Outside of the terrible doctor’s visit, work is going well! There’s a lot of support from the American HQ and PB expressed that he is really happy with my work so far. I knew PB liked my work when I was here before, but we’re working on more complicated topics now, which means sometimes errors are made or there is a difference of opinion on the assumptions that should be used. I was happy to hear him say that he believes the only people who never make mistakes are ones who aren’t actually doing any work!!!
I’ve spent a lot of time house hunting recently since I just learned that my container arrived at the port in France. It has to clear customs, but I should have all of my things in about two weeks. My next post will be all about what house hunting is like in rural France because there are some clear differences from the US.
Originally, I picked this weekend to go to Cognac because there was a literary festival going on, including Scottish authors, but I thought I should schedule a cognac tour also since I missed out on my first visit. When I mentioned these plans to Alexis, he thought it sounded fun and decided to join me so he could learn how to properly drink a cognac. Talk about a cultural difference! I don’t think I’ve ever heard an American say they wanted to go tasting to learn how to drink an alcohol properly!
Alexis met me at my house and we were off! I had specifically chosen the cognac house that I did because it was a castle! So, we started with a tour of the castle, which turned out to be the birthplace of François I. The first area we entered included the remnants of the tower that led to the room he lived in until he was four.
He adopted the salamander as his symbol because it was believed to be fire-proof and to spit fire at the time (long story on why – some people were conned into wearing “salamander hair” (aka asbestos) suits in ancient times basically). Since it was his symbol, you can find it all over France in the chateaus and also here!
We then entered the areas where they store cognac for aging. It is aged a minimum of 2.5 years, but many of them are aged much, much longer (up to 70 years). Our tour guide told us there were so many spiders because they help eat the bugs trying to burrow into the cognac. She also pointed out that the webs were not symmetrical, like at home, because the spiders were drunk from the alcohol that evaporates into the air!
The tour takes about an hour and is very informative about both the history of the castle, the history of the particular cognac brand (Baron Otard), a small museum of old advertising and bottle styles and learning a bit about what cognac is and how it is made and aged. Then, time for the tasting! Alexis and I both selected the tasting with a VSOP cognac and an XO cognac. The VSOP is younger and has a sweeter flavor, but is a little harsh and made me cough. Both of us preferred the XO, which is aged much longer and was less sweet, but very smooth to drink. In the end, we concluded that cognac is good, but we both have other favorites amongst French alcohols.
Since Alexis had admitted to not really reading much, I thought the cognac tour would be the best part of the day and the literary festival might be a quick stop. Instead, we were there for nearly two hours. Alexis decided to make it into a mission where we both had to leave with a book . . . chosen by the other person . . . in our non-native language! This turned out to be a lot of fun with hunting down books in English and French (there were other European languages represented also), then trying to decide what the other person would enjoy.
Alexis had a little bit of an extra challenge because I thought he should choose something at my current level. Instead, he had me read a little French out loud and decided he’s going to help me learn the correct pronunciation (and teach me new words) by having me read a WHOLE BOOK out loud to him. So, my suggestion of the children’s book “Les Animaux” was out and he chose a book by a featured author, so I have a signed copy even! And in English! Although, the author thought I was a Brit at first and couldn’t understand why I didn’t know what the 2CV was called in England. Since reading is a big hobby for me, I really appreciated it that Alexis didn’t act like the book festival was a necessary evil in order to attend the tasting.
French Friends, Part 2
I have heard that having friends over for dinner is very common in rural France and is a big part of the reason you don’t see many French people out in town. I had my first experience with this because Alexis invited me over for dinner and to watch a movie after Cognac.
I learned another difference between the French and Americans though. In the US, it seems common to have your friend come back to the house with you to keep you company and chat while you cook. Here, Alexis specifically indicated that he would prefer if I waited and came to his house in about an hour so he could clean a little and cook first.
I also learned that even a casual, impromptu dinner invitation requires an appetizer, main dish and dessert – they can be small, like tartines and a chocolate yogurt though. My host was very apologetic that he doesn’t drink much, so he had no aperitif available. Of course, I’m not a big drinker either, so this was no problem for me! The movie was an American movie in English with French subtitles, which is pretty common. Even my tiny local theater shows 2 or 3 movies a week in VOST (original version with subtitles).
No cultural surprises other than that. Despite the age difference, it turns out that I really enjoy Alexis’ company; in fact, I’m doing something that I don’t do often and hosting a French-style dinner at my house today with three courses and then I will begin my humiliation, I mean “learning” by reading part of my French book out loud.
Alexis’ very helpful “gift” to assist me with my mouse problem! To my credit, I learned how to properly set the thing without taking a finger off!