Sunday, July 29, 2012


When you live in another country during the Olympics, you really develop a better understanding for national pride and interest in athletics - or at least in Olympic sports.  French coverage of the Olympics focuses heavily on events featuring French athletes.  I can't complain about this, but it means that so far we've seen a fair amount of handball, table tennis, and judo.

A French athlete, Priscilla Gneto, won a bronze medal in judo today - and I'm pretty sure I've seen the replay of her medal-winning match four times today.  And I've only had the Olympics on for 2 hours.  The French seem VERY excited about this judo business. 

Handball is a sport that I can honestly say I have never watched before this weekend.  The French, however, must really like handball (or they have another reason perhaps for featuring the Denmark versus Sweden women's match - think tall, leggy, blond girls running around in shorts for an hour).  They like it better than swimming, which is our favorite, but every opportunity to cut away from swimming for even five minutes, there is either an update on handball, or a replay of the afore-mentioned judo match.

Of course, the other downside for me is that French coverage of the Olympics is all in French.  We found a site that streams BBC, and the British are really into swimming. I now know more about Becky Adlington, the British swimmer who won bronze tonight in the 400m free, than I really ever needed to.  To be fair, I don't think the British are any more interested in their athletes than we are in Michael Phelps or other headlining US Olympic athletes.  Yet because she's not from my country, I can't say that I was moved to root for Adlington.  Go USA. 

At the Hotel de Ville in Paris, there is a huge screen that is showing live Olympics throughout the Games.  They've even put out huge pillows and lounge chairs to encourage comfortable viewing.  It's actually pretty great, except you're still stuck watching judo repeats and handball games.

Hotel de Ville. On the screen is a French girl who won silver in some shooting event.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


As I mentioned in my anniversary post, we are working on a list of resolutions for our second year in Paris.  In addition to some pretty basic ones - explore new neighborhoods; try more restaurants; hit up some of the regions of France we've yet to visit, with Bordeaux and the southwest being high on our list - I've wanted to find something that would help me develop a different or further appreciation for France.

Throughout the year, I've been sent (multiple times, usually) links to various articles about Pamela Druckerman's book, "Bringing Up Bebe" which is about, generally, French parenting versus American parenting.  I've managed to develop my opinions about Druckerman's perspectives without ever reading the book.  Was this because as an expat mom in France, I felt above needing to read this book?  Was it some small amount of envy that this former Wall Street Journal reporter wrote the book that every American mom in Paris wants to write?  Was it simply that parenting is hard enough when you aren't trying to figure out whether you are doing things the "French" way or the "American" way, because usually I'm just aiming for the "everyone's still alive at the end of the day" way?

On top of this, I've realized that while I have learned quite a bit about living and parenting in France as an expat, I still do not know all that much about living and parenting in France as a French person.  Now, I am not nor will I ever be a French person.  But I think a worthwhile and apropos Year 2 Resolution would be to learn more about French life - try to meet more French people, make more of an effort to spend time with the few French friends I have, and get away at times from the expat bubble in which I am completely content to spend my sojourn in Paris. 

I have thus resolved to read Bringing Up Bebe.  But I actually started off with another expat mom-oir (get it - a memoir from a mom), "French Kids Eat Everything".  The author is a British/Canadian mom of two married to a French man, and the book is largely about the year they spent living in her husband's home village in Brittany in which they discovered that while their kids were subsisting on pasta and baguettes, French kids were eating, well, everything.  Beets and escargots and veal and leeks, and more.

Apparently, the French believe that if your kid refuses to eat something, it means he simply hasn't tried it enough times yet.  Also, somehow the French teach table manners from an early age.  Currently, if Baby Oil doesn't want to eat something on his plate, he removes the offensive food from his sight by throwing it on the floor.  If we put food on a plate instead of directly on his tray, he dumps the plate on the tray, and throws the plate on the floor.  If we give him a fork or spoon without direct (which typically means hand-holding) assistance, and he gets bored, distracted, or annoyed, the cutlery goes on the floor.

