Monday, March 31, 2008

Still celebrating Easter!

So, I celebrated Easter, and like all Easter's, excitingly ran downstairs hoping to see what the Easter Bunny brought me, but alas, nothing. Apparently there is no such thing as the Easter bunny in France. They have some story about someone coming back from somewhere and dropping chocolat belle's and eggs filled with candy in the garden for the children to find. Similar to USA, but no fictious rabbit. Disappointed, my spirits were lifted when Madame Luthie returned home that evening to surprise the family with chocolat eggs blessed and sold after Easter Sunday mass. I pulled out a few chocolat belles that I had "helped myself to" at the school omelete cookout and shared them with the family. Then, when Mr. Farel came in, he surprised us all with a bag full of chocolat belle's. Then the next day at work, Dr. Talou gave all of the Americans a chocolat bunny! I guess I should have played it cool like my nephew Maddox and waited until the Easter Bunny made his way to my house! That little guy has to be the stud that all the girls at daycare baby-babble about.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Celebration of Easter in Toulouse.

Easter Sunday or Pâques as the French say was celebrated this Sunday. I began the celebration at the Saint-Sernin Cathedral. World famous in Toulouse! The place was packed, but we were 30 minutes late since not all churches have mass at the same time. Go figure? Also, I am truly in need of a Protestant church. I need to start researching the area because their has to be something resembling the equivalent of my church at home. At least give me a guitar please! The organs are nice, but I can't really sing along to that.............or sing hymns in French. At school today, we had a Pâques celebration. Apparently, omelettes are celebratory food for Easter! This were filled with everything from champignons (mushrooms), jambon (ham), bacon (bacon), frommage (cheese, Emmantal), and even omelette sucre (sugar and strawberries). Note the huge leg of cooked jambon (ham). Nothing beats slicing off a piece of fresh, cooked ham for a nice apertif (starter). Then, an informal wine tasting was presented along with an assortment of pate's (pork liver & fat patty), saucisson (sausages), and boudin (blood sausage) served with petit pain (little bread). For educational reasons and to continually develop my palate, I had a taste of each and every item today. Needless to say, a fine assortment of salad and water will be served for diner (dinner) followed by a petit dejeuner (small breakfast)! I can't forget about those pictures on the beach for our upcoming honeymoon in Hawaii. Fabio or Homer Simpson................Kristen, take your pick!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Sunday.........on Wednesday!

I came home from lab last night to find an elegant Easter dinner being prepared for "my family" by Madame Luthie. I guess they had discussed having Easter dinner early while I was away in Paris for the weekend. Mr. Farahad leaves for Lourdes (his hometown) on Thursday's every week and Madame Luthie will be going to her sisters beach house for the weekend. So, we celebrated le Ressurection (Easter) early, and she served an incredible 5-course meal:

  1. Apertif: Saucisson (sausage) smoked and rolled in black pepper. A sweet White Bordeaux accompanied the meal.
  2. Entree: Deviled eggs stuffed with bechamel sauce and fried in sunflower oil. Served on a bed of fresh tomato sauce.
  3. Main Course: Duck leg confit cooked in its own fat, drained, then poached in an oxtail (tail of an ox!) broth with poached carrots, leeks, and ratte (small potatoes).
  4. Dessert: Baba au Rhum, a small, rum-soaked cake served with chantilly (homemade whipped cream). Apparently their wasn't enough rum, so she pulled the bottle out of the cabinent and suggested another shot be poured directly onto the cake. Do as the chef says!
  5. Digestif: Champagne, not to be confused with sparkling wine. In France, it is illegal to call a wine champagne unless it was produced in the Champagne region 2-hours northeast of Paris.

This may have been my first dinner complete with our own dining cart to stack our fine china on in between courses.
Out came the Baba au Rhum for dessert, complete with fresh chantilly and an extra shot of rum from the French colony island of Martinique in the Caribbean!
And the finale, a nice glass of the bubbly. As the "guest" so to speak of the house, I was given the honour of opening the Champagne. Instead of blasting it into the roof, I popped the cork the elegant way, into my folded napkin and then poured everyone a glass. At this point, I had to shut down and not accept a second glass, but my family finished off the bottle for me. It is funny how goofy and talkative the French get when a little bit of alchohol is served at the table :) This was a highlight of my trip so far in France, even after seeing all that Paris had to offer. My greatest joy in life happens at my family matter where it may be. I look forward to replicating the dinner for my family back in Arkansas one of this days. Until then, Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everything Else in Paris.

