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Poulet Rôti, Demi-Baguettes, and Macarons, Oh My!!


What is more tempting to all of your human senses than just walking down the street in Paris? These particular memories stem from my spending a decent amount of time every summer in the 15th arrondissement, where my husband grew up, and where his parents still live.  It’s a very residential district, and one of the most quintessentially “parisian” arrondissements in all of Paris, or so I’ve been told.

Take a stroll out and about just before noon.  You’ll try to navigate the sidewalk traffic, avoiding having your foot rolled over by one of many little old lady grocery carts, filled to the brim with fruits and vegetables that have just picked up at the open air market, and you will pass by the butcher shop and feel the heat of the rôtisserie. You’ll stare amazed at the chickens that rotate, rotate, rotate, just beckoning passers by to pick one up for the midday meal.  You’ll continue on your way, roasted chicken bagged up and ready to inhale, and you will see a child who has run up to the boulangerie for his mother to get a fresh baguette for lunch.  As he innocently tears away at the tip of the bread with his little fingers, and pops the freshly baked staple into his pouty little French mouth, you will decide that you also need some freshly baked bread to go with your freshly roasted chicken.

You’ll hop into the next bakery you see (and even though it’s not “artisanal” you’ll think everything looks and smells amazing).  After standing in a line composed only of local Parisian residents, you will see single people ordering demi-baguettes, and as you watch them, you will find yourself wondering if such a thing even exists in America.  Then you’ll order one of those demi-baguettes, just because you can.

Arms getting full, and stomach rumbling from desire, you will now pass in front of a pâtisserie (any pâtisserie), and the window display will stop you dead in your tracks to admire the latest creations.  You’ll find yourself uncontrollably drawn into the shop, and before you know it, you’ll walk out of that very bakery with your poulet rôti in one hand, the most adorable little pink box full of macarons and tied up with a lovely white ribbon in the other, and your demi-baguette under your left arm.  As you tear at the tip of your baguette and pop a piece into your mouth to tide you over,  will you succumb to the temptation of the fromagerie calling your name gently as you walk by? And will you content yourself to wash it all down with a bubbly glass of Badoit (and that’s not the fun French bubbly you may have in mind, that’s merely sparkling water), all the while knowing that your poulet and fromage would be much more nicely complemented by a bottle of Hautes Côtes de Nuits from Burgundy? Oh, the decisions you’ll be forced to make.

There’s a scene from Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain that I think you will enjoy watching, even if you’ve already seen it countless times.  Watch as she leads a blind man around her neighborhood in Montmartre, and see if you can count the number of times your tastebuds are tingled.

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Working @ Montpellier this Summer ?!?!?


Since I am not renewing my teaching contract this year, and since we are moving to the South of France in June, I’ve been spending the last six months or so really focusing on what to do about my professional life.  I see this as a real opportunity to do something different and exciting, keeping in mind my specific talents, interests, and experience.

The online classes I’m teaching are going very well.  The company that hired me, based in Montpellier, just informed me today that I will have three new students.  Two will be learning English, and one is a beginner in French.  They’ve assured me that once we live in France I will have a full schedule if I want it.

I ran across another opportunity several months ago.  It’s a position for “Program Dean” of a pretty prestigious residential French language/cultural program in Montpellier.  It’s a month long residential program for mostly American high school students.  They’re looking for someone who is bilingual in French and English, who has lived in the region, and who has an extensive background both teaching and traveling with North American students of this age group.  I seem to fit the bill rather perfectly, so I sent in my CV and letter about three months ago.

I can hardly believe it, but the executive director contacted me, and just this morning we set up a Skype interview for this afternoon.  I am so very nervous.  I suppose the interview will be in French, or at least I feel that it should be.  The interview is an hour and a half away, and my heart is already beating fast.

If I get the job (don’t worry, I just found some wood to touch / knock on), they will pay for my flight from New York to Montpellier.  That would be great for the budget!  It will mean living at the residence with the students for a month, and overseeing the disciplinary life of the program and assisting with the administration.  It would also mean working with a team of assistants, mostly local undergrads, meeting guest speakers, coordinating field trips around the region, providing pastoral care of students and supervision.  It sounds like what I do every summer with my students anyway, and since I haven’t planned a student trip this year it would be feasible.

