dimanche, août 24
posted by Gina at 18:14

If you are a true Parisian, you hustle and bustle and push and shove all over the place because you live in a geographically small city with over 2 million inhabitants. Then August comes and you go on vacation to the south of France so you can push and shove all over the French Riviera with all the other Parisians who do the same thing every year. I never understood that, but when you go to France's Mediterranean coastline, you do have to stop and smile that such paradise is only a three hour train ride away.
So we packed up and took the train down to Aix-en-Provence to start our vacation with extended family at their house in Provence. We're not there 20 minutes when the first apéro begins, complete with Papy, an in-law's older father who loves the apéro. Here's a snippet from our conversation:

Distant cousin: Since you're American, does your husband call you honey or chérie?
Me: Chérie. Or honey. Both, they're both nice names so he can call me either and I'll answer.
Papy, his glass of pastis empty: Claudine is a pretty name, too.

Cut to the part where I am shooting across the water on a boat off the coast of Cannes with a Franco-Italian model. I should add that he's there as a friend of my brother-in-law's and we are in total a group of eight, in a boat rented for the day. Boats and yachts are all over the place yet the water looks like it's never seen a drop of fuel in its life. We park in between two islands, have lunch and jump off the boats into the water. Then at night, we watch the fireworks show from a beachfront restaurant that serves sublime lobster salad. It'd ruin the moment to say that the baby got tired and fussy and I took her home before the show even started, so I won't mention that here.
The port of Cannes is where you come to show off your money. There are yachts all over the place with names like Champagne O'Clock, La Vie en Rose, and My Space. Bentleys cruise around with license plates from all over Europe and the Middle East. If you wish, you can rent a yacht for 30,000 euros a week. Tempted?
The next day, we leave for a small town up the coast and check into a beachfront hotel. Our balcony has a view of the bay and in the distance on Cap Nègre, you can see the Bruni family's estate. It's rumored that the president was here during our stay to vacation with Carla but left hurriedly to Georgia to attend to the South Ossetia situation and then he was back in Paris for the funerals of the French soldiers killed in Afghanistan. So, we didn't run into him on the beach. Too bad - I totally bet he would have kissed our baby.
Later that week, we are in Cassis. The waterfront here is rocky and walking along the sunbathing areas to the water hurts bare feet in some places. That's why some people wear water shoes. In the area we blindly stumbled upon, that's all they wore. We didn't mean to go to a "no tanlines" kind of beach but that was the best spot we found. If you thought it wasn't possible to be overdressed in a bikini, well, it is.
After another short stay at the family house (Bottom's up, Papy!), we take the TGV back up to Paris, a delayed ride marked by a passenger's crazed cat jumping out of its cage and clawing the lady sitting across the aisle. We arrive in Paris and it's grey and rainy. And we need to move through the mob of people at gare de Lyon to get to metro line 14. The pushing and shoving begins again.
dimanche, décembre 23
posted by Gina at 11:55

Why do they call mid-wives mid-wives? I can't answer that, which is why I prefer the French term for them: sage femmes. If you're having a baby, do you want to be cared for by anyone else other than a wise woman? I'm seeing a few wise women in my preparations for showtime. In fact, in French hospitals, it's the wise women who deliver the babies while a doctor is called in only in case of emergency. Wise women have accompanied me a lot through my journey and now that my big fat French pregnancy is almost over, here is a reflection on the things I have learned from being pregnant in Paris...
1) If you are on a crowded bus or metro and someone gives up their seat for you, nine times out of ten, it will be another woman.
2) If you are pregnant and must take the metro in times of strike, the conductor will let you ride up front with him.
3) If someone in your near vicinity pulls out a pack of cigarettes, puts one in their mouth and then notices you are obviously with child, they will light up anyway without hesitation whether they are strangers, friends or even friends who have their own babies.
4) French fathers-in-law still haven't gotten word that having a few flutes of champagne is not a great idea for pregnant women.
5) The French think it's bad luck to give baby gifts before the birth, so baby showers are non-existent here. My thoughts go out to my mom's French teacher, a Lyonnaise who had her first baby in California. Someone asked her about throwing a baby shower and what she understood was that this person wanted to take a shower with her baby.
6) The biggest shocker I got from a wisewoman just yesterday: sushi and raw oysters aren't off limits as long as they are fresh. Still don't think I can bring myself to eat it after all this time hearing about the "risks" it can bring. The bad factor is so embedded in your brain that you can't bring yourself to believe it's acceptable. Kind of like if some medical report suddenly announced that cocaine is actually great for your health.
So now that the Christmas countdown is over, the big countdown continues. About a month left to go unless he (she?) decides to make an early appearance. Though I've been warning the baby about the consequences of having a birthday too close to Christmas. We'll see if it starts out life being a good listener or not.
jeudi, décembre 13
posted by Gina at 19:07

