Archive for May, 2007

no thank you!

Monday, May 21st, 2007

            A note from another ISE just popped into my email inbox with a phrase I hope to never find myself uttering: “We leave for Paris in the morning and I’ve just found out our hotel rooms don’t have toilettes in them.”

stupid test

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Today a doctor came to Kaitlyn’s school to give the children exams. The form they sent home said the doctor would check eyesight, hearing, speech and I think posture or something like that.

                        So I filled out the form they sent home the best I could, copied her immunization records from the US and handed it all over to the teacher this morning.

                        When I picked Kaitlyn up from school this afternoon, the teacher handed me an envelope. It contained the “results” for the exam.

Eyesight: fine

Speech: parle anglais (so they skipped it)

Hearing: some sort of problem.

                    I cannot read the doctor’s handwriting (big surprise!) but here’s what I think it says: if you talk to Kaitlyn in a normal or loud voice even in French she understands. But if you whisper, she doesn’t. Well, no shit! If you whisper to me in French I don’t understand. I’m lucky to understand as much as she does if you speak French to me in a normal tone.

                    The whole thing annoyed me.

                    Then at dinner, Kaitlyn started crying and told us she can’t speak and that the doctor told her that. I don’t know if he did or if she overheard me telling Bill what it said, but not overhearing the part where I said how stupid the whole thing is. I must have whispered that part … in French.

ups and downs in Paris

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

We wanted to take Kaitlyn back to the Eiffel Tower, to see it during the day and go all the way to the top level. She rejected the idea, saying we’d been there the other night. Fine.

                        At breakfast, I poured over my Paris with Kids book trying to find something I thought would appeal to everyone. I found a wonderful sounding park that’s right by a weekend flea market. So we hopped the metro and went.

                        When we got off the metro, I wasn’t so sure we’d made the right choice.

                        First, we had trouble just finding the flea market. Again, Dad gave up and went into a cafe to ask directions. Once that problem was solved, Bill took Kaitlyn to the park while the rest of us poured over the piles of junk trying to find anything worth buying. There were a couple of things that caught my eye, but I didn’t buy anything. Overall, the market was not the charming neighborhood of brocantes that had been imagined.

                        Bill called me from the park. The lake with sailboats was dry. The carousel wasn’t running. They were trying to find the climbing wall. He sounded, let’s just say, less than happy. Kaitlyn still had a good time. She wore herself out enough that once we got her to lay still, she fell asleep for a much-needed nap.

                        On the way to dinner, we went to the Arc de Triomphe… since it was only a couple of blocks from the hotel. I’d nearly gone insane finding a hotel near the Arc and the Eiffel Tower so we were going to go there! Kaitlyn asked why we couldn’t take the elevator rather than climb the 284 steps up, but up the steps we went. Kaitlyn liked being able to see some of the things she’d visited, but I think her favorite thing was the gift shop. (the reward for climbing all those steps is the ability to shop) I bought her a coloring book with pictures of monuments in Paris; I hope it will help her remember our trip. Bill bought her a commemorative coin to join her collection from Notre Dame.

                        Dinner was the complete opposite of the morning: it was everything we’d hoped for. We got to the teppinyaki restaurant the appropriate French 10 minutes late. We had to sit and wait for our teppinyaki table for quite a while, but once we got our drinks, that wasn’t so bad. And after the cook finished our meals (which were fantastic) we got to watch him cook for the people who sat at regular tables in the restaurant. The oddest dish was the grilled fois gras. Bill said that looked like a way he’d eat it. I thought it just looked greasy.

                    Even with the evening climb up the Arc de Triomphe, Kaitlyn wasn’t quite ready to settle down after dinner. So we stayed up late watching the German version of Dancing with the Stars. It’s becoming a habit… we watched the Dutch version in Amsterdam! Funny, since we didn’t watch it in the U.S.

