Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm back my little darlings

I'll be the first to admit that I've been slacking a tad with this blog... you know, my last post was about 7 weeks ago. But, I have what appear to be really good excuses, so you can all get off my back. Some of these excuses are;

  • I'm so tanned that I spend hours admiring myself in the mirror. There's never too much self-adoration one can do!

  • To get that tan, I've had to spend countless hours on the pristine beaches of the Mediterranean coast. From Cannes to Monaco, I've followed my traveller's duty to lay under the rays as much as possible.

  • I've had 6 different groups of visitors coming and going from my apartment. I've been so blessed to see all these people again, but it doesn't leave too much "me" time.

  • I've been soul-searching.

So there, that should explain some of my absenteeism from this page, and I don't blame any of you if you don't want to read this again, I understand if you're holding a grudge. But, now that I've finally had the guts to put my fingers to the keyboard, i might as well fill you in on what's been happening on my corner of the world since I last wrote here. I beg of you to spare me the judgement for using a list format, but it's the only way you'll get coherent writing from me, since I have so much to tell!

  1. So, since leaving you all hanging in suspense last post, I took my decision and sticking to it of staying another year in France. At first, this took me just as much by surprise as it probably did you, but wheighing my pros and cons, I realized that I would be a fool not to take advantage of another year here. Aside from the obvious bonus of having new people in my life, staying here will definitely cement that aventurous, independent part of my personality that has been slowly showing itself since my arrival months ago. Never in my 25 years of life had I done something that I owned so much. I mean, all my big achievements I have always relied on others to reach success( thanks fam and friends!!) but this time, it's been all up to me to make it what I've wanted to. It hasn't been all rosy and easy, as some of you may have noticed by my teary, shaky voice phonecalls. Knowing that I'm missing out on some of the most beautiful moments of my friends' and family's lives gives me a knot in my stomach still. But if I'm going to really live one life, it has to be my own, not my friends' or family's .And taking this next step forward; going away from what others would have expected from me is such a liberating feeling. I'm in love with this new strongly independent side! So in the next few weeks, I will, for the 3rd time in 9 months, be packing all of my belongings and undertaking an adventure in the Alps... And I couldn't be happier!

  2. I mentioned I had people coming to visit me in the past few weeks. I've had the pleasure of receiving dear UVic friends, a BFF, a French crowd from the alps, London visitors, a lone visit from the Alps encore, and my Colombian Friend who lives in Paris. As a result, I've been able to take in the beauty of the Cote d'Azur through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time, and I have been re-marvelling at all the wondrous things that surround me. It has been a blessing in disguise; since I'll be leaving the beaches and mediterranean glitz behind soon, so I'm glad I get to do it again, and even better, accompanied by people that I love and are so special to me. On the plus side, I've also had the chance to do new things, like bathing in the glamour of the world-renowned Cannes film Festival, and visiting the charming Italian city of San Remo.

  3. I've discovered once more the world is a tiny place. The other day, on my way back from work on the bus, 3 guys got on, one of them sporting an old-school black, red and yellow Canucks hat. Knowing that he could only be a hardcore Vancouver fan, I started talking to them. Turns out, they graduated from UVic last year, one of them has lived in Abbotsford his whole life, and the other one lived in the same residence that i did my first semester in University!!! And I ran into them on the bus from Monaco to Nice!! I was a little awestruck at the coincidence! But THEN, something even creepier happened. As Iannis and Cecile started searching for my replacement, they got in contact with a girl from Colombia...I didn't think too much of it, I just thought it was funny she had the same name as my sister. Then, when they called her for a phone interview, and I spoke to her... we realized we went to the same school in Colombia!! She was only 2 years below me!! How weird is that?? I'm all they way in France, and my replacement for the AuPair job is a girl who went to my same school in Colombia, and whose parents my mom knows! Cue the floating boats, and "It's a small world after all".
  4. I visited the Cannes festival. Not much more I can say, except it was glitzy, it was packed, hot, and I felt like a total creeper taking pictures of Quentin Tarantino having lunch on the terasse of the Carlton Hotel, while trying not to get caught by the million security men in black suits.
I don't think I can go on any longer with this list making. But, I do guarantee to keep you posted on my last weeks here, and my adjustment in Megeve. I have some good leads on jobs, in private schools, hotels, and even an institution for children with mental and physical disabilities. But, I'm kind of loving not knowing what's going to happen. It's such a nice change from the A-Z guide that my life seems to be sometimes. Don't tune out, I won't let as much time go by as I did since my last post. A tres bientot les amis,

