Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I don't know how to write about this. I don't know whether I should.

I hate feeling this way. I hate myself for feeling this way. Why am I afraid of so many things? Of everything somehow? It doesn't get me anywhere.

Nothing seems to be going right anymore; everything seems to be going wrong. And yet I know viscerally, deep inside of myself, that it's not that bad -- it can't be. I'm trying so hard to keep my head up, to be strong, to be positive. To think about the things that are right and good in my life -- there are many of them. Of course there are. I have been very blessed.

But then I plunge back down again. Je vois la vie en noir en ce moment.

And I don't know where to begin to make things right. I know I'm being completely obscure here, but it's so difficult to put this all into words.

My eyes have been bothering me, but I can't seem to get an appointment to see an opthalmologist. I desperately need a haircut, if for no other reason than to boost my morale. I can't stand my hair right now, or pretty much anything else for that matter...

We need to move out of this apartment, but I don't know where to begin to look. I'm so overwhelmed. Do we stay in our area? Do we move back into Paris, cut back on a few mètres carrés and hope for something better?

We'd like to go away next week, get away from everything, take a break and refresh ourselves so we're ready to make a new start when we get back. But we don't even know where to go! We've been throwing around ideas for a few days now, and I thought we had settled on Spain, either Barcelona or Andalousia, but STILL we hesitate... And time is ticking away -- soon enough we won't even be able to get any decent prices if we don't make a move.

I'm usually an indecisive person; that's definitely in my nature. But this is just ridiculous! I'm driving myself crazy. It's like I'm trying to take on too many choices at once, and as a result I'm left cornered, immobile, paralyzed...

I've got to get out of this funk. Somehow. And sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pas matinale

NO! I roll over and hit the alarm for the énième fois. (Doesn't that sound better than "umpteenth"?)

Oh, how I hate waking up in the morning. I know I'm not alone in this feeling, but in my case it's a constant struggle on a daily basis. For as long as I can remember, I have NOT been a morning person. The nights never seem to be long enough, alarm clocks are my enemy, and for some reason all I've ever wanted to do is roll over and dig deeper under the covers. Especially in the dead of winter, although this winter I can't exactly say it's been bitter cold -- on the contrary, it's been much milder this year than in years past. But of course the humidity in our bedroom doesn't exactly help.

I am most definitely a creature of the night, although not in the way you might imagine: most times I like using the late hours to read, pore over new recipes, watch a great movie, or catch up on creative things of all sorts. I don't tend to watch very much TV, not here in France anyway, but there always seems to be some distraction or another keeping me away from going to bed. Even household tasks that simply never get done at any other hour...

But then in the morning, DAMN do I regret my nocturnal habits. And I promise myself, once again, that tonight will be different; tonight I will finally get to bed at a "decent" hour, as my mom would say. But what exactly is decent, honestly?

And Saturday mornings? The local market beckons me, with all the wonderful things it has to offer, and if I don't get up early enough, I won't be able to take advantage of it all -- I've been caught out one too many times, with the veal and pork roasts long gone, the fresh cod sold out at the fishmonger's... So I trudge on down the street, and in most cases, by the time I'm there and swept up in the atmosphere, I'm glad I made the effort. Especially when I'm able to reward myself with a small bundle of flowers to brighten up the apartment on my way home.

But those first few steps are the hardest. As is the case with most things, I guess. I remember back in college, my clock-radio crackling on bright and early, reaching over to hit snooze a gazillion times, and my roommate finally throwing pillows across the room to wake me out of my (study-induced, unfortunately, not alocohol-induced!) stupor. It could sometimes take a freight train... And then when I'd wobble out of bed, I couldn't help thinking that a freight train had run over me in my sleep.

Even when I was a little girl, as far back as I can recall I was a little nightowl... I'd sneak back downstairs to watch a late movie on the weekends, after my parents were fast asleep. And snow days? I lived for them as much as the next kid, especially if it meant staying bundled up in bed for as long as possible while all the other kids were out throwing snowballs and building snowmen. If the DJ's voice droned out the name of my school on his mile-long list before 7:00 a.m., it was back to sleep for me -- and I couldn't get there fast enough.

