Thursday, September 29, 2011

Je suis un Berlinois

Yeah, the title isn't nearly as funny as it is in German.  Oh JFK, you slay me!

Something I've always found a little odd about all languages -- I know, he's not bitching about just French:  Someone get the fainting couch! -- is how names have to change for cities and countries.  Sometimes it's a small change, like instead of United States it's just États-Unis.  It's the same words, just in French.  Other times, the name will change just a hair, such as with London becoming Londres.  As much as I'm begrudged to admit it, this is something all nations do.  Sometimes it's just too difficult to say, or maybe it is too close to something else already in the language.  There's a variety of reasons.  Of course, it really is interesting to watch the linguistic acrobatics I sometimes have to preform to say the name of a place right, or its inhabitants.

Countries are generally pretty straightforward in terms of pronunciation and spelling.  Canada doesn't change.  Sometimes the name of a country will be the same except for the ending.  French seems to have a thing about places ending in an i or ie.  Columbia is Colombie, Italy becomes Italie, Lybia is Libye, and so fourth.  I don't know if it's some sort of place marker, but it's something that French seems to do.  However, there are some times where you need to know history to accurately figure out the name of a country.  The one I'm most familiar with is Germany, which becomes Allemangne in French.  The Allemani were a tribe that used to live in what is now Germany.  (English isn't much better.  Germany comes from the Latin/Greek word Germania.  In German, the word is Deutschland.)

I think my favorite process is watching it happen with English.  When they show information about what's going on in the US, California becomes Californie, Louisiana becomes Louisiane, and Florida becomes Floride.  Some states they don't touch out of respect, Washington for example, and others they don't change seemingly out of reverence.  There are two meccas in the US d'après les Français.  New York City is the end all be all of the United States.   Unless you love country music.  Then you live and breathe Texas.  My favorite is the states that they just have no idea what to do with, so they just don't even bother like Ohio, Oklahoma, or Arkansas.  (I live for the day a French person tries to phonetically pronounce Arkansas....)

Town names are usually very similar to American towns.  In fact many of our best place names come directly from French.  Montpelier, Vermont is named after the town in France.  Maine is the same name as a department in France.  There's Terre Haute in Indiana, Fond-du-Lac in Wisconsin, Paris, Texas, and I'm just getting warmed up.  The French were a huge immigrant population in the US so of course they would carry naming traditions with them

Nothing makes me laugh harder though, then the influence of French on town names.  There are towns like La Rochelle or Le Mans.  When you're talking about the town, it's not hard, but they change with the use like any other indefinite article.  So although one says, Je vais à La Rochelle, you would need to say, Je vais au Mans, because à le becomes au.  So the same rules apply with du.  I am sure there are others, and I'd love to see other examples of how it works.  I'm all ears--or eyes, as be the case.

I do find  French resident nomenclature incredibly interesting as well.  The most common suffixes for towns seem to be -ais or -ois.  Remember though, if you're discussing a woman, those become -aise and -oise if you're discussing a woman.  When I met partner's family, they were all Ploërmelais.  While my partner lived in Lyon for his diplome d'ingeneur, he was Lyonnais.  When we moved to Rennes, we became Rennais.  Had partner taken the job in Bordeaux, we would have been Bordelais.  However; there's a town nearby called Campénéac.  The residents are Campénéacois.  If you're from Brest, you're Brestois.  My sister in law's family are Vendômois, being from Vendôme.  However; my nieces moved to Tours, making them Touraine.  Of course, we can't for get the Parisiens.  There are naturally exceptions, as of course, this is a language.  Outside of Esperanto, I think every language has exceptions.

Another area where you'll see these names is when you're seeing sauces.  In English, we've probably never thought twice about why we cover our eggs in Hollandaise sauce, or why we think we're fancy for asking for a Bernaise sauce instead of butter.  The truth is a lot of the names we give to soups, sauces, and specialty dishes come directly from French. Have you ever eaten a Nicoise salad?  Maybe you've never batted an eye when someone prepares something Vichyssoise.  In fact, the Vichyssoise was created in the US.  It has nothing to do with France, much less Vichy.  The one that I was the most surprised to discover was Mayonnaise.  It's neither American, nor French.  It most likely originated in the town of Mahon in Spain. 

Just as a wrap up point, there is indeed a sauce Américaine in France.  Partner used to buy it, but I was never moved enough to try it.  As near as I could tell it looked like tomato sauce, mayonnaise, and what I now believe was tarragon.  I took one look at it, thought the tarragon was pickle bits like in tartar sauce, and ran for the ketchup.  I tried boudin, but one thought of ever eating tartar sauce again, had me running for the hills.  The real stuff though doesn't sound half bad, but I will never trust anything that looks remotely like tartar sauce. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Un Peu du Vin du Matin

I'm not a huge fan of wine, nor do I really understand it.  I've always been partial to amaretto and mixed drinks.  My theory is that I'm just not refined enough to get wine.  To me, the white is all right, and red just reminds me of communion.  My sister and her husband buy wine whenever they come, but I never appreciate the flavors.  I just get hammered.

However, I'm a sucker for a good map!  This is a visual representation of the regions and appellations of wine in France.  It's neat just to look at, but it's especially fun to realize that I've actually been to some of these places, and had this wine.  I'm still hopeless when it comes to appreciating wine, but at least I can fake it now!

Monday, September 26, 2011

La Bascule à Gauche

So the recent piece of good news is that the left has won a number of seats in the French Senate today.  I am excited about this as the more seats the left wins, the more likely it is that full marriage equality will be passed here.  Right now, the left can block any action taking by the right that they don't agree with.  This is going to cause major problems for Sarkozy as it means that he can't just push through his political agenda like before.  The National Assembly is still controlled by the right, meaning that they can say a lot of things, and take action, but most likely nothing will get through.  One of the most interesting things about this, is that this is the first time this has happened in the Fifth Republic.

Now, the French system is a little more complicated than in the US.  It's called the Fifth Republic because it's actually the Fifth Constitution under which France has run since the king was Forced to put an actual constitution in place in 1791, which officially made France a constitutional monarchy.  The current constitution provides for a bicameral government, le Senat and l'Assemblée Nationale, with the Président serving as head of government.  The actual election of representatives for the two houses is actually a bit complicated, as the Senate is actually elected by a system of mayors, and other government representatives.  We'll just say it's above my pay grade and I'll ask you to look it up for more specifics. 

