Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The trauma of Versailles

I now have a French Windows XP OS. My start button says "demarrer" instead of "start". This makes using the computer twice as hard. Everyday, we have been out using the metro. Luckily, we have a Navigo pass which gives us access to unlimited rides during the week. Paris this week has been hit by a heat wave. This afternoon, the temperature has risen to 32 degrees celsius. We have dined with friends and family everyday, and it's certainly nice to catch up, but since most people work in an air-conditioned office during the day, they still look great in the evening. We, on the other hand, have been trekking around Paris in the heat and dust, and arrive slightly disheveled. Kids who used to be shorter than I, are now much taller, and have even joined the work force. Strangely, the only parent that seems to have aged accordingly, is me. I wonder what secret potions these French parents take.
Today, I stay at my in-laws' place to catch up on emails, laundry, and a little tidying up. The kids take the metro to meet up with their friends from last night, my husband and father-in-law take off as well for meetings, and the apartment is quite calm. The sun dries up the laundry in no time. I sit here, wondering about Versailles, and how many housekeepers, gardeners, and cooks it required in its heydays. Even now, who cleans up at the end of the day when all the visitors have gone home? Who manages the staff? After my visit there, I am definitely more in favor of small houses.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Le Feu de St Jean

The 24th of June is apparently the Fire of St Jean every year in Biot. I know this because the posters all have "2010" stickers pasted over the original year that was printed. After dinner, we follow a procession, with small people (making me fit right in) and simple music, and find ourselves in the village ampitheatre. The Portugese dancers (whom we have been following, and who are all actually French) have graced the fire of St Jean in Biot for the last 20 years, and entertain us all with nifty steps and castanets, after the school children sing for us. Then, the fire is lit, and children starting jumping over the fire (for what, we don't know, because the fat lady who explains does not have a microphone, and nobody is listening anyway). Our youngest gets in the line, but doesn't come bouncing out, so I go check. The polite American boy says that all the local children keep cutting in so it's gonna take a while. When he finally jumps, I am back behind stage again equipped to tell the locals to behave, and miss the act completely.

This morning, as we recount the event, I find from my husband that the young hippie man who asked me the dog's name misunderstood Charlie to be "Jiang Lee" (and why not?)... inexplicably, I find myself singing Abba - "and I can dance with you honey, flirt a little maybe, but does your mother know that you're out?" Take it easy...

As I finish off painting the doors, and set the appetizers on the table outside for lunch, I hear the next door neighbor's daughter call out to her mom, "A tout a l'heure" (meaning "See you later, aligator, in a while, crocdile"and remember the day when my daughter made the discovery that "toodle-loo" is this French phrase said fast with an American accent.

Tomorrow, the two babies (being 12 and 11) and dog head to La Croix Val Mer (100 kms to the west) to join their grandmother and great-grandmother for a week, while the rest of us head to Paris.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deja Vu?

Last night I find myself chatting with Sathish at Microsoft. Very much like Santosh who graced my very first entry here, Sathish is patient. He does not ask why I was stupid enough to delete things that I know nothing about? Instead, he guides me step by step to the point where we determine that I have corrupted my OS(that's operating system for you innocents). It is like the kiss of death. I stumble into bed in despair way past 1 am, and try to forget this cauchemar (I think this is nightmare, judging from the way my family members use this word).

In the morning, I roll out of bed and enjoy the local bakery's pain au raisin with strong coffee, and go check out our immense windows that were scrubbed yesterday. I spend the morning priming, and regret having had the audacity to take on this project.

Lunch is actually quite good, as I prepare a leftover galore menu. Everyone is in good humor after laft night's dinner of sausage and lentil beans offered by other family members.

The kids are packed off to the beach (I hear that it is between Antibes and Cannes), and I get to painting, and attempting CPR on my PC at the same time. My husband, out of the blue, asks if I want to go to the vet NOW... I do, but I have not attired myself in presentable clothes, nor have I applied any signs of civilization to my body. Oh, who cares??! So, we go to the vet, who is a charming lady with 2 kids manning the reception area. We find that Charlie weighs 32 kgs, and has otitis. We also learn that there is a mosquito in the Mediterranean that causes bad diseases to dogs. While the vet is gone to attend to something, my husband hops on the scale and declares that the weight is off by at least 7 kgs. Years of marriage have taught me not to be surprised with such behavior, and I have a hard time suppressing my desire to hop on myself.

Equipped with otitis-begone and mosquito-begone collar, we head to the eagle nest village of Biot to post some letters. The post office is having a greve nationale, which I learn, is a strike. So, we sit at the square with a glass of beer and wine, and water for the dog, for a little downtime. I look at my hands stained with white mat paint (it should have been glossy), wearing essentially PJs, and ponder about quality of life in the slow lane. Here I am, covered with Charlie drool and fur, paint (deeply imbedded in the cracks of my skin), watching moms with babies chat at the fountain, thinking about dinner. Perhaps, this is life in its essence - life, children, food...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Anybody have an extra SQLEVN70.RLL?

