Lots of posts in the past hour or so!  Clearly, I am procrastinating.  Or, wait, give myself a bit of credit.  I am taking a break!

I hate packing to come here and packing to go back.  On one hand it’s a puzzle and I love puzzles.  But moving what you have accumulated over 3 years is not fun.

Last year I left far too much with two friends here.  This year I bought two small carryon bags – really small – for the European airlines.  One I used for several trips in France.  The other is new just for storing things. But both were only 10 euros each so sure why not?  Thus one bag for each friend to store in a garage for me.  That’s it.  I am also giving them some things I won’t need – like a duvet and a nice fan.  And cubes.  Cubes are always useful.  The two bags and the printer.  The one bag must be ready Jan 8, the other Jan 9.  I fly on Jan 10.

I came over with two bags.  I will be going back with only two.  But why then am I carping on bags?  Because I have three bags full of stuff.  Delta lets the first international bag on free.  The second is $100.  OK.  The third is $285.  WHAT????   My third bag is going home by way of  for 189$.  A friend gave me an old but huge soft sided case.  I can send 66lbs in it.  It was all packed and I started to wrap tape around it when I realized I should be using duct tape so now I will start again.

The complication with sendmybag or any of the shipping services is that I live on the 3rd floor (American 4th) without an intercom or gardien (that’s like a super).  And the drivers do not have cell phones and will not climb stairs.  The bags must be on the ground floor waiting.

Yikes.  What to do?  There’s a hotel close by, less than a block.  But I have been worried that they will be very unhelpful French and say too bad for me.  Can’t leave it there.  Au contraire!  I finally got my courage up to ask and the concierge Charles was delightful.  Of course, we are neighbors.  No worries.  Whew.  Then we chatted on for 15 minutes – his wife is from NYC.  The only outstanding issue is how I get a large suitcase weighing 66 lbs down stairs and out to the hotel.  Gravity will be my friend.

I discovered Leroy Merlin. (A French friend said he was going to Leeee rwaieh mare lan – which I finally figured out was Leroy Merlin.) Bricolage.  The hardware store.  I look up the names for items I want but if I am not sure, I find a picture on Google images and take that with me.  Duct tape here?  The guy took one look at the picture and said Scotch American.  OK.   Not Scotch Tape.  Just Scotch.  All tape is just Scotch here.

I leave on January 10.  It’s Dec. 30.  I have well enough time but what if I want to ship one more box?  So I am attempting a dry run this weekend.  That means everything needs to be put away and I shall live here in a pristine uncluttered as it was when I arrived state.  But I love clutter.  What if I need something? No No No.  Be strong.

Actually, I am not too worried as this is the third time I have done this and it worked twice before.  I just have to remember that after I go through border patrol and customs in SLC, I have to go through security again before getting on the plane to Sacramento.  I forget every time and have to pull all my electronics out and take my shoes off and pfhafff.  (I don’t think I spelled that sound right…. You get it.)  Even though I am TSA pre-check, the screening between flights doesn’t seem to recognize that.  Maybe because there is just one check point.

And now I have caught up on most blog ideas.  It’s back to packing… unless I decide it’s too dark now to do a good job sorting and arranging and then I get to read…

Transport , Russians, & Cookies

I totally get the RER and pretty much all the French transportation systems!  In Reims I even used their bus system.  Found the bus stop for the return to city center.  Happy.  Really, RER intimidated me three years ago.  It was the big scary underground TRAIN.  But now I jump on and off for shortcuts on the Metro.

The RER is the Paris and Ile de France regional transport.  Regional Express Reseau (network).  It’s funny because lines A, B, C, D, and E are all called RER.  Pronounced air euh air.  RER A, etc.  But then there are lines F through P (at least) that are just letters.  Same idea.  Trains to the suburbs.  I read SNCF (Societe Nationale de Chemin de Fer) (National Society for –literally- Roads of Iron) is planning on dropping the RER and just calling them all trains.  What? Make sense?

