29 July 2010

how to avoid cloudy skies in evreux, step 1: go to portugal

port01well, you actually go to paris first with a preview of your next seven days: lots of meals in the sun.

you don’t care about how harsh the lighting is, because you’re so happy that the sun isn’t blocked. you enjoy brunch outside while you wait for the bus to beauvais.

but let’s back up to a few months ago to a bleak january.

portugal really begins the same way amiens did. with the same french friend. late at night. where one idea led to another and then another…

hey cathy… i love your photos of strasbourg. i’d like to go. i’ve never been. the next time you go, can i go with you?”

of course!” is your immediate response.

[moment of reflection]



you change your answer, “hey e, actually, i have a better idea… since i’ve already been to strasbourg twice, let’s go somewhere we both haven’t been. AND let’s take a plane because i know you’ve never taken one!”

she agrees, “okay! where shall we go?”

[hops on ryanair.com]

nice? marseilles? toulouse? i haven’t been to any of those places,” you excitedly respond. the south of france! the beach! the south!

[pause… she’s not enthusiastic at all… why?]

if i am going to get on my first flight… i rather go somewhere else, because that is still france

[ah. you understand. france is not very exciting for the frenchies.]

no problem, let’s see what’s available

[sees flights to porto. 29EUR.]

how about porto? it’s cheap and neither of us have been there?”

[her eyes light up.]


and so that is how we decided on portugal.

port02she takes her first flight ever. on ryanair… which is quite a joke. but you’re happy to see the excitement of someone who has never flown before. you assure her that a major airline is not at all the same experience.

port04jackpot. you arrive. and you immediately see a market that sells only handmade goods. you resist buying anything because ryanair has a 10kg rule.

thankfully browsing is always free.

port03and, this week in may happens to be queima das fitas, a weeklong festival for college students. it’s a serious thing – nobody has class, and there is an entire uniform system based on your year and what school you’re attending. different cities have them on different dates, and porto’s just happens to coincide with your visit.

singing in the streets. lot’s of drinking. people dancing. the entire city is just on a high – and you’re lucky to ride it’s coattails.

port05porto is a great city for lovers of patterns.

port06as well as color. you’re pretty sure that there is a definite link between how a colorful a city in regards to how much sun it gets. a place like porto has tons of sun, so you have a feeling they show it off with their brightly colored buildings. but in normandy, it’s bleak quite often, so the buildings are not so intensely colored….

just a theory.

port07night falls. the first day, and you’ve already seen so much. you see the bird and can only think of twitter, yet another thing you don’t need to be getting onto.

port08you love these first days when you travel. because you woke up in evreux. but now you’re walking around on a bridge, full of portuguese food and wine? and in a few hours you’ll be falling asleep in porto.

waking up in one country and falling asleep in another in the same day always makes you feel like time doesn’t exist.

28 July 2010

le 30 avril – le dernier jour comme une assistante [april 30th – the last day as an assistant]

the last day of class. not for the kids – they still have 2 more months. but for you. the end of your contract

your one-way flight to texas is on may 11th. the next 11 days are going to fly. but today, you won’t think about that. instead you’ll treat april 30th like any other normal day.

yearbook02first one of your students gives you some lilacs from a tree in her backyard.

while you are familiar with the color lilac, you’ve never smelled it. and you become obsessed. the smell is nothing like lavender, which you associate together because of the color. instead, lilac is something that smells so light and refreshing that you spend the rest of the day with your nose buried in this bunch.

you notice this table set up.

and this table too.

hmmm… what is all that for?

oh yes. they are throwing you a little goodbye party, complete with homemade baked goods!

you do love your students. they are a wonderful bunch and you wish them the best because you aren’t sure if you’ll be their assistant next year.

yearbook01back at the foyer. making yearbooks is hard work. getting people to fill out forms with their addresses, names, numbers, etc. is tough. you pester people constantly to get them to spend a few minutes to write. they may hate you… but they will love you in the end when they see the finished book! you’ve also secretly razed down a forest printing these… shh.

hand binding 40 of these is work. work requires a break.

you’re not a smoker, so that leaves only one type of break:

dinner break!

best lunchesyou’ve eaten great stuff in europe. maybe not any three star restaurants, but it has been good.

however, the best meals have always been the ones where you and a friend combine fridges and make a meal based on whatever is in there.

