⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

November 27, 2008

Paris Thanksgiving



Two of my good American friends and I (featured above: me, Blaire, Aralena) decided to hold a proper Thanksgiving even though we are far from the land of hand turkeys and paper indian hats with feathers at the back. The works: turkey, homemade stuffing (which I made using the chestnuts featured in the post below - you boil them and then peel them), yummy salads of all sorts, mashed potatoes - you know the rest - with a few French additions (thanks to the influence of French husbands, boyfriends, etc): a cheese plate (which included a very stinky cheese, classically), and macaroons for dessert - no pie. It was a party. And we were happy to host it at our newly finished casa.





November 25, 2008

Au marché



This morning I went to the market close to our house. I found all of this stuff. Fresh figs, chestnuts, butternut squash, divine grapes, cranberries, honey and tulips. The markets of fresh fruit and vegetables in Paris are really impressive. I've never seen anything like them in the United States (except, of course, farmer's markets or the market at Union Square in New York, for example - but even these are considered a treat, something during the summer months maybe).

November 24, 2008

Intestines



We went to the Centre Pompidou (the modern art museum in Paris) this weekend. Above is the view from the highest point of the escalator, in a tube snaking up the exterior of the building. We loved what we found inside:


This one brought me right back to the 8th grade - biology, to be exact. Cell mitosis with a yummy green flavor. (Simon Hantai, Touches claires 1959)


Then we walked into a room where one wall was dripping with this tapestry. Or so it appeared from afar. When you actually approached the material, it turned to be scrap metal. Made of this:



Really impressive. Marc, don't you love it? (El Anatsui, Sasa 2004)



She was drop dead. Gorgeous. (Niki de Saint Phalle, Bride 1963)


The show stopper was this little arrangement. My favorite birds (if you don't count extinct ones) are yanking the intestines out of this smiling buddha. Who could think of something more charming? I walked around the corner and yipped. That is my kind of show. (Huang Yong Ping, Intenstins de Bouddha 2006)



November 22, 2008

Bronte

This was Bronte.


This was what she was up against.


My family had this dog. I still think about her a lot. The thing about Bronte is that she could never take a joke. Really. Bronte was a miniature dachshund. Tragically, she was also bulimic and she tended toward hysteria, histrionics and seizures. If a dog could have a personality disorder, Bronte would have had Borderline Personality Disorder. If a dog could tell lies, Bronte would have told many. Her pervasive instability in moods (barring when she was in the presence of our mother), her poor self-image, and her acute fear of washing machines, made for intense, and stormy interpersonal relationships in the family and resulted, for my youngest brother Andrew, with a bite on the ankle: the last straw for poor Bronte.

I had wanted a dog forever. Forever meaning one’s whole life since she was born: fourteen years of wanting a dog. A lot of begging, a lot of wishing, a lot of dreaming of how a dog would enhance my life and make everything cuter (cute was the most relevant adjective at the time). Most of this begging was directed at my father, who was inert on his position regarding animals in the Johnson household. No. That was our answer. He had some sense. There were 7 of us at this time. Seven kids. I’m surprised my mother always seemed up for it, given the yoke of her kids. But she was up for it – we never had to beg her. It was only my dad who wouldn’t really move an inch on the dog issue.

That changed one Halloween when my father was faced with a mound of something he disliked even more than the thought of a dog in his house: candy. It was Halloween night. We had all gone trick-or-treating. All of us (even those of us technically years older than we should have been to continue doing such a thing). I was dressed as Tinkerbelle: green fringe skirt, sparkly white wings, and pointy sequined shoes – the works. My brother Stephen was probably Dracula – he seemed to like that one year after year. My sister Julie, a 1950’s poodle-skirt girl, I think – or maybe a hippy.

So, there we were – home after four hours of going door-to-door, running door-to-door, petitioning for candy at each house. We sat surveying the spoils of the evening. Each of us had been very successful. We are talking heaps of mini Snickers, Twix, Skittles, Starbursts, M&Ms, Tootsie Pops, Baby Ruths, and Tootsie Rolls. We were making order of the piles.

My dad was revolted. He detested Halloween to begin with, but seeing the amount of candy each of us was able to secure in one night made him ill. It was in that moment that he came up with a bargain – a malicious sort of arrangement, but one that no child could decline. He told us that if we would give him all of our candy and if we would never, ever go trick-or-treating again, we could get a dog. He was asking us to relinquish Halloween – an American kid’s dream holiday. But, he got what he wanted. One by one, we mourned our sacks of candy (and that portion of our childhood) and handed them over to him.

