March 30, 2008


No, this is not a state like say, ec-static. Those of us who've stayed in cold countries have experienced this some time or the other. I remember in Cincinnati how we used to make sure to touch something wood before touching anything from the door knob to the microwave to the taps on the sink in winters. Everything used to give off that brief static electricity that crackled uncomfortably in your fingers for a microsecond. In fact VV and I have experienced worse static.. almost like a minor shock from our crackling hair. But the point is.. That was all ONE static jolt. Yesterday I had the opportunity to witness something different yet fascinating. I wore a sweatshirt over my shirt last night before sleeping. Half asleep I had gotten warm under the comforter and was uncomfortable with the extra layer. As I peeled away my sweatshirt, I actually saw hundreds of crackling little sparks, whitish-yellow in colour in the dark even as the sweatshirt separated from the shirt. It was like a bunch of tiny little glow worms moving along with a sputtering noise. I actually awoke my hubby to witness the spectacle. And I woke him up remarking "Sparks!" Jolted by the possiblity of sparking electric wires, I can't say he was truly amused at my discovery. :)

March 27, 2008

The beginner's guide to being vegetarian at a French Cafetaria

Alright... Its almost taboo to be vegetarian in this country... much worse than the United States. There's so much collective disbelief that you don't eat anything that once lived that you almost feel bad to disappoint them. My first few lunches here at the ESIEE canteen were sponsored by my professors and I didn't pay much attention to what I threw on to my tray. Later I realized I was hungry in no time and of course that was because I had barely eaten anything. When I started coming here full-time, over the first week I was perpetually hungry even an hour after a seemingly long lunch. I was doing it wrong. Here's what I really have to do have a tummy that lasts without grumbling atleast till 3:00 pm.

1. Stock up on the salad - The salad bar comes first in the scheme of things. And usually I tended to take measly portions of the salad. This is the crux of the meal and it is important to take healthy portions.

2. Check out the desserts enroute - Usually there's some chocolate/caramel cake or something for the sweet tooth.. If you're trying to be healthy, pick up a bowl of fruit.

3. Pick up a carton of yogurt or a can of juice.

4. Main course: There's probably ONE dish you could take. Its probably boiled potatoes/beans/peas which is just that.. The veggies have been dumped into boiling water and taken out. Do not expect any salt/pepper or other flavours. These are just meant to serve as a side to some form of sizzling meat which will also feature on the main course

5. Sometimes you also have legumes (dal) and riz (rice), both undercooked and not very recommended.

6. Ask for some frite (French fries).. and a fresh fruit (apples, banana, oranges, whatever you want), you are done!

Now pay for it (it probably cost you under 2€ no matter how much you took) and a carafe of water and ooh yeah.. how could I forget the bread?? At least 3 varieties are available to choose from, and are free and unlimited. I prefer taking the mini baguette, scooping the soft inside and eating it, forming a shell into which I stuff about half my salad and voila, I have a stuffed baguette. You can always spice up your boring salad/rice or whatever at the condiments table with everything from paprika to olives.

Thats the best you can do here.. Bon Appetit!

March 26, 2008

Heavy on TV

I've realized that when S is out of town and when its vacation day, like Monday was... I can spend 10 straight mindless hours watching TV. This for someone who barely watched TV in India (I would choose a book over the Idiot box anyday). I donno if its coz we've gotten this gloriously huge, flat screen LCD monitor which makes you wanna watch just about anything or because there are NO english books sold here (I should've stocked up in England - damn!) or maybe I just had it in me.

I had seen 2 whole discs of F-R-I-E-N-D-S and 1.5 movies! I cook with the TV on.. I eat with the TV on.. I clean with the TV on. Or maybe its because we don't have our internet connection yet. Whatever the reason, the madness has got to stop!

Memory Rush

We visited S's college here this last weekend. We'd driven up there with a bunch of friends, with me doing the driving - something I am proud of. It was a manual car with a left wheel drive - a combination I hadn't tried before. Ok.. but the point is that we were at INT (Institut Nationale d'Telecommunication) - Pardon me if the spellings are screwed.. thats the limit of my French so far. Its a tiny little campus in a place called Evry outside of Paris. And going there... seeing how S and his friends recollected a flood of memories made me recollect my own. And suddenly I missed Cincinnati and my days there with my own band sourly. Here they were showing off their Forum (my TUC) where they had weekendly parties, their cafetaria which constituted millions of meals, their main building where the classes were held.. and all I could do was to compare it with Baldwin Hall. UC is a small campus, smaller than most other US University campuses which are spread across miles and have towns built around them. But INT is smaller than UC... but just as self-content.. It had its own stuff - large hostels, huge administrative buildings, its own hill (which reminded me of the tiny hill with the winding path in front of Morgens @ UC), tennis courts, et al. Gosh, I miss Cincinnati!

S, we've got to go back so I can show you UC and much more..

