Monday, December 31, 2012

A Re-Cap of French Bean's 2012

1) Celebrated the New Year amid my family in Miami.

2) Greatly progressed in writing the first novel of my trilogy.

3) With much hoopla, celebrated my 25th birthday among family and friends.

4) Got attacked by flying cockroaches and locked self out of the bathroom.

5) Got tired about being fat so joined a gym.

6) Got lazy about working out. Kept gaining weight.

7) Continued writing the first novel in the company my dear friend May and some Repo Guys (their presence was, albeit, unwelcome).

8) Helped May move out of Miami and found that Cadbury's drinking chocolate has more than 600 calories per serving.

9) Said good-bye to May before she left U.S. to teach English in Korea.

10) Felt kinda lonely without my friends to keep me company.

11) Hung out with Coffee Bean and therefore felt less lonely.

12) Got uncomfortable wallowing in unemployment. Began pining for my former independent life in France.

13) Still pined horribly for France.

14) Received an e-mail from a French school offering me a job to teach English and Spanish. Accepted the job post-haste.

15) Moved back to France to reside in the small city of Sablé-sur-Sarthe, right in the Loire Valley.

16) Realized the severely-limited dating pool in Sablé-sur-Sarthe was probably not the most promising place to find a hypothetical future husband (welp, ya can't win 'em all).

17) Started losing weight once more.

18) Visited friends in Sens and Dijon.

19) Starred in a few videos of the pedagogic English-language series Overseas Impressions. Described in the "Smoothie" video as being a "sporty friend" (oh, that's rich when you consider my relationship with organized sports) who claims to love smoothies.

20) Dressed as Belle Doctor Who for Halloween.

21) Made new friends with colleagues and lots of horses (who I fondly refer to as my neigh-bors).

22) Binged on alcoholic chocolates on November 6th.

23) Went to Nantes and had my third OFII doctor's appointment. Found out that my BMI is categorized as obese. Trainer Barb vowed to kick my ass into shape and the croissants out of my hands.

24) Celebrated a turkey-less Thanksgiving with some raclette and some homemade coquito, then went to a school costume dance that was conveniently scheduled the same day.

25) Unwittingly had my memory permanently scarred for life when I saw some stallion junk.

26) Became quite ill with bronchitis. Lost my voice to a cat stuck in my throat. Got to experience the impressive French health care system in full force and got sick leave. Let a huge pile of papers and tests to grade pile up.

27) At a school Christmas party, asked colleague who had dressed as Père Noël (Santa Claus/Father Christmas) to bring me French citizenship for Christmas.

28) Spent Christmas with Mom in France. Future blog post to surely grace TBONTB (time-permitting).

29) Keeping fingers crossed with the hope that I will have a permanent carte de sejour someday.

30) Still letting the huge pile of papers and tests to grade pile up...

Number of wedding invitations received: 2, one of which I was asked to be a bridesmaid!
Number of ex-boyfriends: Big, fat goose egg (That leaves my total count to 2. Whoo!)
Number of flights across the Atlantic Ocean: 1 (Hellz yeah!)
Number of train tickets bought: Too lazy to count...
Number of pages written for the first novel: 299 and counting
Number of days spent teaching with circles under my eyes: Every single damn day
Number of times cried over students: 3
Numbers of pounds I need to lose: Enough to make me give up if it weren't for my pride and vanity
Number of rainbows seen from my room: 4

No, seriously. The view from my room is a prime rainbow-spotting area.

Ooh, aah. So purty.

Number of times I've had a big smile on my face knowing that I'm back in France: approximately 131 times (it happens at least once a day, minimum)

Here's an example. 

All-in-all, I'd say that 2012 was a pretty Kickass Ninja Squirrel year, just as I had hoped! Here's hoping that 2013 turns out to be a Karate Chop Ninja Squirrel year for you all!

