Monday, 30 June 2008

School days - Q

Every now and again, Q had to copy down and memorize verses or a poem in French. I especially liked the poem "Les hiboux" by Robert Desnos that he would recite at top speed with all of it's "oo" rhymes. He can still recite most of it in a pinch. I've appreciated that they learned through reciting poetry.

It cracks me up to see our boy doing these conjugating activities. It's like what I did in high school, and here he is understanding the concepts very well.

In English class, the students in Q's class have written various poems based on the work of Blake, Whitman and Stevens. They presented their work to the parents with pride and seemed to really get into the style of the author.

But when all is said and done, this is probably what Q will remember most:

Picking teams for after school dodgeball.

Playing at recess in Parc Monceau.

School days - M

A few weeks ago, M brought home a folder of work she had recently done. She picked up this paper and began reading this whole passage to me in French. It is amazing to hear her sound out the words and pronounce them with such a great accent. This was a reading and comprehension measurement, and I was pleased that she could not only read the sentences, but she knew very well what it was about. It's awesome!

This little piece is a dictation in which the teacher reads a paragraph and the students have to spell the words and use correct punctuation. I'm amazed at how much she has learned after only one year.

These little pieces go together. M has a whole book of songs to which she has created pictures. Very cute.

But after all is said and done, this is what M will remember:

An Eiffel Tower confection.

Thursday singing group.

Playing with A and L at Parc Monceau.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Ceci n'est pas une robe blanche!

Invariably, every early Friday afternoon there is a wedding taking place outside of the American Cathedral. It is a lovely place for photographs. However, there is a fun, diverse crowd that also gathers at the same time. These folks are just leaving the free lunch offered by the church, and they linger out front in various manner of attire, and add an amusing contrast to the Parisian wedding look.

Additionally, you never know what is going to be said. The woman in the gold coat for example remarked at LEAST 17 times that the bride was not wearing white, "c'est creme, c'est pas blanc," she accused over and over again. The man in the purple shirt could not contain himself and was snorting with laughter. Not the usual Parisian wedding photo background but definitely colorful.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Netherlands

We plucked the children out of school two days this week in order to take a trip to Amsterdam and Haarlem. I know, it sounds like we're sliding down a slippery slope, skipping school and heading to Amsterdam, but really, it was all very above board.

The Van Gogh museum was our first stop, which contained many diverse paintings from the troubled painter who only painted from the his mid 20's to mid 30's. Ten short years and such work!

We also toured the Anne Frank House where she had hid, along with her family, until someone tipped off the Nazis that there were Jews hiding in the building. A very troubling and compelling museum to visit. The kids had some very thoughtful questions about the Frank family, the war and what followed.

The next day we continued with our canal boat pass and toured the city by its waterways. What a fun city, full of boats and bikes. There were three story parking garages full of nothing but bikes. It is a flat city which really helps with the bike riding. However, it is not a sunny, warm climate, and I can imagine that people bike in the cold and the rain.

In the afternoon we met up with our brave and free-spirited friends who are beginning a year long world tour with their nine year old twin girls. The kids had a fun time playing at Vondelpark together, and we all headed to Haarlem where they have rented a charming house. While at the house, the kids spent the next couple of days preparing fairy snacks and accomodations for the Midsummer Nights, when the fairies have a great big party.

We explored parts of Haarlem and we traveled to Zaanse Schaanse which is a magical little village where working wooden windmills can be toured. We also entered a wooden shoe museum where a worker demonstrated how a wooden shoe can be made with machines in five minutes, as opposed to three hours by hand. It was a picturesque area, and we enjoyed lunch at a pancake house next to a canal with goats and ducks nearby.

My hat is off to our friends who have done so much research and planning for their yearlong, worldwide trip, and are actually able to enjoy the fruits of their work. They are off to a wonderful start. Not every coulple could do a trip like this, and with kids to boot! A fun adventure lies in store! I appreciated dropping in on part of their adventure. Bon voyage!

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Rehearsals were over, it was the night that we were to peform our play before a live audience. After a year of practicing bits of classical French plays, movie shorts and a month of improvisation which I especially enjoyed, it was time to focus in on our final piece. After proposing different ideas, it was agreed that Three Tall Women by Edward Albee would be our final play and the culmination of our working all year together. Thanks to Dale Hodges, actor extraordinaire for recommending the play. It was an interesting story of a woman's life told by three characters who were actually all the same woman at different stages in her life. Our director was able to find the play in French, so we began the work of memorizing our parts and making them believable.

