December 20, 2015

Elections Round 2

The Valley News has my latest reaction to the recent regional elections in France. How about in the New Year we discuss lighter stuff again? Sounds good. Meantime, thanks for reading and enjoy the holidays.

December 16, 2015

Daube of Wild Boar

Two views of the whole shoulder
While I know everyone wants to know my thoughts on the second round of elections...patience is required. Should have something by the end of the weekend. You can read my reaction after the first-round here. And then judge the wisdom and accuracy of my observations.

When you get a phone call asking if you want a shoulder of wild boar, do you really have a choice? The answer pretty much has to be "yes," right? Even when your friend says it is the shoulder that took the bullet. Even when he says it weighs about seven pounds. Even when you've never butchered something that big before. Even when you've never cooked wild boar (though you have eaten it). It just has to be yes.

December 14, 2015

Soulagée, la France?

Les Champs Elysées vus de la grande roue place de la Concorde
Ce weekend, à Paris, la une de Marianne figurait dans tous les kiosks de presse de la capitale. Il paraît que la belle photo de Mme Le Pen dans les vêtements présidentielles a fait suffisamment peur aux français qu'ils ont voté pour "pas ça" lors du deuxième tour régional. 

December 8, 2015

Elections Part 1

The reaction to Sunday's first round of regional voting in Burgundy has not been terribly surprising. In the wake of record success for the Front National (FN, or National Front for English speakers), a few thoughts are on the tip of every tongue.

  1. "C'est un sanction." This mean, essentially, that the vote for the extreme right was more than anything a rebuke of the politicians already in power, namely the Socialists led by President Hollande, and those who have recently been there, namely former President Nicolas Sarkozy. (As an aside, it is wildly amusing to watch a former president actively campaign against the man who defeated him. With a nation of more than 60 million citizens united behind one single idea -- it's time for big changes in France -- it is hard to envision going back to a president you voted out of office. In U.S. terms, imagine George H.W. Bush running for president against President Clinton in 1996 or Jimmy Carter running against President Reagan in 1984. Defeated presidents generally don't get another shot in American political life, except for good ol' Grover.) One man said, "This vote is, more than anything else, a vote to emmerder [piss off; annoy] the politicians." 
  2. "It was predictable." There is unanimity that voters were moving more and more in the direction of the extreme right. This is stated as pure fact, devoid of emotion.
  3. "I'm still not sure the politicians got the message." Burgundians are pretty well convinced that politicians are a, well, less than honorable lot. They are also persuaded that this vote -- on the heels of many others that showed increased support for the FN -- did not really get the attention of the men and women in the other parties. They are probably right. I am not hearing a lot of "The people have spoken, and we need to listen to what they said and make sure that our priorities are their priorities." I am hearing a lot of debate and anguish about whether to fuse lists or join forces with other moderate parties to stop the FN. It feels like a knee-jerk, tone-deaf, save-my-political-skin reaction. Another voter told a reporter, "We're trying something we haven't tried yet. Every election it's the same thing: right and left fight, but everything stays the same."
  4. "The people who sat out the first round of voting will show up to vote the second round now that they've seen the results." Everyone has posited this idea with me. Is there any greater prayer than "the apathetic will finally motivate"? I am not holding my breath. If the farmer in my village, the winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin, the baker in Beaune, or the restaurateur in Dijon sat out the first round of voting because they were either a) disgusted with politics (99% of the population) or b) preoccupied with their own lives and obligations, why on earth would a second round of voting motivate them to go to the polls? Maybe I am wrong, maybe not...we'll see. My bet is that absenteeism, which was 50% in the first round, will be right around 45% for the second round. (Five years ago, participation went up a few percentage points for the second round.) That could make a difference, but we'll see...
But make no mistake, people are nervous, unsettled, and a little bit scared by these results. Some are more subtle in their appraisals, some are more direct. The female mayor of one small town in Burgundy opened her window on Monday morning and yelled to the reporters gathered outside, "If you're here about the elections, my only reaction is, 'Merde, I'm ashamed!'" (Side note: I love that they print curse words in the newspaper here.)

