Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Digging out

I had no problem getting to work yesterday after our huge snowfall; it was staying at work that caused trouble. Snowplows had cleared most of the roads, but apparently nobody had thought of the fact that all the cars coming into Rodez would have to park somewhere. Personally I spent about 25 minutes driving around the business area where I work before deciding to plow into about a foot of snow to park. Luckily some snow melted during the day, and I was able to leave my parking space after digging out of it with my windshield scraper!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Weekend Out of Time

This morning about one third of our snow was gone, but it was still impossible to drive out of our neighborhood. My husband and I set off to buy our bread on foot; many villagers were out shoveling snow, or, like us, walking down to the local grocery store. We were surprised, however, at the number of cars on the newly snow-plowed roads. It seemed to be something of a challenge to get vehicles out after a day without driving. Tomorrow, most likely, employees will go back to work and schoolchildren will go back to school. But we all will have had a small taste of a different atmosphere.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cut off from the world

Aveyron was covered by a debilitating snowfall today. I had just been reflecting, this morning, about the meaning of the term la France Profonde, and had been thinking about how Aveyron is somewhat cut off from the rest of the world. Little did I know that a few hours later, I would truly be cut off from the world, snowbound in my house with the rest of my family. Well over a meter of snow fell in about 20 hours. Everything, absolutely everything, was cancelled. Even the hypermarkets shut down at noon, facing the fact that if they didn't let their staff go, their employees would be spending the night in the store. It has been an adventure, one that fortunately took place on weekend.

What is la France Profonde?

Since naming this blog La France Profonde, I have been checking around the Internet on the exact interpretation of the expression. I know Aveyron must be part of France Profonde, but it appears just about any rural area a certain distance south of Paris can also lay claim to the term. For most, it seems to be fairly positive, something like "the heartland", but for some it is perjorative, more like "the sticks." To me it evokes something almost mysterious, but I would reserve it only for areas where one really feels cut off from big cities and cosmopolitan influence. For the moment, this is the case in Aveyron.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Peugeot, Boulot, Dodo

The overworked city-dwellers of Paris have an expression that sums up their life: métro, boulot, dodo: subway, work, sleep. Of course here in Aveyron we rarely hear this expression. And yet...I leave for work every morning at 7:20 after dropping my children off at the bus stop, and what with late classes, meetings or appointments with students, I often don't get home until 6:30. Call it Peugeot, boulot, dodo: it's a pretty long day in the land of the 35-hour workweek.

Resentment is, in fact, growing in France towards those who do benefit from les 35 heures (essentially civil servants and employees of medium-sized to large companies) and those who do not (a whole lot of other people, including my husband and myself!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

France Looks LIke This Too

When you think of France, what images come up? Certainly charming villages, chic cities, mysterious ruins and bucolic countryside. One of the fascinating things about living a real job/family/housing development life here is seeing another side of France, the modern and sometimes not so picturesque side. At times this aspect of the country is so overwhelming that I forget I'm actually living in the midst of France as you imagine it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Essence of Aveyron in Photos

I am not much of a photographer, but I love the freedom and photo-sharing that come with digital photography. An American friend of mine who lives in Rodez, however, is a brilliant photographer and captures the essence of Aveyron -- and other parts of France -- in his photos. I encourage you to look at his photo website, especially the Postcards from the Aveyron section. I've seen a lot of photos of the area, and I'm convinced nobody does it better.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Les Soldes!

Yesterday was the first day of the winter sales season in France. The government controls the sales dates and, officially, stores are allowed to put merchandise on sale only twice a year: for four to six weeks in January and early February, and the same in July and August. In practice, however, stores are finding more and more ways around the legislation, offering promotions and other good deals, or bonnes affaires, throughout the year. There is some obscure legal distinction between sales -- les soldes -- and promotions, but the main difference I can see is that the shop windows get a lot more dressed up for les soldes!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

You Heard It Here First

Unless you keep very close tabs on French political reporting, you probably will hear it here first: Segolene Royal will be the next Présidente de la République. The country is currently wallowing in a wave of nostalgia for François Mitterrand, the last Socialist president who died 10 years ago, and this bodes well for the Socialist party in 2007. 48% of Socialists hope she will be their party's next candidate, and everybody agrees the country is desperate for a breath of fresh political air. Affaire à suivre...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Welcome New Year's Resolution

The tide seems to be turning, at long last, on the acceptance of smoking in France. When questioning my college students about their New Year's Resolutions this week, a remarkable number were trying to stop smoking. I have of course heard this other years, but this time I do perceive a true change in mentalities. The undeniable evidence of smoking's dangers, the cost to the ailing French public health system, and the sheer expense of buying cigarettes finally seem to be sinking in.

The French start smoking startlingly young: I read an article recently stating that the average age of a young person's first cigarette in France was eleven! My children found that hard to believe, but my students admitted to me the other day that many of them had started the habit around the age of twelve.

In 2005 I taught the expression " to give something up" to all of my English classes; here's hoping my students will apply it to smoking in 2006!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

French New Year's Traditions

Christmas is a family time in France; New Year's is a time for friends, but also a season of formalities among colleagues and acquaintances. Upon going back to work after the Christmas and New Year's holidays, it is de rigueur to kiss just about everybody you know on the cheek -- three times in Aveyron -- and wish them a happy New Year and all the best. Discussions of the holidays follow, and the whole process takes up an amazing amount of time. Managers make an effort to seek out their employees to bestow their "meilleurs voeux" on them; sometimes this takes the form of an official "voeux" ceremony, complete with speeches and a toast.

I am more aware of this aspect of New Year's in Aveyron than I was in other areas I have lived in, but the weight of tradition in all aspects of life is heavy here.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Le Réveillon

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the French celebrate New Year's Eve with a big meal, or réveillon. Most restaurants offer a special -- and usually expensive -- menu for the occasion, but in Aveyron a lot of people ring in the New Year with catered meals in village halls, or salles des fêtes. My friends, though, usually organize home-based New Year's Eve parties, and my family often has to choose between several possible venues. This year we decided to réveillonner in our village with four other families.

The New Year's Eve meal is one of the only occasions where the French readily adopt the principle of everyone contributing to the meal, partly because of time constraints, but mainly due to the cost of the fine foods involved. Don't imagine it's a potluck, though -- the menu is coordinated down to the last detail, with each family responsible for one or two courses.

Our party started at 7:30pm and we were the second family to leave at 4:00 am. This is considered a reasonable finishing time; many réveillons continue until well into the daylight hours.

The complete menu of this year's celebration will appear on my food blog: Cuisine Quotidienne.