Monday, May 31, 2010

Wedding celebration #3

One of the reasons my parents decided to come to visit now was that my in-laws were planning our third wedding party/reception, so that I could finally meet the rest of the family (i.e. all of Lionel's aunts, uncles, cousins, etc who in 4.5 years together, I had never met).  Since my parents had to miss our actual wedding in France, they decided to come out for this wedding reception, which was, in fact, the third celebration of our wedding, only one and a half years after we were originally married.
The reception was really just a nice, long dinner.  There was no music or dancing (thankfully).  We started with an apéritif outside and then went inside for a very delicious, very long meal.  The entrée was a salad with small bay scallops and cepes, the plat was filet mignon de porc with a honey ginger sauce, then there was a cheese course followed by a delicious dessert of (my favorite) moelleux au chocolat.  And of course, since we were in Bordeaux, the wines were amazing and we finished the night with champagne!

While the meal was excellent, the rest of the night was pretty stressful since I was not only meeting all of my husband's family for the first time, but I also had my parents with me, who don't speak any French, and unfortunately Lionel's family doesn't really speak any English.  But I think we managed OK, and hopefully they liked me, or at least didn't think I was rude.  Everyone seemed nice but since there were 57 people I didn't really get to talk to anyone for long, and I will never be able to remember their names.  However, one person was nice enough to wear a USA soccer shirt to show tribute to my country.  All in all it was an interesting evening, and I probably should have had a little more of that delicious wine to feel more at ease!

While the meal was wonderful and the conversation was a little awkward, the location was just absolutely amazing!  They had the dinner in a chateau!  A chateau!!!  A small chateau, but a chateau none the less!!!

Updates

I feel like I have been horribly neglecting my blog recently, but I have been very busy.  My parents came out to visit last week so between spending time with them and working, I just haven't had time to post anything.

But it was great to see my parents and to get to spend a little time with them.  The weekend of their arrival we went down to Bordeaux to spend the weekend with Lionel's family.  On Sunday we were even able to drive over to Arcachon and go to the beach and enjoy the absolutely beautiful weather. 

the beach at Pereire in Arcachon

Lionel enjoying the beach and the warm weather

My parents, my in-laws, and my husband

me

restaurant where we had dinner on the beach

beautiful sunset

On Monday we came back to Paris and I went back to work and my parents did the tourist thing during the day and we met up for dinner at night.  And thanks to the new apartment, they were able to stay chez nous instead of having to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a hotel in Paris.

The only snag was that both of my parents ended up getting sick while they were here, but despite their illness, I think they had a good time and I was very happy to see them!

I wish they didn't have to leave on Friday and I wish I could have taken more time off work to spend with them, but at least I should be heading to the US in a month and a half to two months to spend some more time with my family and friends!

We also had a little bit of bad news last week.  We were supposed to be driving our car up from Bordeaux to have in Paris now that we having a parking space included with our apartment, but 15 minutes out of Bordeaux, it broke down.  Luckily we were still near Bordeaux and Lionel's parents were able to come out and meet us, but unfortunately for his dad he had to drive us to Paris with his car and then drive back to Bordeaux the same day while my mother in law waited with the broken down car to get it towed to a garage.  So for the moment, we still don't have the car we were so looking forward to having.  But hopefully his parents will be driving in up here in June for us!  Then we will have a car to use on weekends for little day trips and such!!!  I can't wait, even if I can't drive here in Paris.

Monday, May 17, 2010

El Rancho

Friday night I was seriously craving Mexican food, so Lionel decided he would take me out to a Mexican restaurant.  We headed into the center of Paris planning to go to either Mexi&Co or El Sol y La Luna, two little mexican/latino restaurants in the 5th arrondisement, back to back to one another.  However, when we go there, both were full and reserved for the night.  I was pretty disappointed when we left because I had really been wanting to try these places, and stopping in for a minute and seeing the food made me want to eat there even more.  Since it was impossible for Friday, Lionel promised to bring me another time and he took me to El Rancho at the Place d'Italie instead, so I could get at least a little taste of something that almost seems like it could be tex-mex.


Of course, I knew that El Rancho wouldn't be that great.  I had already eaten at one when I lived in Tours and I remembered it being similar to Indiana Cafe (another very bad French attempt at tex-mex), so I was completely thrilled, but I figured it was better than nothing.  So off we went, back toward home, to try and get some sort of food loosely resembling tex-mex.  And when we got there, boy was I surprised!

I remembered El Rancho being not particularly amazing, but I also remember not being completely appalled either.  However, they have since changed their menu, and, to be honest, it is a complete disaster!  Lionel and I both ended up getting the beef fajitas and we split a little tapas platter for our apetizer.  For drinks, we ordered a pitcher of margaritas (at 26 euros a pitcher!!!).  The fajitas were ok, though I was less than thrilled to find broccoli and pea pods in my fajita mix, and they were almost certainly the safest "tex-mex" dish on the menu considering the fact that some of the other choices were mouthwatering dishes like salmon or tuna burritos and tuna taco salad.  The tapas platter wasn't bad either except that they served their guacamole without chips...  The margaritas were surprisingly good (and they should have been for 26 euros!) though I was a little shocked to get a pitcher of blue lime margaritas.

