My Top 8 Favorite Things about living in France.

A friend of a friend is planning to move to France. My friend asked if I’d share my insights about living there, and I thought I’d share some of those things here, too… because, I realized, that’s something I haven’t done that might be interesting or helpful to someone, in some way.

So I gave it some thought and came up with a list of my top eight favorite things about living in France. These are, of course, my own, personal top favorites, based on my own experiences. Others may have had different experiences. These were the things that made a difference to me or impacted me in some way, big or small, and helped to make life in France an enjoyable experience.

Also! These are things in addition to the wonderful people I met while I lived in France… the dear friends I made there, the many memorable experiences I had with Callaghan’s family, and so on.

 

1). Hospitality.

 

Typical French hospitality looks like this.

Typical French hospitality looks like this.

 

Everyone I met in France was gracious and hospitable in their own homes. They commonly ask you over for apéritif or coffee (by “coffee,” I mean espresso… very strong espresso), and if you show up at someone’s house, you will be served something or another (usually coffee).

 

2). Bread.

 

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

 

Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

 

As you know, I love bread. There is a boulangerie (bakery) on every corner in France, it seems, and inside each one, there are freshly baked baguettes that are simply sublime. Pain de Campagne is my favorite, but I love all of the breads I’ve tried. In France, making bread is an art form. Some boulangeries make better bread than others, but even the mediocre French breads at bakery chain stores are fabulous and incomparable to breads I’ve had in the States!

 

3). Socca.

 

Socca (regional food, Nice)

Socca (regional food, Nice)

 

Socca is a signature food of Nice, a popular local street food. It consists of chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and pepper stirred into a batter and traditionally cooked on a copper plate in a wood oven. After it’s cooked, it’s broken up into pieces in the pan and served in a pile. Thinking of it brings back fond memories for me, since we lived in Nice half the time we lived in France. Should you ever visit Nice, you should try it. According to Callaghan, niçoise fishermen used to eat socca because it’s cheap. It’s still cheap.

 

4). Cell phone affordability.

 

Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France

Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France

 

Speaking of cheap, cell phone service is one thing about life in France I definitely miss. In France, your monthly cell phone bill comes out to roughly $20.00, flat… and that includes unlimited everything (texting and calling, including calls to the U.S., South America, Asia, etc.)

 

5). No tipping.

 

The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.

The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.

 

(“Je suis à sεc” translates as “I’m broke.” The “E” looks the way it does because that’s the euro sign.)

There’s no expectation of tipping for either goods or services in France. This is convenient. (There’s also a flip side to this, but we shall not go into it, as this is a positive list.) In restaurants, tips are included in the checks, for instance. Unlike here in the States, employees in service industries aren’t paid minimally with the assumption that tips will supplement their take-home pay. The amount you’re charged is the amount you pay, period.

 

6). TGV (Train Grande Vitesse).

 

 Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice

Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice

 

The TGV is my favorite way to travel between regions in France. The train is super fast, as indicated in its name, and it’s quiet, smooth, clean, and comfortable. It’s also affordable – from Nice to Paris, for example, tickets range from 19 to 36 euro (the higher price is for 1st class). There’s a café car where you can purchase beverages, light meals, snacks, and candy. You can charge your laptop and other devices on the train, and there’s plenty of legroom. The TGV is the way to go when traveling from one part of the country to another!

 

7). La fnac.

 

An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.

An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.

 

This one really is personal to me. I’m putting la fnac on the list because it’s my favorite store in France. La fnac is a big, multi-level bookstore, and I could (and often did) spend hours on end there. My favorite area is the café, which is kind of reminiscent of the restaurants in IKEA, but larger. You can get food or beverages there and station yourself at a table and stay there indefinitely with their free wi-fi. I loved spending time there! I bought my first Reacher novel at the la fnac in Nice and read half of it in one afternoon sitting in the café.

 

8). Art and history.

 

Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère

Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère

 

Living in France is like living in a gigantic museum.

Even villages in more remote regions are rich in history and filled with art and architecture that I found to be breathtaking. Romans-sur-Isère (near where we lived), for instance, is famous for having been the home of the factory of Charles Jourdan, one of the first houses of Haute Couture shoes, if not THE first. This museum, Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère, has to be one of the most comprehensive museums of shoes in the world. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much since I’m not especially interested in shoes, but it’s amazing how viewing and reading about shoes through the ages unfolds as a detailed history lesson in human culture.