So here is a little more of everything that I took in during France. First off was Palm Sunday mass at the Notre Dame. It was an incredible experience..........even with 100,000 people walking and talking and taking pictures the entire time. I did find a corner all to myself and knelt for a special prayer in one of the oldest cathedrals in the world. I prayed for my family during our recent loss, my fiancee for her strength while I am gone and guidance in planning our wedding, and safe travels for myself and all of family back home. Patrick, Spencer, me and a few others from their trip went to the Musee d'Orsay. There I saw the famous works from Van Gogh, the Blue Waterlillies by Monet, and the Le Dejuner sur l'Herbe by Manet. Just to make sure that everyone doesn't think that I am becoming too mature in my travels, I captured the picture Le Dejuner sur l'Herbe only because of the plumber's crack being sported by the French student :) On Sunday morning, I went to a local Parisian outdoor market to capture the occassion that I so enjoy. Nice to have the backdrop of the Bastille as I shop for fresh apples. My breakfast of a raisin baguette was provided by a local merchant. Bon Appetit, the french way. My lodging was provided by Madame Luthie's son Vincent's cousin Sophie! For a few hours, I was contemplating sleeping on a park bench but instead, I got to spend two days at this incredible artist's loft with her and her family. Her 15 year-old-daughter had even been to Arkansas!!!!! Her and her father did a month long trip from Los Angeles across America, stopping in Dyess, AR, hometown of her favorite singer Johnny Cash, and ending in New York City. Wow! She has seen more of America than me! This journey to France continues to be full of super cool signs that keep telling me that I have made the right decision in spending my time here in France. Next up is Easter Celebration and a 3-day weekend. Au revoir.

The Eiffel Tower!

Next on things to do in Paris was go to the Eiffel Tower. I had a tour guide for the weekend, my housemom's son, Vincent, who has lived in Paris for 29 years. He was awesome and we jetted around by Metro and mostly by foot to all the cool places that are off the beaten tourist path. It is incredible what you can experience in Paris, when you take a back alley that links two museums together instead of the main boulevard. I spent lots of time doing what I love, menu browsing. In France, it is law that all restaurants must post their menu outside the restaurant, cafe, patisserie, or brasseries. I even went into a couple of them and had some wonder plat du jour's (plate of the day). Of course, I had to go see the Eiffel tower....up close. You can see the top of it from almost everywhere in the city! My friend, Wax, had sent me with specific directions to a secret map that his brother, Andy, had left him 8 years ago. As I tried to explain to my guide, Vincent, why I needed to go to the NE corner of the SW pillar, then look under the NE side of the cement pillar under a wad of old chewing gum, he looked at me with a bit of confusion but I laughed as I followed every direction to the T. It seems that the French take pride in their monument and steam clean the pillars regularly, so the wad of gum and note had probably been washed away many years ago, but I spoofed a new one and took it to the Notre Dame for the next traveler in Paris to find. Good luck and email me for directions to the new hiding spot!

The Louvre!

I went to the Louvre of course like all tourists do when they visit Paris. When I saw the lines, I almost walked out as I don't really appreciate art as much as I should and prefer experiencing the sites and sounds of the city more so than the the crowded congested museums. But, I stuck around and ran into my friends from Toulouse, who just so happened to be at the very front of one of the ticket lines. Like a jerk American, I cut into the front of the line and got my ticket. We went straight to the Mona Lisa and after elbowing through the crowd, I got sight of the famous painting. After being almost trampled, I parted ways with my friends so I could wander by myself and enjoy the museum. Here are just a few of the exceptional pieces that I came across. The Mummy, Venus de Milo, and of course Mona Lisa........not to be confused with my sister Lisa Jones.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Off to Paris!

So I decided to go to Paris about 3 hours before my train left on Friday morning. I had some distant family who I had never met who were in Paris for a high school spring break. I didn't even know what they looked like! I booked my ticket and ran to the train station in Toulouse. I didn't know how to get my ticket and almost had a panic attack, but finally made the train. Only to get a seat in between the seating cars....aka....the baggage cart. What the HECK!!! 90 euros and this is all I get. So for 6 hours, I got a fold down seat and a tiny window. But, I loved every minute and spent the entire time staring out as we passed the Bordeux region and all the countryside of France. So, finally to Paris and after a "light" jog/panic run to a fountain in the middle of Paris, I met Patrick and his son Spencer. First time family reunions are fun in Paris, France. After being a total bum and sleeping on Patricks hotel floor, I met up with Madame Luthie's son Vincent who got me a place to stay with his cousin Sophie. So, I had a roof over my head and proceeded to see all the sights and sounds, smells and flavors of Paris.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The worst night in France EVER!

