Tag Archive | Paris

French Friday #54: You get what you get

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the ol’ U.S. of A. Today Mr. Gren was all about getting the Christmas tree up and this evening we’ve been invited over to some friends’ house for a second Thanksgiving dinner. You may have guessed by now that writing a blog post isn’t high on my priority list for the day. But I didn’t want to leave you all bereft and weeping for lack of something fabulous and French. So, I submit to you this photo of a Paris metro sign that Mr. Gren took. There aren’t too many of these Art Nouveau signs left around the city, so it’s worth getting a picture of one. This one is on Montmartre near Sacré Coeur.

You also get some bonus birds.

Have a great Friday!

French Friday #52: Joyeux Anniversaire to meeee!

Today is my birthday! (Thank you, thank you) This is my first birthday in the cabin. Maybe we’ll catch Mouse #40 tonight for a present.

I spent three birthdays in France. The first one is definitely one of my most memorable birthdays ever. Mr. Gren was the youth pastor at an English-speaking church just outside of Paris (Emmanuel International Church) and that first year my birthday happened to fall on a weekend perfect for a youth event. And this was an EVENT. Progressive dinner. Through Paris. On bicycles. Mr. Gren had the route all planned out, criss-crossing through the Western side of Paris from Fat Tire Bikes to our three stops — the apartments of three church families who would be providing our meal. We had nine kids from 13-16 years old and two other adults to help us corral them. It was a diverse group: American twins who had just moved from Colorado; an American brother and sister who had grown up in Scotland; a Dutch-German girl who had recently arrived from South Africa; a boy from Iceland whose name sounds like a bird chirp; a Swiss-American girl who had grown up in France; and our other two leaders were from China and England. Such is the nature of an international church!

Can you find me?

It was daylight when we started out, but, being autumn in Paris, night fell pretty quickly. Now we were corralling nine kids on bikes in Paris in the dark . If you have never been to Paris, it should be noted that Paris is not a bicycle-friendly city. Cars are king and, although half the population drives vehicles that could fit in the bed of an American pickup truck, Parisians all fancy themselves race car drivers. Or maybe rally sport drivers would be more accurate. Speed AND recklessness! They may never admit it, but I’m positive that’s what they all dream about at night.

This is what Paris looks like when you don’t adjust the night settings on your camera.

One of Mr. Gren’s favorite places in Paris is the Étoile — the massive roundabout that encircles the Arc de Triomphe. Twelve streets converging into one writhing mass of cars, weaving, dodging, honking and cursing. It’s a perfect place to take kids! Anyone with half a brain and a will to live knows better than to actually try and bike through the Étoile. Instead, we went around via crosswalk at the head of each street, which was still plenty treacherous. We only had to make it about half way around before turning off on a side street to head to our next stop.

Aux Champs-Élysées!

And not a moment too soon! Bike chains were dropping like flies and the four of us adults were frequently pulling kids and disabled bikes off to the side of the street for quick repairs all while trying not to lose the rest of the group. I was bringing up the rear with stragglers, daydreamers, and other slow-pokes. All of a sudden, the Icelandic kid in front of me was launched over the handlebars of his bike as the gears locked up, nearly causing me to run right over the top of him. Betrayed by the chain again! Hjortur was a tough little kid and was game to keep on going after a quick examination of his scrapes. Not that there’s much choice when you’re in the middle of the road in Paris!

It’s blurry ’cause we’re just that fast. Or something.

Somehow, Hjortur’s unscheduled meeting with the pavement was the only casualty of the whole trip. We arrived at all our destinations, ate good food, had a lot of laughs. I was even surprised with a birthday gift at one apartment and a cake at the final stop! How can you top a birthday like that? Probably never going to happen, but today is shaping up to be pretty good. Mr. Gren surprised me with baguette and French goat cheese, Lindt chocolates, and a beautiful bouquet of red roses. Happy birthday to me!

Parisian dreams.

French Friday #50: Wistful

Once upon a time, I used to live in France. And just like Charles Dickens said, It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But, despite the “worst of times,” not a day has gone by in the 6 years and 6 weeks since we left that I don’t think about being back there. For someone like me, who lived and breathed all things French since her sophomore year of high school, getting to actually live in France was a dream come true. Apparently my enthusiasm was contagious enough to infect my non-francophone husband. When the opportunity to move there came up one and a half years into our marriage, we were both excited about it and ready to go!

