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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Solutions for Problems..

I've delegated with myself on some of the issues that I've experienced around Lyon.  I've already understood that customer service is something that will not be changed- unless prepackaged with MacDo or Starbucks (even then, no smile, no 'have a nice day').

I think it's best to say that a majority of people I see are bitter; with rightful reason.  France has a long complicated history full of angry mobs and destructive behaviors to change things.  Right now everyone wants change to happen, but they are afraid to do anything about it.

I can't go too deeply into the topic suffice to say a 10 minute walk alone as a girl showed me the disrespect for people, especially the French people, in France.  This contempt has led to other attitude issues that I will brief on:

Old Man Seller in the Market
His leathery skin and set back eyes told me he was around 70 years of age.  I could not imagine what events he had seen, but I could tell it was his family's wellbeing to be a produce farmer.  He was used to haggling, bartering, people stealing, destruction.  I am positive he had experienced the Algerian crisis in the late 50's, and then saw France drag into a new generation with Westernization and Capitalism.  Tourists who snap pictures of his façade and his fruit cart, angry poor youth coming to harass and potentially steal what is the equivalent to his week's profit.  Once a week at Place Carnot his family and himself pull out their pickings, set it out, sell it and hope people will continue to cruise the markets; despite the higher prices- he assured himself people would see the difference.

My own personal experience was one that was close to disaster.  Via representation of Julia Child in the film Julie and Julia I smiled as I cruised the market.  I walked with a slight bounce in my step, delirious with both heat and joy for the market.  I glanced over the peaches, picked a ripe one and he swooped in with a plastic bag.  I placed it in the bag and began gently touching other peaches to decide which I wanted- except I was stopped after I touched the next one.

'Faut pas touché, c'est pas une supermarché.  Si tu la touche, tu l'achete.'

Don't touch because it's not a supermarket.  Contempt.  He obviously lost some business to super markets.  If I touch it I buy it?  It was strange for me after reading glorious reviews of French markets and the delights in bartering and shopping to hit this wall.  It's not the old man's fault, you see, it's the fault of the past 40 years of changing France and the onslaught of consumerism and capitalism.  He's just as bitter as I am that things aren't the way they were, because they were once that way.

As I continue on my journey through life in France, I realize much of the portraits and dreams painted by Francophiles and capitalistic travel books are false.  It's as if France has been airbrushed and all the disgusting pieces are hidden behind the paint brush.  My intent is to be as honest as possible as to show "current France", for I am not naïve, nor do I want to falsify and glorify.

More later.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Customer Service Woes..

One of the biggest things that I miss about Portland and the United States is smiling waiters and happy customer service representatives.

In France it feels that everyone is scowling, angry or wanting to be somewhere else.  I find it ironic that in a country where healthcare is free, education is cheap and the government offers public aid as needed anyone could be unhappy.

Maybe it's the high heels that cause the scowl?  Even little old wrinkled ladies in France strap on their skin-colored high heels to trek through the park.

Servers in France are among the angriest people I've come across.  Every restaurant or grocery store I go to I receive a scowl, a simple and brief statement of the cost and a "bonne soirée".  Bri and I even got crap from a sushi restaurant just yesterday for wanting to split a menu together- because as the server said, "it's abnormal" and "he's never heard that" and the best, "next time come in and eat normal,"

My goodness, I mean, we go to your restaurant to eat and we should have the freedom to eat as we wish!

I only found one restaurant called, "Le Caveau" that has a smiling server.  It's almost worth it to pay 13 € to sit and enjoy the smiles and jokes of a server for once.  I wonder when France became a place of sadness or anger instead of an idealized place of beauty?

I notice also the fact that the 1950's France that everyone idealizes and paints in books is disappearing at a rapid rate.  The streets are losing the typical boulangeries and fromageries and are being replaced with "American Fast Food", Starbucks, Halal butcheries and lots of Kebab shops.  The sides of buildings built in the late 18th century are marked with french graffiti like:  "fuck the police", or, "fuck your mother".