Of course, it would mean living in Montpellier for a month while my husband and kids are in Béziers at my sister-in-law’s house, but it’s really close!  We would still be able to see each other quite often, and my nieces live in Montpellier.  I’m just imagining what kinds of doors this could open for me professionally, and all of the neat connections I could make.

So if you have read this far, please say a prayer for me today!  I’m going to try to keep the attitude that it’s not an interview with a leading professor at Oxford University.  It’s just a conversation with another human being.  If it’s meant to be, it will happen.  Thanks for reading my nervous bantering 🙂

MAY 2013 UPDATE:  I GOT THE JOB!!!!!

House has sold, and we’re really moving to France.


After seven months of pursuing our dream of selling our house then moving to France, today it has officially happened.  We closed on the sale of our house in St. Louis!  Neither of us was quite ready to believe it until all of the closing papers had been signed.  Until the last minute, we were living in doubt.  Since putting our house on the market back in March, 2012, we have had six different contracts fall through for one reason or another.  We really wanted to move to France this past summer, and it was a harsh reality to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen, not exactly the way we wanted it to.  Looking at the big picture, we can both see that leaving next summer will be much more practical on many levels.

We will be staying on in St. Louis until mid-June 2013 due to the nature of our jobs (we are teachers), and also to avoid interrupting the school year for our children (ages 5 and 8).  This wait will also give us the opportunity to save more money, as we will now be paying to rent an apartment rather than paying a home mortgage!  In addition, we won’t feel rushed and unsure about everything as we did last spring.  Not knowing if we were going to move put us in a position where we couldn’t really talk to  many people about our grand adventure.  This time, we will be able to share our dream coming true with friends, family, colleagues.  There will not have to be any secrecy about it now.  In the spring, when we were hoping to sell our house quickly, we still knew that there was a huge amount of uncertainty involving our move.  We couldn’t inform our employers of our move, just in case things didn’t work out.  We knew that if the house didn’t sell, we would need to have our jobs in the fall.  That was good thinking on our part, even if it was very difficult to stay quiet about it all.

Our first step now will be to find an apartment to live in for the next seven months, and it shouldn’t be hard to find one right in our neighborhood.  The next step will be to eventually inform our employers that we will not be returning in the fall.  I think that can wait a few months, still giving them time to find our replacements.  Beyond that, there’s everything we need to get done logistically speaking for the big plunge:  French nationality for me, and American nationality for my husband being the two main tasks at hand.

As the months go on, we will plan out (as best we know how) our first year of living in the south of France.  We need to find jobs, some reliable source of income to support our family.  I feel very optimistic about this as we are two very marketable professionals with many talents, and we have some pretty good ideas already.  My husband is a little less optimistic, but I think that’s just a result of (1) being a husband and father, and (2) being French!

It does help to know that we are moving to a very familiar place where we have family, and we have also already spent a year living there (14 years ago).  We have also spent the last 14 years spending the whole summer over there, so we feel comfortable.  The kids and I already speak fluent French, which I’ve read all over the Internet as being one of the main obstacles of other American families who have the same dream of living in France.  Here in the US, I’d say we already  live as much of a “French lifestyle” as possible.  It’s just the way we are.  The way we live daily and the way we raise our children corresponds much more to a French norm than to the American way.

Over the next seven months, I’ll do my best to record the steps we will take to get prepared.  Hopefully this blog will serve to help others in the same boat (we can’t be the only ones doing this, right?).  So now, let the fun begin!  Thanks for reading, and I’d love any comments or questions that my readers may have.

Let the French adventure begin!


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It’s kind of hard to believe that this is really going to happen for us.  All of last year we were getting our house on the market, thinking all the while that we would be moving to France during the summer (after the successful sale of our home, of course!).  By now we would have been settled down in the South of France, children would be learning lessons in a French school.  Things sure don’t work out the way we sometimes imagine, do they?

