I'm sorry for the lack of updates in the past couple of days. Two big things happened that caused this: 1) I went on vacation and 2) my computer - after an easy, breezy train ride to Paris - broke. I can still use about two-thirds of the screen, which, frankly, is about one-third less than I prefer to have when being on the computer. While having a broken computer makes me sad and cranky, being in the South of France and soaking up all the warmth it has to offer, is making up for my disdain.
Doesn’t this look delicious? Warm and inviting? Cozy and comforting? Well, I can tell you my friends, the natural emotions caused by eating this bowl of soup are 100% inversely proportional to the emotional state it caused to make it.
Have you ever tried to make soup in a pot that was too small?
I’m not talking about a pot that is inconveniently too small, where you have to gently stir for fear of overspill. I mean a pot that is way too freakin’ small. Like, halfway through chopping your vegetables, onions sautéing, potatoes already peeled (AKA the point of no return) you realize that there ain’t no way that head of cauliflower is gonna make it in there, too. Even after you’ve chopped it up real small. And then all that stock on top of it. Oh, no. No, no, no. This is not going to happen. Then (if you’re me at least) you start silently panicking and searching for pots to move things into. Because, on top of the fact that that damn pot is too small, you’re still in the middle of chopping and the bottom of the (crappy, inherited from some other poor fool) pot is starting to burn.
That’s when it gets real. This is when crisis mode switches into high gear. You find a big sautée pan that is suitable for the stock. Because, bien sûr, the French don’t sell chicken stock in a can. It’s bullion only and bullion means you have to make the stock in – what else – another pot. So you transfer the stock to another pot. Then, you throw all the vegetables into the now empty stock pot. As you race to the sink to clean out the burned bottom of the pan, you look up to see your roomie entering your room of mayhem, also known as the kitchen. While you’d like to pretend as though you spent all that time in the kitchen bathed in Zen-like tranquility, it’s no time for delusions of grandeur here, so you keep scrubbing that damn pot. You chat to her, she politely asks what you are making and you continue chopping cauliflower in a style that would make Edward Scissor Hands look calm. Finally, after the chopping is done, you can add the stock, which mercifully ends your fear of more blackened cauliflower soup that you were trying desperately to avoid.
While disaster is likely averted, you’re still doing damage control. How do you cook one soup in two pots? How are you supposed to flavor them right? How do you get them to cook at an equal speed? And why, in the name of God, did you decide that soup was such a good idea anyway?
Your roomie leaves, because she can see the disaster and has to go to class anyway. You start to clean the bits of vegetable from every imaginable surface while your vegetables boil away. You try to manage the quality of your soup by moving some of the soup from the first pot into the second and then vice versa. It kind of feels like a hopeless cause. After you’ve managed to make the kitchen look more like its once civilized self, you decide to go in for the taste.
Ugh. If watery soup was the idea, then by golly, you’ve got it made! But alas, it needs seasoning. And probably more stock. And now, come to think of it, probably more bullion too. So you add all those things. You tinker. You taste. And finally, despite everything, the soup’s good. Thank goodness.
So what’s the moral of this story? What, you are hankering to know, is the wisdom of my fiasco. Well, it’s this:
Make sure you have a big enough pot for your soup.
Ah, life lessons.
What is Luxembourg? Well, it’s not France, but they speak French. It’s a little more like Germany, but they’re certainly not German. They speak Luxembourgish (yes, that’s an actual language) but you almost never hear it. People switch from French, to English to German whenever they need to. There are a lot of expensive cars. And a plethora of well-dressed businessmen walking the streets. They supposedly have a soft spot for the Americans. And they really seem to love their royal family.
I guess ambiguity of culture is exactly what makes Luxembourg, well, Luxembourg.
It’s hard to say. I visited Luxembourg City for just a few hours, but I definitely liked it. It had the kind of character that feels authentic – like real people live and work there – despite Luxembourg’s reputation for being a very wealthy place. My friend, Wisconsin (the alias I’m giving her because of her deep Midwestern roots and thick accent) and I decided to spend our free Wednesday taking the train over to have a look.
We decided to take a leisurely approach and headed towards the city center, where we ambled amongst the streets, shops and monuments.
The highlights of our excursion included:
Walking the main bridge into the center of town. The city is divided by an enormous valley, with bridges connecting the two sides.
Happening upon the Ladurée store. We bought incredible macarons in beautiful boxes, served to us by an incredibly charming man at the counter. True luxury.