The process of choosing what type of dog to get seemed arduous and way too long. We debated between a beagle, a pug, a shiatsu…but eventually decided on a dachshund. Why on earth? These dogs are renowned for their antsy personalities, their yippy little bark, their fierce loyalty (a good trait, right? Not when they attach themselves to one singular person and nip at the 8 others), and their genetic problems with seizures, since the breed has been so purely intermixed. Somehow we missed all that in the literature about dachshunds and thought one of these would be a perfect companion for 7 Johnson kids.

Bronte arrived shaking. She did not stop shaking in all her time with us. The shaking was less and less acute, to be sure. But nonetheless, Bronte was, by nature and in all of our minds, always shaking. She had this little high-pitched, small-dog bark. The minute there was someone on the Johnson grounds Bronte started to bark and didn’t cease until the person was gone.

Bronte had an eating problem. We first noticed it when one night after dinner, we were clearing the table and before we could grab the dish that housed half-a-lasagna, Bronte had jumped up on a chair, up on the table and had gulped the entire remaining portion down. Each night it became a fight to get the leftovers off the table before stalking Bronte hurdled up to pilfer them first.

One fall we noticed Bronte just kept growing and growing, around the middle – like a barrel. Each day – almost hourly, in fact, she seemed to be tubbier and thicker. We all wondered where she was getting whatever it was that was so calorific. It turns out that down in the basement of the house, a huge, glass tub of Ragu spaghetti sauce (Johnsons buy in bulk) had fallen from the shelf onto the concrete floor and Bronte had been slurping it up, each day more and more. We wondered how she wasn’t dead from all the glass that inevitably went down with the Ragu.

Perhaps worse than that was poor Stephen waking up to find a turkey neck and gizzard puked up in his sheets by the curled up Bronte at the end of his bed after Thanksgiving one year.

Bronte would go through any trash she could find and eat and eat endlessly. Most animals (especially dogs) have a good gauge of when their eating is no longer healthy. Bronte had no such measure. Given the opportunity to binge, she would. With all the binging, she was quite seriously always shaped like a barrel. She could hardly climb the stairs at some point; her stomach was lower than her feet.

Bronte also had a luxury complex. She really did think that she was meant for a life of opulence. From the way she would lie on the back cushion of the white sofa in the nicest room of my mother’s house (after being shooed off hundreds of times), to the way she wouldn’t really move unless forced to do so, Bronte thought she was sumptuous. She hated anyone under 17 years old, in a sort-of ‘I’m very posh and children are such an inconvenience’ way.

Poor Bronte. By the time our family moved to Maine (and she was 8 years old), she was in an almost constant state of panic. Sitting, shaking in front of the washing machine as it ran its cycle, chasing after Andrew’s four-year-old friends and nipping at their ankles, trying to assert her position in the family totem pole. She needed to be doted on – an unlikely occurrence for any member of the Johnson family.

The odds were against her to begin with – we named her Bronte, for heavens sake. (Who names their dog after a family of early 19th century English women writers? My sister Julie, mostly). The problem was that we had all staked way too much on her. We had given up Halloween…there were children in the Johnson household who at this point had never in their lives experienced trick-or-treating as a consequence of that dog (and they weren’t even alive or old enough to agree to the initial pact). When she rode away in the back of the dumpy car with all the stuffed-animals piled in the backseat, off to the new home of the people who answered our plea in the newspaper to take her off our hands, we only stayed in the driveway long enough to see the car pull away. Poor Bronte.

November 17, 2008

Stephena.

While Stephen was here...

We ate this:


We did not eat this:


We rode bikes:


And saw hanging chandeliers in the streets of Paris:


We laughed and romped in a mosque:






We went to two flea markets:




And saw a box full of doll's eyeballs:


Stephen bought this and then filled it with bubbles to take a photo:


We were delighted by this:




We were stirred by this:


We were spirited by this:


We were spellbound by this:


And this too:


We gawked at this:


We couldn't believe how miniscule the toilets at Jules' preschool are:


We celebrated this:


We were scared and captivated by this:


And we made cookies:


November 14, 2008

Final Apartment Photos...

To finish (this is it - I promise)...


Our bedroom from one end...


and the other...


Marguerite's room


The stairs, which we painted a nice grey-blue...

Entertaining Bunny

Marguerite had some real entertainment tonight while relaxing in her dad's huge club chair. Stephen!