After the heartache of six failed contracts on our home, we now have a rather official looking “sold” sign in the front yard.  The closing won’t be until next week on the 19th, but at this point there’s really no turning back for either parties.  This is going to happen, and we need to find an apartment to live in for six months.  We have negotiated staying in the house until the end of November, giving us time to pack and find a place to live.

Everything now seems so official, and we both hope that we’re making the right decision.  It’s going to be very hard to leave the house where our children have grown and continue to grow up.  We have many, many memories after ten years in our little nest.  The truth is, we really love our house, our home.  I hope I won’t be too emotional on moving day.  After ten months of really being proactive about moving to France, now it seems rather surreal to me.

In many ways I consider us fortunate to not have sold our house in a rush during the summer.  Selling it now will give us the proper opportunity to enjoy our last 6-7 months here and to live through the different emotional stages of such a transition.  It will also give us a chance to save some money, and I’m sure we will be very glad we did!

Crossing all my fingers and toes


Contract #4, Let’s do this already!

My last post started out, “Moving to France in 24 days, and long-stay visa”.  That was on May 14, and two contracts ago.  The funny thing is that there are a lot of people interested in our house, but for reasons way out of our control (nothing to do with us or our home), the sale just keeps falling through for one reason or another.  We are now (or most likely will be tomorrow) on contract #4.  I think it’s a good sign that the people who want to buy our house are French.  They need a car too, so we’re going to throw in the Beetle for good measure (I needed to sell it anyway).  Everyone who has been crossing fingers and toes for me, please don’t stop now!  This is it; I can feel that this is going to happen now.

In seven days I’ll be leaving on a trip to Europe with my students.  I’m leaving François at home with the kids, and he still has to work until June 15.  It wouldn’t be very nice of me to leave him with two kids to care for and a whole house to pack, so that’s what I’m going to start working on tomorrow.  I guess we will go ahead and reserve the container, get everything ready to load into it, and if it doesn’t work out…. Well if it doesn’t work out then I just have no idea what to think about what the next step should be.

I did get to Chicago last week for my long-stay visa.  I was so nervous leaving my passport at the French consulate, knowing that I need it for my trip next week.  They pretty much assured me that I’d have it back in time.  I sure hope so!  Say what you like about French bureaucracy, but I had a great experience once I actually found someone willing to answer my emails.  In the course of one day, about ten emails were sent between us. She helped me locate the documents I needed and assured me that when I came to my meeting in Chicago everything would be fine.  Guess what?  My meeting was scheduled for 10:20.  They called my name at 10:10 because I got there a bit early.  By 10:14, we’d completely finished and I was out the door.

Now I have to psyche myself into believing that we’re really moving, and that this time next week I’ll be on a flight to France with my students, and I won’t be coming back (not to live here, anyway).

Checklist for the next week

1.  Reserve 20-foot container for a date in late June.

2.  Pack up everything François and the kids won’t need over the next few weeks and get it ready to ship.

3.  Empty my classroom and desk at work.

4.  Put finishing details on student tour of Europe.

5.  Inform my friends and family that this is really happening and somehow manage to say good-bye (???)

6.  Organize a big, huge play date in the park with kids and their friends who they may never see again… That’s going to be rough.  BBQ maybe?

7.  Quit my job…. No, I’d better wait till after closing to do that one.

8.  Get banking in order….401K thing may need to get done after we’ve moved.

9.  Purchase one-way flights for François and the kids…. at the last minute just to be sure.

10.  Stay calm, cool and collected (this may be the hardest part).

 

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 6: Le Louvre, La Fête de la Musique)


Fast forward 14 days……

 …and we’re back in Paris after taking a trip around France!

When we first got back to Paris, we were arriving by coach from Normandy.  We arrived at our hotel in mid-afternoon, ready to hit the town.  Everyone was especially excited because the date was June 21.  You know what that means, right?  Not only is it the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, but all over France, even in the smallest village, it’s La Fête de la Musique http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fête_de_la_Musique, The Music Festival!  This is the one day of the year that people wanting to play music of any kind, professional or amateur, can get out on the streets and show their stuff.  It’s a great big party, and the ambiance is quite festive, and of course, it doesn’t get dark in Paris until after 11:00.