Having lunch in a small café-type place. My salad had shrimp and some sort of cream sauce. Wisconsin had the pasta. This place was teeny tiny, which was what added to its charm. Being squeezed in - fellow day trippers on one side, lunching businessmen on the other and the single waitress serving everyone with an ease of someone who knew how to do her job – is what made the place, so unassuming from the outside, feel so charming on the inside. And of course, we desserted on our macarons, which were delicious.
Walking through the streets, happening upon fun little gourmet shops and walking through a maze of beautifully kept government and judicial buildings.
Luxembourg is charming, but not in a storybook kind of way. Which I like. It makes it more real, in the way some university campuses are charming and clean, but also useful and functional, too. I don’t know much about the people of Luxembourg, can’t really sum them up. One afternoon doesn’t seem a fair amount of time to try and make a judgment anyway, does it? So I’ll just leave it at that. A charming mash up. A crossroads of cultures. Something entirely unique on its own.
I've been meaning to show you some of the random, neat things I've photographed in the last few weeks here. So now here I am, the Internet seems to be (do I dare say it?) working and I thought I'd put a few up. So here you are. (Of course, since I wrote that the Internet was working, it took over 40 minutes to
I have to admit, I've been remiss. After my Roomie dutifully read the Internet fiasco blog, she reminded me of one tiny, but significant detail:
Around the time we were told to run to the bank for our RIB, my frustrated German counterpart yelled at the top of her lungs, I HATE FRANCE! In English, in the middle of the SFR. Besides being bold, it was also pretty great. I appreciated. I also appreciated that they later ID'ed her and saw that she was not American. Relief.
If you’ve ever read some of literature about France, like Julia Child’s My Life in France or Peter Mayles’s A Year in Provence or even David Lebovtiz’s blog and book The Good Life in Paris you’ll really find one, overarching commonality amongst their descriptions of idyllic French life: bureaucracy. The French love it. Or at least, they’ve become so used to it, have become so ingrained with it, that they think it’s really normal.
Everything in France requires paperwork: ID photos, three copies of form A, two copies of your passport, your bank card, your bank routing information, your mother’s mother’s maiden name, two copies of your childhood pet’s vaccination records… And what’s especially thrilling about the need for paperwork, is that it changes from place to place. Maybe one man who wants to sell you TV service needs only your bank routing information. Great! Fanstastic! Let me just go get that and I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll have TV by the end of the week! The next day, when you arrive with said information proudly in hand, the next man working at the TV service tells you quite plainly and with the French face of judgment that he can’t possibly sell you the television service without at least three other forms of documentation. And of course, it will take three weeks. Mais, bien sur.
Our apartment doesn’t have Internet. And it certainly doesn’t have cable TV.
Now if I were a bettin’ woman, I’d put down some solid money that, when given the choice, the Roomie and I are picking the Internet way before we’re picking the cable TV. With that said, we decided to forgo France’s famed “box”, which gives you Internet, TV and telephone hook up (horror stories abound of the box taking up to two months to get hooked up). Instead, we opted for the usb key, which plugs into your laptop and gives you instant wireless access to the Internet. Cool. It should work tout de suite. This should make things easier.
After an initial visit to the Internet/TV/phone haven known as SFR, we went through the options, decided on the key and proceeded to be told that we could not purchase until we had opened a bank account. OK, certainly Sir, that seems reasonable.
One week later.
Bank cards in hand (a miraculously easy experience, from what I understand), the Roomie and I walk up and ask for Internet. Of course you can have Internet! (I should have suspected something with the SFR man’s ease). Let me just ring you up.
I could go into some serious details about the time expenditures it takes to sign up for anything in France, even when one has the proper documentation. The guy at the computer often will sit there for ten minutes filling in boxes, adding your information and clicking around. I swear, getting my bank account, the man entered my address at least four times.
About halfway and 3 photocopies into signing up the Roomie for the key, the man asks us for our facture. Ummm, our what? (Five minutes of trying to understand what he’s asking for ensues) Oh! You want our Attestation de Logement (proof of housing). Oh yes, we have that, but not with us. My Roomie manages to work her German magic and convinces the man that we will bring it in tomorrow. Ok fine.
Now Mr. SFR Man wants our RIB (bank routing number). We don’t have that with us either, but surely our bank card, with all the applicable information, will suffice, non? No, no. We must also submit the RIB.
At this point, another discussion ensues, this time ending in the other SFR man telling us that if we rush to the bank, we can get our RIB out of the ATM.
So off we rush, down the street and both manage to wrangle the RIB out of the ATM. Success. Back to SFR. Finally, a miracle. Roomie manages to buy the key.
