Monday, January 31, 2011

Faire Cuire un Peu et Mères

I would just like to start by saying how great it is to be married. Not only because I’m married to a wonderful guy who bakes me bread (and won’t stop until it is perfect), but also because I have now have two moms.

Yes, yesterday my mom sent us an awesome care package with some much needed Carolyn friendly baking supplies (including soy cheese!), as well as a book and some great pictures of all the snow in Edmonton! Nothing like having a care package from my mom to make me a bit homesick as the rain pelted down. Today we are working on making reservations to visit the Loire Valley when Celia comes and visits in April! How great is it to have two families who are thinking about you?

Now many of you know about our crazy microwave/oven/grill combination machine. We are still getting to know this wonderous machine and this weekend we have really being put it to the test. Not only did Keith try two different variations of bread, but we also baked a Chocolate Pudding Cake and a Crisp. With the baking supplies from my mom, I can only imagine the workout our combi is going to have. I only have a picture of the bread, as the pudding cake and crisp were devoured before pictures were thought of.

I have changed French classes to one that is more intensive and free (for the first 150 hours) because of my immigration status. It is much more structured and about double the time of the other course I was taking. The change has been refreshing and has reminded me (along with some very supportive emails from some of you) that my number one goal in coming here was to learn French. I have been a bit frustrated with the job hunt and Keith and I have decided I will continue to look for a job, but allot more of my time to studying. After all, looking for, and finding a job will only become easier as my French improves. Plus my new class not only has more time in the class room, but there is also homework (can you imagine!).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Faïence et Randonneurs

After receiving some encouraging emails from some of you who are also trying to get the most out of where you are living now, I thought I would share some of our recent mini-adventures in and around Marseille.

As I’ve mentioned before, Marseille is surrounded by amazingly rugged mountains, and after living in southern Ontario for seven years we are oh so happy to be back in some serious hiking country. Now that we are in possession of a map that marks all of the various possible hikes which connect the Marseille and Cassis via mountains and calanques (coves), we are on a mission. Before the weather turns too hot we hope to have explored most of the terrain within a day’s walk from us. There are a lot of options and since the weather was so nice the first couple of weeks of January we were able to get out a couple of times. Below are some of the pictures including one of what used to be terraced land. It is interesting to think about how long this land has been used to sustain human societies.

Can you believe that there are flowers blooming here still. I have to remind myself that it is January. Even now that it is going down to -1°C or -2°C at night, there still seem to be buds that pop up and surprise me.

Since the weather has turned a bit colder this past week we opted to do a bit of museuming instead of hiking. This lead us to the Musée Faïence or Pottery/Porcelain Museum. As many of you know, I really do love pottery and one of these days when I’m finally settled somewhere where I can store a bunch of stuff, I plan on learning the trade. In the meantime I have settled for just looking and buying other people pottery. Before I start discussing the actual contents of museum, I must admit that the museum building itself is almost as interesting as the subject matter it holds. It is in an old chateau which still contain ornate wall paintings and decorations throughout the main floor. From the various paintings you can clearly see which room was used as a receiving room and sitting room, while the wall paintings of limp pheasants, turkeys and sword skewered ducks surrounded by grapes and squash indicated the dinning room. Also of interest was the central staircase closed away for the servants, so that they could easily enter and exit every room with food and drink from the kitchens which we assume would have been below us. It was really amazing what good condition the building was in and again more questions arise. Who used to live here? When did the government take it over? The lack of historical information readily available in this city is atrocious. 

The main marble staircase. Does it get any more decadent?

The museum exhibits themselves provided us with some information but we were still left asking some questions there too. The curator of this museum was obviously into facts. Who made it, when was it made, what was it made out of and of course who donated it were all clearly labelled on each peice. I would have enjoyed a few more stories behind some of the pieces. The artefacts ranged from modern pottery and glass, to pieces found in Marseille from the Neolithic period. It is amusing to think of the contrast between pottery as a means of food storage, and pottery and porcelain that is so highly decorative it is inlaid with gold.  Can you imagine what the ancient Phoenicians who occupied Marseille for centuries B.C. would have thought if they had been dropped into the dining room of a wealthy aristocrat of the 18th century?