SNCF has also just changed their website and marketing.  It is now OUIGo.  Like We Go.  Which is fascinating for the French to make an English play on French words…  They also now have Oui Bus.  Nevertheless, I must say they have improved their services.  The bathrooms are less often out of service.  Their wifi in first class works well and is easy to join.  They send me both emails and texts about my train – if delayed (not) or change of cars (they say take any seat as long as it’s in your class of service). And they send out surveys.

Changing topics.

I kicked out the Russians.  I just went back to Norton for my computer security.  Best Buy Geeks got me on Kapersky.  Then I read this year that they are actually a real Russian company and that our government has dropped them as they were lacking confidence in them.  Made sense to me.  Not that I have much of global importance on my PCs… well, not much is really nothing.  Not even nothing of significance, I mean actually nothing.  However, my laptop seems to be working better since the change.  Everything moves faster.  I like.  (added a week later – yes, everything is running better with Norton!)

Marche de Noel sightings.

A sign for “Vertiable Cookies American”  Which means REAL AMERICAN COOKIES.  Had some interesting exchanges about that – a friend was surprised to see it.  And I thought well, we say French macarons all the time.  So we distinguish.  But then I thought more about it and realized that real cookies are nonexistent here.  They just don’t make cookies often and they are more likely to be called biscuits.  With all the buttery pastries they make, I can see them turning down cookies.

The Bonjour Effect

That’s a book written by a couple – he’s Quebecois and she perhaps English but they wrote this book looking at the differences between France and North America.

The Bonjour Effect is what I have told you before.  You simply MUST say Bonjour before interacting with a French person.  I know yet I still forget sometimes by starting with Excusez-moi.  Nope.  And I even heard a French person say Excusez-moi and once she had the attention of the other person, she then said Bonjour.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the French people think of the book so I lent my copy to one of my friends.  At our next meeting he said he now understands me!

I guess he hasn’t always approved of my interaction with waiters.  Hey.  I am NOT rude.  I smile.  I say please and thank you.  But apparently I am not deferential enough.  Say what?  And he said that – you think it is their job and they should wait on you and take your order and check back etc.   Ah? Duh?

I still don’t get quite what the French think about this – it’s almost like they have to convince the waiters that you are worthy of their attention.

Speaking of waiters – my friend and I were having a wonderful Italian meal at Fuix by the Luxembourg gardens.  We sat in the enclosed patio with the heaters because inside was suffocatingly hot.  The waitress was not attentive.  Pas du tout.  I think we asked for the water three times.  Oh well.  It’s Paris.  Then a group of students (the university is close by) came in – maybe 10?  They were loud and obnoxious and there, I thought, went our nice lunch experience.  They started to move tables together to be able to sit as one.  Loudly.

And then the mean waitress came out.  Oh my did she give them what for.   Who were they to come in and rearrange the tables?  They were disturbing her clients (us!  She was defending US!).  And they could just leave, thank you very much.  The students argued.  She held her ground.  And they left.  She rearranged the tables back to normal,  shrugged her shoulders, smiled at us and went inside to continue to ignore us.

My friend suggested that in fact the students would only have ordered a café and would have taken a lot of her time and energy for not much return.  So get out


I have been thinking a lot about food. Turned down an offer to go to Hard Rock Café…  Even 5 guys or le camion qui fume don’t appeal much right now.  I will have burgers too readily available in 12 days.

I lived in Visalia for 21 years.  It has fabulous restaurants. My consultants loved to have lunch or dinner with me.  They had their favorites.  So then I move to what I think is cosmopolitan Sacramento- being the capital et al.   I was very disappointed and still don’t have a go to Italian restaurant.

So after three years in  Paris has something happened to my taste buds? Maybe. And my idea of a meal. I can eat a dinner at lunch.  And I understand  an entree. And dessert.  My mom always had  to have dessert to cleanse her palate.  I get it now.  Not quite ready for eating a full pizza by myself but I am getting closer.  (Although I do miss Round Table pizza!!!)