She is far from alone. And reactions like hers are getting a lot of attention here. There are also a lot of people saying things like a woman in the local paper: "It's important to vote, but one needs to reflect ahead of time. You can't just vote for anyone." In the next breath, she says,  "If this doesn't work, we'll vote differently next time." Is she an FN voter? I cannot say, but she understands why people are voting that way. 

But how much longer can it be before we start seeing testimonials from people who voted FN and are proud to have done so? Because for now, outward support for the positions of the FN is still rare. When it becomes commonplace, I wonder about France's future.

November 26, 2015


Note: An English version is below the French one.

J'allais vous parler encore de la nouvelle vie en France après le 13 novembre, mais, vu la date, j'ai changé d'avis. Aujourd'hui, aux States, c'est la fête nationale préférée des gens: Thanksgiving. C'est ce jeudi que l'on se met au tour de la table avec des amis et de la famille pour dîner ensemble et pour dire "merci" pour les bonnes choses dans la vie. La star de la fête, c'est la dinde. Ce soir, chez nous en Bourgogne, nous allons faire un poulet avec "stuffing" (cubes de pain trempés dans le bouillon de poulet avec des carrottes, des branches de céleri, des onions, le tout rôti avec le poulet), de la sauce canneberge, la purée de pommes de terre, et des petits pois. Ça va être sympa.

Et pourquoi pas vous remercier au même temps? I am thankful. Je suis reconnaissant. Pour...
  • l'accueil que ma famille a reçu depuis notre arrivée en Bourgogne en 2013
  • la vraie amitié que nous avons trouvé ici
  • la générosité des bourguignons. Vous nous avez invités chez vous pour les anniversaires, pour les repas de famille, pour les repas du quartier, pour l'apéro, pour les gaufres, pour nous montrer votre savoir-faire (les terrines, la chasse, la vinification, le chocolat, etc.). Vous nous avez logés quand on a eu un petit souci avec notre logement. 
  • la chance de parler de la vie américaine à l'antenne de France Bleu Bourgogne et d'écrire des articles pour le Bien Public
  • les compliments pour notre français (reste du chemin à faire!)
  • le patrimoine français
  • les gens qui lisent ce que j'écris ici et ailleurs
  • et, bien sur, pour la gastronomie et les vins de Bourgogne!
C'est impossible pour nous de savoir combien de temps nous allons rester parmi vous. Quoiqu'il arrive, merci pour tout ce que vous avez fait pour nous. Comme on dit souvent à la radio, "on est bien ensemble."

I'm thankful for this guy.

Ah, Thursday. At least that is what it feels like here. Our children are both at school, the woman in the local cafe had no idea what Thanksgiving was, and I still have never seen a whole turkey for sale anywhere in France. (This doesn't mean I don't have a full fridge today; there is a 7 pound wild boar shoulder waiting to be butchered in there. Stay tuned...)

Nonetheless, distance and language cannot keep me from thinking of everyone in the US. And, of course, how obvious it is that the Cowboys are about to ruin Carolina's perfect season.

Naturally, I pause on this day to be thankful for...

  • Family and friends
  • Health
  • The extraordinary good fortune we have to be American. No matter the messes in the world, it is still a blessing -- everyday -- to be from the USA. 
  • The ability to see and live beyond my own borders, outside my comfort zone. 
  • The people of Burgundy who have welcomed me and my family with such incredible generosity. Consider this brief list: they have invited us into their homes for family meals and birthday parties. They have let us mourn with them, both in reaction to recent events but also to other sad moments in their own personal lives. They have given us an entire house for seven weeks while we had a brief interruption in our housing situation. They have taken us hunting, walking, snail-gathering. They have shown us how to make terrines, chocolate, wine, and waffles. They have helped us immeasurably with our French. They have shown us secret spots that no one else knows about. They have given us entire shoulders of wild boar (stay tuned!). They have helped us with our vegetable garden. They have babysat for us in a pinch. They have given us work, advice, friendship, guidance, and uncountable memories. They have taught us how and when to give les bises. They have paid us housecalls when our kids are sick. They have taught us how to make regional specialties. They have interviewed me. They have translated some of the writing you read here into their own tongue. They have allowed us to enter -- and win -- cooking contests. They have divulged their secret recipes for parsley butter for snails. They have left leeks, cucumbers, and carrots on our doorstep. They have let me write articles in French for the local paper and invited me on the radio. And more than one of them has said to us, "You're like family."
It was a crazy decision to move here, and we will have to deal with all the challenges of pausing our careers in our prime, our new financial reality, our American homelessness when and if we return home. But for now, on this day, that list of experiences makes whatever comes next worthwhile.

