Friday, May 21, 2010

Potage aux fanes de radis.

Has anyone here ever heard of radish leaf soup? I put the title in French because it just sounds so much more appetizing to whisper, potage aux fanes de radis. Mmmm. Monsieur J's mom has been telling us how good this soup is for a while now. I finally motivated to make it yesterday.

I think that final dose of Préfecture rejection is what pushed me to seek solace in soup. I typically reconcile myself with France's ridiculous bureaucracy via my stomach; it's the best way I've found to negotiate the rocky path to forgiveness. A warm baguette can heal most wounds.

I wanted something simple, soothing and inexpensive. Being reminded of the fact that you won't be working for at least another month doesn't exactly inspire extravagance. With radishes coming in at 75 cents a bunch, radish leaf soup fit the bill.

Full disclosure: I was never a huge fan of the radish when I lived in the States. They always looked so sad and forlorn sitting virtually untouched on the salad bar. In France I go crazy for radishes, from the little skinny red ones to the big scary looking black ones. It also helps that the French tend to eat their radishes with plenty of bread and salted butter. Who wouldn't like that?

I didn't know you could eat the leaves, but you can. And for two apartment dwellers with no way to compost, I finally felt like I was doing my part by not throwing these leafy greens in the trash.

The soup is simple: 1 shallot, 4 small potatoes, 1 bunch well-rinsed radish leaves, juice of 1 lemon, water, salt and pepper to taste.

We topped the soup with fresh mint from the balcony and crème fraîche. Spring in a bowl.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Their mistake, my life.

Monsieur J and I came back from a lovely weekend in Royan on Saturday afternoon. But the weekend really proved to be a good one when he returned from the mailbox with a very important letter: a convocation from the Préfecture to pick up my new carte de séjour. It's finally ready!

Monday morning I scurried down to the Préfecture bright and early. I waited outside with the masses until the doors opened at 9:00. Nothing could have prepared me for the pushing and shoving that ensued. The hoardes had managed to break the ticket machine within 3 minutes.

This should have been an omen. I should have done an about face and returned home, tempting my chances another day. Instead I waited in the amoeba like blob of a non-line for almost 3 hours. Periodically the woman behind the glass window would emerge to distribute tickets by hand, risking life and limb while everyone fought to be "first". Incivility is an understatement.

The only ray of sunshine was that there was another American who I'd met back in August before my paperwork woes had been discovered. We had a good time commiserating and watching the international circus unfold before our very eyes. She confided that she no longer puts on makeup when she comes here because she inevitably ends up in tears. What is it with this place?

When it was my turn, I approached the counter nervously, my heart racing. I made sure to use my nicest Bonjour, Madame and hoped for the best. I delicately slid the letter I'd received, my passport, the expired carte de séjour and the still valid récépissé de demande de carte de séjour under the window. Within a few minutes she returned my passport, retained the letter and all other expired paperwork and had me sign to receive the new carte de séjour, the treasured green card equivalent.

Incredulous that this was finally happening after 10 months of seemingly endless waiting, I simply slipped the card in my pocket with the intention of exiting this hell hole as soon as humanly possible. However, an idea popped into my head: maybe you should check the card before you leave?

Check it I did, and to my dismay it was the wrong card, a mere duplicate of the same one I had before bearing no indication that I had married a French citizen. I think this is when I started visibly shaking. The other American, sensing my distress came over and started rubbing my back. True solidarity.

I returned to the counter and explained my dilemna to the employee. She took it upon herself to look up my file on her computer and actually admitted that her colleague had made a mistake, which is highly unusual. The French are almost always convinced that they're right, even when they're wrong; to do otherwise would be to admit defeat.

She explained that a new card would have to be made. Logically my next question was, "how long do you expect that to take"? One month. REALLY!?! Their administrative mistake, my time. Go figure.

Monsieur J came home for lunch to console me and devise a plan of attack. It's time to get to the bottom of this, even if it means lighting a fire under somebody's fanny.

