Thursday, April 28, 2005
However, yesterday, as I was rushing to get a sandwich for lunch from the downstairs café to eat at my desk (how very un-French of me!) I realised that I was stood waiting for the lift with the French CEO and the Worldwide CEO. Just the three of us.
WW CEO must have been on a day visit - I've seen him once before and he's a very stony faced man. I have smiled and said "Bonjour Monsieur" to the French CEO occasionally in the corridor. But this is a large country office and he doesn't know me from any other ant.
As the lift arrived I had a quick panic "should I leave them in the lift together, or should I join them?". I realised I would look pretty stupid if I didn't get in. So I rode the 6 floors down in the glass lift in a very awkward silence. The French CEO pointed out the Sacré Coeur in the distance to the WW CEO and then we continued in silence.
Six floors seemed to go by very slowly. When we got to the bottom, Monseiur CEO gestured me out first, said 'Bon Appetit' and I scurried off.
I hope their meeting went better than the awkwardness that flooded that lift. But it gave me something to laugh about later and realise I quite like being a little ant.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Originally uploaded by oiseau.
Spring has come to the hills of Saint Thierry in Champagne.
Frog went home yesterday and spent the afternoon out in the vines and production area taking photos. I love this one as I'd never seen the vines in bud before.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Frog had a little personal guided tour of my recent posts and all of your fabulous comments about him. And he glowed, looked a little smug and finally pronounced "it's okay you can still blog about me". So it's your own fault now.
But I don't have any funny stories about him, cos he's a bit of a stressed frog at the moment about the move and it was me who was the stupid one last night. Having looked up the cinema times to see Garden State yesterday and decided to go to the Pathé in Boulogne - which is just one stop away - I took us on a merry trip the wrong way up a Line 9 to the Champs Elysées to the wrong cinema and wrong time.
A quick DOH moment and swift jump off the train we did finally make it there. Do go and see Garden State. I appreciated it and it made me a bit teary at the end. Even Frog liked the bits where "nearly grown ups" behave like retarded teenagers. And New Jersey has never looked so interesting as when Zach "I have a blog too" Braff is in it.
Monday, April 25, 2005
We were in the region of Castilla y Leon (just over an hour north of Madrid) for the wedding of Frog's old college housemate, Dani. Dani is half-English and half-Spanish but grew up in Valladolid - his bride was also from the city.
One of the things that Frog and I discussed while we were away is that we have been extraordinarily lucky with the experience that living overseas has given us. Not only did we 'profit' from the experience at the time but we continue to have our lives enriched by a door into more travel, invitations and further introductions to new friends to be made in far flung places.
The highlights for me of the trip were:
- Wedding Service: at the English College which is a church and seminary college for priesthood training for the English Catholics fleeing persecution in Protestant England & Wales (they may not still be fleeing following the English Reformation but they still come here to train!). A trilingual service including a bilingual homily by a Yorkshire Priest, sung service led by the English seminary students, selection of Spanish and English hymns (I could sing along to ones I knew which made me a little homesick!) and mass in Latin.
- The food and wine: was fabulous. The region is famous flor its vino tinto and even Frog who doesn't usually touch the red stuff made his way comfortably through a couple of glasses. Leaving me to finish off the bottles!
The city is also famous for its tapas. The night before the wedding a group of us made tour of bars, selecting the best tapas that each bar was renowned for. I have no idea what we were eating to tell you about but it was all yummy. Highlights I think were the raw ham.
The local regional dish is lechazo asado which is a salted roast lamb. I loved it so much I ate it at the wedding dinner on Saturday night and again for lunch on Sunday. If you're not a fat fan you probably shouldn't order it but I an a self confessed fatty, and the crispness just melted in the mouth leaving a very tender meat. Frog is not a fatty but he ate a piece of baby bull steak on Sunday which was so soft that you could have cut the meat with a teaspoon. Miam miam.
After getting used to Paris prices our jaws hit the ground when we got our bill for Saturday's 3 course lunch with wine - 22 euros! The waiter looked amused and Frog cringed as I took a photo of the magnificently simple pear poached in wine.
- The reception: was held at the site of a large winery. Drinks (large balloon glasses of the famed vino tinto naturally) and canapés were taken in the stone cellar amongst hundreds of wine barrels. Frog ran around snapping photos to take back ideas for the family house.
Dinner was upstairs in the restaurant of the winery, seated for over 200 people and an amazing menu:
Pickled Game Salad
Monkfish with Pine Nuts
Tropical Sorbet with Frozen Wild Berries
Roast Lamb with Green Salad
Pastry Dessert with Chestnut, Walnut and Mandarin Ice Cream *
Local Eau de Vie
Marinated Cherries dipped in chocolate
I will dream for a while of the walnut and chestnut ice cream each filling their respective hollowed nut shells. Miam Miam!
