Monday, April 24. 2006
we were panicked, when last i spoke to you. missy talked to our upstairs neighbor about the hot water situation. sounded like she'd lost her hot water too, and was pretty mad about the whole thing. all the other neighbors, including our landlady and next-doors (the ones in charge of our heat), were away on vacation. landlady to return at the end of the month. nervousing news.
we got used to boiling water on the stove every couple days to take tiny baths.
then missy caught our next door neighbors coming home and tried to grill them about it. they have bourgeois accents and speak fast. they play with our 19th century fusebox for a bit and tell us they'll help us call the rental company on monday. very nice of them. and about an hour later missy's washing her hands and notices that the water is slightly warmer from the hot tap. somehow, some way our heater got turned on again.
i'm not asking any questions. i have my ideas, but i won't risk jinxing things. boy oh boy warm showers are great! i took them way too much for granted before. no longer.
well, maybe i'm jinxed anyway. missy has just finished giving me a haircut. i'm good and itchy. and the construction workers outside just buzzed up to say they're shutting off the water for "5 minutes" to switch over the lines or something. an hour later... i'm curious if they'll get around to it before quitting time.
it means the bathroom is off limits too.
really, i'm only whining. it's something to blog about since most of what fills up my life isn't barely interesting. but i ought to be used to random interruptions and outages from my time at oak st. at its worst there was something new and annoying every day for a month. i hear it's the european way. a little bit of chaos to give spice to your day and remind you what's not important. we have electricity brownouts here all the time. wanadoo upstream DNS breaks fairly regularly for hours. that anything works at all should be considered a miracle. i don't mean that sarcastically. one forgets the amount of progress that's been made when your own history is so recent.
i try to put it in perspective by thinking about the same streets i walk on having been home to lepers and littered with chamberpot dumpings out of second story windows. cobblestones were revolutionary. probably the same stones being dug up now to run new water and fiber lines. for that matter, avignon is the site of the oldest evidence of human construction in france. in 600 BC people were building fort towns on the hill. things are pretty good now, comparatively. no more "god turned off the fish supply and it looks like it's going to be a cold winter."
update: it's 6pm, all the workmen have left, and the water's still off. hee hee.
Tuesday, April 18. 2006
we lost hot water in the apartment yesterday for some reason. missy thinks it's a landlady mistake since it's coincidental with our radiators not making heat anymore. i'm inclined to agree with her. the water heater doesn't feed the radiators, but my initial tests show that electricity isn't getting to it, so probably two switches were turned off in some remote closet in the building instead of one when shutting down the chauffage for the season. rrr. the water's too cold to take a shower. brrr.
i had to go to the immigration office this morning to turn in all my paperwork. so i took a page from the old french how-to manual and spritzed on some of a cologne sample i got when buying missy's fancy lipstick. now i smell like flowers instead of armpits. i prefer armpit, but with cologne, it's not really about you, is it?
Friday, April 14. 2006
just got back from a long strange goose chase to get four official stamps and pay a bunch of money for my residency card, which i doubt will even show up before we leave in a month and a half. had an 8:30*am* doctor's checkup to start off the day. ahead of me in line at the doc's were seven monks. brown robes, contemplative, and everything. they were nice and we exchanged hellos. they had green passports, but i couldn't make out where they were from.
the only part of all my french language dealings today i didn't understand was the doc telling me to take off my shirt so he could take an x-ray of my lung. the eye test went well and i felt lucky to know the alphabet (good quiz). the guy at the final stamp-place asked if i was swiss as i fumbled over "timbres" (it starts easy but gets complicated). i was flattered. it's easier to fool people if i keep it to two or three words comprehension is good, but word-finding when speaking is tough still.
missy's friend alexa is coming into town tonight for a visit. hopefully we can go out somewhere and i'll get a chance to practice speaking to the locals. although i fear for any boys that might get caught in the miss/lexa tornado. in america they crumble like single-wides. i find it best to stay behind a bunker just in case.
speaking of visitors, seamus and laurel joined us for a few days on their whirlwind france tour. there's a couple photos up and a few words. i didn't get to take more unfortunately. i had a great time showing them around the twisty streets and we solved all the worlds problems over a couple bottles of wine.
i've been doing more with the photo site lately than the blog. i've got such a backlog of pix and it's easy to caption them. you can stay updated easily by using the photo feed, which always shows the latest several images i've put up. it's easier than digging through the folders.
otherwise, it's beautiful weather today. in the 70's and ultrasunny. the baby peep-ducks have shown up along the riverbanks and are very cute. but now i must away and satisfy the tax man. it's time to pay the price!
