Archive for September, 2007

worth the trip

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

A lot of places here we’ve been told to visit are places you have to visit between April and October, because they are not open in the winter. Fort St Eynard is one such place. If you ever wonder why, imagine driving up a single-lane mountain road intended for two-way traffic, through the woods, with no guardrail. That is what keeps this high-altitude destination from welcoming visitors when there’s any chance of snow.

The fort is on the mountain across from the one where we live; it’s about as high as the lower area of the ski resort. There isn’t really much to see there as far as the fort itself goes, although it is hard to imagine how they built it so far up the mountain hundreds of years ago.

There are two real reasons to make the climb.

First: the view. It is amazing. You can look down and see the bubbles (that we rode yesterday) and see just how high up you are. But you have to be very careful. There isn’t really much between you and a very long, painful plunge down. There’s a chain link fence and some barbed wire. And a strong grip from Mom or Dad (or Uncle’s) hand.

Second: the restaurant. The menu isn’t long, but it doesn’t need to be. You just need to know two words …. gratin daphinois. Creamy potatoes au gratin. Amazing. When you scoop the potatoes out of the baking dish, there’s a pool of butter left at the bottom. I suppose if you hike around the fort you can eat them guilt-free. Guilt or not, they were darn good. Definitely worth the trip.

There is a third reason, but it’s really only a good one if you are a little kid. There’s a donkey that lives on top of the restaurant. The building is built into the hill, allowing for rooftop inhabitants.

breakfast anyone?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

This probably wasn’t very nice of me.

I’m sitting up in the office typing away on my computer while the house guests are preparing breakfast. Bill comes up to find me and I say “what… eggs? But we don’t have bread for toast!” And I promptly send Bill to the store in town to fetch some. Oh, and pick up some meat for dinner while you’re there.

Next time, he’ll probably just eat without me.

paraponters and bubbles

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

What can you do with visitors that is unique to the area? We had a ready-made answer to the question. Go to the festival for paraponting. (that’s where people jump off a mountain with a parachute)

We didn’t get out there until the afternoon. It was pretty crowded. And sunny. And hot.

The event started with Kaitlyn getting upset when I told her she’s too small to jump off a mountain with a parachute.

She finally found an acceptable alternative: the stuff set up for kids. So after downing an ice cream, she went on the giant inflated slide. It was pretty high and pretty steep. Some kids were getting to the top then refusing to slide down. Those kids were older than Kaitlyn. She didn’t have that problem. She got to the top and would slide down, squealing and smiling all the way. Then she’d climb right back up to slide down again. Then she rode on one of those silly carnival rides where you sit in a car and go around and around in circles. We wouldn’t let her go on the climbing wall. Or do the fencing. Or play rugby. Or twirl a baton. Seemed like an aggressive set of activities for children.

We tried to watch the paraponters for a while. Truth be told, on a normal sunny afternoon there’s just as many as there were today. They may not be wearing funny outfits or twirling around or competing to land in the middle of a circle on the ground… but there are still more of them in the sky. The sun and the heat finally took their toll and we left.

Next stop: the bubbles.

Kaitlyn loves those things. I somehow always manage to forget just how much I hate them until we get in and we are starting the climb up the mountain. The view today was spectacular. It was especially clear…. we could even see Mont Blanc. That was pretty amazing.. considering it’s a two hour drive to it but it’s so big that we could see it!

We found out that the top area of the Bastille (the bubbles’ destination) is a hang out for teenagers on a Saturday evening. And we found out that teenagers here are as obnoxious as teenagers in the United States. They started pouring bottles of water on each other. Sometimes spraying them. I was not in any mood to get sprayed with water.

There was also a performance going on at the Bastille. Some sort of mime. Who occasionally talked. We watched for a while. The most interesting thing he did was use two ladders like stilts. Another time I went to watch with Kaitlyn and he was up there in his underwear. We were at the Bastille for a little more than an hour when we took the bubbles back down… and his act was still going on.

