Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer school

I had my last French course of the spring about 2 weeks ago and I promised by professor that I would keep up with my lessons over summer in order to maintain my level. She said it would be a tragedy to have made so much progress only to immediately loose it. She's right, of course. And I do have very good intentions, having bought not one, not two, but FOUR language workbooks, with CDs included. Only.... well, you know how it works. The first week, I'll be gung-ho and do exercises every day; week 2 something will come up and I'll only do a half hour of exercises. By week 3, I've misplaced the books and only managed to dig them up in time to pack them in my suitcase for the flight home. Ooops.

That is why I was so excited to see this article in the Sunday paper. Technically, its a list of resources for teaching children a foreign language but I think that lots of the websites would be lots of fun for me. Also, I keep it on the down low, but its actually one of my goals to master Italian and I'm slowly slowly chipping away at that. My theory, of course, that slow and steady does the job. Hopefully, extremely slow is even more effective seeing as how this project is being measured in decades... But who knows, maybe if I find the right internet "coach", I'll be inspired and fluent in mere years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suck it, Gay Pride. I wanna nap

Ella and I had our usual busy Saturday morning of dance class (for her)/manicure (for me) followed by lunch out (chinese for me, an extra large glass of apple juice for her...), a bit of shopping (no luck for me, school clothes for her), and finally Bertillon (the to-die-for combination of nougat miel and peche for me/the usual chocolate and wild strawberry for her) before going home. Naturally, after all this fun, all we wanted to do is take a nap. Unfortunately, I forgot that today is Gay Pride.

Now the parade does not march directly under our windows, but I'm not sure that it makes a whole lot of difference. The windows are rattling to the pounding beat of techno while the crowds scream out the chorus, not exactly conducive to sleep. And it just goes on and on and on. Despite that, Ella has been in her room, not making a peep, for the last two hours. I managed to drift off for a bit, but nearly fell off the sofa when a particularly loud airhorn interrupted my dreams. I know that I'm being a bit of a crank, but I just can't get into Gay Pride. Every year I go out to watch it for awhile, and every year, I find it completely stupid. I think the French are just not wild enough to make it work, you know? You need some really drunk crazy people dancing up a storm. Hoards of massive drag queens. I personally think that you need to break up the techno with some really kitschy music like The Village People and ABBA. Let me see, what else? Well, I always appreciate parades where they throw candy into the crowds, but I don't know if that would be entirely appropriate at Gay Pride.

Ella just got up and I asked her if she wanted to go and listen to the music for a bit. She looked at me blankly and said, 'What music?' God, this kid is so packed full of B's genetic material, its unbelieveable.

Only three more days til we start holiday, thank god. I need to get out of this place.

Updated: 7:15, ie 4 hours since the noise started, and it is still going strong. Am ready to kill myself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Despite my declaration that I just needed to 'clear out my life' , I hit the sales pretty hard yesterday. I have to say, that without having much in mind in terms of specifics, I was pretty happy with my haul. I got a few DVF dresses, a gorgeous brown cashmere sweater from Ballantyne that I will wear to death, a few odds and ends, a pair of shoes for Ella. I could not make up my mind about a new purse and now its probably too late now to go back to buy them, but I don't know. I like the Chloe Bay, but I think it might be just too rigid. I think I want something a bit softer. Ferragamo had a really nice big bag with a sort of braided handle that I really liked but even at 40% off they still cost over 700 euro, which I think is a bit silly. I saw a really nice slouchy bag at the Furla stand, but I always think the leather at Furla looks like plastic. So I don't know. I think purses are one of the best things to buy on sale and it hurts me to pay full price, but I haven't had enough time to think about this so maybe buying a new purse now in a rush is a bad idea. Any opinions?

in other news, I have to dash out of here in about 5 minutes because little Miss E has such a packed schedule that we haven't got a moment of rest. This afternoon, we are meeting in the park with some friends who moved to Shanghai a few months ago. When the playdate is done, we are off to her dance class. And maybe after that, I will meet up for a coffee/drink with my sister-in-law and her sister. We are trying to squeeze in a this stuff before going to the States but it might be a bad idea. Its never quite as relaxing to be there as I imagine it to be in my head. If anything, my parents schedule is more frenetic than mine here in Paris. Plus, I don't have a babysitter. So there is no break time and I don't have B to help out with breakfast and bedtime. Lets just hope that being able to run and play outside makes Ella a little bit more self-sufficient.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Yesterday, we finally had a bit of blue sky in Paris so we decided to tag along with my great aunt, who happens to be visiting Paris this week, and jumped on a train to Provins.