Did I mention that I have never acted in anything my whole life? Okay, once at eight years old I was Hansel in Hansel and Gretal, and I have never forgotten what it was like to memorize all those lines, 42 I believe it was, or the fun of doing it.

So here I am, learning lines in French and practicing them every Tuesday in class. As it turned out, having an real audience wasn't that big of a deal, as I was always "performing" in front of the other two women and the director. They would correct my pronunciation at times and the director had suggestions as to how to say things in a different way to convey the meaning better. It was challenging for me to keep changing the way I delivered the lines, and not feel ridiculous about it.

In the weeks leading up to our performance, we often practiced our lines two additional times per week at a member of the group's apartment. For some reason, this was harder for me to do, because I felt more pressure from one of the women. And my lines didn't follow a logical progression, so it was a little tricky knowing when to say which line.

Actually, when we first decided to do the play, and before we got going on it, I tried to bow out gracefully, suggesting the director offer my part to another student who had subsequently come along. I wasn't sure I was ready to commit to all the time it was going to take. We had many visitors coming, and it was springtime in Paris for goodness sake, time to enjoy the season in this beautiful city. But my husband encouraged me to continue, and I really did want to try and do it, I was just nervous and didn't want to screw the play up for the others.

A couple of days before showtime had me saying my lines on metros, waiting for the bus, and in our apartment. It felt good to say them out loud, over and over. It helped with memorization as well as pronunciation. Tuesday was our final dress rehearsal before Thursday's performance. The director gave us new things to work on which I wondered may be too late at this stage of the game. I needed to "strut" more like a model during one of my longer monologues, I needed to show more shock at the death of my father, and I had to disregard the other two characters' innane comments and focus on my emotion. Mon Dieu. I'll try.

I appreciate the people who came to watch- my family, including Q and M, Sean's cousin Grant along with his wife Mary and their great kids, Brianna and Dillon. A friend Allison came with her husband Eric, and being French, they were thus able to follow the play. But apparently, my son Q would laugh during the play and look over at the rest of the family and wonder why they weren't responding. His French is better than he has let on.

I have to say, it was quite fun and I didn't feel nervous for long at all. I was able to get into it and really enjoy myself. Our director played some music for ambiance at the beginning and between acts. After Act One we quickly changed into our outfits for Act Two and I could not zip up my dress. This had happened before, but I thought "it'll work out". Well, I just continued on with a portion of my dress unzipped, it was a side zipper that didn't show too much. I was later able to zip it all the way during another character's monologue. That was better. I did totally forget my line at one point and asked "pourquoi?" instead. Was I getting philosophical in the middle of the play? "Not now, brain!" My fellow actor was able to continue on as if my character had meant to ask why at that moment.

All too quickly, the final monologues were delivered and the lights were dimmed. We stood together and bowed for our gracious audience when the lights came back on. What a thrill! My kids (and spouse) were very excited for me, and I think they enjoyed it though not knowing all that was said, thankfully. I was glad to have family and friends at the play, even though I initially thought it could be harder to perform in front of people I knew. Many of the French spectators said they could totally understand all my lines, which made me happy. Of course I had an accent that was discernable, but one person thought for a while that the accent was part of my character.

I'm very glad I hung in there for the big show (big only in my mind, mind you). Fear could have won, but didn't. I signed up for the theatre class thinking it would be a fun way to continue learning and practicing French. It was more challenging than I thought it would be and at times, I wondered if my language skills were getting any better. In the end, it was a big accomplishment for me, challenging myself to do something totally new, accepting constructive criticism and showing up not sure what the final result would hold.


Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Ballet and soccer finales

Despite not wanting to go week after week, M hung in with her ballet classes, and the final show/class was today. Typically, once she arrived and began dancing, she enjoyed it, but not knowing exactly what the teacher was saying always bothered her a little. It was not a big production, they wore their usual outfits, but the teacher added some pink flowers to their hair. M was nervous and was a little shy dancing in front of an audience including Sean's cousin Grant and his wife Mary, fearing she wouldn't remember the right order of dances. But all went very well. The little darlings were quite cute and M is very present and exact in her movements. She is fun to watch. I was proud that she stayed with it and enjoyed the show at the end.

Isn't her teacher the very image of a French ballet teacher?