Bonne Année, Happy New Year, Feliz Año Nuevo from Barb the French Bean

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adventures in Tree Decorating 101

That time of the year has come, the days when you dig out storage the funky decorations that you string on the fragrant branches of a tree. In my case, due to moving back to the United States in 2011, I had none of the decorations that my French BFF Mimi had given me at Villa Verde.  I also live in a compact room so whatever tree I got had to be an appropriate size to accommodate all of the stuff that has accumulated in the space of nearly four months.

One trip to the Foir'Fouille, land of cheap housewares, and I acquired 40 Euros' worth of Christmas decorations and a fake tree.

It looks nice, doesn't it? 
With Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree playing in the background, I opened the box, hooked the tree bits together and decorated it with the lights and ornaments.

Or at least I tried to. Due to the flimsy, collapsible stand and the weight of too many ornaments, the poor tree kept falling over.

With each slip and dip that occurred, my frustration gradually kicked up a notch. Then one of the stand's planks broke. I resorted to using a pink Hello Kitty CD case to keep it propped upright. I even gave my tree a nickname: Timber. As in "TIM-BERRRRRRRRR!!!!" *crash*

The result?

Don't forget to notice the pink Hello Kitty stand.


Let's take a look at the picture on the box again...

I couldn't help but start to feel vicious animosity towards Timber. It looked terrible and, even with the makeshift support, it continued to fall over.

This is clearly what a fake Christmas tree looks like when it has given up all hope.

Deep in my gut, something told me that Timber simply wasn't going to cut it. I sadly removed all of the ornaments I had strung with care and dismantled Timber. Determined, I promised myself that I would get a real tree on Saturday.

Tree Decorating, Take 2

I walked over to my nearest Point Vert, the Villa Verde wannabe store filled with hunting gear and gardening supplies. Within minutes, I found my dream tree. Despite its cumbersome size for my tiny bedroom, it was the perfect tree. I purchased Chrissy (yes, that's its name) and a stand to keep it standing straight.

But once I returned home, I then had to deal with a second factor: my tiny bedroom.

Once you have purchased a tree, playing Room Tetris is inevitable. 
The solution was quite simple, really. In order to clear a space, all I needed to do was move the boxes, suitcases and packages under my desk.


(Clearly, not all Latinos fall under the stereotype of being cleaning fiends. I feel sorry for whomever ends up being my husband because he's gonna have to deal with living with my messes. Or maybe I'll acquire the tidy gene once I have a ring on my finger?)

Christmas Tree Decorating 101

1) Place all the Christmas/Fairy Lights first.

Trust me on this one. 

2) To set the mood right, organize all of the ornaments.

Looking at this hoard still makes me giddy.

I couldn't resist getting these horse ornaments. I consider it a tribute to my many Neigh-bors

When I was younger, my mother had a bunch of basket ornaments. On Christmas day, I would discover that Santa had magically left some chocolates in them. I wanted to make sure that the Man in Red continues that tradition.

Yo dawg, I heard you like Christmas trees. So I put a Christmas tree in yo' Christmas tree.

These are actually wooden gift tags. They're ornaments now, okay?
3) Do make yourself a cup of your favorite hot beverage.

Mine's Colombian hot chocolate.
4) Pop in your favorite Christmas music or movie and have the songs/dialogue running in the background. White Christmas is a two-for-one deal: it has music and a plot.

Now you are set to decorate.

Make sure you have even spacing between branches for the ornaments. The tree shouldn't look too overcrowded. 

If you have any garland/ribbon, add it after you've laced the tree with the decorations. Add the tree skirt last.
If you lack space, place the Nativity scene/Christmas village under the tree.

Chrissy makes me so happy that I don't even want any presents this year.

I really wasn't kidding about living in a compacted space.
I don't know who is more excited for the Christmas break to come, my students or me. Bonne chance (good luck) with your own decorating!

To make matters even more interesting about my compacted space, I shall have to factor in an inflatable bed within a week's time. Why so? I will have the pleasure to travelling to Paris to greet my mother at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG-Roissy) airport!  It'll be the first time in nearly four months (I moved to Sablé-sur-Sarthe on August 23rd) since I have seen her. We've done a couple of Skype chats in between, but nothing compares to being able to hug her in person and give her a big kiss.

