Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Time's Running Out for Me

As April looms into view, I've been keeping a close watch on the two dates that only mean death and doom for me.

April 6th: My 24th Birthday.

This will be the day when I will officially kiss my early 20s good-bye and I still have yet to be blind drunk enough to go out for a midnight kebab run. This is surely an issue that my Teaching Assistant friends will be glad to help rectify.

In one year after this day, I will have lived a quarter of a century. I probably still won't have a stable job and thus further convince the people closest to me that my English Literature degree was a waste of time and money. Shocking, isn't it?

April 15th: THE LAST DAY to file any "stay longer in France" paperwork with the Préfecture.

This is the day that keeps me up at night with worry. This is the day that breathes down my neck, taunting me with the idea that my time in Dijon taking walks around Lac Kir will quickly come to an end. This is THE DAY that tells me my life of cheese eating and wine drinking will soon be over.

I've lost nearly all hope in finding a job over here and I can't express how sad this makes me. If, by some miracle, I do end up with a dream-job in France, I will be eternally grateful to the heavens above. I have not imagined my future and my life outside of this country.

Maybe I should go back to being a mail-order bride? At this point, marriage seems to be the only immediate solution to keep me longer over here. The only positive thing that I can say about this is the fact that I am at least not madly in love with a handsome Frenchman. The heartbreak of leaving someone behind would only make the situation even sentimentally worse.

Yet...I remain hopeful. Thanks to Spring and sunshine, I've been genuinely happier. As a Miamian, I miss out on the wonder of seeing trees renew with emerald leaves and flowers burst into view.

Yes. Life isn't so bad after all.

Barb the French Bean

Sunday, March 27, 2011

From a Cubicle Desk: The Words of Wisdom

Studying in a university library is quite tedious, especially when it feels like time has stopped. To make things worse, sitting in a cubicle desk makes the whole day seem gray.

As always, I went to the library to get some studying done and thought that the only way I would be able to concentrate was if I sat at a cubicle desk...

What a mistake.

Once I sat down, I started to doze off, but knowing very well that I couldn't, I started to read the writings on the cubicle walls. The words of wisdom.

Word of Wisdom #1: ZTA sluts <---True.
ZTA is a sorority on my campus, I don't know much about them, but the wall says it all. The ZTA's are a bunch of sluts. Now, I'm not saying they are since I don't personally know it, but why in the world would someone write this? Pure anger? Jealousy? or maybe someone with a deep thought? Perhaps, in the writers own way, they were trying to find a deep understanding of the ZTA's and in truth came to conclude that they are a bunch of sluts. Thus, bringing another person to agree with them.

Word of Wisdom #2: Your You're in college don't be ignorant!!!
It is funny to see how students like to point out the ignorance of other students, but wait! What is this? The writer cannot spell? *Gasp* now that is very uneducated. I know we all tend to make our mistakes when writing (trust me I make them all the time), but if you are going to call someone ignorant the very least you can do is write it well.

Word of Wisdom #3: Where has time gone?
The first image that came into my head when I first read this, was of a 70 year old man, who wasted his youthful life away at the library. This question, however, did bring me to ponder as to where has time gone? I have never really given much thought as to where my life was headed or how the months keep passing me by. This one simple question made me question everything from the time of my break-up to the time where I thought that being thin was a must. I started to think about how ridiculous I was and how ridiculous the emotions I had for my ex were, and truly I must say I am now a believer of the phrase: Time heals everything.

So what did I learn from all three words of wisdom? #1 the person is an idiot with nothing better to do than to attack people. #2 If you are going to attack someone, please check your spelling. #3 If you don't live life fully time will fly and you will be asking yourself a whole bunch of damn questions, but in a positive light you come to realize that time does heal everything.

Hanny the coffee bean

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Million Drafts, One Post

Everyday I get on blogger to check the progress of Two Beans or Not Two Beans, and to make new posts. However, it has come to my attention that I have about 10 drafts waiting for me to finish them, but I never get around to them. Most are interesting topics, but as the months pass these topics become old news.

The Evil Drafts...

Can I help it if I have so many ideas running through my head? so many mishaps in my everyday life? No, I cannot, but I should do something about those damned drafts before they start taking over the published posts.
If my habits of starting a post and never finishing them continue, soon Two Beans or Not Two Beans will have a million drafts, and one post by me every 3 years! Of course French Bean will have posts up, but there is so much one person can do.

