Archive for March, 2008

quoi de neuf, doc?

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Again this morning, Kaitlyn asked for French cartoons. (She couldn’t think of the word “cartoons”… she’s starting to have trouble thinking of words in any language… which I think is actually a positive sign… because it happens to me I like to think it’s a positive sign.)

Naturally, it was only seconds before the commercials started. Right away there was a promo for Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny! In French! Now, that’s one that I think even Bill would watch. (he’s up skiing right now) Then it said “ce soir a 20h20.” Tonight at 8:20! We have a no tv after dinner rule on school nights. And there’s no Tivo on the French tv. I really want to see it… well, I have all day to figure out if I can.

field trip

Friday, March 28th, 2008

I went on a class outing with Kaitlyn… and survived.

This morning her class took their monthly trip to the town’s library. Last time they went, I volunteered to go because Kaitlyn had been begging me to. I instantly wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I’d hoped that the teacher had forgotten… that maybe this morning I’d just say my cold was too much to bear. Yesterday when I picked Kaitlyn up after school, the teacher reminded me and I couldn’t back out.

So this morning I helped zip up coats and hit the road to la bibliotheque. The kids are paired up and have to hold hands while they walk through town. I fell in behind the group, not sure what I was supposed to do. I also didn’t want to cause a fuss by holding anyone’s hand, because I knew that would start an argument. The teacher walked at the front of the line, leading the way, telling them when it was safe to cross the streets. The assistant walked in the back, spending the entire time either answering a question posed by the littlest girl who was with her or telling a lolly-gagging pair ahead of her to hurry up and keep walking.

The library is only open in the morning for school groups. It’s a good way to make sure the kids don’t bug someone in there honestly trying to get some peace and quiet. Because even using their quiet voices, 20 3, 4 and 5 year olds are loud.

As soon as we walked in, they ripped off their coats and put them on a couple of chairs. Then we walked over to an area set up for the librarian to read to a group. There’s a little set of risers so the kids can all see… and chairs for the grown-ups. I was really relieved someone else would be doing the reading. The librarian sat down, put on a pair of white gloves, and presented the class with the book she’d be reading today. (One book? What a rip-off.) It was about a little prince who moved into a little castle next door to his parents’ castle and was scared because there was a dragon… his daddy told him there’s no such thing as dragons… so the little prince put on a suit of armor and told the dragon to get lost… and the dragon left and walked next door to his parents’ place. That’s where the book ends. After she finished reading the one book, she was done. The teacher told the class they could pick some books to look at, and to be sure to remember where they went to put them back.

One of the American girls who is friends with Kaitlyn came up to me carrying a book and asked me to read it. I asked her if she was sure and she said yes, so I dove in. It wasn’t too hard. Then she kept going and getting more books for me to read. And they weren’t easy books. They may have been for a small child, but not small enough. I struggled. I asked her to please go find a book with shorter sentences, fewer words. She just sat there and said “read it.” She had sort of a Donald Trump tone about her. It really started to wear on my nerves. Then another of Kaitlyn’s friends started bringing me books. Hers were much easier. But the two girls fussed over which books I’d read. So I’d sort of gloss through the hard book then pick up the easier one. A couple of French kids sort of slowed down as they passed me, listening to me struggle. Whatever, none of them offered up any help. And Kaitlyn and her friends can’t read, so I couldn’t ask what any of the words were.

Finally, the teacher announced it was time to go. I made the girls put their books back and then I went and helped get coats on and zipped. A little boy who is new in the class asked me who’s mommy I am. He asked me the same question yesterday. I guess he hasn’t figured out who the loud American kid who refuses to speak French is. For the walk back, everyone was supposed to hold hands with the same person they walked to the library with. The two girls I’d been reading to had been paired up, but now the easy-book girl screamed and refused to hold the hand of hard-book girl. I don’t know why. The teacher just changed the pairings to stop the yelling.

When we got back to the school, Kaitlyn didn’t want me to go. I was afraid that would happen. She didn’t want to come home with me; she wanted me to stay and share the rest of her day. It’s really kinda sweet. I’d love to if I could but it would be far too distracting.

The teacher thanked me for going along. I told her I wasn’t sure if I’d really been any help and she assured me I was… but I think she was just being nice. That’s ok, I’ll take nice.

I have to say, I don’t know how those two teachers do what they do all day long. Wiping noses, scolding, settling arguments, running to the bathroom, constantly telling people to hurry up. Then I realized that pretty much describes my job in the newsroom.

how do you say TV Guide in French?

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

This afternoon after school, after helping me make strawberry shortcakes (with the last of our Bisquick), Kaitlyn asked to watch tv. And, just like at lunch, she asked for French tv.