Back in October, when I was dreaming of having two weeks off to just relax and do absolutely nothing, no grading papers, no planning lessons, not having to wake up in the mornings, I received a phone call from my very matriarchal Colombian Mom.

Me: Hi, Mom, what's up?

Mom: Well, I was thinking...

Me: About?

Mom: About how I'm going to France to spend Christmas with you this year.

She hadn't asked a question. It was a statement. It was definitive. Whatever she says, goes.

I had to be a responsible adult. I kissed my two weeks of laziness rest and relaxation good-bye and booked airfare for Mom.

I am a bit concerned for her, though. Ever since we moved from the frozen tundra of New Jersey twenty years ago to Miami, it might take her a while to become acclimated to experiencing proper winter weather once more.

I'm also scratching my head as to what we will do in the time she visits me. Paris at Christmas is a must, and I still have yet to see the Champs-Élysée lit at night. As for Christmas day, Mom and I will probably spend a few days with my dear friends who live in Sens to exchange presents and cook some Colombian cuisine. After that, I might take Mom to my very humble abode in Sablé so she can meet the horses. Maybe we will even get the chance to visit the surrounding cities of Angers and Le Mans to see their Christmas markets.

On a more serious note, my mother is quite nervous for this trip. It wouldn't have been so bad had I been able to find a cheap direct flight for her from Miami to Paris, but, due to financial destitution, we had to opt for her to make a stop in London's Heathrow airport (or is it aeroport?). Now, in all reality, having a layover in London isn't such a big deal.

However, when you are a Colombian lady who, thanks to Miami's Spanish-centered bilingualism, rarely speaks English and who has never set foot in the U.K., it suddenly is a frickin' big deal. She actually considered canceling the trip due to this inconvenience.

The following conversation happened to us in Spanish:

Mom: WHAT AM I GONNA DO?! Can I use Euros or Dollars in England?

Me: Um, no, I don't think so. The British use the Pound.

Mom: *Incredulous pause* Ayyyyyyy ¡¡¡¡Dios mio!!!! (Oh, my God!) Why can't these Europeans use the same currency everywhere?! It's so backwards of them!

Me: Oh,'s not a big problem.

*I looked at the flight schedule*

Listen, your flight arrives in London around lunchtime. You should exchange some Dollars to Pounds when you are still in Miami so you can have lunch in the Heathrow airport.

Mom: What am I going to eat there?

Me: I some Fish & Chips? Buy some Cadbury's Dairy Milk?

Mom: What's Cadbourri's Dari Milk?

Me: It's chocolate.

Mom: Ay, you know I don't like chocolate.

Me: Yeah, I know. It was a joke.

Mom coming to visit me plus a Christmas tree is enough of a gift for me!

Joyeux Noël! 

Barb the French Bean

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflections on My First Year of Teaching in France: A Long, Long Day

I have experienced yet another agricultural idiosyncrasy in my life here in Sablé-sur-Sarthe: having a student stab himself in the foot with a pitchfork is considered a "normal accident" in my school.

The Christmas vacation is fast approaching, just like the "entretiens avec les parents," the parent-teacher conferences that I was expected to participate in. As a teacher, it is my duty to have face-to-face interaction at the end of each trimester.

Before that was to occur, I spent the rest of my week still working through my strained vocal chords and fluctuating between coughing and hacking. In fact, I spent the whole week pivoting between working hard and catching 1-hour cat naps between teaching and planning lessons. Waking up to a damp pool of saliva that had formed on my pillow has been only clue that I may have gotten any rest. As each day passed, bringing with it tallied insomnia, a drudging fatigue affected every one of my actions.

Panic increased as Friday, the day of the parent-teacher conferences, loomed ahead.

Today, I woke up, started teaching at 8:35 (as I customarily do) and worked through four lessons until it was time for the lunch break. The class right before lunch, with their incessant talking, disrespect, and haughty remarks, proved to be trying. I normally don't let bad behavior get the best of me, but once class was over, I snapped. The lack of sleep, the effort put into planning lessons and the weight of feeling unappreciated by a bunch of talkative ingrates proved too much. I rushed to the teacher's lounge and bawled my eyes out.