“i’ve got mustard!”

“ohhhh i’ve got some slices of ham somewhere there too”

“and i went to cora and got some cheese today!”

“i’ve got half a baguette leftover from breakfast somewhere in my room” (everybody always has half a baguette somewhere.)

“oh! i think i still have some of that tapenade from a few weeks ago, it’s real good and you have got to try it.”

etc. and then you just pile all the goods on the table and dig in, eating whatever is there and discovering new combinations.

yearbook03after dinner, you grab your purse and head out with your friends to go to a concert.

yearbook04while waiting for it to begin, you  kill time by… standing around and chatting.

good conversations. happy moments. lots of silly photos. a perfect way to finish off your year as a teaching assistant.

and the other nice thing about france is being able to stand around and drink alcohol in public spaces. so refreshing, because you have to hide that stuff with a koozie in texas. here it’s just normal and a part of life.

night falls. tomorrow – off to paris, then beauvais, and then, portugal.

27 July 2010

le petit-dejeuner au foyer

pdej01you live on the east side of the foyer. so every morning you fling open your windows to see what surprise the sun has for you.

pdej02today there isn’t an amazing sunrise. but it’s still a nice to wake up to.

pdej03now that it’s spring, you venture downstairs for the foyer breakfast. most of the time you eat in your room, because you prefer eating in your pajamas, plus… the breakfast food isn’t that good.

you really just show up for the company – because that’s always good.

pdej04it’s not awful. but when you’re a foreigner who only has 9 months to taste the things of france, stuff like this isn’t going to cut it. you want the baguette de tradition. you want the good brand of jams. you want that yogurt from the market made by the farmer just on the outskirts of town. none of this industrial stuff – again, it’s not bad, but if you’ve only got a few months, you definitely want to taste the stuff that you can’t get back home!

pdej05anyway, there’s the usual selection of teas, coffee, milk, hot chocolate, water, orange juice. and cereal – plain, sugared, or with fruits.

pdej06and when you do show up for breakfast, you get to hang out with people who don’t want their photo taken. understandable. but your intention wasn’t the person, honest! you just wanted to make a photo of their typical breakfast.

pdej07see, this person understands. some more choices: applesauce, some jam filled cake (again, you’d never eat that when there is a bakery just 15 min away…), and more yogurt and orange juice.

though, lots of people do grab the stuff and eat it for snacks for later, so it isn’t always just for breakfast.

pdej08 everybody always grabs a knife. to slice the baguette in half, of course, and to spread their choice of jam, butter, or hazelnut spread on it.

pdej09 rarely is the baguette not dunked.

pdej10or the croissant for that matter.

pdej11whatever your choice, one thing is sure: a proper french breakfast is never crumb free.

ah. you enjoy being in evreux, where it feels like a vacation from vacation. traveling is hard work, and you need these pit stops in evreux to rest and relax.

26 July 2010

the bakery

boulan01it’s going to be your last day to wake up at 6am to walk to the bakery for your little informal stage… because you’re leaving soon for portugal. and then to brittany. and then… to texas.

so for your final day, you bring the camera.

boulan02and you start outside, as usual. this is the view you’re accustomed to in france: the displays. the baguettes. the baskets. the prices. you love it, but you wanted to see more.

boulan03so that is why you wrote a lettre de motivation (a cover letter), translated your resume into french, and attached some photos of pastries that inspired you as well as some pastries you made.

boulan04and the bakery’s response was “when can you start?”

you’re floored. did writing that really just actually work? did they really just say yes?

so you begin the cross into the other side. look, you can even see notes taken down by the vendeuse for future orders. you step behind the counter, behind the register, and into the back…

boulan05and. you’re there. you have crossed from retail to the kitchen! you remember your first day, they have you assembling tartelettes.  they give you a tour. they show you everything. they let you help.

and at the end, perhaps they weren’t expecting it, but you ask, “can i come back tomorrow…?” and the patron says, “oui.”

and so you come back. and at the end of another 4 hours, you ask again, “est-ce que je pourrais revenir…?” and the patron says, “oui.”

and you repeat this every monday, tuesday, and fridays.

on wednesdays, the bakery dort. that’s their day off, and they all sleep. on thursdays, you work at 10am so it’s not possible. and the weekends? well, you keep those free for other things.

