Finally today I was able to do something that I have been craving for weeks…….to go to the beach and swim in the sea! I’m a bit sunburned but it was worth it. The water was fresh and chilly and so salty that I could completely relax and float on my back letting the tiny little swells rock away any stresses that have built up in my body over the last 5 monthes. The air was whipped by a steady gusty breeze and filled with the fragrance of seaweed and ozone. The water was two tones of blue; a light milky azure where it was shallow and cobalt where the deeper bit began. The beach that we went is on the opposite side from Cannes of a huge bay at a beautiful seaside town called Theoule sur Mer. I think everyone was local and it was interesting to note that yes, it is true, going topless on the French Riviera is normal. However, unlike N America where the younger generation might be more likely to do it to rebel against the norm, here it’s the older women who do simply as the norm. This is because it was all the rage more in their time- in the 50’s and 60’s. So one sees elegant refined (and I must say fit) women in their 50’s (or older) tanning without tops. I was very impressed and decided that I should join in regardless of my age! Afterall, when in France…!
A quick little hello to say that I am once again immersed in a busy week of school- the chemistry studies have begun and we are still managing to memorize more raw materials. We are now covering about 3 new ones per day bringing the total as of today to about 300. We are being tested constantly which proves to be the best method of keeping the knowledge fresh and accessible.
We spent the weekend exploring the area, including Eze, which is a place I have been saving. This is a stunning little stone village perched way up above the Mediterranean. We had lunch there and then descended the 1500 feet vertical mountain-goat trail to Eze sur Mer, just before the rain began. That night, we stayed in Beausoleil, which is basically Monte Carlo, which is Monaco, and went out dancing until 5 am. What fabulous medicine for the soul! So many beautiful young people, so charming and fabulous. A fairy tale place really. I am in love with Monaco, I have to say.
Fragrant thoughts full of love and spring to all of you………………….keep the comments coming!
bureaucracy & home
Today we went to Nice to apply for our carte de sejours (the long term permit required to stay in France longer than our visas allow). It was a very institutional building with long line-ups of smelly people and not much air circulation. We were all successfully accepted however, so now we wait for about one month for approval, after which we go for a medical exam, hand over those results, then the final papers are sent to the police station here in Grasse. The level of difficulty in acquiring this permit really depends on the country of origin. For example, it is relatively easy for Canadians but quite difficult for Brazilians. No matter who you are, however, this is a difficult country to access. The French love their country and their culture and are very protective of it. Plus they love formality and ridiculous levels of complex bureaucracy!
Speaking of Brazil, my fellow classmate from there who is about 5 feet tall, a lawyer and the loveliest spitfire of a girl with a huge smile and a mother back home who prays for each of us every day, was my indispensable assistant this afternoon as I attempted to open a back account (very difficult to do) and formally reviewed and signed my rental agreement with the agency, as well as communicating the necessary info to make sure water and electricity are hooked up to the apartment. Ikea was another frontier that was finalized along with the courier company (my furniture will arrive in one week). She is now officially an angel in my books and I just got home from taking her out for a delicious meal to say thank-you. She had a steak and I had a pizza with slabs of aubergine and Corsican sausage called Figatelli as well as mugs of beer to celebrate my new home. I have the keys and am just about to start moving some stuff over. It is such a sweet little place and I am so happy that this is how things turned out. I will be camping there for a week but at least I can stay here tonight, a second night longer than I had thought I could. The owner of this apartment was very understanding of the situation.
Now I can say goodbye to the 66 steps of delapidated stairwell with the broken plaster and cat pee and say hello to the loveliest Provencal apartment on the main little street in the old city- I can hardly wait to show you what it looks like……
Today is the last day of February already! Spring is in the air! Today was warm and very windy with visible clouds of pollen blowing out of the cypress trees and causing a great deal of agony with the allergy sufferers.