I don’t think my students had ever seen anything like this.  No matter where they went (we were mainly in the Quartier Latin), there was music on ever corner, every space was filled either with musicians, singers, or  spectateurs like us.  We sent the students out for a little free time, groups of 4+, and I’ve been told they had the time of their lives.  You  must know that all of my students were, at the time, 17-18 years old, and they’re all boys.  We only gave them a bit of free time before meeting up again. We saw how much fun they were having, and they seemed well-behaved (nobody was drinking, or not that we could tell), so we let them have a bit more free time.  On the Métro ride back to the hotel, they had lots of stories to tell.  Most of them had the obvious “best” story to tell (they are teenage boys).  They’d seen a group of about ten young French people all stark naked traipsing around in the Fontaine Saint Michel.  That’s something they’re not likely to forget.

We stayed up later than usual that night, but with the promise that nobody would make trouble when the 8:30 wake-up call would come the next morning.  They came through for me, and nobody had on dark sunglasses.  I considered that a success!  We woke up to a rather gloomy day, as far as the weather goes.  There was a light mist, enough for an umbrella, and it was pretty chilly.  Sweater weather.  Good thing we saved Le Louvre http://www.louvre.fr/en for the last day!

We got to the museum at about ten, and fortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to know which entrance to use in order to avoid the long lines.  In case you’re not aware, I’ll tell you that you must not use the pyramid entrance.  Rather, you should enter the museum through the Rue Rivoli (Palais Royal)entrance.  However, you may not use this entrance for groups.  If you are like me, traveling with a large group (especially students), send them in groups of no more than three, and not one right after the other.  They catch onto that pretty quickly.

I’ve been to Le Louvre a million times (not really), and on that day I didn’t particularly feel like it.  Instead, I sent them in groups and gave them a meeting point after lunch.  I considered going to see the new Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1605783/ that had just opened (what an awesome movie), but instead I thought I’d better go and check on my colleague who was stuck back at the hotel with a hurt knee.  He was glad for the company, and we had lunch together.  I felt bad that his last day in France was compromised by his injury (I think he’d been doing too much climbing, he’s quite the adventurer).

After I met back with my students, we went to the Champs-Élysées  http://www.champselysees.org/, viewed the Arc de Triomphe  http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/, ate a few macarons from La Durée  http://www.laduree.fr/, and before we knew it, it was time for an early dinner.  After dinner, it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for an early flight out the next morning.

The check-in at Charles de Gaulle http://www.aeroportsdeparis.fr/ADP/en-gb/passagers/home/was “almost” uneventful.  Just a reminder:  No, it is not possible to check in with a bullet keychain.  It’s not possible with a seven-inch dagger either.  Boys . . . what can I say?  But I’m not the one who had to deal with all of that.  My unfortunate, liming colleague had the pleasure, while I prepared to greet my husband and children who were to arrive in Paris the next day, and then we began our two month family vacation in France.  That’s the way I do it every year, I send the students home with the other chaperone, then stay for holidays.  Maybe this year I’ll be able to stay there for good!  If you’re interested, see my other posts about moving to France.

So that’s it for the 2011 tour to Paris with my wonderful group of students.  There was a lot more to see between the time we left the City of Lights and the time we made it back for the Fête de la Musique, but that’s a story or two for another series of posts.  I hope you’ve enjoyed, and if anyone has some suggestions for future student trips, I’m all ears!  Merci, et à bientôt!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 5: Montmartre)


After dinner we headed up to Montmartre http://www.aparisguide.com/montmartre/index.html, which is quite close by foot.  We had watched Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulin http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0211915/ in class before our departure, so they thought it was fun to see Le Café des Deux Moulins, the café where Amélie works in the movie.  Just after having a look (from the outside) at the café, we started our uphill trek to the stairs of Le Sacré Coeur http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/.  Many people get to the top of the stairs and are so overcome by the panoramic view of Paris that they forget about the jewel of a Basilica that’s sitting right behind them.  It’s absolutely worth going inside to have a look, even if you’ve been on a tour of Europe and you’ve seen so many churches that they’re all starting to look alike.  Inside, you will find the enormous Byzantine mosaic of Christ.  It’s one of the world’s largest.  Many of my students were more impressed / inspired by Sacré Coeur than by Notre Dame de Paris  http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/.