Recently with the international economic crisis, Sarkozy has been under more pressure.  His solutions have been very polarizing, and because of that there is a good chance that he will have problems getting reelected.  He has ordered the closing of a number of post offices, as well as reductions in letter carriers.  Considering the number of things that have to be done on paper in France, they're not big on online services here, this is a huge problem.  Recently two people with whom Sarkozy has worked closely in the past, particularly Edouard Balladur and his 1995 presidential bid, have been accused of corruption in a scandal in Afghanistan.  It's not impossible for him to win, but he has an uphill battle ahead of him.

The Socialist candidate is less clear, however.  Before the recent scandal in New York with chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo, Dominique Strauss-Khan was a front runner for the Socialist candidate.  He was formerly head of the International Monetary Fund.  He still has more trouble in store for him with the recent attempted rape charges levied against him by author Tristane Bannon.  The two front runners for this year are François Hollande and Martine Aubrey.  Ségolène Royale, who successfully ran as the Socialist candidate in 2005, is also running but seems to be less popular this turn.

It's a lot to explain, but this is definitely an important day in the Cinquième République.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

et raconte des histoires

So since there has been interest expressed, I'll put up the first section of the story I started writing.  This is something I have been working on this story since literally...sophomore year of high school.  I had started to make truly geeky friends, which came at a point in my life when it was completely necessary.Without these friends on the weekends and lots of video games, I just don't know how I would have made it from high school. These are very inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and the Final Fantasy series, so fair warning ahead of time.  This is after plenty of editing.  I would love to get into a writing exchange with anyone who would be interested.  I find I work best with a deadline.  Yes, school conditioned me a bit.

As she raised her hands, the army stood frozen in its tracks. She took a casting stance, pushing forward her hands and foot. Blue strands started to grow from her hands as she pulled them apart. She brought her fingers together and pulled them apart, quickly folding the strands back in upon themselves. The wind, once blowing strongly, deadened, as if something had pulled all the life out of it. Her blond hair came to rest over her right shoulder. The long sleeves of her dress fell limp at her sides as she forced her hands together, making the strings thicker and brighter. Pulling apart the strings, and shaking them between her hands one final time, she waited for Andor to step forward.

Like a shot, the army advanced almost before Andor had unsheathed the sword. He assumed a stance as quickly as he could, and rushed into the fray. He could never remembered being this fast, as dispatched two, sometimes three at a time. Somehow he could see the attacks before they came, watching them as they seemed to fall into order. Parry, riposte, the next attack arrived almost as soon as he felled the last enemy. High attack, block, counter slash. His body was moving faster than his brain could think. He knew he couldn't sustain this. Had it been only five or six more, that would have been something entirely different. They were out of options now.

Fatigue was setting in as he was nearing the third wave of soldiers. He was getting sloppy, and attacks were starting to get through. Knowing he didn't have much longer, he tried to push the enemy back upon itself. His sword might pierce one, two at best, but he could not hold out. Another strike came in at an unexpected angle, knocking him off balance. He tried to support himself on his sword, swinging his head wildly to push his now damp black hair out of his eyes, but it was to no avail. One more side attack was all that was necessary, and he fell.

Through his blurred vision, he could make out the girl backing further onto the headland. She was throwing whatever she could remember at them. Flashes of light filled the sky, and the wind howled at her retreat. He could tell she was looking at him, and shouting something, but he was too far away to know what she wanted. Andor tried to pull himself up, and the girl ran to him.

Kneeling beside him, she said a few low words and Andor could feel the pain drift out of his body. His vision cleared, and he could see the girl's tear stained face, pleading with him to get back up. He blinked his green eyes, slowly, grunting as he pushed against the ground to stand up. With her help, he was able to get back onto his feet. The gale was blowing through the holes in his armor. They could only find the old leather kind in the escape. Andor was shaking, but resumed his stance.

Against impossible odds, they had both fought as hard as they could. It would be impossible to continue. They had made it through the labyrinth of the dungeon, and out of the woods, but now this would be their final stand. He almost laughed at how cruel the situation seemed in his head. He had done everything he could for her, and it would end here, like this. Andor fell back, landing flat on the hill, panting.

Remembering her face was the most painful. Watching it change from desperation, to shock, and finally to horror made him try and push back up, but his body refused to respond. All he could see above him was a blur of stars. They shone down, indifferent to what was happening, watching the life drain out of this pitiable creature, coughing and struggling to live.

Over the next few minutes, he lost track of what was really going on. Everything was starting to blend together. He could feel the girl pulling at him, but he couldn't even respond. The sky blended to the horizon, and the ocean became so far away. The stars were pulsing in time with his heart. He knew that he had to get up, that he had to do something, but he could no longer remember what.

Andor suddenly felt very heavy. He could feel himself coming back as everything came back into focus. Looking around himself, he could see thousands of soldiers were dangling in the air, heads hanging to the side. Row after row, stretching on for miles, balancing in mid air. All of these men who had seemed so fierce only seconds ago, now like puppets. Their eyes were wide with fear. He saw the blue strings enter their bodies and watched as it pulled the life out of them. The strings weaved their way through the soldiers; their screams silenced one by one. One could feel the dull thud as it struck a new victim through the chest. Almost as quick as it had started, the strings returned to their source; the woman next to him.

This could not have been the same girl he knew. She had smiled gently, and been so silent when they were running away. She only wanted to help him get away. She refused to make more than enough sleep spirit to knock the guards out. She said making more would only raise suspicions. These people were innocents for her. The girl had taken the care to make sure that no one would follow. She could only do cantrips, after all.

Smiling cruelly, she moved her hands together; pulling the strings closer as they retracted into a ball. Raising her hand into the air, the ball ascended as row by row, the soldiers collapsed to the ground, melting into nothing. Eventually, it was only the two of them on the hill, she with her hand still raised. He moved in front of her, grabbing her by the shoulders and looking directly into the once beautiful face. Her eyes were wide open, but they had a hollow tone to them. They were brilliantly blue, almost glowing. The girl's hand pressed against his chest, and he felt that same dull thud from before. He looked down, and called to the girl, shaking her.