Then there are places such as:

 

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)

 

Between 1879 and 1912, facteur Cheval (“facteur” is a mailman) collected rocks while delivering mail, and he used them to build this little palace in an obscure village between Valence and Lyon. It’s made mainly out of lime, mortar, and cement, and it’s unlike anything I’d seen. I’m including this little gem here to show that there’s art literally everywhere you go in France.

This concludes my list of favorite aspects of life in France. It would be interesting to see other’s favorite things!

French art in Haiku (Haiku 3: Cromagnon, La Tour Eiffel, Les Fleurs, Absinthe)

Food poisoning this week. No details necessary… just to say that yesterday, I rose from the wish-I-was-dead and went around my house taking pictures and writing haiku.

These haiku were inspired by some of the art on our walls at home. The pieces are from France, except the one that was done by Callaghan, who is French. You get the common theme.

 

Haiku 3: Art

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Déjà vu hunting

blind, agnostic galleries –

counting hours.

 

Cromagnon detail (original art by Callaghan)

Cromagnon detail (original art by Callaghan)

 

2.

Insurmountable:

vapor of millenniums,

vaporous château.

 

Eiffel tower pencil sketch

Eiffel tower pencil sketch

 

3.

Rapidly displaced

spectra: brook waters culling

hand-painted headstones.

 

Watercolor flowers

Watercolor flowers

 

4.

Slanderous tom-tom!

Axioms, acknowledgments

feigning percussion.

 

Tin painting

Tin painting

 

Here’s to a healthier week ahead for us all!

Yes… we’re still in France. (Many pics!)

First, thank you for your words of support following Callaghan’s loss. Thank you for your kindness, your thoughtfulness, and for being here… for reading, and for caring. All the love means more than we can say.

Callaghan’s been handling his emotions well, leaning on humor as a tool, enjoying time with family and friends, and keeping busy with work, as well, with some of his French clients. This morning, he left early for a full day of work in Toulon; I’ll spend the afternoon hanging out with a friend until Callaghan gets back tonight.

We brought Papy’s ashes home yesterday.

It’s been busy. The fact that we’ve been going non-stop since we landed hasn’t precluded me from taking tons of pics, though, so I thought I’d share a few of them here (sans family members).

To start, this first one is a quote we found in a German magazine on the airplane, because it had us in fits of laughter. A little lightening up is always good, right?

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-LuthansaMag

 

It was probably one of those you-had-to-be-there situations, because we’re not sure why we found this so hilarious. We just did, and I’ll tell you what… we’re not complaining about cracking up over some much-needed random silliness.

On that note, here’s a pic I took of an old bank in Nice the other night:

 

Old Bank in Nice. No idea what it's called.

Old bank in Nice. No idea what it’s called.

 

I’ve walked by this bank hundreds of times, but I only thought to take a picture of it this time, because, again, Random Silliness Therapy was in order. See, this very bank is the bank that French actor Jean Dujardin’s character attempts to rob in Brice de Nice. Brice de Nice is one of my all-time favorite comedies, and was filmed here in Nice. The bank robbery scene was actually shot inside this bank (as opposed to on a stage set).

To give you an idea of the bank robbery scene, lest you haven’t seen the movie:

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BricedeNicebanque1

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BricedeNicebanque2

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BricedeNicebanque3

 

Six years before he swept up Best Actor awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the Oscars, the BAFTAs, and the SAG Awards for one film (The Artist) in one awards year (2011-2012), Jean Dujardin, then mostly known in the south of France as a comedian, wore ridiculous blond hair to play a ridiculous character of his own creation, Brice Agostini, in a ridiculous movie. (Brice de Nice is pronounced “Breece duh Neece.” The character calls himself “Brice duh Nice” as you’d say it in English, though… that’s a part of the humor.) Brice de Nice belongs in the “So bad it’s good” category of films, so if you haven’t seen it and you’re in need of Random Silliness Therapy, I recommend it! (Get the subtitled version if you don’t know French. Dubbed is awful.)

Brice de Nice has something of a cult following around here. The whole joke of the story is that Brice aspires to be a champion surfer, but he “surfs” at the Mediterranean beaches of Nice, where there are no waves.

