Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bon Voyage!

I'm sending myself off to France today...

....but I know y'all* are wishing me a bon voyage too. :)

See you on the other side of the pond!

*That's for you, LBR! ;)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Flowers from France

I struggled to get up this morning, the time change seems to be killing me this time. But as I sipped my coffee and opened my inbox, I was happily greeted with another flowery letter from Mme Gite-Owner.

Here is the direct translation:

Before your departure, before your takeoff to France, I'm coming to wish you a very good trip. I know that the trip is a little long, especially for the children. But in general, children suprise us by their adaptation. We have often been astonished by their patience in airplanes, and their ability to play and will be fine.

If you have need of anything, any service at all, don't hesitate to let me know.

We send you, from France, our warmest thoughts. It is with joy that we say to you now, "see you Saturday!"

Beautiful trip to the family,

Mme Gite Owner

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cassoulet's First Book Review!

On a gloomy day, last Thursday, with nothing special having happened all day, I was complaining of boredom when I heard the familiar screech of a brown delivery truck coming to a halt in front of my house. We all ran for the door, each hoping it was something for us personally. It was my turn, though. My name was on the package! I opened up the well-travelled cardboard box and this is what it contained:

I love books, especially of places I've been. I was excited to view the photos in this one, but honestly I didn't have high expectations for it. I like coffee table books, but most of them never have enough information to satisfy my "who-what-when-where-how" inquisitive mind. And let's face it, books on Paris are becoming a dime-a-dozen thing, what with Ross single-handedly curbing the appetite for Parisian paraphernalia.
I wasn't feeling so well, so I changed into my pj's right away and settled into my red papasan chair with the book, thinking I'd get through it in about 15 minutes at the most. I was wrong.
Historic Photos of Paris, by Rebecca Schall, is a visual timeline of Paris dating back to the mid-1800's. Each photograph is clearly explained, with dates, events and background. Each chapter (time period) begins with a rundown of the historical happenings and photos to back it up. There is sufficient reading to be done, fortunately. One of my favorite photos is this one:
It is Paris as it was before it became the epitome of chic-ness we now associate it with. It was the slums. It was a disease ridden, rodent infested, City of Filth. Trash, raw sewage and who-knows-what freely flowed into the water supply, resulting in countless deaths. Aren't we glad that changed! This book shows us the changes as they took place through intriguing photography that gives us a crystal clear picture that is most definitely worth a thousand words.
Another favorite photo is this one, documenting the historic flood of Paris in the early 20th century.
Only in Paris can walking across a plank look so glamorous!

This book kept my interest and I found myself sad when I reached the end. I love history when I've been to a place. I was able to recognize places in the photos that my own two feet have tread, but decades and even a century later.
This is a must have book for any Paris lover. If you wish to see more pages, click here to see a short video. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Getting A Good Deal in France

What can you get right now for four hundred and eighty-five dollars? Three hundred euros, for one thing. The exchange rate at my bank last Friday was a whopping $1.59 per Euro.

Dining out is expensive in France, and many times the food is just mediocre, so we'll be eating chez nous often, and chez nos amis. Of course, when in villages or centre ville, we'll not skimp on sitting down for a break at a cafe' for some boissons.

Speaking of mediocre food, we were invited to a certain restaurant twice by friends. Each time we got the invitation, it was accompanied by phrases like, "It's so cheap! It's so good! It's all-you-can-eat, just like in America!" We went to lunch at Flunch. It was not cheap. It was not good. It was only the over-cooked, limp, sans flavor vegetables that were all-you-can-eat. It made Hometown Buffet look like a foodie hang out. We had a Flunchy Lunch. Don't be tempted, don't be fooled. You won't save any euros here!

So where else can I get some bang for my buck? I suppose if we have the need to go to a doctor or hospital, it'll be dirt cheap compared to here. Which reminds me of my trip to the opthalmologist in Toulouse.

One day we had a picnic with friends outdoors in the sunshine. As we were leaving to go home, my eyes starting tearing up and turning red. By the time we got back to our flat, water was pouring out of them and I could barely keep my eyes open. Later that night, the pain was so severe, I had to keep a cold wet washcloth on them and moan in agony. This was pre-Lasik, so I had to take my contacts out, rendering me as good as blind. I managed to get a couple hours sleep, but woke to crusty eyes, painfully red, and itchy. Classic pink eye symptoms.

A friend made an appointment for me with an opthalmologist. She warned me that it was very expensive without health insurance. We knew this was a risk we were taking living over there without employment or benefits. But I had to go. I needed a prescription for eye drops asap.

She told us which bus to take to get there and as she is a very sweet person, she even met us there to make sure everything went smoothly. I entered the office, which strangely resembled an apartment living room. The doctor invited me into the exam room, which was also her personal office. Wearing corrective lenses since I was twelve, I was no stranger to eye exams or pink eye. The exam started off familiar enough, but then came the confused exclamations from the doctor. She seemed seriously unable to understand why my eyes were red and burning. She kept mumbling and sighing as if I had the first case of pink eye she'd ever seen.

She asked me what I did the day before. I told her we had a picnic with friends. She asked me if I got anything in my eyes. No, I did not (Wouldn't I have already put two and two together on my own?) But then my friend, who was in the exam room with me, piped up in an effort to help and said, "But wait, you made salsa for the picnic. Maybe you got some in your eyes!" No, I did not, I exclaimed and rolled my eyes, mentally.) Then the doctor says, "Hmmm....I think that indeed you burned your eyes when you made salsa. It was from the poivrons. Yes, that explains it now."

No, that doesn't explain it, I was screaming in my head. But I calmly explained that I did not put poivrons in my salsa. Nor would I ever put bell peppers in my salsa because what you put in salsa is chilis. What I normally put in my salsa is jalapenos. And yes, I did have a terrible jalapenos vs. eyes experience. But as I could never find them in France, it was impossible that they were the cause of this pain and suffering!

The doctor looked genuinely flabbergasted that I was not accepting her explanation. So then she said, "You said you were at a picnic. It was sunny, non? Did you wear sun glasses?" Yes I did. "Did you look at the sun?" she asked. Um, no. But as I also apparently put bell peppers in my salsa and flung it into my eyes without memory of it all, maybe I did look at the sun?!

"That's the explanation", she said again. "The sun burned your eyes because I'm sure your sun glasses are not good enough, and you must have been looking at it. I will give you a prescription for drops"....blah blah blah.

She got up and walked over to her desk to fill out the paperwork. She gasped when I told her I did not have insurance and I would be paying for it with cash. She said, "But, you will have to pay 100%!!!", horrified at what that would mean for me. She scared me. She scribbled on her papers and then stated the amount with reluctance. I had to ask my friend to make sure I had understood correctly.

It amounted to 21 dollars.

I gleefully paid the money, left, and told my friend that would have cost $120 minimum at my opthalmologist back home.

I got the same treatment from the pharmacist when I told him I didn't have insurance. The drops that cost me $40 here, cost $3 that day in the Toulouse pharmacy. The Gucci sunglasses I purchased later, to replace my inferior ones that caused my eye trauma, did cost me, however. Still, it amounted to the price of the American eye doc, no Guccis included.

I really don't want any of us to have to see a doctor during our month in France, but if we do, we shall receive a bargain...even at full price.