I had lunch and felt better.

I went back to work and taught two more lessons. For the sixth lesson, a Spanish class, I introduced food vocabulary and presented them with information about Spanish cuisine, la comida española. It got my kids excited and got them talking about how they've eaten paella, gazpacho and tortillas. We worked on saying whether or not you like something.

"Me gusta el gazpacho."  "No me gusta la paella."  "Me gusta la crema catalana."

"Ah, la crema catalana looks like crème brulée!" they eagerly remarked.

Talking about food really perks the French up.

We worked on the verbs comer and beber and called it a day. Or at least it was a day for the students. I still had to deal with three hours straight of parent-teacher conferences. Each one-on-one conference lasted roughly 10 minutes at a time, and it was all in French.

With my more puerile students, I kindly, but sternly, reminded them that they needed to be a little more serious in class. After all, whatever they do today gradually leads them down a path to their futures. When the time comes for them to be adults, they will have to be ready to deal with anything, and a good education is key to being prepared to face the world.

They seemed to have taken this advice into account.

Six hours teaching (with a factored-in emotional meltdown) plus three hours of speaking in French in rapid-fire interviews meant that I was completely wrecked. All I wanted to do was to be lazy and do nothing. I finished work around seven p.m., contemplated buying a Christmas tree (decided that I would get a real one tomorrow), and felt my stomach complain for food.

I got home, reheated some leftovers, ate. Then I logged onto Facebook and began to chat with Hanny (the Coffee Bean). We needed to catch up on each other's lives. After my arduous and tumultuous day, it was good to have some interaction with a dear friend.

Then, at 9:52 p.m. French time, the news came.

Hanny told me that she felt sad. I asked, jokingly, if the reason for which she felt sad was actually bad-bad or if it could be eased by drinking a strong cup of coffee.

"Earlier today in Connecticut, there was a shooting at an elementary school."


I searched for the story. I needed to know what had happened.

After an entire day of teaching kids and later meeting their progenitors, I couldn't fathom that across on the other side of the Atlantic, back home, this tragedy unfolded.

My thoughts immediately jumped back to my students and how I would feel if something like that happened to them. My blood froze. I see their faces all the time. They look to me, ME, for knowledge and advice. They are curious. They think. They ask questions. They have their futures ahead of them.

They are alive.  What if their lives were ruthlessly cut short, their futures tapered by one sudden act of senseless violence?

I began to tremble violently over the thought of it. I still can't wrap my head around this. I can't fathom it, seeing something like that happen to my students. Having to see the parents I met this afternoon grief-stricken over their loss. For the second time in the same day, my eyes watered.

Like any good American, I looked to my President for words of comfort.

I also prayed a bit. Prayer helps to soothe the soul.

I only wish coffee could help.

Barb the French Bean

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Cat in the Throat: Adventures with the French Medical System

In my previous post, I talked about how I had a doctor's appointment at the Nantes Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration.

Little I know that a few weeks later, I would have the occasion to experience second doctor's visit.

It all started to go south for me last Friday afternoon. I had just finished working and decided to take a nap around 3 p.m. so I could be fully replenished to grade my disturbingly-increasing pile of tests and quizzes. When I woke up later in the evening, I realized that my body suffered from a fever, aches and pains and that I had the unmistakable scratchy feeling that is a sore throat around my vocal chord area.

Seeing as how my uninsured American self had become accustomed to not visiting a doctor in over six years over the slightest sniffle, I shrugged the sick feeling and took some fizzy Alka Seltzer Plus tablets in the hope that whatever was afflicting me would magically vanish by the following day.

(Side note: This is exactly the same strategy I had when one Sunday evening, during my Freshman year at university, I woke up in the middle of the night and proceeded to vomit six times in the span of two hours. I was at the point where I had nothing else to expunge from my stomach except blood. Most normal, insured people wouldn't have hesitated to call 911 to have an ambulance whisk them away to the nearest hospital. My solution was to shrug it off, go back to sleep and hope that I would feel well enough to attend class the next morning, which I actually did.)

