Sunday, January 18, 2015

What did I Expect?

I am happy to report that I am finally feeling better and well on the road to recovery..... and I didn't have to resort to antibiotics or horseradish!

This past week I finally had some moments that felt like what I had anticipated life in France might be....

I had French language classes all morning and I actually felt like I understood what was going on! It was raining, but the sun came out in the afternoon, and so I went for a walk and found myself at a cemetery. It was a pleasant surprise (as I enjoy cemeteries), and I found my soul came out of hiding and took a little breath.

Let me back up.... Since coming to France, it seems that my soul went into hiding, and I haven't been able to offer it a safe space to return. It has been such a chaotic season of disorientation, hiding was necessary for survival, but I was beginning to wonder how long might this season last.

As an Introvert I am reenergized by being alone where I have time for reflection and introspection. Don't misunderstand me - I like people, and I think I have fairly good social skills, and I'm a friendly person, BUT..... in order to recharge, to maintain some sense of balance, it is absolutely necessary that I have solitude and silence, and I haven't had much of that since arriving in France.

Moving to a foreign country has upended any sense of normalcy and balance in my life.... which is exactly what I wanted, but it's still challenging, frustrating and a bit uncomfortable. And yet, I continue to pursue the adventure and find joy in the midst of chaos. This is what I thought life in France might look like.

Saturday I took the train to Paris with some friends. We went to the musee d'Orsay and enjoyed the Impressionists exhibits, followed by a stop at a nearby café for hot drinks. We did a little window shopping, stopping into a fromagerie, an epicerie, and a patisserie on our way to dinner.  The Café de l'Empire was a perfectly delightful experience. I felt at home as soon as we walked through the door..... a hint of hipster, but mostly simple, chic and classy. The service was pleasant, the ambiance was cozy, the food was good, and my company was delightful.

The velvet wall behind our table

After dinner we walked around the block to a classical music concert where a friend was playing the violin in a quaint, small art gallery converted for the evening into a concert hall.

As the music filled the room, my soul breathed deeply.

We finished off the evening with wine and cheese at a lovely little café in St. Michel. The location was perfect for some people-watching, and I reflected on our day in Paris with contentment. This is what I had hoped life in France might look like.

But after all of that time with people, I desperately needed some alone time.  And so today I had a slow, quiet, introspective morning and then headed out for a hike in the forest. I found the perfect seat on a tree stump beside a little pond where I sat and soaked up the sun that graciously decided to make an appearance. 

As the quietness surrounded me, my soul breathed deeper.

I spent the afternoon in the kitchen listening to classical music and baking a pie. Baking is often a spiritual practice for me, and today it again provided space for my thoughts to roam and for my soul to breathe.

Apple Cranberry Pie

I am learning to be patient with myself, to treat my soul with kindness and respect, and to breathe deeply.  This is what I had hoped life in France might be..... a time of reflection and growth.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Being sick is never fun, but it can be an adventure....

I have chosen to live without a TV for more than 10 years now, and love the life I've created outside of the box. The freedom to pursue new hobbies, be with friends, have adventures, and to simply just be (like just sitting on the porch, listening to the birds, relishing a sunset, and watching the world go by) is so refreshing. Most people don't understand this choice, and often try to fix this "problem" for me by offering me alternative ways to watch TV shows, or some have even offered me a TV. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good movie now and then, but I really don't know when I would have the time to regularly watch TV. However, the one time I miss having a TV is when I'm sick.  It's miserable to be stuck at home alone, with no TV distraction, too tired to read or bake or play the piano or do anything really but just lay around.....

Well, now I find myself in a foreign country where I barely speak the language, living in a tiny room with no TV, and I'm sick. Not like flu sick, but just incessant sniffles and coughing that won't go away, and utterly exhausted.  I slept two days away last week, and then when I made an appearance in the office a colleague insisted that I go to the doctor because I looked like death, and so she promptly called her doctor.  I was a bit hesitant, but the appointment was made, and she assured me that the doctor spoke English.

So, on Friday afternoon I set out to the doctor, following the little hand-drawn  map that I had, and found the right place with no trouble.  I walked through the door and into a waiting room where 4 or 5 people were waiting, but there was no reception desk. On the far side of the room was another door, so I walked through it, assuming the reception desk would be there, but no.  Instead, I found myself in a small corridor with four doors, none of which were marked or labeled. I hesitated, and momentarily thought of "Alice in Wonderland", and considered choosing a door, but the thought of what I might encounter behind the door kept me from opening any of them; and so I turned around and went back out to the waiting room, where everyone was staring at me. I sat down and waited, trusting that I would eventually get to see the doctor, somehow.

As I waited, a man would occasionally come to the door, say something really fast in French (he wasn't just calling someone's name), and then someone would stand up and follow him through the door. People continued to cycle in and out like this, and even new people who came in would go out with him. Eventually it was just me and one other woman waiting, and he again came out and said something, and then waited. I took the opportunity to use my French to tell him I didn't understand, and to ask if he could speak more slowly. He asked me if I had an appointment, and when I confirmed that I did, he told me to wait, and then he left. 

Eventually I was the only person in the waiting room, and I thought, "Well, maybe they've forgotten me, but when they leave to go home, they'll find me sitting here....."  but I didn't have to wait that long. About 35 minutes after my appointment time, a different man came out and called my name (which is sometimes hard to recognize with the French accent). I followed him into the corridor and through one of the nondescript doors into an all-in-one office and exam room (thank goodness I didn't open that door earlier). He was the doctor, though he was not wearing scrubs, and he sat at a desk where he did all of my intake paperwork in a combination of English and French. He then walked me over to the exam table and took my vitals. (Thankfully, I got to remain fully clothed, as I had heard horror stories of being required to disrobe, and not being offered a gown to cover up). 