soon, you’re a regular and you don’t have to ask to come back each time. it becomes “tu viens quand tu veux” type of thing.

boulan06you do question yourself at 6am each morning and tell yourself how much you hate yourself – but that’s only because you despise waking up.

honestly. a warm bed. even a million dollars would make you grumpy to leave it.

however, once you are out of bed and walking, you are nothing but giddy and excitement.

boulan07you get to see how it’s gone. and you get to pester them with questions. and they, strangely, don’t mind. they like it! so you take advantage of that and just keep asking.

boulan08of course they have piles and piles of tart and cake pans. and lots of grilles for them to cool.

boulan09you love all the random things you learn. like why they have butter and yellow butter in the walk-in refrigerator. the chef explains that historically, when bakeries would store butter in freezers, they would add colorant to differentiate between which butters had been there had been longer so they knew in which order to use their butter. and today, they keep that yellow butter for the color it adds, nothing else (taste isn’t affected). but it is something you can’t get at grocery stores, only for commercial kitchens.

boulan10you try assembling a… hmm, darnit, already forgot the name.

whatever it was called, it wasn’t easy. everybody had a good laugh watching you sloppily try to assemble two meringue based cookies with a layer of cream. not as easy as it looks!

boulan11 it’s quite a small operation. 1 patron (owner – and he’s in the kitchen working just as much as everybody else!), 1 femme (wife), 1 pastry chef, 3 stagiaires (student trainees), 1 person doing viennoiseries, 1 person doing sandwiches, 1 person doing deliveries, 2-3 people in the front, and….

boulan12the baker. you connect with the boulanger. he is equally curious about the usa as you are about france. so you always enjoy wandering over to where le pain is made and chatting with him. many questions, comments, and stories are exchanged in this area.

you know you guys are good friends when he finds you frequent a certain bar that he makes the bread for. perfect.

and yes, that bread scorer is indeed made by gilette, the same razor company.

boulan13there are two types of baguettes in france. baguette and baguette de tradition. the normal one, on the right, is formed by a machine. but the traditional baguette is kneaded less and can only be formed by hand.

but both have nice long resting times in the giant proofer.

boulan14for the normal baguettes that go into the machine, they are cut by pressure. that flat surface in the top right corner is what divides the bread evenly by volume, not weight.

one question you had was “why can’t i find good bread in the states? or in belgium? or anywhere but france!? why?” and his response was so simple and so true. it boils down to the cooking history of a culture.  in france, so many of their meals are sauce based. the bread is basically a necessity to soak up all the sauce. so even if one makes very delicious bread in the states, it still won’t be eaten because american culture doesn’t need bread like the french culture does.

and it’s true. take away the basket of bread from a french person at dinner time, and watch them cringe in discomfort as they can’t properly enjoy their meal.

you will always cherish the people you met and the things you’ve learned in your short and informal stage at the bakery.

now for your to do list in life, you can cross through "work in a french bakery in france." it wasn't as tough as you thought! now to tackle some other goals...

25 July 2010

évreux. precious, precious évreux.

evbreak01to be back in france. finally. you say hello to those sunrises that you haven’t seen for the past two weeks as you walk to your 7am bakery stage.

evbreak02you’re also constantly greeted by the intense blooms of cherry blossoms. you’ve never seen them before. you know they exist in washington d.c. and in japan, and to finally see them just makes everything so much better. you really enjoy your walks around evreux now.

evbreak03and the best part about going back to évreux is you get to hang out with some people you haven’t seen for two whole weeks!

what an amazing bunch. you miss them so much.

24 July 2010

sea. salt. the end of easter vacation, and the return to france.

slovenia62oh perfect. your plans worked. you saved the trip to the coast for your last full day, crossing your fingers the entire time that it would be nothing but blue skies. and your hopes came true. a cold and wet bled was worth it for the sunny adventure you’re about to experience. your first destination today is seča.

slovenia63you arrive.

everything gets better and better.

the weather is stunning

and here, you smell it, feel it, hear it, see it – the ocean. salt. water. for a girl who lives normally five hours away from a gulf that isn’t pretty even without oil spills, visits to oceans and seas are always treasured.

slovenia64if only it were summer, because things wouldn’t be so silent.

