boulangerie was a hit, as was the frothy coffee from the Tassimo. Yes, Kaitlyn did say she wanted some tart. Luckily, she got distracted playing and skipped it.

                After they left (and the getting sick stayed), I offered to sit on the couch with Kaitlyn, so I could watch her. I’m terrified she will throw up and not sit up and choke. Granted, any day of the year she could get sick in the middle of the night and I don’t sit up every night staring at her. But once she’s started to get sick, I, well, panic a bit.

                She felt so sick that I chose a tv show to watch and she not only didn’t complain she didn’t even comment. I’d seen an ad for the Tonight Show on MSNBC Europe at some time I didn’t understand… like “central European time.” I had to dial through like a million German channels to find it, but once I did it was apparently “central European time.”

                The Tonight Show was on, and it was still in the monologue. From that, I figured out that the show was from Tuesday. All the commercial breaks were edited out, which was a bit odd, but not in a bad way.

                After that, Conan O’Brien came on. That was horrible. It was so bad, it allowed me to doze off. Apparently sometime after that, they showed a poker tournament. Bill watched that and he ended up staying up until around 2. Around 2:30 I was back up with a sick little girl.

                Oh, well, something came of the evening. I never used to watch the Tonight Show at home, but it felt so normal to sit on the couch and watch an American show. Too bad I didn’t look at the clock to see what time it was.

just a trim, please

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

                Just like it is easier to put your dog on a diet than yourself, it is easier to let your 4 year old get her haircut in an unknown salon than to have your own locks trimmed under such conditions.

                Kaitlyn has been begging me to get her haircut. It is getting long. Like Bill, she hasn’t had it cut since before we moved. Ok, I did trim her bangs once and they came out all crooked so I’ve had to wait for them to grow out enough to warrant the trip to a salon. That time has come… and gone. I’m surprised she doesn’t bump into things while she’s walking, since it must be hard to see. (especially since she doesn’t let me put anything in her hair that would help keep it out of her face)

                    Bill said I should just call and make an appointment to take Kaitlyn to the place I went.  (this from the man who was so chicken he decided it was better to cut his own hair at home with a razor)  Not everyone cuts a little kids hair and it’s all the way downtown.

                    So this afternoon Kaitlyn and I were walking past the shops in Uriage on our way to get cash from the ATM so we could get stew meat from the butcher. (he only takes cash and I need to make stew because we’re having company and that is my “company food.”) We went past one hair salon and there was nothing on the window saying they cut children’s hair. It also didn’t say that you could get a cut “sans rendez vous.” Somehow I convinced Kaitlyn to move on. Then we passed a second salon. She cannot read but seemed to just sense that they cut children’s hair and that you don’t need an appointment (both were marked on the window). She grabbed my hand and literally dragged me in. I secretly hoped they didn’t have time. I mean, stew is company food and it is easy but it does take a certain amount of time to make. I don’t want to serve crunchy stew! Anyway, I explained to the woman who greeted us that Kaitlyn wanted a haircut. Turns out, she speaks a little English. So mixed with my little bit of French we managed to communicate what we needed. Oh, sure, they could do it now. How long could it take to cut a little girl’s hair? Oh, wait, this is France. Everything takes longer than you expect.

                    So the lady said she could cut Kaitlyn’s hair right now but by right now she actually meant after she finished a conversation with a friend who had stopped by. Finally that was done and she disappeared in the back room. She emerged with a giant cushion for Kaitlyn to sit on and a smock for her to wear. First, she washed Kaitlyn’s hair in one of the big bowl sinks like for a grown up. At the kid haircut places we went to at home, they’d just spray her hair with some water to get it wet enough to cut. She kinda liked the new experience. But even with the big cushion she wasn’t the right size and her entire back was soaking wet. Nothing a little hot air from a hair dryer can’t fix, I guess.

                    In the chair in front of the mirror, the hairdresser put the smock around Kaitlyn. It has Mickey Mouse on it. Kaitlyn liked that. Kaitlyn’s hair is so full of knots, since she hates letting us brush it, that the hairdresser had to go find a really wide tooth comb to get the job done. Then, finally, the cutting could actually start. I’d asked her to trim her hair so it framed Kaitlyn’s face, and hid the remains of Kaitlyn’s self haircut. (she’d cut a chunk out of her own hair back in September! The lady who cut hair just for kids did a horrible job of “fixing” it months ago and it still looks funny.) The other reason for the new “do” is because Kaitlyn hates having her hair pulled back and it’s constantly in her eyes or her mouth. The hairdresser was also careful not to cut Kaitlyn’s hair too short, which is good because Bill thinks his daughter should have long hair. After she was done trimming, she used the hair dryer and a round brush to make Kaitlyn’s hair just perfect. Then, to my surprise, she got out some rubber bands and pulled the newly trimmed hair into pig tails. If Kaitlyn normally let me do that, the hair cut wouldn’t have been so imperative! It’s ok, I know she’ll never let me do that at home. And it was cute. No, I didn’t take any pictures of it.

