Folie de Mars

So a classmate of mine (a crazy Duke fan, no less) suggested that we engage in a bit of cross-cultural exchange this spring by initiating our French teacher (and one poor British student) into the wonders of Bracketology. Simple enough, right? I mean, it’s just 64 American college teams with 4 extra play-in teams playing a totally foreign game all over a totally foreign country over a 3 week period, during which office productivity drops significantly and people who were once nice to each other come close to blows over “bad calls” and “free throw percentages.” Ça va?

Bless her heart, our teacher was totally following until we got to the bracket part. There doesn’t seem to be an adequate word for “bracket” in French. So we drew a picture and likened it to the seeding chart for the French Open, which she totally got. And then we told her to get picking– all of the games until the very last one.

Mais c’est pas possible! she gasped.

Tell me about it lady.

We said the seeding and rank could help you pick, but when it really came down to it, one just had to devine the outcome. And devine she did: Our 60 year old French teacher, who’s probably never watched a day of college basketball in her life, is currently 34 for 44 and rocking first place. Bien sur.



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Vocab Friday: Earmuffs!

Image: Conde Nast Traveler

If you live in Paris and like eating out, follow the restaurant scene or, god forbid, call yourself a foodie (please don’t), then you’ve probably heard of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s super popular Le Chateaubriand over in the boho 11th. You’ve probably also tried to get a reservation. And failed.

That’s because this place is so hot right now (please say that like Mugatu). Everybody is fawning over the market fresh, 5 course plus several amuse bouche menu, offered up in a hip bistro setting for a relatively affordable price. It even clocked in at #11 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

So of course I was dying to go. And when I called last week for a reservation, they giggled and said no way. But they let me in on a secret: The last reservation is at 8:30. So if you show up after 9:30 on Saturdays, you can sit at the bar and wait for a table to open up.

And by “sit at the bar and wait for a table” they apparently meant stand in the rain for an hour and a half, wondering how all these people in line are going to fit into the restaurant. We were hoping that the doors would open and everybody would flood in. But that never happened, and at some point one of the wait staff came out and slapped his forehead in amazement. He returned a few minutes later and took a photo.

That didn’t seem promising, but he said if we stayed, we’d eat by 11pm. Several people bailed at that news, so we at least moved up under the awning. We decided to stick it out.

And promptly at 10:50 we were ushered in from the cold and offered a spot at the bar. The place was still hopping, but the staff seemed to be taking it in stride. The French guys in front of us got some champagne and started cracking jokes about people trying to cut in line. All was good.

By 11:15 we were finally sitting, ready to let the gastronomy commence. Our waiter was super friendly and pretty hilarious, which helped make the epic wait time slightly more palatable. Then we got our amuse bouche: some kind of bouillabaisse with tiny fried crab legs, a radish and parmesan salad, a tiny cooked duck heart. (Yes, duck heart. I couldn’t think about what it was as I swallowed, but it tasted like steak.)

The main courses were just as interesting, and if they didn’t blow our minds, we could at least amuse ourselves with the tables on either side: to the left, a foursome of the most uptight preppy young Americans you have ever laid eyes on, complete with navy sport coats and pearls. They complained loudly when the busy waiter wouldn’t call them a cab right away. I wanted to punch them.

On the other side was an increasingly rowdy group of French people. The ringleader seemed to be a middle aged guy who at one point pretended to pee into his carafe of wine, joking that the bathroom line was too long. Hilarious!

But somewhere around the roasted lamb dish, things took a turn for the worse. Funny French guy made a disgusted face and sent his plate back. A bit later he said in disdainful, very loud French that the place was full of Americans. At dessert time, there seemed to be some issue with the cheese plate, and all hell broke loose. Earmuffs, children:

Ce restaurant c’est merde! Absolument boulot de merde! He shouted.

Et le service? Le service! Connards!

Le chef? Il est un con!

