Rugby Fever...allez les jaunes et bleus

There are only certain events a year in which all the people in Clermont-Ferrand decide to come out of hiding and bring life into the city – one of which is rugby.  This town is rugby obsessed and very proud of their professional team, ASM (Association Sportif Michelin).  Everyday you can see someone wearing the distinct Michelin blue and yellow, seeing the ASM emblem on cars, the banners in store window, etc.

Apparently, this rugby team is good and has managed to go to the semi-finals at least the past two years I’ve lived here.  Clermont-transforms itself on the day of the semi-finals, and the town is almost unrecognizable. This past Saturday was just such a day, when the ASM were scheduled to play rivals Perpignan in the semi-finals (they had played Perpignan in the semi-finals last year and lost). There are blue and yellow banners hanging from every single building – post offices, stores, apartments, homes and even churches.  Imagine my surprise when passing by downtown and seeing the beloved Auvergnat hero, Vercingétorix, holding an ASM flag.  I can only imagine seeing a statue of George Washington holding up a Redskins flag.

Since the match was taking place in Paris – the city of Clermont-Ferrand, just like last year, decided to put up the big screens downtown to give everyone a chance to watch the game, which was scheduled for 9 pm.  Of course rugby is nothing without beer, and so the beer tents were also set up all around downtown at Place Jaude.

While having breakfast downtown on Saturday morning, we could hardly believe the scene.  At 11 am, there were already people camping out in front of the big screen.  The cafés were lined with people in yellow and blue – the party had already begun.

I have to admit that my favorite was this guy. He was not about to let a broken leg and wheelchair get in his way of cheering on his beloved ASM.

We decided to avoid the chaos downtown and stay indoors on Saturday.  We did watch a little bit of the game, but since I am completely rugby ignorant, we didn’t watch it through until the end.  I don’t know why everyone always tells me that it is just like American football because it is not like American football.  I suppose that the ball is oval, they do kick what appear to be field goals even though they are called penalties, and from what I gathered the scoring appears to be similar.  I guess the overall objective of getting the ball from one end to the other is the same – but that is where the similarities end.  There are no long passes, strange huddles with the opposite team, and frankly other maneuvers that I didn’t understand at all.  I have to admit that if I knew and understood the rules, it could be a game that I could get into, but alas this was not the case on Saturday.

Even though we were not watching the match, it wasn’t hard to discover who had won the game.  At around 10:30 the air horns started blowing, the cars started honking and people were shouting from their balconies.  After so many years of painful defeats – ASM had finally won the semi-finals.  The party continued, from what I could hear from our window, until the wee hours of the morning and well into Sunday when ASM arrived back from Paris.  They were received in Centre Jaude to a cheering, very happy, proud and drunk crowd.  While I am not a fan, I have to admit that I was happy for them finally having won.  So now, this town is more obsessed than ever and the rugby fever continues!  I guess there is nothing left to say, but Allez les jaunes et blues (Go the yellows and blues)!

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Bebe Nageur

This past Saturday was a day that I had been looking forward to for six months - the day when Nathan got to attend his first Bébé Nageur ot Baby Swimmer.  There aren't too many activities for young babies to do in France.  I feel like in the United States there are so many more things to do with a young baby - gymboree, mommy and me music classes and boot camps, etc.  I had been searching for these kind of activities here in Clermont-Ferrand and could find nothing.  I wanted something that Nathan could do to keep us active and in touch with the outside world, but also something where I could meet other mothers of children his age.  As an American it is already very hard to make friends and having a small baby makes it even harder.  This is why when I found out that there was a swimming class for babies 6 months and older at the pool in Chamalieres (in our neighborhood), I could hardly wait to go!

Before being able to go to the pool we had to find Nathan a swimsuit.  I found the cutest swimsuits at an online store and bought them.  I bought a cute pair of swimming baby briefs - but since I bought them at a French website, I had no idea how to use them.  Sometimes I feel so bad that Nathan got stuck with me as a mom, I mean, I didn't even know how his swimsuit worked.  I mean, did they go over the diaper, where they the diaper; they didn't come with instructions.  I didn't want to show up at my very first swimming class and have everyone stare at me for not knowing how to put on his swimsuit.  I am still very self conscious about being a foreigner, so I try my best to blend in and avoid the stares.  Trying to avoid humiliation I decided to do the great swimsuit experiment at home!  With his regular diaper on, I strapped on the baby brief, which in french is maillot anti-fuite.  I knew that this meant anti-leak bathing suit, but I wasn't sure if it was to keep the water from leaking in and protecting his diaper or to prevent leaking out and it was the diaper.  So the experiment was a two parter:

1- Regular diaper + swimsuit

The first thing I did was fill up Nathan's bathtub with water.  Then I put on the little briefs over his regular diapers and put him in the tub.  I let him splash around for a while before taking him out and checking to see how "anti-leak" the diapers really were.