Here’s the trailer from which I’d snipped the pics:

 

 

On a more somber note, due to current events, some loved ones in the States were concerned for our safety regarding going to France. I was cautioned to refrain from “galavanting around,” as I’m wont to do when I’m here, but galavanting can’t be entirely avoided if daily life is to be lived. We had (and still have) errands to run on le Rue Jean Medecin and the Place Massena, which is adjacent to Vieux Nice, which attracts a lot of people and is therefore potentially hazardous… and since our schedule’s been so hectic, we’ve had to go at night, mostly. But it’s been fine. Here are a few pics:

 

The Ferris wheel all lit up.

The Ferris wheel all lit up.

 

Nice Etoile (mall)

Nice Etoile (mall)

 

A less-traveled street in Nice.

A less-traveled street in Nice.

 

Flag made of lights. French patriotism like I've never seen it. There are also a lot of French flags hanging over people's balconies.

Flag made of lights. French patriotism like I’ve never seen it. There are also a lot of French flags hanging over people’s balconies.

 

The train station where we went to get Callaghan's great-aunt, arriving for Papy's service.

The train station where we went to get Callaghan’s great-aunt, arriving for Papy’s service.

 

Weather-wise, it’s been chilly and mostly overcast and rainy, but the sun came out this morning, giving me a good opportunity to snap the views. Here’s the view from our bedroom in Callaghan’s Dad’s house in Le Bar-sur-Loup, a village in the hills above Nice:

 

Bedroom view, Papa's house, Le Bar-sur-Loup

Bedroom view, Papa’s house, Le Bar-sur-Loup

 

And the view from the bathroom:

 

Bathroom view, Papa's house, Le Bar-sur-Loup

Bathroom view, Papa’s house, Le Bar-sur-Loup

 

And food-wise! I have indeed been taking foodaholic pics, even though I’m a vegan in France, which translates to “I’ve mainly eaten salads supplemented with things from my back-up supply of nutrient-dense food that travels well.” By the way, this is the first time I’ve stubbornly refused to deviate from veganism in France. Not a single pastry has passed my lips… no croissant, no pain au chocolat. No cheese, no dairy of any kind. It’s hard to figure out what to eat. This is not a country that makes it easy if you go out to dine at restaurants and at people’s houses.

But here are a few of the beautiful salads of which I’ve partaken:

 

Salad in a restaurant (greens, tomatoes, onions, toasted walnuts)

Salad in a restaurant (greens, tomatoes, onions, toasted walnuts)

 

Salad at Callaghan's Dad's house (endive and green apple with a homemade mustard vinaigrette)

Salad at Callaghan’s Dad’s house (endive and green apple with a homemade mustard vinaigrette)

 

Salad at Mamie's house (Callaghan's grandmother): Mixed greens and tomatoes in another homemade vinaigrette, this one with garlic.)

Salad at Mamie’s house (Callaghan’s grandmother): Mixed greens and tomatoes in another homemade vinaigrette, this one with garlic).

 

That’s a piece of tomato pizza off to the side, by the way. It’s a south of France thing, and in its original form, like this one, it doesn’t have cheese. We picked it up in the boulangerie across from Mamie’s place in Cagnes sur Mer. It was delicious.

While I’m sharing foodaholic pics, here’s what I ate at the airport when we stopped over in Frankfurt, Germany on our way here:

 

Muesli with soy milk

Muesli with soy milk

 

Because it was 5:45 in the morning. I also had coffee with soymilk. Germany is hip with the times and you can ask for things like soymilk and almost always get it, like in the States.

I also got a pretzel, since I was in Germany, the mothership of pretzels, and I love fresh, authentic pretzels:

 

Wonderful pretzels in Germany!

Wonderful pretzels in Germany!

 

Last, I took a couple of pics of the artwork Callaghan did for his Mamie when he was just five years old:

 

Artwork for Mamie (Grandma) by Callaghan, age 5.

Artwork for Mamie (Grandma) by Callaghan, age 5.

 

His signature wasn't written by him, though.

His signature wasn’t written by him, though.

 

And that concludes my sharing of random photos.

We have three days left here.

We’re in France for Callaghan’s Papy (in memoriam).

A man here on the French Riviera died recently. Men on the French Riviera die as frequently as men everywhere else, but only one was Papy, Callaghan’s grandfather.