For the past two days since I started reading this book, I have been striving to teach my 18-month-old-son to eat like a French kid. Or at least like a French kid described by an expat mom who lived in a village in Brittany (though I don't think she's so far off).  Now, it's only been two days.  And he actually ate the zucchini-lentil soup I made him yesterday, and the spinach-corn chowder I made today for lunch.  In between, however, everything still goes on the floor, or in his hair.  And coming up with lunch for him that is not grilled cheese, leftovers, or pasta is quickly going to exhaust my culinary interest. 

I won't ever be a French person.  But it is not totally crazy that Baby Oil could be, at least in certain respects, a French-ish kid.  Oh man - this resolution is going to require a lot of work!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


It's been a full 365 days since we arrived in Paris.  One year. 52 weeks. 12 months.  We came here knowing absolutely nobody, I knew minimal French, and with an adorable non-mobile 6 month old.  One year later, we have friends, and I can get around town with my workable French, and our ever-moving highly-opinionated toddler keeps us on our toes.

The other day Mr. Oil and I were trying to reflect on our first year - what we've learned, what we like most about Paris, what has surprised us.  Here's what we came up with:

1.  The Bread.  We love the bread.  We love it warm and fresh from the oven, we love the tradi, or the occasional sesame baguette.  We really enjoy a nice fig baguette for toast in the morning.  There are 8 boulangeries within four blocks of our apartment.  The bread here is fantastic.

2. Parc Monceau.  We live one block from one of the most beautiful parks ever.  I go there at least once a day, sometimes more, and it never ceases to amaze me. 

3. The Endless Supply of Good Desserts.  Self-explanatory, non?

4. It takes a long time to make friends.  We already knew this, but it's different when you're living it.  I've been particularly fortunate to find one of those people-you-know-you-will-be-friends-with-for-a-long-time-and-they-always-have-a-glass-of-wine-ready-for you, and I know it has made a huge difference for me this year.

5. SOS Medecins.  They send a doctor to your HOUSE.  In less than an hour.  And it's covered by insurance.  It is AMAZING.

6. Mr. Oil's commute.  Every day, his metro train rises above ground to cross over the Seine, with a picture-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower.  It's a pretty great commute.
This is the view on his metro ride. Seriously.
 7. You can get tired of traveling.  But the urge to keep exploring new places when you have all of Europe at your fingertips is hard to resist.  In this first year, we visited Alsace, Normandy, Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, Loire Valley, Provence, Portugal, Italy, and Denmark.  That's a pretty intense travel schedule, so year 2 will probably be lighter on that front.

8. Parisian apartment doors are expensive.  You may recall that one year ago today, a group of eager firemen broke down our front door when we locked ourselves out (with baby inside).  Full story here.  Then we had to buy a new door.

9.  The Bread.  It is really good.

10.  There is always more to explore in Paris.  We still have whole arrondissements, and neighborhoods, and museums, and patisseries on our list.  And while we might be taking a break from the exploring at the moment to ensure adequate playground time and appropriate napping, there is always something to do here. 

11.  The blog.  The blog is an integral part of our experience here. It is, of course, our record of what we've done, where we've gone, what I've thought, and how I've felt throughout the year.  I have it on good authority that if you printed out everything I wrote this past year, it would fill one large binder to capacity (hat tip to Gramps, who has actually done this!).  I write the blog, and some of what I write is just about my own experiences, but Mr. Oil has been the blog's number one fan, always encouraging me to write more. So we both love the blog, and we both can say that we are surprised at just how important it has become to us.  

12.  The cheese.  And the wine.  And have I mentioned the bread?  And a really great fresh croissant.  And champagne.  And chocolate.  Really good chocolate.  Also butter.  Especially the kind with salt crystals.  Salty butter + warm baguette = heaven.

13.  We actually moved to France, 3 months after buying our first home, and 6 months after giving birth to our son.  It seemed like a crazy thing to do, but we just did it.  And while it is comforting to know that we will be returning to the US (no, family, we don't know exactly when), it has been liberating and empowering to show up here and make a real life for ourselves.

Year one - check.  Currently working on Year 2 Resolutions.  Suggestions welcome!