You have to stop this, now!” Andor cried.

She was still smiling, wide eyed, as she whispered, “Help me, Andor. I can't find my way out.”

Faces started swirling around him. Scenes of people he had never seen before and battles that had never happened spun around him. There were dances, and women, and children and all these things that seemed so real that were cast away from him into the sky like cinders. In the center of it all was her face. It was piercing him, and calling to him. It began to consume all that he saw, disappearing into her hollow, lavender eyes. With that, everything went black.

Blind and desprate, Andor shook the girl's shoulders. It seemed to do no good. The outstretched arms of the void opened before him. He could feel himself slipping away. A cold breeze was blowing against his face. He fought back against it, and pulled at the sword that was at his side, but the force was too strong.

Andor, snap out of it,” called a familiar voice. “You're having that dream again! Pull yourself together.”

Andor opened his eyes, reaching for whatever was there. The blackness of the night sky opened in front of him as flashes of blue fireworks broke the night sky. He stood up and almost plunged backwards into the blackness behind him. A strong hand grabbed him from the front, pulling him forward and on top of the arm's source. He landed hard against someone, his head forced against a curved wall.

He lay panting for a minute and felt the rough wooden floor below him. He reached up towards the wall and the person on whom he had just fallen while moving his hand down for his sword. There was nothing there. Pattting his side frantically, he swung himself up looking for where it had been thrown in the commotion. Andor was unable to find it. He looked around a final time, coming to a sitting position against the wall, looking up into the night sky, trying to understand. Still confused, Andor looked at the now rather confounded man. The man held his hands in front of him. Moving slowly onto his knees, The man lay against the wall opposite Andor.

Remember what we talked about when this happens,” said the man slowly and calmly. “Think. Breathe and think.”

Andor took a deep breath. The night sky flashed and shouts continued. For the life of him, he could not remember anything. He breathed out. They were someplace high up, because there was nothing around them. He closed his eyes and took in another deep breath. He could feel gentle rocking, and remembered being on a boat, but couldn't remember where the boat was going. He started to hyperventilate.

He never succeeded on the first try. She was too real. Her eyes, her face, everything about her implored him to stay with her. All the faces of the people that he almost knew looked so happy. They were waiting just on the other side. He had looked into that darkness countless times, listening for the echoes of a possible past seemed to wait for him, somewhere on the other side of the darkness.

Breathe, dammit!” the voice shouted, punching him in the stomach, “You're going to wake up the whole ship at this rate.”

Gasping, he doubled over in pain, slamming his nose against the floor. He moved his head back up against what felt like rounded planks. He heard nothing around him and opened his eyes. They were indeed high up. He could see the ocean. It all started to come back to him, and Andor broke into a fit of coughing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

22, 29, 35, 56; HIKE!

Maybe someone out there will someday be able to explain to me exactly what the hell it means when the quarterback calls out those numbers before a play.  Until then, like most of football, it will remain a mystery as I watch it from the stands with a drum strapped to my chest. 

So for those of you not familiar, France is broken up into what are called Regions.  All of these regions have historical backgrounds.  Bretagne (Brittany) existed as a Duchy for a long time, and before that, an independent kingdom.  Right next to it is Pays de la Loire (Lands of the Loire [river]).  Apparently it was artificially created for the "balancing metropolis" of Nantes.  Another example is the creation of Rhône-Alpes (Rhone Valley-Alps). Officially though, regions have only been in place since about 1982 when the Law of Decentralization was passed.

Like I said, these are nationally recognized regions, so nothing like the system we have going on in the US with our "regions."  Just as a reference to any possible European readers, French specifically, the United States has only unofficial regions.  For example, no one really knows if Ohio is part of the Midwest states or the Great Lakes states.  The problem is there are so many divisions that could be made just within the Midwest, it would be impossible to please everyone.  However; in France, a region actually means something.

So in France there are actually 27 regions.  Regions that have always existed are regions like Bretagne, Aquitaine, Bourgogne (Burgundy), and Normandie (Normandy.)  There were other regions that were artificially created (like Pays de la Loire or Midi-Pyrénées) or were made by combining other provinces together (Rhône- Alpes and the ever classically named Centre).  They don't have the power to pass their own laws, but they do have the ability to levy taxes and their most important function is in education.  They actually run on the same system as in the US, funding the building of high schools by property taxes.

The bigger and more important groups are the départements.  Originally, France was a lot of divided little pseudo independent provinces with a bizarre system of law to govern them.  These were dissolved after the revolution.  They could start over with new departments, getting rid of old loyalties and alliances.  When the departments were divided, they were named after land features, but especially rivers that flow through them.  Each department has a Prefecture, in English a capital.  There are a lot of things determined by your department in France, so there's some things that get confusing quick.

Just to give you an idea, this is a map of French Departments in 1812.

Now the numbers I mentioned in the title actually are assigned to each department in alphabetical order.  So these numbers are put on les plaques d'immatriculation (license plates) and are used to determine postal codes.  Rennes is the prefecture of Ille-et-Vilaine, but is in Bretagne.  So all license places for people from Rennes end in 35.  As well,  the postal code for Rennes is 35000.  Places like Paris start to get crazy with the last three numbers, but usually Paris tends to be 75xxx as it is in the Paris department.  Of course, the prefecture is Paris, but it's in the Île de France region.  Also, you may sometimes see cedex at the end of an address in France.  It's an acronym for courrier d'entreprise à distribution exceptionnelle.  It just means it's a company.

I was never exactly sure how many departments there were in Brittany.  I figured I should start learning where I was first, and the rest would go together.  As a result, I now know that there are four. 

First on our tour is Côtes-d'Armor (22).  The name is a mix of French and the native Breton language, meaning The Coast of the Sea.  In Roman times, it was known as Armorica.  The prefecture is Saint-Brieuc.  It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Bretagne.  I can't tell you for sure, of course.  Traveling without a car costs money.  Hell, traveling with a car costs money. 