Meanwhile, Q had his last soccer practice which ended with a party. All the kids were supposed to bring a snack, and Quinn's Pringles were about the only non-candy addition. Needless to say, he was a bit fired up after that last practice. He's looking forward to playing with his former coaches, Mark and Chris in the Fall.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Montmartre and Sacre Coeur at night

Okay, so my friend wanted to see Sacre Coeur the other night. So at 10 PM we take the metro and then the funiculaire to the top. It was a beautiful night to be on the "mont". The city of Paris laid out in front of us was very pretty, the crowds were minimal and the white of the church was beautiful as ever against the darkening skies. We walked over to Place de Tertre where you almost had to beg to have someone sketch your photo. The streets had not too many people as to annoy us, but enough human presence as to not be creepy. The quartier was magical at night and we stayed around long enough to see the Eiffel Tower put on its show on the hour at 11 PM. I thought as we walked back down toward the metro, "my Cincinnati friend can't be this far from the red light district and the Moulin Rouge without a little looksee." So I escorted her through the shadier side of Paris, past the sex shops and the crazy/drunk folks on the benches. No one really frightened us, just one man who growled our way. You can bet I growled back. I could then call our tour properly finished. Bonsoir.

* My husband, sensing he missed a good time, duplicated the tour with his cousin and neice a few nights later. It's funny how safe you feel in Paris. Even in the seediest places, there is a sense of security.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


When my son opted to go somewhere unusual for his birthday instead of having a party, I was relieved. Parties are a lot of work- the activities, invitations, treat bags, etc. However, when he suggested camping, the work load wasn't necessarily going to diminish, but then I found Huttopia on the Internet. Huttopia is an organization that offers camping in scenic natural settings, at all different levels, from pitching your own tent, to RV camping, to renting "cabanes" and "canadiennes". Cabanes are really just groovy cabins complete with a stove and DISHWASHER, not to mention BEDS! A canadienne is (in addition to what I call myself when visiting certain regions of the world) a sturdy year round wood and canvas tent that has an elevated sleeping area with mattresses. They even include the linens along with the cooking equipment. There are three Huttopias in France and quite a few in Quebec.

We stayed at Huttopia Rambouillet which is the former royal hunting grounds to the kings of France. The area was quite scenic with a pond and many kilometers of bike paths through the forest, some of which we experienced with our rented bikes. The accomodations were charming and our son and his buddy were quite excited about their tent.

Nearby we found an adventure course in the trees "accrobranche" as it is called here. The whole family really enjoyed it, even our little girl was way up high in the trees stepping from log to log. She is a tough cookie.

Our boy had a great birthday, and we enjoyed the beauty of nature while getting a good night's sleep.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Happy 15 years!

How lucky are we to spend out 15th anniversary of marriage in Paris. Our tenth was in Antibes. We love France! To celebrate our day, we (among other things) lunched at the Bistro du 17eme. They have a prix fixe menu only for lunch and dinner, and the choices are all mouthwatering. I had an entree of carpaccio de boeuf on a bed of paper thin tomato rounds, all tender and tasty. For the plat principal, I chose sole with a pot of mashed potatoes which was very satisfying. My husband enjoyed a more exotic dish of ostrich of which he ate every bite. We finished off the meal with a mousse-like gateau au chocolat and the ever sweet and delicious millefeuille. I'm not sure what the traditional gift for the 15th anniversary is, but treating each other to a delectable French meal is always a great idea.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Birthday for Q

Our boy turned 10 today! He was able to "roll" with the boys after receiving his gift of rollerblades. A great day for a birthday. We spent a couple hours after school at the park rollerblading and enjoying ice cream cones. It was about 83 degrees out. Perfect.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

daisy campout

To celebrate the end of our scouting year, my daughter and I, along with 3 other Daisies and parents, attended the girl scout campout at Jambville. The little flowers stayed in their own tent, and were very excited about it. Activities included hauling logs onto a stump to make some very natural seesaws, trading swaps, singing around the campfire, and eating s'mores. For the s'mores, we used the Petit Ecolier cookies that have the chocolate built right in and put a hot marshmallow on top. Tasty. The girls enjoyed riding on the chariot onto which we piled all the supplies, which were many!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Finally French?

Well, okay, I'm nowhere near being French in reality, but the fact that my name is actually in the phone directory here, and I have just today ridden down the street on a Velib' with flowers in my basket should count for something, n'est-ce pas?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Velib' mania

Oh my goodness. Today was a two Velib' excursion day. Life doesn't get much better than this! First of all, I was near Luxembourg gardens, which is a little tricky to get back from on a Sunday without the 84 bus running, and part of line 3 was out of commission. Despite loving the Velib' every time I hop aboard, I still need a reason to take it sometimes. I'm a little nervous about the route to take, or I think, "what if I start to exceed my free half hour and need to check in and out again? Where is the next station?" I was smart enough to pack my Velib' map today which can be found at most Monoprix stores and some of the kiosques. Actually, now that it has been super awesome weather, I try to carry the map with me always. It shows all the Velib' stations, of which there are hundreds. It's pretty impressive to see all the stops on a map.