They say old habits die hard -- well, in my case this is one habit that isn't about to die anytime soon. And what of the early bird who gets the worm? Well, you can keep that worm; I'll find something better later on. And I'll keep the marmotte moniker, too, thank you; I have a reputation to maintain!

Monday, February 19, 2007

And... The Hits Just Keep on Comin'...

Ah.... the apartment saga.

So... where to begin? My boyfriend and I moved into our current apartment a little under a year and a half ago, and we basically fell on this place by pure chance. At the time it seemed like the golden opportunity: he saw an ad at a baker's shop nearby, he stopped in and inquired, we visited the place, it was a nice size and overall seemed nicely renovated, etc... The process was deceptively simple, especially given the fact that typically it's quite difficult to rent an apartment here in France, and even more so in the Paris area.

Well, we're in the Paris 'burbs, actually. And we moved out here basically for the square footage, to be honest. For our sanity. Because we both knew that if we tried to squeeze ourselves into what we could afford IN Paris, which was little to nothing, then we would drive each other bonkers. And I was coming from living in rooms and studio apartments over the past 3 years, so I was ready for some SPACE (as much as you can get here) for a change. So when I saw this place, it almost seemed like Versailles to me: 60 metres squared (no idea how many square feet that is)! Three REAL ROOMS! A fully equipped kitchen (a rarity in rented apartments in France)! Sunlight pouring in the windows! It seemed to be meant for us; it had our names written all over it.

Or so we thought. 'Course, at the time, we didn't think about the fact that it was SO easy; that we should have been suspicious... That the fact that they didn't require as much paperwork as they usually do was a BAD sign. That the owner was hell-bent on getting this place rented out as fast as she could.

Anyhoo, fast-forward a year and a half later, and we're realizing what a lemon we've fallen into. In a manner of speaking. We probably realized it soon after moving in, but I still had stars in my eyes at the time, and I wanted to believe that the things that were going WRONG were minimal, and that we could overlook them. But now that it's balmy and mild here in February 2007 and we're having to keep the HEAT on to minimize the mold growth and discomfort of humidity... Well, let's just say that we can't move out of here soon enough.

I mean, the owners literally redid the wallpaper right before we moved in, which you might say is pretty normal, right? WRONG. Not when the walls underneath are so rife with humidity that not even a month after we moved in, in a particularly rainy period, mold already started growing. So I let the owners know immediately, and they simply told me to keep the (electric!) heaters on at all times to minimize the humidity!!! Now, mind you, this means monumental electrical bills, but again, I simply accepted it at the time and moved on. I didn't dwell on it.

July 2006: we were burgled. Our apartment was broken into (only 2 locks on the door, and basically no real security system in our building, no concierge, no digicode)... Man, did we learn our lesson. [Next apartment, 2 major requirements: reinforced door required, and central heating. ] Anything of value was stolen, basically, and it left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth. The pleasures of the local market fell by the wayside while I tried to come to grips with this place. I know that burglaries can happen anywhere, and often do all the time, so it doesn't have anything to do with where we live. But there's a definite problem with our building. And the fact that the owners didn't even have the consideration to call us back after I called to let them know about it was enough to make me livid. Oh, God forbid I bother the owners with such a petty concern. That's what the agency basically told me, in so many words.

Winter 2007: mold continues to grow, and with the humidity we've been experiencing this winter, it's become insufferable. I called the agency several times, with no serious response. So I finally sent a registered letter with return receipt, and they actually DID something. They sent an expert in to check out the damage, and although I'm expecting nothing to come of this, as the repairs would entail major construction work on the building facade, at least they've finally responded to our concerns. But we sure had to light a fire under their, ahem, you-know-whats...

And so the expert came and checked out the damage, took a look at our windows, the walls, etc. And he confirmed the fact that the building is poorly insulated, and also that when they had the double-glazing done on the windows, the finishing was poorly done. And that it isn't normal that we should have the heat on when it's WARM outside, and that our bedsheets shouldn't be damp all the time. But not only that, he also discovered some OTHER problems: there's a pipe leak in our WC which he said could basically explode at any time. And there are stains on our kitchen ceiling which indicate probable water damage -- I had noticed these stains before but thought they were there when we arrived, or were pretty ancient. But according to the expert, who tested the water level with some device he was carrying, there was evidence of 80% of water up there! Which means we have to contact our insurance on that one... And I know this means it's not necessarily our fault (it's most likely coming from our neighbors' apartment upstairs, and they are probably unawares...), but COME ON, what else can be wrong with this place? I feel like we're lying on a ticking time bomb, like this apartment is just an accident waiting to happen.