Next in order is Finistère (29), which funny enough translates literally to The end of the land.  The Prefecture is Brest.  Brest is usually one of the coldest places in France.  It's always at least 3 degrees (celsius) colder than Rennes.  Brest is another place that is supposed to be pretty, but from what everyone tells me, it's depressing as hell.  Apparently the sun doesn't exist there. 

Ille-et-Vilaine (35) is named after the two rivers that join in the prefecture, Rennes.  It's a very active and open city, Rennes.  Additionally, it's also the smallest city in the world with a subway system.  Although it's only about the size of Toledo, Ohio, it functions as a much larger city.  It's very hard to compare it in terms of size to American cities.  It's kind of like Columbus but with Chicago's traffic and transportation systems.Addtionally, the Brocèliande is located in the department, near Paimpont. 

The final of the four departments is Morbihan (56).  The prefecture is Vannes, which is located in the south of the department on the Gulf of Morbihan.  Morbihan comes from the Breton word for "small sea".  It is also the only department that has kept its original name since its creation in 1790.  The best known landmark in Morbihan are The Standing Stones at Carnac.   They were erected by druid priests around 3300 BCE.  There is a local legend that the lines are so straight, because they are actually a legion of Roman soldiers turned to stone by Merlin.

It's kind of fun to read the numbers on the license plates of the cars as they pass.  I see a lot of 35 and 22  in Rennes.  56 and 29 are a little more rare, but not unseen.  The same can be said for a 44 (Loire-Atlantique)Where it gets fun is when you see a 16 (Charente) or a 2A(Corse-du-Sud).  I was even in Ploërmel and saw a 972 (Martinique).  It's a fun game to play when you're in France.  At the very least, you'll learn the departments a little better.  Who knows when it will come in handy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wait, is that Wham!

I seriously had to ask myself this question the other day.  I was walking down to Carréfour to get some groceries and I decided to take a shortcut through a centre commerciale, comparable to a strip mall in the US, that was right along the way.  It cut a little time off my walk and it was covered, so I'll call it a win-win.  But as I'm walking I start to hear a really familiar song, but something seemed so completely off about it.  Then I realized; they're playing "Last Christmas" by Wham! and it's the 19th of September.

Now there are a couple of possibilities at work here.  Maybe it's just a local radio station that was doing some sort of promotional thing.  I was only in there about 2 minutes before I made it to where I needed to go.  Maybe I just caught the beginning of an ad, or the tail end where the music was about to trail off.  It could just be that it's a small centre, and because of that, maybe they just have a loop of music they play.  Something might have just been put in by accident, and that was that. 

I might be more inclined to think that, had this never happened before.  Another time partner, mother-in-law and I were shopping in Super-U and they started playing Amy Grant.  I didn't this was unusual at all, until I realized she was singing "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful."  I had to start singing it to myself to make sure that it was indeed the song I thought it was.  Another time I heard "Winter Wonderland" and even on television they'll start randomly playing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in the backgrounds of shows.

French television and advertising in general does make some great music choices though, it should be said.  A lot of times, they'll put something by The Rapture or Sia in the background of a decoration show.  I'm pretty impressed with the choices they make.  I've heard The Smiths played at the perfect time, as well as even some Patty Smyth.  So overall, the problem seems to not be with the choice in music.  Maybe it's more in overall tone of the peace.

Just as a reference, listen to the music in this Kinder Maxi commercial:

What exactly, if anything does this ad imply?  Is it just the overall style of relaxing music they were going for, and it's only the Anglophone world that's creeped the hell out by a woman handing a child a candy bar while a song talks about resolving problems by sleeping together..? 

Am I reading too much into this?

I'm sure this is a problem all over the world.  In fact, I know there's a site on the internet called that shows examples of English that make no sense, but they specialize in unwittingly inappropriate (read:dirty) uses of English.  I would love to know other examples. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where the Schengen Zone ends...

Where exactly does Europe end?  I have never spoken to anyone who could really give me a concrete answer on this, even though everyone seems to have at least an opinion or at the very least a guess.  The question came up a while ago when I was discussing with some friends of my mother in law's back in Ploërmel.  For them, Italy was the Eastern limit of Europe.  Russia was definitely not part of Europe, and certainly not Turkey.  Although Russia will probably never join the EU, Turkey has already applied.

I guess before I go any further, I should explain a little bit of what full membership in the EU offers.  Once you are a full EU citizen, you can stay in any country as long as you want.  There is no real restriction for time you can stay, as long as you enter legally.  You can drive in any of the EU nations with no problems either.  You also have no worries for health care since all EU countries have universal healthcare.  It's just a card that you carry that's recognized throughout the EU.  In fact, there's an ad I absolutely have to post about it, as it was perfect.

So there are a lot of benefits to being a full EU citizen and in an EU participating country.

Originally, the European Union was started as a way to encourage business  and cooperation between countries back in 1955.  It was originally called the European Coal and Steel Community, and comprised of six countries:  Belgium, France, (West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands.  Later, other co-operational treaties were created and currently there are 27 member countries. 

The difficulty is in how many treaties came together, and what still lies as an exception.  For example, the UK and Ireland are outside of what's known as the Schengen Zone.  Being inside the Schengen Zone means free travel within the Zone.  Those countries outside of the zone can travel, but there are usually more checks, and it becomes more difficult to travel between an non Schengen country.  Although I do have to say I have never had a problem with my American Passport.  By far, coming into England is the only time I ever really felt stressed coming into the EU.  I had to fill out what the called a Landing Card.  They wanted all kinds of information on me.  It was insane.

So now is where things get tricky.  What is the real judge of an EU country?  Should it be judged by who uses the Euro and who doesn't?  Remember, the UK still uses Pounds Sterling.  There are still countries that are technically part of the EU, but haven't officially switched currency.  Norway is a member for some things, but not all.  Then there are countries known as the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) that are generally economically weak.  People can live in these countries, coming from stronger members of the EU for a very low cost of living.

Really though, there's no way to get everyone together as to what are the actual borders, and there are even some countries that talk about pulling out.  Marine Le Pen, a far right candidate for President, wants to remove France from the Euro Zone and put it back on the Franc.  The problem would be whether or not the prices go back to the original price, where one pays 1 franc 20 for a loaf of bread, or should they stay with the inflated Euro prices (one euro makes about 6 francs 60.)  French people would never stand for paying 10 francs for a loaf of bread, so they would have to lower the price.  In doing so, the French market becomes destabilized.

