The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ou Sont Les Lions de Detroit?

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in France; here, pilgrims are people walking to Spain, not guys carrying blunderbusses, wearing shoe buckles on their hats, and dying of dysentery. I didn't even take the day off from work, opting instead for a scaled-down Thanksgiving dinner at suppertime.

Here's what we had, and the unique challenge posed by each dish:

Turkey. Sure you can get turkey in France. Right there next to the sliced ham in the Monoprix deli case. What, you want a whole turkey? The whole thing? Right, not the head and feet, sure. Lemme check with the other guys. [minutes pass.] Sure, no problem. We got a guy up in Bresse who can special-order you one. Now, how big? Five kilos! Really? Wow, I dunno. Hold on a minute, let me call him back... A colleague of mine went through this process and ended up paying 90 Euros for her turkey. Fortunately for us, there's this store called Picard that sells frozen food exclusively (I beleive they're American-owned). We were able to get a small frozen stuffed turkey there for a much more reasonable price [see pic of box]. Sure, only 2.5 kilos, but that's enough for V and myself, and the few little tidbits Boog will eat.

Sweet tater casserole with marshmallows. You can get patates doux from the marche if you look hard enough. Marshmallows? They sell them at the big Carrefour store at the Part-Dieu mall--but you have to look in the candy aisle. Plus they're pink.

Green bean casserole. Haricots verts, pas de probleme. Funyuns to crumble on top to represent Durkee fried onions? That's tougher. Fortunately we had seen a Funyuns-anologue in one of the Asian groceries in Chinatown. So yes: Korean funyuns on a typically middle-American dish made with French green beans.

Dinner rolls. Actually a pain campagne from the corne boulangerie... there's no such thing as dinner rolls here.

Wine. Well, that part was easy.

Le President cake from Maison Bernachon. Bernachon is by reputation one of the finest chocolatiers in the world. Their shop, in the ritzy part of the Sixth, is a wonderland, where impeccable salesladies in in tasteful chocolate-brown suits attend every need of their impeccable clients. But I needed a cake--V had been clamoring for one since her birthday in August, when Bernachon is closed for the whole month. The impeccable saleslady suggested the Le President cake for four people, their signature cake. Who was I to argue? [see pic.] The cake is topped with these thin, lacy hand-drizzled ribbons of pure chocolate standing straight up on edge. How the heck do they do that? Would this be the best cake I ever had? Um, pretty much. Maybe they just got lucky this time.

When I was looking up the phone number for Bernachon the other day, Google brought up this blog. Like mine, this blog is written by an American living in Lyon. Unlike mine...well, almost everything about it is unlike mine. Go have a look at some really spectacular food photography, and some spectacular food that does not involve Funyuns. I'll just be here, sobbing over the crumminess of my blog.

Oh yeah, I added some pictures to the previous post, so be sure to scroll down and check 'em out.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Caller, You're On the Air

[Edited to add pictures. I took these while walking to the grocery store the other night.]
A question that one of my dear readers posted in a comment field: In responding to it, I wrote several longish paragraphs before I realized what I was doing, far too long for a comment. So this question gets its own post.

I may slap some pictures up on it when I get home if I have a minute...still have to do some shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.

[photo: fountain in Place de la Republique]
Anyway, here ya go:

Hi Frogmarch
I enjoyed reading parts of your blog. I was in Lyon earlier this year, and I loved it. Would you mind if I asked you what you are doing in France? I would love to relocate to any country in Europe, but I don't think I would be allowed to work there. Do you work there? If so how did you get your job?

Hi Al--
Congratulations! You may be the first person who does not know me personally to ever comment on (or even read!) my blog.

To answer your question, I work for a Lyon-based UN/WHO subgroup agency that conducts research on cancer. As an international agency, my employer is not bound by French law, including labor law—so they can hire whomever they want, without regard to visas and work permits and so on.

