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Thursday, November 6, 2014

When the Crap Hits the Fan

As I left my apartment building this morning, I could tell that something was different.  There was a low murmur filling the usually quiet neighborhood.  My apartment sits just off a road that leads up to the périphérique around Toulouse and I recognized that quite a bit of stop-and-go traffic along this street was producing the unsettling, agitated noise.  Once or twice, as I got closer to the road, although it was still out of sight, someone sounded a loud, comical sounding horn.  "That doesn't sound like a normal car horn at all," I thought to myself.

I rounded the corner and saw that the street of our typically calm suburban neighborhood was crowded with morning commuters, and also an inexplicable number of farming vehicles.  Bright green tractors, and backhoes and giant, red machines with spiky arms, their engines low and thrumming inched along, much too bulky for the road on which they rolled.  Odd, I thought, maybe it's some big monthly agricultural event?  Maybe they're doing an expo or something in town?

I hurried on to head underground and catch my metro, my thoughts turning to my class that I didn't want to be late for.  A couple hours later, I was back on the metro and heading into the center of town.  I skipped up the steps to the weak November sun, rushing to get my errands done so I would make my next appointment.  Right there, in the center of town, main roads were blocked off and traffic was blocked by big white tents and more farming equipment.  Crowds of people were milling and talking and looking and pointing.  I glanced and figured, meh, no big thing.  Once or twice even, a loud "CRACK" sounded, although I never found out what it was and it didn't seem to be dangerous.

Determined to be early for the first day of training at my new job, located in a commune just outside Toulouse, I headed back into the metro to get on my way.  Getting off a few stops later, you could smell something awful immediately.  Ugh, someone let their dog poop around here, I thought.  I climbed the first flight of steps, on my way to fresh air, but the smell just thickened.  Another flight I climbed and ugh, it seemed like the smell was everywhere.  I got on a final escalator and saw, right at the metro entrance, partially blocking the stairs down, someone had dumped a HUGE pile of manure!  I gingerly stepped around it and continued to pick my way down the sidewalk, since the pile had been strewn and squashed and smeared around a bit by passersby.  A handful of businesses and administrative buildings are located in that area of the city.  As I walked, I passed an entrance to such a building which has a wide set of stairs leading up to its entrance.  These stairs were piled high with a heavy layer of manure and tires.  Large banners had been affixed to a nearby fence, expressing displeasure at government constraints placed on the farming industry.

Oh, it's a strike!  A farmers' strike!

Half a dozen street cleaners were busily working their way through the neighborhood, down side streets and around corners.  Even still, the sidewalk and street was covered in s thin film of watery, smelly, brown...crap.

I made it to my bus stop and panicked only a moment before my bus arrived, as some other bus-awaiters wondered aloud about possible transport interruption.  I arrived in plenty of time for my work training and didn't mind the strike all that much, it was simply pleasantly thrilling, nothing intrusive.  That is, until I caught a bus home and traffic was still jammed up from the day's events!  Took awhile to get home!

It turns out the strike was nation wide, and that in some places, like Paris, farmers were handing out free produce!  The farmers in Toulouse were definitely leaving behind something much less pleasant....

A link to the day's events in the news! And Anglais!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Let's talk about Liberia!

A few years ago, when I was a graduate student the first time in France, I was sitting in on a class on decolonization, and my advisor mentioned a great introductory book to Liberia.  (It's a dreary, cold, rainy day in France today, let's keep it light, shall we?)  I was sure to write the title down because--Bonus!--it was a novel on top of being historically accurate and super-informative.  Geo-political information and a thrilling narrative? I am all ears.  I eagerly wrote down the title and then promptly did not read it, grad school, not my area of studies, etc, etc...

A few weeks later, a fellow student was presenting his preliminary research, part of which touched on Liberia.  And he too was raving about how awesome this book was!