Probably the best thing I can say about this restaurant is that the decor is very cute and made up of a lot of little "buildings" so it feels like you are eating in the middle of a small, quaint street in a small village in Mexico.  The food was definitely a let down, but that wasn't surprising since I have yet to find a good "Mexican" restaurant in Paris.  Overall though, the night was pretty good.  El Rancho still managed to calm my Mexican craving for at least a little while (probably because of the copious amounts of guacamole I consumed) and I spent the evening in great company.

After the restaurant my husband even took me out to a bar in La Butte aux Cailles where we continued the Mexican theme and enjoyed a few Coronas before heading home!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Neverending battle with la sécu?

For the first time today I walked out of the Sécu office in the KB a few photocopies lighter and with a huge smile on my face!!!  It seems like my neverending battle with the Sécu might actually be ending!

I've already talked about the highlights of my battle with the French social security system here, so everyone should be up to date on the over 2 years of bureaucratic hell I have had to endure trying to complete my immatriculation.  Well, I am happy to announce I can finally see the end, the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak! 

I went in today fully expecting to leave at least an hour later, extremely angry and clutching all the photocopies I had made last night (using up the end of my ink cartridge, I might add).  However, to my total surprise, I walked out only 15 minutes later so happy I was nearly crying and FINALLY (really, for the first time ever), with less papers than what I had had when I entered the building.

They actually received the papers I had mailed back in December (after another trip to the Sécu in which the guy refused to take my carefully prepared papers because he didn't want to start my dossier since it was 15 minutes to closing time.  he instead told me I could mail them in...) and I am immatriculated!!!!  They just never informed me.  But now I have my attestation d'immatriculation so that I can go to the doctor and get reimbursed until they finish my dossier and send me my carte vitale.


The only slightly irritating thing is that I only have a numéro provisoire for the moment because for some reason my file is not complete.  The nice woman (yes I did just describe a fonctionnaire as nice...this woman is amazing and the most intelligent and capable fonctionnaire I have ever encountered...and she has helped me several times and has been the only one able to give me any useful information) regretfully explained to me that she didn't know what document was missing from my file but that she would try to find out and contact me asap.  She even stipulated that if I don't hear anything soon I should come back in and see her (and only her).  She even took my copies of my birth certificate and translation because she had a feeling that might be the problem (even though I sent that with my other documents) and she was able to change my address in their system while I was watching (much better than the 4 months it took to get Lionel's address changed)! 

All in all this was the most amazing fonctionnaire experience I have had and I was quite satisfied with my trip.  Here's hoping we get this little dossier problem figured out soon and I get a real carte vitale!!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Picnic on the Seine

One of my favorite spring/summer/fall activities in Paris is having a picnic on the Seine.  In my opinion it is one of the true pleausres of this city.  It's something you could never experience in the US because, even if you can easily find a beautiful place in the US to picnic, you can never do it with wine!  As soon as the weather starts to get nice, I am begging people to picnic on the Seine and looking for excuses to do just that. 

In my opinion, it is an activity in which everyone should partake if they want that truly Parisian experience.  What can be better than sitting along the river, watching the sun set and the lights of Paris turn on, reflecting off the water?  I even have a favorite spot...just past the end of Ile de la Cité on the Rive Gauche so I can see between Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint Louis and enjoy the lights of Hôtel de Ville while also enjoying the lights on the magnificent butresses of Notre Dame.  For me, this is heaven in Paris.  I could go every weekend and I would never get tired of it! 

my adorable husband and Notre Dame

Everyone swears by the Pont des Arts for summertime picnics, but I hate going there because the police are always there asking people to stop drinking.  On the quais it is peaceful, the police don't care, there is more space for people, and the views are better (you can't really enjoy Notre Dame from the Pont des Arts).  Not to mention that once summer comes there are small dances held along the quais on the Rive Gauche near l'Institut du Monde Arabe.  They set up speakers and people dance...I've seen everything from salsa to ballroom dancing!  And there is the Musée de la sculpture en plein air to wander through.  My vote will always be for the quais!

picnic on the Seine

So, to celebrate my friend Jasmin's birthday on Saturday, a bunch of us headed to the quais to picnic and drink and enjoy the last bit of semi nice weather while we could.  It wasn't supposed to rain until midnight, so we met up at 6pm for apéros and then dinner and drinks along the river.  We enjoyed Bloody Marys (a recipe I have recently mastered), wine, charcuterie, cheese, baguette, pasta salad and a bunch of other stuff while relaxing along the river and enjoying the sights and sounds of Paris.  There were a lot of people out and we got to listen to groups playing music...the guitar, the saxophone, a flute, etc.  We waved to the tourists on the Bateaux Mouches, we talked to another group that was celebrating a birthday and since it only rained for 5 minutes at midnight we were able to stay out until about 3am!

my husband, Jasmin and Marybeth enjoying some wine

I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend the evening...until my friend Marybeth got her purse stolen and we spent the rest of the evening at the commissariat de police trying to call her banks and phone company.  If it hadn't been for that one, little problem it would have been a perfect night!