Hostility in France in growing at an alarming rate and sometimes I turn down a road and am led to ask myself, Am I Still In France?

I was shocked to see the following events during the last few weeks:

July 17th:  Riot in a small French town near Grenoble after an armed robber shoots at Police.  In the end the police had to shoot the suspect because he would not cease firing at the police (it's rare Police are violent in France).  Link to Article Here  After the suspect was shot entire groups of people rose up and began a series of destruction.  60 cars were burned, innocent people on tramways were terrorized... it's hard not to hold a grudge against people that act like that.  I mean, look at the video, it doesn't even LOOK like France.

Just outside of my own home a car was burnt following July 14th... and it was shocking.  Video of Car Burning outside our Apartment

Romanticized France is slowly disappearing.  The only place I could find that made me feel like I was in a beautiful countryside was near Bri's parents in Genas.  We hiked up about 20 minutes into the local woods and found ruins that were left from 700 years ago...

I'm in the center of the ruins in supposedly what is the entrance.

I am still waiting for the France I grew up learning about.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cooking in France: Peaches from the Market..

Yesterday Bri and I were invited by some close friends to enjoy what they call, "apero-manger" where everyone brings either two dishes or a dish and a drinkable thing.

I made an effort to go to the market and bring some of the freshest veggies I could buy- meaning a 'crudité' platter which is simple sliced veggies and a sauce..

Crudité Citron Herbe
1 container creme fraîche or sour cream
1/2 a bouquet of 'cibouilles' or chives, chopped rough or fine
1/2 lemon or 'citron' juiced
1-2 tablespoons herbes de provence
salt & pepper to taste

Just mix all of the above ingredients to make a nice dip for crudités, if using sour cream omit the lemon juice.  Set in fridge or let mingle the flavors for about an hour.

We also noticed some super ripe peaches, so I couldn't help myself and decided to make some little dessert 'bouches' or bites.

Well in the end we bought way too many veggies (only 16€ though, which in comparison to the U.S. for the number of veggies we got, is cheap).

The veggies in france taste WAY better than the U.S.  Peppers are oddly shaped and dirty when bought, but then washed, trimmed and sliced.. holy moly.  It's a burst of intense flavor that I never got to enjoy back home.

The peaches are to die for, and thus, I created a recipe off the top of my head to use up some leftover pie dough and the peaches that were extra from yesterday:

Drunk Peach Pie
4-5 nice big ripe peaches (if using frozen, make sure to remember there's more water in frozen)
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cinnamon sticks
pinch of nutmeg
1 rolled out pie crust in pie dish for one 9" pie, (poke holes in bottom)

Preheat oven to 400° F

1.  Wash peaches and cut off as much flesh from the core as possible, chop this into 1/2" cubes and set in pan, continue until all peaches are cut up and in the pan.
2.  Toss in 1/2 cup of the sugar, the butter and the nutmeg and cinnamon sticks
3.  Put temp on med-high and stir frequently, when it looks like the peaches are releasing some liquid, toss in the dark rum and rest of sugar.
4.  Continue to stir around and then add the flour, removing off the heat to stir it equally, place back on heat and notice it becomes very thick and "rouxish"
5.  Pour mixture (take out the cinnamon sticks) into pie crust/dish and brush crust with some butter and set in the oven.  Bake at 400°F for 8 minutes, then lower the heat to 365°F for another 20 minutes, until the crust is browned and the mixture is a darker color and bubbly.

Check out the photo of my invention!
Super delicious, and great for the summertime.  Notice it's a 'drunk peach pie' due to the rum.  Serve warm OR chilled with some vanilla ice cream... mmmm!!
As for the rest of the veggies, I cleaned them, sliced them and put them in nice ziploc bags so whenever I get the munchies I go for celery before I go for chips.  good idea- eh?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life in Lyon..