It was kind of awesome and horrifying at the same time. The waiter refused to come back to their table. So the manager came over to appease them with discounts and desserts, to no avail. Then the guy had the nerve to order a round of digestifs, take one sip, and send them back. It was absolutely obnoxious.

So of course I leaned over to let him know that I was one of the stupid Americans in the place, and that I spoke enough French to catch his drift.

Quel est le probleme, monsieur? I asked innocently.

He blinked for a minute. “Oh I knew you were American! This place is full of them. The dinner was terrible, terrible! And we waited for hours. You know, when I eat something at a place like this that everyone is talking about, I want an orgasm in my mouth. And I didn’t have an orgasm in my mouth.”

Fair enough. So I asked him where he would recommend eating in Paris.

“Oh, I have no idea. I live in Seattle.”

Of course. Perfect proof that you don’t have to actually be Parisian to totally act like a stereotypical Parisian a**hole.

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Today we’re going to learn some curse words, thanks to our jerkface of a table mate. I’m not totally 100% on the translations, but here’s my vague understanding of their various vulgar meanings. Enjoy!

1. merde

Pronunciation: maird

Definition: You know this one! It’s shit.

2. boulot de merde

Pronunciation: boo-loh de maird

Definition: shitty/crappy job

3. connard

Pronunciation: cohn-ard

Definition: stupid bastard, idiot, mother F*er. Not to be confused with canard, which is a duck.

4. con

Pronunciation: just make a nasally awh sound after the hard c

Definition: stupid jerk, bloody idiot, a**hole

5. BONUS! I found this one while double checking my definitions and it seemed appropriate:

Il a peté les plombs!

Definition: He blew a gasket! Flipped out! Or literally, He farted lead!


Dog sledding: Hard, dangerous, and more poo breaks than you’d expect.

So after I posted that I’d be forgoing skiing in the Alps because of my preggo status and taking up dog sledding instead, several people commented that rigging myself up on a rickety sled pulled by several aggressive huskies might in fact be more dangerous than sailing down the slopes on a pair of skis.

And before I actually stood behind my own team of sled dogs, who could no doubt smell my fear and seemed to thrive on it, I would have said, “Don’t be ridiculous!

I mean, the website promoted the excursion as family friendly! You could put your kid in the sled and drive them around! Besides, how dangerous does this guy look?

So when my friend Jess and I arrived at the base of Le Tour for our 15 minute dog sledding lesson and subsequent 45 minute sledding adventure, I didn’t think much could go wrong.

Then the guide came over to give us le briefing. It started out ok: Here’s the brake, here’s where you stand, etc. But quickly devolved into tips such as “Don’t EVER let your dogs pass another sled, they’ll fight and start biting each other” and “Don’t let go of your sled when you fall, just hang on and try to pull yourself up and run beside it for a while.”

I paused for a moment, wondering at the guide’s choice of English there. “When” you fall? What about “if” you fall? Was a face plow in the snow really as inevitable as he was making it sound?

“Yes. People fall all the time. A lot.”

Al-righty. He then instructed us to hop on and jam down the brakes as they geared up the dogs. Poor Jess was rigged up first, her lead dog howling and leaping vertically 5 feet in the air as the rest of us got ready. That’s when I started wondering if dog sledding wasn’t just the best worst idea I’d ever had.

Then my 3 dogs were latched on, and they started howling and barking and jerking my sled forward in fits of unbridled excitement. They were pumped. I was terrified. And then it was time to go. With a brisk Allez! from the guide the dogs snapped into line and we all launched forward in single file into the field ahead.

And for about 30 seconds it was absolutely exhilarating! We were flying over the snow, I was gripping on to the sled for dear life, and the dogs seemed to be having a blast.

Then they stopped. And took a poo.

I was not briefed on what to do during a dog poo break, so I waited patiently. Then the dogs finished their business and leapt forward without much warning. And for another few minutes it was extreme dog sled madness! Leaning into the turns! Wind whipping my face! White-knuckle grip on the sled!

