22 September, 2006


I was feeling a little unconnected from the world here yesterday. Last weekend I met two really cool French people around my age, and I emailed them both on Monday, and neither of them had got back to me. And I didn't have any plans to do anything cool with the EAP people this weekend, either. So that (and PMS) made sitting in my room moping about how nobody loved me a fairly appealing idea.

However, I have the most wonderful mother in the world (no offense to other mothers reading this, but really, there's no comparison), and when she hears I'm moping about how nobody loves me she always tells me to go out and find somebody to play with, because she knows that in fact people generally do love me, they just don't always know where to find me. So I went upstairs where Jack and Daniel and Rodrigo and Lyra and Katya were talking, and I chatted with them for a while (these are people I quite like but with whom I don't end up spending much time, because their idea of fun is to go to bars late at night. And while I would, in theory, like to go to bars late at night, in practice I don't really like to do anything except for sleep late at night). Then Katie (whom I quite like and with whom I spend a significant amount of time, because her idea of fun is to go wander around Grenoble and gossip and find interesting small restaurants and eat meat in them, which is something you can do at any time of the day or night and also, honestly, what I would spend all my time doing if I could) showed up, and then Jessica showed up, and they and most of the other people I usually hang out with had spent the day at the HUGE HUGE HUGE shopping mall at the end of one of the tram lines. This, unfortunately, fostered for a while the idea that no one loved me. However, that idea was very easy to defeat, because I had not, in fact, been there when they left, so it would have been pretty hard for them to invite me.

Katie and Jessica were going downstairs to tell Antoine thanks for the dinner he'd cooked them a couple nights ago, I think when I was out with Mary and Travis. Antoine deserves his own post, and he may or may not get it, so here I'll say that he's the 70-year-old man who helps at the reception and seems to do odd jobs around here. I asked if I could come with them, and they said of course, so the three of us went down and knocked at Antoine's door and went in and talked with him for a while. That was lots of fun, 'cause all four of us are extremely talkative, and so at least half the time there was more than one person talking at once, and whoever shouted loudest got to finish their story. After a while Karen and her friend Dennis-who's-visiting showed up to go out to a restaurant with Katie and Jessica. I hadn't been invited ("Oh no! No one loves me! Shut up, Eleanor, you weren't there to invite!"), and I was thinking about whether I could swing asking if I could come too, but before I figured out how I was going to do it Antoine asked me if I'd eaten, and I said no, and everyone said, Oh, you have to come with us! Where were you today? We missed you! Why didn't you come? Then I stopped worrying if anyone loved me.

So we all headed over to La Planche au Bois ("The Wooden Plank," more or less. They serve all their food on these wooden cutting board things), which has become my favorite restaurant in Grenoble. In the interest of full disclosure, Grenoble is not famed for the quality of its restaurants, but the food's good there, and not too expensive, and the waiter is really nice. I'd been once before, with almost the same group of EAP people, and I'd given the waiter the little card that explains about celiac disease, and he'd been really nice about it and understood everything. When we came back this time he remembered me, so I didn't have to do anything, and he got major points for that. It was a really nice dinner.

When we were done with dinner it was about 11.30, and I had pretty well faded. Everyone headed over to Nicole's apartment, and I came with them, but I left after a couple minutes and came back home to sleep. And when I got home I found an email from the nice French boy I met on the train last Friday saying that he was really really sorry he hadn't gotten back to me but his computer's at his parents' house so he hadn't been able to check his email until now and of course he remembers me and would love to get together some time next week. So I'm feeling much better about life now than I was yesterday morning.

Gratin Dauphinois

So there seems to have been a fair amount of confusion generated by my post about Gratin Dauphinois, which is I suppose to be expected given that pretty much all I said was "Gratin Dauphinois." Gratin Dauphinois is, in fact, (potato) gratin in the style of the Dauphinois region, of which Grenoble is a part. I cannot usually eat gratin-type things, as they are usually thickened with flour. However, the Dauphinois are hardcore, and (here comes the answer to Theresa and Claire's questions) Gratin Dauphinois consists of 1) potatoes 2) butter 3) cream. And that is all. And that is why it is so wonderful.