Paris: Kaitlyn’s way

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Making Paris interesting for Kaitlyn was a challenge. Especially because, unlike on our other trips, I really didn’t do a whole lot of research. I tossed a copy of “Paris with Kids” in our suitcase. I had tried to mark some things in it last week, but Kaitlyn took out all my little bookmarks to play with.

                        She liked the idea of going to see Notre Dame… because it’s where Quasimodo worked. I had to keep emphasizing WORKED. He won’t be there today. That part was nearly a deal-breaker for her. Thank goodness the gargoyles still work there. She was ok with that.

                        I realized on the walk from the metro to the church just how little prep work I had done. We walked past a building with a line out on the sidewalk… but I couldn’t tell you why on earth anyone would stand and wait to go inside. Normally, I like to think I can at least explain why we aren’t stopping someplace as we walk by.

                            As we walked up to Notre Dame, Kaitlyn saw people up on top. “I want to go up there!” It also seemed to be the best place to go for her to get a good look at the gargoyles. Standing where we were she said she couldn’t see them. Again, my lack of preparation caught me off guard. I had no idea how to get up there, or what getting up there would entail.

                            We stood in a line outside the church which I figured led where we wanted to go. I mean, just finding a queue in France is amazing, so it had to be leading somewhere worth going. Well, it led inside. Kaitlyn was more interested than I thought she would be. Mass started while we were there; she thought she’d watch that for a while. That didn’t last long, though. Can’t really blame her. She liked the candles that were burning on big round holders all around the perimeter walls. What she liked was the idea of blowing them out. So I donated 2 Euros to light a candle so she could do just that. She’d have just stood there blowing the candle out over and over if I’d let her.

                                We walked through the entire church and bought two coins to commemorate our visit (the first one Bill bought had what Kaitlyn said was the “wrong” picture on it, so to keep the peace he bought a second). But we still hadn’t found the way up the tower. I was about ready to give in and take out my grown-up tour book that I’d stuffed in my purse when Bill asked someone. Outside to the right. Oh, yea, where that really long line is!

                                After a bit of indecision, we got in the line. I ran across the street and bought a sandwich that Kaitlyn and I shared (we were both getting grumpy) while we waited and waited and waited. I don’t even want to know how long the wait is in the summer. They let 20 people or so in every 10 minutes. I don’t know how long it took us to get inside… 30 or 45 minutes. And once the wait was over, was I ever sorry. The climb to the top is up 422 narrow, winding steps. So when you get to the top you aren’t just exhausted, you’re also dizzy. And why the people behind you on a climb like that have to be in super shape and desperate to go so fast that they’re happy to nearly climb up your back, I don’t know. After all that work to get up there, I tried to linger, but Kaitlyn was most interested in finding her way back down. We did get her to stop for a minute to look at a bell that Quasimodo could have rung. We also checked out the gargoyles. Later, I asked her if they’d said anything and she said “Mom, they don’t really talk!” duh.

                            Back on the ground, we stopped at “La Fete du Pain” going on in front of the church. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to put 3 foot tall barrels of flour out. They attracted two groups: smart-ass teenagers who thought it was funny to throw the flour on their friends (and anyone unfortunate enough to be too close) and small children. I wandered off in search of drinks and returned to find Kaitlyn coated in flour. When I’m trying to coat something in flour, it doesn’t stick that well!

                        After a late lunch we gave Kaitlyn a choice: go back to the hotel for a nap or take a boat ride. It was really a stupid question; she’d never choose to nap.

                            The tour boat had two seating levels and we all agreed to sit up top. But it didn’t take too long for us to notice what looked like a downpour in the direction we’d be heading so we headed back downstairs to sit in the shelter. Good thing we did. Not too long into the one hour tour, we sailed into a torrential downpour. The inside area quickly became standing room only as tourists who had ignored the clouds came running for cover.