Now, if they actually lowered the prices, for someone like me here in France, that would be wonderful.  Right now, it takes about $1.38 to make a euro.  So if I were to buy something for 20 euros in France, I'm actually spending about $30.  If it were to change, we're looking at about 5 francs to make a dollar, meaning that every time I buy something for 30 francs here, I'm paying about 6 bucks.  Awesome for me, not so much for the French.  That would be the point to pull money over.  So it would depend on what they do, and how they would do it.

But that's enough money talk for now.  I'm going to reheat the Kouign Amann.  Talk Later!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Heaven in 2 and a Half Rooms

Today I feel like I finally came into my own.  I woke up this morning with Partner.  He had to get to courses this morning at 8, which meant he left the house at 7, just to make sure to avoid traffic.  We had breakfast, he took his shower, got dressed and was on his way.  I spent some time with my dark mistress, known more commonly as the internet, and took my shower at about half past eight.  After that, I got dressed and went shopping.  I found out that we have a Netto just down the street, and they usually have pretty good deals and prices, so je suis allé chez Netto. 

I came back with a sac and a cooler full of stuff.  I found that they have the blood orange Orangina knock off, so of course that was wonderful.  I could walk around IKEA hooked up to an IV of that stuff.  I also picked up some stuff that I thought was like Salvetat.  Yeah, so not.  It was lemon verbena flavored.  Now I know why it was so cheap.  I also got some quick dinner stuff, ready made carbonara, something like mac and cheese, something penne in mushroom sauce, and ramen noodles for times of desperation.  They had a deal this week, buy one get one free on chipolatas.  If it were merguez, I would have had to buy another freezer, but as they were just chipos, I restrained myself.  I would have bought some canned mushrooms too, but I didn't know how much was too much, and I didn't want to spend too much.    Also, I have all the ingredients for lasagna this weekend.  That's the one controversial thing. 

We have a toaster oven, but I'm always slightly hesitant to trust toaster ovens to cook more than cheese on toast.  I just remember how they always worked in the US.  They were always tiny affairs that I was always positive would burn down the house.  Apparently there's a lot of stuff you can do in it.  I dunno though.  We'll figure this out as we go along I guess.

In general, this place is slowly but surely feeling more and more like home.  I think the main thing is to develop some sort of rhythm.  I figured there's no point in going back to bed when Partner goes to classes.  If that happens, I'll just end up being awake longer than him.  Most of the afternoon and evening he sequesters himself in the bedroom and studies.  It's a lot of exploring, finding balance and whatnot.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.

It's good because it gives me a lot of time to develop my own interests.  I said that once we were on our own, I'd get serious about writing again.  I started on a novel and got the first part where I wanted it.  I just don't know exactly how do to everything with it.  I also decided that I have to start drawing again.  I used to have friends who would do cartoons and manga all the time.  I was actually part of a group to make them ourselves.  I got pretty decent around the end of that year, but I stopped practicing.  I also do kind of want to get another set of those Sakura Micras that I used to have.  Loved those things.  No idea where they are now though.

Also, there's so much of Rennes that I want to see.  There's the ecomusée, which was even mentioned on inhabitat a while back, that I would love to see.  I need to get around to the museums and cultural stuff here.  I also need to figure out how Rennes fits together in general.  I have the basic idea of how the quartiers come together, but I need to figure out how roads go together and what bus lines go where.  Then there's the metro!  I love that there's a subway here!  Once I start making money, I also think it would be fun to learn Breton.  (Don't judge, Brythonic and Goidelic Languages are fascinating!)

On the other hand, I have all this time to fill.  I spent so much of my time just on the internet and television that it almost seems daunting.  Unfortunately with Free, we have neither of my staple channels; Cuisine.TV and Télémaison.  I found myself spending a lot of time among facebook, google, and skype.  I need to move away from that, so usually I let Partner have the laptop, and I'm out with the TV.  Though there's still the temptation to play video games.

That's what I've been doing a lot lately.  I call it research, because it really does help me think a lot for story ideas and characters.  For the last week, I been replaying Final Fantasy VIII from the beginning.  It's my personal favorite entry in the series.  I find that it has the best music, the best magic system, and some of the most interesting characters.  The story can run aground of itself sometimes, but I have two words that answer any problem: Laguna Fucking Loire!  I actually dressed up as him for Halloween when I was 16.  It brings back a lot of good memories for me.  When I first started, all I could think about was sitting on the floor at a friends house seeing who could get which Guardian Forces to boost to 250.  We'd usually go over directly after Pep Band and order East of Chicago Pizza.  That and a two liter of Mountain Dew was the pinnacle of my high school social experience. 

Speaking of which, daylight's a'wastin'.  I need to start up if I'm going to find the White SeeD ship tonight!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How Green Was My Valley

(Just as a side note, I had to look up about the book.  It actually looks pretty interesting, so here's another book on the to-read list.)

Personally, I find it amazing how much more ecology is focused on in France.  When you walk down any large street in France, it's usually fairly littered with cigarette butts.  People don't really bother to look for a trash can in which to throw them out.  They just get put out on the street, and that's the end of it.  As well, no one ever cleans up after their dog.  It's custom to give each other a heads up if you see some "crotte de chien."

However; on just about every street corner, you'll see recycling.  There are usually three types of receptacles in France.  The first type is for what is for household, or daily waste.  Normally it's what you'd put into a trash bag.  So really, it's what you would use for just about everything.  The second is for cardboard packaging, plastic bottles, and corrugated cardboard.  Usually these have a yellow top.  The last group tends to be for glass bottles.  They're usually green and white and are usually only big enough to fit a wine bottle.  Glass receptacles are a bit more difficult to find, but normally they're close.  It's just a matter of knowing what color goes with which.  Each is also clearly labeled with what it accepts. 

The placement makes it so much more simple to be ecologically smart than in the US.  France fully funds recycling programs.  I seem to remember that in the US, you'd have to pay for it like any other service like that.

