Wednesday, October 13, 2010

living in a world built for short people

When I do the dishes I always get a sore back. Why? Because I can't reach the bottom of the kitchen sink without bending over. When I studied interior design, I learned that the standard height of countertops is 36" or 91.5 cm. It's not that different from the 33" I have in my kitchen, but it's enough to make doing the dishes uncomfortable. I'm not particularly tall (5'-7" or 171 cm) but I find a number of things here just plain tiny.

Take our kitchen table, for example. Average table height is 29" or 74 cm but the one we inherited from Jean-Marc's parents is only 27" or 68.5 cm. Add to that the height of the apron underneath and you barely have enough room to fit your legs under the table. In fact, at JM's parents' house, I can't get my legs under their table because there is only about 4" of clearance!

Then there are bed sizes. In Canada I had a spacious "queen" size bed (60 x 80" or 153 x 203 cm) and here the standard size is 140 x 190 or 55" x 75". When we purchased double beds for the farmhouse, we splurged on luxurious 160 x 200 or 63" x 79" because we knew we would have taller North Americans and Northern Europeans coming to stay (that's like a queen, only 3" wider, for those of you doing the math). Jean-Marc and I have the standard 140 bed at home and it's fine, considering we are both the same height, but there is really only an extra 20 cm to spare in length, so sometimes I find my feet dangling over the edge a bit because I don't sleep with my head against the wall. I just checked online and the average height of men and women in Canada and France is the same. I find it interesting that the scale of furnishings is different by as much as 5 inches. I can't wait to have my own kitchen one day and choose the height of my countertops and sink! In the meantime I may resort to my friend Caitlin's method of doing dishes in France by standing with my feet far apart to make me shorter. Hey, it may save me a few trips to the chiropractor! (more about chiropractors and how they ask you to take your pants off, later)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

scavenging for food

If I say that it's been raining for a few days and now it's sunny, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Ask any French person, and the answer will be: champignons! We've had a few weeks of rain with a few sunny days and Jean-Marc has gone mushroom hunting two times in the last week. Last Sunday, when I was away at an all-day rehearsal, I came home to three sorts of mushrooms: cèpes, mousserons and fausses chanterelles. We ended up eating them in an omelette as well as fried up with garlic as an accompaniment to a chestnut risotto (the chestnuts were found near our village's castle).

Today I asked Jean-Marc if we had any walnuts and he said no, but he knew where to find some. Apparently there is a walnut tree in a field that seems to belong to nobody and, since Jean-Marc has never seen anybody picking any of the walnuts and the field is open, he went and picked a whole bunch. He's also found some abandoned apple and pear trees and we have been making batches of applesauce and eating the pears just as they are because they're currently perfectly ripe. It's amazing what is provided by nature and quite often left to rot on the ground. Soon we will be picking the figs in a neighbour's garden (we've been granted permission to pick them!) and eating them in our salads. Not only that, but we are still enjoying the lovely heirloom tomatoes from our garden. I am in produce heaven.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

passing "le code de la route"

Well, I did it! After three months, 50+ hours at the auto-école, and 15+ hours spent doing practice tests at home, I passed my code exam this past Wednesday. Even immediately after taking the test and waiting for the results I wasn't sure I had succeeded.

I was asked to take the test at 8:15 in the morning and, because I had never been to the place before, I got up extra early just in case I got lost on the way. The previous evening I had a Mozart Requiem rehearsal until 11pm and by the time I got home, studied a bit and got into bed it was well after midnight, so the night was a short one. I woke up with dreams of code photos and questions to a Requiem soundtrack and it felt like my head was spinning. I did get a little lost on the way to the exam but I was still 20 minutes early. The extra time was used for revising my notes (I managed to fill a 50-page notebook during my studies). At 8:10am the doors opened and all the exam-takers filed into a waiting room. A representative from each auto-école was there to present our papers to the officer and then we proceeded to wait for an hour while he got set up. Once he was ready for us, he called us into the room, one at a time, and asked to see our ID and gave us the boîtier (keypad) with which to record our answers. Each person was asked to sit in specific chairs that were placed around the room. The exam started and my heart was pounding, but once I realized that the questions were easier - or at least more basic - than the ones I had seen during my studies, I started to relax. There were a few questions that I was unsure about but in the end I only got 1 out of 40 wrong (yes, it was a "can I pass this car?" question! I dared to say yes when the answer was no.).

I can't tell you how much of a relief washed over me once I found out I had passed. My need for a French licence is getting down to the wire and I absolutely needed to pass on Wednesday otherwise I would have had to wait for at least another 2 weeks to try again (and then wait for the driving test another 2 weeks minimum after that!). This means that I can proceed with my driving lessons as scheduled and take my practical exam on the 29th and (hopefully!) have my new licence for the beginning of November.

By the end of it all, this experience will cost me around €600 and almost 100 hours. I can't say it's not worth it because I have already learned a lot about driving in France. Even though I've been driving here without incident for 10 years, I still had questions and didn't understand certain intersections or road signs. In the end it's all about safety - even though I see people breaking code rules ALL the time - and safety is a good investment. Of course, this also makes me an even worse backseat driver than I already was!