Maria Maria

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reflections from a Family Vacation

I have been back for almost a week from an idyllic, out-of-a-movie place, where goats prance in green pastures, and majestic snowpeaks reign over valleys zigzagged with crystalline rivers. Well.. that's not entirely true. I didn't see any actual goats. But, I did eat fresh, local goat cheese, and I imagine that it must have come from goats who pranced in green pastures. A girl can dream right?
Being blessed as I am to be here, I had the opportunity to go on vacation with the Bokias to the Alps. They picked the chic station of Megeve, which is renowned for its beauty, expensive hotels, old time charm, and magnificent runs. It's located on French territory, but it's an hour from Geneva in Switzerland, and another hour from Italy on the other side. Megeve is also well known for its vibrant nightlife, which I was lucky to experience with some of the locals, as I befriended a few of the staff in the hotel, amongst them two argentinian servers who have been living the life, skiing at day, serving at night, and dancing until dawn.

The week, needless to say, was a happy occassion all around. There were only two days where it snowed, but even then, the village looked more charming than ever, with its year-round Christmas lights displays, tiny creperies, and horse carriages clopping their way through the cobbled streets. I felt like I was in a magical Disney movie. The rest of the time, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the snow was perfect for skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing. The hotel was charming, and I was lucky enough to have my own room, where I took full advantage of the complimentary terry cloth bathrobes, slippers and free l'Occitane products. I was able to spend some quality time with the whole family, playing in the snow, strolling through the village, and enjoying cheese fondue at night.

There are two very distinct cultures in Megeve. The first one is that of the glamourized tourists, bronzed from their days on the hills, who are willing to pay 600 euros for a hotel room. The latter content themselves with skiing, shopping at the local Carolina Herrera boutique in the afternoon, and then dining at a 100 euro menu restaurant at night. They're the ones that keep the economy in this little village going.
Then, there are the people who make everything happen. Those who scurry after the tourists, putting away their snowboots in the equipment room, keeping the wine flowing during dinner, and responding to their every whimsical command. These are the real lifeblood of Megeve, like any other tourist destination. They mingle with the tourist crowds at the local live jazz club, paying half for drinks (because they worked there last season), and whizz by them in the ski runs during their days, before heading down to change their snowpants for black slacks. It's not a lifestyle everyone would choose, as there is only seasonal work available, the friends you made during this season will be gone in 4 months, and there are times where I'm sure you get sick of the snow. But, it is a lifestyle that liberates some from our modern day need to be slaves to our job all day, every day. I was so in love with this place, that I actually made arrangements to come back 3 days later than the family did, and I was able to experience some more of what life in a tourist hub in the Swiss-French Alps was like.

I have to admit that coming back to Nice, I've been able to come to some conclusions that I had not expected to arrive to after 10 days in higher altitudes. For the first time in my 8 months away, I'm considering staying a little longer. I think a side of me that has been slowly surfacing during my sejourn was fully awoken by the call of the mountain (I guess Julie Andrews was right after all: The hills are alive with the sound of music). One of the beauties of being here is that I have been able to discover things about myself that I didn't know before. If you ask anyone in my life, I'm a control freak, I need to have every situation under my control at all times, and have everything planned out for hours, days, months, and years. Yet, the idea of letting go a little, venturing to an unknown side, and experimenting with life's surprises is becoming increasingly more appealing to me. I consider myself to have already achieved a lot in my short 25 years on this earth, and I think I could afford to take off some more time to not particularly make any notches in my "successes" belt, but to release some of that grip on life's details and let myself get carried away.

In our day and age, we are tied to details and plans from when we wake up to our cell phones' alarms, to the "martini night" invitations on our facebooks to which we must RSVP, to our e-agendas bursting with dentist's appointments, meetings with your power-people group to take over the world, and lunch with your family to fill them in on what your 5 year plan looks like. It's exhausting! No wonder we develop stress disorders, have back problems and start dieing our hair at 22 because we have grey hairs. I think I've just come to realize (and this is not the first time that I write about this) that ambition is good, but life is not about getting to your goals at no matter what price. It's about the process that gets you there. There is no one right way to live this life, no one right way to find happiness.

