Vive la France

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Even after being here for a year there are still an awful lot of things that are still completely foreign to me. Things I just don't get. Things I will never get even if I were to have the patience and understanding of Buddha or the intelligence of Einstein. Eternal mysteries. What could perplex me so, you ask? Well, for one thing, shoes.

Yes, shoes. So mundane, so utilitarian. Often times uncomfortable, frivolous, pretty, sexy, or severe--shoes. Some people are crazy over them and own more pairs than they can possibly ever wear. Not me. Shoes are good though. I need them. My size is 6 and 1/2 or 6.5 if you prefer the decimal system. A size that does not exist in France, or in all of Europe, from what I understand. I have tried to understand this concept. Really. But I just haven't come up with any good reason why in the fashion capital of the world, in the 21st century, the half-size shoe does not exist. I figure that I can't be the only person in Europe between 2 shoe sizes. What do people do? Do they wear their shoes too big or too small? How do they walk? Do podiatrists make a fortune here? In a country with over 10 percent unemployment I think I have a solution for job creation: pay people to design, fabricate, package and sell half-sizes in shoes! Millions of aching feet can't be wrong. Until then I'll stock up every time I go home for a visit. Cleveland doesn't have much to offer but they do have those elusive half-size shoes.

Another mystery--bakery hours. Bakeries typically are never open on Mondays. I asked why. "Because they are open on Saturdays," I was told. by that rationale, if say, the butcher shop is open on Friday, shouldn't it be closed on, say, Tuesday? I don't know, maybe the rule only applies to bakeries. But, don't people ever want to buy bread on Mondays? No fresh bread--another reason to be down on Mondays. Maybe Bob Geldhof had spent some time in France before penning that famous song...

Third mystery--and this one is transcontinental--why do companies produce some products for Europe, and different ones for North America. Purina, for example, produces a fairly good quality cat food at a reasonable price in North America. I can buy a 20 or 30 pound bag for under ten bucks. In Europe, they don't produce the same products (nothing special for older cats, for example) and they are several times more pricey. I get a lousy 3.5 kilo bag (around 6 pounds? My math skills still suck.) for around 9 Euro (over 10 bucks). Shouldn't cat food be equally cheap to produce everywhere? Then there's the mystery of the L'Oreal lipstick. My favorite lipstick--French company. I thought, "No problem" when I came here. Should be able to find my lipstick everywhere. No. The kind I like (where one end of the stick gives your lips extra "volume" and the other end gives them color) is not sold here--not anywhere. Why? I've seen plenty of thin-lipped French women here, who could definitely benefit from some volume- inducing lipstick. Maybe pouty lips just aren't "la mode" here.... Yet another thing to buy in Cleveland.

Well, enough ranting for today. Haven't seen another truckload of poor little pigs going to their death recently, but I think the piggies are starting to get wise. Some of them made a break for it yesterday. A pig truck wrecked on the freeway, tying up traffic for hours. (yes, I do live somewhere beyond the boonies...) Fifty of the poor creatures died before being taken to slaughter. At least they died free. A lot of the pigs that survived the crash managed to escape to freedom. A happy-ish ending to a rather sad and bizarre story. Still not keen on eating any pork.

I drove around in France for the first time today. My little car is great. But guess what? First day driving in France, and I get pulled over by the gendarmes. They were stopping everyone. Over here they have the right to randomly stop cars to verify everyone's papers. No problem. The kid (couldn't have been more than 25) took my license, registration, proof of insurance. All the cops gathered around to look at my license. In the boonies of France I don't think they see too many licenses with references to the US. (The licenses here state where you are from--Mine says Cleveland, Etats Unis d'Amerique.) They let me go on my merry way. I don't know if they ever found what they were looking for but as I chatted with a woman I knew in the neighborhood (this incident happened near her house--where I was headed at the time) we saw the gendarmes stop, search, and arrest a man driving a yellow truck. Weird. Glad I'm not him. Police uniforms are just scarier here. Even if the cop looks like a high school student, the uniform just makes him look, well, scary in sort of a WWII storm-trooperish way...What an initiation onto the French highways and byways.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Well, I can't call it home yet, so it's just back to France instead. Being in Cleveland again was weird. Felt like a guest in my own hometown and kept thinking I should have my own house or apartment there to crash in at the end of the day. I can report that France hasn't changed a bit in the month we were gone. Still looks the same, albeit with scorched earth due to drought, still smells the same (don't ask), still tastes the same.

Hmmm, the all-famous French cuisine. Still struggling with that after a year. No decent Mexican food, no decent sushi, and bread and meat wherever you turn. Back in the US I was always told, "Bread will make you fat." Here I'm told, "Bread will make you thinner." I don't believe either statement and don't care much about bread unless it comes at either end of a sandwich, so people often look at me with disbelief bordering on horror when I constantly turn down bread during meals. The other popular food here in my little corner of NW France is meat--beef and pork mainly. As with bread, I really don't care about meat unless it comes between two pieces of bread, preferably in the form of a burger. The biggest public event of the year in my village of 7000 is the annual Meat Festival--quickly approaching the first weekend in September. Yes, the entire town stops normal life to examine meat--dead and alive. It's truly a vegetarian's nightmare, and while I'm not a vegetarian I am slowly becoming more and more inclined to be one. If I have to see one more truckload of little pink pigs pass me by on their final voyage I think it will be decisive.

Anyway, we're preparing for the upcoming scholarly year and summer is windng down quickly. We've finally found me an affordable automatic car in France so starting next week I'll join the millions of drivers on the highways and byways with the second highest accident rate in Europe. But I figure, if I can drive in Cleveland winters, I can drive just about anywhere. Mobility will be liberating. I can't wait. First trip will be a few days in Brittany the end of next week. Hope the beach will still be warm and sunny.