I'll admit straight away that I had never heard of this place. My aunt originally just wanted to know how she might get there and I did a bit of research to see if I really thought it would be worth her while. Once I started reading up about the place on the internet, I was baffled as to why no one I knew in Paris had ever mentioned going there. It is incredibly easy to get to- you just get a trancilian train from Gare de L'Est, paying for a zone 6 metro ticket, and since this particular train only makes about 6 stops, its a pretty uneventful hour and twenty minute ride out to the Provins train station. Once you get off the train, you walk across a flowered cover bridge over a bubbling stream, and wander through the old streets til you get to a magnificent 12th century town which is so well preserved that you practically expect a count to come galloping down the street on his horse.

We visited the underground caverns from the Hotel Dieu (if you decided to go visit, I would recommend travelling with your own flashlight as the visit was almost done in the pitch dark); St Quiriacs Cathedral; Ceasar's Tower (behind Ella in the photo); the Tithe Barn, with great audioguides to explain the history of the place in English; St Jean's Gate and the ramparts; and the Rosarie. The only bad thing about our day is that the SNCF wedsite said that there was a train leaving for Paris at 16:45. We were lazily sitting in the Rosarie gardens under a tree, sipping lemonade while the breeze blew the scent of roses over us, when we suddenly realized the time. We grabbed our bags and ran to the station- which is quite something in this town which is built over a series of pretty steep hills- only to arrive sweaty and exhausted at an empty train station, where we were informed that the next train didn't leave for another hour. Oh well.

Before dashing out of the Rosarie, I managed to find the time to buy some essence of rose that has the most beautiful rose scent I have ever found. It smells incredibly fruity, like raspberries, which is what I like about fresh roses. Generally, I find rose scent to be really cloying and not at all nice. This must be made from the special roses of Provins because it is so original, even though it is marked as simple rose essence. I had scented lining paper in Ella's drawers but it had lost its scent ages ago. Last night I put this essence in a spray bottle, covered the paper with a good layer of water, and this morning when I picked up the dried papers, it smelled like a rose garden. I wish I had bought two bottles so that I could do something similar in my room! I did pick up a bottle of bath salts as well, which is equally nice, but I might be tempted to go back out there just to stock up on rose water products. I think its especially nice because it seems like it is made locally and definitely not a mass-produced product.

The day was so much fun, and actually, if you exclude climbing up and down hills with a 30 pound toddler in a stroller in the scorching heat, it was an easy day out from Paris. I think that it would definitely be worth a return trip next year during their Medieval Festival, something that appears to be a sort of Ren Fair on steroids, with the whole town dressed up in costume. One of the shop owners also told me that they do a really great night tour of the old town on Saturday nights over summer, with giant candles lighting up all the monuments. It must be absolutely beautiful.

I funny side note- as we walked through town, my aunt kept remarking on how wonderful it was to smell bread baking every where we went. She said that French women must be wonderful bakers. I had to point out that they hardly baked at all, since there was a great bakery down the street where bread could be purchased fresh for next to nothing. Well, we figured that there must be an industrial bakery in town to explain the constant yeasty smell in the air. Then, at the end of the day, we happened to pass a tour group who was hearing a lecture about the ethanol factory in Provins. It turns out that this gorgeous smell of fresh bread wasn't bread at all, but the smell of grain ethanol being produced! I almost felt bad translating to my aunt and ruining her 'Frenchy' explanation. Well, I think she was a big enough girl to take it on the chin.

Anyways, we did eventually make it back to Paris. Ella burned up every last ounce of energy that I had in me by turning into some sort of hysterical crazed monkey child on the train. She was climbing on me then hanging on me then wanting to bounce on my leg for a horsey ride. "Want to lay down, mama- no! Look out the window! Let's sing a song! No!!! Only me sing!!! " We spent about 15 minutes playing catch with the scarf I had thrown in the backpack and balled up so that she could use it as a pillow on the train. Of course, after every catch, it had to be re-tied. And re-tied. And re-tied. And although I love my daughter, I thank god that someone else was there to intervene or during minute 16 of this game I would have tied it around her scrawny little neck to just have a bit of peace. It is absolutely astounding how much boundless energy small children have. If mothering is difficult, then being a schoolteacher for this age group is only for veritable saints.