So that's our current situation. Oh, and to top it all off, I called the agency again last Thursday, after the expert came to our place, to confirm the fact that there is a pipe leaking in our WC, and the gal (who I'm SURE is the same one who snapped at me last summer when our apartment was broken into) said they hadn't heard back from the expert yet, and therefore didn't know anything about a pipe leak. So I said, "But I'm telling you about the leak NOW. And I don't want the pipe to burst and for water to flood our apartment!" "Oh, okay, so I'll contact a plumber and have him call you directly to make an appointment, like we did with the expert."

Have I heard from the plumber? From the agency? NO. NO. And what day are we today? Okay, it's only been a few days, but is it that hard for a person to do his/her job? If it only takes a call to a plumber, how hard can that be?

You see, I don't often whine and complain about bureaucratic or administrative problems here. I tend to swallow things, to reason with myself. And it's pretty rare that I go on a rampage, at least I think so. But this is ENOUGH. We have GOT to get out of here.

So it looks like the apartment hunt has begun... Now the big question is: do we rent another place nearby for a short time, just so we can get our bearings before trying to go into the longer and tougher search to BUY a place of our own? Or do we take our time now and try to buy? I just don't know where to begin. I do sometimes miss the village life of being in Paris, but like I said, anything of any decent size there is basically out of our budget. And once you get used to having your space, at least a certain amount of it, it is hard to sacrifice it. UNLESS an apartment is really well laid out and organized. Which could happen... But when you're two, you cannot live in 30 metres squared, not for any length of time. Trust me: been there, done that. NOT gonna happen again. I want our relationship to last.

Wish me luck!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Simple Pleasures

When the dismal grey skies of Paris and my own hormonal, emotional fluctuations run the risk of weighing me down entirely, my mind and my heart have a way of turning to the simplest things to brighten up (and get me through) my day.

Without these little pleasures, sometimes I wonder how I would survive, especially when everything else seems to be going wrong.

I'm reading a book right now that brought these thoughts to mind this morning. It's funny how the vivid descriptions of a well-written book can bring out the best in all of us, perhaps our creative side or simply those things that really make us smile. It doesn't take much after all, does it?

Some of my favorites include: (in no particular order)

  • The gust of fresh air on my face (as fresh as Paris air can be!) during my ten-minute walk down the street from the train station in the morning, as I listen to some of my favorite tunes. That is, unless it's raining, which is often the case...
  • The discovery of a new book or a new album which I know is bound to bring me even more extended pleasure in the weeks to come. My latest addictions: William Boyd and Murakami, Regina Spektor and Kate Havnevik.
  • An ice-cold kir pêche with some salty nibbles in a bar/café after a long day at work. My boyfriend likes to refer to these as des graines -- he often specifically requests them. But I'm not shy about munching on them myself, even though I don't take handfuls at a time like he does!
  • Salted butter and confiture de figues on a fresh, warm baguette on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, I can't get enough of my entire Sunday late-morning brunch ritual: un oeuf à la coque, fresh bread with salted butter and jam, a pink grapefruit, and a big bowl of coffee. Sometimes I vary with hot chocolate, depending on my mood...
  • Paging through a new magazine, including my cooking faves, or just a mindless American fashion rag.
  • Picking up a bundle of fresh tulips or renoncules, my new favorites, at my local market.
  • The feeling of accomplishment when I actually pull a whole meal together for me and my boy. I can't even imagine what a good feeling it must be to cook for a whole group -- as in anything more than two!
  • The warmth of a brand-new comfy sweater, or the broken-in fuzziness of an old stand-by. Either way, I'm definitely a sweater girl. As much as I like fashion, I'm not about to sacrifice comfort in the winter! So at least I'm not a 100% fashion victim.
  • Rolling over in the bed on a Sunday morning and realizing it's just that -- Sunday! -- and that you have the whole day stretching in front of you. So many possibilities...
  • The lingering presence of my boyfriend's scent in the room, or in my clothes, long after he has gone. (Okay, sappy, but true!)
  • And, to add to that image, just the reassuring feeling I get from exchanging a smile with him and seeing the glint in his blue eyes when we share a really nice moment together.
  • Magret de canard prepared any which way -- with pepper sauce, raspberry or fig sauce, with risotto or pommes de terre sautées... Nothing beats duck in my book!
  • Peaches in the summer, apples fresh off the tree in the fall, citrus in the winter (I've been eating clementines like peanuts), and strawberries in the late spring -- oh, how I've come to love seasonal fruit here in France...
  • A glass of Graves with some dry peppered sausage once again on buttered baguette bread.