Peace to all of you on this day. I'll pretend that someone is actually reading...please stop! Fix yourself a drink, eat a lot, and watch football.

November 24, 2015

The Road Ahead

I read this New York Times story and, well, um, kinda what I was saying in my piece in Saturday's Valley News

I recognize how important security is right now. It is the number one priority of every politician in France, Europe, the US, and beyond. But watching the French people quickly issue their stamp of approval to their government's swift actions only to begin scratching their heads a few days later is déjà vu. 

November 21, 2015

Shall We Lighten Up a Bit? We Shall.

Second snowfall of the year
For better or worse, I have added my voice to the conversation about how France is coping with the attacks in Paris. You can see my latest Valley News article hereBut today, let's talk lunch. I laughed uncontrollably at the panic surrounding Matt Lauer's turkey adventure. (I am really scared that this information made it to me in rural Burgundy.) I have talked about the French's slightly different approach to public health codes. I thought about it this afternoon while I was making a pork roast with mushroom sauce.

November 19, 2015

Que faut-il dire?

Mon épouse et moi, nous avons le cœur brisé non seulement en tant qu'être humains, mais aussi parce que nous habitons chez vous, en France. Pour 99% d'américains, il y a une distance, une séparation de ce qui s'est passé à Paris. Mais nous, on comprend votre langue ; on pleure avec vous lors de la Marseillaise ; on sait ce que votre histoire vous dit que le mot "guerre" veut dire un conflit entre nations, pour une cause, avec un début et, heureusement, une fin. Nous comprenons que massacrer un français à table, c'est la même chose de le tuer à l'église. Et nous sommes, comme toutes les personnes civilisées dans ce monde, bouleversés.

November 18, 2015

In Burgundy

Some observations from rural Burgundy in the wake of Friday's attacks.
  1. Like everyone around the world, the people of this region have no answers and no explanations for what happened in Paris.
  2. Everyday life seems to be conquering paralysis. On Saturday morning, the dump was a beehive of activity. The farm tractors continue to rumble past our house with the same regularity. We didn't cancel my wife's birthday dinner party at our house on Saturday night. Our children went to handball practice as normal. School is open, the Post Office delivers our mail, the bakeries in town still smell like a mother's hug feels. None of this is calculated, of course, but I cannot help but feel like there is some undercurrent of a noble defiance of the hard-working people of this country. 
  3. In some horrific way, the near-continual onslaught of massacres (Madrid, London, Russian airplane, Paris in January, etc.) may have resigned people to a new reality.
  4. One café in the area, run by an Arab family, was as active this Monday morning as any other. The proprietor used the informal "tu" with most of his clients and engaged in conversation. Patrons greeted each other in the same way as always, with handshakes and les bises. In other words, business as usual, a good thing.
Despite this air of normalcy, however, I cannot help but feel that change is happening. Slowly, I am beginning to get emails from French friends with a decidedly political bent to them. Fourteen years ago, it was hard to find many Americans who were openly questioning President Bush or the American government's efforts to respond to the attacks of 9/11 in the days immediately following. Here, one can feel a rising tide, not so much of anger or sorrow, but of frustration. More than one observer and plenty of politicians have been criticizing the French's government's reaction over the past year. It feels, to me at least, like the question on a lot of French people's minds is, "Why weren't we doing everything we could to stop this before it happened?" A lot of Americans got to that point after that Tuesday in 2001, but it took a lot longer to travel the road.