I’m not going to tell her no. Watching tv is supposed to be a very good way to pick up the language. But French tv is, well, bad. Just plain bad.

First, we watched 9 minutes of commercials. Then some sort of game show came on, so we dialed around. Another channel had some American movie or tv show from the 70’s where we saw some guy put what I could only assume was a poisonous lizard in a room with an older woman doing her ballet exercises… not a good choice. I dialed to a station that’s a constant stream of talk shows all afternoon. Today they were discussing “Carla: queen of France.” Amazingly, they weren’t flashing any naked pictures of her up on the screen. At least not while we were flipping by. We settled on the Arts channel; it had on a show about some guy traveling in Asia eating foods at markets and unsanitary looking restaurants.

I may have to break down and find an actual tv schedule for our four French channels and steer Kaitlyn toward something worth watching. There has to be something. It would be good for all of us… if we could just tolerate it.

can you hear me now?

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

A first for my French lesson this afternoon: it was over the phone. I signed up for it knowing that it’s hard as heck to understand another language over the phone. But as it approached, I actually got nervous about it. I even contemplated canceling because I have a cold, but that seemed just too lame.

When the time came, I dialed up the number and was put through to the teacher. It’s a teacher I have often, so that was a relief.

For the next half-hour, I stumbled through explaining what I miss about the US and what I like about Grenoble to him. It’s an exercise he’s probably had me do half a dozen times before, but it’s different in person. On the phone, you can’t act things out. It’s harder to ask for help when you get stuck. And it’s harder to understand the words you’re offered up because you can’t see them written out. So… I tried to explain March Madness to him. All he knows about basketball is that Tony Parker is French and married to one of the Desperate Housewives. I tried to explain the benefits of walking down the street with a cup of coffee. I had trouble coming up with what I like about living here. Mostly because it’s his turf, and I knew he could call me on it if I was just making stuff up. You can embellish a little if need be when carrying on about the United States.

Still, to my amazement, the half-hour sped by. And to my amazement, I’d understood far more of what he’d said than I’d expected. Of course, he spoke far more slowly than your average receptionist. And that is the person I need to be able to talk to on the phone. Well, it’s a start.

midi zouzous (noon cartoons)

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

It didn’t surprise me today at lunch when Kaitlyn reminded me that I’d told her this morning she could watch tv. It did surprise me when she requested French tv. Uh… ok.

So we sat through the 8 minutes or whatever it was of commercials waiting for cartoons to start. I wasn’t even sure that when the commercials were over cartoons would come on. But they did. And they are just weird. They are mainly Japanese cartoons dubbed into French. And I know I don’t understand everything going on, but what I do understand is just, well, stupid. Little girls with HUGE eyes that are always brimming with tears and they have some bizarre powers to make things happen like today it snowed in the middle of a lunch. Inside a restaurant.

Who knows why she wanted to watch that.

ahhhh…. warm at last… almost

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Finally. When you turn on the faucet hot water comes out. The house is still cold, but that’s ok. The towel warmers are getting too hot to touch, so the bathroom downstairs should be back to its sauna state by morning. The dishwasher is churning through the first of what will be many loads as it tries to catch up.

All I have to do now is remember to call the repair people in the morning and tell them in my best French “nevermind.”

sharing the frustration

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Time ticked by and still every time I turned on a faucet, the water gushed out so cold it’s just barely still in its liquid form. The sun had come out and was heating up the house just fine… no wonder it gets so hot in the summer… zero degrees outside, snow on the ground, and no heat or fire in the house and it was a pleasant temperature. I momentarily contemplated opening a window for a little fresh air, then remembered it’s still winter outside. Still, we need the hot water. Every one of our dishes, forks and spoons is piled up neatly by the sink waiting a proper hot water washing. Kaitlyn will desperately need a bath tonight. I would love a hot shower myself.

I tried turning the hot water heater off and back on (every engineer/help desk’s first suggestion), but that didn’t work. After a couple of hours, I thought this surely isn’t right and sent an e-mail to Bill asking his opinion. After another hour without a response, I sent him a text message. He wanted to know if I’d tried turning it off and back on. He also asked for the number to the service company. Great. Problem on someone else’s plate. I went back to cleaning the house.