As it turns out, I have both a sinus infection and an ear infection - yes, an ear infection.  I seem to have inherited bad ears, and while most people normally outgrow ear infections, I have not. The doctor was very kind, and we both practiced our language skills and vocabulary, and when necessary we resorted to using Google Translate!

I left with five different prescriptions. I have come to understand that the French love their antibiotics and issue them for nearly everything. Being allergic to the standard antibiotic, I usually just don't take them, and instead prefer homeopathic treatments.  I stopped by the pharmacy and filled three of the prescriptions, and then the following day I walked 45 minutes to the nearest Bio/Natural Foods store (like a Sprouts or Vitamin Cottage) where I found some tinctures and teas and beautiful veggies!

I think I am on the road to recovery, finally, but just in case, I did a little research into home remedies..... if I don't feel better soon, evidently I can tie onions to my ears and shove horseradish up my nose and that will cure me!!

This little adventure taught me a few things:  let people help you, ask questions, know that you'll make a fool of yourself and that's ok, have fun on this adventure called life and make friends along the way - you only get to do it once and it makes for great stories!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Might Be a Foodie....

As I reflect on my recent vacation, I think of time with friends, beautiful architecture, and FOOD! I have kept a personal journal for many years, and when I don't have time to journal my thoughts and experiences in detail, I take a few minutes to jot down the food I've been eating, and with these notes my senses are stirred, and I can recall my thoughts and emotions at various points in time based on the food. Food done right touches my soul, and it not only evokes emotions, but it also captures emotions that I can share through my baking experiments.

Disclaimer: For those who don't really care about food, you can stop reading now because you just won't understand or appreciate this post, but for my fellow foodies out there, here's the highlights of my vacation:

Christmas Eve dinner was with a French colleague and her family - brothers, sisters, significant others, parents, grandmother - a tiny French apartment filled with kind people, much laughter, and delicious food.  The evening started with smoked marlin, a Spanish salami, bellini with herbed cream cheese topped with smoked salmon, and homemade froie gras. These appetizers were accompanied by the best white wine I've ever had. I didn't catch the name, but it was bottled in 1989. The entrée was confit du canard accompanied by a 1995 red wine that was the perfect compliment. We had homemade macaroons that melted in your mouth, and miniature rum cakes that were perfect as leftovers on Christmas morning with a cup of tea. And, in traditional French fashion, we finished the meal with a cheese plate.

I spent Christmas day with a couple of my American colleagues. They made a pot of chili that was surprisingly good - surprising because we bought the ingredients at a little Arabic store that was open on Christmas day, so we weren't sure what sort of spices we were actually getting. While the chili simmered, I made a pie - pear, cranberry, pistachio. In my family we have a pie bake-off at Christmastime each year, and so this was my long-distance entry.

A few days after Christmas I took a 6 hour bus ride from Paris to Antwerp and met up with a friend from Denver that was visiting her family in the area. We spent the day sightseeing and eating our way around the city.

I learned that there are several types of Belgium waffles - all of which are good! And there are more than 700 types of Belgium beer, none of which I tried, but I am still enjoying my various samples of Belgium chocolate! 

That evening my friend and her sister made me a traditional Japanese dinner that was perfectly delicious and satisfying after a day of sweets. A big bowl of sushi and some wonderful soup - which I learned how to eat with chopsticks!
The next day we took the train to Utrecht (near Amsterdam) where I met up with a longtime friend who I hadn't seen in many years. We spent the day exploring the town, stopping to warm up with a cup of rich hot chocolate that was served with a beautiful tower of whipped cream.  For dinner we went to a restaurant down on one of the canals. It felt like we had stepped into the 1920's. The atmosphere was swanky but comfortable, the service was pleasant, and the food was worth lingering over. The menu was a prix fixe, three-course meal. I had a creamy mushroom soup, tortellini with spinach and mushrooms, and crème brulee... although due to the French influence I nearly ordered the cheese plate for dessert instead!
New Year's Eve day we went to visit some friends who live on a true Dutch farm. They were smoking salmon out in the barnyard and we were invited in to one of the barns, where walking through the door felt like I was stepping into a movie set...... The room was maybe 6'x10' with a 7' ceiling and a large bar built right down the middle. There were about 12 people packed around the bar, some dressed in traditional Dutch outfits and others wearing oversized wooden clogs, music was playing and smoke was wafting around the room. I was handed a drink and welcomed into the circle, and then the hostess made me a smoked salmon sandwich, which was a soft Dutch roll split open and filled with hot, fresh smoked salmon.  I've often said I don't like smoked meat, but this didn't even have a hint of ashtray taste - it was just moist and full of flavor. I wasn't able to take a picture, but all of my senses were so involved that I have a strong mental imprint to savor the experience.
Over the next few days I had the pleasure of trying many traditional Dutch foods - mustard soup (for which I'm hoping to get the recipe), olliebollen (kind of like large donut holes), apple beignets, homemade apple flappen (apple turnovers), Stamppot (Dutch mashed potatoes mixed with endive and ham), and a Dutch sandwich - a roll slathered with butter and slices of a creamy white cheese, which was reminiscent of the sandwiches I used to get at a little Dutch bakery in Washington. And for the 5 hour car ride home, a bag of salted black licorice and a package of Stroopwafles. I think of my mom every time I eat black licorice (one of her favorite treats) and I realize this post is for her - because wherever I was living or traveling she would always ask about what I'd been eating, and patiently listen to me describe in detail all of my food experiences.
Many thanks to the friends who were part of this adventure. I appreciate your willingness to introduce me to your culture through food, and your patience as I lingered over a meal and savored each bite.