I also love the wind turbines in France.  They're literally everywhere.  I've never driven in a car without seeing them.  I find them hauntingly beautiful.  Part of it may just be the fact that they're always in front of gray skies, as we are in Brittany.  I seriously could just sit there and watch them turn.  I had only seen them in one place back in Ohio, around Bowling Green.  

It seems in the US that we really don't want to move to a more green system, and Europe seems to be lightyears ahead of us.  I saw on an infographic earlier this morning where each American pays over $500 in subsidies to oil and gas giants, but pays less than $10 to subsidize green power sources.  

I am pretty sure a lot of it has to do with the influence of the Greens in Europe versus that in the US.  Nationally in France, they have a constituency in parliament and have been running candidates for the last few years.  They have  a real voice and some level of power.  In the US, it's only been Ralph Nader, and he never clears more than maybe 3 percent.  It's pretty disappointing to watch the US fall behind the rest of the world really, but if people aren't willing to move on, there's not to much that can be done. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'm Blaming it on the Sun!

I was sitting at my computer with a lump in my throat, and I couldn't understand why.  I don't have anything to worry about.  We're in our new apartment and things are going quite well.  Partner is studying in the next room and the sun is shining.  I have a plan of attack for tomorrow, and later today my biggest worry will probably be to remember to draw Siren from Elvoret at the top of the Dollet communication tower. 

The lump persisted.  I feel a breeze blowing in on my bare feet.  I can hear the football match at the nearby lycée.  It reminds me of something, but I really can't remember what.  I mean, after all, it's been years since I've been at a high school event of any kind... but it hasn't been that many years since I was in Columbus  during football season. That's when it all comes together.

It's Fall.  Everyone, since birth I believe, has been programmed to feel strange in the fall.  Originally, it's when school begins.  We can't stay at home and enjoy ourselves.  We have to go out into the cruel world and deal with a bunch of people who's only real goal is to make us feel worse about ourselves than we already may.  After that, Fall means the end of Summer, and that Winter won't be far behind.

Of course, it doesn't help that today is a date of infamy.  I feel it cliche to recount where I was when I heard the news, given that like anyone my age, I was in class.  I had the luck to be finally doing what I wanted, which was nice for a change.  I remember hearing that someone had flown into a building.  I had left my high school to head to the community college fifteen minutes away for a computer course.  I was in a post-secondary program.

I saw a report earlier today and it made me think.  I agree with the guy up until he mentions about Bush/Cheney keeping us safe, because as we all know that's bull.  I can't really explain how it was transformative for me personally.  Nothing in my life really changed.  I didn't personally know anyone who passed in the attacks.  It's enough to make me wonder if this is manufactured by the news coverage. 

Part of me does wonder how September 11th is comparable to other events.  My mother told me that she was in Government when Kennedy was assassinated in 1962.  Is that not comparable?  Maybe it's more like Pearl Harbor.  Then again, with what a tragedy it was, maybe it's more like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I'm rambling and I still feel strange. 

I'm going to go now.  I'll see you all around.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No one does a thing about, but everybody talks about....

Internationally, everyone discusses the weather.  It's that all purpose fluff topic that can be discussed with anyone, and is generally safe.  A discussion of the weather fills any lull in a conversation.  Furthermore, everyone has an opinion about it.  In France, everyone is completely confused when I explain how in the Summer it was usually about 95 degrees with 85 percent humidity, but the winter was 50 below with snow up to your armpits.  French weather, on the whole, is more regular and temperate.

Generally the climate here is what we always hear about in the Pacific Northwest.  Two winters was the coldest winter in about 10 years.  Where I was in Brittany, it never got below 20.  They never sprayed the saltwater on the roads, much less dumped sand and salt mixtures on every major highway.  It snowed twice or maybe 3 times since I've been here.  It was chaos.  Entire towns closed down.  Marseille got snow and had to beg Grenoble and Lyon to send snowplows.  All this, for about 2 inches of snow.  Summers though, are wonderful here.  It never got above about 85, outside of the day we chose to move of course.

Weather in general is a different beast here in France than in the US.  First and foremost, weather in the US is, while in France is makes or does.  In English, we would say that it is beautiful outside.  In France, il fait beau!  I still am not exactly sure how to discuss the temperature though.  In German, I just remember the standard line, wieviel grad ist es?  I have tried every approach, but I'm still unsure how to ask in France.  I always feel odd about asking.  It doesn't really matter, as Celsius was that system other people use. 

There's an elaborate system for converting between Fahrenheit and Celsius that involves dividing by 5/9ths and opening the portal to the first boss fight in Quake, but I just learned it this way.  Below zero is the approximate temperature that a baguette can be used as a weapon.  Zero to 10 degrees is when French people crack a window in their home or open a door in the lobby to smoke.  10 to 20 is when French people put on scarves.  20 to 25 French people wear decorative scarves.  25 to 38 means that you stay off any road that might possibly link to a beach, because it will be clogged.  Any higher and French people are in their houses with sparkling water and the blinds closed, because it's about too hot to move without sweating.

Another problem has always been making sure I use the right word for weather terms.  In general, when you see the weather on TV, French people call it la météo.  The forecast itself makes more sense to me as it's called la prévision.  when you're actually discussing the actual weather, though, it's "le temps."  After that, it's pretty much the same.  There's hail (grêle), snow (neige), rain (pluie), etc.  One kind of neat thing is freezing rain and sleet in English.  They are both classified as la neige fondue; melting snow.  I just think it's funny of how we look at the same thing and see it backwards.  Something I still get wrong to this day is making sure not to use pleurer (to cry or mourn) when I mean pleuvoir (to rain).  I would constantly say Il pleure (He's crying) when I meant Il pleut (It's raining).  There are other differences I'm sure I'm missing, but for now, I'll do my best to translate what I cannot change, the courage to correct myself when I can, and the wisdom to know the difference!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Of Credit Cards and Picture Frames

Yesterday is the most stressed out I think I have been in well, a long time.  My debit card expired a while ago and I thought it would be good to talk with my parents and have them send it over.  I also had to ask them to find partner's Carnet de Santé.  He brought it to the US, but never actually needed it, so we just left it in an accordion file under the bed when we were at my parents.  Now, of course, he needs it in 15 days or he can't continue with his program.  It was time to bite the bullet and finally talk with my parents and get that around.  It turns out they had never received it.  I had to call the bank at that point and figure out exactly where what went wrong. 