Since I last posted there have been a series of events that I'll discuss...
  • First visit to a fromagerie
  • First visit to a "winerie" (more like a "vendeur du vin")
  • Picnic amongst friends along the Quai (recipe for Tarte aux Tomates et Moutarde)
  • Hangover food in France
  • Heat, heat, heat
First Visit to a Fromagerie
In Lyon we have different places around the city that are specialty stores for cheese.  You walk into them and they are stinky!  Cheese lines the walls in glass casings.  The one we visited in particular was one called:   L'Art des Choix Fromagerie Polèse or the art of cheese choices.  I wanted to take a picture, but I noted that as soon as I smelt a cheese the woman came up to me with typical French woman scowl and proclaimed loudly, "Il faut touche pas!"  Which is like saying, "No touching!".  I thought to myself:  these must be some pretty freakin' awesome cheese if I can't touch or smell them!  I bought a cow milk cheese since I'm not quite prepared for the strong goat cheese and for 2.30€ I had a good amount of cheese (more on the cheese later).

First visit to a Winerie (seller)
All around the city there is also places that specialise in wine like American wine shops.  Usually these places are expensive and have specialty imports from around the regions of France.  By chance I found one near the French equivalent of 'china town'.  Once I walked in it was like being transported into 1950's France.  The man behind the counter was a short, round man, red around the cheeks with a big smile pasted on his face.  The sign posted had a rosé for 1.30€ so we asked about it.  He explained kindly that all we had to do was buy a bottle for 2.10€, save the bottle, return with the bottle and he'd refill it for us for only 1.30€.  We agreed and took it with us for a picnic.  For 2.10€ we got a large 1L bottle of rosé that was actually decent... but I got too drunk off of it to remember not to toss the bottle!

Both the cheese and the wine became our accompaniments with our picnic that night... see picture below:

More info on Flickr..

Picnic Amongst Friends on the Quai..
Picnics in the summertime are one of my most favorite memories in Portland.  I've learned I can have the same joys in France... even better because hundreds of people flock to the waterfront to drink, party and beat drums.  Bri and I decided to make a birthday picnic for our good friend Chevonne, a fellow Oregonion and American.  I was in charge of the main dishes, Bri in charge of heavy lifting and clean up.

Knowing that Bri's mom makes this thing called "tarte aux tomates et mourtarde" I wanted to try my hand at it.

The recipe that I created goes as such:

Tartes aux Tomates et Moutarde
(Tomato Tart with Mustard)

°Pastry shell or enough pastry dough for one 'pie'
°3 Large Tomatoes sliced thinly
°About 6 slices swiss cheese (3x5 inches is good, with a width of 1/4 inch)
°1/2 cup mustard with seeds (like a rough mustard, better flavor)
°Herbes aux Provence, or just plain old oregano and basil
°Some olive oil
°Pie Pan

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F or 200°C
  2.  Lay out the pastry dough into the pie pan, if it's a pastry shell with a pie pan attached skip to step 3.
  3. Poke holes all over the bottom of the crust
  4. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the crust, if need more add more.
  5. Place slices of swiss cheese along the bottom on top of mustard, it will resemble a pizza
  6.  Layer tomato slices clockwise starting from the outside edge swirling to the interior until the bottom is covered. If there is extra, continue to layer to cover spots.
  7. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and about 2 tablespoons of the seasoning, plus salt and pepper to taste
  8. Place in oven, cook uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are curled on the edges, the outside crust is brown, like the photo below:

Tarte is delicious served with a chilled rosé or white wine with a nice fresh salad on the side.