You can’t take a trip up to Montmartre without exploring the Place du Tertre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_du_TertreIt’s normally filled with artists just waiting for a chance to draw your portrait.  All of these artists are quite talented, or they wouldn’t have a spot in this world famous square.  Portraits can be pricey, but it’s a nice gift for students to bring home to their parents or grandparents.  For something a bit less dear, you can also have a caricature drawn, and that’s a lot of fun, too.  And while you’re at it, don’t neglect the urge to grab a crêpe, but not just anywhere.

Get off of the Place du Tertre and walk down the Rue Mont Cenis and have one at the window of Au Petit Creux http://www.montmartre-guide.com/adherents/page3/i65/le-petit-creux.html.  They’re not the absolute best crêpes in Paris, for that you’ll have to head over to Montparnasse http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/03/the-best-crpes/, but they’re still really good, especially with a big glob of Nutella inside.

After filling up on crêpes we hopped back on the Métro at the Abbesses station, and headed back to our hotel.  After such a full day, I didn’t have to worry too much about room checks.  I think everyone fell asleep within 20 minutes.  This is the last night we’ll be spending in Paris, for now.  We’ll be back for a few more days at the end of the tour.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we will make our way to the Gare de Lyon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris-Gare_de_Lyon where we’ll board the TGV for a five to six hour ride to Nice.

The final post for our trip to Paris will be Paris, Je t’aime (Part 6:  Le Louvre, La Fête de la Musique).  I hope you’re enjoying the blog, and merci.

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 3: Chartres, French High School)


We woke up early on day 2 in Paris, and made our way to the Gare Montparnasse http://parisbytrain.com/gare-montparnasse-photo-tour/.  We boarded a train to Chartres, and less than an hour later we were greeted by my French teacher friends, Christine and Odile.  They gave us a little tour of the town, including a history lesson about and a visit of the Cathédrale de Chartres.  Around 10:00 we went to the school where my American students were each partnered up with a French student.  The exchange was simple enough, since many of the Chartres kids had been to our school the previous October.

Students and teachers were so kind to all of us.  During the day, we were invited to their cafeteria where we all were treated to a pretty tasty three-course meal.  We teachers even had bottles of wine on the table to enjoy.  During the day, some of the kids had free time (no scheduled classes).  While they weren’t in class, their English/American Club had a meeting.  What a blast!  They put on American music and for about an hour there were 50 or so American and French kids all line dancing together.  The French kids were much better at it than my students!  That evening, we were invited to stay for a barbeque at the school.  It was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.  We took the train back to Paris, and were back at the hotel by midnight.

Stay tuned to “Paris, Je t’aime (Part 4)” for a trip to Versailles and Pigalle!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais)


After lunch, we started a walking tour of Paris.  Since we were already in the 2ème, our guide offered to have us stop by his house right around the corner.  He has the obvious good fortune of owning his own house, right in the very center of Paris.  From the street, you open the oversized, watch-your-step kind of door and move into the entrée of what is actually an apartment building.  Just beyond the entrance and access to the apartments, you happen upon his house.  It’s a pretty quirky place, looks like it could be part of the décor of a Tim Burton movie.  There are books absolutely everywhere, and the walls are covered with artsy posters.  There’s a makeshift mezzanine, that he built himself, where books are stored on shelves.  This is in the living room, which is pretty much the everything room.  A ladder is at one’s disposition to gain access to the overhead books.  In the living room, there’s also a small table and a high-chair, various toys lying around.  It’s a well-used space.  He was hospitable enough to allow anyone in our group use the toilettes.    The stairway that leads to the bedrooms is only wide enough for one not-so-hefty person at a time.  The rooms upstairs echo the wonderfully eccentric tone of the living room, and everything is lovely.