Can you tell I'm a bit of a gourmande? Don't ask me to go on a diet... One of these days this is going to catch up with me. And I've really got to get myself into a better exercise routine -- story of my life!

I think my list of simple pleasures is endless. Ask me tomorrow and I'll probably come up with something different. What are some of yours?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blogger Beauty

My addiction to blog-reading began probably a little over a year and a half ago, although I only began writing one of my own just recently -- not to be repetitive, and the truth is that this is pretty obvious, but it took me some time to actually come around and decide to put my own thoughts out there. And I guess I decided to do it for many of the same reasons others do it -- to express myself, to share my thoughts, feelings and responses to things going on in my life, and also somehow to release those thoughts swirling around in my head on a constant daily basis, hoping perhaps that this action in itself would have a cathartic result. To get my feelings out into the atmosphere, or what was that thing called? Oh yeah, the blogosphere...

I've wandered around the 'Net in that time, hopped in and out of numerous blogs and kept track of a number of them, adding them to my ever-expanding list of favorites on my *shocker* office computer. I love so many different things, and I think the compiling of my own "favorites" list on my blog is going to take even longer... I love a good laugh (who doesn't?), I love me some beautiful design, great photos, I can't get enough of musings on life in France, and of course I love those talented individuals who just happen to wrap all of that up in one finely-tuned package. Oh, and good writing sure helps too. Of course, I'm not even going to attempt to try to fit in or even be on par in with these talented individuals -- I know I'm miles behind, in more ways than one, but I finally figured that there wasn't any reason for me not to tag along, so that's why I plunged in, albeit awkwardly, and feetfirst, as usual (I have big feet, by the way...)

It takes me a while to get to the point. Did you happen to notice that? So most of my posts are probably going to be much longer than necessary. Or longer than the daily-recommended-blogger-allowance. Meaning that anyone else could write the same thing in a much more concise fashion, with fewer words and more style and pizzazz. But, well, that's me -- I talk a lot, I think a lot, ergo I write a lot (and perhaps with no particular point). But I don't use words like "ergo" that often, I promise. I'm just being a smartass. And that may be off-putting, which I can totally understand. But maybe this will help me refine my writing, too. Who knows?

In any case (oh, and I think I say that a lot), I just wanted to mention that Dooce is right on up there in my list of favorite reads -- for all the obvious reasons. And the post she wrote yesterday really hit me hard -- it made me cry, it was so moving. Funny and yet moving at the same time. Now that's pure talent. And, of course, you all knew that already. But I just had to say it again.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not Lost in Translation

It took me a long time to get the hang of enjoying reading a book in French. I've always loved the pleasure of a good read, but I have to admit that there was often that element of laziness that would creep in -- I wanted to be able to sit back and just relax, actually absorb what I was reading and soak it all in without having to think about it all that much. I know, I know -- lazy reader syndrome, we all get it sometimes, don't we? Or am I alone in this?

But somewhere along the road I actually fell into a few French books that attracted me by the storyline laid out on the back of one of those austere covers, and I dove in wholeheartedly, trying to figure out what I was missing. Because back in college I probably read many more excerpts of excellent, classic French fiction rather than whole novels, I'm ashamed to say. That was just the way things worked back then, I guess. And it was hard enough for me to pore over 10 pages of Balzac much less fathom 300, what with the balance of my whole courseload weighing me down, so I don't necessarily regret it...