Here are a couple of the more interesting pieces we saw. This first one was picture worthy according to Keith because it reminded him of “Planet of the Apes.”

Quiz time! If you can tell me what the uses are of the various pieces below, I’ll send you a post card.

Now for the bonus question! There is obviously a message on this plate. If your French is up to the task, try to decipher it. We could figure out that the last word was prudence but besides that we were pretty lost.

Bonne Chance!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Formation Civique

So this past week has pretty much been consumed with the bureaucracy of immigration.

On Monday, I went for my full day of civic education. Basically this involved an instructor outlining the various aspects of the French Republic. The points that he chose to stress where: learn the language, men and women have equal rights, the French Republic is a secular state, and the constitution is the constitution we don’t question it. Although this last point seems a bit bizarre, it will make more sense to you when I describe the group that I was with. There were about forty people in my group the majority of whom where women, and except for myself, an Afghan and a Senegalese, the rest of the room was made up of people from Tunisian or Algerian backgrounds. Many of the women wore head scarves and one had to have her husband translate everything. Our instructor made sure that every time he said something important, he would say it in French and then repeat it in Arabic. Questions were raised about polygamy, wearing religious symbols in your place of work, and prayer. Really on the whole quite intriguing ideas, but the line our instructor provided for all of these was basically you are in France, the constitution says you can only marry one person, hence there is no discussion you are to follow the constitution. It is clear that he did not want to be debating how the law actually works in regards to these controversial topics, and I felt like I was in Junior high again.  There is obviously so much more history and debate around these issues in France, yet this class was clearly meant to push the message of a secular republic on those who come from countries were religious laws supersede or are combined with those of the state. In fact the instructor went so far as to say that a democracy can only function in a completely secular state.  I guess it was a good thing that everything was in French, otherwise it wouldn’t have been quite so easy to bite my tongue at these huge generalization.  This type of dogmatic presentation of the basic tenants of the French Republic makes me wonder again what immigrants to Canada are exposed to? What do they have to know about our constitution and Charter of Rights? How are they told to interpret it?

Tuesday Keith and I went down to the Prefecture to pick up our Carte de Sejour (permanent residency cards). Not only was it completely crowded and disorganized, but there were really only two sign that told us we had to wait in line to get a ticket to actually see someone. There was one person giving out tickets and it took us two hours of standing in line to get a ticket. The ticket person basically screened everyone to find out if they were in the right place (maybe some better signage could have done this) and then depending on their situation gave them forms or advice before issuing them a ticket. Needless to say it was a horrid afternoon. Everyone around us was grumpy and yelled at anyone who tried to jump the line. Everyone was on edge and there was really not enough room for everyone to stand comfortably.

Once we finally got to the ticket person, we were told that we could not buy the stamps at the Prefecture but had to get them at a Tabac (basically a tobacconist store). Yes that’s right you read correctly stamps. To pay for our Carte de Sejour we needed financial stamps, that basically look like mailing stamps and no they are not sold by the government but by private little stores. Crazy? So with twenty minutes before the Prefecture closes we run to the tabac to get the stamps. But wait the tabac doesn’t take bank cards for the financial stamps only cash or cheques! Yes again you read correctly, cheques. This involved a run to a bank machine, the realization that we would not be able to take out enough money for the two of us to both get our Carte de Sejour, and running back to the tabac and then to the prefecture. Luckily for us, the woman who actually gives out the Carte de Sejour gave me a special ticket so that I could jump the line the next day to just come and get my card. 