Friday, March 31. 2006
Monday, March 20. 2006
dipping candles and cheese fondue got me thinking about cooking. what kind of food could you make by gradual layered accumulation? related: sedementary food (flaky pastry, lasagne, spanikopita, butterfingers...). what about other processes of nature? sous vide is the hip thing these days, where it's not getting outlawed. that's enough like the formation of petroleum to make me want more parallels.
artistically, it's appealing to me, since simulating and highlighting neat nature things is what i'm about. it's an added conceptual level to great cooking. "we're having a cretaceous meal tonight, honey." "mm, bronto-burgers à la tar pit!" "the plating is excellent. the sesame seeds represent the rebirth of plant life post-comet-impact-winter, and the chicken nuggets remind us how low reptilian derivatives fall in the food chain."
metamorphic, porphorytic, igneous food. candy is the obvious branch for weird food science experimentation. too easy. we were watching an iron chef america episode last week (awful show, don't bother) where mario batali was battling some guy who must have been a plant from the processed foods lobby. his specialty was using all the weird chemical additives you can't pronounce that are in foods you shouldn't be eating because the ingredients lists are bigger than your palm. along with border cases like carrageen, he used some odd amino acid to weld together the molecules of mashed fish paste to eventually produce noodles made completely out of fish. that's disgusting, but curious. i'm sure there's more traditional ways to approach the subject. anyway, it got me thinking...
Monday, March 20. 2006
miss and i were wandering around early friday evening, hungry as usual. places were just opening up for dinner at seven. we decide to scout out the other fondue place to see which might be better for future guests. (great excuse)
we decide to get the meat/oil kind since the full-on cheese was too much last time. after it arrives we start skewering the meat nuggets and dunking them in the pot of hot oil to fry. then to the choice of sauce and finally mouth for the win. the waiter comes over shortly and asks us if we understand the system. sure. what's not to get? dunk, dip, nosh. he shrugs and leaves. until i accidentally sear my lip for the third time on the hot metal i didn't quite get why he bothered to ask. i get miss to snoop on the other customers (she always gets the seat against the wall) and sure enough we're missing the crucial step of taking the meat off the red hot skewer before eating it with cool knife and fork. good on ya, college boy.
so really it works out to be a lot of labor and a whole lot of fat from the oil and the five different mayonnaises and the fries, even cut with wine. i feel ill for the next five hours and dream about fruit and fresh vegetables that night. i don't have the stomach for fondue (ok, dessert fondue is ok!) it's a great concept and fun to do as long as it's not about a meal. maybe i'd be better as an apprentice candlemaker.
Monday, March 20. 2006
every transacton still feels like a great accomplishment. there's a little shop on the other side of town that sells electric gadgets. not electronic gadets, only stuff that wasn't invented in the last forty years. i've always wanted to go in because the signage is from the late 50's and beautiful. the whole place looks like it wormholes out of the same vortex that portland does.
the tiny old lady with few teeth is so friendly and helpful. i show her the old bulb and tell her the wattage. she rummages around in drawers under the electric razors and alarm clocks and asks me how many i want. there's a little confusion as she tries to tell me i have to do something with the bulb. something about my rights. we work it through: hm, halogen bulbs. i can't touch with the hands? hands->fingers->"doigts" (not "droits"). ah, got it!
i pay her more money than the bulb is really worth, but if it keeps her in business i'm happy to help her. probably not enough people buying handheld back massagers and rotary phones these days. bon soir! merci!
then i go across the street to a fancy boulangerie and get a snazzy sandwich to eat at the park. yeah! i'm on a roll!
Tuesday, March 14. 2006
i've been hacking on my photo gallery software some. new design and some new features.
lately, i'm finding it easier to add little blurbs to photos than to write whole stories. i added an RSS feed feature to the gallery, so that those with feed readers ("aggregators" or whatever they're called) can keep tuned in to updates to the photo site. any directory in the gallery can be monitored, and it chooses the most recent files from everything in subdirectories too. so you can stay in touch with everything new in avignon by using this feed. or if it makes you feel better:
bonus: through the magic of xsl, the same link should render well in any recent browser. so you can still stay up to date by bookmarking it and checking in there now and again.
of course, let me know if things aren't working right.
also, i'll try to post to this blog when i put up a new set of pix. i'm only three weeks behind now!
while i've got you:
i don't know if i mentioned it specifically a couple posts back, but it was chocolate yoghurt. weird. also, the yoghurt drink i tried wasn't thin like an indian yoghurt drink, it was pretty much just drinking peach yoghurt. (you can get choco flavor and the other usuals too.)
also, am i the only one afraid of a thing called an aggregator? i can draw one for you in crayon and it's pretty scary to me.