Last Sunday I went to Monaco with my Bulgarian friend and walked all over the city of Monte Carlo. The border of the principality and the city itself are about the same. Taxes are not collected here and one must be very rich to qualify for residency. It is a gorgeous city. The oldest area is perched on a rocky outcropping of land and enclosed in a curving stone wall. This was a fortified city in its day but has an ancient history, dating back to around 300,000 BC. See this link for the full story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Monaco
I had a delicious pizza, based on a crust about as thick as a crepe and just as light. Went to the cathedral where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married and are buried. Their tombs are inside the building and we saw the covers of them, covered in flowers and candles.
Gardens are popular in Monaco and we toured the one at the tip of the old city as well as an amazing Japanese garden below the casino. Huge exotic cacti and succulents do well here. It’s amazing to be only about a 1 hour drive away from this rather exotic location.
On other fronts, I have learned a bit about extortion over the past few days from a neighbour woman who saw me as a bit of an opportunity (all’s well that ends well) and I will move into my bare little flat tomorrow. My yoga mat will be my bed for the time being, (speaking of flat!), along with the quilt I told you about. Getting furniture into the city will involve typical French bureaucracy. Applications need to be made to lift the gate to my street because this technically is a traffic-free zone. (although cars squeeze past the barrier at night regularily) There is a special department who deals just with this particular event. I hope it doesn’t take the usual 2-3 weeks of wait time to be approved! We’ll see.
We are off to Nice tomorrow to get our residency permits- Carte de sejours- another possible red tape nightmare- but that’s why we are going together. Strength in numbers.
Life in North America is much more simple, that’s for sure! Perhaps the culture here is so old it has begun to implode itself through complexity. Makes for an interesting if not surreal adventure.
a chapter on food
So far I have not spoken in detail about my French culinary experiences, so this post in dedicated to food.
To begin, today I made my deposit for the apartment and placed my online order with Ikea; so it’s official, I am diving into creating my new home. Negotiating the rental agreement with the estate agency entirely in French just about flattened me energetically. It is so deeply challenging trying to communicate very important official business without the usual ease of a shared language! Plus it is slightly unsettling to have to show all ones most personal documentation like bank statements and every possible form of ID to a complete stranger. The woman and I were very patient and apologetic with each other, however, and we accomplished the task, haltingly, but successfully.
To celebrate, I stopped at a little gourmet shop just up the alley from my flat and began to taste bits from the sample plates of cheeses and meats and wander through the shop looking at all the goodies. I left with a package of finely sliced dried cured sausage called saucisson sec l’ancienne aux noixettes (traditional sausage with nuts -that unsliced smells exactly like a dog’s paw- that dry popcorn smell) and a little puck of what seems like a slightly aged soft cheese called Mistralou which is encrusted in a hard layer of pepper, rosemary and cumin seed. I already had the regulation baguette tucked under my arm (I have embraced eating bread!) and a bottle of good wine (Chateau Musset Chevalier Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2003) at home that I found last week, so all that was left was dessert. This I decided could be accomplished with some Italian chocolate hazelnut liquer (Gianduia- ciaccolato gianduia e grappa) in the most beautiful bottle that I had noticed quite some time ago at the same little deli. For the main meal I have fresh pasta and a tomato sauce with green onions and pepper corns and dried olives already made from last night. So here I am, tucked away up on the top floor, it’s Friday evening after a very challenging week, sipping some lovely rich full red and eating chunks of delicious crusty bread layered with wafers of dried sausage, spicy cheese and slices of Provencal sun-dried tomato cured in olive oil. The pigeons are cooing away on the tiled roof across from my porch/perch, it is raining a bit, the weekly art exhibition is being set up in the square below and all is well in my world.