I spent Saturday and Sunday feeling miserable, fighting the urge to rip out my throat from all the coughing and nearly rubbing my nose raw from all the Kleenex tissues I used to rid my nose of snot. I still had hope that my health would improve by Monday morning.

Monday came, and with it a text message from a colleague that shook me from my stupor. I got out of bed, stumbled in zombie fashion out of my room, then, dazed and disoriented, shuffled back into my room in time to hear the last ring on my cell phone before the call went straight to voice mail.

Within a few minutes, my colleague called me again. I answered.

It was at that point that I realized that my stricken vocal chords had not had any use over night except to cough sporadically. My poor colleague must have thought that she had just contacted the chain-smoking tenor of an ogre barbershop quartet who unfortunately had a frog stuck in his throat.

(By the way, the French equivalent of "having a frog in one's throat" is "avoir un chat dans la gorge," in which the amphibian is replaced by a creature of the feline variety.)

Alarmed by my sudden dip in octaves, my colleague firmly stated "You must go to see a doctor."

I mentioned that I had been starting to feel better, but still she insisted.

"It doesn't matter. You should still see a doctor. Make an appointment and go see the doctor*."

I called the nearest centre medical and the receptionist said that doctor so-and-so didn't have an opening until Wednesday morning. Now, in my workaholic mind, that wasn't going to cut it because I had to teach three classes that day. Besides, what would my employer, the high school principal, say? I expected something around the lines of "Sorry, you can't go because it coincides with your work schedule."

Just the opposite happened: when I told him that the next available appointment was for Wednesday morning, he was completely understanding about it. No trouble at all. In fact, he even encouraged me to see a doctor as soon as possible and to ask the gentleman at the Vie Scolaire to give me a lift.

I'll admit that I was a bit stunned by how easily it all went down.

On Tuesday, I functioned on the illusion that I was feeling better in the morning. That illusion shattered because I continued to cough and strained my vocal chords teaching seven lessons (Tuesdays provide me with the heaviest workload).

I had hot flashes followed by periods of chills that coursed through my body. At times, I felt woozy and lost in my thoughts. I should have taken a hint that my playing this funky psychedelic tune over and over again in my head was a symptom of being on a natural high.

I also think that I genuinely frightened a couple of my co-workers when they heard me mumbling the lyrics in the teacher's lounge.

The following day, the cat in the throat disappeared completely and took with it my voice. Whenever I tried to emit any noise from my now-defunct vocal chords, something between the discordant notes of an out-of-tune violin and dog whimpers came out. I had lost my ability to speak.

Still, I could communicate by writing things down. I jotted down my symptoms so I could avoid having to resort to vividly gesticulating like an Italian air traffic controller. Armed with my totally anal-retentive meticulous A2 notebook, I headed out to the centre medical.

When I walked into the office, the nurses greeted me, asked me when and with whom my appointment was and directed me to the doctor's waiting room.

That was it. No paperwork to sign, no one asking me to provide proof of medical insurance, nothin'.

Things got interesting once I saw the doctor in question. He asked me for my carte vitale, the green insurance card that every French citizen (or in my case, broke-ass American workers legally residing in France) has. I was fortunate enough to still have my old card from the days when I still lived in Dijon.

For legal reasons/crippling paranoia, I decided to not post an actual photo of my carte vitale and thus opted to make a cartoon of what it roughly looks like.

He placed the card in a machine to scan it and up popped all of my medical history on his computer's screen. Then he did the examination.

Diagnosis: une bronchite. Bronchitis.

That's right: I apparently have a bronco that suffers from inflammation in my chest. It seems that no matter where I go, I can never escape horses these days. (I kid. I know what bronchitis is.)

Boy, was I ever glad that I listened to my colleague and took her advice.

I paid 23 Euros for the consultation, which will eventually be partly reimbursed by la Sécurité Sociale (la Sécu). It is to my knowledge that apart from the money that la Sécu pays for, the French also have the option of paying for une mutuelle, extra medical insurance that the Sécu doesn't cover. They are the ones responsible for providing you with the money in case you become gravely ill and need to be hospitalized.