We tried to go to a fondue restaurant I’d heard about. They serve you the bread in a basket on a pulley above the table. I thought that would keep Kaitlyn entertained…. kind of like her granddad with the toaster that sent the bread down automatically. (legend has it, he made his mother toast two loaves of bread the day they bought the toaster so he could watch it. The missing link in the story is… how old was he at the time?) But without a reservation, that didn’t work out.

We went to plan b: the pizza truck. We sat at one of his little tables waiting for the pizzas. And now it was so cold, Debbie and I huddled under a blanket Bill fetched from his car. We’ll be lucky if we don’t get sick from all this hot then cold. If we do, we can just take some of Debbie’s mercury and I’m sure we’ll be fine.

my first parent-teacher meeting

Friday, September 21st, 2007

I don’t know who scheduled it… there was a meeting with Kaitlyn’s teacher tonight at 6:00. Not a one-on-one meeting, but one open to all the parents in her class. Sort of a “now that school’s been going on for nearly a month, let’s chat about it” meeting. I realized I would not stand a chance of following most of it, but thought it was important to go so she’d know how interested I am in Kaitlyn’s education. So I went. The meeting started at 6, we had dinner reservations at 8:15. Seemed like it would work out.

First, the principal spoke. She went so fast, I really have no clear idea what she said. The only part I sort of followed was when she said not to bring the kids before 8:30 in the morning. And I understood when the teacher said when you do bring the kids in, make sure that she knows they’re there… because one time she didn’t and the little girl wandered off to try to find her way home and was found by sheer luck. Or something to that effect.

Finally, it was the teacher’s turn. She had a slide show presentation. I was hoping she’d have words up there, because I stand a better chance of understanding French when I can read it. No such luck. It was pictures taken during class to show what a day is like. I guess because she was the one taking the pictures, there weren’t any of her pulling her hair out. She spends her day in a room filled with 3, 4 and 5 year olds; I don’t know how she has any hair at all left on her head. Anyway, it was good to get a glimpse into Kaitlyn’s day. It includes story time, gym, pre-math, snack, recess, lunch, nap, writing, music. No wonder she’s so tired at the end of the day. She’s far busier than I am!

I started trying to slyly look at my watch. The babysitter was coming to the house at 7:30. She beat me there. Finally, another American and I stood up and said we needed to leave. That meeting was still going on. Those people were going to sit in those chairs made for little kids until they became physically unable to get out of them. They may still all be sitting there Monday morning when I drop Kaitlyn off.

shop till the jet lag wears off…

Friday, September 21st, 2007

When I got up this morning, Don was already up watching the Survivor show we’d TiVo’d for him. It was already his second time through the show. (He’s in charge of some Survivor game they play at work which means knowing when each contestant is shown naked, or puking or other lovely things) Kaitlyn got up and went downstairs for breakfast and was thrilled at the idea of the tv being on in the morning. That’s normally way off limits. I was afraid she’d seriously resist going to school, but since it wasn’t the Disney princess edition of Survivor, she left without a fuss.

Debbie was up much earlier, which meant we could do something more exciting. Shopping. Real shopping… not shopping where they chop the heads off little bunnies headed to the stew pot. That meant going downtown.

I managed to find my way downtown without needing the GPS. We wandered the streets of the pedestrian district. Right away, some guy asked me where the post office is. When I told him I didn’t know, he asked me if I have an accent. Yes, I’m American. Then he burst into perfect American English. “Me too! Oregon!” Then he proceeded to tell us he’s lived here for 11 years because he fell in love with a French woman but now he’s getting a divorce… which he’s happy about because she is controlling. People will really tell you anything. At least, American people will. I was glad to get away from him and hoped not to cross his path again; I was really afraid he’d latch onto us. Then some guy in a delivery truck hung out his window to holler something (friendly like) at us. I had no idea what he was saying. I held out my arms and shrugged. So he said it again… and again. Finally, I just said “non.” That seemed to satisfy him or at least convince him to give up and he drove away. But we did choose to take a path that wouldn’t lead us past his truck again!

