Monthly Archives: September 2011

the hipster compound

A couple of weekends ago in the Style section of the Sunday New York Times, a cute little shack on a river in France was featured that is a summer home for the Parisian crowd.  The pictures in the NYT were beautiful and they set the dreamy scene for the kind of summer party I want to be invited to.  The shack had all the trimmings of a super-cool summer hangout including a treehouse, a picnic table draped with a beautiful French table-cloth and kayaks on the river.  After closer inspection of the photos, I realized that the riverfront setting of this shack was on the very river that flows through our town (the Loing) and after reading the article, I realized that this shack was actually located in our town!

According to the Times, a super-cool Parisian couple who are well-known designers (to those people who know about well-know Parisian designers) decided that they needed an escape from the Parisian hipster scene so they bought this shack several years ago as a refuge.  I showed the photos to Tim and jokingly told him we needed to meet these people with their super-cool hangout that I started calling “The Hipster Compound.”  There’s probably nothing that hipster Parisians want to do more than hang out with real live Americans who eat at Buffalo Grill and whose kids who wear lice combs in their hair for fun, right?

The following Sunday, Tim said he was going out to take a walk in the woods while I was hanging out at home with the kids.  The next thing I knew, Tim started sending me photos from his iPhone of cool shacks along the Loing River.  It appeared that he was actively trying to track down the Hipster Compound and possibly the hipsters therein.

I should take a moment to tell you that there is nearly nothing that Tim likes to do more than trespass. He will trespass freely in any structure in the progress of being built or any land that appears to have no people on it at the moment – even pieces of land or buildings with big chains across the driveways and DO NOT ENTER signs strewn about.  He is not deterred by the rules of society – he walks anywhere he wants until someone directly tells him to get out.

After a couple of hours tramping around on the banks of the Loing, Tim finally found the actual Hipster Compound and despite the chain across the road, he walked on to the property.  Luckily for him, the hipsters weren’t out at their compound at the moment, but Tim got a good look around.  Yes, it is a cool as it looked in the Times and no, we’re not friends with the fancy Parisian designers – yet.  There is still time and much more trespassing to do, since it seems unlikely that we’ll run into the shack owners at Buffalo Grill.

I don’t want to include any pictures of the Hipster Compound in this post, just in case the photos would incriminate Tim and his trespassing self.  Instead, I’ll leave you with this:

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fashion tv

I know you know how limited our tv options are here, but you know I’ve hit rock bottom when you catch me sitting watching French Fashion TV.  It’s a channel devoted entirely to fashion.  There are no words, only fashion and I’m fairly certain that I don’t fit their intended viewer demographic.

On this channel there are a lot of very tall women with minimal clothing, as you would imagine, but the bulk of the time seems to be devoted to the designers of Brazilian bikinis. It’s like a Victoria’s Secret fashion show playing every evening and it’s actually somewhat interesting, from a cultural perspective.

While watching, I try not to have a complete body image breakdown, however I often find myself thinking things like, “Hmmmm……………those Brazilain bikinis look cool, but I wonder what it feels like to be strutting down the catwalk with that giant wedgie in front of all those people.” Thoughts like this often make me realize that watching French Fashion TV is not the best use of my time……………..

One day, when I was thinking about writing this very post about Fashion TV and I was planing to take a picture of it with my iPhone, I happened to say out loud, “I can’t remember what channel Fashion TV is…………..”

At that moment, Tim chimed in, “It’s 123.”

I guess he finds it culturally interesting too.

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seriously far out

For those of you who don’t know what a lice comb looks like, I’m very happy for you.  And for those of you who are familiar with the look of a lice comb, welcome to the club.

Luckily for us, we haven’t truly had to use it yet, but we bought it last spring during the Lice Wars at school.  I almost feel like having it around is like insurance against lice.  For whatever reason, the boys are fascinated by the lice comb and I often find them combing their hair with it just for fun.