Unfortunately, beyond knowledge of the ingredients, my recipe for Gratin Dauphinois is: Get off the tram at the Ile Verte stop. Walk over to the little deli there. Ask the nice man for some Gratin Dauphinois. Eat it quickly so no one else asks if they can try it, 'cause I'm rarely in the mood for a battle to the death over who gets to eat the rest of my food. I would love to be able to cook it myself, and I'm planning on asking the aforementioned nice man how he makes his, but I'd be very surprised if something like that didn't use an oven, and I'm looking at being oven-less for the entire year. So I'll get the recipe and someone with an oven can make it and mail it to me. I don't mind waiting. Not for Gratin Dauphinois.

20 September, 2006

Gratin Dauphinois. Yes.

That is all.

Minor update

It's not that there hasn't been enough going on here to write about, it's that there's been too much. I'll sit down to think about writing and there'll be SO MUCH to talk about that I just give up, because I can't even begin to do it all justice. But writing something incomplete is better than writing nothing at all, so here's a few things:

Still getting along with all the EAP people, from one of whom comes the new words at the top of the page.

Really looking forward to moving in to my new apartment. I spent an hour and a half chatting with my apartment-mate, who is really neat. I was a little worried when I saw her ad for an apartment-mate, because she specifically requested an exchange student. Are there things wrong with the apartment that a French person would notice that a foreigner wouldn't? But talking to her I found out that it's really hard for a medical student to go abroad, but that she'd really like to, so living with exchange students gives her some of the same kind of tastes of other cultures.

I have a cell phone now, whose number I'm not sure I should be posting on the internet. But if you email me, I'll give it to you.

Last night I cooked some really nice green beans. I finally figured out how much shallots and butter and garlic and beans, and how long to cook everything for. It was very nice.

I am now going to continute typing up my notes for the European Union class I'm taking, which is really cool but kind of hard to understand because the professor talks very fast. I don't think I did so terribly, though, and we'll see next week. Anyway it was a lot of fun, even if I didn't end up learning everything I was supposed to.

17 September, 2006

Toast and Jam

When I found out I had celiac disease, the one thing I regretted most was toast and jam.

I have always loved toast and jam. When I was about thirteen, I think, I discovered that I could get past my mother's requirement that the things I ate must have some sort of nutritional content other than carbohydrates (protein, vitamins, that sort of annoying thing) by eating toasted open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, meaning two toasted pieces of bread, one with peanut butter and one with jam. I'd eat the peanut butter slice first, as quickly as was reasonably possible, and then savour the slice with jam on it.

As soon as I moved into a house of (more or less) my own in college, I started eating toast and jam pretty much every day. The day I realized that there really was something wrong with me, that normal 18-year-old people are hungry for more than one meal a day and don't need naps every afternoon, I'd been living on just toast and jam and milk for a about a week. So even though it doesn't bother me very much, in the grand scheme of things, I miss toast and jam. Here in France I've discovered that a rice cracker with a layer of strawberry jam and then a layer of goat cheese serves much the same purpose, but it's still not the same thing.

I write this eating a slice of toast with butter and strawberry jam.

It is the most wonderful thing. I thought I would never eat a real slice of toast and jam again, and here I sit, eating toasted gluten-free bread made special for me by the chef of a one-star Michelin restaurant.

I went to visit Mary and Travis in Provence again this weekend. When I emailed them the time of my train in, they told me that they had a surprise for me (and that of course it involved food). So Saturday evening we left the house around 7.15 and drove for a couple kilometers to a restaurant that they'd eaten lunch at a few days before. It's a one-star Michelin restaurant that's run by the longest-serving female chef in France, Reine Sammut. The one-star rating is a little misleading, I think, in terms of the quality of the food. Mary, who certainly knows more about these things than I do, says that it's only got one star because it's not quite stuffy enough for the Michelin people, because its cooking is too traditionally Provençal and not "innovative" enough, and because the chef's a woman. Regardless of the number of stars it's got, it's probably the best restaurant I've ever eaten in.