La Fête du Travail - May 1st

Saturday was La Fête du Travail here in France, or Labor Day as we call it in the US.  And this year I decided I hate it!

First a little information about La Fête du Travail.  In most countries it is celebrated on May 1, though in the US we celebrate our Labor Day on the first Monday of September and in the UK and Ireland (apparently) they celebrate it on the first Monday of May.  I find both of these options to be much more intelligent than what they do here in France, for reasons I will explain in a minute.

Anyway the date of May 1 actually, ironically enough, comes from a strike in Chicago (and the US in general) in 1886 when workers were striking against companies that refused to instate the 8 hour work day.  In Chicago the strikes turned violent and workers were killed and so the date of May 1 was chosen as a day to celebrate workers rights and have a day off of work.

In the US however, we moved Labor Day to the first Monday of September because it works better for school schedules and it also marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year.  I don't know why the UK and Ireland celebrate it the first Monday of May, but I'm willing to bet its because they are smarter than, for example, the French.

So why do I think it is better to celebrate the first Monday of May, or September for that matter?  Because this year May 1 fell on a Saturday, which, in typical French fashion, meant that normal 9-5 workers got screwed.  Since May 1 was a Saturday, those of us who work "normal" jobs Monday-Friday did not get a day off for the holiday that is supposed to give us a day to relax and to celebrate the rights of workers.  Very stupid, I know.  In my opinion, we should have either gotten Friday or Monday off because why shouldn't everyone get to enjoy the special workers' holiday?  If it is the first Monday of a month, then this is never a problem.


Of course, us 9-5ers couldn't just get screwed over once, but instead we got screwed over twice.  Since May 1 was a Saturday, that meant all the supermarkets and stores were closed because those workers of course still got their day off for La Fête du Travail.  Which meant that not only did we miss out on a day of rest, but we also missed out on being able to do any necessary shopping over the weekend, since most stores are closed on Sundays in France anyway!  And since its hard to have the time to shop after work because stores close early and people get home late, you had to be really organized since you couldn't use the weekend to shop!

And if that isn't stupid enough...some of the big supermarkets (for example my Auchan), opened exceptionally on Sunday since they were closed on Saturday.  Can you please explain to me how this helped anyone?  So there employees get their Saturday off for May 1, but then have to work on Sunday when the store would normally be closed to make up for it?  Wouldn't it have just been easier on everyone to stick to normal hours and just be open on Saturday and closed on Sunday as usual?

Oh well, this is France and you can't expect a lot of common sense and logical behavior!

Vegetable garden

A couple of weekends ago I finally managed to find time to plant some vegetables in my garden.  After doing a lot of research I decided to grow most of my vegetables in large pots rather than directly in the ground.  For me it was easier and more practical to use pots because in order to grow vegetables in the ground you have to prepare the soil a few weeks in advance by turning it and mixing in a number of different nutrients.  To do this I would have had to wait longer to plant my vegetables and I would have had to spend a lot more money on gardening tools, as well as buying a storage unit for the garden to store the tools in.  So I decided on pots.

one of our tomato plants...it is much larger now

I headed off to Bricorama to buy a bunch of large, cheap pots as well as a small shovel, soil and my plants.  I ended up getting 6 tomato plants, 6 cherry tomato plants, 6 strawberry plants, one zucchini plant and one bell pepper plant.  Since we ended up with so many tomato plants (I had only planned on buying 1 or 2 of each kind but they only sold them in packs of 6), we planted some in pots and some in the ground.  If the ones in the ground do well, then for next year, when we have more time, we might prepare a section of our garden to be a potager.   All in all I didn't spend too much, and the pots were the most expensive.  The plants themselves varied from 2 euros to 5 euros for the packs of 6 tomato plants.

the strawberry plants

When we got home from Bricorama we spent the afternoon planting, working on the garden, and enjoying the sun.  It was a great way to spend a nice Saturday afternoon and hopefully by the end of the summer I will be enjoying some delicious homegrown vegetables!!!

Lionel working in the garden

Since we planted our vegetables, the plants in pots have grown quite a bit...the tomato plants are about a foot tall now!  The ones in the ground haven't grown nearly as much, but they haven't died, so we will see.  But I'm definitely looking forward to tasting the fruits of my labor!