Wednesday, October 17, 2018

sick day

I ended up getting sick after yesterday's walk. It might have been a bug I'd caught from Tim; it might have been because yesterday's walk started off cold and misty. Either way, I'm down for the count today, which is too bad because it's truly gorgeous outside.

I canceled my lunch date with Maman and Papa, but Maman was obviously determined to feed me lunch, anyway: she texted that she would be driving over with a lunch tray and a tarte aux pommes for the family.

Here's the tray, still covered:

And here's the reveal:

You see chicken, beet salad, homemade bread (Dominique joked that he and his mom are having a sort of competition), and a lovely soup of squash or pumpkin with potatoes. Oh, and the aforementioned tarte. The chicken was the star of the show, in my opinion: when I texted Maman after eating everything, I used adjectives like "miraculeux" and "révolutionnaire." It was that damn good. I've asked her for the recipe.

So since today is something of a sick day for me, and since I'm lying in bed with nothing to do, I thought that maybe this would be the moment to lay out some of the thoughts I haven't had the time or energy to blog since coming back to France.

Let's start with the time/energy issue. I'm not one of those "do 30 things a day" type of people who think that that's how you should spend your vacation. I'm more of a "do one thing deeply per day" kind of guy. Yesterday, that meant walking to Niort, and despite my being sick today, I don't regret the effort or the danger that came with inadvertently playing in traffic. But the Ducoulombiers are an active, energetic, and athletic family, so they've been eager to fill my days with all sorts of proposed activities. This isn't to say that they wouldn't be open to my saying, "Lemme go at my own pace," but left to their own devices, their inclination is to roll several activities together into one day. This past Saturday was a good example: I helped Dominique do some yard work, toured the marsh with Tim, went with the family to watch Héloïse do her long jump, and went shopping at two different places for various items: a trekking pole for me, and food for the family. Sunday was also filled with activity as we drove all over the area to see various sites in the marsh and do yet more shopping (I was given a French-style bowl with my name on it, and I bought all sorts of food to take back to friends and coworkers). This blizzard of activity probably hasn't helped my languid constitution; I'm going to have to tell my French family that I need to slow down a bit. Today, calling in sick was a first step in that direction.

Dom asked me to help Tim with his English homework. Tim's a good kid, but he needs to be more attentive when he's receiving new information about a foreign language. He's been having trouble with the words "he/his" and "she/her," not quite getting the difference between a personal pronoun used as the subject of a sentence (he/she) and a possessive adjective used to modify a noun (his/her). We haven't even talked about object pronouns yet, God help us. But it could be that Tim is internalizing some of what I'm telling him: we had talked about the indefinite articles "a/an" before, and after describing the vowel-sound rule that governed their usage, I mentioned that there were exceptions, e.g. "a uniform" and not "an uniform" because the word, as pronounced, actually begins with a "y" sound, and "y" is technically a semivowel, not a true vowel. Tim proudly took this bit of knowledge with him to class the following day, and he apparently impressed the teacher by noting the exception I had taught him.

So, since it seems I'm forbidden from paying for my stay here, I help out a little with this and that: some English tutoring here, some yard work there, and soon, a bit of Korean cooking, assuming we can find all the ingredients we need tomorrow.

Let's shift gears and talk about my impressions of Paris. I've never liked Paris all that much; the place smells of piss (that hasn't changed since 2007), and it's chronically grungy. Like Rome, Paris is good for touristy things like food and art and culture/history, but in terms of general livability, I'd say the city is sorely lacking. Granted, that may simply be because I'm a confirmed Seoulite and not a resident of the City of Light. But even before I had racked up thirteen years in Seoul, that was how I felt about Paris.

That said, my one day in Paris, this time, was more pleasant than I'd expected it to be. I didn't encounter the standard rudeness of surly functionaries (one lady at the airport was quite friendly, helping me figure out how to get to the RER-B train), and while I did get approached by three separate scammers in the Montparnasse area, those encounters didn't ruin my day at all.