This morning, I Skype with Japan and happily delete programs that I rarely use, only to find that I deleted something called SQLEVN70.RLL. Now, my computer looks very strange, and I cannot restore my system to how it looked yesterday. I have found that I still have internet access, and have gone to microsoft for help, but they are experiencing difficulty and cannot help.

My children and I have spent the whole day scraping paint off the huge windows. My hands are sore, I have hardened blisters on my palms, and the freshly cleaned living room is covered with dust again. As compensation for their labor, tomorrow, the kids have been promised an afternoon at the local stone beach, which they apparently prefer to the sand beach. Castorama (which I figure is the Home Depot of France) is quickly becoming my Saks Fifth Avenue. I purchase wood paste, primers, sand paper, paint thinner, paint chipper for the window (which immediately breaks upon usage), and all other very mundane items. I learn that masking tape is called bande de masquage.

Charlie is suffering from left ear irritation, and has learned to dislike the human children ear cleaners that my kids endure. I may have to seek professional advice tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my husband has found that a panel in the kitchen that we had thought was fixed and did not open, actually does open, and contains some bottles of wine! Hallelujah! The cupboard is not only mold-free but gift-laden.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Independence is a stick shift away - I feel liberated knowing that I can drive out to town without depending on my husband. Moroccan lunch prepared by a Japanese-American-French turns out so/so. 3 of my children want to go to the beach, so we hop into the car to the beach in Juan Les Pins and mysteriously end up in Antibes instead. We find the best spot in the parking lot in the shade, only to realize that I left my bag with my purse at home. So, I leave the kids and head back home, pick up the bags and head back to the beach. My kids count 11 languages on the jam packed sand beach of old Antibes. The man with the sugar coated peanuts comes by to offer free samples. Around 5 pm, my daughter says "Well, shall we?" and we do. We pass by the pool supplies shop to buy chlorine, stop by the local grocery to buy essentials, and head back home. I am impressed that the shop keepers speak very good English. Without doubt, they didn't like my French, but still...ask a typical Californian to speak passable French. Impressive!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stick shift

The news of the day is that I managed to remind myself about how to drive a stick shift car. It only took 10 minutes and a little bit of courage, especially when I was slipping down our steep driveway while burning the engine. My son and I egged each other on until both of us were pretty decent. What's a couple of engine stalls after all? We made it to the local village of Biot, and even managed to park the car in the parking lot without hurting anyone.

The day is spent cutting dead twigs off our jasmine, scraping algae off the pool, shopping for a microphone for my Skype conference tomorrow, buying paint for the walls, buying teak oil for the table outside, and generally rejecting pleas to go to the beach.

Lunch and dinner are prepared by my daughters - lunch is burnt and dinner is good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


This region is famous for burglars. One year, we had tenants for the summer. Burglars came through the window, and took away the men's trousers first, and then went to work. Little did they know that our tenants valued their cameras more than their appearances. One of the men chased the burglars away in his briefs.

So, today, as we load into our Citroen to venture out to town, we shut down our shutters and wait for our daughter to return from her walk with Charlie. As she puts the dog in the house, I hear a shout from my husband, but it is too late. The key is in the house, and all the humans are outside - we have done a very good job of locking down the house.

15 minutes later, we have found one loop hole in our otherwise watertight security. Having recovered our key, we drive off to Nice in our little banged up car fitted for 5. As we cross police, we shove down the head of the smallest human in the car, and pretend that all is fine.

Old Nice is very much the same as a couple of years ago. We stroll around and take in the sights, the kids throw stones into the Mediterranean, and our youngest who is sage enough to have donned his swim trunks, bounces about in the sea.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


8 days have passed since I arrived in France. Days of scrubbing and cleaning have made my paws rather sore. This afternoon, we load into our Citroen and head to old Antibes (pronounced Aunt-eeb). We tell our children to go oggle others on the beach and stroll through the town. There is a wedding at the city hall, where all I can do is wish them much luck (because for sure, they will need it). As we come back to the beach and plunck ourselves down, we find our neighbors to be British. One raspy voiced female smoking pot (I wouldn't know, but my better half remembers the smell from his days in Buffalo) is talking non-stop and telling a child that wet arm pits are the source of all bad health, imploring the kid to change into dry clothes. Why not stop smoking pot instead, I ask myself, but have better sense than to ask the Brit directly. After many credit cards and bills (the beggar kindly tells me the machine does not take 10 euro bills), I manage to pay the parking lot, and head home. The sideview mirror on the right which was repaired only yesterday starts peeling off, necessitating my right index finger to hold it up the whole way home. Vive la france!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Charlie comes home

We drive to the Nice airport in our little Citroen bought several years ago for 1500 euro. The side view mirror on the right is broken, so it makes getting off the highway very exciting. Spend 2 hours at cargo pick-up, and find that DELTA IS THE MOST INCOMPETENT AND PROCESS ORIENTED AIRLINE when it comes to animals. The cargo folks at Nice airport can attest to this. The man who has a brand new sting ray tatoo which my husband asks to see, says so, so it must be so. So, Charlie comes home and immediately performs a head count of his sheep and takes up the guarding position (back to us, and looking out for wolves). All is well now. How a 76 lbs lump of fur can capture one's heart is beyond me, but he does. The sun comes out, so we take our first dip in the pool and jacuzzi, both which have been rescued from wilderness and restored to its desired state over the course of the past 4 days. The frog who reigned the pool is sulking somewhere else while we venture in.