November 11, 2008

Armistice Day - 90th Anniversary



In Europe, like in the US, the 11 November is an important day. This day in 1918 marked the end of World War I - the signing of the armistice treaty in Compiègne, France. WWI was devastating to the populations of European countries with 40 million casualties.

In response to my questions about WWI and what French people think about it, Xavier proudly said, "Well the French kept Alsace-Lorraine, ah ha ha." (The much disputed region of France that borders Germany and fueled tensions between the two nations in both wars. Historically it was after the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 that this became German territory. With the Versailles Treaty in WWI it was again French and then was briefly taken over by the Nazis in WWII).

Experiencing Veteran's Day in the US, I never really associated the day with WWI. The French are much more aware of their history. I've referred to it before, but it presses on them - on the back of their heads and informs how they behave. In France, WWI and WWII are very recent wars, modern wars after centuries of older wars. It makes for a totally different perspective.

The Brits all wear a small poppy lapel pin starting at the beginning of November in remembrance. It looks like this:

November 9, 2008

The French and the English



Here we see an advertisement that is currently hanging all over the subways in Paris. The ad is for an English teaching school, but they are playing on the long, hard rivalry between the Brits and the French. The caption at the top reads, "Stop massacring the English!" (Languages in French take an article ["the"] - so the sign reads correctly to represent both English people and the English language). The poor gent - a nice British police officer who has been severely beaten up. I love the dark humor. So do the French.

If I Could Choose Any Chandelier...



...I would choose the one made with spoons hanging in a shop in Paris, France.

November 5, 2008

"A New Spirit"



Even if I am thousands of miles away from the United States, I had a shared experience this morning as I watched Barack Obama's victory flash across the screen. Tears. I cried. And I've cried all day - a deep welling up of emotion- ongoing. And so, like many other Americans, I've stepped back and asked why this victory - and I would dare say, regardless of political affiliation - means so much - symbolizes so much.

You don't even know that it is building up - underlying how you think and feel and relate to the country of your birth - to your people and culture. This morning, my tears came from that store of disappointment, disillusionment, almost shame - that finally burst open and was released.

I am not terribly liberal politically. In fact, I lean toward libertarianism. I believe in liberty above all. And for that reason and many others, I have been ashamed of the past 8 years of government in the United States.

There is also a part of this emotional reaction that is particularly salient for me because I don't live in the United States. When we were at war in Iraq in 2003, I was at school in Oxford, England and in that context, at that moment, it seemed that when I opened my mouth I could feel (or visibly see) that my American accent was a political affront, a frightening sound to the people around me.

And now that I am in France, I've had the privilege of being the butt of many (perhaps well-deserved) American jokes. French/American tension is well-established. After the election in 2004, the French took Bush's re-election as a mandate to continue and amplify their disdain for Americans - culture, politics, people.

My tears this morning came from being tired of experiencing this while at the same time knowing that the United States is an exceptional country in singular ways. My tears came from the relief of knowing that people will celebrate the United States again and greet Americans with a smile and not a grimace.

But more importantly, my tears came from my fundamental belief in equality, meritocracy and humanity. It was heartening in a way that I have never before experienced - that people voted in record numbers to elect Barack Obama. That age was cited as a more relevant issue for people in exit polls than race. That black voters came out in unprecedented numbers, but so did white voters - as many white people voted for Obama as they did for Kerry in 2004. So, yes, race is/was an issue. Fundamentally. And at the same time not at all. That paradox is what makes this event historical and exceptional.

In his speech on race, Obama said, "In no other country is my story even possible." That is what rings true today. That is what makes me cry. That this election marks a historical chapter in possibility. And that possibility has triumphed over a story of violence and division on racial lines that has so scarred the United States.

Just as McCain said in his concession speech - this is a victory for all Americans, partisanship aside. And crucially, as always, hubris is as dangerous as ever. With a largely democratic legislative branch and executive branch, caution and bipartisanship are more important values than ever before. The undoing of this great achievement would be through arrogance and overreaching by the democrats.

But man, I am proud.

In Obama's words: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

November 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Bedda!

Today is my sister Rebekah's birthday. She is turning 16.

In this photo she was 3 years old:


Now, 16:


It is funny being so far away from my youngest siblings because they are the ones that I miss out on most. Every time I hear about Bedda's life and world, I am impressed. She is one smart chicken - first in her class, and one little (and I do mean little - she hovers just above 5 feet tall), fantastic athlete. She plays volleyball, basketball, tennis and sometimes track.

Oh Bedda - how I wish I were there to hug and kiss and lick you. Happy Birthday! I love you.
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