Six Months And Counting!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

I noticed a few weeks ago that we had passed an important milestone. We have been in Paris for six months now, a fact that impresses and horrifies me at the same time. It’s good to take stock in where you are and where you come from every now and again, so I am taking this opportunity to do just that. Here, without further ado, is what we look like six months into our gig.

Language

I have come to the sad realization that I will never, ever be able to speak French. Well, a more apt description is that I will never, ever be able to understand French. I regularly impress myself with the things that I am able to cobble together (finally got that jock itch cleared up!), but everything breaks down when the French reply. Most of the time, I end up staring back at the speaker like a dumb cow while my mind races to figure out just what he or she said. Perhaps they speak too fast. Perhaps my hearing sucks. Perhaps I am just too old and will never get it. Whatever it is, I am glad that most everyone here speaks English.

French Bureaucracy

The French are renowned for complicated bureaucracy that is often impossible to navigate. Some things have lived up to the reputation (getting our apartment manager to do anything, getting our immigration papers in order) but there have been some pleasant surprises, too. When you go to a doctor here, you don’t really fill out any paperwork. They don’t demand insurance and make you jump through a ton of hoops to see a doctor. Usually, you go to the doctor’s office and the first question is, “What’s wrong?” It’s almost worth the strep throat I got earlier in the year, just to watch to system in action.

I also had an interesting experience signing Malcolm up for a day camp last week. I emailed the camp director who secured Malcolm’s spot; no application, no deposit, and THEY DIDN’T EVEN ASK FOR A CONTACT NUMBER IN CASE ANYTHING HAPPENED! Dreamy. I dropped Malcolm off in the morning and knew that, no matter what, I wasn’t going to have to retrieve him until late in the afternoon. Can anyone say, “Happy hour?”

Cooking

My culinary skills are on the upswing! I have reveled in the gratuitous use of cream and butter that I could have only dreamed of eight months ago. I made Pommes De Terre Dauphine that rocked the house, and while it took two and a half hours to make potato puffs, it was well worth my time. I have found some great cheeses, made strides toward a perfect vinaigrette, and even started poaching chicken. Poached fucking chicken, get more French than that, I dare you. We have been enjoying the $5-10 wine here, wondering why anyone would spend more, until we open a more expensive bottle and understand completely.

Clothing

While I have found Paris slightly less formal than I originally thought, I have started dressing more like a man and less like a boy. Gone are my signature flip flops, hoodie and baseball cap. They have been replaced by (albeit comfortable) European shoes, smart sweaters, a scarf and combed hair, the later the result of semi-regular bathing. Am I the dapperest dan in the joint? Certainly not, but when you remember where I have come from, you have to be impressed. The real test will come this summer, when I will have to trade in my board shorts for French style man-kini.

Malcolm

Malcolm continues his own unique brand of being exasperating and inspirational. He lost two pairs of pants at school. I have no idea how one loses one’s pants at school, let alone doing it a second time, only to exclaim, “Oh, no, not again…” Like the prospect of wearing a speedo, I prefer to just not dwell on it. His current roster of friends includes an Australian boy, two Indian boys, a pair of British twins and a Japanese girl. His school is every bit the international experience we hoped it would be. I can’t really tell if he is learning anything at school, since most of the communications with his teacher revolve around his inability to hang onto stuff. He is enjoying the sporting life, playing basketball and soccer on his school’s team and baseball with a French team. He has undertaken a serious study of the European football scene, and can recite the lineups of the most of the decent teams here. Even with all that, he spends a lot of his time talking to me about food. When I don’t want to throttle him, I want to put him on my shoulders and be his best friend.

Travel

Roma!

Roma!

We have done a pretty good job of seeing Europe while we are here. We have been to Amsterdam, the Alps, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Italy, with plans to go to Provence, London and Helsinki in the immediate future. Phew! Some weeks, it seems like I spend most of my time travel planning. Europe is at our doorsteps here and we feel lucky to be able to do so much so easily.

The “French” Experience

It would be easy to beat myself up over our lack of integration into the French scene. Sure, it would be nice to have a ton of French friends and be more acquainted with what’s really going on here. This takes a lot of work, however. I drink wine on the couch with my wife instead of going to conversation exchanges with native French speakers. We have enjoyed the friendly confines of our expat friends (some of whom are from the bay area!) over the slightly heavier lifting involved with cultivating French relationships.  We are living a somewhat French-lite life here, and while it has its ups and downs, it suits us just fine. Life is to be enjoyed, and we are enjoying it. Isn’t that what life in France is supposed to be like?