March 24, 2008

French kisses

Nope.. This is not any spicy blog about what you may have thought its going to be from the title.. This is about the French way of greeting people (or saying goodbye to them). I believe it is called faire la bise.. La Bise means kiss in French.. So this is the action you might've caught on TV somewhere where 2 people exchange kisses (to the air) on alternating cheeks. It seems that 2 kisses is the norm.

I was at a party yesterday.. It was a birthday party for an Indo-French kid hosted by his family, an entire bundle of Indo-French folks... They spoke fluent Tamil and French and halting English.. It was my first time at any such gathering and I was observing the customs quite amusedly. Initially when I met the first 2 people, I enthusiastically followed along kissing the air ( I realized that these people exchanged 4 kisses - it seems its a custom for people in Nantes) But my interest waned when I met another whole bunch and I saw more of the surrounding people than the one was meeting while kissing the air around me 4 times!! Gosh!! It was a pretty long drawn process and started to get to me a bit.

That apart, at the time of cake cutting (there were 2 huge cakes to accomodate servings for the number of guests), each one flanked by a flowerpot cracker. There were 2 bottles of champagne and we were each given sparklers (mathaappu) which we were to light when the birthday boy was about to blow out the candles.

And once we were done, we got started with the goodbye kisses. Some customs just require getting used to.

March 21, 2008

I need to know NOW

Ever had that experience? Where if you didnt't find out about something right at that instant, your head will explode? I am in that situation NOW and I have been chewing my nails away.. And I still have a few hours to go.. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

March 20, 2008

My 6 arai koodai

Here's one of my favorite purchases... No wonder I feel like cooking everyday, huh?

March 14, 2008

Email tales

Reading old emails is like opening one of my diaries for me... Its a potpourri of stuff that keeps me ever enchanted and wakes me up from the dreariest of days..

Today was the 4th installment of cleaning up my overcluttered Inbox and out poured a huuuge collection of memories - mostly good and some bad.. Mostly, I tend to read the good stuff.. Like a few days back I was reading some of the first emails my now hubby had sent me and they all brought a smile to my face. Today I was reading a lot of stuff I had "Starred". And I noticed a pattern... I had either "Starred" the important stuff like career/study related, the ones I needed to respond to or surprisingly, the ones about which I wanted to remember and forget at the same time.. Maybe its a Scorpion trait.. I wanted to forget the incident(s) - many petty and a few grave- but remember who had done it.. And the very subject of the email brought up fleeting memories - It soured my mood a bit. Has that ever happened to you?

I unstarred them all... time to grow up... Atleast the next time I read something, it would be all sweet.

March 12, 2008

Scientists everywhere..

The quad where my college is located has been aptly named.. On one side is Boulevard Newton, then there is Rue Copernicus and the third side is Boulevard Archimedes flanked by Pascal Boulevard and indeed the entire place is called Cité Descartès.

I was just joking to a friend that if I did something worth mentioning, there would be a street somewhere that read "Rue de la Jaya". As I said that aloud, it sounded like "Rude la Jaya?" (Jaya's rude, right? - in Tamil)

I wonder how many agree...

March 11, 2008

A 6 course meal

Today I have achieved what I believed impossible. Well its both what you think and what you don't know. I lasted a 6 course meal - you got that from the title of the post. But I also lasted an entire day of presentations in... FRENCH. Congratulations to me! I never thought it was possible. When my professor suggested that it would be "good for me" to attend the presentations given by the senior members and partners of the project and get introduced to them as the new stellar PhD student, I was excited. Then he revealed that they would be in French. Thats when I mentally tuned out and willed myself not to sleep. I have slept in many classes in the past and A will vouch for that a 100%.. But in a teeny conference room with 6 senior members all waiting to see that spark of brilliance come from me, it wasn't the best of ideas. But this post is not about how I survived 6 gruelling hours of making out an odd phrase here... a number there and the parallels between French and English on the screen ahead of me (scientific is scientifiqué - there are many words like that). Its about lunch. The French like their food. That explains why the initially decided upon hour-long lunch stretched into twice that length.. It can also be explained by the fact that there were 6 courses.