I don't know the story, exactly, but I think that when Mary told the waiter about how she had celiac disease and what she could and couldn't eat, somebody said, "Oh yes! Reine's daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease recently! We know all about that!"

So Mary and Travis arranged for us all to have dinner there last night, and Reine's daughter was there, so I got to meet everyone, and they're all wonderful people, and the dinner was amazing.

When we got out first course, they brought bread for Travis. He ate some of it with the olive oil (they make it themselves), which was really good, and which Mary and I dipped our fingers into, because of course we didn't have any bread to eat with it. And then they brought a separate thing of bread for Mary and me. And we looked at each other, and each took a piece, and tried it, and it was wonderful. We had bread to dip into olive oil, and to eat with goat cheese, and to mop up the last bit of sauce on our plates.

At the end of the meal, we talked to Reine for a while. We told her how much we'd enjoyed the meal, especially the bread, which she'd made special, and when we were about to leave we asked if maybe there was a little left over that we could take with us. There was.

That is the story of my first piece of toast and jam in half a year. Reine's writing a gluten-free cookbook, so I'm going to see if I can get the recipe she uses for the bread. I'm sure that if I make it it won't turn out nearly as good as hers, but perhaps it'll still be good enough for toast and jam.

And I've still got two slices of bread left...

14 September, 2006


The sounds outside my window:

CRASH crashcrash crashcrash!


It's been raining on and off today, which has been wonderful. A couple days ago it just poured for fifteen minutes, so I went out and danced in the rain and took pictures and got laughed at by the French people (in a friendly manner, of course), which was a lot like being in America except that the rain was better and they laughed in French.

Mary and Travis invited me back to Provence this weekend, so I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon. The light in Provence is just amazing. We woke up around seven one day, and the world looked so crisp and warm and inviting that I'm glad to be going back just to have another morning there.

12 September, 2006


So! I have discovered NOT ONLY how to put photos up on my .mac space, but ALSO how to put a link to them on my blog! Please look over to the right for a link to my pictures!

Biology and French

I had my first real French class today. I can only take one bio course this semester, because all of the other bio classes being offered are either terminally uninteresting, conflict with another class, or require detailed knowledge of the immune system, which I do not posess. The class is on the molecular basis of genetic expression, and it sounded boring when I first read the description, but there was a meeting for all third-year biology students in which the professors came and gave descriptions of their classes, and I liked the guy who gave the description and it sounded a lot more interesting than it had on paper, so I decided to give it a try (this was even before I knew that it was the only bio class in the ENTIRE UNIVERSITY that I could take).

It's set up about like a class in the US- there's a big lecture once or a couple times a week, and then smaller discussion sections on top of that. The students who are taking the whole year 3 bio sequence also have a lab. However, the French university system is hardcore and the lab meets once a week for ten hours (Yeah. Ten hours straight. Every Monday), so I'm not going to be participating in that little bit of fun.

I must say, being in France is lots of fun. My French is improving so fast that I actually think I have a chance of speaking it like a native by the end of the year. It's amazingly awesome being here, because I can just go outside and walk down the street and learn something. In every conversation I have (or eavesdrop on) I learn some new word, or some new way of expressing some emotion, or some new French cultural custom, and it's really one of the most interesting things I've ever done in my life.

At the beginning of the bio class this morning I was a little lost. It wasn't really that I didn't understand what the professor was saying, because I did (which was really cool and a little surprising), but I didn't quite understand how to write it all down and pick out what was important and what wasn't. About halfway through the lecture, though, something clicked and I started being able to take notes almost as well as I can in English. I think that same thing happens at the beginning of every class I take, whether it's in English or French, which makes me feel wonderful because it means that I really do speak French.

Yesterday I had my monthly meeting with the EAP French teacher. Each of us is supposed to meet with her once a month for forty-five minutes to discuss problems we have with French and just to get some one-on-one attention. I got really lucky in that I like her and she likes me and we generally get along quite well. The first day in class everyone went around and said how long they'd been studying French, and mostly people had been studying it in college and some in high school, and then we got to me and I said I'd been studying French for nine years, and the teacher asked if I were bilingual (I said no, not really), and since then she's been really scared that she's boring me in class.

