Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thanksgiving à La French





So for thanksgiving, unfortunately, I didn't make pilgrim hats and Indian corn wreaths and have my host dad kill a turkey to eat, and retell the entire story of America, but it was nonetheless a great success. We put it off until the first weekend in December though, because I was still trying to find certain ingredients. Thankfully, fate, french substitutes, and the postal service came through.


Mainly, nothing burned, exploded, or died because of measurement conversions. 
I will also thank this site for excellent help. Because it's really not enough to be able to convert ounces to grams and cups to milliliters. You also have to know the density, so thankfully all of my most important ingredients were kindly converted to metric equivalents on this site. And thankfully it showed up on google when I searched "how much does one cup of flour weigh?" Ah, the internet is really, really great.... 




Sorry for those not up to date on vague Broadway references. 


Alright so here was my menu for Thanksgiving--or with the French accent "sanksgeeveens"--with the french translations just for your cultural advancement:  

  • Chicken: Le Poulet So because we were only four, we decided a whole turkey would not be a good idea. (also my host family is adamantly opposed to leftovers, which breaks my heart just about ever meal.) Apart from cutting off the chicken feet and thrusting them in my face, my host dad let me let him do this part of the meal himself. So everything went fine there. 
  • Dad's secret stuffing: La Farce Well for this, I never had enough information to be sure I was doing things right. Along with some personal improvisations, and some mis-communications, it turned out delicious. I was trying to explain that at home we roast the chestnuts and then crack them open to put into the stuffing, but my host mom insisted on her chestnuts-in-can-of-syrup method which is to open a can of chestnuts and drain out the syrup. Which really doesn't make a food that already looks like a human brain any more appetizing. And even after we went to a chestnut festival (next post) where we ate outdoor fire-roasted chestnuts, they didn't get the idea. Oh well. The stuffing turned out great anyway. Despite the offsetting colors below. Don't worry. 
Green bean casserole: Ragoût aux Haricots Verts Was a total success. It's one of those dishes that is impossible to explain beforehand, to a French person. "So you take green beans, pour soup on them, and then bake them with fried onions?" Anyway, because "French's ™" fried onions definitely do not exist in France (they'd be called "freedom fried onions" anyway), my mom thankfully managed to send me a can in the mail, along with my favorite Life is Good t-shirt. Win-win. Anyway, for the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (also difficult to explain) we were pretty lost. Then my host dad found basically the classy French version of it, Knorr Gourmet Fancy Mushroom Truffle Cream Soup thing in a box. And just like Campbell's is the key to the real recipe, this was the key to my success, because I swear the casserole was waaaaay better than normal.
It's all in the truffles my friends. All in the truffles.
Here's the results of my efforts
  • Yams: Des Patates Douces Somehow my host family had never tried these. They then tried to tell me that they shouldn't be eaten a lot because they can make you fat. Some people. Meanwhile they're happy eating industrial butter replacement with artificial colors. I'm not really sure where to put the emphasis for that one. Anyway, after they tried the yams they were immediately won over. Because they're delicious, duh. Except in France, they're a really off putting green/yellow color on the inside. Not the good old bright orange like I'm used to. But they were really good all the same. 

  • Golden Crescent Rolls: Croissants (no, not the real ones) So this was the one recipe that suffered a little. First of all, quantities for baking are always more specific and more tricky when something with conversions goes awry. First of all, we did a half recipe, which always lends itself to stupid mistakes in fractions. Second of all, my conversions were slightly approximated. So when I had finished adding all the ingredients, the batter was still extremely sticky and liquid. But we had run out of white flour, so I added a good two cups worth of whole wheat flour, which completely changed the texture and taste, and also I think was the reason they never really rose. 
They looked kind of sad... But after baking, they were...
...still not really what I was expecting. But they were delicious, and everybody liked them, which was surprising because they were nothing like the light and buttery rolls I was planning for.  
  • Pumpkin pie: Tarte à la Citrouille For the pie, pretty much everything went as planned, except that it wasn't a pumpkin pie to begin with, because we couldn't find any pumpkins. So instead it was a squash pie (une tarte au potiron).  My host mom, keeping with her habits, would usually use a pre-made pie crust rolled up into a triangular box, but I thankfully didn't need that as a back-up because my pie crust from scratch came out splendid! 
And after that, the filling happened really quickly and easily thanks to this thing called an electric mixer, which was pretty cool.I used that to make whipped cream also. It was pretty fantastic. Watching it go, my arm was getting tired just from my memory of always mixing things by hand. So modern!