And now I enjoy rarer beef.  Not quite at the French level but leaning towards red.  And cheese. I shall never  get into the sweet breads etc. But sauces – oh yes.

I will miss Picard Surgeles the most perhaps.  That’s the frozen food store (across the street from me!).  They are all over Paris – and France.  And have been around for 20+ years.  I have no idea why an American company has not figured out their secrets.  The food is delicious.  And even easy to microwave sauces.  And to die for desserts.  I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Pretty amazing post for the self-declared Non-Foodie.  Scary….


Face cream and customs

Did I tell you about falling for the Sephora pitch for Dior eye bags fixer-upper?  I am sure I did.  Well, I fell for it.  And spent big bucks partly relying on their assurance that I could get my tax back at the airport as long as I was leaving within 30 days.  And in November I was going to Maroc.  Not like I was staying in the EU when I went to London (and left the Schengen) (complicated, I know!)

So I filled out all the paperwork and gave it to Sephora who gave me a receipt with a bar code on it.  Good to go.

Except it didn’t.

I tried three times on the easy machine at the airport but it wouldn’t read the bar code.  So I innocently went to the guy at the douane (customs) office.  Who didn’t speak English well or so he pretended.  He took my paper and my passport.  After much looking, he said it didn’t work.  I said Sephora told me to do this… we went back and forth til he said Sephora wasn’t customs.  And Yikes at that.  Because I wasn’t trying to say Sephora was right, I just wanted him to know that it wasn’t MY idea.  Then he explained to me that while I was here on a 6 months visa, I was considered a “resident” and so the Value Added Tax would not be refunded.  Okey Dokey.  I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.  I want to be under the radar at all times.  I took my passport and skedaddled.

And interesting, when I went through border control the next two times, the ladies took forever to stamp my passport.  One time she couldn’t make her reader read it.  I don’t know if they flagged my passport?  I hope not.  But I am totally legit.

Now I could legitimately apply for a VAT refund because I am leaving in less than 2 weeks and I am on a tourist stay, but you have to spend over 100 euros and I think it is more – at one store in one day.  Given my $800 limit for returning items in the US, I don’t need to add any new purchases.

So enjoy my taxes, France.

Marco – Update – Differences and Toilets

Do you ever forget your punchline ? Your point? Why you wrote a whole paragraph? You’re telling a great story within several great stories and suddenly the next story sounds more interesting so you just go there. Without realizing you skipped the point.

So in Maroc -Bartering and Toilets I told the story of the gentleman making me wait while he went and got me a roll of toilet paper which totally surprised me and then he led me to the stall and I unlocked it.  But I left out the kicker:  there is a white American Standard toilet!

Well I doubt it was American Standard but it looks like the same damn thing!  It was a very first world experience within a Third World experience. I was happy to be able to take advantage of it.

Maroc – Bartering and Differences

Bartering is an art.  And I must say I am pretty good at ti.  I have two friends in France whom I apparently embarrass when I suggest a lower price.  Well, not in the grocery store or Galleries Lafayette.  But from street vendors.  I am polite about it.  I suggest a price.  They can say yes, no or give me a higher price.  No big deal in my mind.  But in Morocco, I ended up shopping at the Artisan store.  The prices were fixed, the quality was good.  And it’s what I would have ended up negotiating with no language barrier or stress.

Third world country.  My high school friend kept emphasizing that to me and wanted to know my reaction.  I wasn’t sure what she expected me to see.  I wasn’t surprised.  Maybe there are too many northern Africans in Paris?  Maybe I go to too many Paris and banlieu marches and barter there?  Maybe I have seen too many National Geographic and its ilk programs?  I wasn’t too surprised.  Noise.  Donkeys.  Dirt.  And then places of silence and calm.  Mercedes.  Pristine.