Papy was the reason Callaghan came here to visit for two weeks last May/June. When Papy fell into medical crisis, Callaghan hurried to his side, even though it meant flying across the United States, and then across the Atlantic. Callaghan would not have thought twice about going if we lived on the moon.

Five months later, on November 2nd, Callaghan returned to France to work on a project in Normandy. In the middle of his 10-day business trip, he took a day off and flew down south to spend the day with Papy. That trip turned out to be a blessing on a deeply personal level, because within three weeks, Papy’s health declined until coma swallowed him alive, as comas do. Less than a month after Callaghan saw him that day in early November, Papy was gone.

That Callaghan and Papy had one day together recently while Papy was lucid and at home was a tremendous gift. Papy had spent a miserable summer and fall revolving in and out of the hospital for various reasons. Callaghan’s work trip couldn’t have been timed better.

When he came home, Callaghan didn’t need to describe to me Papy’s happiness during that visit. I have a warm memory of the countless times we’d trekked up the eight flights of stairs leading to Callaghan’s grandparents’ apartment: We would reach the last landing and turn the corner to find Papy and Mamie standing at the wide-open front door, waiting patiently with joyful expectation on their faces. Papy’s patience felt alive with anticipation beneath his calm exterior. That was the part about Papy and his relationship with Callaghan that I remember with the most clarity… the ritual and vision of Papy standing at the open door, waiting for his beloved grandson to appear on the landing. Every time, their faces lit up when they saw each other. There was so much love there!

 

Callaghan's Papy, c . 1950, age 25

Callaghan’s Papy, c . 1950, age 25

 

I don’t think I’ve known anyone else as dedicated to a grandparent to the extent that Callaghan was dedicated to his Papy, despite the long distance between them after Callaghan and I moved back to the States two years ago. Their bond reached back to the 70’s, when Callaghan was five years old and his mother suffered a stroke (a shocking occurrence at her young age). Callaghan went to live with their grandparents in the wake of their Maman’s hospitalization… and throughout his teen years, Callaghan continued spending lots of time with Papy, staying at his grandparents’ place at least one night a week.

I’d always been impressed with how Callaghan so resolutely assumed responsibility for his grandfather’s health. He cared for Papy with a gravity unique to their special bond. He cared for Papy like no one else did.

Grandparents are special, especially when they take part in raising you during your formative early childhood and teen years.

 

We walked to Le Jardin Secret to order the floral arrangement for Papy's obseques (service).

We walked to Le Jardin Secret to order the floral arrangement for Papy’s obseques (service).

 

I didn’t spend nearly as much time with Papy, but I got to know him through the many stories Callaghan told. How Papy played the accordion in his youth. How the events of World War II impacted him. How he’d gone on to own his own shop. How he’d enjoyed his daily walks to the center of his village, Cagnes sur Mer, to talk with his friends. How he’d loved red wine, and his Citroën Traction Avant.

 

Papy cherished his Citroen Traction Avant Quinze. It looked like this one.

Papy cherished his Citroen Traction Avant Quinze. It looked like this one.

 

Along with his father, Callaghan will be delivering the eulogy at tomorrow’s service, which I imagine will be difficult; writing and delivering a eulogy for the most important person in your life, for your hero,  can’t be an easy thing. I’m honored that he asked me for help with writing and rehearsing it.

Such as it is that I’m here with Callaghan in France. This time, I had to join him. This is a time for family and for supporting each other. I couldn’t be with Callaghan during his earlier visits, but what matters is that I’m here with him now.

For the night of the ceremony – tomorrow night – Callaghan is planning a celebration for Papy at a favorite old pub. Everyone who will be there knew Papy, because they’re Callaghan’s long-time friends… they knew how important Papy was in Callaghan’s life, and what he meant to him.

Halloween Merriment (and the unexpected adventures of Callaghan’s butt)

Happy Halloween Eve!

Callaghan and I have been celebrating Halloween all week, wanting to make up for the fact that we’ll be apart on the actual holiday. He left yesterday for a 12-day business trip in France (Normandy)… so yes, the week-long celebration was necessary. Priorities.

Actually, we’ve been in Halloween celebration mode all month.

I have no Halloween plans for tomorrow. At first I wanted to go to SCARIZONA Scaregrounds with a friend, but then I chickened out re-thought that plan because they promise to prey on “every possible phobia,” and there’s no way I’m risking the possibility of roaches (real or not). I’m thinking roachaphobia is common enough that Scarizona masterminds would use it in the creation of their haunted house “experiences.” I’m a risk-taker in some ways, but not in the roach way. NOPE. Not going.

