Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

It’s Complicated!! Pt. 2

The continuing saga…

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Grocery Shopping:
There are other challenges to contend with in the grocery store. You put the fruit and veggies you want in separate plastic bags just like you do at home. You shop for the rest of the items you need and you take it all up front so you can pay for it. The store is crowded and the checkout lines are long. Finally, it’s your turn. The checker scans all your items until she gets to those fruits and veggies you so painstakingly selected… and hands them back to you. She briefly explains that you have to weigh and price them back in the produce section which she waits for you to do while everyone behind you in line also waits for you. The first time this happens you are under great stress because you don’t even know how to do it. You rush around, somehow figure it out, and jog back to your place in line which has now gotten longer. Amazingly, none of the other customers get very impatient about this, however, and the checker couldn’t care less. Once you’ve had this experience you try to make sure not to have it again. The next time you go to a grocery store, you are prepared and immediately search out the small scale to weigh your items and spit out the required label. Then you discover not every store uses this system! They weigh it for you. So sometimes it’s a guessing game and you can get a bit paranoid about it which is crazy because you’re just buying fruits and vegetables. How to get those groceries home? Well, this one wasn’t too much of a problem for us, but it would be for a lot of tourists. You need to bring your own bags. Since we live in San Jose which just recently enacted a law that you must use your own bags (for everything, not just food), we are accustomed to having to do this. Even so, the first time out you might not have collected any reusable bags yet. I was proud of the fact that I had this one nailed as I brought a really clever nylon bag that squishes into a little pouch. Most of the time I remembered to take it with me when I went shopping, but once in a while I had to purchase un sac.

At “Home”:
As my mother always used to tell me in order to allay my fears about moving all the time when I was young, “Home is where you hang your hat.” I learned to live by this motto so it’s really easy for me to move in to someplace even just for a couple of days and make it home. For five of the seven weeks of our travel we lived in apartments or gîtes for a week at a time. In about a half hour’s time, I could unpack all our things and make it home. We planned ahead and brought a few things that would make this task easier — tablecloth, over-door hooks, iron, and other personal items. We also bought some things that we carried with us from place to place — cocktail napkins, picnic bag, fan, kitchen knives, and Norman’s favorite, the flyswatter. Nevertheless, we still had to deal with some things that we could never really understand or get used to. For example, we both like to use washcloths when we shower. Our hosts always provided towels but only bath and hand towels which, by the way, there was never a place to hang. Washcloths per se don’t exist in France. Occasionally you’ll find something that looks like a washcloth stitched into a mitt, but it’s just not the same. Only once were we given one of these. I had read about this before we left so I packed one for each of us and though it may seem trivial, it made shower time more normal. And sheets — the majority of the time we only had a fitted bottom sheet and a covered duvet — no top sheet or blanket. A couple of places had fancy jacuzzi tubs which the owners were proud to point out, but no matter how hard we tried, we could never figure out how to use them. How could THAT be so complicated?

Windows and doors were another issue. Windows never have window screens, hence, the need for the flyswatter Norman purchased and coveted. And, generally, regardless of the weather — even if it’s warm as it was in Provence, you are required to shut yourselves in every night by closing and locking all the shutters. At first this feels very claustrophobic. Doors and locks, oh, mon dieu
, these are a nightmare. There are no doors with round doorknobs. They all have some type of angled handle that has to be carefully jostled and coaxed into opening or closing the door with the aid of a key. Even our hosts had trouble showing us how to use them smoothly. Norman would usually figure out the trick to them by the end of the week and then we’d move on to a new challenging door and lock at the next stop. I never had much success with any of them so I was totally handicapped in that department. Too complicated! My only photographic regret is that I didn’t take pictures of all the different keys. That would have made a great photo essay. The variety was amazing from a skeleton key to one whose silhouette looked like a castle. I have a feeling there’s no such thing as copying keys in France either.

Our kitchens were variously equipped with eclectic collections of dishes, pots, pans, flatware, and utensils. Norman did a fantastic job of whipping up some of the best meals we’ve ever had despite any culinary items that might have been missing. This saved us a ton of money. I figured out that if you ate out even conservatively for 51 days — a petit dejuner (coffee, tea, juice, pastry — the French never eat a full breakfast) and one other decent meal — it would cost you around $7,000! The one thing that always frustrated him, however, was the lack of lids for pots and pans. He was always having to improvise with a plate or some other flat object and sometimes cooking was just complicated!

To Be Continued…

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