We shopped and shopped and shopped… but bought nothing. I saw a couple of pairs of shoes I liked, I need to go back and look again. I didn’t stop to buy anything because it seemed like this was Debbie’s shopping trip. She didn’t even want to go inside any of the chocolate shops we passed. The jet lag must not have worn off yet.

For lunch we walked across the river to eat at pizza row. Never disappointing. And unlike lunch yesterday, the waitress spoke to us the whole time in French. Finally toward the end of our meal, she realized I was the only one at the table doing any talking. She asked if we speak English. Yes. She only speaks French and Italian. So even if she’d wanted to give up on me, she couldn’t. Ha! Well, we did fine.

Then I dragged Debbie through the Grenoble History museum, to show her the piece of the ancient Roman wall you can still see in the basement. I’ve only gone once before and Kaitlyn was along, so it was hard to go slow enough to learn anything. We didn’t go super slow, but I did get more out of the trip.

After a full day of shopping, I ended up the only one who bought something. I got two boxes of Shredded Wheat at the Irish store.

wake up!

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

20 september 2007

I know that jet lag can be a horrible thing. But, really, it is just as frustrating for the hostess as it is for the guest. I canceled my French lesson for this morning… cleared my calendar to be able to go out and enjoy the day… but Debbie did not get up until 11:45. And at that she did not get up on her own.

By the time we left the house I was afraid to go too far away and potentially somehow not manage to pick Kaitlyn up from school on time. Plus, Kaitlyn had cried when she found out she wasn’t getting to spend the day with her customers. I asked her what she really wanted to do with them. Ride the bubbles. I promised we wouldn’t do that without her.

That didn’t leave a lot of options. So when in doubt… go to Carrefour.

First, we went to lunch at a place right across the street. Debbie wanted chicken. I wasn’t sure if they had it, but thought there was a decent chance. My first chance to show off my new ability to speak (or at least order in ) French. Foiled. Right after we sat down, the waitress sent over a waiter who can speak English. And it took me three tries to get someone to bring us a bottle of plain water. I am sure I was asking correctly; somehow the girl was concerned that interaction with the English speakers would spread cooties or something. I don’t know. Oh, and they didn’t have any chicken.

At the grocery store we just needed to pick up a couple of things to make dinner. (yes, chicken) I still made sure that the shopping trip included a stop at the meat counter so that I could point out the whole bunnies and the chickens with their heads on next to the pigeons. I’m sorry, but that is all still just nasty.

Debbie wanted to check out the candy aisle. I avoid buying it so that was new to me, too. She was a little disappointed that there wasn’t anything too odd… no brands of chocolate that were unique. Then she wanted to know if there are chocolate covered doughnuts here. No. Chocolate chip cookies? No. Moments later, she found boxes of ’em. It’s another thing I avoid so I’d just assumed they didn’t have any. Someone must have told me once they don’t have any.

After school Kaitlyn wanted to show off the park where she likes to play. Make that the park where she likes to ride the carousel. After one whirl around, Kaitlyn said she wanted to go on one of the surrey bikes that looks like you’re riding in a carriage behind a horse. Except she didn’t feel like pedaling. She wanted to go on the big one that Debbie and I would have to pedal while Kaitlyn sat on the horse. I could barely reach the pedals. She saw the place where we’d tried to play putt putt and told Aunt Debbie how difficult golf is.

Since Debbie slept so long because she woke up in the middle of the night with a sore throat, we went to the pharmacy to buy a remedy. When I’d told her that they use a lot of homeopathic medicine she said she’d like to try that. Even though she doesn’t trust that stuff at home. Somehow, that made sense. I’d looked up how to say “sore throat” before we left the house and managed to explain that and the desire for something homeopathic to the pharmacist. She asked if Debbie wanted something you suck on, which I understood because it was the same word that Kaitlyn’s teacher uses for her giant pacifier. Back at home, Debbie logged on the computer to look up what all the stuff is in her throat medicine. It includes mercury. Then she spent hours looking up whether or not it was safe to keep taking the stuff. (She’d already sucked down two lozenges) Finally she decided she felt better enough to just not worry about it and not take anymore anyway.