                        Our timing was lucky and the rain stopped just before the tour did. Kaitlyn requested a carousel ride, and I remembered passing one outside the Louvre (on our tourist-trap-taxi-trip). Just outside the museum grounds, Kaitlyn announced a desperate need to go to the bathroom. I figured a park as big as the one outside the Louvre had to have one… but good luck finding it! Bill and Dad got directions and we rushed toward what looked like relief. We didn’t have high hopes it would even be acceptable, but she wasn’t going to have a choice. It turned out to be one of the cleanest bathrooms I have seen anywhere. There is a little old man who tends to them and obviously takes a great deal of pride in his work. It cost 40 cents to get in. Kaitlyn was free. I saw him refuse to take money from a pregnant woman who needed to go.

                        As we ran to the bathroom, we passed a huge fountain where kids can sail small wooden boats. Kaitlyn chose that over the carousel ride. Talk about a page out of a storybook. A man rents the boats and sticks to the kids. Two Euros for 30 minutes. His rules: don’t run with the stick and don’t try to get the boat out of the water. For a half hour, one of the classic members of the tv-digital generation was mesmerized by pushing her boat into the fountain, running around to the other side (while I followed carrying the stick), then pushing the boat again.

                        For dinner, we tried to eat at a tepinyaki grill. Not your typical Parisian choice, but it smelled so good and when we walked inside and saw the shrimp minus their heads and legs (which are usually included when you order them here)… we had to have some. No seats tonight, so we made reservations for tomorrow. Tonight we ended up at an Italian restaurant that’s a chain. Bistro Romain. Unforgettable… because you want to remember not to go back. Our waitress had a rather pungent presence (she overpowered any nearby cheese) and she didn’t understand Dad’s order. He tried to get something not on the menu, by mixing noodles out of one dish with sauce from another. Instead, she brought him two main courses. When we told her that wasn’t right, she had the manager come over to find out why we’d changed our minds. (for once I was glad to have taken Kaitlyn to the bathroom, it meant I missed that conversation)

                        On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Disney store for Kaitlyn. Because we hadn’t done quite enough for her today.

Kaitlyn goes to Paris

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Kaitlyn took her first train ride today. (The Pineapple Express at the Dole Plantation doesn’t count) I’d explained to her that it was kind of like a plane, but easier to get up and walk around. She asked if you sit and someone brings you food and a drink. No, no, you have to go get it. She liked that. I think she just liked not having to sit still for the entire three hour trip. And three hours on the TGV beat 6 hours in a car, hands down. She had no interest in even trying to take a nap on the train. Dad snoozed off and on. And the guy next to him slept the entire time… he even spread out and took over Dad’s seat during one of Dad’s coffee trips.

                        The first thing we did when we arrived in Paris was get ripped off. Probably. At the line of taxi’s outside the train station, we walked up to the one guy with a van. (Five people, four suitcases plus a few carry-ons was way too much for an ordinary taxi) It cost 60 Euros to go from Gare Lyon (the station) to our hotel. About a 25 minute ride. We’ll find out when we ride back to the station Sunday night with the three of us, one suitcase and Kaitlyn’s Nemo backpack how much a real taxi ride is.

                        The ride itself was probably along a more tourist route than needed. But it did give Kaitlyn a peek at the Eiffel Tower. She’s been talking for weeks about seeing it and every time she says a picture of it says “that’s where we live!” She was thrilled to see it.

                    The first thing she said when we went into our hotel room (which was very nice… included a long hallway with a big closet and big bathroom as well as a decent sized bedroom) was “where is my bed?” I didn’t bother to explain to her that the room cost enough without the extra 30 Euros a night for an extra bed (which would have turned a decent sized room into a tight squeeze). She comes into our room asking to get into our bed just about every morning around 5am, so we figured sleeping there the whole night would be a treat. And cheaper.

                        Tonight was the big night out: dinner at the Jules Verne inside the Eiffel Tower. I’d read in a guidebook to expect to spend about $300 a PERSON. That was all the “review” said. It was enough for me to expect a potentially unpleasant experience with a four year old who refused to nap on the train. Bill and I were so frustrated by her we agreed that if it had just been us, we’d have canceled the reservation. But, it wasn’t just us, so we went… and crossed our fingers.

