Paris Meets the Plains

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My French mother-in-law is absolutely enamored of Native American culture: the music, the dance, the clothing, the history. So, when French Mother’s Day rolled around this year, we did something very out of the ordinary for us. Instead of having dinner or lunch around the family table, we took a trip to the Musée du Quai Branly to see an exhibition on the Plains Indians of the American West. Knowing my mother-in-law, there really was no better way for us to celebrate the day with her. It was a special moment for me as well — as her American son-in-law — to share our mutual appreciation of the native peoples of my homeland.

Continue reading Paris Meets the Plains

Once upon a time …

Old volumes

First of all, allow me to apologize for the delay in writing something for you, but things have been in a state of flux since we officially became a French family a fews weeks ago. That little red family register has changed a lot of things for us, the most immediate of which is that now I don’t have to be a full-time student to stay in the country! Given that I was already feeling both overqualified and overwhelmed in my last academic pursuit, I decided to just drop out. In the long term, that means that my schedule will be much more conducive to holding down a full-time job. In the short term, it means my schedule will be much more conducive to pursuing all kinds of personal projects ranging from the mundane like writing for je parle américain, to the utterly useless like learning Irish Gaelic, to the extremely ambitious like … writing a novel.

Yes — writing a novel.
Now, I know that might sound like a pipe dream, and
I know that living in Paris hasn’t transformed me into Ernest Hemingway,
but bear with me for a moment. Continue reading Once upon a time …

Your Colleague Said So

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Tuesday morning, Michel and I will be heading back across the Atlantic to visit my family and friends. This will be the fourth time that we’ve taken this trip together, so we’re almost professionals at maneuvering the whole process. The first time we traveled together from France to the US in 2011, though, the situation raised an interesting immigration question for me:

As an American carrying an American passport, married to a Frenchman carrying a French passport, and whose marriage wasn’t yet recognized by the federal government, did I have to separate from Michel at border control?

I assumed that he couldn’t come with me in the “US Citizens and Permanent Residents” line, but why couldn’t I go with him in the “Everybody Else” line? Whether they liked it or not, we were a family after all, and I didn’t want our first trans-Atlantic voyage together to end with us being separated. As the occasional LBGT-rights activist that I am, I decided to make a statement. By the time we landed, I had created an imaginary confrontation in my head, and I was almost scrapping for a fight. As it turned out, though, Customs and Border Protection was surprisingly accommodating that day. While I wasn’t allowed to go up to the immigration officer at the same time as Michel — we had to go up individually — I was able to stay in line with him. One of the immigration agents even expressed regret that our marriage wasn’t yet recognized. Aw, how sweet!

Unfortunately, our experience in 2012 wasn’t nearly as pleasant.

Do you remember last year’s post about what I learned from a friendly Border Control agent about importing cheese? Well, this is the story from the same day that I didn’t tell you:

Let’s go back, shall we,
to Sunday, August 26, 2012 …

Continue reading Your Colleague Said So

The Thin, Wet Line of Khaki

a poppy nestled in the wheat at Longues-sur-mer

Saturday, I took a day trip to Normandy. Although I’ve lived in France as an American expat for more than three years and I’ve commemorated D-Day twice on French soil, I’d never before visited the D-Day beaches. When my in-laws invited us to go to Colleville-sur-Mer to visit Omaha Beach and the American cemetery there, I heartily accepted. I’d seen photos and read accounts of the débarquement — I’d even written an article about it for this blog — but I didn’t know how moving the experience would end up being. Continue reading The Thin, Wet Line of Khaki

Saturday Afternoon Gardening

© 2013 Michel Denis Pouradier, all rights reserved

Photo credit: © 2013 Michel Denis Pouradier,
all rights reserved

Yesterday, Babydog proposed an impromptu outing to escape from La Courneuve for the day. Given the way I generally feel about my neighborhood, I was all in favor! We initially planned to take the train to Beauvais to see the cathedral, but then decided to make a less expensive excursion to Versailles. Because of early closing hours this weekend, though, we finally settled on an afternoon at France’s chief botanical garden …

Le Jardin des Plantes Continue reading Saturday Afternoon Gardening

Pretty in Pink

A typical side street. See why it's called "la ville rose"?