As an American here, when speaking with French people, I can offer them some insight into the debate that they are going to have about how to protect themselves going forward. I know what it is like to live in a place where more and more of our conversation and activity is monitored by my own government. Like a lot of my fellow Americans, I have --however reluctantly-- accepted that every text, every email, every phone call, every pixel posted online is able to be observed, tracked, and analyzed by my good friends in Washington, DC. The French, on the other hand, still express outrage when they discover that a foreign or local government is tracking their activities. "C'est ça la liberté?" they ask. Is that liberty? I, of course, have no real idea what the government here is going to do, how much it will share with its citizenry and the world, or what ultimate impact it will have on the national mood and, more fundamentally, the national core values. But what I do know is that the debate is just beginning.

Unfortunately, given what I am reading in the American media (governors "refusing" Syrian refugees, the CIA director calling privacy concerns "hand-wringing," calls to monitor mosques), I also know that the same debate remains entirely unresolved back home, a full generation after 9/11. Now, the conversation has finally gone global, but answers and solutions remain as slippery and elusive as ever. 

November 12, 2015

Acronymes etc.

Mauvaise nouvelle : pas de photos ajd.

La décision de venir m’installer en Bourgogne avec ma famille n’était ni facile ni prise rapidement. Oui, c’est certain qu’il y a des avantages ici par rapport aux Etats-Unis. Chez nous, on a l’habitude de déjeuner au boulot devant nos ordinateurs en moins de dix minutes ! Scandaleux, non ? On travaille beaucoup plus de 35 heures par semaine. Dans une grande ville américaine, il faut compter entre 13 et 18 euros de l’heure pour une nounou. On n’est pas né avec le droit aux assurances médicales. L’idée d’un CDI n’existe pas pour la plupart des gens ; si l’entreprise n’en veut plus de vous, vous êtes licencié d’un jour à l’autre, et il faut se débrouiller rapidement pour trouver un nouveau emploi parce que le chômage n’est pas vraiment quelque chose qui fait vivre chez nous. Et, très franchement, tout le monde préfère manger et boire en France qu’aux States.   

November 10, 2015

A Memorable Sunday Lunch

Are you a good eater? No, not like, "Yeah, I eat loads of fruits and vegetables, I watch my portion size, I don't use butter, I avoid carcinogens, I consider flax seeds a food group, I stay away from sweets." I mean, are you a good the French are good eaters? Let's explore the difference. 

November 9, 2015

50ème Chapitre de la Confrérie de la Poule au Pot

Les membres de la Confrérie et les nouveaux compagnons
Le 50ème chapitre de la Confrérie de la Poule au Pot d’Henri IV et du Pays d’Arnay s’est déroulé dimanche 8 novembre sous un ciel bleu et avec des températures records de saison. Il y avait plus d’une douzaine d’intronisés cette année, des personnages dignes de devenir compagnons de cette confrérie riche en histoire, des vrais gourmands qui apprécient l’art de vivre et surtout des gens qui aiment se mettre à table avec des grands vins de Bourgogne.

November 7, 2015

Weekend Fall Photo Sampler

Look, I know what you're thinking. I wish I could move to France. Well, before you get too cozy in your daydream, let me tell you a little bit about the realities of living here. It's not all fun and games. Sure, it's charming and romantic. Of course it is exotic. Naturally, your senses are stimulated in a way they can never be when you are in your own culture. But the truth is the calendar is littered with challenges. 

November 5, 2015

OMS: Charcuterie=cancer?

Y-a-t-il plus qu'une chose dans cette photo qui tue?
Quand l'Organisation Mondiale de la Santé a dit que la charcuterie et la viande rouge menaient directement au cancer, j'étais tout de suite convaincu d'une chose: les Français allaient trouver cette nouvelle tout à fait ridicule. Heureusement, j'habite parmi vous, et j'ai eu raison. On est du même avis.