The briefs ARE the diaper.  His regular diaper was soaked, and little puddles of water had collected inside the briefs (I guess they really are anti-leak).  And so, armed with this new knowledge - I was ready for bébé nageurs.

I suppose that I was expecting a structured class where I would learn things that would stimulate Nathan, and help him develop his skills to learn swimming later in life - this was not the case.  We got Nathan ready in his little swimsuit and headed to the pool.  There were about 30 other kids there, and they were all playing with different toys in the water with their parents.  There were different kinds of rafts, and balls, and noodles, etc.  They had closed off the shallow end of the pool, and the little wading pool and had it all set up for the babies to swim.  While I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more structure, it was so much fun to spend that quality time with Nathan.  He loved being in his little noodle raft and kicking his feet like a little frog.  He had such a great time in the water.  I loved holding him, and hearing his laughs as we jumped up and down in the pool.

The "class" was only half an hour long, but Nathan and his parents had a great time.  As soon as we got him in the car he passed out (I guess he had done more exercise than I realized).  We went downtown to have breakfast (as we do every Saturday) and Nathan woke up with quite an appetite.  I am hoping to add Bébé Nageurs to our Saturday schedule, and I hope it becomes a good way for Nathan to make "friends".

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The Little Things in Life

There was nothing better than waking up in the morning and having a cup of coffee vanilla flavored coffee (or a skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks), maybe an english muffin with peanut butter or a nice bowl of oatmeal.  I never imagined comming to France and being able to fnd any of these things.  I guess the hard part was being able to find these thing was the language barrier, I mean certain things just don't come in the English-French dictionary.

Little by little I started adapting and I did manage to find peanut butter which literally translated is beurre des cacahuètes, but at 4 euros (almost $6) for a tiny jar of Skippy, it has now become one of my "luxury" items.  I also managed to find oatmeal which translates to avoine.  I even managed to find the Quaker Avoine, but the consistency and the flavor were nothing like the oatmeal is the states.  Then came the french vanilla creamer, which ironically enough is NOT french!  I was not able to find this in any store.  There is a great website for americans in europe called My American Market, but this item was always sold out (apparently I am not the only one with a great love for flavored coffee) and of course Amazon does not ship this item outside the states.  When my mom came to visit in December she brought me two big containers, but by February they were gone.

This is why when I found out that one of my colleagues was making a trip back to the States, I wasted no time in giving her a short list of items to bring back:  Coffemate vanilla creamer and instant quaker oats oatmeal!

I received my goodies on Wednesday and I was so excited.  It truly is amazing how the little things from home can just brighten your day!  So if any of you are making the trip from the US to France, please stop by with some instant oatmeal or some vanilla coffee creamer!
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Trip to Provence

This past weekend was yet another holiday weekend here in France.  This weekend thanks to the Pentecôte we had Monday off and so we decided to go to Provence – which is on my “must see before leaving Europe” list.  I booked a hotel in a small town called Orange, and the weekend was set – we left early on Saturday morning after breakfast.

As soon as we arrived in Provence we took our first detour to the Pont du Gard.  Let me just say that it is unbelievable the number of bridges I have seen while in France (I am not sure if viaducts count as bridges but the basic principle is the same).  What amazes me is the tourism that is built around bridges.  There are so many people that flock to these bridges and that hike up hills just to enjoy its “beauty”, marvel at its architecture and take pictures in front of these bridges.  I guess I am just very ignorant to the beauty of architecture because all I keep thinking is “it’s just a bridge, a nice bridge, but just a bridge”. The views from the bridge are beautiful and it is nice to enjoy the sun and the water and the views, I just don’t see, however, how all of this is worth the 15 euro admission.  I did however walk on the bridge and tried my best to look interested and of course, just like at museums, trying to figure out what had people so fascinated.  My favorite part of the trip was taking Nathan down to the Gard River and having him put his feet into the water.  It was extremely hot and so we decided to call it day at the famous “Pont du Gard”.

The town of Les Baux de Province was only a few KMs away and was listed as a “Must See” in our handy dandy green guide, and so we were off.  As soon as we parked the car, we saw stairs going up the hills, with cute little signs that said village pointing up.  Obviously this town was not meant for the handicapped or strollers.  We strapped Nathan on – and started heading up the stairs.