By the time I got home I could barely stand upright. This sort of put a kink in my plans for Fete de la Musique. I had been invited to a party at the Saut du Loup, in the gardens of the Tuileries. Everyone was to be dressed in white, there was live brasilian music til midnight, when a DJ took over, and I was going be able to dance and drink outside under the stars with beautiful people who didn't ask me why there was no more apple juice. I was really looking forward to it. Instead, old lady that i am, I fell asleep as the pathetically early hour of 11:30 with my ear plugs in. When I talked to my aunt the next day, she told me that they were at the Hard Rock Cafe and then wandered around that neighborhood, not getting home til after midnight. Honestly, when a 70-year-old woman has more stamina for partying than you do, its time to do some lifestyle evaluating. Or possibly see a doctor?
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer vacation

Since we came back from holiday, not only has Paris been decidely shivery, but we have not managed a single playgroup. Now, a three-year-old who has spent two weeks being spoiled with attention by an entire country full of people plus her grandparents does not transition easily back to a schedule of quiet mornings coloring with her mommy and walks in the park. It has been HELL around here and I am feeling like I haven't got an ounce of energy left in me to deal with her for another day. So this afternoon, I took the bull by the horns and decided to fly back to the States in two weeks time.

The downside is that I will have to miss the wedding of a very close friend of mine from uni that it taking place in London the last weekend in July. I was so looking forward to this party because it was a black tie event in the most gorgeous location I have ever seen, but finally I realized that I was having to sit in Paris for 4 weeks for the pleasure of spending over a 1000 euro for this party. Yikes. Its probably better that we just skip the wedding and send an extra nice present as I have a hard time imagining how I would manage to have 1000 euro worth of fun in one night, anywhere.

I cannot wait. Even two weeks seems like an eternity now that I have the plans made. Apparently, Wisconsin has not been washed away entirely by the floods but I have been warned that the mosquitos are out in full force. I don't even care. I don't know what has gotten into me, since I just got back from holiday and should be in a brilliant mood, but I am HATING being in Paris right now. I'm just so bored to tears by my routine. I have three different friends visiting Paris this week and basically have plans to go out every night for the next 6 nights. The sales start next Wednesday and I haven't done the least bit of reconnaissance. I suspect that while its the little things that are bugging me, its the big picture that needs to be shook up. I feel like I've just gotten in a rut and need a change of scenery so I can figure out what to do to fix that.

Ok- just as an example. I'm sitting here looking into the cupboard where I have my purses and it is irritating me beyond reason that I have saved so many stupid bags when I haven't used more than 4 of them over the course of the last 6 months. There must be 15 bags sitting there taking up space. If only the stupid Emmaus shop was closer, I would throw them in a garbage bag and drop them off right now.

Actually, thats the perfect example of my state of mind right now. I just want to clean out all the extraneous junk so I can breathe easier and see whats going on. I want empty closets, not stacks of dusty old junk that I don't use and don't need.

Maybe making plans to shop for more stuff can be taken off my To Do List?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Happy Mothers Day!

For Mothers Day I received a slightly belated gift, but it was something I had been lusting after for ages so all was forgiven. B and Ella bought me a KitchenAid mixer and I have been busy testing out all my recipes. And, incidently, outgrowing all my pants. Well, of course, nothing says 'mother' like cellulite on the hips, right?

So I guess the Cupcake Factory is now open for business? 20 6 year-olds on their way over to your house for a birthday gouter? I'm your girl.
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Finally, everything you ever wanted to know about Turkey

Oh my god. I was desperately trying to finish up a photo album project of our Turkey trip in time for Father's Day, spending my afternoons sifting through the 500 photos that I took (and I still haven't gotten the disc with my mom's photos, but I think my brain would collapse at the task of sorting through the 500 shots that she probably has on her disc. I don't want this to sound mean, but my mom? She takes photos of really stupid shit and then? She gets mad at me when I don't put those shots in the album or try to delete them off the computer. I know, I know. Who am I to judge?) ANYWAYS, the album still isn't done since it turned out to be impossibly long, ie too long to fit in the printers' guidelines so I am now doing some more severe editting. I want to get this done though before I leave for the States, so I have got to just finish it up. I have lost all my momentum now, and its harder to force myself to face the task. Saying that, Snapfish has a really great program for putting together albums and the printing is nice, based on the last album I did.