After a while Bill called me to say he was on the way home… to look at the hot water heater himself. He didn’t want to have his French teacher call the service company just to have them say “did you rattle the hummelfarb?” and him not have done so. I got worried, though, that Bill’s waiting to perform his own diagnosis before driving the half-hour back to Grenoble for his French lesson would mean he’d finally call the company after they’d closed for the day. Because I simply cannot imagine a French service company being open past 5pm. Not a chance. When I nudged him about that, he got annoyed and called them himself. I left to pick up Kaitlyn from school and when I got home 15 minutes later, he was raving mad. Welcome to the thrill of dealing with a serious problem on the phone with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. He kept yelling that he knows enough French to know she was telling him to push a button that didn’t exist. (She kept saying to look for the red button down low… but there are no buttons down low on the heater. I can attest to that.) I finally coerced him into calling the office where his lesson was supposed to be taking place, asking for his teacher (you never know in advance who it will be), and having him or her pick up another phone and dial the water heater people and talk Bill through whatever they were trying to explain to him. It didn’t quite work that way, but close enough. After a few phone calls back and forth, he found the button the woman had been trying to tell him to look for and pushed it… restarting the heater. (it was up on the top) We still have an appointment for service tomorrow… just in case. They’ll be out sometime between either 9 and 11 or 2 and 4.

ready to warm up

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

The heating oil has been delivered. Not too bad… the delivery window was between 8 and 1, and he got here around 11. Pretty much right in the middle. He called to tell me when he was on his way…. I think…. I can’t really be too sure of that. He was very nice in person. (not that he was mean on the phone, but the phone is so frustrating when you can’t understand)

I’d asked my French teacher to ask for a delivery of 2000 liters when she set up the delivery last Friday. The guy showed up today with a slip that said I’d ordered 1800. I wasn’t going to argue over 200 liters. Even if I could have.

Now all I can do is wait and see if the water heater will get to work without some special something needed for that to happen. Hopefully that will be the case, because I can’t keep the fire going any more. It’s basically out. Ok, it’s out. So is the firewood. And the fire starters. Time will tell…

monks, rest stops and freezing cold

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Woke up this morning still had a migraine and still had Kaitlyn sleeping in our bed. After breakfast, I thought I could handle one last tourist attraction before hitting the road. Besides, I knew that the only thing waiting for me at home was cold.

Across the rivers from Avignon there’s a small town with a Carthusean monastery They’re the monks who make that horrible green liquor Chartreuse. I was so fascinated by my visit to the monastery here last fall with Bill’s sister that I really wanted to see this one.

I guess all the liquor money goes to the one here. Because the one there is pretty much just a shell of a series of buildings. The pope who started the order is interred there and he should be annoyed at the state of his surroundings… although they are slightly better than the state of the pope’s abandoned palace. The woman who sold me our tickets said there would be explanations of everything inside in English. What she meant was there are explanations of most of the stuff in English, but not everything. And some of it I wouldn’t have had any clue about at all if I hadn’t visited the monetary here complete with audio guide and, well, explanations. The one thing they had that I didn’t remember seeing before was the “prison”… where the bad monks were kept in solitary confinement. Which didn’t seem like much of a punishment because they pretty much spent all their time in a solitary cell anyway. I’ll have to take Bill to the one here. The restaurant at the monastery is only open in the summer and it looked like the only real interesting part of the whole place (we peeked in the door, it was open for the wine delivery man).

Outside, Bill looked at me and announced that I looked not very well (duh) and suggested we just get in the car and head toward home and just look for food along the way. I don’t know how far we’d driven when Bill pulled off at a big rest stop. Kaitlyn and I were both asleep. She’d gotten mad at me because I couldn’t help cut out princess outfits so she gave in to the urge to nap. I had closed my eyes to try to feel better. He went inside and came out with a couple of sandwiches, a package of ham for Kaitlyn, some fruit and some bags of chip sort of things.

At some point after eating her ham, Kaitlyn got bored with her new coloring book (yes, she convinced Bill to buy her something again today) and drew the face of an alien on her shirt. Now there is a big purple face on her new cream colored shirt. I was not happy. Bill thinks I over-reacted. Bill does not do the laundry.

About an hour from home we drove into a snowstorm. It was too warm for it to hit the ground as flakes, but it was definitely falling as big white clumps. The closer we got to home, the colder it got. The snow stopped falling but was coating the ground. Bill commented driving up our mountain that there didn’t seem to be as much snow as he expected. We have a little more than a half a foot of snow covering our yard. So you can imagine how cold it is inside the house… that hasn’t had heat since some time on Thursday. It’s too cold for the stove to work. The water is still cold, so the pile of dirty dishes is just growing bigger and bigger. Bill put the space heater in our room and tonight Kaitlyn was actually told she couldn’t sleep in her own room because it’s too cold in there. He’s been working to keep a fire going but now that he’s gone to bed, it’s about out and I may go poke a stick at it (literally, we don’t have fireplace tools so we’re using an old ski pole to poke at the wood) but I’m sure all I’ll do is extinguish it the rest of the way.