So we got an invitation to an international student event sponsored by the Toulouse Rotary Club. Apparently, they were expecting hundreds of students to attend, but only about 20 showed up. This could have been the first warning. We did meet some cool Aussies and we were more than delighted to speak a little English with them! That would be the last English of the evening. Next, the president of the Club stood up and gave a 30 minute presentation about something (all in French) and then all the students were herded up on stage by country to tell why they were in Toulouse. Of course, Amanda and I (USA students) don't speak any French so as we are pointed at, we make our way on stage. Never fearing the spotlight, I taking the reins and bust out the best bonjour (with a thick Arkan-sas accent) and proceed to stumble over the most awkward experience I have ever had. It was like a bad nightmare where you are standing on the stage in your underwear and everyone is laughing at you in French. So, we made our way through it and got the heck off the stage. I felt like Ashton Kucher should have ran out and said "You're Punked!" Maybe I was on a French gameshow or something, candid camera style. Anyway, in revenge, I ate entirely too much of their les hors d'Oeuvre (appetizers) and took a bite of each dessert on the dessert table. Too end the night, we walk out of the discoteche and it is raining. Luckily our friend offers to drive us home. Perfect, the night isn't so bad. But, as we back out of the parking space, WhAMM!, she backs right into the side door of a hatchback Citroen (French car maker). So, surely nothing get be worse than this night in France.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"That Guy"

Okay, so the first time I met my future brother-in-law, who we shall anonymously name Rustin, after politely nicknaming me Lance like all American cyclists go by, he proceeded to ask me if I was "that guy" who rode around town with his pants tucked into his sock. At the time, I took moderate offense to the comment as I was a proud racing cyclist, not a townie cruiser like "those guys." But alas, as I have now begun to use my velo for transportation instead of training here in France, I have now become "that guy!" Thanks for your support from a far Rustin, and please have a good laugh at this one.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday's in Toulouse

What do you drive to church on Sunday mornings? This is my chariot for cruising around Toulouse. We got the 19?? Mini-Cooper out of the garage and drove down the street to pick up Madame's friend who is 94 YEARS OLD! At this point, the collective age of the inhabitants of the car was way over 200 years old! I am not a large man, but I felt like Shaquille O'Neal in that back seat. Sometimes, you have got to do whatever you got to do to hang out with Jesus!

So, what did you have for Sunday lunch? I was fortunate enough to help Madame Luthie make a traditional Toulouse meal of Cassoulet. This meal consists of white beans, pork cooked in grease, pig skin, duck meat which has been preserved in its own fat (confit), and a touch of tomato paste. It is then simmered in a white Bordeaux wine for hours and served tableside. Compliments to the chef! As Madame Luthie has seen my genuine curiosity for learning the ways of the French cooking, she has proposed that we make an authentic French lunch every Sunday. I accepted and many scrumptuous reports shall follow. After our meal, we watched a little France vs. Italy rugby match and some live coverage of the cycling race Paris-Nice. What a splending Sunday afternoon in Toulouse!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Visit to city of Carcassonne, France

The city of Carcassonne is a medievel city known for its famous chateau. The city is actually inside the castle walls.
We found this beautiful cathedral that was complete with several amazing sections of stained glass. You could feel the presence as you walked into this old church. Just to realize the many people who have knelt at these altars over the centuries gave me goosebumps.
Ahhhhhh, no visit would be complete with out a nice piece of local chocolat!
The city from the panoramic view off of the highway.

Visit to the country of Andorra

Amanda from Arkansas, Ana from Poland, and I enjoy a panaromic view of the Pyrenees.
As we gained elevation, the peaks became more jagged and snow filled. This is one of the last weekends for skiing in the Pyrenees.
Here is a beautful picture of the countryside.
Yes, my friends. Burger King and McDonald's frequent the streets of Europe. My French friends tell me that they are the best places to use the restrooms in cities because they are free. Exactly!
Why eat Burger King, when you can save room for dessert, Andorrian style.

My new home.

My bedroom for the next 5 months.

It has some very cool shutters in the window that I have to open and close every morning and night.
The shower leaves a bit to be desired, but it gets the job done.

This is my morning view as I open my shutters. Soon the tree will be full of leaves and chirping birds. Not a bad way to start the day.

This is the my walk to school everyday. I can either walk to the Metro and take the subway which takes about 20 minutes or I can take the Canal du Midi on my bicycle which is much more beautiful and only takes 10 minutes. Back at home, I would never walk or ride my bike short distances like this. I would always jump in my car instead of enjoying the sights and sounds of the world. America needs to learn to slow down in life and enjoy the little things, especially in the morning. Maybe we wouldn't all be so cranky by the time we got to work.

I will give us Americans a litte credit though. 1.47 euros per liter! That is close to $6 a gallon. I wouldn't drive unless I had to either.This is my final destination everyday. ENSIACET or the Laboratoire de Chimne Agro-Industrielle.