Sunday, February 19, 2017

north carolina mountain vignettes

Along a scenic mostly two-lane highway that runs through the North Carolina-Tennessee mountains I grew up in, I was surprised to find this lovely coffee bar inside the gas station market when I stopped for a bathroom break. I decided a little afternoon caffeine would do me good and asked the woman at the register if the bar was open. She said it was, but she'd have to wait to take my order until her colleague returned from her smoke break to cover the register again. There was something so charmingly home-grown about all this that I decided to live in the moment and wait for the smoke break to end. While I later paid for my chai tea latte, the next customer was asking if the store had any worms today. The register-woman answered in the affirmative and told him where they were. He then piled a container of nightcrawlers--which looked a lot like a small tub of hummus or cottage cheese--up along with his food purchases.

I love, love, love such little moments wherever they happen in the world - whether far from home or in the corner I grew up in.

Watauga Lake, Carter County, TN - There was so much
photo-worthy scenery along this highway route,
but with few turn-offs and a schedule to keep
to, I had to content myself with this one
sun-drenched photo.

Monday, February 13, 2017

celebrating thanksgiving paris-style

Before it's lost forever, finally I bring you the story of Thanksgiving 2016 à Paris!

Months earlier my American friend Mary had alerted me that she and her husband and son would be in Paris the week of Thanksgiving. Would I like to/could I join them? At the time, I chuckled a little over how impossible it is for me to plan things more than about a week in advance, let alone scheduling things that are months away. But I made note of it, and we hoped for the best.

And it worked! Mid-evening on the day before Thanksgiving, my train from Pau pulled into Paris's Montparnasse station. I made my way to Mary and Ryan's Airbnb apartment, we all exchanged hugs, and then Mary and I headed out for late dinner while Ryan had put-the-toddler-to-bed duty.

On our dinner hunt, we passed La Taverne de Montmartre, and tempted by the lovely aromas escaping from it, we stopped in. Though people were still eating, we learned that the kitchen wasn't taking new orders. The man we talked with seemed friendly enough, so I tried to joke about whether we could beg the chef to stay a little longer, but then I couldn't come up with the French word for beg. So that joke fell completely flat.

Fortunately, the next evening as dinnertime approached, Mary remembered that we should try this place again.

Et voilà, success! This time we were on the very front end of dinner hours, and the long family-style tables with benches weren't even set with tableware yet. But they welcomed us in and remembered us from the night before.

The fun began in earnest when Mary asked if they happened to have some paper that could occupy two-year-old Liam. The friendly proprietor happily produced paper and markers. And his five-year-old son was quickly enamored with Liam and joined in the drawing, producing his own pictures for us to ooh and aah over. The two boys quickly became pals, the five-year-old (who has no younger siblings but would like to - hint, hint, to his parents! :-) ) happily assuming the role of big brother half-watching over Liam while helping entertain him. When his parents called him to the back of the restaurant for his own dinner, he insisted that Liam join him so he could share his dinner with him.

When it was time for our new little friend to head home to go to bed--because he had school the next day--he was really sad to leave us behind.

For all the bad reputation Paris has for less than personable or kind service in its cafés and restaurants, we had an absolute warm-fuzzy of an evening, which turned out to be a lovely--and somehow very appropriate--way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

americans, please forgive me if i don't apologize for bumping into you

A sure sign you're no longer in France where
most people use long-life "shelf" milk that
isn't refrigerated until it's opened. I'm a
dedicated milk drinker, so I'm always raiding
a grocery store's small refrigerated shelves
holding 0.5 L, 1L, and occasionally 2L
"fresh milk" containers.
I rounded a corner at Walmart last night and nearly bumped into a couple coming from another direction. I intended to apologize. But it didn't happen.

I was foiled by that slow motion thing that's happening in reverse during this visit stateside. That slow motion thing where my mouth starts to say something (in this case "Pardon," as one would in France, but this time with English pronunciation instead of French - go figure), my brain stops it before it's said aloud, then those hills and valleys in my head try to figure out what I should be saying instead and why I'm having so much trouble, and then the split second appropriate for polite apologies of this sort was past as the girl in the couple murmured a "sorry," reminding me that this is what my slow-motion brain was trying to come up with.

I've been stateside for about a month and a half now, and it's been an interesting visit for discovering the way French life has infiltrated me after four-plus years there. Despite the fact that I still have slow-motion moments abroad when my American brain tries to figure out some oh-so-French situation, I have finally crossed that threshold I've heard about where that's also happening in reverse.

I officially belong nowhere now, it seems. Or everywhere.

So in honor of slow-motion moments the world over, here are a few other things that have tripped me up so far:
  • I've apparently acclimated to the size of drinks outside the U.S. Many times now I've been subconsciously shocked over how huge "normal"-sized drinks are here. Twice I've been intentionally ordering a small drink and ended up being given one of the gigantic huge ones for free. This has made me chuckle. That other me--the pre-France one--would have felt like I'd won the lottery. The cheapskate current me is appreciative but really doesn't want to drink that much.
  • I'm internally shocked here when servers at restaurants show up with the bill while we're still eating. It feels incredibly rude to me - like we're being asked to leave, rather than that they are just trying to provide good service and keep us from waiting. Apparently I've adjusted to the leisurely pace of most French dining (which works well for slow-eating me), where lingering long around a table is totally normal, where you almost never feel rushed out of a restaurant, and where you need to plan to start trying to get your bill about 20 minutes before you actually need to leave.
  • I'm still adjusting to the fact that here it's not a mark of rudeness not to say goodbye to servers/salesclerks when you walk out of their establishment. It's okay to do it here, but it's not a cultural norm like it is in France.
  • I had the hardest time the other day not using the 24-hour clock that has taken me forever to adjust to. So if I text you about meeting at 18h instead of 6 p.m., I hope you'll appreciate the little math exercise.
  • I'm still kind of shocked inside when people speak nonchalantly of running to the store to pick up some sort of food product or other necessity on a Sunday. My insides want to gently remind them that stores aren't open on Sundays, especially not after 1 p.m. And then slow-motion-brain finally realizes I'm back visiting the land of Sunday-shopping-is-a-thing-here.
  • On the up side - I was able to stay at a Starbucks the other night working on a proofreading project until 11:30 p.m.!!!! Such establishments in most of France are typically closed by 7 or 8 p.m.
  • And a friend and I were able to enter a restaurant and order food within about 30 minutes of their posted closing time! Kitchens are often closed at French restaurants well before closing time, so this felt like a huge treat and the height of good customer service.
Et voilà! Reverse-slow-motion-brains-R-us.