What did surprise me was the toilets.  Now when I was 10 we visited France.  And I clearly recall the pit toilets.  The hole in the floor that you squatted over.  And my mom always carrying Kleenex.  I’ve still seen a few here and there since living here.  But on the morning of the leather workshop, I had a sudden need for a bathroom.  The Marrakech public toilets were directly across the street.  There are all these open stalls.  I have my Kleenex stuffed in my pockets.  The guy in charge comes over to me for my 50 cents which I give him but he signals me to wait.  He walks over to a storage area, gets a roll of toilet paper, hands it to me and walks me to a stall with a door on it which he unlocks and waves me in.

So Europeans get their own toilet.

Politics are interesting.  I recall that after/during the Arab Spring, the king here made some changes to mollify his population.  More involvement of the people.  But when you come down to it, after all the changes, the king seems to have the final say.  And I understand it is against the law to speak poorly of him.  That made conversations interesting.  One person seemed to be genuinely pleased with the king and what he was doing.  Another was more critical.  And didn’t seem to look over his shoulder to see who might be listening.  The complimentary one told me stories of secret police everywhere… Clearly, the king is massively wealthy.  And most of his subjects are not.  The future will be interesting. Especially because women seem to be speaking out and becoming more and more educated.

Maroc – The Workshops

Sunday morning the atelier assistant picked me up… um walking.  And took me to the jewelry store where a craftsman was going to show me how and help me make a thing…  it could be hung on a necklace but it wasn’t silver, some other metal.  I’d put it on wood to display it, not wear it.  So the older gentleman (I do think he was older than me but maybe not!) starts to pick out this square design.  That to my aesthetic was ugly.  I pointed ot the triangular one.  He looked at me every so skeptically, eyebrows raised.  “You think you can do that one?  Yeah right!  But ok you’re the customer.”  No, he didn’t say it in Arabic or French, but I could read his mind from the look on his face.

Ha!  He didn’t know I was crafty!  (Manually and mentally, I think…) So he glues the paper pattern to the metal, drills holes where the area needs to be cut out.  Threads the metal handsaw through the hole and hands it to me.

I was successful.  HA!  The first time I finished a hole and gave it back to him, he had a very puzzled look.  By the third time he was nodding and finally I got a tres bien from him.  So much better than cooking something.

The next day, Monday morning (back to Sunday afternoon later), I was picked up to go to the leather atelier.  The website said you made a business card holder.  But in fact! I made slippers!  This craftsman spoke English and French so we had a great conversation  I cut and pasted.  The rubber cement glue fumes nearly overwhelmed me but with quick trips to the street – the shop was open to the street- I survived.  Just the day before I had had a conversation on FB about red shoes.  FB reminded me of a post I had made of a photo of my red boots.  I said all women should own a pair of red shoes.  At the leather shop I had to choose between turquoise or red leather.  Yup.  Red.  The whole process was interesting and engaging.  Then he brought out his old Pfaff sewing machine.  My mom had one so I thought I ‘d be fine.  But his was very touchy.  Slowly ever so slowly put pressure on the foot to – hopefully – inch forward… no millimeter forward.  Not.  There seemed to be only two speeds.  Off and Super Fast.  After two inches of sewing, I bowed to him and asked him to finish for me.  He was happy to.

How do these people survive?  I was there for 3 hours.  During that time only 4 people stopped at his shop and none bought.  The assistant told me there was more traffic in the afternoon.  OK.  But those slippers were sold for 12 bucks.  Now he can certainly make more than one pair in three hours – maybe 2 or 3 pairs.  But still…

On Sunday afternoon, I ended up with my guide again.  He had his daughter with him and he drove me around.  Much better than a taxi whose driver would have had to negotiate price with me and then not give me a running commentary.  He had offered to do this during our tour on Saturday.  Of course, he said, it would be his pleasure.  For free.  No money.  Because we were friends.