Instead, kitties and I will enjoy a quiet, spooky Halloween together.

 

Bunny-butt Nenette and butterscotch Nounours checking out a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin.

Bunny-butt Nenette and butterscotch Nounours checking out a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin.

 

I’m looking at 12 days of quality bonding time with Nounours and Nenette. But fear not – I am planning on some crazy shenanigans for the duration. As they say, the cat will play while the Callaghan’s away.

Here’s some of what’s about to go down:

  • Reading (All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr)
  • Writing (I round-filed both of my neglected big projects, but this new one is actually a starting-over of one of the discarded ones.)
  • Watching Netflix (Yes, I’ve returned to Netflix. What can I say.)
  • Playing with furbabies (Nenette will learn that I can be just as fun as Daddy when it comes to playing.)
  • Taking the bus (to work – this is new) and walking (home from work). I still refuse to pay for parking at work when we live so close.
  • Eating simply. (For the next 12 days, I’m basically going to live on salad, baked sweet potatoes, broccoli, brown rice, quinoa, hummus, peanut butter, bread, and fruit. Because these are foods I love, I’m lazy about cooking, and I don’t want to spend time thinking about it.)
  • Getting my hair cut. (YAY new hair, plus I get to see my girl Melanie!)

And, so as to not make too much of a ruckus up in here:

  • Updating/cleaning up some of this blog’s details, i.e. the About page, stuff in the sidebar, some of the links and tags and categories, etc., etc. Long overdue.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but it captures the main agenda. You get the idea. It doesn’t take much to amuse me.

Case in point: I was too easily amused by this exchange with Callaghan yesterday morning when he was at the airport, texting to tell me about his pre-boarding adventures.

You know how a text conversation can get off-sync when you receive a message while you’re texting, so after you send the one you were writing, you immediately answer the new one that came in, and the messages accumulate out of order because the timing got messed up, plus you were talking about two different things at once, so now your phone displays a merging of replies on different subjects, and it either doesn’t make sense at all, or it just looks wrong?

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Callaghan-AirportScreenShot

 

This is what happens when you’re texting about airport security procedures and breakfast at the same time. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a scone up his butt. Of course, it had to be Callaghan.

The Spirit Animal Question (and my hair needs a cut)

Ever since I heard someone say that their spirit animal was Jackie Chan, I’ve been trying to figure out what mine is.

I used to think that my spirit animal was the wild horse, but that ended when I moved to France and found myself living with the presence of a gigantic horse that was on our land there. He wasn’t wild, but I think he was there to show me the error of my previous thinking and the extent of the unhorsey quality of my spirit. I still love the vision of running, wild horses… it’s just that the reality of being near a horse is different for me, I guess.

Exhibit A:

 

Clearly, I'm taken aback here. Also, this was taken in April (2013), and I remember how cold it was. I'm wearing a thick sweater under that jacket.

Clearly, I’m taken aback here. Also, this was taken in April (2013), and I remember how cold it was. I’m wearing a thick sweater under that jacket.

 

Look at the body language here! I’m not at ease. I’m smiling a little, but I’m leaning away from the horse, rather than toward him. He was a nice horse, though.

There was also a donkey there, and that was a totally different story. I adored that donkey. We called him Buddy.

 

Buddy! We often gave him treats. Here's Callaghan feeding him an apple.

Buddy! We often gave him treats. Here’s Callaghan feeding him an apple.

 

Our neighbor put a sign on the gate that proclaimed “Âne Mechant” (“Mean Donkey”), which we didn’t understand. That donkey was an absolute sweetheart.

Anyway, spirit animals. I’ve taken online quizzes that ALL tell me that my spirit animal is a wolf, but somehow, that doesn’t seem right. Something of the feline persuasion would make sense, but if anything, I feel more like an honorary cat due to being a cat mom. There’s a difference between being an animal and having that animal as a spirit animal. I can relate to the Wrah-Wrah better than I can relate to most people, but I don’t feel that I’m being led through life by a cat.

Okay! Different subject, since I came across this picture as I was going through my pictures from France in search of the horse and the donkey:

 

Me with short emo hair in France.

Me with short emo hair in France.