you’d hear the sound of shovels digging. mini wooden trains rolling along the track. special sandals walking around delicately.

that’s right, you’d hear salt being harvested.

slovenia65you’re at sečovlje salina nature park. a wildlife preserve to over 250 species of birds. salt pans that are over 700 years old. a salt park where salt is still gathered traditionally by hand. no giant machinery here. just techniques passed down person to person over many years.

you finish up here. and start walking… to the next town.

slovenia may be small, but their public transportation is not that nice. the buses run infrequently, so you’re better off just walking from town to town sometimes. but you don’t mind, since it means you get to see more. you do make a mental note that perhaps traveling with a bicycle next time is not such a bad idea. anyway, your next stop is portorož.

slovenia66just like you thought, the walk is worth it. you keep following the coast.

slovenia67you spot a horse. and you can’t resist trying to get close to him to say hello.

slovenia68you arrive in portorož. finally. starving, you buy lunch: meat, cheese, bread, and tomatoes. perfect. you walk around a bit… but then you spot a bus. which can take you to the next town, piran. you decide it’s better to catch the bus now rather than later because who knows when the next one will be. you barely saw portorož, but oh well…

slovenia69you arrive in piran. you give yourself no more than three hours to explore before you catch the next bus. it’s an absolutely beautiful medieval city. you almost forget that you’re not in italy because so much of it resembles it’s neighbor. it’s almost like visiting italy, but without the italians.

slovenia70you love admiring boats. you wish you had a good friend with a boat you could give gas money to and borrow. juuuuust wishing.

slovenia71castle time! this time, some of the steepest stairs you’ve ever seen. so steep that with each step you take, your stomach lurches a little bit.

slovenia72obligatory view from a castle. this part never gets old.

slovenia73why hello there. more of the pink and yellow combination that catch your eye.

slovenia74would you believe you weren’t in italy?

slovenia75 the salt makes a come back, this time in a retail store. it’s something they are very proud of. and whosever’s idea it was to put sky-blue couches outside… genius. you would have sat, but you have to rush to catch the bus to the next town, koper.

lmap just a small interruption to show you a map because i’m pretty sure not many people are familiar with slovenia’s geography. and a map always helps clear it up. from ljubljana, i travelled to the area that is circled.

lmap2and i had to visit 4 cities in one very short day. i had to. no choice, because the important thing for me to visit was the salt park. which is the x at the very bottom. but the only place that that a train back to ljubljana was from koper, at the x at the top right corner. and there was no direct way to get to it from the salt park. the only way to get to that city to catch my train back to ljubljana was to travel between 4 (!) cities. so while this isn’t my normal way of traveling of see, run, see, run, see, run, i didn’t have a choice if i wanted to visit the salt park.

slovenia76koper. you have two hours before your train back to ljubljana, so you don’t see much. you do some major power walking to get a quick glimpse of the city.

slovenia77you may rush, but you still pause every now and then to just look.

slovenia78of course anything pink and yellow will stop you.

slovenia79the train ride back to ljubljana is stunning. but it was a train-bus-train ride because there isn’t a direct train between the two cities… fun fun.

back to ljubljana. for your 8 am flight to zurich, then to paris, then finally, back to evreux.

the next day…

slovenia80wait. 8am flight? you’re still at your host’s place hanging out and it’s 10am. not possible. what went wrong?

a volcano blew up in iceland and so everything went down the drain.

slovenia81you stress. but you take advantage of your extra time in ljubljana, and buy this hmmmm….. you forgot. it’s a specialty from….. hmmmmmm…. you forgot.

ah-hah! notebook to the rescue. it’s a buckwheat cake with cottage cheese, sour cream, eggs, cornmeal, and salt. it’s called hajdinksa pogača and it’s from trzin.

memories of taste are forever. memories of words… easily forgotten.

slovenia82and you leave your sweet host with a sweet chocolate cake from her favorite place to buy ice cream. if they have good ice cream, they must have good cake, don’t you think?

and with a stroke of luck, you do make it back to evreux, about 24 hours later. it involved a very crammed 8 hour train ride to munich. and then a 8 hour drive in a smart car that began at midnight from munich to paris. and then another hour train ride from paris to evreux. and then a walk from the gare to your place. and then you are so glad to be back in a place you like to call home.