Unlike the typical HMOs back home, la mutuelle actually does their job of providing you with proper healthcare instead of milking you with deductibles, increasing premiums and denying coverage because you have a pre-existing condition.

And get this: depending on your status (if you are single, married or have a family), extra medical insurance generally costs 150 Euros every six months per person. That's give or take 25 Euros a month.

This is worth repeating: TWENTY-FIVE EUROS a month. I know some singleton American friends who pay eighty dollars and up a month for medical coverage. A month.

I'll take French health care any day, thank you very much.

Anyway, the doctor's prescription featured taking several medications...

And I do mean SEVERAL medications. Medications galore! With the carte vitale, it all came to 23,83 Euros.

Oh, and check out these enormous antibiotic pills. I won't lie: I genuinely feared the possibility of choking to death on something that is, in theory, supposed to heal me.
Not actually recommended by the doctor, but eating a few squares certainly perked me up. (I'll worry about staving the "diabeetus" later.)

...and an arrêt maladie. With the doctor's orders, I got a form that I provided to my employer in which I got the rest of the week off work. This is one of the very few times I have ever had to call in sick and I am grateful for people who understand that I needed enough time to recuperate (whether legally obligated or not).

Yet something didn't feel right. A little nagging voice kept repeating that I needed to work, that it wasn't right for me to be taking days off work to be sick, especially when I have the responsibility of teaching several groups of middle school and high school students. That voice insisted that all I needed to do was buck up and keep on trekkin' despite my maladie.

Then, in one sudden moment of clarity, I had the insight about the French medical way of thinking: I'M SICK. I NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR SO I CAN FEEL BETTER AND EVENTUALLY GET BACK TO WORK.


Why is it that something so obvious is difficult to comprehend?

Lesson learned: when sick, go see a doctor and rest.

And grade the increasing pile of tests and quizzes.

*Not to be confused with The Doctor. Pity. I wish he could have cured me.

Barb the French Bean

Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm a Legal Immigrant Again...and Obese (A.K.A. Trip to Nantes)

For the third time in my American life, I found myself with the task of having to pay a visit to my good friends at the Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration (the OFII), and a couple of things have changed since my last doctor's appointment back in 2010.

For starters, this round of The Famous French Paperwork featured the sticker which validates my current visa. It changed. It is no longer a yellow sticker with an adhesive transparent covering; it is a multi-colored sticker that is divided into small, tear-away bits to prevent people from falsifying any documents.

Of course having original documents is part and parcel of the deluge of passport-sized photos and photocopies involved in la bonne paperasse française.

Barb the French Bean Fact: I keep two passport-sized photos in my wallet at all times.

Well, not at all times. Here is this one exception:

Wallet and photos. Never leave home without 'em. 

As of this writing, the pictures have been safely tucked away into my wallet's interior once more. I provide so many photos that I have seriously begun to consider buying my own photomaton picture booth so it can provide me with an infinite number of passport-sized photos for the rest of my life.

As for the doctor's appointment (la visite medicale), I learned that the procedure of having to go topless for the tuberculosis X-rays was still intact. In case you were wondering, my lungs are fine.

Back in that fateful November 2010 day, I also had the joy of finding out that I had lost a total 44 pounds (20 kilos) since I had started to work out during the summer months. My celebration was later crushed by Dr. Killjoy when she stated clinically that I was overweight and that I still needed to lose another 30 pounds (14-15 kilos).  

Like I said, a couple of things have changed since I visited the familiar OFII in Dijon and replaced it with the one in Nantes. Based on the scale, I am no longer overweight if not OBESE. Yes, my BMI teeters above 30, which automatically places me in the "obese" category. At least I am making my country proud with the stereotype that all Americans are overweight or obese.

This is the cartoon I made when I was told  by the doctor to lose more weight two years ago. The sad part is that I actually resemble the cartoon in real life now...

Not only was facing the hard truth a wake up call, when the doctor pricked my finger to sample my blood, she informed me that my sugar level was 3 points above what should be normal for someone my age.

