14 September 2007

Just because it’s a bike path does not mean the curbs are bike-friendly!

So I’ve rented a bike, which has been very handy for getting to know my way around and spending some time outside on these beautiful fall days. A few days ago I discovered a bike path that takes me from my street corner right into town, wending its way along the river, through the European institutions, and under a canopy of trees. The Council of Europe, European Parliament, and Droits de l’Homme buildings are quite beautiful, and I’m lucky to cycle by them every morning in their glittering modernity. While the buildings on the university campus are modern concrete monstrosities (the law building is a particular eyesore with its ominously arching face and garish red and blue décor), the EU buildings are sleek, classy, and beautifully landscaped. I especially appreciate that they trim the weeping willows that overhang the bike path.

But really, stray weeping willow branches are the least of my worries on a bike. First, there are the fickle pedestrians, who stray from the other pedestrians who have been well-trained to the dinging of my little bike bell. Then, there are the other bikers, people of all sorts who ride slow and fast, on the right and left side, who stop or don’t stop at red crosswalk lights… And finally, the curbs. How spoiled I have been all my life to have curbs that slope gently into the ground! Here, on the bike paths I have been on, if you are lucky enough to find a curb that has been cut, you will find that it is still about two inches higher than the pavement. So, you break. You brace yourself. You make sure you’re not carrying anything breakable in your basket. And you continue. And sometimes you run into swans. Yes, this morning, I found a swan on my bike path by the river. I was quite alarmed to share a four-foot-wide path with a four-foot-tall swan.

Another finagling point: It is about time for the US to switch to the metric system.

A lesson in French wooing

One day in class this week while we were learning some new terms and idioms for expressing emotion, I realized that I was being fully equipped to woo someone in French. Not just to use the language of love, but to actually say lovely things! Well, at least according to the meaning of the expression. It’s starts with Je suis tombée amoureuse quand je t’ai vu, to « fall in love, » which we all recognize. After that, you can use expressions like avoir le coup de foudre, “to be struck by lightning,” or être aux anges, “to be with the angels, ie., to be very happy.” You can also s’attacher à quelqu’un, “attach yourself to someone,” or find your l’âme soeur, “soul mate (even though soeur means sister, in this sense it’s neuter).” But when she asks you (in English) if those pants make her look fat, don’t forget this proverb: La vérité est une flèche qu’il faut tromper dans le miel avant de la lancer; “Truth is an arrow one must dip in honey before shooting.”

Grocery store horror story

So I thought I’d had my token ‘bad experience’ at the grocery store when, the first time I went, I didn’t notice the scale in the produce section and arrived at the cashier without having weighed and tagged any of my fruit. It was embarrassing enough to be sent back to the scale while people waited in line behind me. Okay, it happened, I survived, now I know.

Oh, if only that were all. Read this story and just call me “frantic foreigner.”

I spent a good while at the grocery store last night picking out the perfect ingredients (and deciphering translations and names) for the things I decided to make this week: vegetarian chili, cornbread, baked oatmeal. I got to the checkout just around closing time, packed all my stuff into my bags, and went to pay with my just-received French debit card. First, something I should have realized: this card doesn’t double as a credit card, so I couldn’t sign the receipt like I always do in the States. She woman at the cashier asked me to swipe my card and enter my pin. Pin? I’d just received the card that day, and hadn’t memorized the PIN number yet, and in quick succession I realized that 1) I no longer had the letter from the bank including my PIN with me, since I’d taken everything out of my backpack to carry the groceries home, and 2) I only had 9 euros on me, not near enough to pay for groceries. I tried to explain my embarrassed hesitation to the woman, who was very patient and kind to me. I said that I would try calling Sabine, my host mom, since she was home and could run to my room, check the letter, and read me the code. Only…Sabine didn’t pick up her phone. I left a message in flustered, broken French, which was probably very confusing. Number…bank card…room…not enough money…call back soon. Dang. So, I hung up and started to sort my things to decide what I would take home with my 9 euros and what I would leave behind, when suddenly I realized that I’d taken money out this afternoon when I’d received the card to make sure it worked, and that the money WAS with me! Whew! I have enough money! I have enough money! The cashier woman was relieved, but not as much as I was! Then, my phone rang, and it was Sabine, frantic and saying, “Ok, I’m in your room, where’s the number?” I laughed and said, “No, no, I found enough money and I’ll tell you the story when I get home.” And I did. And it was the excitement of the night in our house, and a good laugh in the end.

And I’ll never forget my PIN code, that’s for sure.

Ps. I bought my first bottle of French wine on this grocery trip: A good Alsatian Reisling, 5 euros (about $6.50). I think it’s ok; Mom, I wonder what you would think.

Pps. I learned this week that they have self-raising flour in Australia (ie., flour with the baking powder already included).

Ppps. Only in a modern art museum can you find a large toy house, a ramp of light fixtures, lines, and the classic 'blank canvas.'


michmark said...

I'm really glad you're doing this blog, Colleen. I'm enjoying it and learning from it at the same time. A wonderful combination. Thank you. And you do make me kind of fell like I am there, thanks to you're great gift of writing.

Hilary said...

Okay, so I LOVE the grocery store story...I can just picture you! She must have been thinking "silly American" I am so glad you are keeping this blog!

I miss you and I love you! Can't wait to hear more soon...

Peeair said...

Mon Chere,
Reisling goes well with swan,might I suggest a mushroom stuffing...
A fantastic experience unfolding,I can just picture you in a state of panic @ the checkout.
What fun!!,have you tried spitting on the pedestrians?