Ordinarily, my diet consists almost entirely of organic food. It is so easy to find here, even at the Monoprix mainstream department/grocery store. I had prepared for the possibility of having to be a bit less picky in the area of food than I am in Canada, but it’s actually much easier here to eat healthy whole food. Most of the food departments have a great selection of Bio food, including meat and dairy. The only area that isn’t specifically organic is produce. Judging by the taste however, the veges don’t have nearly the chemical residues of conventionally grown food in N America. I spotted another indication the other day when a lemon in the fruit bowl molded- something that only organic citrus will do at home. Come Summer, I’m sure there will be lots of locally grown produce that is organic at the local Saturday market. The best thing about the market now is the honey table- delicious fragrant honeys of all kinds. Provencal honey is dark and lovely.
For lunch, quinoa is my mainstay with chopped raw vegetables, olive oil and sea salt, along with bananas and organic yogurt. For breakfast I have an omelet or the very French choice- bread and coffee with some fruit. The other day I experimented and made crepes with fine cornmeal instead of flour. (let the batter sit overnight in the fridge) This was wonderful for breakfast and maybe a lunch option for next week. The one decidedly un-French thing I do most mornings is run out the door with my to-go cup of coffee or tea in hand! When I asked for a cappuccino to go in Paris in my nice stainless steel insulated cup, they would look at me blankly. I may be the only person in France who has one of these! Actually the concept of ’to go’ is not so familiar here in any form. My first night in Grasse, I took myself out for dinner at a romantic stone cellar of a restaurant and when I was too full of deep-fried chevre on greens and sweet chestnut stuffed tortellini in cream to finish said pasta, and asked for it to go, they cooked me a whole new serving and packed it up. It may well have been a misunderstanding based on the language barrier, but food or coffee on the run is not common here.
(A quick note about Paris: the pastries! Light crusty delicate fluffy quiches like no other. Also the most beautiful sweet pastries and little cakes. Works of art really. I am inclined to think there is some lard used in the pastry itself. I could be entirely wrong, but that may be how it is so amazingly golden and wafery and ethereal. I was very happy to ignore that possibility as I basically lived on these quiches for a few days…. after being smoked out of the restaurants)
My dinner is usually simple as well, with fresh pasta from the little shop around the corner, gorgeous sheep cheese from Spain called Manchego, and a salad or cooked vegetables. I eat eggs boiled quite often as well, and even had a ‘double-yoker’ the other day. The pasta from around the corner is like ribbons of silk. The man who makes it is carrying on the tradition of his father and grandfather in the same little shop. He jokes about it being the pasta museum, pointing out the old wooden tools used for rolling out huge batches of tortellini and cutting the ribbons of noodles. This man speaks some English and cheerfully helps me learn some of the basic French required when buying food.
One thing that is common is pizza delivery. It took me a little while to realize what the story was with the tiny scooters who zoom around the city, painted in red and orange with a big cargo box attached to the back of the seat. These are the delivery boys from Mr Pizza. They seem to be everywhere and I’ve watched them from the phone booth, where I have spent hours in total since being here, that happens to be near the restaurant, zinging by fairly close to being airborn on every bump. One of the girls from school had a Mr Pizza delivered to class at lunchtime recently and I had a piece. It was very Italian style, unsliced and very thin. The only way to eat it is to tear off pieces and fold them in half to keep the topping from sliding off.
There is an Indian restaurant up a narrow little lane nearby and a Vietnamese restaurant beside it. Neither of which I have tried yet, but I’ve heard that the Indian food is great. I’m taking my explorations slowly. I actually prefer to explore the grocery stores of a new country before the restaurants. Also, a huge reason why I avoid eating out is because of the cigarette smoke; I just can’t tolerate it. Besides, setting up a kitchen and cooking at home is comforting and coming here all on my own has caused me to crave some comfort every day. Today I bought a few of the basics for my new kitchen including one pot, 2 bowls, two plates, a set of glasses and cutlery. I’m hoping to find a shop with old china so I can have some unique pieces.
I can hear that the party downstairs is picking up, so I think I ‘ll go see who’s showing this week. I think it is a sculptor, but I’ll let you know.