Just when I thought the boys had finally lost interest in the lice comb, Owen came down the stairs and said, “Ma, look!”  The memory of what followed is hard to shake – Owen strutted across the floor like a dude with the lice comb stuck in his hair like an afro pick. Somehow even my kids know we’re living in the 1970s.

I’ve included this picture so that you can shake the visual image of Owen and the lice comb:

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it’s party time!

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There is nearly nothing I love more than a party, however this does not include kid’s parties. I want to love kid’s birthday parties or at least like them, but unfortunately, I don’t love or even like them.

I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like them, but I think it may have something to do with the ear-splitting screaming that seems to be a standard part of birthday parties for the young set.  I also have very bad memories of Eamon’s 2nd birthday party, which has stayed with me for many years and tainted me forever. Here is a summary of that fateful situation which has scarred me for life:

  • our very elderly, smelly, and somewhat badly behaved dog Bruno died the week of his party
  • we accidentally trapped a skunk in a hole in the floor of our garage with cement the day before the party (that is a long story, best left for another day)
  • I thought I invited the kids/parents for 11am, but I accidentally put the wrong time on the invitation and everyone showed up at 10am and I was forced to crazily throw shit in the closets and frost the cake with powered sugar

You’ll be happy to know that Eamon was not at all scarred by the events surrounding his party.  I just try to keep the trauma to myself (and my very public friends on the internet).

For us, the older our kids have gotten, the smaller their parties have become. In France?  Every party that our kids have been invited to has been about 12+ kids. I guess French parents have a lot more tolerance than I do. Another point of note about French children’s parties is that the parents never stay at the party, no matter the age of the child. So, if your child is turning 3 and you invite 20 3-year-olds to the party (as my friend here accidentally did), be prepared watch those 20 little kids for the duration.

Since Eamon’s birthday is a mere days away, the party situation has been on my mind. Luckily for me, he has no real interest in having a big party this year. Instead, we’re taking a couple of kids to a local place called “accrobranche” which is sort of like a ropes course with zipline, etc.  I really hope the harnesses are good.  Will let you know……

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ps- pictures courtesy of my friend Louise (from her kid’s parties), Instagram rendering courtesy of me

dig it

While I was shopping at the Monoprix the other day, I happened upon a very large display of this:

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It is sun cream (like sun screen), but it has absolutely no SPF in it.  It’s actually for bronzing, rather than for trying not to get burned.  Yet another sign that France is stuck in the 1970s.  Not sure what the skin cancer rates are here, but I almost feel like I should get out my 8-track and put on some Steppenwolf just to fit in. So right after I wrote that, I googled Steppenwolf and found out that they are still on tour, more than 40 years since they took their first magic carpet ride.  If you happen to be near the following cities, you may want to check out how time has treated them.

  • Hot Springs, AR
  • Durant, OK
  • Toronto, ONT
  • Shawnee, OK
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL

Despite the fact that there is no apparent fear of skin cancer here, I actually love the “stuck in time culture” that exists, which centers around enjoying life right now, rather than waiting for an undetermined time, like retirement or a better job.

As far as I can tell, part of this appreciation of life is trip taking and there is no better way to see this than with the Euro “camping car” culture.  In the US it seems that people work all of their lives and then plan to buy an RV upon retirement to finally take some time off and enjoy life. Here, people have camping cars when they are young and when they retire they move to a beach town and sit down.  I kind of like that plan.

To clarify, the main difference between a European camping car and an American RV, is, not surprisingly, size.  Camping cars here are usually like the smallest possible version of the American RV – either that or something not much bigger than some American cars, like VW busses, which are still as popular as ever.  The other main difference is that camping cars are driven by hipsters and RVs are driven by, well, the less young crowd.

I know for a fact that the VW bus is well-loved in French culture because the movie Little Miss Sunshine plays on repeat on French TV.  I’m fairly certain that the French don’t understand any of the humor of the movie, but I know they love the bus.  True story: A French person recently said to me, “It must be so hard in the US for young kids because they are all forced to compete in those,…….what are they called………..beauty pageants?” I could not make this stuff up.