Gradually, after working for a stint in a bilingual bookshop, I fell in love with some more modern French authors (although I am aware of the fact that I have zillions more to discover, unearth and fully appreciate) and I even came to read a certain number of French translations. After falling head-over-heels in love with Murakami in La ballade de l'impossible (more well-known as Norwegian Wood) I also read a number of his other books, and had the opportunity to read his more-recent Kafka on the Shore. And the strangest thing is, aside from the fact that I didn't enjoy the storyline nearly as much as La ballade (and I even had issues with certain elements that I feel spoiled parts of it), I realized that I prefer Murakami in French -- I just feel that his sensual style and his approach to characterization is better represented and better conveyed in French. So I think that I'll probably continue to read most, if not all, of his other books in French.

This may not be all that interesting of an observation, but it just seemed intriguing to me to think that certain authors and their writing come across better in one language more than another. My boyfriend claims that Paul Auster is much better in French than in English, although I still object to this claim, on the grounds that he hasn't actually read Auster in English -- he says that he has an excellent translator, which I believe is altogether true, but I think you would have to compare both versions of the text to actually defend the fact that one language-version is better than the other. But back when The Brooklyn Follies was being released, interestingly enough, it came out in French first, which boggled my mind at the time (I later came to understand that it may have been a favor to his French publisher, Actes Sud, who have always been hugely supportive of him and his writing, but I may be wrong in this surmisal) but didn't stop me from trying Auster out in French -- and I did enjoy it, although I couldn't help thinking that as an American I should be reading him in English.

Which brings me to the topic at hand today (OK, I was a long time in getting here, but bear with me!): I just finished a marvelous novel in French translated from the Norwegian, and I wanted to share it with the 'Net world. It's called La Société des Jeunes Pianistes, and I fell into it by accident while paging through a copy of French Elle one afternoon. The magazine gave it an excellent review, and it sounded tantalizing: I played the piano back when I was a student and have unfortunately not touched the keys in more years than I can remember, but I love all that brings back the nostalgia of that time of my life. I miss listening to Chopin in the Salle Gaveau and studying certain elements of music history. Above all I miss the challenge of a new piece and the fulfillment of performance after months of preparation... When I picked up the book to check it out in person, I saw that the author had included a quote from Murakami's Norwegian Wood in the opening pages, and this was the clincher for me: I knew then that I had to buy it.

The novel's story revolves around the musical passions and aspirations of young Aksel as well as those of his friends, a group of adolescents living in Oslo in the early '60s. I found that you fell immediately into the story and were swept up into his adolescent world of desire, confusion, frustration and self-absorption. He experiences a family tragedy very early in his life that has an enormous impact on him and his future decisions. As you sweep through one chapter after another, you find yourself immersed in the musical world of his experience, and you can really visualize all of the work and sweat that goes into preparing for these concerts and concours. And you can also almost feel the music floating off the pages. Perhaps that's an over-romanticized way of putting it, but this is exactly how I felt as I read the book.

I'm not sure if an English translation exists as of yet, but I highly recommend this to those francophones in my entourage who are eager to discover an enjoyable book in French, something refreshing and unexpected. I am of course a big fan of coming-of-age novels, always have been, which I believe the French refer to as romans d'apprentissage, and if you too enjoy that genre this one is not to be missed.

Now let's see if I can make time for Nancy Huston's latest offering. After reading so many rave reviews, and even the controversy surrounding the English translation thanks to Maitresse (who really convinced me that I have to read Huston; I feel so out of it), I've really got to get my act in gear!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Gratin Goodness

Last night I whipped up wonderful Clotilde's no-fail, no-fuss gratin de chou-fleur for the second time in two weeks. Both times I also sprinkled on a handful of lardons, just to add some extra zip and to round out the meal a bit (namely for my large-appetite-inclined male counterpart). I think I may finally be making my first steps toward training the boyfriend as well -- he trimmed, rinsed and steamed the cauliflower florets before I made it home from my English session (the nightmarish one with the little know-it-all French boy from hell who thinks he exists to teach me a lesson).

So all I had to do when I walked in the door was prepare the béchamel, drizzle it over the cauliflower, add some shredded cheese and bread crumbs, and pop the gratin dish into the oven for 20 minutes.

WHEW! So satisfying... Maybe even enough to erase monster-boy from my memory, at least for the moment.

