Tag Archives: france

Bread alone.

I love markets.  Boy.  I love markets.  I loved our market in Brixton (though it’s changed something awful now), and I loved our market in Cagayan, particularly once I’d learned to navigate it properly.  Enter here, it’s stinky hanging meat everywhere – blech (snobby vegan priviledge…I can turn my nose up at stinky meat), enter there it’s the too-quiet dry goods corner, ergo lots of people chit-chatting away right up to the point that those two really tall Americans (because Chris was always American to them…poor guy) walk up and then it’s stare-central and a couple of, ‘You’re so height, man!’  Nope, it had to be entry number 3 – eggs and fruits, and a ninja-like entry, speedy as I could walk, smile here, nod there, and off to the vendors with whom we most liked doing business.

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There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.

It never occurred to me to become a teacher.  I’ve always had such a weird relationship with teachers – some of them adored me and made me see the endless possibilities my life held, but a lot of them were really kind of awful, a few even stooping so low as to resort to bullying tactics.  I was, admittedly, an outrageously annoying child.  I talked incessantly to cope with my almost unbearable insecurities.  I was, as I’ve mentioned here previously, super tall and pretty fat.  For a while there I was also reasonably smart.  My first grade teacher made a point of that last bit, pulling me apart from the rest of the class and bringing my reading level three grades higher than everyone else’s.  Additionally, at story time she would have me read to the class.  As you can imagine, this made everyone think I was awesome.  Oh, how they’d cheer my name at recess.

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Test Day

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning, I headed off to the train station to make my way to Clermont-Ferrand, where l’Office français d’immigration et integration, aka the OFII, had ordained that I and a couple hundred other immigrants to this fine country should take our test of the French language.  It was still dark outside as I half-walked, half-ran to the station – and not because I was late, but because it was so freaking cold.  The streets were bare save for one truck shooting salt out onto the pavement and another picking up garbage.  Just me and the streetlights and that most silent part of the day, before the world has kicked into gear.  Then – at volume:


Criminey.  I nearly peed myself.  It was M, a former classmate – Ukranian – making her way the same direction.  We did that penguiney power-shuffle together the rest of the way, not talking much as our faces were buried in our scarves.  At the door of the station was M2 – Romanian – and Y – Chinese, the former waiting for M and the latter for me, both of them standing with hands shoved deeply in pockets and chins tucked deeply in scarves.  It was not warm.

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Second time’s a charm: Compote 101

Wintertime in (this part of) rural France is marked by many things:  coats and gloves, but more importantly scarves; apéros in more often than nights out; alternating wind and rain and snow; and food…lots of food.  France is a foodie country…I know – lots of countries can make that claim, but a few are just a little more so than others.  Ethiopia, Italy, China, Morocco, Mexico…these are countries known for their food.  France is right up there.

As a vegan there are, of course, all sorts of French nibbles in which I happily do not partake.  But there are two staples in near enough everybody’s fridge and freezer I could eat year-round if they’d let me: soupe and compote.  Now I realize that I could have spelled soup without an “e” and left the italics off it, but la soupe of which I speak is not something eaten by the average anybody-else, and it is eaten with a nearly religious reverence – it’s not quite borscht (borsch?), but almost.  Incidentally, there are those here who fervently hate la soupe.  Chris is one of them.

But la soupe is for another post.  Chris is coming back tomorrow.  And he does not hate la compote.  In fact, he’s usually (read: always) the one to make it.  I tried once.  It was going to be wonderful.  The apples were soft, but I was off to lunch at the in-laws.  I turned off the stove – swear I did – and came back a couple hours later to find the flat filled with smoke, my compote, and my – ahem – our Le Creuset pot ruined.  A scary, bad afternoon, that was.  But apples were 1€/kilo at the market last weekend, so I thought I’d give it another go.

This isn’t, ladies and gentlemen, your ordinary ol’ apple sauce – non!  Because you make it at home.  Because it’s hot before it’s cold.  Because you literally put sugar and spice into the pot.  This is compote.  I had no idea what I was doing in terms of quantities or timing, but it turned out perfect.  Which leads me to believe it might be pretty hard to mess it up.

Makes 2 big mason jars’ worth.

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The Red Shoes of Alzheimer’s; or, Listen with your nose.

The first time I saw them put the belt on Mde. P, I was shocked…maybe even incensed.  They were all sitting down to dinner, and one of the aide soignantes (I’m pretty sure the equivalent of LPN) looked at me apologetically.  “When her husband’s not here, she won’t sit still.”  Sure enough, even with the belt holding her to her chair, Mde. P tried to get up.  Over the months I’ve been there, I’ve seen her so determined to get up, she literally walks with the chair attached to her, like a turtle with its shell weighing it down.

It’s the sickness.  It makes them unable to stop moving.  There’s this fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen called “The Red Shoes.”  It’s about this girl, and for reasons I won’t go into here (don’t want to spoil it) her feet begin to dance, independent of her will. No matter what she does, she can’t stop dancing. Mde. P doesn’t remind me of her character, mind.  It’s just that when I see her, or Mde. H, who moves large arm chairs across the building incessantly, so that we’re always finding an arm chair in the strangest places, or M. D, who shuffles about, walking circles around the corridor, not looking like he has a place to go, maybe because he realizes he doesn’t – I’m reminded of the story.

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The Importance of Being Anonymous.*

I’ve never been able to do just one thing – neither by choice nor constitution…it’s just not how I’ve rolled through this life. Long ago, while working two or three jobs – can’t remember now – I was also studying full time…and, as per another of my usuals, i was running late.  I was driving up the 78 from Oceanside en route to San Marcos, exhausted, agitated.  Then another person, perhaps more agitated than me, cut me off abruptly, dangerously.  I immediately followed yet another well-worn pattern – I got angry.

If someone cut me off walking through a crowded lane at the supermarket, I might get miffed, but behind the wheel of my car, I was absolutely livid.  I quickly changed lanes and picked up speed, any number of curse words falling freely from my lips in the privacy of my car, and at volume, for there was no one to hear me say those things-I-would-never-say-to-a-person’s-face.  Just as I was about to overtake the [insert explitive of your choice here], I heard a voice, as if from the heavens.

“Better calm down there, now.”

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