And then we stopped for another poo break.

After that we did a short uphill jog (with me running behind the sled) to complete our first circuit. The guide made a brief assessment: All were alive and accounted for. So we took off again on a slightly more complicated route, down by the riverside and into some heavier snow.

That’s when I watched Jess take a flying Superman fall into a snowdrift. It looked bad. But did she let go of the sled? No! She dragged for a few feet, did some magical roll maneuver and jumped back up and onto the foot holds. It was awesome.

After a few more feet and another poo break, I heard an ominous AAIIIIEEEEEEE! behind me and shortly found another woman’s dog team panting next to mine, without a driver. I took the opportunity to stop, tell all the doggies to remain calm, and snap one of the only action photos of the day:

After the woman was yanked out of a snow bank and reunited with her sled, we took off for a few more laps through the countryside. There were several more tumbles and poo breaks, thankfully none of which involved me. And by the end, my dogs pretty much gave up trying to pull my pregnant ass up the last hill, so I had to run behind them, panting and sweating and dodging the piles of poo on the track.

But all in all, I would say dog sledding was a total success. My hidden talent maybe, since I didn’t fall once! And absolutely probably more dangerous than skiing. So I figure when I finally get around to making baby #2 someday, I’ll have to line up a trip to scale Everest or something.

Forget the New Year. Let’s talk about my oven.

I know it’s a new year, and we should all be moving forward — letting bygones be bygones, forgiving, forgetting, and all that jazz. And I really do want to move on, leaving all the grocery store hate and Sephora hate and french cable company hate behind. I want a year without hate, if you will.

But my god damn pièce de merde pictogram oven just won’t leave me alone.

See that smug look on its door? The mocking tone in its clockface? Just sitting there, refusing to let me cook food in any kind of logical, efficient manner? It makes my blood boil.

I thought we had reached a mutual peace, the god forsaken oven functioning in a fairly consistent manner if I promised not to get too adventurous with the pictogram settings. We had some good times together even, churning out molten caramel brownies and cinnamon rolls and some delicious roasted carrots. Things were good.

But the oven just couldn’t leave well enough alone. It had to get one last jab in before the New Year, just to spite me. So on Christmas morning, with a houseful of in-laws, one delicious egg casserole and a tray full of unbaked sticky buns waiting, my oven decided to give me the finger.

Not only did it refuse to let me change the temperature settings. Oh no. It decided to only function in broil/dangerous fireball mode, heating and heating and heating itself (from the top only) into oblivion as the digital thermometer said it was still preheating.

I discovered this at about 8am, after letting the thing preheat for a good 15 minutes. When I checked back, it said it was still preheating. That seemed odd, since smoke was seeping out of the oven door. So I opened it up to check and almost singed my eyebrows off.

The stand-alone backup thermometer assured me that my oven, supposedly “still preheating,” was in fact trying to kill me. The inside temp was about 260 degrees Celsius, which is about 500 Fahrenheit. In other words, a very clear “F-YOU!” from le four.

So after rousing Husband with a jolly string of profanities and threatening to take that mo fo out once and for all with a sledgehammer, I decided I couldn’t give up. That would be like letting the pictogram oven win, and lord knows I was not about to give it the pleasure.

Hence, egg casserole was transferred to a cocotte for stove top preparation. Sticky buns were broiled on both sides (not a method I would ever, ever recommend, but don’t you dare tell the oven). Christmas dinner went from beautiful roasted filet to filet chops fried on a grill pan. Broiled mushrooms took 3 minutes instead of 10.

So suck it, oven. I don’t need you anyway. We’ve put in a work order, and I hope some French maniac with a tool box comes to tear you apart, burner by burner, wire by excruciating wire.

You know, some time in the next month or so when they finally get around to it.

100 Funny Things.

This is officially my 100th post – Cue the fireworks and free bottles of champagne! Yaaaahoooooooweeeee!