The rest of the first day was spent walking around the Marais district http://goparis.about.com/od/sightsattractions/ss/MaraisTour.htm, one of Paris’ oldest and most gorgeous neighborhoods.  It’s an historically Jewish area, and we stopped in front of a school where we read this plaque, erected in the memory of  Jewish students who were deported between the years of 1942-1944.  They were exterminated in concentration camps.  I had my students do the translation on their own, and then our guide led us through a very comprehensive lesson on how this could have happened, and what led up to the war.  It still gives me chills to remember the silence of my students while standing in front of this school, on the very sidewalk where so many children, now lost, once ran into school in happier days, hoping not to be late.

By the time we had walked around the Marais, Île de la Cité http://www.aparisguide.com/ile-de-la-cite/index.html, and parts of the Quartier Latin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Quarter,_Paris, it was time for dinner.  It was not a very memorable occasion, as I recall.  We went into a supermarket and bought picnic-style goods that could be thrown together quickly and eaten in hotel rooms.  We were all thoroughly exhausted, but we made it through the first day!  Tomorrow, everyone would be ready for our day trip to Chartres http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/81, where we would spend the day at French high school, L’Institution Notre Dame http://ind-chartres.fr/.

Have a look at “Paris, Je t’aime (Part 3)” to see how our day at French high school went!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 1: Métro, Rue Montorgueil)


Upon our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we didn’t waste any time at all.  We went directly into the city, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, and went into town on the Métro. http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/  I had already given my students a lesson on how the Paris Métro works, so even if they were jet-lagged, they managed to do ok as long as we stayed in a group.

We went directly to the 2ème arrondissement where we met up with a good friend of mine who would be our tour guide for the next 16 days. Together, we led the group over to the Rue Montorgueil http://www.thekitchn.com/a-foodlovers-walk-down-the-rue-128435.  I love for this street to be one of our first stops in Paris.  It’s the kind of Parisian street that tourists can visualize even before arriving. It’s a street lined with fromageries, poissonneries, fleuristes, restaurants, cafés, boulangeries, pâtisseries.  It’s a place where Parisians do their daily shopping, all the while taking the time to socialize.  As soon as we got there, I told my wide-eyed students (all boys) that the time had come to put these years of studying French to good use:  C’était l’heure du déjeuner!  (lunch time!!).  I set them out on their own, they were to stay in groups of 4-5.  I remember some of them looking at me as if to say, “Quoi???”  But I believe that the best way to experience something new is sometimes just to jump right in.

We adults chose to have a seat on the terrace of a little restaurant (I can’t remember the name of it!) to enjoy a glass of wine and our first French meal of the summer.  Honestly, we were so tired, I cannot remember what I ate.  I know it was fish, and I know it was good.  What I remember most about this particular trip to the Rue Montorgueil  is meeting up with the guys after lunch.  While walking down the street, we ran into about seven of them who were also seated on the terrace of a cute restaurant.  They were all enjoying lunch, and they’d ordered quite a variety of dishes!  I noticed that one of them was eating steak tartare, and I congratulated him on that.  Then he told me that he should have continued French after sophomore year.  He just saw the word steak and figured he’d be safe.  He was in for a surprise!  But get this… When he received his tartare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare, a dish made from raw ground beef, garnished with onions, capers, seasonings, and a raw egg yolk, three or four waiters came to judge his reaction.  The boys told me that even the chef came outside.  My student dove right in, and said in a rather weak voice and an even weaker smile, “C’est très bon!”, and there was applause all around.  I’m not sure what the staff expected, but I know I was proud!  While I was there talking to them and hearing the story second-hand, some of the waiters came back outside to tell me, obviously le professeur how perfectly delightful this young group of Americans had been.  I’ve never been more proud, good job guys!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’m sure you’ll like this post about when we went to our tour guide’s home in The Marais: Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais).  Join us in visiting a real Parisian home, and a trip around Le Marais.