OK, that was a little too serious. I should make a fart joke. I won’t, but I should. Happy six months to us!

Cheese of the Week: Langres

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Blank of the Blank

Langres: An unpasteurized cow cheese made in the northeast part of France, near Champagne.

I totally should have taken a picture of this cheese whole, but I just couldn't help myself!

I totally should have taken a picture of this cheese whole, but I just couldn’t help myself!

Langres is a weird looking cheese. Its veiny, wrinkled exterior is tinted orange, giving it the appearance of an extra on the Golden Girls. (The orange comes from regular washings with annatto extract. How someone decided to wash French cheese with a subtropical orange spice is beyond me. The effort that they put into cheese here!) It has a cylindrical shape, curiously reminiscent of the mountain on Close Encounters, except that its roof is caved in. This caved in roof is called “the fontaine” and creates the perfect excuse to supplement your cheese experience by pouring some brandy in it. I am going on record right now by saying that we need more things in this world that have dented roofs so that you can pour alcohol on top.

The smell of the cheese is slightly funky, enough to wrinkle your nose and wonder, “What’s that smell?” but not too strong that you to answer, “Paul’s feet.” You definitely need to clean up after you’re done eating it, for it lingers in the kitchen long after your done enjoying it.

My first taste of the cheese was a thing of beauty. It’s sticky, creamy consistency at room temperature automatically became my third favorite food texture ever, trailing only perfectly cooked steak and roasted marshmallow. The cheese has a pungent, salty taste that beguiles your senses without over powering them. It had something to it, something I couldn’t put my finger on and never quite did. Langres is a hot date with a strong accent at a crowded bar: you’re not ever 100% sure what they are saying, but you sure as hell like the way they are saying it.

This wine goes well with big, red wines. It may be the perfect cheese to serve to guests. I plan on doing so the next chance I get.

Words used to describe this wine: wrinkled, salty, sticky, orange, (Basically J Lo in 20 years.)

Words not used to describe this wine: Crunchy, sterilized.

Annecy In My Panntsy

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

A cool feature of living in France is the ability to find interesting places far removed from normal tourist path.

OK, I just read that sentence and immediately hated everything about it. Oh, it conveys the sentiment appropriately, but does so in a way that would even put Rick Steves to sleep. I am going to try that again.

Do you like cool, old shit and melted cheese? I do, and found a boatload of it in a amazing little town that I had never heard of.

This is closer. I am tempted to leave it at that, but I really think I can do better. Nothing is coming to me right now, though, so I will go ahead and write the post. By the end, I will have a beginning so exciting that Rick Steves will bite the head off an angry chicken. Believe it.

Annecy is a town in Eastern France located at the base of the French Alps. It is directly south of Geneva if you are into maps, (and let’s face it, who’s not into maps.) It is a pretty satisfying mix of old world charm, outdoor adventure spot and place to develop a nasty toe infection. We went there for a long weekend and had an amazing family adventure.

If you like the traditional European experience of wandering around old cobblestone streets dating back to the 11th century, Annecy is a good spot to do it. (OK, I feel your pain, you have been reading this entire post without having been told how to pronounce the name of the town we went to. I will ease your discomfort: Ahnsie. Make the sound like when the doctor is looking at your sore throat, then finish with the way a petite, Mexican debutante would answer a question in the affirmative if she were guessing, {“Si?”} Got it? Make no pause from taking pronunciation advice from someone who doesn’t say the word, “Pronunciation” correctly.)

The textured streets blend quaintly into multi-colored buildings and it seems like every tiny alley you turn down in Annecy is a potential erectile event for Rick Steves. (I’m warming up!) We spent the better part of an entire day just walking, eating and looking at old shit. Losing yourself amongst the bustle in a town like this is such a cool experience that even Malcolm was appreciative.