Can you blog about something that happened awhile back? Sure, why not?
It's been a few weeks since the event, but we headed out to catch a fabulous burlesque show thrown by a fabulous Parisian lingerie designer. The invite said "glamourous attire required" so I nagged my jeans-addicted husband and some of his buddies to put on their nice suits and head out to the 9th arrondissement with my friend Natalie and I. The scene was set perfectly- walking into the place took you a few decades back in time.
The gents looked dapper and the dames looked swell. The evening's host wore a top hat and tails while our hostess was in pearls and a feathered bustier. Tap dancers with rouged cheeks hopped around the stage. It almost seemed in bad taste to smoke a cigarette without a Holly Golightly cigarette holder. And then there were the (almost) naked ladies. Unfortunately, my camera is merde, so my photos all came out like this:

Sorry, fellas. No tassles to see here. But on another note, this burlesque show was great for pregant women! Here's why:
1. My watermelon-sized belly has made it near impossible to bend forward to put on shoes and socks. But the dancers demonstrated an alternative method: sit on a chair, arch your back, bend your leg behind you and pull your socks (or in their case, sheer thigh high stockings) off from behind. For them, it looked sexy. For me, it's 100% practical.
2. On the sidelines, a few women were selling goodies like pin up girl photo books and such. Among their stuff was a salve for treating sore nipples after you take your tassles off. Hello! That's breastfeeding paraphernalia!
3. I didn't look forward to seeing beautiful bodies since my own looks like Mama Cass'. But when I got to the show, I found them inspiring and promised myself that I'd look like that a few weeks after delivering. Well, it's nice to have a goal anyway.
The show had dancers from all over the world and was done with enough class to show that you can undress down to your satin knickers in a room full of strangers and still be in good taste. The audience was dressed to the nines except one guy strolling around in a t-shirt, which earned me a few glares from my denim loving cohorts. And the fetus may have been oblivious to the surrounding garter belts and feather fans, but it really was an excellent show, with the cherry on the cake being the jazz manouche at the intermission. If you want to see some photos, another friendly Paris blogger (one of those legit ones) was there and you can check out her account here. Gypsy Rose Lee would have been proud.
mercredi, novembre 21
posted by Gina at 12:42

Someone put together this little photo montage of life on public transport for the past week.
(If you don't speak French, here's a quick bit of vocab:
métro, boulot, dodo: metro, work, bed. French phrase for the daily grind.
en grève: on strike
cheminots: railway workers)

la foule
envoyé par vetodoud

Nicely put together in my opinion, although I missed the significance of the "no defecating" sign at the end (which looks like it's from the London tube, by the way.)
I had the misfortune of going into Paris Monday night. An attempt to take the métro ended in a full fledged panic attack. Passengers were pushing, climbing over and screaming at each other, so I squirmed my way out, deciding that waiting in a café for a few hours as traffic settled down would be better than that. Later that night, when my husband came to pick me up by car, we drove home from rue de Rome- a trip that usually takes us 15 minutes, though Monday night, it was a one-hour ride. And the stress and anger in the passenger trains was even stronger among the motorists. I saw three near-incidents where pedestrians were almost plowed down by drivers focusing on not being bumped into by other cars and scooters inching up on them. People were getting out of their cars to scream at other motorists who jumped ahead of them at intersections.
From Lille to Nice, the strike is paralyzing France. Workers are losing wages from not getting to work. Construction sites stand still. Stores have lost customers. An angry café owner wondered on tv last night how France is supposed to compete with other countries economically if they continue having strikes that hit the French wallet. Even the SNCF announced it loses 50 million euros for each day the strike continues.
And if transportation wasn't enough, it's spreading to other sectors. Teachers are on strike for their insufficient salaries. Airport controllers are on strike. Postal workers. Tax collectors- though their strike didn't upset folks so much. Neither did the electricians on strike who prostested by cutting power to the radars that monitor cars' speed on the highways.
Though this strike has lasted a week, in 1995, France saw one that lasted three weeks. Three weeks! I've heard it practically destroyed thousands of businesses. Maybe it's the threat of reliving that that put protesters on the street Sunday in a counter-strike. Thousands walked the streets of Paris, yelling "Cheminots, au boulot!" (Railway workers, back to work), "Grevistes, égoïstes!" (Strikers are selfish), and "Fillon, tiens bon!" (a cry to Prime Minister François Fillon to stick to his guns and not wimp out under the pressure). In France, you can say bad words on tv which is good news for stranded commuters being interviewed by journalists as they wait hours for a train to go home. They take full advantage of that. Negociations are going on today. And the Frenchies are holding their breath.
mercredi, novembre 14
posted by Gina at 18:13