                    I went to pay and tried using a credit card. No can do. But the woman actually let me walk down to the bank machine and come back with the money. I didn’t have to leave my keys or my child as “ransom,” she just trusted I would return. She also gave me her card and suggested as politely as possible that I may want to return to have my own hair done. Yes, I know I should. I’d have made an appointment but I didn’t have my calendar with me and can never remember when my French lessons are since they never seem to be at quite the same time from week to week. I also figure this way I can wait a few days and see how Kaitlyn’s hair looks when we have to fix it ourselves. That will be the real test.

need a lift?

Monday, February 19th, 2007

OK, does it make me too big of a geek if I spent the morning at Chamrousse and didn’t ski. I mean, I didn’t even wear my ski outfit or take my skis with me. I took Kaitlyn to ski school and was too chicken to go skiing by myself. What if I fall? What if the slopes are more rocks than snow? It’s not like they’re going to tell you that when you walk up to buy your lift ticket. “Oh, no, don’t spend your money here today! Conditions are lousy!”

                So while Kaitlyn kept working on her perfection of the sport in the Piou Piou Club, I sat in a restaurant drinking a horrible coffee (oh, I miss Rome!) and working on a cross stitch.

                Problem is, Kaitlyn has ski school every morning this week. I’m either going to have to get over my fear of the slopes or the waiter at the restaurant is going to start bringing me my coffee before I even have to order it.

Good Question

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

It’s amazing how the mind of a four year old works.

                        Today we took a drive to check out an “easy” walk I’d found in a book of hikes in the Chartreuse mountains. It was about 45 minutes from the house and included a small stretch on a toll road. At the toll booth, naturally, the transaction is conducted in French. As we were pulling away, Kaitlyn asked what the man said. Then she asked us how he learned to speak French.

oh, Mother tongue!

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

This morning when we left Rome, I felt a lot differently about the city than I did when we arrived Sunday.

                    In my few days there, I started to fall in love with the city.

                    The mix of the unthinkably ancient and the brand new. The men trying to sell me everything from roses to sunglasses to bubbles became background noise. Even Kaitlyn had learned to look at them and say “No!” I had enjoyed my afternoons window shopping on my own… even starting to pretend that I was a local and not a tourist. The pizza last night was simply beyond compare. The coffee has spoiled me completely.

                    The hotel was ideal: walking distance to everything (although that tends to lead to a lot of walking!) with a view out of our window of the Pantheon! Kaitlyn loved the slippers by her bed and she even slept in her own bed! Yes, I could have done without the guy who sat right outside our window begging rather loudly, but even he became just part of the noise of the city.

                    But maybe the thing that made me a little sad to leave Rome was that I heard and read more English than I have in months. Heck, I think there’s more English in Rome than in Los Angeles! Except for one waitress, everyone we came in contact with spoke English. No one made me feel bad that I don’t speak and didn’t even attempt to speak Italian. Honestly, it made the return to France and to the struggle to fit in and speak the language a lot harder than I thought it would.

Perfect ending…

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Today’s itinerary got tossed entirely out the window. Bill is sick. I am tired. Kaitlyn is tired. I was supposed to go to to the Borghese Gallery at 8:30am. Then the afternoon was a trip to the catacombs. Nope and nope.

                    After sleeping in a little bit, we returned to the Colosseum determined to see the inside. A couple of people tried to get us to take their English tours, but we figured Kaitlyn’s patience for tours had probably reached its end. The line to get in was long, but not horrible. And since it is Valentine’s Day, we only had to pay for one ticket! The tour organizer outside had told us of the deal.. and she said that if Kaitlyn were three she’d get in for free. So I told the ticket lady there were two adults and one three year old. She peered through her glass enclosure suspiciously but finally gave in. I did pay for the audio guide, so we could learn a little bit while we were there. The first thing I learned is that figuring out where you are supposed to stand for the different recordings is challenging in the Colosseum. All you get is a vague map with some numbers on it. The second thing I learned is that Kaitlyn thought the audio guide looked like a telephone and she wanted to talk on it. So I listened to a bit of the tour, then acquiesced to keep the peace and let her “talk” the rest of the time.