Après tout, en France -- comme en Italie, Espagne, Allemagne, etc. -- on mange ces produits-là depuis des siècles. D'après ce que j'ai constaté, il reste quand même des populations importantes dans ces pays. Autrement dit, les gens ne meurent pas à cause du saucisson. Au moins pas uniquement.

November 3, 2015

100% of French People Will Probably Have Cancer

[NDLR: Le dernier post en français se trouve ici; un nouveau est prévu pour jeudi.]
Three generations break into some jambon persillé

It is a shocking headline, isn't it? But, on the heels of the WHO's findings released recently, I don't see how it is possible that every single French person isn't just a walking cancer case. Here: "For processed meat, researchers found “sufficient” and “convincing” evidence that it causes cancer.” The agency estimates that every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of cancer by about 18 percent." 

Let the WHO define processed meat for us: "Processed meat refers to meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, smoked, or undergone other processes to enhance flavor or to improve preservation, according to the WHO. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats can also contain other poultry, offal, meat byproducts such as blood, or other red meats. Examples of processed meat include: Hot dogs, ham, sausage, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat, and meat-based sauces and preparations."

Now, I have been living in France for two years and the average diet, in my unscientific observations, includes approximately 1,000,000,000,000 grams of processed meat per year.

November 2, 2015

Une différence culturelle

Le château de Santenay au printemps
Suite au portrait dans le Journal du Palais, vous verrez désormais un post en français tous les lundis et jeudis. D’avance, je vous remercie pour votre fidélité. Également, je vous prie de bien vouloir m’excuser pour toutes fautes grammaticales ou autres…c’est ma deuxième langue…je fais ce que je peux.

Mon village en Bourgogne, d’une poignée d’habitants, où le feu rouge le plus proche se situe à 20 minutes de chez moi, est la définition de la France profonde. On se plaît bien ici, et on a été très bien reçus depuis notre arrivée il y a deux ans.

Néanmoins, on constate des grosses différences entre la vie ici et la nôtre aux States. L’exemple du jour se trouve dans la manière de gérer un business. Je suis souvent dans le vignoble bourguignon pour découvrir le terroir, les grands crus, et les vignerons qui passent leurs journées en taillant, traitant, et travaillant leurs vignes. C’est plutôt magnifique comme expérience, et ça serait dommage de passer à coté, n’est-ce pas ?

October 19, 2015

Garden Party

Garden party

We had snow the other day. In October. Everyone was caught off-guard, and everyone was, well, a little annoyed by it. So, let's go back to a fond memory of the end of summer.

The invite said that it was going to be a casual gathering for our friend's 50th birthday party. Our children, ages 2.5 and nearly 5, were "la bienvenue" and the host's daughter might even pitch in to help out with the kids. A Sunday afternoon garden party sounded like a nice way to end the summer, so we were all-in. I had the kids practicing their "bonjours" and their bisous to get ready for seeing all the grown-ups and I put on shorts, my hiking shoes, and a short-sleeved button-down shirt. With temperatures expected to pass 90, I was ready to be casual. 

Arriving at the house at 12:30, the hostess and her daughter greeted us in snugly fitting black dresses. The teenage son was wearing a necktie. Most everyone seemed to be in pants, dresses, jewelry, and I spotted several shirts tucked in. Uh-oh, maybe I was taking this casual thing a little too, well, casually.

October 14, 2015

Pour les Français

Le jambon persillé à l'ancienne, spécialité bourguignonne

Si vous avez vu mon article dans le Courrier International (page IV), bienvenue sur mon petit blog. Merci d’avoir lu mon point de vue sur votre vie associative. Depuis notre arrivé en Bourgogne en décembre 2013, on a été très bien accueillis en Bourgogne. Vous êtes, et nous sommes, très bien ici. Vous pouvez voir plusieurs articles en anglais sur ce site, mais je vous invite à me contacter si vous voulez avoir un peu plus en français.

Bonne lecture,