There are very few words that can describe this town – it is definitely a “must see”.  It is hard to describe this little city built on top of the hill.  The buildings are beautiful but simple as is the town.

The town is small, however, so you only need about an hour to see everything there is too see.  We stopped by the small candy shop, picked up some snacks and decided to keep heading down to Arlès, a town that was listed as “must see”.  We were surprised when we arrived.  There were some things that were pretty, the roman arena, similar to the one that they have in Nîmes and not much else.  The town was dirty and not very well maintained.  We had dinner in a small plaza off the arena, but there was not much to see.  In less than an hour we saw everything that Arlès had to offer, I would say that this town is definitely a “can miss”.

The green guide stated that Orange was worth a detour, so we decided to stop in and visit a little while and have our petit déjeuner (breakfast).  As we were walking around the town we found the cute little café Le Mistral (side story:  I watch a French soap opera called Plus Belle La Vie and the café in the series is called Le Mistral and thus I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture).  

Cornel could not stop making jokes about the town:  what do you think they call the people that live here, Oranginas (a typical French soda) or do you want some Orange juice (as he pointed to some water).  Once the corny jokes stopped, we toured the town.

The town center is small but cute.  We followed the signs to the Theatre Antique and couldn’t believe when we saw it.  It was beautiful.  We didn’t take the tour since we had the stroller and Nathan was taking a nap, but it was very nice admiring it from the outside.

We then began our journey to Avignon but not before a detour to Chateauneuf du Pape!  One of our favorite French wines in Chateauneuf du Pape, and I wanted to see the town where it is produced.  It was only 10 KMs from Orange, so we figured a detour was in order.  As soon as we arrived I was in HEAVEN.  There were signs for dégustations (tastings) everywhere! 

We walked up and down the small town taking small tastes of the different wines at the different “houses”.  The day was beautiful so we decided to have lunch on one of the small terraces, where we had what else – wine!  I hope Nathan someday appreciates this trip to a small jewel in Provence.

We then continued to Avignon.  This town is also beautiful and home to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes).  We took the tour and admired the beautiful buildings and the beautiful views.  Nathan definitely had fun people watching and getting “into” the exhibits.

After our nice tour of the Palace, we went down to see what else but the “Pont d’Avignon” – that’s right another bridge!  I think Nathan had enough of the bridges since he ended up passing out.  

After our tour of the bridge, we ended up taking the little tourist train to try and rest from all of the walking we had done.  We decided to have dinner that night in front of the Palace enjoying the sunset and watching them light up the Palace.  The service, however, was similar to the one we had in Dinan – terrible – and it took us close to 3 hours to have dinner!

On Monday we started getting ready to come home.  Cornel had heard about the Ferias (Fairs) in Nîmes during the Pentecôte and he wanted to stop by.  Since we had already been to Nîmes, I wasn’t too excited; I wanted to visit Aix-en-Provence.  We compromised and decided to visit Aix when we made the trip to visit Marseille, and so we were off to the Feria

The streets were filled with people; in the arena the bullfights were being held, and everywhere you could hear the music from the bands in alleys and plazas – it was only 10:30 a.m., and the beer and sangrias were flowing!  We took some time to visit the little booths and take in some of the music that was being played and of course, Nathan and I had to get into the spirit of things with our red handkerchiefs!  Nathan even made friends with some bulls!

We decided to have lunch in Nîmes before heading back home; and what do you eat at a Fiesta – Paella of course!  They were making Paella in these huge pans and they looked and smelled absolutely delicious.  We decided to stop in for a plate with a nice ice cold sangria to cool us down.  I think Nathan was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to have any Paella, but maybe next time!  I even got to eat something with tentacles and suction cups..yum!

After lunch we decided to head back home and get ready for another fun filled week of work.  I am a little disappointed in the trip since I saw no lavender fields.  I thought Provence was famous for their lavender – I mean they sell it at every tourist shop for almost 10 euros a bouquet, but where were these famous fields.  I didn’t see a single one!  I am determined to find these so called lavender fields on our next trip to Southern Provence.  

All in all, it was an amazing trip, and this area of France is so different than any other area I had seen so far.  There are so many mixes of culture; Italian, Spanish, etc., that it almost seems like a small country in itself.  Hopefully I will have the same impressions once we are able to visit Marseille and Aix-en-Provence.