- Dancing: one of the things I love at French weddings is watching the traditional dances. In Spain there was a great selection of local dances with all Spanish guest joining in. I always find it's the older generation to watch when these come on - and the eighty something grannies didn't disappoint here with flourishes and kicks to put the average English wedding to complete shame.
- Language: Usually when Frog and I are living or travelling we are fine on the language front. Between us we speak more than competently four languages (with the Frog pushing that average up). Spanish, however, is not one of them and we were both as linguistically lost as each other. Frog has more confidence to go up to a complete stranger and when all else fails I have Italian which I speak putting a thick Manuel accent on it in the hope that something will be understood! But the common lack of language put us on a fairly unique level playing field!
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Apparently, I make him look like a figure of ridicule. I write about his "poor" grasp of the English language. I tell everyone how his literary prowess reaches the heights of Robbie Williams autobiography. And I describe how he dances around the flat naked.
In my defence I didn't describe him as being naked as he pranced around the flat. He inserted that delightful detail himself.
What would I have to write about if it wasn't for him lighting up my life!
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
He has filled in all the holes where the picture nails used to be and looked for what tools he needs to bring back next week to fix things and ensure that the bastard flat agents con us out of as little deposit as possible.
Having sped home from work yesterday evening I joined father and son frogs to help load up the van with boxes and furniture. He wouldn't hear of Frog accompanying him on the ride back to Reims to help with unloading tonight into the cave.
So after buying him dinner in our local brasserie we waved him off until next Friday's final move out. Now Frog and I are left in a rather empty flat. In which my lovely frog is treating the new space as his personal dance floor as he prances around the flat celebrating that we have 10 days left in this hole. He just bemoans that we have lost the large mirror already that he uses to preen and strike his vanity poses in front of. Oh funny, vain little froggy!
Bedding down on the sofa in the living room (that will act as our bed for the last 10 days) it seems like the adventure is really beginning.
It has been a whirlwind of a week. In 6 days I slept at home once, the rest of the times included my sister’s shared bed, a draughty auberge and a stack of cushions on a West London floor whilst travelling Paris – London – Paris – Reims – Lac du Der Chantecoq– Reims – Paris – London – Paris. Unsurprisingly I am now sniffling and gulping down Echinacea.
So here goes on a couple of highlights:
My sister is dating a man who has met most of her friends and family (well the ones that matter) apart from me. I have been told not to take the fact that he preferred the company of his sofa on Thursday night to a drink with me and sis, personally. So he still remains “tall publishing man of mystery” (but he reads this blog so careful on the comments!). He hasn’t made it onto my blacklist yet because he organised a great personally dedicated new edition of one of his author’s books. The author in question apparently thinks my sister is fabulous (aside from her success at selling his books across Europe). Her book has a one word dedication: “Run!”. Clearly a man with confidence in his editor!
Sister and I had lovely dinner in Clapham and caught up on gossip, news and plans. Given the choice between her sofa and a shared bed, I duveted down with her in the queen size. The next morning she told me she sleeps better with me than with the boyfriend. Since I am tall but certainly not 6’3” tall and have considerably less testosterone (and from what I heard, hair on chest) I am a little concerned about the surprised tone in her voice when she announced this.
Having slept on a good Aussie friend’s floor this Monday night (on the second round trip to London) I did miss my sister and her queen size.
The wedding by a rather large lake in the south of the Marne was lovely if rather icily cold. I represented the inappropriately dressed English contingent, in a light summery dress as bitter winds blew off the lake. The village and church were beautiful and we were all warmed by a trio of gospel singers and copious amounts of champagne.
The marriage ceremony itself had started at 3pm with a vin d’honneur at 5pm and then dinner at 9pm. As everyone had imbibed (too) many glasses of champagne by 7pm, a muttering amongst many of the older men folk that they were looking for distraction. Frog went back to the auberge where we were all staying and tracked down a pack of tarot cards and a back room. We slunk off discretely in small groups to set up a couple of card games before dinner. Frog Father and his accomplices (including Father Frog’s friends, Frog Sister & husband, cousins, wives, Frog and myself) were found hiding out by Mother Frog at about 8pm who very loudly declared her disgust at her husband for leading this low behaviour at his “own son’s wedding”. Ahem.