 

…and I do need to get my hair cut. Here’s a selfie I took by the elevator at work yesterday, specifically to see the length of my hair:

 

What is this length...

What is this length…

 

I’m not going to cut my hair short again, but I’m considering going for longish bangs, and maybe some long layers.

On that note, I’m off to get ready for work. Have a great day, guys!

Today is March 6th, and this is significant.

Good morning! I have a few announcements.

One: Next week’s posts will come at you from a different time zone, as we’ll be visiting family and friends in France. I plan to post on Tuesday and Friday at around the usual time, so we’ll see how that works out. Also, I’m thinking there’ll probably be more images here than writing next week. I’m not anticipating having much time to write while we’re overseas, but I know a lot of pictures will be taken!

 

My hats from France, collecting dust on the back of a door, as black hats do.

My hats from France, collecting dust on the back of a door, as black hats do.

 

Two: Today is my brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, Bro! (Trivia: Callaghan and my brother are the same age almost exactly. They were born in the same year, 10 days apart.)

Three: Today is also the 17th anniversary of the opening day of The Big Lebowski in the United States.

LET US TAKE A MOMENT.

17 years ago today, the Coen brothers introduced Americans to The Dude. Can you believe it’s been that long? I can’t.

“The Dude abides.” That three-word quote is genius. The Dude’s paramount personality trait is being laid-back to the point of almost-apathy, but rather than being apathetic, he’s just free of constraints (especially self-imposed ones)! He does care, in his way. He teaches us how to live in moment, and how to prioritize. For example, getting thrown into a police car is secondary to the more immediate and pressing concern of the beverage in his hand that’s in danger of spilling in the process. It’s easy to see why some of The Dude’s admirers would take it upon themselves to create a religion (Dudism) after the sub-cultural icon who embodies “go with the flow” to the point where he simply abides.

I’m not cool enough to exist in a perpetual state of moment-by-moment abiding. In addition to roaches and Costco, my two legendary hang-ups, I can think of several things by which I cannot abide. In honor of the Dude, He Who Has Been Abiding for Seventeen Years Today, I will present you with those things.

I CANNOT abide by:

1). Dubbed movies.

2). Celery.

3). More than two consecutive days of overcast weather.

4). Doing the ginga to Thai music instead of to Afro-Brazilian capoeira music. (This is my only Les Mills annoyance. Would it be so hard to throw a birembau into that Body Combat music tracklist, Les Mills?)

5). The little “silica” packets you find in such things as new bags and outerwear pockets.

And on that note, I’ll wish you a Happy Friday!

My Shoe Anti-Rhapsody.

The weekend turned out to be good because I escaped having to shop for “nice” shoes, a task I’d been avoiding. I spared myself with the realization that if I need to dress up (I am capable of cleaning up kind of nicely, when I want to), I have several options that look perfectly okay with ankle boots. I can wear boots with tights and a knee-length or longer skirt or dress, and no one would look twice at a simple black ankle boot if it’s not dirty or scuffed, right?

It happens that there’s an upcoming event whose dress code is “cocktail attire.” I’m pretty sure I can get away with short boots, though.

I’m not sure where my aversion to wearing dressy shoes comes from, because I haven’t always had it. There was a time that I didn’t mind wearing them, and I often wore them to work. The heels couldn’t be more than three inches high, though, and even that was pushing it! I was never comfortable walking in heels.

As a result of wearing heels on a semi-regular basis, I now have a bunion on my left foot, and it looks like I might be developing one on my right foot. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything at all, it would be, “Don’t wear high heels, even if they’re not really high. They’re not worth it.”

(It seems that one way or another, women end up mutilating their bodies whether they’re aware of it or not. I mean, aside from the drastic differential in damage and degree of pain and severity, how is the practice of Chinese foot-binding any different than modern women wearing high heels regularly over an extended period of time? Both are done for the sake of fashion and in compliance with current beauty standards, and they have the same effect in the end: deformed feet.)

Anyway, I haven’t worn high-heeled footwear on a regular basis since 2009. I did thrift some kind-of-high wedge sandals in Texas, but I only wore them twice, and only for a few hours each time.

Since shopping for dressy shoes means fashion, it also pretty much means high heels, and since, to me, trying on high heels is only slightly less fun than getting invasive dental surgery, I’ve come up with every excuse to avoid the whole business.