And despite the initial skepticism of my French family, they all really enjoyed my Thanksgiving feast. Because imagine just for a moment, the massive coulinery history of France and the inherent mindset that that forces on the French, young and old. They have a right to be proud. However, the cliché of snobbishness is completely true and definitely manifests itself in their constant ridiculing of the British and most other countries because of their food. And of course they discredit American cuisine pretty much simply because McDonald's exists. My host brother kept saying he was just completely confused and surprised about what a real American meal meant. 
 I said to him, what did you expect, a Thankgiving's hamburger? I mean come on. We can cook too! And I would say Thanksgiving, despite all of the variations among family traditions, is about as American as you can get.
And yes, a casserole involving canned soup does sound strange, and yes, potatoes that are sweet do sound strange, and yes it is odd to make a pie out of squash meat, but then again, take a look at real French cuisine I've eaten so far: escargots (check), live oysters (check), smelly cheeses (check), blood sausage (check), everything you can possible imagine with liver (check check). 


The best part about all of this was that I managed to cook all of this by myself for the most part. I love cooking, but I really haven't done much cooking here in France. The thing about my host dad is that nothing is done right unless he does it, and everything is planned out. So that makes it nerve wracking to cook anything just for fun, like I would usually do at home. So this was the first time I had really cooked here (besides a lone cheesecake a while ago). 
What's more, I've always helped out with Thanksgiving back at home, but I normally wouldn't do any of the dishes completely by myself, besides the golden crescents, which were my specialty. But I think the first Thanksgiving away from home is a long held tradition for young traveling Americans. We've all got to grow up sometime, and learn to make stuffing. I'm just glad nobody got hurt or sick. 
Oh and here's the table. 

I imagine if I were on exchange in, say, the mountainous region of Tibet I would have a hard time pulling it off...  However, if Tufts would give be another year off I'd be definitely willing to try it! After this, I'd be willing to put off college for a few more years. 


Oh and one last thing: The day after, my host mom and I drove to this really beautiful spot in the town next door. I wish I had a picture of the road we took, but I was too busy peeing my pants. It was quite a bit narrower than most one laned roads, and was set into the side of the mountain with a precarious cliff on the other side. Oh, and did I mention it was two laned? Anway, at the end of it there was a mine museum on the site of an old mineral mine, and a beautiful walk around the mountain, with gorgeous views. I took plenty (too many) photos and attempted a panoramic picture, which didn't work out because the sea looks the same in all directions. But I'll leave you with just this:




NEXT UP:
Chestnuts Roasting in a traffic jam from hell
Noel Chez Noel
High School, again






Affectionately, 
Will

Monday, December 12, 2011

PARIS--The End of the Questionable Past-Expiration-Date Leftovers

HEY friends, family, and frequent fliers! I've got so much to tell you that maybe I just won't.

(Gosh that was liberating)

Well let's get going on the Leftovers, and then we can get to the Restovers, before we get to the Bereftovers. And that comes right before complete denial. Which is generally never far away from my blog. 
Which I've renamed, for your information, Will's in Hyères, Unless You Have Heard from a Credible Source. 

PARIS! The city that never dies, in terms of topics for Will to try to recount. It was that great. 

Where did I leave off? Oh yes, LA GREVE. (Just a side note, now the teachers at my host brother's school are all on strike. Go figure. And today the was a strike at the cafeteria, and I didn't bring a lunch and so I never ate anything. Consequently I was dead for my 4 o'clock French Lit. Class...) 
So anyways, I was told we were out of luck to go to the Musée D'Orsay because of the strike. 

But we all know that that sign is kept up there at all times just to keep away French, English and Spanish tourists.  

So the day after the Louvre we went to the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution at the Museum of Natural History. And my first thought was: goshback where I come from evolution is still a disputed fact!  I mean, really. We're still seeing images like this:
...then what can you expect of the museums?
Well, this I suppose...

Oh Kentucky. Whatever shall we do with you?
Yet in France they're sensible enough to devote a whole huge beautiful museum to evolution. 
I especially liked the very clear and scientific exhibits on the genetics behind evolution. I could tell they were all funded by the same socialist liberal government that wants to destroy all of our freedoms and faiths. 
Anyway, here's the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution:
It awesome. It changes colors. It reminds me of an opera house. Except filled with dead animals. Mr. Fohloff's heaven? I think so. It was like if a taxidermy shop that never sold anything grew to five floors and was payed for by the state. Impressionnant. So basically a zoo where they don't need to buy animal feed. A dead zoo. Yeah, I guess it was that.