His parents were livid and have since been an immense help in our letter writing campaign. His sister listened while I recounted my disastrous morning via skype. My family continues to be supportive as always. We are immensely thankful for family and friends.

Yesterday afternoon I channeled the spirit of a lawyer as I sat down to write a well-argued letter in my most perfect French to, get this, the ministre de l’immigration, de l’intégration, de l’identité nationale et du développement solidaire. Is that really all one title? For one person?

With the help of some of my favorite native speakers my work of art was ready to mail by mid-day; it will be interesting to see what, if anything, this yields.

In spite of the absurdity of it all, I enjoyed getting to use expressions like disfonctionnement, manque de professionalisme and conséquences désastreuses. And while it did pain me ever so slightly to edit out the phrase incompétence flagrante, it was probably for the best.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Honeymoon's over.

Not to worry, we're still getting along.

I'm here to talk about two unlikely things: dish soap and vacation.

This week I realized that the dish soap we bought while honeymooning in the Pyrénées is down to the last squeeze.

I usually go for some sort of eco-friendly, sensitive skin product -you would too if you didn't have a dishwasher. But since we were in a ski resort town, Monsieur J just picked up a bottle of the cheapest stuff he could find. The man may be French, but he shares some key traits with the Schnell clan.

Not only was it bright blue, but it also had a strong cleanser smell to it. We used it to keep our kitchenette clean during our stay and packed it with us when it was time to go. Now, whenever I wash the dishes, the aroma reminds me of our time in the mountains. Simple, but strange.

And though my hands are happy to get back to the old standby, I think I'll secretly miss the soap that made dishwashing transport me to the Pyrénées. Who knew that something as basic as soap could evoke cross-country skiing, soaking in hot springs, fondue, tartiflette and cassoulet all in one?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bon week-end.

The weather has been playing nasty tricks on us in Toulouse these past couple of weeks. In late April, it was sunny with highs in the 90s. But since it was still April, everyone insisted on wearing sweaters and jackets as a matter of principle. I blame it all on that pesky proverb:

En avril, ne te découvre pas d'un fil. En mai, fais ce qu'il te plait.

loose translation: In April, keep covered. In May, do as you please.

I've mentioned before that the French dress according to season rather than according to the actual temperature. It's very peculiar. In April, Monsieur J and I have ridiculous conversations that go something like this:

J: You really should put on a sweater or at least bring a scarf.

A: You do realize it's 85 degrees outside in the shade.

J: Yes, but it's April. You don't want to catch a cold.

A: I think I'll be alright.

J: [dubious]

Needless to say, I was excited for May to arrive so that everyone could stop staring at me for wearing temperature appropriate clothing or suggesting that I wear three layers on a hot day.

And then May came, and guess what? I woke up and it was 45 degrees and raining. Surprise! But today I awoke to sun, blue skies and seasonal temperatures. I did a little weekend grocery shopping at the market and planted basil and cherry tomato plants for the balcony.

I think I'll be celebrating with a special apéritif tonight: kir à la violette. Cheers!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lilies of the valley.

This past Saturday was Labor Day in France and tradition has it that May 1st is the day to offer un brin de muguet, or a little bunch of lilies of the valley to your special someone.

Several years ago, I remember my mother delicately offering some dating advice. I think she was trying to communicate how you know if it's right, if he's really "the one." She didn't get very far though before she got flustered. I think the conversation ended somewhat abruptly with, "I don't know what to tell you, everything has changed."

And I can understand why she would feel that way in this crazy mixed up world where couples seemingly do what they want, when they want. But our conversation wasn't a total loss. In fact, it got me wondering: even if the rules have changed, How. Do. You. Know?

Two years ago on May 1st, Monsieur J picked out a little bouquet of muguet for me at the market. I was just happy to have flowers and to learn about a new tradition. That night he whispered to me, "you know, I've never bought lilies of the valley for anyone else before -I used to get them for my mom when I was little, but that's different. I thought you'd like them."