Friday, July 13, 2012


We've had a number of firsts in the past two weeks.  Baby Oil started at nursery school, and the following day, came down with the chicken pox.  Which meant that we had to call the nursery school and say, "We are so happy that our son has spent one lovely introductory hour with you, and by the way we exposed your whole school to the chicken pox." 

The most common response I've received to explaining that my child has the chicken pox is, "But didn't he get the vaccine?"  Here is the honest, not-winning-any-mother-of-the-year truth:  I don't know.  The chicken pox vaccine is not regularly given in France.  It is possible that Baby Oil received it anyway, since our pediatrician knows that we are American.  So I consulted our Carnet de Sante, which is this little book that all parents in Paris receive from the city government, and which basically serves as your child's medical records that you keep.  Every time we go for a check up, the pediatrician notes Baby Oil's height and weight, any vaccines given, and anything else.  You take a look at this and tell me whether my kid got the chicken pox vaccine:

That's right - completely illegible.  At a certain point, I also realized that it doesn't really matter if he got the vaccine or not, because he definitely got the chicken pox.  You might be wondering why I did not ask the pediatrician when we got the pox confirmed.  To this I remind you of one my absolute all-time favorite things about France - SOS Medecins.  It costs less out of pocket (and is reimbursed by insurance anyway) for a pediatrician to show up at my apartment within 30 minutes of calling than it does to shlep to the doctor's office. 

We are now officially pox-free, so we started again this week with our "adaptation" at the halte garderie (which I'm calling nursery school, but you could also call glorified day care).   I spent 20-40 minutes for a few days with Baby Oil at the school to get him adjusted, and what I learned is that two-year-olds speaking French give me a headache because I really don't understand them.  Baby Oil, on the other hand, is utterly unfazed by the fact that everyone is speaking in French.  Which is why he will be bilingual and I will still get confused between passe compose and the imparfait.  It is definitely beyond adorable to watch all these adorable French children (and at least one American, of course) sitting around singing adorable French songs, and making adorable French toddler conversation (which, since it's France, probably involves the merits of camembert versus brie). 

To end our week of firsts, I discovered this week that our kosher butcher makes a ready-to-cook kosher chicken cordon bleu, which we ate for dinner tonight. Delicious! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

24 Hours

Mr. Oil and I were given a precious gift the other weekend - 24 hours, child-free.  What should we do? Where should we go?

Eager both to explore more of France and to go somewhere that would be less enjoyable with Baby Oil, we headed to Beaune.  This lovely town in the heart of Burgundy is surrounded by beautiful vineyards (okay, so is half of France) and is home to amazing wine and food.  You've heard of "boeuf bourguignon", right?  Well, the "bourguignon" part indicates that it's a regional dish of Bourgogne, or Burgundy.  Mostly, they are super into cooking with wine - and really, shouldn't we all embrace this?  In addition to beouf bourguignon, other Bourgogne specialties include coq au vin and oeufs meurette (think poached eggs in the same kind of wine sauce as the boeuf bourguignon).  Lots of escargots around too.

Restaurants in Beaune also like to boast enormous wine lists.  Faced with this monster at dinner, what to do?

Naturally, we proceeded to order the third-cheapest half bottle they offered.  Would have gone second-cheapest, but Mr. Oil liked the name Monthelie. Which it turns out is one of the numerous wine appellations in the Cote de Beaune area.  In any event, the third-cheapest wine was delicious. Also during this meal, we began an activity that would continue throughout the weekend.  Every time we saw a parent or parents with a child of any age, we would look at each other and say, "Suckers!"  And celebrate our obvious superiority for having managed to come to Beaune on our own.  There were a lot of babies and kids around, so we got to say, "Suckers!" a lot.  It was awesome.