Shout out to my girl Electra. I found you're cousin:

I know you don't care about me, but you'll always be number three to me! And you don't look any more friendly inert.  
Also I was incredibly struck by this little guy. Something just spoke to be from his pea-sized head and "oh, like, whatever" paws:
And mom (sorry rest of the world) :  It's your guy! I found your guy! The French version!
That last picture came from the hall of extinct animals. Whoo, it was rough. It is this giant hall with really intense low-light glass displays full of lions and tigers and hares, oh my. All extinct now, or on the brink of extinction. One tiger was labeled as a species that had been extinct since the mid 1800s. I looked at the description box, and whadya know: "Added to the collection in 1858." Hmmmm. Makes you wonder. It all seems a little weird to walk through a species graveyard like a wax museum, where the most people can remark is "Oh that's a shame. This one was even cute."  Oh well. So it goes. 

We also went to a kids exhibits all about spiders. But I really don't have a whole lot to say about that except: kids being loud and obnoxious. There you go. 

But I did find a dinosaur all the same! But no Jesus riding it:
Oh and to continue with the theme of american omnipresence, can you spot the McDo? They're everywhere! And everyone here thinks I'm crazy because I don't like McDonald's. They think its amazing. But in France all the McDonald's are super clean and have touchscreen ordering stations and sell macarons and fancy coffee and stuff. Not at all the same kind of disgusting. They don't believe me when I say that in the US its all gross and dirty. Well, I guess there are some fancy McDo's maybe in California, but I have never seen one. However, I will note that I get the same headache when I walk into French McDo's. So the radioactive ingredients I guess haven't changed... 

Alright, so then after the museum we went on the Bateaux Mouches, otherwise known as loud tourists screaming on big floating barges on the Seine river. I tried and failed to take pictures; my new digital camera is not super well performing in the dark. But I did take a video of all the Asian tourists screaming each time we passed under a bridge. (Note: there are about 40 bridges)

video


So then the next day we found out that the Musée D'Orsay was reopening, so we got up super early to stand in the line for a few hours. And walking towards the museum I saw these two army types patrolling with giant AK-47s or something. Man it was sureal. I didn't take a picture because they probably would have taken me for a spy dressed as a tourist and brought me in for questioning. Or shot me. I'm not sure how the French justice system works. Anyway they looked something like this: 


Apparently somebody got away with taking a picture. But they were probably deported right after posting it on the web...

And outside the museum on the curbside there were also guys selling roasting chestnuts. It was interesting the setup they had; a shopping cart with a tin can stove contraption and a burner with holes punctured in it. I saw the same thing all over Paris, in Montmartre and by the Eiffel tower too.                                                       So for the actual museum I don't have any pictures, because cameras are prohibited. But if I could've taken a picture I wouldn't have taken any famous paintings or anything. I would have captured the moment where my host brother was sitting, bored as can be, playing video games on his smart phone next to Rodin and Monet. That's the kind of ironic juxtaposition that'll be engraved in my brain forever though. I would title it, "My Generation."
However, I had my second Ben and Jerry's siting, and my first French Ben and Jerry's tasting. They were selling the little pints with the spoon including (love those!) at the museum cafe, and so we got some good old chocolate Macadamia. Apparently in Europe it's made in Belgium. Cool. I feel like Belgium is kind of the Vermont of Europe. It's the little state thing. Except in Belgium its the Southern half that speaks French.  
Anyway, the Musée D'Orsay was awesome awesome awesome, besides my host brother scoffing at all my favorite artists. I'm sure its not the first time someone has wanted to strangle someone in front of a Van Gogh. Hold on, I really shouldn't say that; violence is never the answer, especially when dealing with such expressive art. Van Gogh teaches us that you can jam all of that feeling into a painting, and if certain types of people don't understand it's beauty and power, well.... 
cut your ear off. 
And go on strike.

Alright so the last night before we left, we had a splendid dinner at the host aunt/uncle's house, along with they're daughter, a franco-germanic bilingual nephew (maybe? never fully understood how he was related), and his girlfriend, who lives in London. The nephew (?) was perfectly fluent in French, which was pretty impressive. But I couldn't feel too bad for myself and my average ability, after all he has a French mother... Anyway, it was quite the international dinner. The table looked like this in the beginning:

And then we all slept really well. And we headed off in the morning to catch our train back to the south. 