I explained the situation to the teller who answered, and she called over to accounting to see what the problem was.  Apparently my parents had returned my mail to the post office and as a result, I no longer had a correct address listed with my bank.  My parents address is the only address I still had in the us.  Now that I know the problem, I need to know how to regulate the issue. 

They, unlike the bank I had back in Columbus, cannot simply resend the card.  They have to reissue a new card.  That's great!  How do I do that?  It turns out I need to come to their office and sign a notarized form.  Since it has to be notarized, I can't even sign and send it back.  So then the teller mentions that maybe I can give control to someone else to sign for me, and then I can just have that taken care of.  However; that requires another signed, notarized form.  So after exploring a few more avenues, it's basically a dead end.  No new debit card for me.  The entirety will eventually be taken out in what they call a relationship fee, 3 bucks at a time. I was pretty disgusted overall.  So whatever.....

I went into the bedroom to bother Partner, who was hard at work.  Our day pretty much works out to waking up at 6:30 to have breakfast.  After breakfast, I go back to bed for an unstated period of time.  Whenever I get up, I take a shower and start the job hunt.  No point in resting on my laurels.  I need to do some work on that end, and find some more sites for some petite boulot.  I just don't think Craig's List is going to cut it here.  I have no idea how to do it otherwise.  I found most of my jobs on Careerbuilder, which exists in France, but is longer term.  Alor, qui sait? Certainement pas moi...du tout...

The next day was pretty light.  Partner had his morning classes and came back after.  We had a light snack, and he took a nap while I spent some quality time with the computer.  I hadn't really had much of a chance to check some stuff, so I enjoyed myself.  While he was studying, I hung up a few pictures we framed ourselves.  What would we do without IKEA, eh?  So now, the old posters that we had, Partner's favorite: Sailor Pluto and the perennial favorite Lulu and Yuna, are looking better than ever.  We also got some really nice looking Da Vinci Lithographs at IKEA.  So I'm pleased. 

Now, it's quiet nights of quiet stars!  We'll probably head out to Alma tonight for a change of pace.  I told partner he needs to get his nose out of the books.  Malibu Stacy said it best:" Thinking too much gives you wrinkles."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Moments of Pause

Sometimes when I'm speaking or reading French, I have to stop and take a moment of pause.  I call it this, because I literally have to stop and turn my head like a confused dog.  Mostly it happens when I run into a word I don't know, which is unfortunately more often than I'd like to admit.  Like any language though, it's not always just words.  Sometimes it's an entire syntactical idea. 

The most common word when this happens is "déranger."  The word comes from an Old French word, "rengier," with the prefix "dis."  Obviously, at its base, it simply means to put out of order, but it's constantly used in French.  Most commonly it means to bother, and is often used to excuse oneself for bothering someone, most commonly said, "Je suis désolée de vous déranger, mais . . ." or "I'm sorry to bother you, but . . . ."  The first time I saw it, I had to laugh at the use.  The idea of someone becoming mentally unhinged because you asked them where the bathroom was.

The one thing that screws me up constantly is the negation system in France.  As most people who have studied the language know, most if not all Romance languages do what's called double negation.  It means you start with "ne" before what you're negating, and finish with pas immediately after.  Well, most of the time.  It is apparently exceedingly common, and was even done in English, but disappeared over time.  As a teacher explained it to me, it has origins in pas, as in a footstep.  However; I didn't understand it all that well, so I guess I'll leave it to the better equipped.

Just remembering "ne . . . pas." isn't all that difficult.  What complicates matters is the case of personne, which means either someone, or nobody depending on use.  When preceded by "la," it means somebody.  Without the indefinite article, it means no one.  When negating, it usually comes at the beginning of the sentence and works as single negation. 

The most difficult for me has always been the use of "jamais."  When you say it, you may mean "never" or "ever," depending on use.  Most commonly, it means never.  For example, if you wanted to say that you had never been to France, you would simply say, "Je ne suis jamais venu en France."  That makes perfect sense for the idea of double negation and with the general function of "jamais."  Conversely, when you want to say something like, "This is the best meal I ever had." you need to say "C'est le meilleur répas que j'ai jamais eu."  Until I figured out the use, I had to say this in a pretty roundabout manner.  Additionally, you may need double negation, but both seem to make sense.  One may be more formal than the other.

For now, that's what I can think of, but don't think this list won't grow.  Today has been the first real day of relaxation.  We'll probably have a nice lunch together, and then head to Alma for a bit to enjoy ourselves.  Hope you're all doing well!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Last Few Days

We left Ploërmel Sunday and went on a final massive build spree.  We put together the last shelves and the groceries we had bought the day before.  We were just happy to be pretty much ready to be finished. When we were done, we went to Dell' Arte over in Columbier.  It was wonderful to realize that we were installed and everything was going to be done.  We came back to the apartment, and went to bed.

Monday was partner's first day of med school, which meant he was up at 7 am.  That morning was kind of a disaster.  We found out that morning that the microwave wasn't working.  So he gave up on the dream of warm milk with his cereal and took a shower.  After that he went to work, and I went back to bed for a half an hour.  Then I got up, turned on the computer and waited for the internet boxes to be delivered. 

They said they'd be there between 9 am and 6 pm, which meant no leaving the house so that I didn't miss them.  It was really all the same as partner had school until 6 that night.  It's not that I didn't want to go out, but more that I wasn't sure about walking around too much.  I feel more reassured with him around.  So I spent the day listening to music, and watching movies.  I was satisfied really.  I felt a bit lazy, but well, no internet, television or phone means not much to do. 

The hours passed, and eventually partner got back.  He said his first day was a little bit of a shock.  Overall though, he's really happy about it.  He spent some time in the bedroom working through what he had that day.  Most likely we'll talk a bit, then he'll go to work on that.  He's taking this pretty seriously, so I'm proud.  If I know him, he's working to be first in his class.  So we'll find out how that goes.