For those of you not in the know, I'm currently 25 years old. I probably shouldn't be hearing things like that.

If that doesn't send up a proverbial red flag, then I don't know what does. 

Not wanting to slide down the proverbial slippery slope and end up with a dreaded case of "diabeetus" by the time I'm 33 (ack), I asked the doctor if she could direct me to a nutritionist, STAT.

The French doctor, being very keen about prevention and keeping people healthy with effective socialized medicine, wrote a referral in heartbeat. I'm supposed to take it to my general practitioner, which I will do once I have one.

This act, to my knowledge, is known as "envoyer quelqu'un chez un généraliste vers un spécialiste." The "spécialiste" in this scenario would be le nutritionniste, and if I know my French doctors, le généraliste will give me plenty of ordonnances so I can have some happy pills medicine.

Weight and blood sugar issues aside, I'm in relatively tip-top health and the doctor complimented on how well I spoke and understood French. She said that I had the makings of someone who could reside in France in the long-run, and that made my heart all a-flutter to hear such a nice thing.

Right after the visite medicale, I took the initiative and purchased myself a nifty pedometer (un podomètre) so I can keep track of how many steps I take and calories I burn a day. Some of the crucial first steps to a successful weight loss are being honest with yourself and being aware of your actions. I think of it this way: the chocolate binges that I don't partake in today means that I will be able to enjoy them 40 to 50 years from now. (Now I only have to stop eating so many alcoholic chocolates and slices of fluffy brioche with apricot jam...)

I also purchased a copy of The Hunger Games in French, which made me one very happy French Bean.

Happy France gives an approximation of where things are

Visiting Nantes, by the way, was a personal Francophile dream come true. Not only did I revel in the historical significance of being in THE city where Henri IV of Navarre signed the famous edict, thereby giving a short-lived peace between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots, I also took some lovely photographs about the Duchesse Anne castle, former seat for the Dukes of Brittany.

The monument on the right is Nantes's tribute to its fallen soldiers.

I really liked this wall.

My mother often complains that whenever I travel, I take approximately 10,000 photos of my surroundings and only 1 of myself. LOOK. PROOF THAT I WAS BY THE WALL.

Inside the courtyard area!


April 13th, 1598: the day when the Edict of Nantes was signed, granting religious tolerance to Protestants.  

'Tis an awesome well.

The museum is closed on Mondays. It made me sad but gave me an incentive to return someday.

View over the wall. Things sure have changed since Henri IV was around.

Banner showing some Breton symbols.

Old and new side-by-side.

Outside of the castle, I took a left turn and walked further into the city.

I found it kinda odd that the statue of the Duchesse Anne faced a run-down, graffiti-littered hotel that bears her name.

What the heck?

As usual, the French don't disappoint when they decorate their buildings in scaffolding. 

Another moment of serendipity: I realized that based on the architectural style, this building's a former covered market (les halles).

After my doctor's appointment, I headed back to the train station but took a detour into the park. My brain went into an unfiltered "OMG IT'S FALL AND TREES AND STUFF" mode.

Do NOT get between goats and their chow.

I never expected to find a Cypress tree in France. 

Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.

Being in Nantes, walking in a bustling city that I had only read about in textbooks when I sat in my university classes, made me feel like a kid at a Disney World candy shop. As a Floridian who has been to Disney World eight times, it's a familiar sentiment. France is the country where I truly relish living.

Another memorable point to my day in Nantes: out of curiosity, I stopped by a Breton language school and asked the kind and proud Bretonne lady some things about the Celtic-origin language that is taught and still actively-spoken in France. We ended up reminiscing for half an hour about the values of being an open-minded bi-lingual person and how the knowledge of several languages benefits being able to interact with all kinds of people.

I also walked out of the Ofis ar Brezhoneg with these snazzy "Learn Breton" pamphlets.

The language is absolutely incomprehensible to me, but maybe I'll buck up and try to learn it someday. Some of my co-workers are Bretons themselves so maybe I can ask them for tips, especially from the cute one.

Kenavo (good-bye) from Barb the French Bean