My (admittedly) halfhearted attempts to find “nice” shoes usually end in failure. One day in the summer of 2012, I wandered into a shoe boutique in Nice, France (where we were pretty much living at the time). The shoes were mostly trendy and some combination of glamorous, provocative, strappy, studded, or colorful… and they were mostly high-heeled. Many were high-heeled with platforms. I was supposed to be looking for shoes for a special occasion, but I ended up getting some converse knock-offs I found hidden in the back corner, high above and out of reach… I had to ask the shoe guy to get down a pair in size 38.5 (my European shoe size). The shoes were casual, but they were made of metallic material and faux patent leather, so that made them special occasion converse knock-offs, right? My reasoning was lame, and I knew it. I bought them anyway.

In their defense, those flimsy, blingy black and silver converse-inspired shoes were pretty comfortable. I spent the rest of the summer power-walking through Nice in them. I still have them:

 

Brand unknown. It just says "sport" on the metal plaques at the tops of the laces.

Brand unknown. It just says “sport” on the metal plaques at the tops of the laces.

 

“Never say ‘can’t’,” but… I can’t walk in high heels, and I don’t care.

Also when we were still living in France, we visited Los Angeles for a week, and once again, I went shopping for dressy shoes. This was in September, at the end of that same summer. We had an event in Berlin coming up in November, and I was running out of time. I had to find some shoes! I finally found a pair of black velvet-like wedges at a mall shoe shop. Of all the shoes I tried on, those were the most walking-friendly ones in my price range.

Fast-forward to November: I wore the shoes from the hotel in Berlin to the convention center, and I only made it half-way down the street. Luckily, it just so happened that my comfy, reliable old cowgirl boots were stashed in my backpack. (Yes, I wore a backpack with my dressy outfit.) Cowgirl boots aren’t exactly formal footwear, but they’re better than barefoot at a convention center event. My excuse was going to be that I was an inappropriately casual American who didn’t know any better. If there’s a stereotype about Americans wearing casual western boots at semi-formal events, I’m afraid I helped to propagate it. Sorry, not sorry.

Shoes. If “perfectly okay” is good enough, they’re perfect as far as I’m concerned!

La Tour Eiffel, she is everywhere.

It seems that I started noticing the Eiffel Tower printed on clothing and other things right when we moved back to Arizona last November. That’s when I became aware of the trend, anyway… the Eiffel Tower could have been a popular motif in apparel and home décor fashion for much longer.

At first, I was charmed to happen upon the occasional Eiffel Tower, because the Eiffel Tower is one of my favorite things about France. It’s actually my favorite monument of the monuments I’ve seen in the world, as you may recall me mentioning before. Hence, I own more than a few Eiffel Tower-emblazoned things, myself. A sleeveless t-shirt here. A light sweater there. A French friend gave me a small photo of the Eiffel Tower in a white frame (from the store – I chose it)! A small ring holder in the shape of the Eiffel Tower sits on the dresser. The first Eiffel Tower in my collection, the drawing that Callaghan bought for me when we were there one day (at the Eiffel Tower), hangs in our living room, and of course, there’s the token Eiffel Tower magnet on the refrigerator. And that’s just a sampling of examples. There are more.

So, I started seeing Eiffel Towers plastered all over tarnation last November, but in the almost-year since we’ve been back in AZ? Instead of trailing off into the oblivion that follows a robust trend, the Eiffel Tower not only pressed forward, but it exploded into a frenzy of mass marketing. It’s everywhere, on everything, all over the place… especially, it seems, in the kind of discount stores we favor, such as Target, Marshall’s/T.J. Maxx and Ross. There’s no shortage of Eiffel Towers in these places. If you want it in your house or on your person, you may have it, and for very good prices. The quantities and varieties of Eiffel Towers migrating to the United States from China are staggering.

When I brought this up the other day, Callaghan said, “Yeah. I’m trying to get away from there, and the Eiffel Tower is running after me.”

Here, enjoy some random Eiffel Tower store sightings:

 

The Eiffel Tower on hat boxes.

The Eiffel Tower on hat boxes.

 

 

The Eiffel Tower on canvas.

The Eiffel Tower on canvas.

 

 

The Eiffel Tower on a hook board.

The Eiffel Tower on a hook board.

 

 

The Eiffel Tower on bathroom accessories.

The Eiffel Tower on bathroom accessories.

 

 

The Eiffel Tower on a knit top.