The drafts haunt me, the very word 'draft' tortures my amateur writing skills. It is as if the 'draft' were saying to me "You can never finish me! You imbecile unknowable little buffoon. Mwahahahaha."

It is like a plague of drafts, the more I write the more drafts I see! Can anyone save me? Is there any hope? Will I actually reach a million drafts and only have one post every 3 years?

I think this is a to be continued post...

If I get around to continuing.

-Hanny the Coffee Bean

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Speculoos + Bastogne Cookies = My Diet is Ruined

Today, I finally caved in to the inevitable. I bought myself my very first jar of Speculoos pâte à tartiner.

Speculoos spread based on Speculoos cookies, a yummy cinnamon-y treat that goes well with espresso coffees and teas. The paste, though, is on a whole other plane from its delicious crunchy cousin.

My friends, Speculoos pâte à tartiner is the equivalent of nicotine for your tastebuds. I had just one teaspoon of the stuff and that was enough to have me salivating for days. My very thoughts were consumed by the call of the Speculoos desire until I cracked and bought some for myself.

I also took the chance and purchased some Bastogne cookies. These are the French equivalent of the Belgian/Dutch treat. It only seemed natural to put Speculoos spread on Bastogne cookies. Mixing a crunchy, crumbly texture with a divine lighter-than-air cinnamon's enough to drive my Shakira-hotness diet against a wall.

These two make a very, very dangerous combination...

I dipped the spoon into the seemingly docile jar. I scooped out a minor dollop that seemed nearly negligible. With a swift, dexterous movement, the cookie and cream became one. I sink my front teeth into biscuit.

This is my Speculoos face, the physical manifestation of ecstasy and nirvana on my being. My foie gras face happens to be the same.

One cookie just wasn't enough. I needed to have just one more...

It is just so good. I see no need for a spoon. What is that good for, anyway? I can just use my index finger to scoop it out...

With each bite, I am further rendered into a hazy state of culinary addiction and I succumb to releasing all sense of reason and feeling...

And then I am gone.

Speculoos. This alone is enough of a reason as to why I should remain in France for the rest of my days.

For another Speculoos-addict with an amazingly hysterical blog, go check out Invader Stu at Invading Holland. He confesses of his addiction here and recounts how he almost had an intervention from caring friends here.

(By the way, his blog just recently turned five years old, so go congratulate him! )

Barb the French Bean

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Finding Love in France? Probably Not.

For a francophile and begrudgingly hopeless romantic like me, what could be more romantic than going out to a café while a gallant Frenchman whispers sweet nothings into my ear in that most romantic of all languages? Or, even better, hearing that charming French lisp gracefully expel seductive lines in my native tongue?

Ah, wait. I teach English in France. Halting and repeatedly correcting French high schoolers from phonetically butchering my native tongue has rendered me immune to any "cuteness" and "turn on" qualities that would have swept me off my feet. A miniscule part of my soul dies every time a necessary aspirated H is left unsaid.

Nevertheless, a Frenchman speaks French and that should be enough of a selling point to attract me automatically, right?

Um, right?

*crickets chirp*

Well, French-speaking or not, my hypothetical future mate needs to at least have some courtesy and know how to treat a lady right.

I was seeing a guy on and off again for the past month. We had been chatting online and our real-life meetings would determine whether or not we would officially start dating. First time I saw him, I did not feel a spark. It was just a gut feeling: nothing was there.

He seems like a nice guy. Maybe something is wrong with me, I thought. I should at least give him a chance...

I could not help but notice that every time I met him after that, I did not feel any genuine excitement stir in my being. We went to the movies. We went out for walks. We had great discussions about our lives, our interests, our life goals. He wants to be a policeman someday. He loves to eat McDonald's after he runs marathons. He has a sister who lives in Lyon. He asked me if I liked him or juste comme ça, just as a friend.

"Juste comme ça," I said. "I don't feel much for you. Besides, I may or may not leave the country in a few months' time. I don't want to risk getting attached to you." That was my excuse, anyway.

Still, he insisted that I should give him a chance because he really, really likes me. I agreed to seeing him again. I mean, why not? He seems like a nice guy. He seems polite enough. Sure, he doesn't open the door for me, but I can't expect too much chivalry from today's generation, now can I? I'll take what I can get...perhaps he'll even grow on me and I'll learn to love him.

Yet deep down inside, something fought me.

He's not the guy for you, stupid. You deserve better than this. You don't even vaguely like him. You need to give yourself some self-worth and you shouldn't be afraid to just say "no" to someone. You need to find your own damn voice and admit you don't like him.