Free didn't show up, so we went out that night and got a printer.  It's an all in one wireless printer for only 50 bucks.  It's an HP though, so I am concerned about the cost of ink.  It came with the starter cartridge, but we're looking at 30 euros per cartridge.  We saw a canon, but it was just a printer.  I like canons, not only because the ink is a good price but I've also never seen people have problems with canons.  Epson though, I have seen first hand the path of devastation they've caused.  Very happy with the purchase. 

We also got a sweeper, a microwave to replace the broken one, and lots of small stuff.  I was most satisfied with the knives we got.  I am also fascinated with Géant.  It's really identical to a Meijer or a Wal-Mart, but unlike Wal-Mart, I don't feel dirty going in.  Also, we finally got coffee filters.  Jerry rigging a coffee filter with paper towels yesterday morning, not all that much fun.  We had nems for dinner and then went to bed.  Tomorrow, partner had to be up for class at 8, but he would be home at 3.  So much better than yesterday.  At least I'd have someone to wait with me.

The next morning was much better, and went much smoother.  Afterwards, I went to bed til 8:30 again and got some breakfast.  I went down to check the mail, and surprise surprise, what should be waiting there but a notice that UPS passed when we weren't there.  They came at 6:30 last night. They said til 6, and so I was pissed.  I waited in front of the building from 10:45 until they finally showed up at 2:45.  I went back upstairs quick and got the PSP, and lo and behold, I had Abres los Ojos saved on it.  So I watched that, then listened to music, and then went through some old pictures.  The UPS guy got there, I picked it up, and went back up.

Partner showed up about 5 minutes later, so he helped me get everything running.  We have internet and television now, which makes me happy.  I also hooked up the printer, and now, I can scan and/or print from either computer in the house wirelessly.  I feel special! 

Tonight, I don't know what we're going to do exactly, but in any case, I'm satisfied with today.  I may have found some hits for work, so yay on that!  I'll let you know when I find out more!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bénabar to keep you company.

Ok, today is the final push.  Monday partner starts med school, and we'll be officially living in Rennes full time.  I am probably not going to have internet for a few days, who knows when UPS will finally show up since it's already been delayed once, but to keep you company until then I have another selection of songs.

The collection in question this time is three songs by Bénabar.  Since it's part of the Chanson genre of French music, the lyrics are tantamount.  So here's hoping you all have a great week, and that I see you before the end of the next week!

First, some funny, Y'a une femme qui habite chez moi, which translates to There's a Woman living with me.  The whole song is about a man who wakes up and finds that there is a woman living with him.  In reality, it's pointing out how his bachelor's life has changed since his girlfriend moved in with him.  Lyrics available here!

Next we have Le Diner.  It's a song about a guy who doesn't want to go out to dinner, for a diverse group of reasons.  It's a tribute to the excuses we tell ourselves to avoid going out on nights when we're feeling lazy.  It's absolutely hilarious  Lyrics available here.

Finally, my absolute favorite song by Bénabar: Bon Anniversaire, or Happy Birthday.  The song follows a weekend birthday trip among friends to Brittany.  I started listening to it for that reason.  I love the song for how accurately it describes how we feel as we get older.  It's loaded with French idioms and cultural references.  The first line I learned was, "même les pompiers au regard si franc sur un calendrier n’ont rien de rassurant."  Or in English, "even the stern stares of the firemen on the calender don't reassure me."  Full lyrics here!

This is part of a tradition that firemen in France raise money by selling calendars with pictures of the local fire crews on them.  Not like the American calendars with hot firemen.  It's just a group picture of all the local teams in the village, fully clothed.  Most of the firemen in France you wouldn't want to see in a state of undress anyway.

So I hope to see you all soon!  A plus!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gender Studies

Once again, not a lot of time today, but I thought this was pretty incredible.  Gender studies in France were going to be getting new textbooks, which were then pulled by the minister of Education, Luc Chatel.  Surprise, he's from the UMP, the same party as Sarkozy.  Bascially, they're French republicans.

The books would have explained differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as explaining current theories on sexuality.  Of course, Catholics were outraged.  (I just wanted to mention quick that most people are "Catholic" in France.  They don't really go to church or observe holy days.  In truth, they were raised Catholic.  What can you expect from a country that still gives people the Ascension and Pentecost off as holidays?)

But continuing, the main thrust of the argument was the same that we get in the US:  It should be up to the parents to discuss this with their children.  While I do agree that it would be best, most times, for parents to discuss these issues with their children in the home.  Quite frankly though, most parents either don't feel comfortable discussing it with their children, or they are ill-equipped to do so.  A lot of times parents don't even bother to discuss it.

The problem is that I remember hearing the word gay for the first time when I was in the first grade, said by some of the older kids on the playground.  I had no idea what it was, other than in insult.  I remember that it was the best way to make someone stop in their tracks.  I didn't understand what it meant until maybe fifth grade.  So you have all these kids running around saying terms like gay as an insult. 

In my opinion, the bigger problem is that the people who are actually teaching their children are the people who consider it a sin, and tell their children how wrong people are to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.  The main solution is to catch kids early.  Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars would help.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The answer is always Dalida

I don't know how often I am going to be online in the next week.  We had to switch providers for internet at the last minute, so I don't know when everything's going to be set up with Free.  So logically, here's some Dalida.

She has a fascinating life story, and I think is possibly the biggest French gay icon, but I may be wrong.  Dalida, born Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti was born in Egypt to Italian parents.  She sings in Arabic, Italian, and French.  She can stand shoulder to shoulder with any other Diva in my opinion, and her songs are beautifully deep. 

We'll start off with Gigi l'Amoroso

The next song is "Paroles."  It's about a woman who ends a relationship after tiring of the meaningless words her lover tells her. 

By far though, my favorite song is "Pur ne pas Vivre Seul."  I believe it was actually written by Georges Brassens, but I could be wrong.  It's just a beautifully sad song.  It's about how we live with each other to have the illusion to not be alone in the world, but when we die, we all die alone.

Unfortunately, Dalida died before her time.  She committed suicide, leaving a note that read "La vie m'est insupportable... Pardonnez-moi" which reads "Life has become unbearable for me... Forgive me.

There's also a statue of her by her tomb.