The Eiffel Tower on a knit top.

 

 

And, while we're at it, let's not forget the fleur de lys (more ubiquitous now than ever, as well).

And, while we’re at it, let’s not forget the fleur de lys (more ubiquitous now than ever, as well).

 

I’m not sure if it’s the Eiffel Tower, specifically, or the city of Paris itself that’s all the rage right now. The Eiffel Tower has become synonymous with Paris, so it could be either. And honestly, I don’t mind that Eiffel Towers jump into my face every time I turn around. I could be ambushed by worse things, for sure.

So I’m not complaining here… I’m more nonplussed than anything, and maybe I feel just a little bit like the plethora of Eiffel Towers cheapens the experience of her somehow. It’s like seeing your lover’s face depicted, suddenly, on clothing worn by other people. Poor Eiffel Tower! If monuments were songs, she’d be the most over-played one by a mile. Being everywhere takes the edge off her splendor; it’s hard to be one-of-a-kind and de rigueur at the same time.

On his part, Callaghan is in disgust. He loves the Eiffel Tower as much as I do, and he likes all of our Eiffel Towers, but he rolls his eyes at the herds of Eiffel Towers roaming through stores.

 

The Eiffel Tower on a shopping bag.

The Eiffel Tower on a shopping bag.

14 Heures sur la Route – des photos

I can be a vainglorious beast when I have a camera in my hand. I mean, I can get overly serious about taking pictures. At least I recognize this distinction: You have your real photographers, both amateur and professional, people equip with raw talent, people who are visionary and intuitive with their cameras, hard-working and trained artists. Then you have people like me, the pointers-and-clickers. But I am quite the pointer-and-clicker, if I do say so!

All of this to say that yesterday we returned from a road trip (14 hours, total) through 7-8 départements to the center of France (to visit a friend), and here are pictures – a little bit of atmosphere from the passenger-in-the-moving-vehicle perspective.

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Coffee at McDonald’s. Camenbert burger, anyone?

Upside-Down in the Jungle

I spent yesterday sitting in my long-awaited Session d’Information Sur La Vie En France (“Life in France” course), Module 1. I did not learn how to do a champagne toast. Instead, the instructor covered different administrative sectors of the French government, both at the national and state levels.

The theme ran ruthlessly through every sub-topic: France is broke. There are cavernous deficits in all administrative areas. Consequently, people are getting less of everything while paying more and more into the system. Allocations are meager at every level. Unemployment is astronomical, which compounds the other problems. There also seems to be a massive epidemic of bureaucratic disorganization that, from what I could discern in class, is responsible for the slowing down of procedural undertakings for everyone – French and foreigners alike – by way of plain old interference. Processing of all administrative actions is slow. Very, very slow.

This brings to mind my favorite Callaghan quote to date:

“My sloth will not be like their sloth. My sloth will be a different sloth.”

Ezma the Sloth - created and drawn by Callaghan

Ezma the Sloth – created and drawn by Callaghan

Callaghan did not utter these words in the context of the French administration. The subject came up in a recent conversation about how the sloth he’d draw would be nothing like the other cartoon sloths out there… and the sloth he drew after that discussion was indeed his own. Another Callaghan original! We named her “Ezma,” after Bella’s daughter, Renesmee, in The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn – Part 2, which we had the misfortune of seeing the other day.

Now that France’s painfully slow processes and extortion of money from French citizens have been officially noted in the classroom, Callaghan and I have elected Ezma as the face of the administration.

After all, as was also explained yesterday, the French enjoy freedom of expression as long as it’s not “slanderous or injurious”… and we don’t believe that using a sloth to represent the administration violates either of those stipulations, though I doubt President Hollande would appreciate a Zazzle shop carrying t-shirts imprinted with a Sloth replacing the noble Gallic Rooster as the French national emblem. It’s just as well, because I don’t think “Paresseux Gaulois” has the same ring to it as “Coq Gaulois,” even though “Coq Gaulois” sounds, to me, less like an emblem and more like a hearty poultry dish to be paired with a bold red wine.

But where the French administration is concerned, Callaghan has been outraged since the dinosaurs inhabited the earth, so Ezma the Sloth seems like an appropriate representative for it. This is a democracy, right? The people choose. Callaghan stormed to his desk and started on the new Ezma drawing immediately after reading my class notes. Cabernet Sauvignon, anyone?