Thus decided on taking a Velib', I locate the nearest station on a map. There are Velib's available and I choose my ride. Next, consulting the map, I try to plan my route. The map also indicates the bike paths, and I notice that part of my route is not designated as a bike path, but I give it a go anyhow.

I can't describe how awesome it is to ride down the quais of Paris on a (practically) free bike. I travelled on the Left Bank along the Quai Voltaire, Anatole France, and d'Orsay, passing the bouquinistes selling their wares along the Seine as well as viewing the Louvre across the river and rolling past the Musee d'Orsay. It is truly a beautiful ride traveling under the Horse Chestnut trees and seeing the Bateaux Mouches along the river. After taking Pont d'Alma across the Seine, I headed up Avenue Marceau where I did a bit of huffing and puffing, I hate to admit. It's not a huge hill, but a hill nonetheless, but was able to continue in the lowest of the Velib's three gears. Circling the Arc de Triomphe via rue de Tilsit, I then continued down Avenue MacMahon to Niel into my neighborhood. I tell you, at the end of my ride, I was exhilirated. It was like I had taken a happy pill, I was totally pleased.

Sunday is a great day to ride because there are much fewer cars and buses circulating. There are almost always fellow riders on the street as well which makes for a more enjoyable ride.

After having a delicious Lebanese dinner with my family, I ask my brother-in-law if he would like to try the Velib'. He has been wanting to give the Velib' a go, and he has the little "chip" in his card that allows you to rent a Velib' on the spot. Thus begins my second Velib' excursion which is with a buddy and at night. I'm stoked. Uncle D and I figure out how to get the Velib' and luckily there are two available and functioning bikes at the station.

We head South on rue de Courcelles and decide to ride to Parc Monceau. Thinking we might sneak into the Parc on our bikes, we are almost instantly stopped by a guard who told us to walk our bikes. No problem. We appreciate the beauty of the park a pied and then I am antsy to "refuel" at the Velib' station. There is no time limit on the bikes, but after a half an hour, the bikes begin to cost a minimal amount of money. I enjoy the sense of freedom from riding the Velib' as well as its being free of charge. So outside the park near Alfred de Vigny, I check my bike in, and seconds later, I check it back out again. It remains free as long as it is checked in every half an hour. And with stations everywhere it is not hard to do.

The Arc de Triomphe was our next destination, so we headed down Avenue Hoche to the Arc and then came back via rue Carnot and then back to our neighborhood. It was fun riding the cool streets at night while having a chat with my brother-in-law.

Whether trying to get from one end of town to the other, or just soaking in the sights of Paris while getting some exercise, the Velib' is a great option. The rental fee for 24 hours is one Euro, plus the hourly fee which is nominal. (Uncle D's total cost was 2 Euros for just under an hour, quite the bargain.) It's one of the best activities in Paris while spending the least amount of money. Give it a go!

The metro is a bus today

I have to hand it to the RATP, it has done a good job at continuing service while a portion of the line 3 metro was under construction. I admit I was a bit panicked upon seeing that on May 31st and June 1st, line 3 between Villiers and Pont de Levallois would not be in operation.

However, it turns out that buses are being used to shuttle people from stop to stop. Thus, our section of Avenue de Villiers, which is unaccustomed to bus service (except for Noctilien service) there have been buses with the sign "service special" traveling to and fro. It was funny to see a bus going down our street, and a little shocking to see how packed the bus was. I've not seen any bus that crowded since the transport strike in October. Even then they weren't this consistently crowded. When our kids saw a crowd of people waiting on "our" street corner, they thought it was a line for the recycling bin, as the temporaty stop was positioned next to the big green canister.

There were orange-vested RATP workers at the closed metro stops guiding people to the special service buses. It was a well organized effort.

My brother-in-law visiting from Brussels actually ended up taking this line to get to our house. We tried to warn him. But he and his luggage hopped onto the overly crowded bus. According to Uncle D, he was quite shocked at how civil, polite and even jovial the crowd was. For many this was a big inconvenience, but they were meeting it with the usual calm that the French uncannily display in such situations. Bravo RATP.