Today, we clean a few rugs and shampoo Charlie for good measure. My husband, who spent the afternoon at a hedge fund conference in Monte Carlo, reports that all the money is flowing to Asia now.

Dinner is Bouchee a la Reine (roughly translated as a mouthful for a queen) - it's a pastry stuffed with seafood and white cream, and zucchini pasta with garlic and leftover sauce from the pintade. National crisis has hit us as we realize THERE IS NO BREAD for the cheese.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A study on Inter-cultural Comparison

Recently, my life has become a continuation of cleaning. In fact, I have become a bi-coastal house cleaner. For most modern day workers, the computer is probably the favored machine. For me, it has been the vacuum cleaner.

We arrived at our house on the Cote d'Azur, as they say. The coast may be azur, but the house was more grey than anything else. It rained a lot this winter and spring. A big sprawling Provencal mas can produce a lot of dust and grime. So, we have spent most of our waking hours cleaning the grey out. For those aspiring globe trotters, may I inform you that Clorox in the US is Javel in France?
The balance of our hours have been split between cooking all the food one cannot easily find in the US, and communicating with an unfortunate friend who has had the "honor" of getting our dog Charlie onto a plane to France.

In the spirit of getting the bad news over quickly, an errant airline that will remain anonymous - that means you, Delta Airlines!!!, misled us to believe that Charlie could travel as check-in pet, only to deceive us at the last moment at the airport. As the old adage goes, goodwill always gets punished, and our dear friend was summoned from the land of nod at an ungodly 4 AM to receive a stressed out collie from a stressed out family, and had the misfortune of spending the next 5 days of his life dealing with beaurocracy, incompetence and vets until finally loading our grateful Charles in cargo air freight. Needless to say, we are thankful beyond words for having such an optimistic "friend in need".

On the culinary side, the French DNA in our kids keenly honed into the local bakery, which has found business spiking 300%. The Antibes Carrefour supermarket has been graced with our patronage daily as well. We have consumed gallons and tons of "not readily available in the USA" food in the few days we have been here. Just to name a few, merguez(spicy sausage made from lamb) with grated carrot salad, tabouleh, pintade (probably guinea fowl, and definitely a bird judging from the shape) with mustard and creme fraiche sauce, 200 varieties of cheese, petit suisse (similar to yoghurt but "much better" according to the French DNAs), blinis and accompanying spreads.... Our recipe book lists no less than a dozen pintade recipes, aside from several dozen chicken, turkey and pigeon recipes.

As I gaze at the garden conquered by Mother Nature, I am reminded of the gardener popping in at the kitchen window unannounced, and nearly pitching me into hysteria last evening. We had econimized and had him on leave for 7 months, in which timeframe, the garden has turned into a wild environment, aided by the gardener having turned off the water supply. As I watch the gardener and my husband throw arms into the air, and generally gesticulate in exaggerated fashion while the pintade grows overcooked and dry, I anticipate the worst. I pull myself up to full height (which isn't much) and venture out to save the day. A hesitant "Is everything OK?" is met with a passing "Yeah, yeah..." as i beat my retreat hastily. At dinner, I ask whether it was very acrimonious. To my surprise, I learn that the gardener was actually "very nice". The cultural difference kicks in again. Seemingly nice storekeepers can be horribly sullen and entitled, while seemingly agitated and agressive gardeners can be very nice.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I see Melanie, Mike, Marie and ....

In Japanese, there is a saying "ichigo ichie" which means "you have one chance to meet someone (so you'd better make the best of it)". In American colloquialism, this may be something like an "elevator pitch", "silver bullet", or serendipity. Every job I have held, I have been fortunate to have met people that I truly like and admire. If you remember Romper Room, you are middle aged and know what I am talking about. Look through that magic mirror, and think about all those friends you see. That is whom you will remember on your deathbed, not your "big deal" that closed 3 bps tighter than your competitor.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Before you know it..

It's June! As I sit in the local middle school auditorium, listening to my daughter and her classmates perform for the band, I realize how time has passed. The world is getting ready for summer. Vacations, moves, changes...

I too, have a project or two, some in limbo and some more in limbo.
Do I fake it till I make it? Am I making progress?