And for the past 6 years and 6 weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out how to get back. We haven’t even been able to go back for a visit. And the farther removed you are from something, the foggier the memories become, the more things change without you being able to witness the change firsthand. Thanks to Google Earth, we’ve found that our bakery, our favorite creperie, and the little craft shop I used to go to have all changed hands and all become something different. Maybe the neighborhood needed something different, but it’s hard not to feel a little pang of wistfulness knowing that it’s not the same. I guess, you always hope that people or places left behind will somehow freeze in time, ready to pick back up when you return. Kind of like when the Pevensie kids return to England from Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia books. I suppose that creates its own set of problems.

I hate that international travel is so far out of our reach right now. Heck, we haven’t even been able to travel a few hours south to visit my grandparents. Our passports have expired and we can’t justify the money to renew them right now. Guess there won’t be any spur-of-the-moment trips overseas should we be the recipients of some fabulous windfall.

Since the likelihood of us getting back seems to diminish with each passing year, we do our best to bring little bits of France into our lives here. Even here in the cabin which is decidedly un-French. Sometimes I make French meals, especially if we can share it with friends. During the school year I tutored some junior high/high school students in French and I hope that will pick up again this year. Even if they can’t answer me, at least it gives me a reason to speak French. The screen saver on my computer is a slideshow of all the photos we took while we lived there; sometimes it’s the best reason to have the computer on — just to sit and watch all of those beautiful places go by. The kids like to ask about the pictures, too, which gives us a chance to tell stories, to help them understand.

Mr. Gren and I watched “Midnight in Paris” a couple of weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised. It captures that same wistful longing that we feel. The main character, Gil wants to remain in Paris and wishes to go back in time. Paris kind of does that to you. What was it like when _______? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is always the same: magical. Oh sure, time has smoothed over some of the bumps in the road from our time there, but we still remember the severely painful personal events, the frustrations of being a foreigner, the terror of the Prefecture (expats will know what I’m talking about on that one)… And yet… some of those things could have happened anywhere, and some of those things made our experience uniquely French. All of those things made us wiser.

And none of those things dulled the beauty of our time there.

French Friday #48: Merry-go-round

Before our first daughter, Rana, was born, we decided to decorate her room with a carousel theme. We found carousel crib bedding that also came with a matching diaper hanger and wall hanging. To finish off the decor, we took pictures of carousels whenever we found them. Most French cities of any size have at least one beautifully carved and gilded carousel. And there are plenty of people, young and old, who still enjoy them! Enjoy some of the photos that we took of these lovely works of art!

Pretty little carousel in Grenoble.

Mr. Gren and Baby Rana checking out the carousel at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

Large display horse with the Seine and Trocadero in the background.

Top of the carousel at the Eiffel Tower

I love the hot air balloon on this one.

Fantasy horse!

Some funny and beat-up animals on a tiny and well-loved carousel at a park in Paris.

Double decker beauty at Montmartre with Sacré Coeur in the background.

Stunning! On the Montmartre carousel.

Rana still loves carousels. Since we moved to the cabin, we’ve had to pack away all of her pretty carousel figures and pictures. She does still get to use her carousel horse sheets and any time we go to the zoo, the day is not complete without a ride on the carousel!



French Friday #38: Ruby slippers

In preparation for our move to France in 2003, I did a little clothes shopping to class up my wardrobe. Even though France is no longer the world power it used to be and some would argue that Paris is not even the fashion capital of the world anymore, there’s no denying that the concept of French style still holds a certain cachet. And, let’s face it, everyday American style post-1964 is awfully sloppy. The last thing I wanted to do was look like an American tourist for three years. It’s that whole “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The Parisians appreciate some effort, too.