(I’m totally ignoring the fact that this being only my 100th post in about a year means I really need to try harder to post more often. But who wants to rain on their own champagne infused parade? Let’s just consider it New Year’s Resolved.)

Looking back through all my anecdotes and diatribes has made me realize just how much we’ve all learned over the past year. You readers are so totally prepared for life in France now! You’ve got Paris covered, no sweat. Why? Because I’ve shared all there is to know about dog poo covered sidewalks and how to call someone a “nice beetch.” You know all about hoo-ha molds, danger bees, and of course, baby jesus in velvet pants. You have been well versed in the many merits of champagne and pain au raisins for breakfast. And the looming danger of butter brain.

And let’s not forget the informative pieces on pictogram ovens, boob vocabulary and most importantly, sharts.

There have been bike trips and toenail clippings, giant vats of chocolate mousse and master bites. There were lessons on pre-pubescent pickpockets and avoiding Sephora at all costs. I’ve given you the lowdown on castle dwelling in the Loire, excessive wine sipping in Bordeaux, and tan seeking on the Cote d’Azur. I’ve shared the critical details of proper Oktoberfest attire. And just for your sake, I’ve repeatedly tasted and reported on eating oysters, rabbit, rare steaks, pigs feet, kilos of pizza, duck fat fried anything, beignets, baguettes, croissants, pâté, fois gras, pork belly, and cheese. Lots and lots of runny, dead-body-smelling cheese.

After all that, I’d be shocked – SHOCKED! – if you felt you needed a real travel guide to France. Fodors and Lonely Planet? Pshaw. They’ll just recommend a bunch of touristy restaurants and point you straight toward hell on earth, otherwise known as the Louvre. Me? I’ll show you how to get nice and tipsy at the perfect picnic, then make an ass out of yourself trying to speak french to the locals.

So yes. You’re welcome.

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Update: I’m back, I’m no longer jet-lagged, and I’m ready to write. So we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming starting next week!

It’s time to go.

Have you ever dropped an entire 6 pack of glass Orangina bottles in the middle of the grocery store isle? In France? Well just in case your answer is no, let me explain how it goes:

You see the woman in front of you taking her time, perusing every possible beverage option while blocking the aisle with her cart. She finally picks Orangina, and carelessly drops one of the glass bottles on the floor. It doesn’t shatter, but starts fizzing madly and making a small mess. She walks away like nothing happened.

You become incensed. How could someone just drop a bottle and leave it there?! At least alert the clerk! My god. Who are these people?!? you think to yourself smugly as you also reach for another 6 pack of Orangina from the top shelf. And just as you gingerly slide it off into the air, the bottom drops out and 6 highly carbonated glass bottles go crashing to the floor, spewing orange soda and shards of glass into the air like miniature spinning Orangina rockets.

You shriek. The woman from before pops her head back around the aisle and says, “Oh! I just dropped a little one.” Thank you madame. Thank you. You stand there for a moment wondering if you should help clean up, or pay, or something. Then you decide it’s best to just get the hell out of there.

And if your morning goes anything like mine, you’ll arrive at your doorstep, sticky and sulking, to a friendly gardienne waving some important mail in your face. It will be an envelope stamped with the official Republique Francais symbol. And when you open it, it will be a speeding ticket. From one of the 3 times total you’ve ever driven here.

I think the gods are telling me it’s time to get outta here for a while, no?

I don’t know what this is.

But I’m pretty sure I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

I was too afraid to cross the street and get a closer look, especially since I had flakes of pastry crust clinging to my sweater. But I’m going to go ahead and guess that the menu looks something like this:

Entrées:

  • Hot water with lemon
  • Spritz of Chanel #5

Plats:

  • Louis Vuitton Lean Cuisines
  • Coffee
  • Cigarettes (unlimited)

Desserts:

  • Coke (not the kind you drink)
  • Enemas
  • More cigarettes

Bon appétit!