Until next time, that is.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Epouse-moi !

I was so caught up in the stressful events of my Sunday, I completely forgot to mention that I had a truly memorable Friday evening. And because the soirée was entirely unexpected, and spontaneous to boot, it made things even more unforgettable. Ok, that's perhaps a very grand way of putting it, but I have to admit that I don't actually go out all that often (shhhh, we'll let that be our little secret!). Because I am, after all, a homebody at heart -- or as the French so lovingly put it, a pantouflarde... "Pantoufle" literally meaning slipper -- er, I think you get the picture. Let's just say that I'm not one of those expats that is constantly keeping on top of the Paris nightlife or the next-big-thing going on. Then again, I'm certainly not against a great evening out either.

So when I have the opportunity to go to the theater, I jump at the chance! In this case, it was not your regular ol' run-of-the-mill pièce, but a highly entertaining musical comedy, reminiscent of an off-Broadway show. 'Course, I'm certainly not a specialist of the genre, and I wouldn't dare claim to be one, but I enjoyed every minute of this show, from beginning to end. From the opening triple-bride number to the ending embrace, I was entranced. The musical themes were spot-on, in my humble opinion, and on more than one occasion I just wanted to jump up and sing along!

Check out their website and you'll learn a little bit more about the actors, the director, the choreographer, the composer, the main characters and the storyline of course -- plus you'll see just how much work they've invested in this little gem. Truly, if you have the opportunity, pop on up to the Place de Clichy and enjoy a really nice evening out. What's even better is that the creative director and writers have created a whole wedding theme around the show, and as you're exiting the theater you can leave a message with your impressions in the livre d'or, or you can join the actors and participants down the street at a local bar sponsoring the play for the "wedding reception"!

Take time out to see it, and let me know what you think if you do...

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Roasted Revelation

Thank God for the calming qualities, the sheer healing power of good food. If it weren't for the simple magic of my meal on Sunday evening, I don't know how the day would have ended... And thank goodness I can also manage to distract myself from my current daily nuisances, (albeit by eating, which is not always the recommended solution!) because I honestly don't know how I would get by otherwise...

But how wonderful is it when you get to work on a new recipe, when you settle down to the actual cooking process, and you actually manage to put together a really great meal WITHOUT BENDING OVER BACKWARDS? OK, I'm starting to sound like Martha Stewart here, or one of those how-to cooking magazines, but seriously...

I had had the day from hell, finally attacking my long-overdue housecleaning from top to bottom, and after discovering the creeping growth of MOLD on more than one wall in my apartment*, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die.

So what did I do to get my mind on other things? I pulled out the ingredients I had (for once) so cunningly gathered together on Saturday morning at the local market, and in less than an hour and a half, my blue-eyed companion and I were digging into an absolutely scrumptious rôti de veau aux épices. I should have known before I even got started that this recipe had all the makings of a winner: cinnamon, check! ginger, check! fresh cilantro, check! cumin, check! Oh, and not to mention that garlic clove, the organic lemon and the red onion. All mingled together in a heavenly sauce that simmered over the stove for less than an hour, and was then poured over a bed of couscous semolina with raisins and almond slivers. Ahhhhh... All the bad karma of that whole day just melted away, and I wanted that meal to last forever! And what made it even better was the simple fact that I had prepared it myself.

Plus, the presentation, further evidence that this recipe is a keeper: once you lay out the slices of veal on the couscous, you sprinkle some fresh cilantro over the top, and voilà, a work of art!

Oh, and one final thank-goodness for French butchers: that veal roast might have cost me a pretty penny, but it was oh-so-tender, so definitely worth every Euro.

For once, I was actually looking FORWARD to my leftovers at lunch yesterday...

I think I'm (finally!) getting the hang of this cooking thing... (Then again, don't ask me about the pork roast I mangled 2 weeks ago -- that's another story for another time.)

If interested, click on this so you can share in my delight!

* The withering letter I sent out to our rental agency today, registered with return receipt, also helped me get out of my funk -- at least for the moment. We'll see if it gets anywhere... These are the people, after all, who told me that I shouldn't be calling and bothering the landlord so often when our apartment was BURGLED last summer! God forbid I do anything other than write them their rental check en bonne et due forme on the 1st of every month.