[photo: Carousel, Place de la Republique]

It is, as you have probably already figured, pretty tough for an American to work in an EU nation. In France, for example, unemployment runs about 10%. To protect European jobs from an influx of foreign labor, there are fairly strict rules about work permits: Your hypothetical European employer would need to be prepared to demonstrate that no European could do the job that you, an American, are being hired to do.

You can get around this if you have very specialized knowledge--for example, if you have a special understanding of the American market for a certain product, or if an employer needs a native speaker of American English. Alternately, if you work for an American company that has branches in France, your flawless French skillz could get you a transfer—a good number of Americans live in Grenoble, where Caterpillar (you know, tractors and whatnot) has a plant, and Paris is filthy with Yanks working in US companies’ European offices.

[Pic: La Bourse (Stock Exchange), Place Cordeliers. This is where French President Carnot was assassinated in 1894 as he was leaving to go to the Opera down the street. "That'll teach him," my Dad said.]

But it is problematic. You can’t just hop off the plane and answer a help-wanted sign in the window of a kebab shop. V cannot work in France unless she does so on an under-the-table basis…even if there were a great demand in France for English-speaking psychotherapists.

Of course, if you really really want to work in France, there’s always this. Just a five-year commitment gets you French citizenship (and a really cool hat)! And I hear Afghanistan is particularly charming in springtime.

[Pic: Workers installing Chrismas decorations, Rue de la Republique. The tiny blue lights in the tree are strobing rapidly.]

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Third River Dries Up

It's said that there are three rivers that flow into Lyon: The Rhone, the Saone, and the river of Beaujolais wines that flows into the city's restaurants, wine cellars, and supermarkets. Lyon has traditionally been the best market for the winegrowers on the hillsides of the region that begins about 20 miles north of town. The Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appelations comprise reds and whites and include the very finest AOC grand crus.

Then there's Beaujolais Nouveau.

As the name implies, the Nouveau is the first wine of the season, the first wine that can be called wine, harvested in September and aged (well, not so much aged as detained) in steel tanks for just a few weeks before being released to the public, ruby-red like black cherry Kool-Aid and sometimes tasting pretty much like alcoholic grape juice. Generally sniffed at by wine critics--one of whom famously said that drinking Beaujolais Nouveau was like eating cookie dough--the Nouveau nonetheless scored one of the greatest advertising coups in history when Georges Duboeuf decided to make the release of his least-prestigious wine into an Event.

Hence the madness that ensues in the Beaujolais on the third Thursday in November. Every tiny village has its own festival, with tastings, live music, and dancing until all hours. Special buses run from Place Bellecour to Beaujeu and Villefranche every hour or so, ferrying wine enthusiasts and drunks alike to the festivities and back. Around the world, wine shops and restaurants hold their own events; I seem to remember having a Beaujolais Nouveau on the Weaver Street lawn in Carrboro a few years back.

But as Lyon holds a special place in the eyes (and pocketbooks) of the Beaujolais winegrowers, we get a little special treatment. The night before the Third Thursday, boats carrying giant wooden kegs of le premier vin float down the Saone from Beaujolais to Quai Tilsitt, a few blocks from here. The kegs are rolled off the boats and through the streets of Lyon, accompanied by torchlight and singing, to Place Bellecour [pic 1, not mine]. There, on the 12th stroke of midnight by the clock tower bell, the first keg is tapped, and the wine flows freely (and by that I mean free) to the people of Lyon [pic 2, not mine].

So Wednesday night around 11 I grabbed my camera and headed down to the quai, hoping to get some good shots. Some good pictures, too. But it was not to be: The quai was deserted, and Place Bellecour was quiet. Quiet except for some confused-looking people wandering around asking each other where the wine was. I eventually managed to glean (and this was backed up by an article in the paper the next day) that the combination of relatively low yields and an excess of foreign orders meant that the growers didn't have the kegs to spare to give away free to Lyon's oenophiles, bon vivants, and freeloaders.

But all was not lost. The next day at the cafeteria at work, we had Beaujolais Nouveau to go with our quenelles and andouillettes. Then in the afternoon, my boss called everyone around to have some more...luckily this was toward the end of the day. Thursday night, the restaurants of Lyon were hopping, many with live music and most selling glasses of Bojo to people passing on the street from tents and bars set on the sidewalk.