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The Chicken Battle

I am not sure if it is because I am a first time mother; because I'm stubborn; because I'm an American in France; or because I spend more time on the internet than I should - but I have a very hard time following the advice of Nathan's pediatrician when it comes to eating solids.

Ever since Nathan was four months old, his pediatrician has been pushing solids.  He wanted us to start with the fruits and vegetables giving him a few spoons at ever meal.  Since I had "researched" beginning solids, I was convinced that Nathan did not need to begin solids until he was 6 months old.  I gave into the pressure and tried to give him spoonfuls of carrots - which was a huge failure.  In an attempt to compromise, I began mixing the vegetables with his milk and giving it to him in a bottle.

Then came Nathan's five month appointment.  His pediatrican was less than thrilled at my method of feeding, and stressed the fact that we needed to teach him to eat with a spoon.  OK - I would give it a try.  But that was not all, he also said that at five months Nathan needed to start eating meat!  WHAT?  I hadn't even made my way through the vegetables and fruits.  I decided that this was only a suggestion - which meant I could easily ignore it, and so I did.

Around this time though, Nathan had really taken to eating with a spoon.  He had even begun opening his mouth when he saw the spoon come near his mouth.  His favorites being the fruits especially the apples and the pears.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago when we went to Nathan's six month appointment.  The doctor, under the assumption that Nathan has been eating meat for a month now, "suggested" that we can now move on to olive oil and dairy products such as yogurts - and we should begin giving him 3 meals a day.  I think if he knew that I had been ignoring his suggestions all along I would have received a very stern lecture.

I never realized how much views differ from culture to culture on what a baby can eat, how much he can eat and when he can eat it.  I was comparing Nathan to all of my friends' babies back in the states and wondering why my doctor was suggesting such strange things for his age.  From all of the "research" I had done, a baby isn't supposed to begin on dairy until at least one year (when I say research, I am of course referring to my trusted friend Google).  Claiming defeat and succumbing to French norms (I mean if there is anyone that knows about child rearing it's the French) I decided that the time had come to give Nathan meat.

Considering the big event, I decided that we would start with chicken.  I absolutely love chicken and figured it was a good place to begin - lots of nutrients, mild flavor and readily available (since I make my own baby food this is always a concern).  Nathan doesn't have any teeth, so I couldn't just cook up a chicken breast and hand it to him; so the next task how to make chicken baby puree.  So again, turning to my trusted confidant (google) I "researched" how to make chicken into baby food.

The "recipe" was easy enough:  boil the chicken to cook; place it in a food processor until it is almost a fine powder and add water to make into a puree (definitely easier than making tiramisu).  I followed the recipe and created chicken mush, yum! 

The stage was set for Nathan to eat meat for the first time.  We sat him down in his high chair, put on his bib and took out the little jar of chicken puree.  When he saw the first spoonful coming he was happy and smiling; opening his mouth wide to see what delicious concoction we had in store for him.  I think he was expecting something sweet like apples, bananas, pears, or even carrots or peas.  His expression after the first bite was that of confusion and bewildermint.  We thought he would get used to the flavor after a few more spoonfuls and we could chalk up the "Chicken Battle" as a success.  After the second spoonfull though, it was obvious that this was not going to be a success.  Nathan spit out his chicken almost as soon as it went into his mouth.  Not wanting to give up so easily I put it back into his mouth and he began making small gagging noises.  Convinced to finish the "Chicken Battle" until the bitter end, I continued to put chicken into his mouth, which he continued to spit out.  It would have been fine if all he had done was spit it out, but then he began putting his hands on his face and rubbing the chicken mush all over his face.  It is amazing how quickly he can move his little hands.  I was persistent - more chicken in the mouth, and he was persistent more chicken out of the mout and everywhere else.  He had chicken in his hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and even up his nostrils!

I thought things were looking up when he grabbed the spoon out of my hands and tried to feed himself.  It was only to toy with my emotions because he later spit that out as well.

We even got the point where he put the paper towel I was using in his mouth.  Apparently, the paper is better tasting than the chicken and he would have rather had that. By the end, I would say that Nathan won the Chicken Battle.  He did not enjoy it all.  We had to hose down the high chair as well as Nathan as soon as the jar was "finished".  I guess this proves that the pediatrician does not know everything!  Being the stubborn person that I am, I refuse to give up.  I have pureed the chicken with some carrots (a fallback favorite) to try and trick him into eating (and enjoying his chicken).  I can only hope that his succeeds.

In case anyone is keeping score:

WINS:  Nathan - 1, Mom - 0

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