There were eighty odd people at the wedding and the majority over fifties. They are all regulars at these types of family events so I seem to have met most of them before. The older generation showed us 'young ‘uns' up as they enthusiastically danced to to waltzes, accordion, sixties twists, seventies disco and eighties rock hits. All faithful French favourites with the odd Abba hit thrown in. I am rather proud that I am now one of those who jumps up, hands in the air to Claude François. Is this assimilation? Father Frog was an incredible sight as this usually quiet assured man turned into a jiving hipster. Apparently nobody had witnessed anything like this Father Frog behaviour before. At 2am Frog and I rather shamefully left the rest of the over 50’s to continue partying and kicking balloons around the village hall floor until 5am.
Yawn... must try harder at the next wedding, on Saturday, in Spain.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
And I only have 10 mins before I have to get back on a Eurostar home to Paris.
I'm sorry to those I disappointed by not creating an audiopost last weekend. The good news is that we're off on Friday to another wedding in Spain. So may convince the Frog to also contribute to a spanish themed post.
I will try and write a version of the interesting things that have happened in the last week. To include:
- The non appearance of my sister's boy (although he made up for it by getting me a dedicated copy of one of his cool writers new books)
- A very cold wedding in the south of Champagne featuring over fifties behaving badly and an illicit backroom card game.
- My fabulous attempts to be suave Euro traveller going horribly wrong when I attempted to board a Paris -London train with tickets reserved to travel in the opposite direction.
- The delicate politics of now returning to Paris to schedule a meeting with my boss in order to explain that our London office no longer wants to work with one of my colleagues but exclusively with me.
Running for train now!
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
- Up at the crack of dawn to travel to London
- Meetings in Canary Wharf and Crawley (could you imagine nicer locations? I could)
- Dinner and stay with little sis (yay!), although I still won't get to meet her boy, she is turning down some do at Le Gavroche* * in order to have dinner with me in Clapham. For that I salute her. I would do nicer things if she went but also swung me an invite as well...
- More meetings in London
- Flight back to Paris to be met by Frog chauffeur at Terminal 2F
- Drive to Reims
- Brother Frog wedding
- Get to witness Frog being best man.
- Will not witness best man Frog speech as he has been banned by the bride following his performance two years ago at sister frog's wedding. Sounds intriguing doesn't it? I'm sure I haven't heard the whole story
- Sit at the top table with the Frog and rest of bridal party. (I don't think that's normal for the partner of the best man but they're clearly looking after me and not leaving me and random french family members to stuggle with conversation!)
- Recover from French wedding champagne, dancing and hi jinks
- I'll be back on form. Maybe.
* Unless I make a drunken audio post on Saturday night. Which is tempting. Drunk dialling meets drunk blogging.
**Michelin 3 star restaurant that is the exception to the French restaurant rule that I usually explain to family and friends - I have no desire to visit when in the UK. Suspect we'll end up in the usual Indian instead.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
- the 'normal' one (mum, sister, grandma, aunt, uncle and cousins)
we get to laugh, argue, agree to disagree, laugh again, strop, support, love etc.
- the 'freaky' one (dad, ex stepmum, current step mum, half brother, two stepsiblings, grandma, grandpa, uncle and multitude of cousins and ex aunts - aunt number four or five?... I lost count)
just plain old dysfunctional really
I do choose to keep contact with my ex-stepmum and much younger half brother. (You may note the use of the word "choose" which reflects that I am trying now to actively control my relationship with this family). However, my younger sister still keeps up with the rest of that side of the family. I respect her decision and relationships (as she does mine) plus I have the bonus of hearing the continuing freaky family sagas through her.
The story of my grandfather's funeral is a classic and will keep for a later date. I'm prompted to tell this particular story because my cousin has just got in contact with me after about seven years.
My cousin's father is not someone I especially like (I am the master of understatement here). This dislike was apparent from an early age - I found him selfish and immature. He is my dad's younger brother and has a multitude of children with different wives and mothers that I have to concentrate just to remember them all. His eldest son, my cousin 'Harry', is just a couple of months younger than me. Since my uncle was out cavorting and then leaving women and Harry's mum had in the meantime started her own new family, Harry often came along on holidays with my dad and sister and (then) stepmum. Harry still keeps in close contact with our grandmother and sees my dad and his new family.
Harry and I lost touch seven years ago because, honestly, I was tired of the competitive conversation of 'my dad is worse than yours' that he seemed to need to have. I understand why he felt my dad was a damned sight better than his but that was never a reason for me to feel a need to justify my feelings for my father. We all had our own issues.
But Harry has got back in touch with me this week and wants to catch up. I feel rather heavy hearted since I heard from him. Not because of him but because I feel like I'm potentially opening a door that I went through a lot of energy and emotion to close.