These thoughts eventually manifested themselves into emotions. When he would send me a text message, rather than squealing like a 13-year-old who had just won tickets to see a Justin Bieber concert with backstage passes, I would roll my eyes and internally mutter "oh, what do you want NOW?"

God, your writing is so annoying. Don't you know how to spell properly in your own damn language? You make it so hard for me to suppress my contempt for you. Then, I would feel shame because he really has done nothing wrong to me.

He asked me again. "Have your feelings changed for me?" Oh, they have in a way; now I am more than certain that I really, really don't like you much. I didn't say that, though. I'm way too scared of hurting someone's feelings.

"I only really see you as a friend." Still, he insisted that I give "us" a chance. Maybe, just maybe, if I do go back to Miami, he will have the strength to wait for me.

Like a swimmer going against a rip current, I agreed to go against my sentiments and give "us" a chance.

He would invite me to dinner, he said. He would meet me up at 7, he said.

He was 35 minutes late. He apologized but didn't seem sorry about it. That just fueled the kindling of my dislike for him. You idiot, I thought. Oh, well. We would soon have a nice dinner together. This would, in my mind, officially determine whether or not "us" would exist.

The check came. He looked at it. He showed it to me. He laughed and said "Thanks, Barbara!"

W...T...F? Who does that? Is this a joke? Are you just trying to make me feel like a guilty, fat pig because you now have to pay for the meal?

"Um, do you need help in paying the bill?"

"Yes, I would not mind that. Thanks for that!"

And thanks for finally showing me a concrete reason as to why I should not be with you. I had taken out some money prior to meeting up with you just in case you pulled a stunt like this. I was hoping you wouldn't have, but now I'm glad that I paid for my half of the meal. At least that was my excuse to never see you again. Sadly enough, I feel relief.

I should follow the advice I learned during my D.A.R.E. program years and just learn how to say "no." No, I don't like you. No, I'm not interested in you. No, I don't feel anything for you.

I've been able to do it before in the past. I was shopping in a supermarket when a guy suddenly had an outright burst of admiration for me:

Makes me wonder if he had even looked at my left hand to confirm this. I was able to lie about my marital status. Why was it so hard for me to just say "I'm not interested?"

Who knows if love may or may not be just around the corner? The more I walk down the streets, the more I seem to get glances from the guys over here. Maybe I'll have to say "no" to them as well.

On another note, I think I spotted my Octogenarian Creepy Codger this past week. Thankfully, I was riding away on a bus and he didn't see me.

I guess Love isn't meant to be sought. I should just let it come whenever it deems itself appropriate for me. You just can't force fate...

Barb the French Bean

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Adventure Here I Come: Bahamas Fail Edition

Previously in my vacation post, I had mentioned that I was going to the Bahamas. Well with my luck, hence the reason of this post, that trip was canceled.


The reason for the cancellation of a very well deserved trip, is due to the fact that my friend had an expired passport, which she was not aware of until the day of my birthday.

Out of all the things that could have happened and yet I get the misfortune of something like this happening. Of course, I kept positive and did my research as to what I could possibly do, but seeing as the tickets were non-refundable and non-transferable gave me little options...

Not only did I end up seeing my ex-boyfriend twice, but on top of everything my getaway from Miami, the evil guy friend who broke my heart, stress, and drama was ruined. All that stressing over the tickets and the best place to go, just so that my friend would tell me that her passport expired.

Since it was non-transferable and non-refundable, I decided it would be best to move the date of the flight three months later, so that my friend can get her passport renewed. Of course, there was a matter of paying extra fees and such, which if you think about it we should have just gone to the key west...

The way I handled my matters, however, did not go well with my mother. See, my mother deals with companies such as priceline and all those airplane travel agencies...So when she heard about my little problem, she gave me a lecture on responsibility.

So I didn't end up in the Bahamas, instead I ended up going to the one place I was avoiding...M.I.A.M.I.

I could have easily stayed in Orlando, but the very thought of staying alone in my ghetto apartment sent chills down my spine. Ghetto= People breaking in, stealing, being idiotic (not the best place to live in).