Now my turn. I won’t go into the full details again, for both of our health. But let me just say this – and remember it, my friends – in France, a government issue, valid, California driver’s license, is NOT valid ID. And even after the SFR man calls up his super secret head boss on the telephone, this is still the case. So even if you have your RIB, your bank card, your attestation de logement and money, do not expect to get that little Internet key without your passport. Don’t even imagine that it’s possible. Because it’s not.
So there I stod. Keyless and therefore Internetless. The SFR is in Thionville, which means a separate car ride there and back. And it’s late at night anyway, since Roomie and I have both worked all day. We can’t, even if we had the will, make it happen tonight. I also have my first class that I’m running by myself (with the teacher there, but me making up the lesson plan and leading the class) the next morning and work to do on the computer.
And then I’m done.
This is the first time since I’ve arrived in France that I nearly lose it. The Roomie can tell. I’ve gone silent. If I speak, I may cry. She can tell. I manage the words “I’m hungy” – which is kind of funny, in retrospect, but also true, because I haven’t eaten since noon and now it’s 7pm and I am really hungry. My Roomie, brilliantly seeing this opportunity, offers for us to walk through the mall and look for food. Maybe, she suggests, we can go to Fonzie.
Fonzie is the kitschy new American themed diner in Thionville. And you have to believe that I love nothing more than a genuine attempt at Americana by Europeans. Why, you ask? Because it’s so damn hard for them to get it right. And they want to. They want to get it right so bad. Their enthusiasm makes the failures that much more entertaining. So we went to Fonzie. And amongst the giant photos of Marilyn Monroe and diner signs, with Elvis crooning Christmas songs in the background, I had a burger and fries (accompanied by the world’s smallest portion of coleslaw and a teeny piece of corn). My Roomie had a soda (with ice! She proclaimed, why do they do that!? It makes my teeth COLD!). And even though it was wrong, it was oh, so right, too.
I still don’t have proper Internet, though my Roomie has been sharing her key with me. Our first vacation is at the end of this week, so I’m going to wait until after the holidays now to get it. If you’re curious, the hamburger at Fonzie’s wasn’t too bad, the main fault being the use of cheese sauce in the place of melted cheddar (think Mexican queso, but less spicy and less tangy) and the lack of lettuce. Sometimes you take what you can get.
Sorry about the radio silence. My computer situation at the moment is less than ideal. I could go into specifics, but that would take too long, but what it basically comes down to is that the only way I can access my site is while in the teacher's lounge at my school. Hopefully that will change within the next week or so. Also, I caught a pretty bad cold on Sunday and have been just trying to go to my classes and avoid feel completely like the living dead. The cold's getting a bit better today, so hopefully that will be gone, too.
In the meantime, here are some pics from our trip to Metz, the second largest town in our region and about 30 minutes (by car) from where I live:
How do you describe what a person meant to you? Particularly, how do you describe that person if you’ve never actually met them? What do you say to sum up the validity of their life, the effect it had on your own?
After my first classes today, I popped on the internet to find the sad, sad news of the passing of Steve Jobs. We all knew he was sick. We saw him wither away, knew that he’d recently been forced to step down at Apple because of his poor health. But I think most people like Steve Jobs – the people who seem to transcend mortality, the ones who have a magic touch, the geniuses – are, in our minds at least, untouchable. We can’t really believe that they too, despite everything, are mere mortals. I guess it didn’t occur to me that he would actually lose his battle. When I read the news today, I felt the tears welling up. The news felt devastating.
But it doesn’t really make sense that I would feel this way. I’m not a computer geek (though I like my laptop) and I don’t even own an Apple (too expensive). So why, I had to ask myself, did I feel such a connection to the computer guy?
I think it comes down to a few things.
He was wise.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon Steve’s (now ubiquitous) commencement speech at Stanford. I read it because, well, I like commencement speeches written by smart and interesting people. This is mainly because it gives these smart people the unique opportunity to concisely write down and summarize important life lessons. I figure maybe they have something of value to say. At the very least, they can be funny.
The amazing thing about Steve’s commencement speech is that it changed my life. Scratch that. Most things you come into contact with on a daily basis don’t change your life. They don’t knock you over the head and suddenly you are an entirely other person. Things that change your life come in bits and pieces. You read something here, you hear something there and before you know it, you look up and things seem different. So Steve Jobs’ commencement speech didn’t strike me like lightening and change my life. Rather, it crept into my subconscious and parked itself as a life lesson. A life lesson that I found myself repeating over and over.
…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – you destiny, life, karma, whatever.
Steve was talking about failing. He was talking about doing things that intuitively felt right. He was talking about choosing to do things that you liked. Things that interested you. He was talking about trusting that your experiences, however disjointed, would serve you one day. He was talking about trusting that life has an ebb and flow. He was talking about having faith in the power of your life to both surprise you and work out.