are they here yet? are they here yet? are they here yet?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Kaitlyn has been bugging me all day asking when her customers are getting here. She means company. Today Bill’s sister and her husband are arriving for a visit. “What are they doing now? What about now? What are they doing now?” Considering how far away we live from everyone and how little we really got to see family even before we moved, it’s good to see Kaitlyn so excited about their visit.

ma petite ballerina

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Kaitlyn went to her first ballet lesson this morning. She was fully equipped with her pink tutu, pink tights, pink shoes. I was not so sure she’d be fully equipped to listen and go along with what the teacher said. I hoped so, though, since the lessons are supposed to last until June.

When we walked in, she rushed right to her little friend from school. The two of them hugged and pranced around the room together. Then two more little girls from their class arrived. Both are French. Both knew Kaitlyn by name. One acted like she recognized me… waving and saying “kookoo!” (That’s a very informal way of saying hello, and the way most French people will address children.) So I said “uh, kookoo.” It felt weird saying it. They all sat together, excited and nervous in any language. I was glad to see Kaitlyn at least interacts with some of the French students in her class. Even if she doesn’t know their names, and I bet she doesn’t.

Once class started, all the parents were shooed outside. Most of us stood and watched through big windows. I don’t know how long the teacher will let that continue. Although the weather may take care of that problem for her. I tried to stand so that Kaitlyn couldn’t see me, but she spotted me. She waved, but kept on dancing. She actually followed the directions, which was nice.

Outside, I stood with one of her classmate’s Moms… who also happens to be a teacher for older kids at Kaitlyn’s school. Luckily, she speaks English. She asked me how my French is coming along. I told her “slowly.” Then she said something that really surprised me. She said that Kaitlyn’s has really come a long way since last year. Huh? Kaitlyn doesn’t speak a word of French, other than to count. Or say “merci.” This teacher says that she can hear Kaitlyn speaking French on the playground. Not entire sentences, but she knows enough to get her point across about what she does… or doesn’t… want. Who knew?

ah, the language of chocolate

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I always enjoy French lessons… that I understand. Today’s was just that. Of course, with company coming it hardly matters because it will be two weeks (15 days as they say in French) before I crack those books open again. Oh, maybe I’ll do my homework tomorrow during Kaitlyn’s lesson.

All pumped up after mastering some basic French grammar, I decided to give understanding the radio another whirl. There is one station that mixes music (mostly bad French songs) with phone interviews… mostly with people giving recipes. I assume those people are chefs of some sort, not just random Pierres who think they’ve got the best way to make crepes.

This morning the overly-cheery DJ said she’d be talking to the guy from some chocolate shop about one of my favorite subjects: chocolate. If I’m going to understand anything, this will be it. And I did.

No, I’m not going to go home and whip up the chocolate-orange tart he gave the recipe for. But, hey, I know it was a chocolate-orange tart! And I understood that he said good chocolate is at least 70% cocoa. Pretty fuckin’ cool!

no f#@!*ing way! (warning: this entry rated R)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I don’t know how he does it, but Bill drives his car without the radio on. I can’t stand the silence, although French radio sometimes is not a great deal better. Still, it’s supposed to be good practice to try to understand it.

This morning on my way to French class, I was dialing around and stopped on the station that has studio guests every morning at 9. Normally, I would not have chosen to listen. But this morning’s guests were British… so the DJ would ask his question in French, then English, and he would translate the guests’ answers.

There was one word he did not need to translate. It’s one that the French have apparently adopted with gusto.

This is what I heard:

You can say fuck on French radio. Go ahead. Say it! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

And they continued to use the word for the duration of the interview.

Turns out, the French think that this is a perfectly acceptable word in our culture… thanks to the American movies.

Even for me it seemed a little much. Although, it did take me back to my days in the newsroom…