Before I went to Miami, I did get to spend a whole day with my guys. My guys= the guys I spend most of my time with, the people I am most comfortable with, and the people who actually get my craziness and sense of adventure. I must say my guys really know how to entertain a girl, especially with all the craziness we do. Of course, it was more of a relaxing day than anything. Playing rockband, playing pool, getting tipsy to the point where you start talking about turtles (all me of course), flirting around (I can't help it), eating junk food, and watching horror movies. Four guys and me...yeah you know I LOVE the attention. It was a great night, especially since I was headed to Miami...the next day.

Well I have been stuck in Miami for almost the entire week...I didn't think I would survive this far, but I have to admit I did have somewhat of an adventure.

Eventually, I will explain my Miami trip more in detail, but for now I have to get off this reserved computer...the library is about to close...

Hanny the coffee bean

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why I Heart Tuesdays

I glance at my watch. It is still morning. I have one hour and thirty minutes of time for myself.

Great, I think, I can go into town and visit that place! It's Tuesday!

I bustle out the school's rigid gates and make my way towards the bus stop. The light that shines into my eyes makes me involuntarily crinkle my eyelids. I close my eyes and allow the light to bathe upon my cheeks. It has been so long since I've felt this gentle caress take me away .

As I wait for the bus, a few birds serenade me, breaking the monotonous silence. It has been so long since I've heard their welcoming song that I feel like they are giving a triumphant shout. These victorious harbingers, along with the rogue crocuses that coyly dot the plush emerald fields, are inviting a new season to come. The days in which I wore at minumum three layers of clothing are nearly a memory now.

I glance down to the pavement. My bare legs are such a contrast from all the dark tights and leggings I've seen all winter. The weather is still far too cold for my exposed limbs.

I must be crazy to have worn this dress today. It's so windy! But I made the right choice. My legs are so pale so at least now I can get some sun on them.

The bus arrives. The front doors open. I wish the driver a friendly "bonjour" as I step inside and search for a seat. I find one, next to the window. I close my eyes again and simply let the warmth fall on me. I think about those early Saturday mornings when my family and I would venture to the white-sand beaches in Key Biscayne and I would collect seashells. On those days, I crowned myself the Queen of Seashells. I had turf battles with the local crabs and try to claim them as my pets; one of them attempted to pinch me as a well-deserved lesson.

The bus rumbles into town. My nostalgic reverie comes to an end and I hop off with a skip. Oh, I hope she has poire today!, I think. I love poire!

I dodged my way around town, past the busy shoppers who were heading into different directions, each following the path they have traced in their minds of where they need to be. I knew where my path would lead me. I make my way into the building.

I see a cheese stand that glistens in a yellow hue. So many names. So many sizes. So many shapes. So many flavors. So many creamy textures. So many calories...I remember the chunk of Comté I have waiting for me at home. I plod away with a dejected whimper of remorse.

The boucher proudly displays the rosy cuts of meat. The various display signs naming each item draw my attention. How would I cook kidney? What must that taste like? Is that the cut of pork I need to make a Cuban-style roast? I'll try to make that next week.

The Spanish stand is still intact, and there are no black beans today. In fact, there will be no black beans until maybe the month of May when the vendor goes back to Spain. Darn it.

One whiff from the fishmonger's counter is unmistakable. I gaze at the white containers filled with ice cubes and fish that relentlessly stare back at me. It is unnerving to see how their mouths gape open with the shock that they are actually on land in a frozen home. Also, is the fishmonger himself cold? I would hate to be standing for 4 hours at a counter surrounded by nothing but cold. The pungent fragrance eventually overwhelms me.

I rush to the poultry stand and see what I miss at my local Carrefour: Bressan chickens with their heads still attached to their lifeless bodies. Perhaps one of them will be bought by a 75-year-old grandmother who will make a dinner for her grandchildren. Perhaps she will show them this chicken and, when they squeal in squeamish awe, explain to them that they should not ignore that what they will feast on that evening once appreciated living in an open field. I never wondered about these things in Publix when I purchased neatly styrofoam-packed chicken breasts.

I finally get to her stand. I see there are clementines from Morocco and mangoes from Brazil. The strawberries seem to be Spanish. I don't know her name, but I call her the Dried-Fruit Lady. She fixes her gaze in my direction and a wave of sudden recognition falls on her face.

"Bonjour," I chirrup when I see her smile back at me.

"Bonjour, what can I get for you?"

"Well, I--"

"Ah, je sais. I have poire and pomme aujourd'hui!"

YES!!! YES!!! YESSSSSSSS!!!! I love POIRE!!! And POMME!!!

Only a wide smile gives hint of the celebratory explosion that just happened in my mind.