I had decided that to make the most of our child-free trip, we should stay in a hotel that we would NEVER, EVER stay in with Baby Oil.  One 12-century-abbey complete with steep, treacherous, winding staircases, coming up!  The abbey hotel was amazing, and not only because the air conditioning was really strong. Somehow it retained that 12th century charm but with all the trappings of a luxury hotel.  And we didn't have to worry about a cot, and being quiet, and having enough pacifiers.
Lobby of the hotel

No trip to Beaune is complete without a visit to the Hotel-Dieu, a 15th century hospital dedicated largely to serving and healing the poor.  In addition to being a fascinating view of the concept of charity and philanthropy from six hundred years ago, it happens to be a stunning building as well. The audio guide also gets points - instead of an authoritative professor-ish voice, you are treated to a "dialogue" between Nicolas Rolin, the founder and benefactor of the Hotel Dieu, and his wife Guigone.  It's actually still not that interesting, but I got a few good chuckles out of the fairly lame lines.  More importantly, I actually got to listen to the audio guide, and I didn't have to share it with a toddler who thinks everything is a phone!

Other than the Hotel Dieu, the activity in Beaune is wine-tasting. No explanation needed about why this is better sans-baby.  Having a better sense now of this sleepy town full of food and wine, you may understand why I love the fact that one of our only French friends (husband of an American friend, but whatever, he's totally French) went to Beaune for his bachelor party.  I'm sure some French guys go wild and crazy, but I love to imagine that all French bachelor parties involve refined cuisine and excellent wines, whereas American boys go to Vegas and watch strippers.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Vocabulary Lesson

I got a text message from my cleaning lady today, about 30 minutes after she left, saying something about checking the "chambre au dessous" for an open window.  Another 30 minutes later, a brief but powerful rain storm hit.  I had carefully checked the windows in the downstairs bedroom. 

Vocabulary lesson - she actually meant, "chambre au dessus".  That one little letter - the "o" - makes quite a difference, which I learned when I ventured upstairs during the rainstorm, thinking it was a bit loud.  Two pillowcases, a comforter, two jackets, and the vacuum cleaner had been thoroughly drenched.

To review, "dessous" is below/under and "dessus" is above/over.  Dear French Language, could you please have more distinct words for opposites?  Sincerely, Woman with a lot of Wet Stuff

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer in Provence

I finally went to Provence. Going to Provence is something I've dreamed about for a long time - I mean, hello, it's Provence!  There is something inherently romantic and wonderful about the idea of Provence.  And while we had a wonderful trip, I have to be honest - I was underwhelmed.  The landscapes were drier than I expected (yes, it was late June and quite warm), and the larger towns we visited (Aix-en-Provence and Arles) simply did not stir any real feeling of excitement, discovery, or that sense that you will just have to visit a place again (like Copenhagen, or Lisbon, or Normandy).  One theory is that we are over-traveled.  Obnoxious, I know, but it is possible that if we hadn't been all over Italy and to Denmark in the four weeks preceding this trip, perhaps it would have seemed more fabulous.

We traveled with my in-laws, and rented an adorable little house in the village of St Cannat, about 25 minutes northwest of Aix.  It is the kind of place you want to stay in - virtually no tourists, absolutely no Americans, three boulangeries, and easy access to everywhere you want to see.  One night we called the take-out pizza place (which is only open for three hours a day, an amazing business model) and we didn't even have to give our names, they just had the pizzas waiting for the Americans. 

The best part of Aix, in my opinion, was this:

Which I didn't even get to eat, but I really love the idea of a chocolate sandwich. Or giant chocolate cream puff.  Either works.

Everyone's favorite day of the trip was the day we spent visiting little towns up in the Luberon, a small mountain range farther north of St Cannat.  Gordes was classically beautiful in that hill-top town way, but Roussillon was the stunner.  The hills surrounding Roussillon produce clay in the most amazing shades of orangey-browns (technically, 17 shades of ochre), and the buildings in the town are all painted in a similar palette. 


And when the opportunity comes to drive just a few minutes out of the way to visit the place on the Provence guidebook cover, you go there.  Which in our case was the Abbaye de Senanques, a lovely 12th century abbey framed by even lovelier lavender fields. 

I wish that Provence inspired me to more profound, or at least more interesting things to write.  It didn't.  But it was still a great trip, and not just because my in-laws would take charge of Baby Oil no matter what ungodly hour he awoke at. Though that aspect should not be undervalued.
Baby Oil ready for the warm weather, and clearly enjoying Provence!