If you’ve read French Friday #33, you’ll remember that all those new clothes didn’t show up for six weeks, so I did look like an American tourist for awhile. But once I had the opportunity to begin dressing “more French,” I noticed that something was off. I had missed a key component that I hadn’t even been aware of before. French women, regardless of age or formality of dress, have an affinity for red shoes. Powder blue was a close second. It didn’t matter what color the rest of the outfit was, in Paris, red shoes go with anything. At first, I thought it was kind of funny, but I began to warm to the idea of the red shoe. Why not have a little fun? Why not tell the world, “I am so confident in the rest of my look, that I can put on these red shoes and not even care.” Sounded good to me. Not having the occasion to wear pumps that often at that time in my life, I opted for the red sneaker, which was perfectly acceptable.

Ok, so this is in Spain, but goes to show I wore them everywhere.
On top of a fortress with Baby Rana in Valencia.

I wore those sneakers into the ground. By the time I threw them away several years later, there was no tread left on the soles, the red was scuffed off the toes, and the soles were peeling off from the shoes themselves. It was kind of sad to let them go. By that time, we were back in the States where white sneakers reign supreme and most women would never consider wearing something as attention-getting as red shoes. After all, if you don’t do it right, you could be flirting with “street walker” rather than “fashionista.” Nevertheless, I made a little vow to myself to always own at least one pair of red shoes from then on. Just another way to keep a little bit of France with me.

My current red shoes (wearing them right now!) which are comfy and look fun, but don't bother buying a pair -- they're falling apart after just a few months. Lame. Looks like I'm in the market for another pair of red shoes!

French Friday #36: My next home

We’ve been in the cabin for five months now. We had Christmas here; we survived an ice storm that knocked power out for five days; we watch the river rise with each rain storm and go down a couple days later. We’ve caught seventeen mice and have evicted a bat and a flying squirrel. We’ve relaxed our standards of housekeeping because a layer of dirt, ash, and pine needles is just a fact of life here. We’ve roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace; there is no oven here which makes cooking interesting. There are ups and downs to living here; overall it has been a good season of our life. That doesn’t stop a girl from daydreaming, though. I’d live in any of these places (all photos are mine).

Hôtel Sully in Paris (hôtel means mansion).

Luxembourg Palace in Paris.

Fontainebleau Palace


I’m not picky.

French Friday #33: They’re all worse.

When Mr. Gren and I moved to France in 2003, we packed up the vast majority of our belongings and stored them in a friend’s garage. The position that Mr. Gren had accepted with a church just outside of Paris didn’t pay much, but did come with a furnished apartment. All we needed to bring were personal items — clothes, books, movies, and a few other things. The church gave us a few hundred dollars to defray moving costs, so we packed up thirty boxes of the aforementioned items and entrusted them to the post office, which said they should arrive at our French church’s address about six weeks later. That was in June. We had left our duplex and spent three weeks driving around the Western U.S. saying goodbye to family before it was time to catch our flight to Paris mid-July.

Our (quite spacious) apartment, furnished with a hodge-podge of items.

We weren’t terribly shocked to find that none of our boxes had arrived by the time we got there, after all, they were taking the slow boat. We had been living out of our suitcases for over a month, so another week or so wouldn’t hurt us. How naive we were. If you recall from way back at French Friday #9, France was experiencing its worst heat wave in decades. We each had five changes of clothes which were quickly soaked in sweat, and all of them were extremely casual since we had packed for a massive road trip and not everyday life.

View across the back courtyard from our apartment.

One day, mid-August, I was at home in the apartment when Mr. Gren called and said that he and Pastor Brian were on their way upstairs. I opened the door when I heard the elevator stop and saw it full of boxes. Familiar boxes! Our boxes! I helped Mr. Gren and Brian transfer the boxes into the apartment and they told me their end of the story: That morning they had received a call at the church informing them that the post office was currently in possession of several packages addressed to the church and that someone needed to come get them. In other words, it was August in France and the few postal workers unlucky enough not to be on vacation didn’t want to deliver them. Mr. Gren and Pastor Brian went to the address given them to retrieve the packages and found themselves in a sort of distribution hub for the post office. They were directed to a large bin overflowing with all kinds of boxes for the church. Some of them ours, some office supplies that had been ordered, some Sunday school curriculum that teachers had been expecting. All chucked into a bin for the past month because it looked to be too much trouble to deliver.

We realized fairly quickly, though, that not all of our boxes were present. There were only about half. No matter, though. If those ones showed up, the remainder couldn’t be far behind. Our excitement was further dampened when we began unpacking to find that these particular boxes were full of boots. And coats. And sweaters. In the middle of a heat wave. Awesome.