I used to tell people that Parisians love their dogs, and that the sidewalks of Paris were covered in dogshit. That's because that used to be true! But this time around, I was astounded to see not a single crotte de chien anywhere, and God knows I looked. At a guess, the same pick-up-yer-dog's-poop trend that hit the States also hit France. It's a change for the better, I think.

The Orientalization of Paris is definitely in full swing. Lots of Middle Eastern shops, beards, smells, clothes, and voices in evidence. I'd say that at least 40% of the voices I heard during my day in Paris were not speaking French. Where I am now, 120 km south of Nantes, it's 95% white, with a small contingent of sub-Saharan Africans. Paris is, shall we say, diverse.

Female fashion in a nutshell: you need long, frizzy, crazy-woman hair with blonde highlights, a leather or denim jacket, tight jeans, sunglasses perched atop your forehead, and a scarf-- the true badge of a Frenchwoman. Are Frenchwomen really sexier than other women? I saw some gorgeous specimens strutting the streets of Paris, but in the end, I'd say most Parisian women fall well inside the fat part of the beauty bell curve. Normal, in other words.

But where were the gay people? Teh GAY? As left-leaning as Paris is, I expected to see a ton of fabulous self-expression, but... nada. Maybe it's the hetero fashion that's become gayer, thus making gay people blend in more. Whatever may be going on, I saw more obviously gay folks after an hour in DC than I saw all day in Paris.

Asians in Paris: I got off with a planeload of Koreans, but most of the East Asians I saw in Paris were Chinese. There's got to be a Korean community somewhere; I just need to do the research to find it.

Here are some things I've learned about le marais poitevin (the Poitevin Marsh). The marsh is a huge part of life in this part of France. People have adapted their existence to how the marsh behaves. In the winter, the marsh tends to flood, thus burying all those beautiful gardens I had blogged about earlier. Heavy rains can also cause the water table to go crazy. In the growing season, though, enterprising gardeners take advantage of the rich, well-watered loam to grow big, healthy flowers and vegetables. The creek-like canals that run all over this region are used for boating, and the marsh contains pockets of gas that are occasionally stirred up deliberately by the locals and lit on fire, partly for entertainment and partly as a way to release or relieve pressure. Some houses on the marsh are only accessible by boat; such homes are usually vacation spots for certain tourists and expats. Speaking of expats: the region is host to a large contingent of English folk who find the place homey. Dom's village is also not far from Poitiers, a city made famous by Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer), who repulsed a major Moorish attack there in the 8th century.

Tim, when he was guiding me around on Saturday, told me about a large, nasty rodent called a ragondin; his description of the cat-sized rat corresponded so closely to my image of a nutria (found in the Louisiana bayou) that I began to wonder whether Tim was talking about the same rodent. Later that evening, I consulted Wikipedia, and sure enough: le ragondin is indeed France's nutria. In the bayou, local Cajun chefs figured out that the pest was edible and began to include it on their menus. They must have come to the same conclusion here in France because, when I was at a regional-products store a couple days ago, I saw bottles of ragondin meat on the shelves. So of course, I bought some, and of course, I'll be sharing it with brave friends and coworkers. (I also bought some bottles of frog meat and other local delicacies.)

Also speaking of tourists and expats: during my walk yesterday, I encountered a grandfather and grandmother walking their dogs. The grandfather took one look at me and boomed, "Ah, les touristes sont de retour!" ("Ah, the tourists are back!") I didn't know what to say to that, so I smiled benignly and pushed onward.

There we are: a few insights and impressions. It's good to be back in France, back among family. My time here has already been something of a little adventure, and even though I'm down for the count today, I plan to do what I need to, health- and medicine-wise, to make sure that I actively enjoy the rest of my brief time in this wacky, lovely country.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

Good stuff! Enjoyed the read.

Hope you feel better soon.