Basically, Harry is a nice guy who's had a rotten family. This tale was relayed to me recently and just summed up everything that goes on in that freaky family:
Last year at Harry's 30th birthday party invitees included his younger half sister from his mum's second marriage and a younger half brother from his dad's second marriage. Neither of these half siblings are actually blood related to each other and infact had never met before. But that wouldn't stop you feeling horrified, or stomach churned when it turns out your half siblings are having a drunken snog in the darkened corner of your birthday celebrations, would it?
I'll reply to Harry's email this week. I can do polite and friendly communications. I just feel bad lumping him in with what I consider the other rotten eggs but am worried about where this is leading.
Anne asked me how the preparation for the move to Reims was going. I replied that I was determinedly not blogging about it because people would realise what an ungrateful wench I really am. I hate packing - for holiday or new home it's an effort I resent. Which is clearly rather shortsighted if you're planning a month in Brazil or swapping a mould ridden hole above a butchers for a bright parquet floored apartment with cathedral view.
Plus I packed 95% of my belongings into boxes and storage last summer when I moved out of my flat into the afore mentioned hole. So what is really left to pack is mostly Frog's stuff.
What I have discovered since I whinged earlier is that the Frog is a master of packing:
Frog Packing Lesson
- put on your oldest clothes that make you look like Wurzel Gummidge*
- put aside all clothes and shoes that you no longer wear
- all books, dvds, bedding to be put in plastic wrapping before being placed into the box
- label each plastic bag before it goes in the box with clear explanation of the content
- each box to then be labelled in not one but two languages
- all filled boxes should be stacked neatly in the living room
Whilst he does this for a couple of hours each evening I am free to cook and receive rebukes when I tell him off for buying chicken thighs which I will now have to debone to make a planned curry. I am clearly a terribly ungrateful girlfriend.
* I looked for a photo of Wurzel and couldn't find one... sorry
Monday, April 11, 2005
I found Julian Merrow Smith's Shifting Light through his wife Ruth's (also rather splendid) blog. Both living in Provence, Julian is an artist and from his official site I can see that he's the type of artist that I would stand and look at his work in a gallery and 'oooh' about.
So, until the day when some lovely benefactor commissions a portrait of me (yes, I know in my dreams) I was very excited to see that Julian has a blog that houses a diary of mini oil paintings that he updates daily. And at $100 each mere mortals like myself can decide that this is far more exciting than any pair of shoes and purchase their own piece of art.
So, after stalking for the last few weeks and missing out on a couple (I'm thinking 'pear with blue background') I was very excited on Saturday to hop online and see a beautiful 'lemon with thyme' had just been posted.
When the paint has dried and the package been sent on its way to Paris I can't think of a better place to appreciate the little bit of Provence than in our new home in Reims.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Frog: I finished the Robbie Williams book ... you know it's because he's young, rich and famous that he can just choose who to sleep with any night.
Oiseau: Unfortunately you are no longer any of those three things, are you. Okay, maybe you're still youngish.
Frog: I'm definitely not rich. But having read the book I don't think I'd like to be famous anyway.
Unless I was like, head of a charity and then I could be famous for the good things and the charity would benefit from it.
But if I were a criminal then I'd want to be inanimate.
Guffaws of laughter
Frog: You know ...
... oh I'm not saying anymore it'll just end up on your blog.
Oiseau: Ahh... you mean like an "anonyme"... object. Ha ha.
Maybe John Paul II lasting influence is still having its effect on the Frog's confused morals.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
* One of my favourite words. I remember the exact moment I learnt it at school in a poem read to my class when we were 7 years old.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
The only restaurant to go to there is Pooja . To get there you have to walk past all the other restaurants who have waiters hanging out on the street trying to persuade you to choose their establishment. As one guide I read said, Pooja needs no such efforts as its reputation goes before it.
I lived in northern India for six months when I was 18 years old (I made a terrible English teacher) and despite all attempts of the school chef to put me off dhal and chapatti (by providing this combination as a daily lunch dish over more than 100 days) I still want more!
We certainly indulged last night. I like the restaurant - Pooja tends to serve northern Indian style dishes. We had very good samosas to start followed by shared butter chicken, gosht madras, dhal, vegetable & plain rice, poppadum, a fantastic garlic naan bread. To finish we scoffed kulfi (an indian icecream that comes in mango & pistachio flavours) lassi and rounded it up with a cup of real chai.
Chai is an Indian tea including cardamom and cinnamon spices and traditionally it is heated with the milk already added. It needs to be drunk very sweet. It reminded me of the endless cups and opportunities to drink it in India. When travelling chai boys will come around to you at bus stops, train stations to sell you cups of sustenance for the rest of your journey. When I was teaching at the school in the Himalayas we would be woken up in our rooms by the chai boy who gave us a cup to start the day.