Streets in Rueil

Another week or so passed and still no sign of the missing boxes. I began inspecting the empty boxes to see if I could find any clues to help me track down the other ones. I happened to find a stamp with the name of the postal distribution center. I looked it up in the phone book and placed a call. Little did I know I was about to embark on one of the most frustrating and absurd series of conversations I was to have during our whole three years in France. A woman answered and was immediately on edge that a mere civilian had called the distribution center. I forged ahead and explained that I was expecting several more boxes and wondered if someone might check to see if they were there, perhaps in another bin. She informed me that she was not the person to do that. That person had already gone home for the day and I would have to call back tomorrow between 9 and noon. Fine. Just a temporary roadblock. The next morning I waited until about 10, so as not to seem eager, and my call was directed to a man. I explained the situation again and he promptly informed me that no such packages had arrived. Unless he had an incredible memory for detail, I was pretty sure he didn’t so much as get up from his desk, much less go look. Beginning to get frustrated, I asked him if there was someone who could help me track down the packages. Oh sure, he said, only too happy to pass me off on someone else.

A woman answered and once again, I explained that half of our boxes had arrived and we were trying to find the rest. The following conversation then took place (in French, bien sûr).

Her: Do you have a colis number?
Me: Um… where would I find the colis number?
Her: Well, the sender would have to give it to you.
Me: But I am the sender.
Her: No, the person who mailed you the packages.
Me: Yes, that was me. We were in America; we mailed the packages; now we’re here.
Her: Well then, you should have the colis number from the post office in America.
Me: They didn’t give me a number. I have the numbers from the customs slips…
Her: No, that won’t work. You’ll have to contact the sender to get the colis number.
Me: I AM the sender!!
Her: Sorry, madame.
Me: Is there someone else who can help me find these packages? We received some of them, so the others must be in France already, too.
Her: Well… I have some other phone numbers of people you could call. But not until after 2:00.
Me: Ok, I’ll try that.
{she gives me three phone numbers}
Me: Now, are any of these better than the others to try?

And then, the simultaneously best and worst line I’ve ever heard:

Her: No, they’re all worse.

Ils sont tous pires. I was already in tears by this time at the inane runaround and hoops I’d been forced to jump through all day. So to be informed that my final hope was “all worse” than anything I’d tried before? Well, you could say I was speechless. I feebly thanked her, hung up, and sobbed. It’s funny now, so it’s almost hard to remember how distraught I was then. That’s the good thing about time — it softens the blow after awhile.

Another street near our place in Rueil

Now that dreadful offhanded remark that seemed like a death knell at the time has become one of our favorite catchphrases.
“We don’t have time to get home for lunch. Do you want Arby’s or Taco Bell?” “Ugh, no, they’re all worse.”
“Did the kids behave for you ok today?” “No, they’re all worse.”

See how handy that is?

I can’t remember now whether those phone numbers really were all worse or not. They certainly didn’t expedite the delivery of our packages which finally arrived via one very overwhelmed mailman towards the end of September. American postal system versus the French postal system?

They’re all worse.

French Friday #22: Step away from the Tooey.

Today, I need to address an issue that has been gnawing at me for years. You’ve probably fallen victim to it and didn’t even know it. Disney, in all its glitz and fanfare and power, has wronged you, my people. Yes, that’s right; you’ve been duped. Allow me to open your eyes and free your mind. You are probably wondering what this horrible instrument of ignorance is that has skewed your thinking.


I have no problem with the rat-as-chef storyline. It’s dumb and a rat could never wash itself enough to make me want to eat at that restaurant, but fine, it’s a cartoon. Some things can be far-fetched. Besides, the actual problems are so much more insidious. None of you have been brainwashed into thinking that rat-prepared entrees will make a good addition to your weekly meal plan.

First things first. And it’s in big letters right across the front.

Sh! Sh! Don't say it yet.

I don’t understand why a big corporation like Disney can’t hire a native French speaker for a little quality control check. Or me, for that matter. I have a degree and my accent is nearly flawless, you big buffoons! Bah! Ok, so the big joke in the movie is that “Ratatouille” doesn’t sound like something you’d want to eat; it “sounds like a rat’s patootie.” Aside from the fact that every ratatouille I’ve ever had was a pot of mushy, questionable vegetables, it is still infinitely better than a rat’s patootie which, in actuality, bears no resemblance to the proper pronunciation.