                    On our way there, Kaitlyn spotted a carousel she just had to ride. I thought the one here in Uriage is fast. (it is) This one is a double decker. And Kaitlyn, of course, had to ride on the second level. She was thrilled to be way up high on a horse going up and down and round and round. I made Bill go with her. While they were whirling around, it started to rain. Luckily, it didn’t pour.

                        Our reservation was for 7:15… the earliest seating. (Thanks to the carousel, we were the proper French 5 minutes late) We were seated at a big round table in the middle of the room, not right up against the windows. We gave Kaitlyn the best seat to see out, and it also had a view up to the elevators going to the highest level of the tower. That was kind of neat. The seats also adjust up and down like office chairs (not normally a plus at a fancy restaurant) so she could sit real high up, and see better. I also noticed and appreciated no eye-rolling from the staff when she came in.

                        I’ve never had this happen to me before; I was given a menu without prices. I thought maybe it was a fixed-price menu and I just had to choose from each column, so to speak. So I said something about my lack of pricing information and glanced at Dad’s menu… he had prices. Ok, so it isn’t a fixed price. Whatever, if you aren’t going to tell me what the stuff costs I’m not going to worry about it. So I ordered the lobster. Bill told me later he almost ordered that, but his menu did have prices and he just couldn’t bring himself to order an 80 Euro main dish.

                    I admit, I sneaked a peek at the numbers in front of Dad when he was signing the bill. I don’t want to be rude and say what it was. But it was staggering. It was nearly as much as our hotel for the entire long weekend, minus the over priced breakfast buffet).

                    Kaitlyn behaved herself as well as a tired, excited 4 year old could at a fancy restaurant. One of the waiters suggested a little champagne for her. (Maybe if I hadn’t seen that it was 18 Euros a glass!) He said “you are in France now!” I told him we live here and he came back with a comment about how we should be familiar with some Alpine liqueur that you let your child lick off your finger. Instead of either a lick of liquor or a sip of champagne, Kaitlyn got a glass of milk. That’s nearly impossible to find here at a restaurant. You can’t even get it with a Happy Meal.


Saturday, May 12th, 2007

We drive small cars. Some might refer to them as clown cars. Fine, they aren’t big. Neither are the roads or parking spaces here in France.

                    But it means that we don’t have space for lots of luggage. One of our suitcases basically fills our trunk space.

                Please make a note that three large suitcases plus carry ons may be acceptable to the airlines on an international flight. Not an easy fit in the car. Not with passengers in the car, too, anyway.

je ne parle pas bien francais!

Friday, May 11th, 2007

I should know better than to try to talk to anyone when I have a migraine. In English. Let alone French.

                        But this morning when I took Kaitlyn to school, I was overwhelmed with the sudden desire to ask a question. When her teacher said bonjour, Kaitlyn giggled and hid behind me. It’s a daily… and annoying… ritual of hers. So today, I decided I just had to know if Kaitlyn acts this way all day long, or if it’s a treat just for me.

                        First I asked “if I’m not speaking here, does Kaitlyn speak French?” Well, that was nonsense and the look on the teaching assistant’s face confirmed that. So I quickly tried to correct myself. “If I’m not have here, does she speak French?” As I said it, I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t figure out why. (If you care: instead of saying je suis i said je est which doesn’t exist and came out like j’ai) The assistant saved her language from another butchering by figuring out what I meant. “oh, oui, elle parle boucoup. Mais, en americanne, pas francais.”

                        And when I left, she probably figured she knew why!

make a splash

Monday, May 7th, 2007

It appears that spring has sprung and we’re on the fast track to summer, so it’s time to de-winterize the pool. Or whatever you call it.

                        Last week, I asked the relocation people to phone the pool guys who winterized the pool to schedule a time when they could un-do all their hard work. The woman at the relocation place sent me an email saying she’d left them a voice mail and my phone number asking them to call.. but speak slowly. Well, I could have done that.