I'm actually not bored in class, which is sort of a novel experience for me. It's not that the class is pitched at someone with my level of French, because it's not. There are a lot of people here that have only been studying French for three or so years, so the grammar and pronounciation things she's going over I already know, but what I have to do to improve my French now is to pick up all the little nonsensical things that you can't just make a list of or learn a rule for, and the way to do that is to listen to French people speak and read things in French. The teacher's French, and she gives us magazine and newspaper articles in French to read, so I pick up lots of interesting things in French class. I suppose I don't learn any more French in French class than I do just walking down the street, but I certainly don't learn any less, so I don't feel it's a waste of my time. I think what I'm trying to say is that I don't need a French class but that I don't mind taking one. (Damn. Now that I've put that into words it bugs me a little that I have to take that class when I could be taking bio instead. Perhaps I'll go talk to someone about it? I'll see how the next couple classes go first, I think.)

So in our meeting yesterday we talked about picking up the little things (she's going to give me a list of random words that you don't make a liason with, which is just something you have to memorize) and she came up with all sorts of ways she could make class more interesting for me, which was nice. She says that when she gives grammar exercises she can surreptitiously slip me some harder ones than the rest of the class gets, which will be fun. I also got recommendations for books and magazines to read and supermarkets to go to.

She also told me that yes, I probably was fluent in French. About the middle of last year I stopped translating things I read in French into English in my head, and she says that that's fluency.

All in all, these have been a nice couple days. I'm really starting to settle in now, and I've had enough time to look around and decide that yes, this is a good place to be, and I like it here.

03 September, 2006

By the Seine, part 2

This is the other thing I wrote sitting by the Seine in Paris a little more than a week ago now.

I have discovered that to happily explore Paris alone I must just do whatever strikes my fancy. Want to take a photo of that street sign? Who cares if it makes me look touristy! Want to look through the skirts in that little shop? They can't shoot me for not buying things. If I don't indulge my whims I end up just wandering aimlessly feeling vaguely dissatisfied by something I can't even remember. Alone, the only reason not to do exactly as I please is a lingering fear of looking stupid, which I apparently do not consider a sufficient excuse for not taking a peek into that tiny used book store.

So I do things. This morning I decided I wanted jam with my yogurt (which is pretty much like butter, except more sour), and remained undeterred by the fact that the little épicerie next to the apartment was closed at 8am, when I went out. I ended up wandering for rather a while, because I was trying to avoid going down any stairs (pretty much impossible in Montmartre, I can now report), but I did eventually find a store, where I bought a jar of Bonne Maman strawberry jam.

Mostly what I seem to want to do is take pictures of things and ask people questions. I have started a collection of pedagogic street signs ("Rue Lamarck. 1744-1829. Naturaliste," etc), and have a large number of photos of the Notre-Dame cathedral. This afternoon, while scouring a book on diabetes for necessary vocabulary (la diabète. l'hypoglycémie. une pompe à insuline.) I asked a random customer how you say the Greek letter beta in French ("béta," he said).

Everyone seems able to tell I'm American just by looking at me (although not, as demonstrated last night, by speaking to me). In the interests of getting people to STOP SPEAKING ENGLISH TO ME, DAMN IT I have started trying to figure out what the visible differences between myself and the Parisians are. I cannot seem to master the look of blank indifference common to most of the people here, probably as a result of being too darn interested in things (edit: apparently being slightly sleep-deprived will accomplish the desired effect...), but I have noticed that French women can layer like nobody's business. They all seem to be wearing a sweater and a coat, or at least to have a sweater in a color complimenting their outift tied around their waist. To facilitate my assimilation into French culture I am now off to buy a teal scarf to drape carelessly about my neck.

(Something I noticed while sitting there: The steps have been here long enough for a small stalagmite to start forming underneath a drip. Paris is so cool.)