So here's to the next few weeks... where I'll be tossing in my head whether my way to find happiness for the next year lies in Vancouver with my family, friends, and career; or if it lies hidden in a rocky cranny in the middle of the Alps. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Carnavalesque 25th

Well, that time comes in everyone's life where you cease to be young and crease-less, and turn into a... 25th year old. This phenomenon, known as "the turning point birthday" in your life, often (but not always) occurs between your 24th and 26th birthdays. You may know some people who have turned 25, or you may be (or have been) one yourself. You might also agree that these peculiar beings display different behaviour than others (but oddly similar to that of odd creatures turning 50). Having recently (and most gracefully may I add) turned 25 myself, I can offer some help identifying some behavioural symptoms of 25 year olds, so that you may help these poor confused souls into their transition from young and careless to the "start lying about your age" period:

  • The symptoms may commence earlier than you suspect... maybe 6 months before their birthday, the subject may decide to leave to live in a non-Anglophone country which has its own kiss name, and there's cheap alcohol. This may signal the 24 year-old's last attempt to capture slippery freedom from 'adult' responsibilites.
  • You may find the subjects' thoughts to be centered often around the meaning of life, seizing the moment (or the carp), and being thankful for each minute. (refer to december blog archive to see a prime example).
  • They refuse to accept their friends' steps towards adulthood as something they could be doing themselves: " WHAT? they're getting MARRIED? That's CRAZY. I could never get married this young" Little do they know that they're not that young.
  • In your attempt to soften the blow for your loved one who is turning 25, you may send out a bday card to congratulate them... prepare yourself to have it returned by mail, with a note saying: Thanks, but you've got it all wrong, I'm just turning 23!! You know, the Nile isn't just a river in Egypt.
  • Each day they find a new gray hair, tiny wrinkle, or nagging pain that must mean they're getting older.
If any of your loved ones is experiencing these effects, just go with the flow. Don't contradict them, attempt to make them come in touch with reality, or remind them of the importance of this milestone in their lives. You may risk putting these people into a permanent state of shock at how time is flying by... I received quite a successful treatment for my 25th blues. I recommend it to all who are soon to turn this age (which are many of you, my dearest 1984 friends).

First, the city of Nice started carnival on the exact date of my birthday. This is to say that they knew how big this moment was, and that they were going to put forth all their money and effort to celebrate my bday in style. Then, friends flew in from all parts of the world (well, Europe) and accompanied me in drinking tequila, dancing salsa, and going to Monaco to gawk at the millionaires. Lastly, I received many abundant gifts and cards from home. Really, doesn't every 24 turning 25 year old deserve this??

My advice to you, is if you know someone soon turning a quarter of a century, get started on the preparations. Help them plan their trip abroad, send letters to your city to organize a carnival, buy a humongous bottle of tequila, and party on!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Crazy Brits

Well, since I have about 48 extra hours that I had not been counting on, due to a "massive" snowstorm (20 cm over 24 hours... Eastern Canada is rolling on the floor laughing right now), I can take some time to share with you my trip to London and Newcastle. Having reached the midpoint of my trip on January 25th, I was very happy to be able to go somewhere where I would find familiar faces, people that made part of MY life in Canada.