So Wednesday morning, I return to the Prefecture with my ticket ready to get in and get out as quickly as possible to discover that on Wednesday the Prefecture is only open in the afternoon. Back I went in the afternoon and watched the chaos as police opened the doors and established a bit of order over the line to get your initial ticket. After multiple people tried to wine their way past the police to jump the line, I was finally able to get passed the security and get my Carte de Sejour. So this should be the end right? No, not at all. We have to go back this week because the address on our cards is of the residence we were staying in while we were looking for an apartment. Let us hope that perhaps the line up is not quite so long and that we do have all of the correct documents with us because of course there is no website or pamphlet which tells you what you actually need for any of these steps.

Anyone who complains that Canada has too much bureaucracy has no idea what they are talking about. I long for a website or an information line that would explain what is needed to get through all of this red tape. I have a feeling that when we return to Canada we will be battled hardened by all of these crazy waits, and everything will seem pleasant in comparison.

Perhaps this is not the most inspiring entry for those of you considering living in a different country, but the truth is you need to be ready for anything. It's not all walks on the beach and fun adventures. Although, I'm hoping that those will soon outnumber the piles paperwork and various taxes that people keep telling us about.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Un peu de ménage et une soirée

So I know I haven’t written in a long time, when my blog isn’t part of my recently used documents on my start up menu. My apologies friends. I must admit that it is more ennuis that has caused this lul in my writing, rather than a jam packed schedule. My battles with the French immigration system continue and seem to be sucking up my time, but that is for another blog.

We are starting to settle in here. There is no schedule for me as such yet, but everything from books and pencils to various computer and camera wires now have permanent homes and I am not losing my mind thinking that I have misplaced something. During our couple of months of chaos setting up the apartment, I thought I lost some earrings I got as a birthday gift and I was constantly unsure of what clothes I had actually brought. In the process of this disorganization, Keith and I both actually shrunk sweaters that should have been hand washed and I have now inherited Keith’s marino wool sweater, whereas my sweater is beyond help. Now that everything has its place, thanks mostly to some Ikea bookshelves, we have actually started on doing a bit of decorating.

I picked up these cards at a tourist shop for 2 each and they have really given our kitchen more of a lived in look. Aside from adding some artistic pieces to our kitchen, each card contains the Latin name for the Provençcal tree shown as well as the different stages of bloom and fruit for those more scientifically minded.

I have also printed up a few of my photographs and framed them to brighten up the walls of our apartment. The bonus of this is that as I take more (and hopefully better) photos we can simply rotate them through the different frames.  In the office, I am hoping to create a wall of photos of all of the places we have and will visit while we are here. Once again, I have to say how much I love Ikea and their cheap frames!

Over Christmas break Elise started working on painting for us as well. It is not done, but we hung it up anyways as we don’t have anything else big enough to distract from the total whiteness of our living room. We are hoping she will be back to finish things up and maybe add a bit more to our walls.

With our apartment now more up to entertaining standards we decided to have our generous friend Pierre from leboncoin and his girlfriend Salha over this past weekend. We have always enjoyed having people over for dinner, but are finding quite a bit more nerve-racking than dinners in Canada. Firstly will people like what we cook? Is it going to be too spicy? We made tacos the other week, and after the lack of spice in our diet and Keith adding way to much chilli powder our taste buds were toast.  For this meal we stuck with a roast with a mild curry glaze, Sioux Lookout Salada, potatoes, carrots and an apple crumble for dessert. Everything went over well and we have been invited back for dinner at their place and for a cooking lesson using a tangine! -

The conversations was all in French and with a strategic nap in the afternoon I was able to keep up to the conversation even after 10:00 p.m! We learned a bit about how much some people respect Napoleon and also found out a bit more about Corsica. Including this:

We have seen this emblem around on car bumper stickers and on flags that people fly from their house. Keith thought it was some sort of militant union symbol. The French ceraintly are militant about their unions here. I thought it might be a symbol for some marshal art which was popular here. We were both wrong. It symbolizes Corsica and the independence of its people. I guess there are a lot of Corsicans living in Marseille, but they are still very proud of their heritage and home “country”. Pierre and Salha have convinced us that is an island worth visiting for its natural beauty and its friendly people, even if has a reputation as the Sicily of France.

