Friday, June 13, 2008


In April, I had occasion to meet one of my "blog heroines" Kristin Espinasse, who runs a site called French word a day. She is from Arizona, but fell in love with a Frenchman, and voilà, she is in the South of France, writing about life here, and sharing little nuggets of her take on French culture and language. Her husband makes wine and had a wine tasting in Paris while she signed books. Her advice was to write every week at the very least, and I'm going to try and follow that as I reach the last 7 weeks of my stay in France.

In one of my classes at the Alliance in May,when I stated I liked foi gras, I was asked how I ate it...very specifically, was the bread warm? (no) was the foi gras cold? (no) was there accompanying choices of fig confiture? (no)and did I spread the foi gras on the bread? (I did!) It turns out that this bussiness of spreading things on large pieces of bread is a totally weird thing to the French, with the exception of jam or confiture on a slice of baguette in the morning. For the foi gras, the bread is at least warm, in small pieces, the foi gras is cooled, for easier slicing, a very delicate slice is placed (not spread) on the bread, and then you may eat it. For added sophistication, you can place a dot of fig jam on top, and accompany with a montbaziliac wine. Any other situation where there is bread and something to put on it, like cheese, paté, rilletes, or butter, the most acceptable thing is take a small piece of the bread, and apply a 'point' of whatever (a dot) and then eat it.

On the other side of the culinary coin, during my Medical French classes at the Alliance, we had discussion on nutrition. The professor happened to be from Normandy, so we had a long discussion on nutritional habits of the different regions of France. As many people know, Normandy is well know for it's fantastic dairy products, and as she described it, butter and cheese sandwiches as well as butter and dry sausage together is a common thing to eat, and cholesterol levels there show it. The only thing that saves the French from obesity is the amount of walking and the lack of snacking in general. Sadly, that seem to be changing, especially among kids, who seem chubbier than I remember and are seen eating snacks out of little containers after school on the way home. There is a lot of concern in the media about childhood obesity, amusingly pointed out by a little banner under ads for exactly those processed sweets you should not eat, reminding you not to snack and eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day, in small unobtrusive print, of course.

I have been fortunate to have some really great home cooked meals with friends here, and totally groove on the very long meal with a ton of conversation (I have sat at tables now for over 3 and a half hours)and it is amazing how much one can eat if you take it slow. Most of you know what a fast eater I can be...

I've saved some of the touristy things to do with friends when they visit, went to the Marmotan Museum with Roger and Eva, and walked across the peripherique in the 16th to the Bois de Bologne, where I'd never been before. It's a lovely park, with a lake you can walk around or rent rowboats in, with pony rides for kids and bikes for rent as well. It is also known for the Brazilian transvestites that supposedly hang out there at night, though I did not see any, I guess they rest during the day.

I have been to a local restaurant with just about everyone who has come to visit, called the Cafe Noir, which is about as haute cuisine as it gets here, and was stunned when I walked in with some friends the third time I was there, and was asked if I wanted my "table d'habitude" (regular table). My French speaking friend looked at me and said "your table d'habitude??" I blushed, but tried to play it off like this happens all the is a lovely place with really good food, and right in the neighborhood, and with a regular table, what can I say?

I had the opportunity to go to the South of France, a region known as the Drôme, in the northern part of Provence. A friend has a little house in a lovely little town called Villeperdrix, and we hiked, saw the old abbey and cemetery, sat by the river and picnicked, and just took in the fresh air, lovely vistas and good food. I actually drove a car while there and find French drivers in the country quite polite. It was also fun to get stuck behind a group of cyclists for ten minutes or so, in their cute lycra matching outfits!

Just before I left for San Franciso, I received an e-mail from the Chief of the psychiatric service at the nearby public hospital. I had written a letter asking to come and visit, telling them a little of who I was and where I worked in San Francisco. He was very welcoming and when I called he warmly invited me to come over and see the place that afternoon. It turns out he had recently been to the US, L. A. in particular and is very interested in developing a Women's mental health program with the services of OB Gyn of his and a couple of other public hospitals that serve the Northeast of Paris over the next year. I went back the next morning, was given a white coat, and did rounds with the senior attending for 2 and half hours. Though I still struggle to express myself without a lot of gramatical errors, I was able to follow the rounds, and later talk with the attending and chief about some of the similarities and differences of the setting between us and them. Though they have a total of 52 beds, theirs is an open unit. More agitated or actively suicidal patients go to another hospital that has locked beds. This hospital, however is a referral hospital for refractory depression, so they get a lot of people who need ECT, or whose depressions are complicated by medical or substance abuse issues. One aspect that was amazing to me, was that most of the patients could idetify a regular PCP in the community, and refering people to follow up psychiatric and psychological services was a matter of making a phone call to the local clinic, closest to the patient. In general an appointment could be had in a few days time!

I went the day after I got back from the US, and hung out with the MD covering the ER, similar to our Psych Emergency Service, but without a separate location. I sat in on her evaluation of two patients, one who she sent home with a referal for psychotheray, and another who she determined needed a locked bed, and was in the process of admitting involuntarily and arranging for transportation when I left. The hospital itself is old, and a bit run down, and has a vibe very much like San Francisco General, of staff that are very invested in public service, who shrug at the challenges and make the most of it, and a very diverse patient population. This particular hospital had gone out on a walk out earlier in April, and the walkout had included the chief of the emergency services there, protesting cutbacks in the budgets of the health department.

In the middle of all this, I took a 6 day break to go home for Amanda's graduation from nursing school. I arrived Saturday afternoon, went to a roller derby bout where Amanda was 'jousting', and was so jet lagged by the end of it, I was almost in tears. For those of you who don't know, roller derby is a rough sport, played by tough women, and the last game I went to in December, Amanda broke her arm, requiring surgery and metal to glue the whole thing back. She took a lot of hits and falls in this last game the day before her graduation, and in my delirious state of jet lag, I was wanting to go hit the girls that were knocking her around. Thankfully it was over with nothing more to show for it than a bruise and 'rink rash' which she shows off like heroic battle scars. It was weird being back home, but delicious as well to be back in the cocoon of my hubby's arms, and to cook on a big scale in my kitchen. I made lasagna for 30, and hosted a party for Amanda while there, full of familia and Amanda's buddies.
À bientôt, (till soon)

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