                        When the guy called he did talk slowly, but I still got confused at the end about what time of day they were coming… morning or afternoon. So I just resigned myself to stay home all day at wait. Turns out, he’d said afternoon. Which after lunch means 2:30 or so. Just about the time I was ready to give up hope!

                        They rang the doorbell and when I answered they politely shook my hand and said “bonjour, madame, comment allez vous?” Which is so formal they are the only people I’ve ever even heard say it, other than the people on my learn to speak French CD (that I bought at home). I answered and managed to have a very short conversation and they were so thrilled. Their faces lit up and they declared “vous parlez francais!”

                        It was a bit of an exaggeration but it sure was a much needed ego boost.

                        Now I hope I understood all their instructions for the pool chemicals… since they gave them in French.

it works

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

This morning Kaitlyn was having a grand time dousing a piece of construction paper with glue then drowning buttons in the gloppy white puddles. She started to drag her sleeve through the glue, so I suggested she push her sleeves up. She did and said “ca marche.”

                        Her first French phrase. Ca marche.

je ne comprends rien! aaaah!

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Every time I think I’m starting to get the hang of speaking French… I have a day like today.

                        I had to drive downtown to the train station to buy tickets for an upcoming long weekend in Paris. (and the fetching of some house guests from the airport) I’d been told that they have a window for English speakers. The ticket counter has maybe a dozen agents (well, spots for that many. Not that many were at work at lunchtime. Honestly, I feared the whole thing would shut down for the two hour French lunch break) Anyway, over each agent is a digital sign that says something like “Bienvenue a la gare sncf” then, for some, it changes to say “English spoken.” Pretty handy. I’ve studied how to buy a train ticket in French. And if it was one single simple trip, I could have muddled through it (I think). But this just had too many pitfalls to even attempt it. I was relieved not to have to.

                        So while I’m waiting in line, minding my own English-speaking business, the kind old lady behind me asks me a question. I think she said something about billets (tickets), but I have no idea what. I asked her to repeat herself and when I still had no clue what she was asking, I just fell back on “je ne parles pas bien francais.” She just smiled at me and gave up. Whatever she needed to know wasn’t THAT important, because she didn’t speak to anyone else. It’s like the French government sends in spies to try to hold conversations with non-French speakers… just to remind you that you don’t really fit in.

                        I didn’t let that bug me too much.

                        But then this afternoon my confidence took another blow at Carrefour. Earlier this week when I went (yes, I had to go twice in one week… ) I managed to sign up for the cart fidelite … their version of the frequent shopper card. But this afternoon, that accomplishment was wiped out with one little question.

                        I was at the meat counter to buy some steak to grill. I didn’t even really want to go through the ordeal of ordering from the butcher, but Kaitlyn was fascinated by all the dead birds in the case and while we were standing there identifying them (chicken, duck, pigeon) someone shoved one of those little tickets with a number on it in my hand and I couldn’t find anyone else to pass it off to, so I figured I’d just order some steak. I managed that, sort of. The guy corrected my pronunciation of “griller,” so he knew I’m not real good at this whole French thing. Then after we established what I wanted, he started messing around putting away some turkey (which I did not order or mention) then he looked right at me and said “avez vous le temps?” I was completely stumped. Normally, I understand the question. But I didn’t really expect a butcher to ask me the time. I was trying to figure out what the hell le temps was in relation to beef or a cow. Or maybe a grill. He repeated himself and another woman standing there tapped at her wrist. I didn’t have on my watch; if I did I think I was too flustered to give the time in French. (It’s hard enough without having to also convert to military time, which they use in excess.) Even if I’d wanted to order something else… pigeon perhaps… I was too embarrassed to.

                        I want to be able to speak French. Really I do. And Bill tells me that I know far more than I realize. But all I ever realize is that I know enough to skate by… as long as whoever I’m talking to stays on topic… and even then there are no guarantees. Ce n’est pas facile!