I recently, finally, settled down to read this infamous book....and...meh.  I certainly did learn a lot about Liberia but the prose did not seem very polished.  The author did a great job of whittling a long, complicated, intimidatingly convoluted history into a few key events that are retainable.  I put the book down with a sense of being able to talk a bit more intelligently about this tiny country.  However, the narrator and main actor in the book is just plain unlikable.  It seems like interesting things are going on around her but often she is just going about banal everyday activities, pontificating over inane things for pages and pages.  Sometimes her thoughts and feelings are enlightening and other times, I feel like the author wanted to pad out a section a bit and so just kept writing filler until you just lost sense of the point of the chapter.

What I'm trying to say is, if you like your history with a spoonful of sugar (sort of, spoonful of, like...cornstarch?  Flour?) than this is the right book to read.  However, you could probably spend just as much time with a straight history text of Liberia and come away with about as much knowledge.

Oh and the book?  It's The Darling, by Russell Banks.

My Mom hasn't sent my sweaters to France Yet

 (a walk around our new, suburban neighborhood.)

W: Brr! It's cold!  I should have gotten a thicker coat--a simple sweatshirt isn't enough.

D:  Excuse me, what do you make your simple sweatshirts with?

W:  Oh, just sweatshirt, on high heat.

D:  Good, I don't like that high fructose corn jersey.

W:  It's really not good for you.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Teutonic Plague: Home edition

Since I mentioned my former abode in my last post, (and in such glowing terms!) I thought it might be nice to share pictures of this place that I called home last year.
Here's the living room from the front door, through to the kitchen at the back of the apartment. That big rectangle of light is our back door.

You might notice the wash hanging from specially-purchased rope, hung from the previous owner's plant hooks in the ceiling.  I don't dryer dry my things; just wasn't raised that way.  Please also notice piles of climbing gear piled up at edges of room, including specially-purchased rope.  That shirtless guy poking his head through the doorway?  That's not my husband, why do you ask?

This is my husband!

There's just one thing I wanted to highlight in the living room:
I broke the bottom drawer of this dresser trying to open it once, and then he looked like he was trying to perpetually say something, so David made up some curmudgeonly eyes for him.  That is an Erlenmeyer flask atop my dresser, thanks for noticing!  Pro tip:  I like to display thoughtful objects around my home that are not only beautiful but serve a purpose.  This flask is great for when you need to whip up a batch of soap in a pinch, or instigate a game of Ninja in the kitchen. 

 Let's proceed to the kitchen.

Here's a photo of part of the kitchen, with me looking dejected about post-Thanksgiving turkey.  What's that just over my shoulder....?
Why it's a Tea-Rex!
And here's another angle of the kitchen:
That oven mitt also has a face, on account of Kevin saying that the whole thing reminded him of "a dino mouth."


And one more:
Great shot of our tire-stack there.  Oh, and the duct tape holding the linoleum down.




And above we have a photo of our little place decorated for Christmas.  Our door is on the left.

We also had a bedroom, bathroom, and a giant walk-in closet, but I don't really have any interesting photos of them, mostly because they are not that interesting.  Thanks for joining us on today's home tour!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Curious Case of Container Space

Why is it that most men, who theoretically have better spatial reasoning than women, seem to have difficulty choosing an appropriately sized container to hold dinner remnants?  My evidence is anecdotal, the pool of specimens I have observed being a delightful, admittedly narrow swathe of men with whom I have had the good pleasure of being acquainted.  Even so, small data set or not, I have seen the same progression of events at the close of a shared meal with invariable regularity.

Last year my husband and I had the privilege of living amongst a group of very close friends, all of us living in the pedestrian-friendly, university town of Fort Collins, CO.  We often referred to these folks as "the family."  I lost count of the number of people that had the key to our dilapidated, newly-wed chic, one-bedroom apartment. Dinner was a group effort most nights.  Gabe would bring over vegetables he was trying to use up, Kevin would saunter in around dinner time wondering loudly where everyone had gotten to, and my husband, by far the best cook of all of us, would produce something delicious and filling for whoever came by for dinner.  Everyone pitched in to help and I cherished those evenings watching my good friends feel so comfortable in my home that they felt free to rummage in the cupboards and help themselves to cups or drinks or anything in the fridge. 