So, leaving a sunny 13 degree Nice I travelled to London to first meet with Nathan, my adoring friend from Uvic, who is doing law school in London. Coming into town in the bus from the airport, I noticed how dynamic and ever-moving London. As I arrived, it was drizzling, which I thought it to be very appropriate, since London is famous for its overcast glory. We took a cab to Piccadilly Circus, in Soho, where we went to a pub (surprise!) for dinner and drinks. I was so overwhelmed, fascinated and awed at the never ending stream of activity on the streets. Everywhere you look there are men and women dressed to the nines in their power suits, strutting the streets, and rocking out their accents...which when you really think about it, are not really accents here since they're in their homeland. One of the things that I've loved the most while here, is the culture liased to socializing after work, everyone goes out to the pubs after they're done working, resulting in masses of young, extremely well dressed, Londonites, mingling with each other after a day spent in the office facing a computer. It really puts a focus on interpersonal relations, as opposed to relations through your Blackberry( or other techie toy of your choice).
My first full day in London was filled with sunshine, and although quite chilly, it was the perfect way to see a city that was meant for walking. I made my way to St. Paul's Cathedral where Princess Di got married, but did not go inside because they charged a ridiculous amount to get in. Then, I crossed the Millenium Bridge across the Thames (watch Love Actually, you'll see it in the intro) and went into the permanent exhibition at the Tate Modern museum. It was a free entrance, and I was able to see some very interesting modern art spanning from the Impressionist Era (Monet's water lilies) to contemporary art. Most of the art was fascinating, but others, especially some video installations, left me wondering if these people were seriously talented or seriously disturbed.
After my cultural fill for the day, I had lunch next to the river, and then walked along the Thames, to the Jubilee Bridge. From here I was able to see the London Eye, Big Ben, and enjoy street performers. The whole time I was regaling in one of London's best pasttimes: people watching. You get everything from modelesque 6 feet tall women, to guys dressed in punk rock outfits, to ladies with fur coats and little dogs. Next up was a walk to Covent Gardens. This is a hip and young Central London neighbourhood with lots of shops, a market, pubs, and some world-class street entertainment. I was able to feast my ears listening to a string quartet which boasted an opera tenor, and delighted the crowds with a magnificent rendition of O Sole Mio . Then, it was MY turn to be part of a street show, as I stumbled upon a man who walked on a rope and juggled knives at the same time. In front of a pretty big crowd, he asked me to be his "Lovely Assistant", and I was in charge of giving a demo on the sharp knives by cutting a carrot, and then handing him the knives while he was on the tight rope. It was fun to be a street performer for 30 minutes!
Meeting up with Nate, he took me to a Liverpool Bar. This area of town is much more eclectic and fresh than the rest of London, home to a laid back but hip crowd. We ate and drank at a bar with excellent atmosphere, playing everything from 70s rock to techno. After 5 pints, and some more catching up conversations, we made our way home in the tube, and got into bed after a jam-packed day.
The third day was spent with my lovely friend Chelsea, who is doing her Masters in Art History. She took me to more touristy places like Trafalgar Square( where, much to my disappointment, I couldn't climb on one of the plaza's famous lions for a shot... damn ledge), Buckingham Palace, Whitechurch, the Parliament Buildings (where Big Ben is), and even a personalized tour of her schools impressive Impressionist Art gallery which includes works by Manet, Monet, VanGogh, Boticelli and Renoir. After another day of very tired feet, we went back to her place to re-charge, re-apply make up, and re-dress for a Friday night out in town.

We met up with Nate, and went to get a little taste of home at a pub called the Maple Leaf, which has beer from Canada, and food from Canada too. Then, on our way out, we struck conversation with a rickshaw driver, who turned out to be COLOMBIAN, and he gave us a really fun ride on his kabuki cab through London streets to a Latin bar called Salsa. This was by far, the best Latin bar I have ever been to outside of Latin America... they had a live salsa band, played traditional merengue, reggaeton and salsa, and in short, we danced the night away. It was a perfect way to end my sejour in London.

Saturday brought a very early flight, and the second leg of my trip: Newcastle. Amanda and Neil were waiting for me at the airport, and I was so happy to see my bff again! We had home made omelettes, caught up, and then I was taken on a little tour of the city, the North Angel - which is, and I quote: "believed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world", and then to a very windy, very rocky, very english-looking beach. My time in Newcastle was mostly a relaxing ordeal, meant to refresh and rejuvenate me for my second half in France, and mostly to spend good quality time with Amanda. We had a movie night, ate Fish and Chips, and Sunday we spent the whole day at the pub watching a football match. You might as well call me English now, I've done it all!!

Which brings me to the end of this trip, which has been incredibly stressful. Britain got dumped with 20cm of snow, which is way too much for them to handle. Airports shut down, I almost didn't make it to my flight from Newcastle, and I'm camped out in the city for 2 days until they can fly me out on Wednesday. I guess it's a little more free time than I asked for.. hehehe. But, hey, it's given me time to update this blog, my diary, and read my ridiculously good French book that I can't put down!
I'll leave you all for now, but just as an aside... it's 10 days until my birthday, and it's a BIG one (25!!!) so you better all get those cards in the mail if you want them to get here on time ;) hehehehe
Big hug, missing you all tons!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not exciting, but still GOOOOOD

I've been getting complaints (mostly from my adoring Mother, who follows my every move on this trip ;)) that I haven't updated my blog in a while, and she's right. The thing with committing to writing a weekly update is that when you have slower weeks, it's quite hard to get motivated and write about how you spent New Year's alone (true story! Remind me to tell you aaaaaallll about it one day), or write a re-tell of the French movie you saw the other day. Which led me to think about what I wanted to write about, since I didn't want to write just for the sake of writing. This post will be a little bit like those TV episodes of your favourite show, where they have a 'reminiscing' and 'reflecting' episode, and they show flashbacks of your most beloved scenes. So, regale my friends (and MOM!!) I'm about to share with you some of my most unique, embarassing, and self- discovering moments of my voyage thus far:

PART 1- Everyday Lessons
"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma". ~Eartha Kitt

  • Before I left, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted from my life, and that I knew myself pretty well: my ambitious personality, my desire to overtake every single obstacle and turn it into another success, to be the BEST 24/7, 7/7, 365/365. You might all be familiar with this Maria, who while overtaking the biggest adventure of her lifetime in a foreign country, decided she wanted to start her masters, not even a year after having finished her undergrad, and with only 5 months of teaching under her belt. But I think a lot of my "150%" mentality has a lot to do with the environment that I have been in for the last 5 years. Being competitive in university, for the best grades, the best practicum reports, the best candidate for that interview.. it eventually gets to you, and you think of yourself as this one-faceted person who is only truly herself when being on top. Now that I've had some time to unwind, live a life that is less demanding, and immerse myself in a culture that is innately laid back, I've come to realize that as much as I love being the aggressive Latina who works her butt off for everything, I also enjoy succeeding in the smaller challenges of life. This means, that instead of overloading my plate when I come back with a new job, a new city, a re-entry culture shock (can you imagine, no wine, no cheese??? THE HORROR!) and on top of that starting a Masters program, I'm going to focus on making my first full teaching year a success, and really enjoying from A-Z all the things and the people that make my life at home so rich and beautiful. Then, if I feel satisfied with the way I've tackled this challenge, I'll continue with my perfect plan for world domination :)
  • It's okay to be alone. If I'm completely honest with myself, I'll recognize that I'm a total people addict. I need to have several meaningful social episodes with multiple different people in one week to consider it a success. And you really can't blame me! I have the most amazing family and friends... why on earth would I want to be alone?? But here, I've learned that my life can still be satisfying while I enjoy little moments with myself: going to the movies alone, sitting at a cafe and writing on my journal, taking off on a whim to explore a city for a day. If I may say so myself, I am the most delightful company!!
  • Being uncomfortable is a good thing!! And I'm not talking about my lifestyle or physically, since I've been quite pampered my whole trip. I must admit that there was a significant part of me that didn't quite want to leave on this trip. I was comfortable and cozy right where I was: fresh diploma in hand, making an actual salary, surrounded by people that I love... Sometimes I just couldn't see past the little things to focus on the big picture. So mentally, I think I was way out of my comfort zone when I first came here. I had to start from zero, and get used to being out of my cocoon, but as a result, I'm a bigger, better person!
  • I can eat and be fine!!! hahaha... I know this doesn't seem like a very philosophical or meaningful point, but it really is. The French are famous for their love affair with good food, and I must say that I'm in love too. While I've been here, I've re-learned to love "forbidden" foods like cheese, butter, white bread, pastries and chocolate. But I've also re-learned the true pleasure of eating. Sitting down, and really savouring each bite, stretching a meal for easily, 3 hours, without devouring everything that's set on the table at first sight (unlike one unnammed sibling of mine... ) Really, in the past 5 months, I have eaten more of these things than ever, and have gained 2 pounds only... I'm sure if I was going to the gym 5 times a week like I was back in Canada, you'd barely notice! Viva la France, viva la food!
PART 2- These are too good to be made up.

"The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarassment he can tolerate"- Anonymous