All of this camping car culture has gotten me looking on Ebay for a good VW bus. I’m thinking that we might have to take the initiative and revive the Euro camping car movement in the US.  Even if we don’t exactly fit the Euro hipster profile, I know that at least I will fit in driving a VW bus in the US because my hair will be down to my ass unless I suck it up and get a haircut.  If you know of any solid VW busses for sale in the US, let me know.  Or better yet, buy one of your own so that you can join the camping car caravan.  Can you dig it?  I knew that you could.

me + giant beer = fun

If there’s one thing I try to avoid, it’s being pegged as an American.  It’s not that the French have low opinions of Americans……………….necessarily.  It’s just that sometimes I have a low opinion of Americans.  Especially when they’re interacting with other people in foreign countries.

There are so many nice people to meet here, but honestly, some of the trickiest situations come up when I meet other Americans.  There is one woman I met (who has lived here for many years), who actually said to me, “Are you one of those Americans who is trying really hard to speak French because I’ve lived here for years and I’ve found that you can get around fine without really knowing any French at all.”  It’s hard to know what to say in those situations and it kind of hurts me to hear things like that because I can’t help but wonder why anyone would have that attitude.  I’m not going to lie, learning a foreign language at any age is not easy, but it gives you a better window into a culture than just looking in from the outside.  It also gives you an incredible amount of empathy for people who are forced out their home countries and have no choice but to assimilate into a different culture.  I am sure it’s harder work than most of us will ever know.

So now that you know my feelings about Americans abroad, you can hear my story about dinner the other night.

On the first night of school each year we have a tradition that we go out to eat as a celebration of surviving the first day.  In Vermont, the restaurant choices were easy since most of my favorite restaurants are the same as my kids’.  But now we live in France.  Let me just start by saying that although the French like to eat out as much (or more) than any culture, there is virtually no kid/restaurant culture here and kid’s are not necessarily welcome at restaurants.  It’s nearly impossible to find a restaurant with a high chair, let alone straws or plastic cups. We have friends here who lived in the US for a few years before moving back to France when their kids were little.  To combat the anti-kid culture, they would keep a high chair in the trunk of their car in case they wanted to got out to dinner. If you’re looking for a restaurant with crayons, you may need to hop a plane back to the US or a least remember to shove some in your purse.  For all of these reasons, most French kids eat at home.

Our kids have eaten out a few places, but not many times, so when it came time to decide where to go for the first night of school I started pushing for the Japanese restaurant.  Sadly, for me at least, the kids had their eyes on another restaurant. It’s called Buffalo Grill.

Buffalo Grill is a big chain restaurant in Europe with a distinctly American theme and feel.  It’s big and red and has giant Texas-style horns on the roof of each restaurant.  In a land of crepes and foie gras, it is absolutely screaming “America!” Just the kind of place I would like to avoid.  As a side note, there are no buffalo in Europe.

I was pushing hard for Japanese, but the kids pushed even harder for Buffalo Grill.  Tim finally had to intervene because it was turning into a showdown.  The comment that finally broke me down was Tim saying, “At least they don’t want to go to McDonald’s.”  Good point.  So off we went to Buffalo Grill  with me secretly hoping that I would not run into anyone I knew.

I was hanging my head as I crossed the threshold into mini-America.  As we entered, the wait staff looked at us and smiled.  They even kind of shouted, “Bon Soir,” to give us an American-style restaurant welcome.  Once we were seated, the kids found some giant fake American Indian headress hats to put on.  They were like the Burger King crowns but even bigger and more ethnically questionable.