Episode Two of The Universe is Freaky
So of the two train stations in Paris, of all the parking garages in the train station, of the 5 floors of that parking garage, of all the elevators in the parking garage, of all the moments in the world, I got into the same elevator at the same time as this girl I know from my French lycée. The universe is freaky.

It gets better.

The TGV is literally 20 cars long, including two front end cars face to face attached right in the middle just to be stylish:


Anyway, Max and I walk the entire platform (we're in the last car, or first car as the train flies), get onto the second level of the train, walk to the back of the car and sit down in the second to last row. Then I turned around and a girl from my class was sitting behind me.The universe is freaky. That makes three times in one trip that I randomly bumped into people like that. Weird. Paris obviously attracts enough people to make coincidences happen frequently enough to seem freaky. (Tried to make that a pun in my head, but the spelling just doesn't work, sorry.)


Oh, and also, when we got back to Hyeres, it was about 85 degrees and sunny. We were way overdressed. But the joke was on the south, because apparently it had rained the whole time we were gone. Parisiens love it when it rains in the south. Kind of like how Vermonters love it when it snows an inch in Virginia and all life stops. 

Speaking of weather in the south, it is December 13th (whoa) and there are still mosquitoes. Dammit they follow me everywhere. 


Ah yes, and here's my one last wonderful edition of ironic juxtapositions, caught at 300 km/h going by one of the billions of hectares of vineyards in France: 
You know that wine has just got to be good. Who makes red, white, and rosé anymore, when you can make uranium? The next time I see glowing bottles of wine at the supermarket, I'll know where they came from. 


Oh yes, and one last picture. I made it myself, as part of a thank you note. 
(see first Paris blog for corresponding photo)

So there you have it! That's Paris! From the perspective of me, two months after the fact! 
Someday I'll blog about this week too. But I wouldn't expect that for a while. 
Take care. Happy holidays! Whichever ones you subscribe to! I'll be doing Noel chez Noel, which works out pretty well. In French, Santa Claus is called the "Père Noel", as in father Christmas. In my host family, the Père Noel is always around. If only my family name were "Hannukah." Goodness wouldn't that be fun. 
Oh and happy Festivus for the rest of us, as I think Seinfeld said. 

Affectionately, 
Will






Monday, December 5, 2011

Video Making in English Class is Easy when you Speak English

Hey! So a pretty silly video I made for English class with two peers got posted on our School's home page as an example of excellent work! How awesome!

So here it is if you feel like watching a pretty ridiculous 8 minute school project kind of video.

The prompt was to make a video where reality and fiction get mixed up in some kind of nightmare situation. Mine was that I woke up in the US and everything was in French.

Enjoy:

http://acamediav2.ac-nice.fr/videos/47/un-am

Sunday, December 4, 2011

PARIS leftovers part 9

HEY FOLKS


So I still haven't finished my story about Paris. Lets hop right back into the time machine and go back to....October. Wow. 




The Eiffel Tower:
If you listened in to the waiting line, out of context, you would think it was a line for visas or for the UN or something. Goodness, I heard more languages at one time than in any other place, except maybe the IHOP in New Jersey. It was seriously impressionant. 
We ended up waiting for around 20 minutes, so honestly it wasn't too ridiculous... Except that this eastern European lady (Sorry, I'm really bad at distinguishing languages for that part of the world) kept cutting the line and then working her way back and forth; apparently she was a part of two parties, one at the begininning of the line, and one apparently right in front of me. It wouldn't have been a problem except that she wouldn't stop whipping her hair, hitting my face each time she turned around.  


And as always, I became very preoccupied with how the elevators worked that I forgot to look at the view for the first 30 seconds or so of ascent. 


It looked pretty awesome though! Kind of like the perfect imaginary airplane cockpit, or the laboratory where they transformed Captain America. 
So the first floor was a maze of people asking in really interesting accents where the line was for the top floor. I found it interesting how English was the language of reference for everyone. The signs are first in French, but then in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and others too. But if a non-french tourist was asking a question, it was always in English, because that was the common language between pretty much everyone. The people working there could respond in English and most foreigners could get the general idea. Interesting. I also shared some funny looks and moments with the French group ahead of us and the English group behind us, commenting in both languages about how funny all of it was. 
And of course I became preoccupied with the bolts on the giant iron beams, just as the tower became illuminated!
 And I had my first Ben and Jerry's sighting! VT PRIDE
That's actually not my photo, my camera failed me for that one, I was jittering to much. Partly because I was so excited and partly because I hadn't brought a jacket, so I was freezing. So perhaps not buying some delicious Whirled Peace was a good decision. 