Tuesday, March 14. 2006
a couple weeks ago miss and i took a train trip to go see corey, our portland friend who's doing the same program as missy a couple hours away.
the train ride was great. an unexpected snowstorm hit as we were leaving. it got pretty intense. the train couldn't run at full TGV speed so we missed our connecting train in paris (even with a harrowing action film taxicab ride from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse) and coerced our way into having SNCF put us up in a hotel there for a night. we had just enough time for a midnight dinner and glass of wine and some bitter cold getting lost on the walk home.
miss had a $8 cheeseburger and it really was worth it.
all trains go through paris, even if it makes the journey twice as long as it would be direct, like this time.
the next day we get to poitiers and there's lots of snow here as well. the most anyone's seen in a really long time, says carole, corey's french sweetheart. there's a small open source art conference going on in town (the other, lesser, reason for coming) so carole drops me off and everyone else trundles off to drink tea and stay warm. interesting presentations. half of them in french, the other half in english and translated into french (good practice!) learned more about some things i'd heard of but never investigated and met the folks that make em. hard to summarize. worthwhile.
that night we had a nice meal in a french restaurant that had american road signs and posters plastered inside. probably named Arizona or something. who would think to check for those things first? also the rarest steak that can exist. the french call it bleu, but that's absolutely backwards. too much for carole even, we politely ask for a little (more?) heat be applied and right on cue leather comes back. good fries though.
and then off for the real piece of resistance, the night wander! we walk through the blanketed town, bordeaux in hand, checking out the old town and cathedrals. great architecture here. the town houses have the swiss wooden X embedded in white stucco thing and severe second story street overhangs. really cozy/claustrophobic. it's saturday night, so there's a buch of other loud drunky wandery folks out too. they're friendly if we share our wine.
later: corey lives in a small room in an odd wing of the school he teaches in, which he describes as Hogwarts from Harry Potter. yeah, it really is like that, especially at spooky quiet night and we're the only ones around. we decide to snoop around the huge old school and see what corners we can poke into. mostly anything interesting is locked, but we find a cavern near the base of an out of service elevator. it's a brick arching catacomb place, not unlike in Poe's Cask of Amontillado. the floor is made of scattered old wine bottles. some of the dates on the bottles go back to the 70s. the ones with labels. so either people are drinking well-aged wine, or there's ghosts of old malcontent students about. i gather it's the "smokin' in the boys room" of france. the girls won't come in. corey and i goof a dead poet's thing for a while until the girls have had enough. i wish i could find those photos.
the next day all the snow has melted. corey and carole show us the main huge poitiers cathedral in the morning. i cram in as much art conference as i can in the afternoon before the tired train ride back.
Saturday, March 4. 2006
we've been eating pretty well here, whether from our own slowly developing culinary skills or from eating out, despite a few bumps in the road to our stomach. thanks to all, by the way, who have contributed recipes. i've made quite a few of them and they've made us happy and full.
now that the weather is getting warmer, all the cream and butter, bread and chocolate, wine and undercooked meat that are so beloved by the french (and now us) are starting to feel heavy. all the mental and physical sluggishness of winter needs to be sloughed off. the crocus bulbs that i planted in a window box when we arrived are beginning to bloom. they say, "the spirit is in need of renewal!" in their flower language. they urge me to clarify and purify. and they push a radical diet transformation. they tell me that we'll call it the 10 day cleanse. no dairy, no wheat, no sugar, no meat, no caffeine, no alcohol. add some daily yoga and meditation, candle-lit essential oil baths, and a massage from the significant other and we have a diy home spa retreat, "nestled in the south of france." hurry! for a limited time only!
i was vegetarian for a couple years in high school, having gotten bitten by the animal rights bug. then dropped the stringency and started eating chicken and fish occasionally, and this pseudo-vegetarian diet was with me for almost a decade, that is, until i met seth. i won't blame him wholly; it was about the same time that many of my previously vegetarian and pseudo-vegetarian friends started reverting back to omnivores (ironically, about the same time we moved to portland, one of the most vegetarian friendly places in the western world). i will say that having never been a vegetarian, seth didn't attach any special importance to eating a steak or italian sausage. it was natural to him, guilt-free. it might sound strange, but having only dated the vegetal variety, being so comfortable around someone who is so comfortable about eating meat, naturally transformed me in into a meat eater once again.
i'm now on my fourth day of my cleanse and my diet has thus far included: cooked buckwheat, pumpernickel bread, spelt almond and sesame cookies, kasha pasta with mediterranean galettes vegetal (flat vegetable and whole grain cakes) and olive tomato sauce, apple and prune compote, pears, strawberries, pineapple juice, rice milk, hazlenut & almond rice dessert, tofu and pepper stir fry with brown rice, chickpea and tomato curry with red rice, herbed spinach with carrots, green vegetable soup, rye crackers and rice cakes with curried vegetable pate, herbal teas, and lots of filtered water.
some of these things were bought at the local health food stores and organic co-op. i was happy to find out that they exist here too, in almost the same configuration as they do in the states, and with almost the same patrons. now, one doesn't need a natural foods store to do a cleanse. you can be even more basic about it - just fruit and vegetables and whole rice. you can make it about eating humbly. or you can eat all raw food, or go a step further and do a juice fast. the idea for me was to invert my ordinary dietary patterns, thus altering my daily choices and considering ones that i take for granted.
so far i'm keeping the cravings under control; my self-discipline is intact. but i'm curious as to when exactly i'm going to begin dreaming of cheese wheels and baguettes.
short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.