In case you were wondering, this year's Beaujolais Nouveau is very fruity--classically so, say the experts--and light-bodied as ever. With only a hint of mild disappointment.


V. broke her toe this week--getting out of bed holding the baby, she swung her feet down and caught her pinky toe on an electrical transformer sticking out of the wall socket. So she's been holed up at home going stir crazy with her foot propped up while I run all the errands, take Boog to and from school, and so on. The good news is that we don't have to spend our whole Saturday afternoon on an endless shopping trip to Carrefour. The bad news is that I have a to-do list for today that runs two pages.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Unexpected Frisson of a Bomb Threat

Just because I haven't posted anything in a while, thanks to our trip to Vezelay, some short bits and pieces:

The other afternoon I got a call from V. She'd been on her way home with the boys, after stopping in to have lunch with me at the cafeteria (the Trough, my French boss calls it; actually pretty darn good for a cafeteria) and doing some shopping. On her way home on the Metro, the train had gone straight through the Bellecour station without stopping, and let the passengers off at Vieux Lyon, the next stop across the Saone. She had to walk back across the Pont Tilsitt, wheeling the stroller with the boys on board. I could barely hear her voice on the phone over the wail of sirens.

That's odd, I thought. I checked the TCL (Transports en Commune de Lyon) website, where they usually list breakdowns, strikes, etc.--and there are a lot of these--and sure enough, Bellecour station, the busiest on the line and 3-level hub where the main lines cross, had been evacuated because of a "suspicious package".

By the time I got home, an hour or so later, having got off at Guillotiere and walked the rest of the way, Place Bellecour was still aswarm with gendarmes and firemen, hanging around their trucks and looking bored. It turned out to be a false alarm, of course, but given the subway bombings in London and Madrid, evacuation was the right thing to do. Nothing like a good bomb threat to quicken the pace of your afternoon.


I am now the proud owner of a Republique Francaise Permis a Conduire (driver's license), thanks to my International Diplomatic Man of Mystery status. My employer, through special arrangement with the appropriate Franch ministries, can simply swap foreign licenses directly for French ones--given the proper documentation, of course. So I traded in my worn old NCDL and got in return this giant pink trifolded piece of stiff paper with my picture in it. It's too big to fit in my wallet, even the larger wallet I bought here that can accomodate 100-euro notes ('cause that's just how I roll, you know). This partially explains the man-purse epidemic that infects Europe; Europeans have to carry so much crap around with them that just won't fit in a wallet.

One interesting fact that explains a lot about French drivers: A French permis is permanent, never having to be renewed. Ever. If I lived in France until I was 100, I'd still have the same license with the same Dorian Gray photo in it. Point being, French drivers have to work pretty hard to get their licenses in the first place, but once they have them, they can forget everything they ever knew about driving.

And most of them do just that.


We finally broke down and bought the marble coffee table we saw some months ago at our favorite used furnitre/junk store, The Box of Used Stuff. Finally, slowly, we are getting rid of the cardboard shipping boxes we've been using as furniture six months after the move.

The matching Goodfellas ashtray, sadly, had been spoken for.


Pictures: In case you'd forgotten, this Thursday is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the first day you can buy this year's crop of the cheap, fruity young wine mad just up the road from us. We've been up there in the vineyards twice--the vintners are really nice and invite you down to the cellars (first pic) for a tasting. Some will let you have a peek in the vats (second pic; the fermenting grapes sound like Rice Krispies) and poke around in their vineyards eating grapes right of the vine (third pic)--they're unexpectedly warm from the sun.

Lyon has a big to-do in Place Bellecour for Beaujo Day; at the 12th stroke of midnight the mayor taps the first vat of wine and starts passing out glasses. I'll try to go and get some photos. Though it's just a block or two from us, the midnight timeframe makes it problematic with the kids and all. Maybe V and I will go in shifts.