Hangover Food in France
So the night we partied, we didn't come home until 2am, I fell at some point and busted my knee (drunk Velo'ving, not a good idea) and once I got home I was pissy, irritated and went on a tyrade around our 35m apartment.  The day after was a terrible hangover, aka (geule de bois in french).  My head pounded, my body ached and I was sick to my stomach like crazy.  The only cure for that my friends is:  lots of water, a walk around Lyon and a good cheap restaurant with fatty dishes.  I found my favorite hangover food in France... the "tartiflette" explained by Wikipedia as:
"Tartiflette is a French dish from the Savoie region. It is made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, cream and lardons."
It is also known as God's food to me.  The creamy texture and the dense potatoes sucked up the toxicity.  I went home after and napped for an hour while sweating out all the nasty alcohol impurities.

Here's the picture, the glory food is in front of me:

And finally..

Heat, Heat and Heat
Lyon is killing me with the heat, in Portland it gets hot, but the heat here is heavy and rests on your shoulders like a heavy cloak.  No escape either.  The library has air conditioning, so I blog with the free wifi there...  but it's so hot at night Bri and I don't even touch.  Lucky for us we are best friends too so it's fun to just enjoy each other's company, but it gets frustrating sweating all night and not from anything fun.  This week looks like it's gonna cool down a bit, it rained last night... and it's supposed to rain tomorrow.  I hope they are being honest because I can't stand another sweltering day like two days ago.

Until Later...
There are photos on my Flickr, the photostream on the right has tags and information about the photos, so until I write again there are other things to entertain you!



Thursday, July 8, 2010

French Markets...

I'm trying to create a plan of all the markets to see in Lyon... but DAMN it's a trial.

I'm working through the "les marchés" part of the Lyon city website and I'm realizing how much of a multitude there is.  As lame as it sounds I am enjoying putting together a map of the best places to purchase food around the city.

This city is so full of amazing places to go and buy food.  For example, there are like 4-5 asian stores I found and I know from living with my mom that that's the best place to buy coconut milk or spring roll wrappers or even wonton wrappers.  There are butcher's that have a range of fresh meats, cheese stores with the rank smell of rotting milk, spice shops that are filled with caskets of curries and dried herbs that overwhelm the senses.

I will say simply that I am in heaven because I am a foodie- Lyon is not the place for Americans to go and be "fashionable" nor the place for Americans to try and be "eurotrash" it's the perfect place for people who love to cook and eat!

My map is here:

View Food Shopping & Épiceries around Lyon, France in a larger map
As you can see it's a work in progress but one that is FULL of information. Every icon has a meaning, so below I'll explain a little bit:

<-- Means an asian or middle eastern store, specialized for things like cheap rice, cheap spices (just two days ago I bought 100 grams of curry spice for only 2€!), lots of dried fruits and pita bread.
This one is boulangeries, which in France are abundant.  I started adding some but then stopped myself because I realizes there's one every city block (kinda like Starbucks in Portland)  --> 

<-- Means a public market, or a "marché" in French.  Each icon represents a new market, but the hours are listed within the icon... so every location as different numbers of "stalls" and different hours daily.  Most are from 6am to only 1:30pm... so I have to get my butt outta bed for it.
This one is charcuteries... we don't have this in America so basically it's like a little shop specializing in dried or fresh pork products- think pepperoni of the Gods type thing.  There's also specialized "patés" and such, often eaten before the main dish in France.. Lyon is known for it's usage of pork.
<-- This is the butcher's icon which is where one can buy freshly butchered meats from baby cow to chickens.  A bit more expensive but the quality supercedes the price.  Amazing.

The other icons are self explanatory, the alcoholic beverage representing a wine shop... the cheese representing a cheese shop- the simplified icon of the jug and apple representing the American style super market.
Incredibly the abundance of markets creates something to see, touch and smell every day. 

In other news I almost got scammed when I was looking for apartments in Lyon.  These dudes are really sneaky... the link is here:  Scammy Apartment.

Basically it's supposedly this grandiose apartment with a beautiful balcony and all the lovely adornments and a nice kitchen.  It's supposed to be on "Rue de Seze" which is up near the Parc.  It's only 650€ a month!  I was so excited so I emailed... and the email I got back was asking for more personal information... no harm in giving my name and number!... but then.. the next response was really weird.