I’ve been sitting under blankets, wearing two pairs of socks, long underwear under my pants, a turtle neck and a fleece pullover. Kaitlyn put on a spring skirt and a t-shirt. The heating oil is supposed to be delivered tomorrow morning. A friend offered to pick Kaitlyn up and take her to school. She is supposed to go to someone else’s house for lunch… so I can hunker down and wait for warmth to get here.

spontaneity stinks

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

We decided when we left the flamingo reserve to do something crazy and spontaneous. Now I remember why I don’t do things that are spontaneous.

After typing in a few destinations to the GPS, we decided to drive to the coast and go to Marseilles. Bonnie (Bill’s GPS) said that it was about an hour and 20 minutes away. I sat back and closed my eyes, hoping that would be enough time for my migraine to subside. (I knew it wouldn’t be… they always last two days. Always.) Bill asked if I wanted to just go back to the hotel, but when visions of another take-out meal from McDonalds floated through my head I told him to just stay on course.

Our first glimpse of the Mediterranean was amazing. The water is the most incredible shade of dark blue. Really beats the pants of the dreary gray of the North Sea or the muddy tone of the Atlantic. It was a very windy day and waves were crashing up against a rocky sea wall sending spray all the way across 3 or 4 lanes of traffic onto our windshield. We laughed; it seemed so amazing at the time. Here we were, driving along the Mediterranean Sea on a whim. Ok, even now that part of it is still amazing. But soon we had to figure out where to go. The signs gave us the choice: the old port or downtown. Bill went with downtown. Honestly, I may have chosen the old port… but for the same reasons I can’t keep away from all the lousy disappointing markets. We cruised into town and realized we’d just entered a city. A real, big city. And we had no clue where to head. Bill managed to tell Betty to lead us to a monument next to the ocean… figuring we’d at least be heading to a touristy area. It was about 6:00, too early for restaurants to open… so each one we passed perched right along the water was dark. And since it’s a holiday we couldn’t even be sure they’d be open if we waited.

Finally, Kaitlyn started asking if she could unbuckle her seat belt, she had had enough of being in the car. Bill found a parking place on the street across from a little bit of beach and we got out. That wind that was whipping up the waves was nasty from outside the car. Cold. Horrible bitter cold. Kaitlyn and Bill took off toward the ocean. I had to turn around and try walking backwards, I couldn’t stand that wind in my face. Then I couldn’t see them because when I tried to brave the gale, I was staring into the sun. So I stood there at the edge of the Mediterranean Ocean crying. Made the whole spontaneous thing a lot less amazing to me at that point. I got a hold of myself and found my family. Kaitlyn didn’t care if it was 100 degrees (it was far from it) or zero degrees (it was about that with the wind… Celsius) she loves the beach. She wanted to build a sand castle, and would not be deterred by the fact that it was a pebble beach. When that didn’t work, she ran off to the playground. I couldn’t even take my hands out of my pockets, but there she was grabbing onto the metal bars to climb. After a little while she announced she had to pee. If there was a public bathroom, we had no idea where it was. Bill took her over to a sort-of secluded spot near a lifeguard building and stripped her down to let her go. She couldn’t do it. Said it was too cold.

After some hide-and-seek while Bill took pictures of the sea, those of us who have a normal sense of heat and cold decided it was time to head toward shelter in the form of a restaurant. Across the street by where we’d parked was a row of restaurant/cafe kind of places. We walked up and down that strip reading menus. Kaitlyn wanted shrimp and Bill told her there wasn’t any on the menus, even though there was. Mostly he was afraid that they’d come with their heads and bodies and not be what she wanted. I don’t think she’d care of a shrimp came out on her plate still alive, she’d club it with her spoon and eat it. That child loves shrimp. Cold and hungry, we chose the place that looked the most promising for her because it had pizza. It had a funny trying-to-sound American name, which I’ve already forgotten. But no one in there spoke English. Kaitlyn ordered a pizza, I ordered some creamy gratin pasta (nothing sounded good because I felt so sick, but I knew I needed to eat something). Bill ordered a shrimp entree (appetizer). He asked the waiter about it, but neither of us understood the answer. It came out in a huge glass… piled high with small shrimp drowning in the French version of cocktail sauce (basically mayonnaise with a hint of ketchup) and a single, giant, full-bodied shrimp sitting on top staring at us… defying us to eat it. Bill cleaned that shrimp and Kaitlyn gobbled it down instantly. Then the two of them went to town on that giant mayonnaisey bowl of shrimp. I had a couple, but paired with my creamy pasta it really was not that good. I think Bill and I had both imagined a nice seafood meal at the coast. This wasn’t it. But he liked it, and that’s what mattered, he’d the one who ordered it.

After dinner we got back in the car and headed back to our hotel in Avignon. It may be the last time in a long time I’m spontaneous…. unless I hear about a market somewhere…