  • Week one, I'm having a very meaningful conversation with my hostess Michelle in Nantes. I'm very proudly, and eloquently, in my broken French explaining the difference between nutritional habits in North America and the rest of the world. I sustained that food in North America was more conducive to obesity because of the amount of preservatives in it... which is perfectly true, except that in making the exact translation of "preservatives" (preservatifs in French) I just stated that North American food was full of condoms. So much for an intelligent argument!!
  • Driving on highways here requires you to pay a toll everytime you get on one. About 2 weeks ago, while driving to Antibes to see my friend Marion, I forgot to bring change for the toll.. no biggie, I'd pay with my card. Except that I got on the lane that only accepts cash, and as luck would have it, someone pulled in behind me right away. While I tried to fish for coins at the bottom of my purse, the guy starts honking like a madman, impatient to get through. I get out of the car, and make my way over explaining that the only way he's getting through is if he pays for me, so he either gives me money or backs up so I can change lanes... I did it all in a very ticked off, impatient tone. He looks at me and says: Mademoiselle, you have a charming accent, where are you from? OOOOH, I GET IT!! WHen you see it's a young pretty girl in front of you NOW you have time? All of a sudden you're not in a rush? You want to make some conversation? Alrighty, let's take out my coffee mug and get to know each other... geez. Some men only think about one thing! (although he did pay for me... so that was nice)
  • Imagine: me on a parking lot, hitting a grocery cart with my fist attemptin to get my 50 cent coin back. A supermarket employee comes over, tells me that they're non-refundable, but if it's that important to me, she can talk to her manager... THE SHAME. But seriously, we give money back in Canada, why not here??!?!?!
  • Standing at the bus station, I commented to the lady next to me that the stroller she had was the same one Sacha has, and that I find them very practical. She proceeded to tell me her baby also enjoyed it... then she took her "baby" out, and it was a furry little yappy dog! Seriously, this lady carried her dog in a stroller!
  • Playing at the park with Lisa, she get's on the merry-go-round thing and I start pushing it to turn. Another little boy comes over, I ask him if he wants to go on, he does, and I push them both for a good 5 minutes.. they love it, etc. Then the boy's mom comes over to thank me, the boy turns to her and says in a perfect little Scottish accent: Mummy, that lady speaks French funny! BAH!!! THE NERVE!! I can't believe I got called out on my accent by a snotty 4 year old whose first language isn't even French!
Anyhow, those are just some of my anecdotes and reflections for what's soon to be the first part of my trip (Can you believe I'm half-way done??) I hope they've put a smile on your face.. they put one on mine!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Foie gras et Parfum

With two days to go until 2009 arrives, this will probably be my last post of the year. It has been a good one, filled with many enriching experiences. 2008 has also brought some new people into my life that I never want to part with... and all in all, it has been a year that I would do all over again; from my last practicum, to my graduation, to my first teaching contract, and now my trip, I cannot say that I would erase any parts of 2008 (well, except maybe when the Canucks didn't make it to the playoffs... but that's ancient history).

But before I completely write off the year, I should tell you about what I have been doing for the last days of 2008. Christmas this year will definitely go down as one to remember. It was my first one away from any family, in another language, and with people that I have only known for 2 months. In spite of what would seem an obstacle-ridden holiday season, I had a very charming Christmas. The 24th, we loaded the 2 cars with all the kids' paraphernalia, the presents, the clothes, the non-gingerbread gingerbread house, the strollers, and finally ourselves, and headed to Cecile's mom's house in Mougins, which is close to Antibes. Her house is huge, but seeming as there were 8 of us, plus 3 kids, we were still a little cramped at times. Cecile's brother, Arnaud, came from Paris with his wife and son Karl, whi is this adorable 2 year old. Marion was also there, and so we all had lunch together, then spent the afternoon playing with the kids and finishing the Gingerbread house.

At night time, the kids all went to bed, not before Lisa left the candy-covered house next to the tree with a glass of milk for Santa to snack on when he came. Then, it was the adults' time to have fun. Everyone got out of their jeans, dressed up and we had a 4 course dinner with its accompanying wines by candlelight. I tried Foie Gras for the first time, served with fresh bread, caramelized onion jam, and fig jam; It was to DIE for, and I think after this Christmas with it, I will not spend another without it!! then came the grilled scallop and prawn salad, then theRoasted Veal with Wok vegetables (made by yours truly); and finally the Bûche de Noël, a delicious grand Marnier and Chocolate cake made by Iannis.
It was truly French, to have spent nearly 3.5 hours at the table, eating good food in small portions, enjoying wine; and conversing... then at midnight we opened the grown-up gifts. I got a gorgeous suede designer bag, a french pastry cookbook, a short stories french book, and a beautiful candle holder. I was very pampered, considering I wasn't chez moi.

The morning of the 25th was a flurry of pyjamas and wrapping paper, as the kids opened their gifts. It was a little overwhelming for them, since each one had about 12 presents... they don't even know where to look by the end of it. At 1pm the rest of the relatives came, and after converting the table into one that fit 16, we had the traditional Christmas dinner; with ,ore foie gras, turkey, foie gras stuffing, veggies, mashed potatoes, etc.
Overall, I felt very much like part of the family, and considering how far I am from home, i think I could've spent a much sadder Christmas; I was truly blessed that day!