"I'd like 100 grams of poire and then 100 grams of pomme, s'il vous plaît. It doesn't matter if you mix it up in the same bag."

"So, how have your plans been going? Are you any closer to staying longer in France?"

"Well, I did have a job interview a couple of weeks ago, but due to some legal hassles, I didn't have it."


"But I am certain that I would have gotten it had it not been for the contract duration. At this point, I think that I am realistically going to have to go back to Miami."

"Ah, well, but at least we've been having more sun these days! It is nothing like Miami weather, perhaps, but the sunshine does a lot for one's well-being."

"Oh yes. What I love about Dijon's weather is the fact that I can walk around the streets without having the impression that I'm melting."

She smiles at me.

"I'm sure that you'll find something. You are meant to be here. That will be 3,80 Euros. I'll even throw in some dried banana for you to taste."

I gladly make the exchange.

Everyone's voice mingles into the open and becomes one constant buzz that echoes throughout the building. Despite that everyone here is doing something different, we are all in this together, gathered to do the same thing and give each other some human contact. This is no mere place. I'd say it is Dijon's heart.

Barb the French Bean

Monday, March 7, 2011

February 29th? Birthday? Facebook? What?!

As I mentioned in my past post, I was born on February 29th.

This year, it did not appear on the calendar and on years like this, I celebrate it Feb 28th-March 1st. Hell, If I don't have a birth date then why not have two days to replace it? Of course, officially I consider March 1st my official day to turn a year older. However, Facebook decided otherwise.

I had just woken up from my sleep to go to my 8am class, when I decided to check Facebook (It seems to be a routine). As I logged into my Facebook, I noticed I had about 6 notifications. I didn't think anything of it, until I read the first notification.

"Happy Birthday Hanny!"

To my surprise, the other five notifications were the same... After that moment of shock, I proceeded with my day, but as the day kept going, so did the notifications. I kept checking my Facebook every hour and every hour there were more people wishing me an amazing birthday.

Well needless to say, I had more than 8 wishes and knowing that Facebook (sort of) remembered my birthday was good enough.

Though I was not able to do something special for my birthday, my roommates made it more than special when they surprised me with a cake.

If you add the 2 and the 3, you will get my leap year age.

Of course, the birthday wishes didn't disappear on the 28th. No, I still had one more day to go...the day I "officially" turned a year older. I woke up to amazing birthday text messages and more facebook birthday wishes. Since I had a day off from school, I decided to go use some of my birthday coupons, which gives me free breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I still have coupons left). On my way to getting my lunch, I did not expect to see what I saw...

My poor little heart was racing, how could it be possible that out of all days, all months, I end up seeing my ex-boyfriend driving his car past me. The worst part is that it happened on the day I usually celebrate my birthday, the day he made me cry last year.

I didn't think much of it, I just thought it was the most bizarre thing to happen to me. After that, my birthday just felt like another normal day.

Overall, it was a great two day birthday except for the part where I see my ex, but not even he could ever ruin the happiness I felt of seeing so many Happy Birthday wishes.

Though now thinking of it, it would have made me even more happy if I could have done something like this:

Hanny the coffee bean

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why I'll Never Be A Ski Instructor

There are quite a number of reasons why I shall never be a ski instructor. I'm a Miami girl, which by default means that I'm from Florida. Florida is a state which painfully lacks hills and mountains and has hundreds of miles of coastline. I also live in a semi-tropical area, so the concept of snow and four distinctive seasons do no register with the climate. What better place for me to go on vacation than to jet off to the French Hautes-Alpes?

And by "jet off," I really meant a 4-hour TER ride from Dijon to Grenoble, a 2-hour TER from Grenoble to Gap and then a 1-hour bus ride from Gap up to the mountains of the Orcières-Merlette ski station, all for the low cost of 28.60 Euros in train fare and 10 Euros for the shuttle.

But it was all worth it! Just look at this sky!

I was about to embark on spending four, fabulous days with my French BFF Mimi, a mutual work colleague named Marie and her very well-educated 7-year-old son name Pierre. French kids are just so cute, but I'm so out of touch with what is popular with them that I honestly have never heard of Ben 10.

And, wait. Did my eyes deceive me? Were the French really wearing...color? After swimming in a sea of somber shades for weeks in Dijon, I was amicably greeted by an inviting blue sky and extravagant multi-colored ski suits! Amid the crowd of hot pinks and flashes of each shade of the rainbow, I felt undeniably sexy wearing a giant black marshmallow on my torso. For the first time in months, I actually saw people with suntans and sunburns. This was just on their faces and very often, I saw people with a pale imprint of a pair of sunglasses etched on their skin.