All in all it was a successful evening and hopefully we will have more to come. The only thing that is continually bothering us is what do we cook for people? If we want something really “Canadian”, what do we do? We have not found bacon, and I can’t make Nanaimo bars because we can’t find custard powder. Please if anyone has suggestions about possible Canadian dishes let me know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité

Monday, I went for my medical appointment at the immigration office and my first of three orientations to life in France. It is really crazy to think I'm an immigrant. I really don't feel that way because I'm not settling here permanently, but I am now part of the “system”.  This is not something I considered at all, in moving to France. Yes I knew there would be paper work, but being required to attend compulsory days on integrating into French society did not even cross my mind. It makes me wonder as to what immigrants to Canada are exposed to in terms of residency formation?
In some ways I feel like very much an outsider to the whole process. Firstly, because permanent immigration to France has never been part of the plan and the permanent residency card was only viewed by us as one step towards being able to work and stay here for a while. Secondly, in the group I was with for the first part of my orientation, I was the only one from the western hemisphere. I felt a bit out of place because this process for me is not the huge life choice it is for those people around me, who have left their homes for what seems like a permanent change on most of their parts.  Most of the people in my group were from Algeria or Tunisia.
The whole process started with a pretty cheesy film on the equality, liberty and fraternity of the French Republic. It seemed to really stress the equality of the sexes and if I was not such a political junky, I would not have been quite so intent on watching. I am even more interested to find out what type of national values (...cough... propaganda) they are going to impress on me during the second part of the orientation which is civic education. It really is fascinating to see how people sell their own country and values to others.
The other part of the orientation involved two people coming in to explain the different parts of the orientation. Aside from a section on life in France, and civic education, I am looking forward to the section on employment and how foreign credentials are evaluated here. I already know that my teaching degree doesn’t count for much, but I’m interested to know how my other degrees and experience measure up. The presentations were all in French which was not a huge deal for me, but again I wondered if Canada being a nation composed of immigrants is a bit more sensitive to the issue of English or French as a second language.
The medical appointment, which I requested to be in English, for just simplicity sake was also for the most part in French with a smattering of English. The most intriguing part of the appointment was the chest x-ray. Outside the x-ray room was three cabins with two doors: one to the x-ray room and one to the waiting room/hallway. The large male x-ray technician asked you to enter the cabin and then asked you to remove your top. I was a bit confused at first because there was no smock in the little cabin. It’s been a long time since I had a chest x-ray in Canada, but I remember there being a smock! In a country of topless beaches, my thoughts about the immodesty of this seemed a bit Victorian.  While waiting in the little cabin you can hear everything that is happening in the x-ray room to the other patients. “Are you pregnant?” “Stand here.” This poor technician this is all he does all day. I can only guess how many chests he sees every day, and I can imagine that quite of few of them both male and female are not that appealing. In fact that thought leads to the fact that neither Keith nor myself saw him clean the board you had to press up against for the x-ray. The other intriguing fact that occurred to me was that in my group there were quite a few women wearing head scarves and there was no female technician around to my knowledge. Egalité, I guess?
The other interesting thing is that we were told to keep the x-rays because they might be needed at another doctor’s appointment. How cool is it that you get to keep your x-rays? Keith’s in fact looks like he has a piece of food or air bubble in his oesophagus.
Aside from the medical visit I had to sign a contract of integration, while Keith did not because he is already working. Basically I am promising to go to the orientations so that I know my rights as a resident of France. Subtext, they want me to start working so that I can contribute to the tax base so needed to run all the crazy bureaucracy here. The interesting part about this is that all of the people who spoke to us or ushered us from one room to another are part of this bureaucracy. Yet everyone was dressed like it was casual Friday. We have encountered this before and wonder at what level do you actual start wearing business casual or even business clothes because apparently jeans and an oversized striped white and red t-shirt is acceptable. I’m not sure what my thoughts are on this. I’m all for dressing comfortably, but it is quite different than the expectations of offices of North America.
Anyways, I will keep you posted on what other propaganda gets thrown my way.