Imagine what would happen in Los Angeles if a bunch of pinheads decided they didn't like their retirement plan at work and protested by blocking all the major highways. A line of people holding a sit-in on the 405. People waving signs and blocking entrances to the 101 and the 110 freeways. Their work worries aren't not your fault, but it's you who has to be put out. That's sort of what's happening in France. AGAIN.
New reforms are being proposed to change the work regulations of unions, notably the SNCF, in France and the reaction they're going with is the old, faithful one: go on strike and stop the trains.
Today was day #1. 10% of the normal metro traffic ran. Only 90 out of some 700 TGV trains did their routes. The RER A and B lines were dead. TV news stations reported something like 200 miles of motionless traffic around the Paris region.
The scene today was bad enough, but what really gets me is that this is not unheard of here. The train drivers just pulled a stunt like this a month ago. Why are they so mad? Because the government wants to make some changes, the big issue being that of retirement. TGV drivers retire at the ripe, old age of 50 and anyone insisting they push that age back is asking for chaos. A few strikes ago, someone sent me an email explaining all the perks of driving for the SNCF and I list that message here (translated from French):
-Starting salary: 2,200 to 3,200 euros net monthly (1 Euro is about $1.46 as of today)
-Free healthcare: Covered 100 percent at 15,900 medical centers
-Retirement at age 50
-End of year bonus
-All kinds of bonuses, including one that translates to charcoal bonus. (This dates way back to the day when transit workers were exposed to health hazards from the coal powered trains. The coal powered trains are long gone, but the bonus remains. Go figure.)
-Free transportation for employees and their families

The SNCF represents 1 percent of employees in France, yet their workers account for 20 percent of days on strike among all strikes in France. And, like playing pétanque and drinking apératifs, strikes are a tradition here.
And what a month for strikes it is. Not only is the transport sector in the mood for being a pain in the @$$ but the feeling is shared by the energy sectors and the universities. Students have blocked off several campuses protesting in favor of autonomy for universities. Last week, they took it off campus and had a sit in on the train tracks at Gare du Nord, you guessed it, blocking the path of commuter trains. We watched on tv as a smiling twenty-something girl among a crowd of commuters yelled, "This is the only way for us to be heard!" The six-foot tall black guy in her face bellowed, "I WANT TO GO HOME!" Then everyone started yelling at everyone.
Back to the transit strike, the word on the street says the majority of people are against the unions and with the government on this one. A relief from last month's strike when a reporter interviewed a stranded commuter who shrugged and said, "It's for a good cause." There's still a mark on my TV screen from where I threw my camembert-spreaded baguette after hearing that one. But today on tv, people were frustrated and pissed off. Except, I suppose for the few that only depend on metro line 14 for transportation. It ran as usual since it's automatic and therefore has no driver to walk off the job. I know what you're thinking: Well, if the drivers are so uncontent with their jobs, fire them all and make all the lines driverless! Sigh.. we can dream...
This morning, I heard the honking of commuters who took to driving starting at 6 o'clock. Lots of people took the day off. Some went to work in rollerblades. Friends in the center of Paris saw people storing Velib bikes (from the city's new public bicycle system) in their stairwells last night instead of risking going out to an empty Velib stand in the morning.
As for myself, I had no way of getting to work. I can't drive anymore and waiting on the train platform for three hours to see if a train might come was a little hopeless if someone were waiting for me to arrive at work at a certain time. In addition to the fact that squeezing myself into an overcrowded train when I've got precious cargo on my belly would be just plain wreckless. My boss said don't worry about coming in for the rest of the week. Nice, but I don't get paid if I'm not there. Of course, the obvious solution is just to jump the metro gates from now on so I can recompensate myself for my salary lost.
Perhaps the worst thing about all this is the image it gives of the French work mentality. That's what a French co-worker mentioned to me. There's that stereotype of the French saying they're lazy and can't handle working more than 35 hours a week and are always on vacation and blah, blah, blah... Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't work more than 35 hours a week. Everyone I know here puts in long hours. But nevertheless my colleague lamented, "They're giving France a bad reputation." Hopefully, change is on the way and workers will be back at work by next week. If not, I'm investing in a commuter helicopter business.
jeudi, novembre 8
posted by Gina at 17:35