Yeah right.  It was nice for him to say that but I knew I would pay him the same.  And totally worth it to me.  We drove through the new part of Marrakech.  Through the old.  Out to Yves saint Laurent’s museum (I didn’t go in – maybe I should have but I was done with museum experiences at that point – I was relishing the freedom of the car).  And out to the palmier area – full of palm trees and camels.  And camel drivers.  I turned down a camel ride.  But I got some great pictures of a Moroccan dressed in blue caftan with his 5 camels.  Camel abuse?  To get the camel to stand up, he kicked them.  And I have a priceless photo of him in his Bedouin garb talking on an iphone…

Maroc – the Stay

First, the riad.  That’s a home that has been transformed into a hotel.  Riad Clos des Arts.  Just over $100 a night and voted in the Top 25 WORLD WIDE Small Hotels on Trip Advisor.  Wow.  And deserved it.  The place is beautiful.  Run by Italians.  And the food…  well the cook also did my henna on both hands and an artist… it was like a 5 star restaurant every night.  With delicious breakfasts on the roof top terrace.  Yum. Miam..  It is in the old town.  They arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport.

Airport.  That was interesting.  After going through customs, we didn’t exit straight to the parking. Nope.  We went through a security screening, xray machines and all, to enter the Kingdom of Maroc.  And leaving, security to get inside the airport then the real airplane screening to be able to get to the boarding area.  You can’t have weapons in Maroc.  They mean business.  Except when I was there, an assassin killed two people in a coffee shop – really, a hit man.  He was supposed to be killing this businessman, owner of the café I think.  He was told where the guy sat.  But that morning, minutes before, the guy got up and let some other people sit there.  Wrong place Wrong time.  I never heard the full story but everyone was shocked.

So at the airport – I was thinking, all parking lots are the same all over the world.  He drove me to a parking space outside the old city and I was met there by a gal from the hotel and a guy with a hand cart – well, not what we think of as a hand cart that UPS uses.  No, a more wheelbarrow-ish hand wagon – for my bag.  We walked thought the mazelike streets.  The plain door opened to this beautiful welcoming warm space.  Who knows what rests behind those unassuming entrances?

The morning with my guide was interesting and fun.  He was a Moroccan married to a Czech gal with a 10 year old daughter.  Full of stories.  Fascinating.  Some that made him sound like he was from a very poor family and other that made him seem from a very well to do family.  And he drove a Mercedes.  Old.  But a Mercedes.  But I found that out Sunday.  On Saturday we walked.  To the ruins of palaces, to tombs of sultans, thorough the souks (the markets with really-crazy-you-can-get-lost-here streets). He knew everyone.  And everyone knew him. When he saw the photos I was taking with my Iphone, he then led me to other particularly photogenic places.  Take your picture here.  Here.  There.  And he negotiated for me – to take some craftswomen’s pictures I paid a dollar.  I was happy to.  At one place I was framing my photo and a guy started to approach me to demand payment for the women.  Fortunately my guide stepped up and told him I had already paid and basically back off – but I bet it was more colorful than that. We saw henna being pounded to paste.  Lathes used to make guitars.  Yarn drying.  Fascinating.  And in the Jemma square, we walked by – quickly! – the snake charmers.  He didn’t like these guys.  He said he had a friend he would take his clients to – but he had recently died – wait for it – his snake bit him.

The guide doesn’t like the French.  He prefers to work for hotels run by other nationalities.  But he spoke French well and we went back and forth between that and English.

The first evening in the hotel, a gal sat with me to give me the scoop about Marrakech.  With a map she pointed out where to go and where not to go.  And told me about kids offering to take you places you wanted to go… but really took you to stores to be harassed into buying things… or getting you more lost.  She told me how to handle them and how to politely decline from vendors or beggars.  She made me a bit nervous, I must say.  But better to be forewarned.  It turned out with the guide I had no problems.  And that gave me the confidence to go out on my own.