It said we could see it on Saturday, but with a lawyer.  Brian said the French was terrible and it was a total scam, sure enough we googled some of the key phrases and it turned out.. yup.  Scam.

No worries though because we have the apartment that I wanted in the bag and will be signing the contract on Monday...

Still.  In France those scammers are goooood.

Today we're going to go to a little wine store that I saw one day by chance that listed a wine for 1.30€... heck yes!  Then we'll be heading home to pack a picnic and eat at "Parc de la Tête D'or" aka "Park of the Golden Head".  On the way we'll grab a crusty baguette and a gooey cheese to go along with our fresh chicken salad- it'll be a good night.

We'll take some pictures today so we can share them... :)

I love France.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2nd, 2010: 4 Days in France

The one thing I noticed first when I began wandering around Lyon, France is the fact no one wears flip-flops.  Flip-flops which are also known as toe thongs are a type of shoe in which you have a flat shoe with a piece that fits between the big toes and the other toes.

They are highly popular in the United States, specifically for those of us who wander around fashion unconscious.  Flip-flops are very comfortable and cheap, but in France they are only worn by those who are:
 1. Foreign
 2. Dating or sleeping with someone foreign
 3. A lazy person
Well, I could say I fit into all three categories, thus this blog will be Flip-Flops in France.  This is also an indicator of mood swings from culture shock, flip flopping in my moods.

So we begin the adventure..

Monday night I arrived by train from London, the train was a 6 hour train that took me to Lille and then transferred to get to Lyon.  I had over 70 lbs of luggage with me that I hauled from London public transport to the train station.  Incredibly I made it with little problem, but a lot of sweat.

Nothing felt much different once I arrived in Lyon, it was as natural as going back home when I saw Brian.  A lot of emotions and the typical, "you look bigger" or "wow you sound different in real", but overall much how it was imagined.

For the past 3 days weve been hunting for an apartment in Lyon, unfortunately in France there are a few key things that differ from the states:

  • Kitchens are unequipped.  In France you must buy a fridge, stovetop and oven.  Often when you go into an apartment the kitchen is only a sink, no counters, nada.  For example this one we looked at a couple of days ago (below) there was only the sink and the rest belongs to the current tenants.

    • You have to pay an agency fee in order to get any kind of apartment worth living in, meaning an extra 550€ on top of everything else, roughly 1900€ just to move into an apartment.
    • There is no air conditioning and many of the older buildings have no elevators.  No wonder French women are so thin!
    Even though there was some trials, I found an apartment I really fell for that was right along a road full of restaurants.  I issue is now trying to get everything together to get the apartment before another couple does!  The kitchen is what grabbed me because the girl currently living there is willing to sell the entire kitchen equipped because shes moving to London!
    Other interesting things that I am discovering:

    • The Velo'V system
    • Weird grocery store products
    • Marchés
    The Velo'V system is the bikes that are in stations around the city of Lyon.  Every 5 minutes there is a location, so normally a walk that would take 20 minutes becomes a 5 minute bike ride. Each station has a touch screen where you enter a code, take a bike and you get it for 30 minutes.  After you return the bike at whatever your location is.

    A person can buy a monthly pass or a weekly pass.  The monthly enables the person to use it for an hour, while the weekly is just for 30 minutes.

    Get this though, a pass for one week is only 3€ which is like $3.50 in the U.S.  Its cheaper and faster than public transport...

    Then my question would be-  when will Portland do this?

    Finally I have to share the fact that offal; aka the body parts we never think of eating in the US; exists in normal super marches... for example.. this photo Bri and I took:
     Left is the intestines of a baby cow, middle are the brains of baby sheep and right is the foot of a baby cow.

    I have not built up the guts to even try cooking these things.. but goes to show its pointless to be a vegetarian in France.
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