One morning the chai boy didn't turn up. The next night I was woken by a banging on my room door at 3am. The boy was there offering the usual drink. Apparently he had overslept the morning before and got such a scolding for it that he had been so worried (and without watch or alarm clock) that he got up at that terrible hour to serve the next morning. We all felt so bad for him.
I rolled home last night very full and happy but am now busy planning my own culinary efforts to use the naan bread and chutneys that I bought in the great Indian superette in Passage Brady.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Of course Frog is a good Catholic boy but last night he realised why he was so sad about the pontiff's death.
When Frog was younger he went on a school trip to Rome with his class and the priests that taught them. They attended mass at St Peter's which was taken by the Pope. Following mass the pope walked through the cathedral reaching out to the pilgrims. Since Young Frog was at the end of the pew as the Pope passed by a school friend took a photo of the Pope with Frog grinning next to him in full frame. This was Frog's first and only touch with celebrity. Albeit religious celebrity.
So, the conclusion that was made in the early hours of this morning was that - with the Pope's death - the Frog had lost his one and only celebrity connection. And so he mourns. However, he announced as I was leaving the flat this morning that he has decided upon a target to make a new celebrity connection with. That target is Robbie Williams.
Couldn't get much further away could you?
Monday, April 04, 2005
So, now I have the contract till the end of the year in hand I was a woman on a mission this weekend. We hit the shops on Saturday after lunch at home and I made my first impulse buy on a very glamourous pair of sunglasses. I am not allowed to lose or sit on them for the next 100 years and they cannot leave my face for the rest of spring/summer if I am to get my money's worth. But they're beautiful and I feel like an elegant Italian in them.
Next up I bought two new pairs of shoes, a pair of tan suede flat shoes for being the women around town and a pair of slides for the summer. I did however make myself pause to think about a a great pair of swanky black heels. Now I've justified that I can wear them to several weddings this year and tower above the frog (and all average height french)I shall make a return trip for those on Saturday.
Next up I found a pair of green (no black!) trousers and a beautiful pair of linen shorts. I have never found a pair of shorts I loved. They never quite hide the bits I don't like and flatter the parts I do. But these are beautiful and I'm waiting for our first trip of the year to the Var to wear them.
Final stop was the hairdressers. I've basically spent the last four years that I've lived away from London waiting for trips home to get my hair cut by a hairdresser I like. Then about 6 months ago I met someone who lives in London and waits for trips to Paris to do the same thing. So we did the sensible thing and swapped hairdresser info. A great Japanese guy on Rue Cambon in the 1st now cuts my hair and I have spanking new shorter cut that I bounced around with for the rest of the weekend.
After all my exertions I met the Frog in the park where he'd been lounging and we headed home to get changed for dinner. Since it can't always be about me, me, me, I treated the Frog to a meal in a favourite restaurant that we found in the 6th last year:
Aux Saveurs de Claude
12, rue Stanislas
Telephone: 014 5444174
The winning dishes between us were his St Jacques in ginger starter, my duo of quail in a rich morilles sauce and the shared 'tout autour du chocolat' dessert. Accompanied by a Petit Chablis and finished off with a Poire William digestiv.
A very happy, slightly drunk couple made the last splash out of the day as we hailed a cab to take us home.
I'm sure if this was my regular style it might become boring - but having saved up it was quite a thrill to throw all fiscal caution to the wind and indulge.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Because there has been some mutual friend connection these have been quite social occasions and a selection of bottles for tasting usually get finished off. The usual result is that Frog and I end up collapsed after the guests have gone, succumbing to the proceeding champagne induced snoozes.
Last weekend a Swedish couple who share a mutual friend with us, came to visit for the afternoon. They are waiting approval for an alcohol importers licence in Sweden - which is not easy to come by. Pre-approval they were touring over the Easter period for potential products to import to the blonde Nordic nation that loves to drink.
A lovely chatty, informed couple, we completed the tour and sat down to taste. Since my mum was staying she also joined for a chat and drink. Nearly four hours after their arrival, we waved them off, wobbled and promptly fell over. All the bottles put out to "taste" had been finished off.
So the challenge for the Frog now is to set up his tastings so that they really are a "taste" and then onto the next bottle/cuvée. Especially now that he is targeting wine societies and wine tour companies to visit and set this up on a more regular basis.
Pour/taste/spit. That's all it needs to be.
But it seems such a shame not to finish the bottle each time. Another example of his anglo influenced behaviour!