Annecy is situated near a lake bearing its name and nestled amongst the towering, snow-capped Alps. It is like a skinnier version, less meth-y version of Lake Tahoe. We took advantage of the location by taking (an admittedly chilly) boat ride around the lake and then later heading up the mountain for some time in the snow. Malcolm and Amy were so excited by the prospect of being in sunny, powdery snow that they rented cross country skis and made a lap around the forest groomed course. They had a blast! Where was I and why didn’t I accompany them? This was what I was up to:

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You were wondering when I was going to come back to that, weren’t you? So, this happened, and not only did this little piggy fail to make it to the market, it hurt like hell. It had it all: tenderness, searing pain when moved, pus. So while Amy and Malcolm were off frolicking around the forest on their skis, I sat like a pile of bear turd on a heap of snow. It was a tad embarrassing, but with a toe like this, they really didn’t want to be near me anyways.

Annecy is a tourist destination and the food was reflective of that. We were able to avoid the most overly-touristic places to enjoy Haute-Savoie cuisine as it was intended. Incidentally, Haute-Savoie translates to, “High Cabbage,” so don’t go there looking for culinary sophistication. Of course, catering to tourists means that you have to do street desserts well, and the chocolate-whipped cream laden waffle Malcolm got and took 20 minutes to finish did not disappoint. One of the specialties of the region is/was fondue, and Amy and I played the always dangerous game, “When should I stop eating this fondue so I don’t feel like crap?” The fondue we tried was composed of a few different local cheeses and wine, and the resulting hot, bubbling bowl of velvety heaven was the perfect match for the fresh bread used as the vehicle to get it in our mouths. Malcolm really doesn’t like the funkiness of French cheeses, so the game he played was, “How rare of a burger will they cook  for an eight year old boy?” He really likes his raw meat, and we spent a fun evening sharing a meal that I can totally imagine Rick Steves enjoying (with the stuffed corpse of his mother, which he keeps in his apartment and whom he NEVER gets cross with.)

Annecy has a ton of stuff going for it, and we had a remarkable time there. We will definitely go back in the summer, mostly to partake in the myriad of summer activities available: biking, hiking, boating, golfing, etc. I think there is a little part of Amy and Malcolm that want to find out if they too can develop a nasty toe infection, but they probably won’t admit it. If you find yourself in France wanting something to do besides the normal museum-laden experience, you should definitely check it out. You can even bring your taxidermied mommy!

OK. Pressure’s on for a tighter opening. I think I have it:

Have you been longing for a place infected with gooey, old world charm and outdoor adventure possibilities that even a petite, Mexican debutante would find alarming? I have the place for you.

Bingo!

As much as I would like to leave a picture of my toe as the sole visual evidence our weekend, I cannot. Here is the rest of our weekend in pictures:

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The train ride from Paris to Annecy was around 3 hours, and provided enough time to do some sort of statistical analysis of European football players and the Paris Metro system.

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The first thing you do when arriving in any European city is find the open air market. Check!

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Hello!

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Nice to meet you!

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Tttthhhhattttt bbbbbbboooatttttt wwwwwwwasss a llllllitttlllllleee chchchchchchilllllllllyy

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Did I mention that Annecy has a lot of canals? It’s the best of Amsterdam and Switzerland, all rolled into something French!

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Courtyards. Everywhere.

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I almost got tired of taking pictures. Almost.

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The red roofs of the old town, taken from a nearby chateau.

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You can probably skip the chateau tour, but there were still some intriguing nuggets tucked away.

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More quaint shit

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Get more French than that, I dare you!

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It’s a good thing everyone bought their paint at different Home Depots there.

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Our view at lunchtime at an outdoor cafe.

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We really hearted Annecy

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If only they made ‘em this big.

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Little chilly, little rainy one afternoon. Hot chocolate time!

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Sometimes you attack the dessert…

 

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Sometimes it attacks you.

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Of course we stopped at a place with this name for crepes and waffles.

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I’m going to go with, yes!

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Fresh snow and sunshine makes for good scenery.

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And eating!

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Luckily, the Olympics were just on, so they knew how to do it.

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Immediately after this pic was taken, he fell, twisted his knee, and had to be saved by daddy. That’s what happens when you try to set the new world record.

We bought these little gems at the open air market. Kind made the whole toe thing seem like it was for the best.