I’m not sure you want to sit here through all the details of our dinner, but let’s just say it involved all of the following:

  • giant cold beers
  • real bbq sauce
  • jalapeno poppers
  • placemats with mazes
  • crayons
  • country music
  • really good french fries
  • Heinz ketchup
  • real hot sauce
Minus the country music, it was the most fun we’ve had at a restaurant since arriving – and the food was good too!

As the night went on, I started to feel less bad about my presence at Buffalo Grill. I think the giant beer may have helped.

I was having so much fun at dinner, I barely noticed a family we knew from school enter the restaurant.  The parents of this family are no nice but slightly intimidating, in a European way.  She is beautiful, always tan and never without 5″ stilettos.  He is fit, super friendly and always wearing a beautifully tailored suit.  They have a summer house on the southern coast of Spain and ironically, they are also the previous tenants of the house we’re living in.

This family clearly noticed us and stopped by our table to say “hi,” before sitting down to eat.  I was stunned.  This fabulous family at the Buffalo Grill, doing mazes on placemats and wearing giant fake feathered crowns???  Suddenly my entire opinion of Buffalo Grill changed.  If it’s good enough for them, damn it, it’s good enough for me.

While we were at the Buffalo Grill, it would have been easy to forget we were in France for a moment, except that the occasional dog barking inside the restaurant reminded us that we are not in America any more.  At the end of the dinner, the server wrapped up the uneaten half of Eamon’s burger for him to take home, a concept you could never find in a real French restaurant.  I guess there is something to be said for American-style customer service.

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frenchified labor day

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I think it’s been well documented how much my kids like burgers, but burger buns are a rare species in France and when you can find them, they are about as fresh as……………….(my first thought was to write Owen’s undies in that space, but let’s just say the buns are not fresh and we can leave it at that).  For those interested in a story about Owen’s undies, feel free to wait until the end of this post about hamburgers.  

Our bakery has been closed for A MONTH which has made us search farther and farther afield for bread.  Kind of like the arctic fox when it’s hunting ground is being destroyed and it has to stray further from it’s habitat…………..but when I write that, I make myself sound like some sort of rare and endangered animal, when in reality I am just searching for bread in France.  You could argue that my rubbish French puts me in danger every day, since I often agree to do and buy things for which I had no knowledge or understanding………………….

But, back to the bread.  So our bakery is closed and we’re in a scramble for bread every day because there really is nothing else like our bakery and we have to go to a couple of different joints around town to find the kids of things that we usually buy.  All this to say:  When you don’t want to buy stale buns and you can’t find a good baguette to save your life, you resort to a burger on croissant when you’re trying to pretend you’re celebrating Labor Day in a foreign country.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

And here, for those of you waiting with bated breath, is the story of Owen’s undies:

When we went away to Normandy for a week earlier in the summer, the kids packed their own bags, which is usually a hit or miss proposition.  Sometimes we forget socks, sometimes it’s the shorts and most times it’s the toothbrush.  That week, the kids remembered everything which was great.  We stayed in the same place for the bulk of the vacation, but the very last night of it we were going to switch hotels so I suggested that we repack our stuff to only bring in one bag, rather than carry all of our bags in.  I pulled out one clean outfit for Eamon and piled all of his dirty clothes back in his suitcase.  Here is the conversation that happened with Owen:

Me:  Hey O, can you pull out a clean outfit and stuff all of your dirty clothes back in your bag?

Owen:  I don’t have any dirty clothes.

Me:  What do you mean?  We’ve been here for a week……………..did you put your dirty clothes in Dad’s bag?

Owen:  No, I’ve been wearing the same clothes all week because I didn’t think they were dirty.  The kids in France never wash their clothes.  I’m just trying to save water.

Me: {silence}

HOW DID MY KID WEAR THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT ME NOTICING?!?!?!?  It’s true, when looking back at the pictures of our vacation it’s hard to tell the days apart because Owen is wearing the same clothes.  And it’s also true, the French kids never wash their clothes.  So, if the planet is saved by a reduction in water usage, you can thank Owen.  And the French.