So, I decided that since I haven't any interest in doing the album today, I might as well do a bit of a blog entry, to get down some of the details of our trip. The first three days, we stayed in Istanbul and hit all the big tourist sights- The Blue Mosque, where we were harassed by a carpet salesman/tour guide, the Aga Sophia, with its stunning mosaics, and dinner at the Armada hotel, where we joined by a very friendly (and tenacious) seagull who sat in a pot of flowers and begged table scraps off of us for the entire meal. We discovered that Turkish wine is not half bad. The second day we visited Topkapi Palace, which is pretty cool- especially the Treasury with its giant bowl o' emeralds and the harem. It was very big and by the end of the day we were exhausted, besides which, I was getting freaked out because people would not stop trying to touch Ella. It was a Turkish holiday weekend so there were lots of big groups of Turks, maybe people from the country travelling into the city I suppose, but I was shocked that they would be so impressed by a blonde baby. She's not that blonde and I didn't think it would such a rare sight in Turkey where there are so many foreigh tourists. I'm just happy that I had the backpack to stick her in whenever the crowds got too rowdy for my liking. Honestly, all that I could think about was Madeline McCann, and the idea that it wasn't really that weird for a stranger to just want to walk off with a pretty little girl that caught his eye. That night we took a ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side and ate in a beautiful little resto in Uskander, out in the gardens under the stars.

We did a quick tour of the Grand Bazaar and we were totally scared off buying by all the aggressive salespeople. Its really intimidating. I mean, we hardly dared stop walking to fix a shoe lace because if you weren't moving, you were fair game for a hard sell. Yuck. I was also thinking that most of the stuff was probably just tat and couldn't be bothered to look. I think that might have been a bit of a mistake. Just before we were getting on our airplane, I decided to go and buy a few 'pashminas' to use as blankets for Ella. I thought that even if they were the fake viscose ones, it would be good enough for using on the plane. Once I got home, I realized that quality was fantastic and since I bought two, I got them for 7 euro a piece. If I had bought more, the per unit price would have been even lower! I was kicking myself for not getting about 6 more, since they would also have been awesome presents to keep in the Cadeau Cupboard for emergencies. So, let me error be a lesson for someone else.

The very very best part of Istanbul though was the Archeological Museum, which is part of the Topkapi Palace, but a separate entrance fee. I thought I would pop in for an hour or so before we had to leave for the airport and ended up going by myself. It was so amazing that I felt bad that everyone else missed it. Honestly, I knew that modern day Turkey encompasses a lot of important sites from the ancient world, but this just drove home the point. There are stunning sarcophagus from the Alexander the Great period. Amazing mosaic floors and walls, statuary from temples. The most incredible headstones from a Greek cemetary, with the original painted inscription still visible. I loved this place and it was practically empty, which I cannot even begin to understand. The comparative exhibits in Paris at the Louvre are crowded beyond capacity and they look like a 6th-grade science fair exhibit compared to what you will find at the Archeology Museum in Istanbul. I cannot wait to go back, and recommend it to anyone who visits the city. For the price of entry, its a steal compared to lots of the other sites.

So that afternoon, we hopped on a flight down to the coast to get on the boat. 'Hop' makes it sound like getting to the airport was no big deal. I don't want to give you that impression. I very very stupidly decided to save 20 euro per person and booked us a flight out of Sabbia Gocek airport, that may have actually been located in Iran, when I think about how bloody long it took us to drive there. Seriously, don't make this mistake if you are in Istanbul. Cough up the cash and use Ataturk airport. So much easier. We arrived at Dalaman airport, our driver was already waiting and he whisked us off to the boat, at which point we all just died with happiness. The boat was so pretty and the crew was so nice and the manager, Petra, did everything possible to make sure that we hadn't the tiniest unsatisfied desires, that it was like heaven. We motored out of the harbor at 6 in the evening , with a golden glow over the water, a glass of champagne in hand, nothing to do but wait for our crew to put dinner on the table. Heaven, I tell you.

Every day was like that- even the not great things seemed really good. We tried to sail lots but the wind was not perfect, which didn't make it any less fun for us, I think. The water was also pretty refreshing- not cold, but you definitely had to force yourself in the first time. We visited some really beautiful places along the coast, like Oludeniz beach, St Nicholas Island, and Fethiye (with a sidetrip inland to the ghost town of Kaya). We really just loved being on the boat and having such a relaxing time. It was a million times more relaxing for me than any of our beach holidays, and Ella was along, so that is really saying something. Speaking of which, Ella loved the boat. No, she LOVED the boat. I think it was so fascinating for her, with all the little cubby holes, and gadgets, and ropes, and you could climb up and over everything with no one getting angry, and she could lay in bed and nap and still hear us just nearby. There was no TV, and we only remembered the Ipod doc on the third or fourth day, so we all kept occupied with books and talking and eating- absolutely no electronic amusements. And it was really nice to do it with my family. There are times that I have been on holiday and thought, 'Oh, I wish my parents/sister/brother could be here because they would love this so much'. I know that it was a lot of work to organize, but before we got off the boat, I was already pushing my parents to come back next year, or the year after, and make all my siblings come along. Its pretty tight quarters on a boat and you can't plan a trip like this with just anyone, in my opinion. We were all in such a great mood the entire time that I can't remember a single tense moment from the entire 6 days. Thats weird. I mean, we get along, but still.