This lesson (like most) came to me at a time when I needed it. When the student is ready the teacher will appear. It came to me when I was certain that the dots would never connect. It came to me when I was absolutely sure I had wasted so much of my precious time on something that would never be worth it. This lesson of Steve’s gave me a great gift when I needed it. It allowed me to forgive myself. It allowed me to trust myself. It allowed me to let go of regret and trust that, one day, the dots would connect back.
Steve Jobs represented something greater than himself.
I often find myself traveling. You know that. I have a blog devoted to it. As you might imagine, I’m often in contact with people from different countries. Standard questions are always swapped, amongst which is always where are you from? I have the distinct pleasure of being from California. Not because California is always a great place to be, sometimes it’s not. But because the images of California that exist in the minds of people all over the world are the ideal of California. In this California, everyone lives at the beach. In this California, hippy kids gave birth to the children of Google. In this California, the vineyard grapes grow warm under our eternal summer suns. In this California, anything is possible.
You can’t take credit for everything that makes people dream of California. The weather is its own, the majestic mountains and beaches are simply ours to protect. But to be the caretaker of a legacy is a tall order. And for California, Steve Jobs not only created, but also cared for the legacy of our state. When you thought about the companies he created, you thought of California. You think sleek, progressive, but also warm and inviting. You think innovative. You think revolutionary. You think quality.
He did his part to take care of the legacy. He took care of my home. He represented something that was bigger than himself. He made us proud.
He invented modern computing.
You can’t talk about Steve Jobs without talking about computers. Are you sitting at your computer reading this? Or maybe on your iphone or ipad (if you’re lucky)? Did you try to print something on your desktop today? If you did, you probably went to the left-hand corner of your screen, clicked file, scrolled down and clicked print. You probably did that with your mouse, didn’t you? Or maybe you just tapped on the screen of your phone.
Before Steve Jobs (and Woz), computers didn’t work like that. They weren’t easy. They were typing in lots of numbers just to get your computer to do, well, anything. They were complicated and time consuming and well, not so user friendly. People couldn’t even understand why you would want to own a computer.
I’m sitting here typing away on my computer and it’s hard for me to even put down into words how meaningful Steve Jobs’ contribution to our lives is. But I think you understand. Personal computers are the foundation for our global society. They’re so important, so valuable, so vital to our time that they helped (with the Internet) to spawn a new age. The Information Age.
So why was Steve Jobs’ life meaningful to me and why have I felt a loss at his death? I didn’t know him, but he shared himself with the community. For all his accomplishments, he was, after all simply human. He succeeded. He failed. He did it big. He taught important lessons to us all. That kind of loss should be recognized. That kind of person, that kind of life, should be remembered. And even though I didn’t know him, I want to say thank you.Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you for enriching my life and all of our lives. Yours, although too short, was a big, meaningful, full life. You made people better. Thank you for sharing yourself with so many of us. Thank you for being the best you could be.
Wherever you are Steve, thank you.
"Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of another’s opinion drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs
It’s good to feel like you’re a part of something. I think sometimes being American, we’re taught that being the strongest and fending for oneself – rugged individualism, if you will – is the best way to be. And I get it. You can’t live a life entirely devoted to and dependant upon other people. The journey, by nature, is solitary. You have to be able to help yourself. But I think because of this (rather than in spite of it), human beings have evolved to be social beings. We clump together to improve our situation; we need each other to thrive, rather than just exist.
Yesterday we went to Nancy for our orientation stage. It was our first opportunity to officially meet the other people who will be working as assistants in our region. While many of us have been communicating online, this is the first time we were able to meet face to face. It went well. Most of the day was taken up with us sitting in presentations put on by the organization that runs the TAPIF program. But during breaks and lunch, we got to connect, particularly with people who spoke our languages. After, a few of us went out for drinks in Nancy.
I met people from all over, but particularly Americans, Brits and Germans tended to gravitate towards each other. Maybe it’s a shared Anglo-Germanic heritage, or the fact the Brits and Americans want to speak English, and the Germans don’t mind how loud Americans get (they, of course, speak English, too).
Nancy, apparently, is pretty large so we took a walk to the main town center to see Place Stanislaus. Place means central square. It’s beautiful and clean and very shiny in its aesthetic. Think gold. Think ornate. Think broken pieces of mirrored glass in the landscaping where pebbles might be. Lovely.
It’s good to be a part of a group now. It’s nice to know that there are others going through the same things. It’s nice to hear them commiserate on their own difficulties and see that some people have it better in some ways, but worse in others. It’s all imperfect. Perfectly imperfect. And we’re all in it together.