So, I was supposed to leave for the UK this week, but for reasons not worth mentioning, I had to cancel and postpone my trip. I was pretty devastated, since I'm getting to a point where homesickness is getting very strong, and to have seen my friends, someone familiar, would've really helped me out. But, there's no sense in dwelling; life goes on, and I better keep up!! So I spent the day in Grasse yesterday. Grasse is known as the Perfume Capital of the World. It became so when tanners started to impregnate their leather products with essences from Italy to make the animal hide smell go away; Later, they learned to make their own essences, and being as Grasse has the perfect climate to grow some of the most aromatic flowers in the world (orangiers, jasmine, May rose, lemon), it was easy for the market to develop itself.

I don't know if any of you have read The Perfume, History of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, but it is in Grasse where a lot of the story takes place, because for centuries it has been renowned as the capital of parfumes in the world. It was also really neat to see all the techniques they mention i nth ebook for essence extraction in real life. It was a gorgeous day for a day trip, and I was able to enjoy the inland city with the sun coming down on the palm trees. My first stop was the Musée International de Parfumerie, where they have exhibits of everything from the earliest uses of perfume by the Egyptians, to a collection of modern day art found in perfume vials. It was truly interesting, and the best part was that they had free entrance for the week of the 24th to the 31st.. yay for free!
After the museum, I had a quick lunch, and made my way to one of the most celebrated parfumeries in France: Fragonard. They have a 225 year old factory in Grasse, which is still in operation, and they offer free tours. They also employ one of France's 10 "noses". A Nose, is someone who studies the science of fragrance. There are only two schools in the world, one in Versaille, and the other in Paris. A nose's formation takes between 10-15 years; by the end of their education, they can recognize over 350 essences (most of us can only recognize about 80) and by the end of their career, they can recognize 3000. They can even tell the difference between jasmine grown in Grasse, and jasmine grown in any other part of the world! To maintain their sense of smell intact, they must renounce all spicy food, alcohol and tobacco.
It was this nose that created the delicious perfume that I bought as a souvenir, called Belle de Nuit. Its delicious... and I got it for half the price that they usually sell it in their stores, since I was in the factory.

These are all the updates I have for now.... i wish you all a very Happy, Merry and FUN New Year's, but most importantly that you may live life to the fullest and love every minute of it in 2009!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Christmas Tree is Always Greener on the Other side...

Christmas is upon us again, my friends. I hope you've all pulled out your stockings, put up the Christmas lights without falling off the roof, and tried your hardest to avoid Santa's Naughty list (although for some of you, that might than others- no judgment here!). I for my part, have decorated the Christmas tree with Lisa and Cecile, tried to teach Spanish carols to the kids, and have strolled through Christmas Markets in Paris, Cannes, Monaco, Nice, and Aix-en-Provence.
Yet, the Christmas-y Feeling is just not as strong this year. I think it might have to do with my association of Christmas to the break I get from university to go home, or the bitterly cold December weather, or the Firefighter's Light display at Stanley Park (who are we kidding... we all go for the firefighters, nobody pays attention to the lights!).

Somehow, between my lugging around of my life from one continent to the other, traipsing from Northern to Southern France, and spending my first Christmas away from my family in 11 years, I think I've lost track of time and tradition. It's as if my life is suspended from all familiarity, and no holiday or special occasion has the same meaning, because it's not "real". To be honest, I'm starting to panic a little... if I feel this way about Christmas, what will happen for MY BIRTHDAY????!?!?! We all know how my whole social calendar and sense of well-being revolves around the 13th of February! What if I don't feel it to be as big of a deal as I do usually? For someone who usually likes to ignore birthdays, that would be fine; but I start counting down the days on January 1st! I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it...

Back to Christmas. I've had people asking me what traditional Christmas is like in France. Well, for one, I haven't noticed that general sense of merriment and festivity that I felt in Colombia and Canada. But maybe that's just the French conservatism coming into play. I know that for my family, we're having 2 dinners. The 24th is the "fancy" dinner, when there's less people. There will be 7 of us at Cecile's mom's house, and I've learned there's seafood, foie gras, and wine in the menu. The 25th, after opening presents in the AM, we'll be eating a more traditional meal with turkey and other goodness. I'm sure I'll have more details to tell you when it's actually happened.

Anyway, I just wanted also to send out a big Christmas hug to all of you. I hope that wherever you're spending it this year, you won't have as hard a time as I am in finding the Christmas spirit within you :) Joyeux Noel mes chers amis!