An amazing thing about this part of the Turkish coast (which may be true for other areas, but I wouldn't know) is that there are Roman and Byzantine ruins still standing everywhere you look. For an American, this is particularly thrilling, I know. I loved walking through these ancient cities, amazed that I cold still climb the stairs that people had been using a thousand years before I was born. But even B was impressed. France has old cities that you can visit, but nothing as old as this. I think that the fact that these areas were no remote had a lot do with it. In France, I think most cities have just kept being built over and over so that the oldest party just melts into the new and you don't have many places that were just abandoned in the 5th century, or the 12th centry. I stopped in a bookstore and bought some Turkish history books because I just got so intrigued but there is a lot of cutting off the heads in those books, so I am slogging my way through. If this were a slightly more academic blog, I might bore you with my more complicated theories about why these places still exist, but I won't. My poor dear husband got to spend the flight back to Paris getting an earful. I can promise you, he wasn't the most receptive audience, not having a great interest in urban planning theory.

After the boat, we were sad sad sad. Thought that the villa in Kalkan would be a dull interlude before climbing on our flights back home, but how wrong we were. Ok, the villa in Kalkan was not awesome since it was not so much in the middle of olive groves as in the middle of a suburban construction boom. We had another house about 5 meters from ours, blocking nearly the entire view of the sea. Our pool was miniscule and the staircase was just about as rickety a child-safety hazard as you can imagine. But the old town was full of nice restaurants. The surrounding area had some great sights to visit and the roads were really nice compared to other places we have toured around (rural Ireland, I'm talking to you...) The BEST thing we did was to visit Salkikent Gorge. We thought it was just going to be a little fenced in walking path along the river, as we gazed up at the narrow canyon walls. A slight language barrier had us accepting the offers of a guide who quite literally hauled our big out-of-shape American asses up the canyon, over boulders, through waterfalls, in the most icy cold water you can imagine- all of this with Ella strapped to B's back, screaming 'Don't like it! Wanna go home! NOW!' Honestly, when we realized that we would have to actually go in the water (and even then, we thought it was just going to be a little bit of rock-hopping) we hesitated. Then we decided, no. We drove all the way out here. Let's just walk up the river a few hundred yards. Thats when this little Turkish guy (cotton farmer in the off-season) grabbed my mom's hand after doing some sort of incomprehenible negotiation with her, and told us all to make a line. He started dragging her in the water and we didn't have time to think. We grabbed hands and plunged in. Up to our crotches. In water so cold, it literally made my leg muscles seize up. I don't even drink things this cold. It was like there was a glacier up at the top of the canyon and we were wadding in the arctic run-off. To put it mildly, I was not prepared for that. Well, our 'guide' took off at a brisk pace and I was left hopping around on the gravel, trying to get my feet to work. For the first half hour, I would say, I couldn't step in the water without it feeling like burning needles. Then, I guess my nerve endings went numb and it wasn't so bad. I could even appreciate the Indiana Jones-ness of it all. The water wasn't particularly deep, although it was running quite fast, but our guide told us just where to place our feet and jumped in to push or pull whenever needed. I went crazy with my camera because it was truly hilarious to see my fam frantically scrambling over ice cold waterfalls, with our tiny Turkish cheerleader egging us on harder, while dressed for a quite lunch on a terrasse. I think it took us about 2 hours, and we went loads further than any other group of tourists, although apparently not quite far enough to reach the mud baths- which surely would have been good for some practical jokes and photo ops.

Our trip back to Istanbul was a nightmare and so was our drive out to the airport the morning of our flight- and let me warn you, if you miss your flight DO NOT count of the kindness of Turkish Air staff to generously offer you a seat on the next flight. Just leave for the airport way way way ahead of time. Whatever. We'll definitely be back, probably on a boat, and I can't wait. And I brought back the best souvenir!
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