As much as I love being in the sun, I wanted to avoid this dorky trend at all costs. A sunburn like this is the mark of a tourist and that would just be the ultimate shame to my Miami nature.

I didn't do much the first of the trip because I was just dead tired. I would just wait to see what the next day would bring.

I had some idea of what was going to happen, though. Mimi excitedly announced that she had reserved a slot for all of us to go on a dog sled ride. This just blew my mind.

I have heard of horse-drawn buggies and even got the chance to explore my mother's Cartagena, Colombia on a rather romantic evening stroll by carriage...but a dog-sled ride? Now this I just had to see!

I awaited the evening to fall so I could jave a good night's rest after being awake since 3:30 a.m. Little did all four of us know that none would get much sleep. After a couple of apéro drinks followed by a hearty mountain dinner, Mimi and Pierre engaged in a vigorous tickle fight in which Pierre unfortunately hurt his left hand. He spent the night crying in pain, Marie spent it being wide awake next to his bedside, Mimi remained alert out of anxiety and guilt for had happened to poor Pierre...and I just kept tossing and turning.

The following morning, it was decided that Pierre would visit the doctor to see whether or not his hand had been sprained. The four of us headed up to the Roche Rousse in a tired stupor. I got a sudden jolt of energy when I gazed upon a ski-lift for the first time in my life. We all had our charge cards that would allow us to use the contraption once we swiped them past a sensor.

Going up the ski lift...

Me being all Happy-Happy, Joy-Joy in my unscathed mountain glory

I was unanimously appointed the job of Main Picture-Taker and it was my responsibility to document the Husky Sled Ride experience. I heeded to this task with much enthusiasm.

You can tell that this husky is estatic to be going back to work.

This is Alaska, the husky that led Marie's sled.

Mid-ride, our amiable Bourguignon guide offered me a little proposition: "How would like to to ride alongside me standing up?" Something in the deepest pit of my stomach meekly squeaked out "no," but that voice was silenced by a booming "HELL YES!" It wasn't until I was actually in the activity of darting through the mountains that the dubious meek voice took control of my body and caused me to stiffen up on the sled. My hands gripped the handles with a forceful clamp. I was scared. "You need to relax," the guide advised. "Don't worry, you are a natural musheuse!"

I'm a natural dog-sled leader, eh? Okay. I'll believe it.

Oh, and another reason why I'll never be a ski instructor? I have a poor sense of balance. During my stint as a musheuse, I tumbled off the sled. Twice.

I didn't just fall off, either.

Oh, no: I zipped off in a violent horizontal motion and hurtled in the air. I even out-flew the second dog sled team led by Marie. My momentary experiment with flight came to a sudden end when I crashed into a flurry of powdery snow.

This vivid moment made me the guaranteed laughing post for the rest of the day and I am certain that, for the small crowd who were there, I will not live this down.

I dejectedly gave up on my musheuse job and went back to my original job as Main Picture-Taker.

I truly loved this experience.

(I obviously didn't take this one.)

The next day was the day that I was going to attempt a snow shoe hike while the others went skiing. We were going to head out in the afternoon and spend the first part of day relaxing in the apartment for a bit. That morning, Pierre was handed a stack of blank sheets and a set of coloring pencils and markers. He proudly demonstrated the some of his Ben 10 cartoons and asked me if I wanted to join him with some cartooning.

Pierre made the most amazing discovery when he found out that I knew how to draw a cat.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou!!! Do you know how to draw a dog?"

I did. I drew a cartoon of a dog sitting down. He liked it. A lot.

"Barbara, do you know how to draw dragons?"

"Well, I don't know, Pierre, but I can sure try..."

I made something that ressembled a green long-necked dinosaur with a pig snout and wings.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou!!! Your dragon is so cool! Do you know how to draw un fantôme?"

Mimi and I took the opportunity to teach Pierre some new vocabulary and we said that the English for fantôme is ghost.

"I learned that at school, when we talked about Halloween," he said.

"Wow, that's great! Can you say 'ghost' for us?"


Mimi and I then asked him what other things he knew about Halloween.

"I also learned about witches. They wear pointed hats and fly on brooms! Okay, Barbara, I'm going to draw a moon and inside it, I want you to draw a witch flying on her broom! And make sure she has a huge wart on her nose!"