Next stop: The top floor. Immediately greeted by...
I mean of course they sell champagne on the top of the Tour Eiffel. What's better than tipsy tourists with vertigo? 
I also saw the office of M. Eiffel. Because apparently he actually worked from home, and home was the top of the tower. Wow. What a hassle. 
He looks pretty good for 180. Granted, he's been locked up in that little room for decades... 


And I'll close the Eiffel tower part of this story with my favorite picture that I took, actually probably my favorite picture that I've ever taken I think. 




It was total total luck. I literally took it while walking, not looking at the screen, without any special effects or settings checked on my camera. So how it came out like that, I'll attribute to the magic of the city of Paris. 


...






The Louvre: 
A maze of confused foreigners. A greenhouse of an entry. A death trap for small children. A library of large naked ladies on canvas, and large naked men in marble. A treadmill of a museum, logically laid out en longueur instead of hauteur


Here, I attached the floor plan:




But nonetheless we ended up getting to a good number of the exhibits. We didn't get to the Emperors of China because it was too far away. But we found our way through the crowds of every-possible-language tourists all the same and saw some really incredible art. Because that's the real goal of the museum, despite what kids, security officers, and handicapped people will tell you. 


So not to down on my host brother all the time, but if I hadn't kept my head on my shoulders, he might have ruined my visit. This is a reoccurring theme though, so I try to ignore it. I guess I can't blame him for not being interested in the incredible, magnificent, and culturally significant, but it sure makes for a lousy day. I would have greatly appreciated viewing some of the most famous art of all time without the constant 15-year-older snide comments.


In the end, it wasn't even famous European art that I liked the most. It was the Egyptian wing. Just like in NYC. Except way more intense. 
I especially jived with this guy, I don't know why:
I also got really dizzy trying to study the Egyptian calender:


Oh and then there's the ancient foundations of the chateau that the Louvre is built upon. 


Really awesome totally intact medieval kind of stuff. Here's an idea of how giant the current Louvre is, with the layout of the old castle (see square) underneath. That rounded tower above is one of the corner turrets on the plan below:


Then of course I saw the Mona Lisa:

And of course I thought the crowd in front of the painting was more interesting. You can see that one guy in the front just totally confused, thinking "Wait, but I thought it was gonna be a big painting!"
Also you can really tell in the picture, but the security guard was in the process of grappling some little kids that had pushed their way through everybody's legs to get to the front. Right after I took the photo they got strong-armed out of the room. Pretty funny. In France, everyone is your parent. 
And on the opposite wall from the Mono Lisa there's this giant last supper painting, just for the ironic juxtaposition. 
Speaking of juxtapositions....
Other things I saw: 


Can't really explain this one. let's move on to what I think is the mother of all ironic juxtapositions so far:




Omnipresent, America is. 


Oh, and I had another hilarious cultural exchange. I was looking at this painting...
...when I noticed this group of young French teens cracking up and trying to talk to an elderly Chinese lady in broken English. I exchanged a couple smiles with the kids and then they told me she didn't understand French or English, and so I gave a go at both languages but still couldn't figure out what she wanted to know. Then we finally deduced that she wanted to know where Belgium was (whaaa?) and so we tried to draw a simplified map on a museum guide pamphlet, of France as a blob with Belgium right to the north. It was pretty hilarious. We kept pointing at it saying "Belgium! ... La Belgique! Waffles! Frites!" until she finally made a facial expression like she understood. It was adorable. 

Anyway, the Louvre basically took the whole day; we were in the room with the 20 or so giant Rubens paintings for Catherine de Medici when it was announced that the museum was closing. We went back home on the metro and ate a bunch of pasta and steak!


And bien sûr I had another moment of absolute French-ness. I told my host aunt that the Louvre was awesome and everything, but I pretty much came to Paris to see the Musee D'Orsey; that was tops on my list. And what other answer could she give but that, well, it was closed because the workers were on strike. La greve follows me everywhere apparently. 


However, as you shall see in the next post, we successfully got to the museum nonetheless! More on that later. 


'Till then, sleep well, drink lots of water, and don't forget to turn the radiator off before you fall asleep. 




Affectionately, 
Will