If you're still checking in, I'm still alive! A change of apartments and our frustratingly neglectful internet provider has left us abandandoned without internet for a looong time.
I'm currently posting this from a cyber café that makes moth balls smell like roses and sitting next to some girl skyping someone in some language I've never heard before- and their conversation seems to have gotten ugly. All of which means I've been plugging my ears and holding my breath for about 10 minutes now. So I gotta go for now...I'll be back soon...
dimanche, septembre 23
posted by Gina at 13:21

Yesterday, le French boss said to me, "I have a secret."
"Is it a good one or a bad one?" I asked.
"You're fired... No, I joke!" he said, throwing his head back in laughter. "No, it's to tell you that I too am going to have a baby!"
After a quick recovery from the somewhat unfunny joke, I congratulated him and we started talking about just how many people are having babies right now.
Remember playing that car game "punch-buggy" where you get to hit a sibling everytime you see a Volkswagon Beetle? You can play the same game in the streets of my town with pregnant women. Waiting in line at the ATM yesterday, I saw five pass by in a one minute period. And that's not even counting myself.
Friends are pregnant. Colleagues are pregnant. The owner of our boulangerie is expecting. She's always been a lovely woman, but has that extra little glow now that she has a bun in the oven. (ha!)
And who can blame us? Do you know how nice it is to have a baby in France? Right off the bat, there's the maternity leave: six weeks paid leave before the birth, ten weeks paid leave after (at 100% your regular salary in some cases). When I told my obstetrician that I commute an hour by train he said, "Oh, you get a congé pathologique then, of course." This translates to 15 extra days. There's also a congé parentale, which is a six-month leave of absence. It's unpaid, but your employer is required by law to have your job waiting for you when you get back. I've even heard of the same thing for a leave up to three years. No wonder employers are so cautious about hiring married women who have no children. Congé this, congé that. Did I mention my husband gets a 2 week paid paternity leave?
My medical visits and labwork aren't totally free, but they're pretty affordable. However, our birth preparation sessions are reimbursed by the same source who reimburses the 20 standard medical checkups for baby until he (she?) is six years old- securité sociale. And depending on your salary, you get an allowance right after the birth to help support baby financially. And then if it's baby #2, you get about 150€ (about $211) every month, no matter how high or low your income is. And you guessed it, an even higher allowance if it's baby #3. Though I must ask the question if it makes sense for a government in debt to pay that sum to families who are raking in 30,000€ a month on their own. I guess the equality part of liberté, égalité, fraternité is at play there.
My husband and I were discussing this with a friend last night at a local restaurant having its weekly salsa night. I hadn't been lately due to my "extra girth" and was happy to see our friend, the salsa instructor, to whom I excused my absence.
"I understand," he said. "My girlfriend isn't hasn't been coming, either. She's pregnant, too!"
jeudi, septembre 6
posted by Gina at 19:39

Remember back when I told you about the Haka? Ever since then, I've had this randomly budding interest in rugby. Perfect timing, because it's France's turn to host the Rugby World Cup and the fun starts to tomorrow. Up to this point, the only exposure I've had to the French rugby team has been their overexposure in the team's calendar (translated title: Gods of the Stadium) where the players pose à poil(ahem... see photo). Their first game is tomorrow night against Argentina. Get your haka on.
mardi, août 28
posted by Gina at 20:52

All our big vacation ideas have been swept out the window.

It appears we're going to have a baby!

In the end, I think it's a much bigger adventure, don't you?
samedi, août 18
posted by Gina at 13:15

No trip back home is complete without French dip at Philippe's or a night out at Firecracker. I've been going to Firecracker since it weren't no thang but a chicken wang because it's the best- a jazz bar downstairs (with a mic open to those who've got the pipes and the guts), djs upstairs making everyone dance, djs outside making everyone dance and now there's even an ice cream truck (and one with a mission at that).
Seeing as it's been ages since my last time there, there were a lot of new faces, making me nostalgic for the old days when I could show up solo and count on seeing a group of buddies there. But you can't be too melancholy when you're surrounded by a ton of people doing the samba, so we went with the flow and partied like old times.