When Your Kids Annoy You

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Malcolm Stories

The unfortunate truth about living here is that, despite the mouth watering delicacies, the limitless supply of art and culture and crazy-interesting patterns of dog shit all over the sidewalks, you must still be a parent. Call me naive, but I thought that we would all be so wrapped up in the experience of living abroad that Malcolm would be an angel and I would effortlessly continue my reign as #2 parent of all time. (Octomom, I’m gunning for you!)* Alas, to my great dismay, one must still be a parent when they move to Paris. Blah.

To make things exceedingly difficult, Malcolm has hit a “development milestone,” which is clinician-speak for “I don’t know who my kid is and I don’t like him.” Every so often, your kid makes a huge push forward and changes in a way that is simultaneously surprising and frustrating; surprising because it involves behavioral changes that seem to spring from nowhere, and frustrating because you have no idea how to react. For everyone who tires of being begged  to engage in imaginative play all day long or doesn’t particularly like being bitten on the love handles (Malcolm’s favorite cut of parent) stepping into a new plane of development is often welcome. Figuring out the newest iteration of your kid is tough, though, and represents one of the greatest challenges we face as parents.

Up until now, I have generally enjoyed each new version of Malcolm. Each successive iteration came with new activities, new things to talk about, and new ways to enjoy one another. Until this one. This one feels like a lemon. This one steals anything not tied down and hoards it in his room. It is lazy to the point where it can’t even get it’s own towel after getting out of the bath tub. This one loses everything, whether it is a 10 Euro note it has obviously stolen from me, or a new watch that was proclaimed the, “greatest gift ever” when bestowed a week and a half prior. At the dinner table recently, this one chewed a long piece of cabbage like a cow (slowly and with most of it sticking out the side of its mouth.) When the cabbage fell out of its mouth onto the ground, this one, when asked about it, said, “What cabbage?” Arrgh!

If it only were as simple as him posing with pastries.

If it only were as simple as him posing with pastries.

To cap it off, this one either refuses to communicate, communicates in one word sentences, or engages in lengthy communications to inform you of what a crappy parent/person/cook you are. Whereas interactions with former models were interesting and oft surprising with the stuff it’d come up with, conversations now feel like interrogations, with the roles of interrogator and interrogatee  switching multiple times throughout. Most blind dates (even those between computer engineers from different sides of the pro-choice/pro-life spectrum) have smoother conversations than we do right now. Maddeningly, he refuses to look at the person he is talking to, and at times I think he is Keyser Soze, constantly scanning the room to come up the material to feed his web of lies. Double Arrg!

Perhaps you are thinking, “Let’s see: lazy, irresponsible, mischievous, sloppy, doesn’t speak good, generally irritates those around him, that sounds like someone I know whose name rhymes with Pig Baddy Dall!” Oh, I know. There is really only room enough for person like that in this house. Amy won’t stand for any more! If there is going to a bunch of lying, cheating, stealing and irritating, around here, I am going to be the one to do it. Your job as a parent isn’t to raise your kid to be the person that you are, it is to raise your kid to be the person you want to be (and one day will actually get around to becoming.) I want Malcolm to become the awesome person that I pretend I am when filling out online personality quizzes.

Honestly, I have no ideas for how to make that happen. I know that if Malcolm continues on the path he is currently on, he will become the 15th child in the Octomom household. I am hoping that he will regress a little toward the mean and that we will learn some better coping mechanisms than, “Stop doing that, it’s annoying.” It’s too bad, too, because sometimes I feel like we miss out on some Parisian adventures because one of us is trying to make a point. If the French had a term for such a predicament, it would probably be something like, “That’s life.” OK, enough venting. The next post will be France related.

* You might think it odd that my #1 Parent ever was the Octomom. Before dismissing this outright, consider the following:

Octomom had six kids and no job. Most people would find such a circumstance debilitating. Not the Octomom. You know what the Octomom did to help support those six kids?

She had eight more kids! Think about that: eight fucking kids! When was the last time you thought about finances or the future? At that time did you think, “The answer to my problem is to have eight kids.”?

No, no you didn’t. You couldn’t muster that much courage.

Then, to ensure the future for all those kids, Octomom made an adult movie. Whoa, talk about effort. I have never considered jamming something into one of my body orifices for Malcolm. Have you? Would Claire Huxtable? Once again, the answer is no. In comparison, we have done so little on behalf of our kids.

And that is why Octomom is the #1 parent of all time.