As everyone finished and I stood to make the first move to gather up empty plates and cups and scrunched up napkins, sometimes someone would offer to help put away the leftovers.  If the friend was male, I would pay close attention, watching him stretched up tall on tip toes, peering up into the high shelves of the cupboard where all the various containers and lids were stored in teetering stacks.  I would fill the sink with warm, soapy water to start the dishes and when I had looked up after a few plates and utensils, I would inevitably see this eager helper spooning the few leftover cups of rice or sauce into a colossal, soup-tureen sized plastic vessel. 

I recall a friend telling me about her boyfriend's mother, who derived great satisfaction in finding a tub of appropriate size.  She apparently had a whole array of containers of varying progressive sizes, like plain, utilitarian Matryoshka dolls.  With a smile, my friend made a little square with her index fingers and thumbs, "Even if something was down to two bites, she'd pop it into a tiny, specially-sized container!" 

Later, staring into my jammed-full refrigerator, holding barely enough food for my husband and me to split for a scant lunch the next day, I would puzzle over this curious male tendency to misappropriate container space.  Believe me, I was still grateful for the help.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wednesday Night Fun

Before.....



After...





















(from Rochester to......well....Michael Fassbender...)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Santa isn't Secret; Santa is Dead

I've had two, separate ideas for posts rattling around in my head for weeks.  I realized tonight that they were both work-related, so I thought I would smash them together, Billy Joel-style, and confect a single post.

Back at the start of December, holiday spirits high, a co-worker flourished a ceramic mug under my nose, singing excitedly, "Secret! Santa!"  The mug, of course, was filled with slips of paper folded in half, each one presumably inscribed with a fellow worker's name.  Presumably.  For a split second, my curmudgeonly heart rolled its eyes and thought, "Really?  This again?"  However, I gamely drew a name, chiding myself for not diving fully into the holiday spirit, and breathing a sigh of relief that the name I had drawn was actually someone I had worked with more than a few times, and was not one of the just-hired people.

In the ensuing days, I spent time thinking about this co-worker, wondering about her hobbies and tastes, inquiring of others who might potentially know her better.  Settling on an appropriate gift in my mind, I took an afternoon and wandered a few stores, finally purchasing an item I felt was adequate and at the agreed-upon price point.

Exchange day arrived and, I have to admit, it was exciting to see the stack of brightly-wrapped presents in the back room fluctuate and change, as people dropped-off and picked-up their gifts.  I cast a cursory glance at the pile, but not seeing my name immediately, I simply left the present I had bought and went to start my shift.  Over the next few days I continued to check the diminishing, almost entirely gone pile, figuring that the person who drew my name probably did not work that frequently.

I'll just stop kicking this dead horse and skip to the end; no, I did not get a gift.  A co-worker called a couple weeks after the exchange, after I had already flown home for the week, and asked if I had received something, assuring me there would be a little something for me when I returned.  No.  Nothing.  There was nothing for me, and, now with Christmas far behind us, this promise seems forgotten.  (I'm not even sure how she found out, as I hadn't said anything about it to anyone...)

Even more odd, there was never a big reveal of who had whom, so I have no idea if my person liked her gift...?  Thought it was dumb....?  And now it seems too late to bring it all up.

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 The other day I was chatting with a co-worker at work, thanking her for some cookies she had made and given to me.  I mentioned how I enjoyed eating baked goods and had a sweet tooth, but did not like baking at all.

She exclaimed, "You don't like to bake?  What kind of woman are you?!"  And she was serious.

And then my brain went "Whoooooaaaaa" and shut down.

I didn't think this was an issue? anymore? what?

What I should have said was: "I'm a woman that doesn't like to bake."

I really like working with her too; in all other respects she is a kind, nurturing person.

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(Obviously, both of these anecdotes are inconsequential and I took neither experience very seriously.  I just found both humorous and interesting enough to share.)
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