I did as he requested.

"Ouaaaaaaaaaou...she's so beautiful!"

"Really? Witches aren't generally thought to be attractive."

"Well, I mean the witch you drew is pretty, but I would not date one in real life. Do you know how to draw Dracula?"

Since I had never really made a vampire cartoon, I made a drawing about Dracula from the waist up.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou...tu dessines trop bien! Can you make a drawing of Dracula with his legs?"

I did that too and thus opened the floodgates to Pierre's Dracula-fueled curiosity.

I suddenly became the Vampire expert of Orcières-Merlette.

"Where does Dracula sleep?" "He sleeps in a coffin."

"What's a coffin?" "It's a box where you put someone who's dead."

"Can you draw me Dracula sleeping in his coffin?"

"Of course, I can, Pierre..."

(Oh, God, please let that be the end of the Dracula drawings!)

"Barbara, why does Dracula sleep in a coffin?" "He needs to find a place that protects him from sunlight."

"But why? Why doesn't Dracula like the sun?" "The sun is dangerous to him. It's his weakness, like kryponite is Superman's weakness. Hey, I'm going to take a shower now, and I want you to draw me Superman!"

I was hoping that after my shower, I would have a break from the relentless bids for more drawings. I was wrong.

"Okay, now you are going to draw Dracula trying to get to his coffin, but he's too late because the sun has gotten to him so he has his arms raised to shield himself and he is squinting in pain going 'auuuuugggggggghhh!!!'"

I thought myself to be the pilot in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, only this time the sheep drawings were replaced by a flurry of requests for a parasitic blood-sucker.

Snow Shoe Attempt #1

The plan was for me to go all the way up to the peak of the Drouvet ski slopes so I could have a spectucular view of the whole mountain range. Then, once I would be at the top, I would head down the slope using the snow shoes.

I admit that I was rather nervous about the idea of attempting an activity that I have never done. I am, to put it mildly, not a very sporty individual. My childhood past times consisted of stationary activities involving books, a television set and a Sega Genesis which was later traded in for a Sony PlayStation. And just to make things crystal clear: the other kids in P.E. class were innately perceptive of my lack of physical activity and thus sagely executed the activity of leaving me to be the dregs of organized kickball teams in P.E. class.

I gazed at my target with apprehension.

Mimi encouraged me with her advice: "Don't be scared, Barbara. I did this walk by myself when I was 12 years old! You shall be just fine." When I was 12, I was busy figuring out Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandecoot.

In order to get to the peak, I needed to take two ski lifts. I managed to score a cabine all for myself! Floating ski lift rides are peaceful and you get to have expansive views of the horizon as you are gently imported to a higher plane.

Or at least that what the experience feels like when the cable car is in motion. If it suddenly comes to a jerky stop, then the ski lift is no longer a floating device of joy if not a Doom Death Trap of Doom and Death.

How many solitary rides in a ski lift does it take a Miami girl to totally lose it and question her impending mortality? The answer is one.

There really was no need to panic. The cable car remained suspended for what seemed five days 2 minutes. I eventually made my way to the second part of the ski lift with my sanity intact.

Ever had those moments when you look around a place and think "hm, what's wrong with this picture?" I instantly noticed that of all the people waiting, I was the only one carrying snowshoes. Everyone else had a pair of those skis attached to their feet. Everyone else seemed to be zooming down the slopes at full speed. Yes. The mountain was completely void of any other hikers. Still, in my confusion, I robotically scanned the card to let myself through the gate to join the mass of skiers patiently waiting to get on the slopes at a higher altitude. That's when I got the bad news from the watchful attendant:

"It is forbidden to have snowshoe hikes on the ski slopes. You have to go to the other one called Roche Rousse that is specifically for hiking."

Great. Why couldn't someone have told me this vital piece of information before I made it to the second ski lift? Since I had already passed my card a second time, it would just be pointless if I didn't proceed to see what was all the way on top of the mountain chain. This is what I saw:

Then I went back down because I was a scared crybaby.

I explained my case that I had used up all my rides on the card and therefore couldn't do anything about it. I had even left my wallet behind because I did not want to be weighed down by extra items, so I could not possibly charge more money onto the card.

"Ah. Well, at this's up to you to see what you are going to do. Let me see what I can do."

The attendant at this point called over one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. Tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, chiseled cheekbones and a rusty skin tone that suggested that he spent most of his time outdoors teaching clumsy five-year olds the art of not falling flat-faced into the snow while learning a new sport; his red École du Ski Français uniform also helped clue me in as to what he did as a job.