Here’s your French lesson (picture me with little glasses and a pointer stick): In French, a syllable begins with a consonant and ends with a vowel sound (yes, there are a few exceptions). In English, syllables begin and often end with a consonant sound. For example, a word that we both share: Condition. In English, we say it con-dish-yun. In French, it is co(hn)-dee-see-o(hn). So right there, you need to stop swallowing that first T in ratatouille. Ra-ta. Enunciate! Next, the abomination that makes my ears scream and plead for mercy — the ending. Disney taught you to say it “rat-a-tooey.” For some inexplicable reason, there are loads of Americans who pronounce that “ouille” ending like that. Which means that somewhere, there are legions of high school French teachers who are teaching it wrong!! It makes me want to rip my hair out, stomp and scream in a glorious show of French righteous indignation. Hear me well, people: I will graciously and quietly correct you the first time you let your tongue commit such an atrocity, but the second time… the second time, I might just have to slap it out of you. Just to be sure, y’know.

So here we go. “Ouille” is pronounced “oo-yeuh.” Ra-ta-too-yeuh. And that last syllable is gentle, subtle, trailing off in the breath. If you want to hear an actual French person say it, listen here. It no longer sounds like “a rat’s patootie.” Ptooey.

Problem #2 is this guy:

Why does he have an Italian name?

This kid is not French. This kid is American. This kid is on the current season of Survivor.

He's from D.C., not Paris.

Strike #1: Red hair is rare in France. Red-haired men are extremely rare. I met one, named Samuel, when I was doing my study abroad in Grenoble. He was French; his family was French. And yet, he would get stopped all the time as people commented on his hair and even congratulated him on his good French, the assumption being that, with his red hair, he was surely a foreigner. Right there, Linguini would be such an anomaly that he would get treated like a circus side-show, not ignored.

Strike #2: The shoes. European guys don’t wear Chuck Taylor’s. They actually wear something more akin to wrestling shoes. Here is a sampling of typical European men’s shoes. I didn’t even go out looking for them. I just found the first four on the website for a French shoe and sporting goods store that we used to go to.

I can’t think of a strike #3, so I guess Linguini gets to stay.

Problem #3: While the Eiffel Tower can seem to mysteriously pop up all over the place, there are not wide, sweeping views of it from every angle and corner of Paris. Most movies set in France commit this sin. They don’t want you to forget that it’s set in Paris, so they flog you over the head with images of the Eiffel Tower. Give your audience some credit, already! We aren’t that dense.

Problem #4 occurs in the first act. The rats are enjoying a buffet in an old lady’s kitchen when, all of a sudden, this happens.

Ka-blam! Old lady goes all Rambo on ’em. While gun ownership is not illegal in France, France is not a “gun culture” like the United States are. Historically, guns were for kings, nobility, and the military, and that mentality still persists in a lot of ways. A real French old lady with a temper probably would have resorted to her frying pan as a weapon, not a shotgun.

I know I can’t expect realism in a cartoon, but you’d think, if they’re going to go to the trouble of setting it in France, they could get a few details right. Therein ends my rant. I apologize if I’ve ruined the movie for you, but, whether you ever watch it again or not, at least pronounce it correctly. S’il vous plaît.



French Friday #17: Tour of La Tour

I’d venture to say that most people in the world have seen a picture of, or at least have heard of, the Eiffel Tower. Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, it was never really intended to become a permanent part of the Parisian landscape. But it’s a good thing it stayed, because otherwise where would all the tourists go to get their picture taken? Of course all of our visitors wanted to go see it, so Mr. Gren and I had plenty of opportunity to take some fun pictures of La Tour Eiffel (pronounced F-L in French. See, that was easy). All pictures are ours, so please don’t use without permission.

Strolling down from Trocadero

It's kinda tall.

Once night falls, the tower sparkles for ten minutes every hour on the hour.

Surreal glow

By the light of the silvery moon

Fireworks! There were only about 40 people total under the tower that night to see this special treat.