                    Continuing on the “things to make Kaitlyn happy” theme, we took a taxi from the Colosseum to Villa Borghese. Thank goodness, since the whole journey was uphill. And earlier this morning, Bill tried to put Kaitlyn on his shoulders and that caused a searing pain so he put her down and forced her to walk on her own.

                    I’d read that Villa Borghese, which is a giant park, has boats you can rent on the lake. I don’t know why but I assumed they were little remote control boats. No, they were actual rowboats. It was not easy to convince Kaitlyn that we were not going to go on a boat ride. It’s chilly, Bill is sick and I am wearing a skirt. No boats! There was a sign for a train so we tried to follow that. The first path we took was the wrong way. We stopped and got lunch at a truck along the road… Bill and Kaitlyn got hot dogs and I got a chicken sandwich that I only ate half of because I was so hungry it was gross. We finally found the “train.” It isn’t a train at all. It’s a sort of arcade. There are little bumper cars for someone Kaitlyn’s size. She tried those but got annoyed because she kept bumping into the walls or the parked cars, so she got out. There were other rides, like the kind you find at the entrance to the grocery store in the United States. She rode all of those, then wasted some money trying to win a stuffed animal with one of those claw games.

                    From the park, we planned to take a taxi to the hotel. Kaitlyn saw some escalators and insisted on taking them. We figured a ride on the metro would do for her train ride, so we went. After riding countless escalators and walking for blocks through a tunnel, we came out near the Spanish Steps. Bill is convinced we found some strange shortcut through Rome that no one else knows about.

                    We stopped at the McDonald’s there for a snack and a bathroom break. The bathroom was disgusting. The snacks were fried shrimp… minus the heads!

                    Even though we were only a few minutes from our hotel, Bill and Kaitlyn took a taxi back. He told me later that they, of course, stopped for gelato next door.

                    I continued my quest for the perfect souvenir. I bought a cool Vespa calendar, but it still isn’t the “perfect” remembrance. I stopped at Daniella’s coffee shop for another cappuccino, then realized I’d mis-ordered when the guy next to me got a hot chocolate.

                    I returned to a shoe store I’d gone into yesterday to try on some boots. Shoe stores in Rome are completely different than shoe stores I’m used to. All the shoes are on display in glass cases in front of the store. You take the salesperson outside and point at the pair you like. I tried on two pairs of boots and was ready to admit defeat to my chubby calves when the man who appeared to be the store owner offered a solution: he has a machine that can stretch the boots to fit. Can I wait 10 minutes? He measured my calves, took the boots and went into the back. Ten minutes in Rome is like 10 minutes in France… more like 30. I wanted to go get a cup of hot chocolate, but didn’t want him to think I wouldn’t be back. I could leave the bag of tights I bought for Kaitlyn as a guarantee of my return… nah… too hard. So I sat and waited. His trick worked and I bought the boots. I wish I’d had them in all that rain!

                    Back at the hotel I found Bill watching tv instead of napping. After a while he turned to me and said “go ahead and get whatever Sky tv you want… I do miss just watching plain old tv.” We watched a show on Animal Planet about some zoo then I flipped around and found “Three Sisters” followed by “Gilmore Girls.” I don’t even watch “Gilmore Girls” but was thrilled with it… just to have a show in English.

                    We finally decided we had to stop watching the American tv and eat. But we could barely wake Kaitlyn up from her nap to go to dinner.

                    Tired of all the heavy and pricey meals, we went to a pizza restaurant written up in two different tour guides I read. Pizzeria Baffetto. It was a short walk from our hotel. When we got there, all the tables outside were full and I was afraid we’d have to wait. Someone lead us inside, up a tiny staircase and into a room crammed full of tables and chairs. When you sit down the waiter puts down the table “cloth”… white paper. And as soon as we sat down, the waiters started gushing over Kaitlyn. And Kaitlyn flirted back. (she is never allowed to go to college!) We started with bruchetta, which isn’t my favorite. It came with some mushrooms and white beans on the side, so that’s what I ate. It was incredible. I don’t know how a plate of beans that appeared to have nothing on them could be so incredible, but they were. The waiter made sure Kaitlyn’s pizza would be ready first. She got one with cherry tomatoes on top. I was glad she didn’t see the one with egg on top. Then came mine and Bill’s. He got spicy salami. I got mushrooms and onions. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I have never had pizza that good and I will make a trip back to Rome just to eat there again. I found my perfect souvenir… a menu from Pizzeria Baffetto.