One of the advantages of being a perpetual student is spring break. At my new school, we actually have two spring breaks: one this week and one at the end of April. Not a bad deal, huh? Unfortunately, because of Michel‘s schedule and our lack of disposable income at the moment, there are no exotic spring break excursions on our calendar this year. Two years ago this month, though, I took a weekend jaunt down to a beautiful spot in southwest France, which made me think, “If I can’t travel this time around, I can always remember … <sigh> …

Toulouse
Continue reading Pretty in Pink

Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

It's like a scene from a fairy tale

It’s been ten days since my last post and, although I’m currently in the midst of end-of-semester exams, I feel compelled to share something with you. But what? It’s not as if I’m experiencing anything new and exciting lately; all that seems to occupy my mind these days is French grammar … French literature … French cinema … and French history. Just yesterday, in fact, I took the final exam for my seminar on the history of Paris from its origins to the French Revolution, which was — obviously — heavy on the Middle Ages. That brought to mind one of the weekend trips Michel and I have taken, one that’s a definite must for any medieval history buff living in Paris …

Provins
(pronounced [pʁo.vɛ̃] — no “s” — otherwise French people will hear “provinces,”
the generic word for somewhere other than Paris,
and they’ll just ask you again where you’re going specifically)
Continue reading Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

Saint-Malo: Traveling Saints, French Pirates, and the Best Crêpes Around

Sunset at low tide

Back when I started this blog, I imagined that I’d have an entire series of posts about my travels around France. As often happens with projects like this, I ended up going off in other directions and I never really returned to the theme of sharing my favorites places in France with my readers. Well, oversight rectified …

Welcome to Saint-Malo!

Continue reading Saint-Malo: Traveling Saints, French Pirates, and the Best Crêpes Around

“An angel; or, if not, an earthly paragon.”

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— William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Being the American expat in France for most of my friends back home brings with it a certain cachet … and certain responsibilities. When someone is planning a Paris vacation, I’m usually the first person my friends think of to ask for advice about restaurants, hotels, and neighborhoods. I love this role; it’s a bit like being an ambassador, or — more appropriately, I suppose — a scout for an advancing foraging party! Sometimes, though, it gets more interesting than simply giving my expert advice about this city; sometimes I actually go on a mission for someone …

Continue reading “An angel; or, if not, an earthly paragon.”

I Love Trains, Especially French Ones

TGV setting the world speed record on April 3, 2007 ... 353 mph! © 2007 Alain Stoll
© 2005 Romain Martin

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been a fan of trains and railroads. Maybe it was my first electric train set that did it but, like lots of little kids, I fell in love with this mode of transportation that glides along iron rails stretching off  into the horizon. Growing up in the rural South, I often watched trains passing in front of me at railroad crossings, but it would take a long time before I’d ever ride on one. In fact, I’d been flying for years before I ever took my first train ride. It was in Germany in 1992, and I still remember the novelty of walking into a station and buying a ticket on the spot for a train to take me to another town about half an hour away. There was something very charming about that moment, and it would mark rail travel — in my mind — as something quintessentially European. Later on, working in the DC office of a New York law firm, I got a lot of experience riding the rails between Union Station and Penn Station. I had a few travel adventures on the rails between DC and South Carolina, too (when Amtrak‘s fares were low enough to warrant an 8-hour roll instead of a 50-minute flight), but it wasn’t until my return to Europe in 2009 that my love affair with trains really blossomed. Why? Because for the first time in my life, I was living in a place where I could take a train to almost anywhere — whether 500 miles away or only 5. Continue reading I Love Trains, Especially French Ones