"Madame made a mistake about the ski lifts. She wants to go on a snowshoe hike. What should she do?"

"Well," said the hot ski instructor, "she needs to go to the other one called Roche Rousse. That one is specifically for hiking."

Uh. Yeah, hot stuff. There is a slight problem with that...namely how I don't have any more rides left on my card.

"Ah. Well, I'll just ask my boss to see what can be done! Hé, Chef! We've got a Madame who needs to go to Roche Rousse!"

"She needs to take the other ski lift to go there."

Going to the beach to lie on the sand is definitely less complicated than being told the same thing three times over.

Another reason why I'll never be a ski instructor? When faced with hot athletic males, my brain undergoes a sensory overload which short-circuits it and renders my communication skills useless. turning into a nonsensical babbling contraption. I decided to call it quits on my failed quest and to try again the following day.

Greatly invigorated by the mountain air (and the fact that Mimi had judiciously offered to accompany me on the hike), I finally went off on a snow shoe hike the last day!

Due to my lack of balance, I spent a quarter of the time sliding on my butt down the slopes and screaming my head off. To be frank, I quite liked the sensation of rushing down the snow. It felt like a water slide. A frozen one. I also take comfort in knowing that I could have caused an avalanche with my resonating cries of joy.

"Yes," observed Mimi. "I can see now that it would have been a mistake to have left you all alone to go hiking."

How awesome is this mini-snowman?

In the end, I fulfilled a silly dream of mine of having a cup of hot chocolate up in the mountains. The waiter was even nice enough to provide me with a heaping caloric serving of artery-clogging whipped cream. It's just like I always wanted...

That night, Marie, Pierre and I had decided that we would leave the apartment the following morning before 7:45 a.m. According to a Lyonnais that Marie had bumped into, if we left just after 8:00 a.m., we would be stuck in the endless jams of people headed north and south.

This meant that I had to organize all of my items the night before so we could head out as soon as possible. I equate packing my own suitcase as yet another passage into the frightening world of adulthood, much like doing my own laundry and making my own damn sammiches. (I admit that I would certainly prefer my mother doing it for me, though.) I also engaged in another Dracula-related discussion with young Pierre.
"Barbara, can we invite Dracula to have dinner with us someday?" "No, that would not be such a good idea...Dracula doesn't really eat bread and cheese like we do."
"Well, then, what does he eat?" "He sucks people's blood."

Okay. I have to remember to take everything with me. I'll place the most important things in my purse: my contact lenses, my MP3, my cellphone and my wristwatch.

No. I can leave the wristwatch on my bedside. I'm sure that I'll remember it in the morning...

Now as for the clothes, I need to place the dirty underwear in a separate bag and then sort out the clothes that I am going to wear tomorrow morning. Oh, I also need to--

Asking for an excited 7-year old to have patience is like telling a shark to just hold out on not attacking a juicy swimmer on a surfboard.

I have no time to waste. The fatigue is slowing me down and my mental accuracy is running out. Now, what else did I need to do?

Oh, yeah. I need to go into the bathroom and place all of my items into another bag. I should leave my toothbrush, toothpaste and the moisturizer out so I can use them in the morning. Then I could just pack all of them up last. I'll just store the comb and the contact lense fluid in the bag now.

It probably won't be a bad idea to leave the deodorant out.

Maybe I should also pack the body lotion la--

Will I need make-up for tomorrow? Meh. I guess I can skip putting on everything for the drive back to Dijon. I could just wear some eyeliner and mascara, but I'll just put on my glasses. I want to be a little bit comfortable.

Ah. I may need some entertainment for the drive. I can't forget the book that my landlord lent me. Maybe I should put my MP3 in my coat pocket instead. I definitely should keep my camera at hand just in case I see some cool things to take pictures of!

Now, as for tomorrow's clothes, I should probably prepare myself for the cold Dijonnais weather. Socks, layers, gloves, scarf, sunglasses.

Sunglasses? Ha, ha. That was a joke. There's like no sun in Dijon! Bummer.

I should probably put my sunglasses in their protective case and put that case in my suitcase. There's no more room in my purse.

Well, you'll have it once I've had my apéro. I needed some alcohol to keep my spirits up! I'm sure that I packed everything...

Oh, it turns out that I left my wristwatch behind. But no worries, Mimi should have it for me.

Barb the French Bean