Before today I had no idea how any meal could have more than 3 courses -appetizer, lunch and dessert, right? Wrong! The French start with what they love most - bread. Our choices today for Course 1 were wheat bread and baguette... And then the chef brought in Course 2 - plates of salad for each of us.. Thankfully he was forewarned about me being veggie and so while the others crunched on their chicken/pork/lamb or whatever, I grazed on my carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. The salad was soo huge that I half suspected that that was it. Wrong again! Giving us ample time to finish (everyone had scraped their plates clean except me), the chef cleared the plates and brought in the main courses - Course 3... Boiled ripe Roma tomatoes and boiled beans with basmati rice for me as opposed to chicken tikka masala for them.. Its an unfair world. The boiled beans had no salt or any flavour and I couldn't take more than two of them. The tomatoes were yummy and thats all I ate.. what was I to eat the rice with anyways? I was sure dessert was next after the Basmati disaster - wrong again.. And in came Course 4 - Cheese. Seriously, I thought it was flan or something on my plate - but it turned out to be 3 ample portions of what I identified as blue cheese, goat cheese and ambiguous cheese.. with guess what? Bread of course! I was mortified by then and barely chewed anything while others munched away to glory. I was hoping we were done once and for all. Of course I was wrong. Course 5 - Dessert - a fried banana pie. This was yummy with a delectable crust and everyone cleaned up their plates, thank you very much. Now surely it was over? Who could get back to those meetings without that last course? Course 6- A shot of espresso!! My first ever and I needed it to wake me from the lull of the 2 hour lunch. The caffeine didn't as much as the bitterness did and I was grateful for the dark chocolate that accompanied it to remove the taste from my mouth.

Off we all trudged into the meeting room. Waiting for us was what we'd started with at breakfast- coffee, tea, orange juice, croissants and pain aù chocolat.

March 10, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Its such a new n refreshing (and fatiguing) experience to set up a new home all for yourself (and your husband of course!) Having never really bought furniture for a house, it was a brand new adventure... Me, S and a couple of friends went to a furniture super store, a certain brand name beginning with I. Having never been to the store before, we had no idea how it worked... For on the ground floor, we saw a vast expanse of warehousey space with stacks of furniture, all in boxes, arranged over expanses of shelves ready to be shipped we assumed. But we also saw a bunch of people refer something, pick the required boxes off the selves, load them on carts and head to checkout. Spare parts, we assumed. On enquiring, we found out that we didnt have to pick stuff off the racks this way. Instead we could go to the top floor and view the assembled furniture and pick what we desired. What a relief.. And so we went.. I went hyper seeing some of the stuff they had on display and S and I disagreed on almost every piece of furniture. So Day 1 turned out as a Disaster Day considering the store was closing early that too. We reached a consensus to go home, browse the website, make educated decisions and come back the next day to place the orders directly.

After a productive evening of finalizing all the furniture, we went back the next day... While waiting for S to arrive, me with my broken French and excellent charades managed to get most of the stuff listed for billing... The guy upstairs in his broken English told me that now we had to go downstairs and pay for everything and arrange for the shipping. Sounded fairly simple... To our horror though, later we discovered that the list that the upstairs guy was merely the reference paper we'd seen many poor souls refer and lunge huge stuff on carts. And sadly Day 2, it was just S and me. Panting and puffing we lunged all the damned furniture onto the carts with me actually putting my foot down (under the weight of was it the cupboard or the bed - bah who cares?) After the lengthy bill, the bank account depleted, we were still not done!! It so happened that the bed being huge wasn't kept out there with the rest of the stuff.. We had to wait an eon before they called our number and delivered the huge bed n mattress to us and another eon while we gave them back everything and paid them to have them deliver it home the next day.

Thought we were done? Not quite.. The delivery man appears a half hour after the hour stated and dumps all of the stuff from a truck right on the footpath in front of our house (I'd actually opened out the French windows in the hope of coaxing him to dump them into the house). Now me n a friend lunge back everything into the house and my foot gets caught once more, this time under the bed. Feet sore, all samaan in? Now we're done?? No baby, this is the beginning. For now, we had to fit everything together to make it look like the catalogue from mere cartons.

3 days hence..... a couple of more trips, a couple more stores... 90% done.. a bit more to go... the house is finally taking shape.. Yeaaaaay!!

March 7, 2008

A non-Hindy filmy experience

Hindi movies have spoiled us thoroughly. I realized the gravity of that yesterday evening. Me n the husband were going furniture shopping for our new home and were going to get there individually from our places of work. As usual, I got there first and was waiting in the partially deserted parking area in front of the entrance. It was raining in mild sprays and the sky was turning purple. Come on now, you know this scene from Hindi movies, don't you? This is when the heroine is looking in the completely opposite direction and suddenly feels a prick on her neck and she palats and there's the hero with widespread arms. The film bug bit me. I looked in the opposite direction too hoping to feel the prick announcing S's arrival... It must've been the 2 layers of clothing that pricked so much.. coz I turned about 30 times either to stare at strangers or the emptiness of space.. but No S. The rain had gotten steadier and my hands and the tip of my nose were numb from the cold. I palat-ed one last time in vein and then made it into the store in peals of laughter at my own filminess.

And then unexpectedly, as I pored over the kitchenware inside while smiling to myself, I did palat and there was S with his trademark half-widespread arms. :)

Note to self: Earth to J.

March 4, 2008

Back to School

Remember those days? When we were children and we started school after a 3 month summer vacation? New textbooks and notebooks... all wrapped smartly in brown paper. I remember how choosing labels was a big deal. We had crisp new uniforms, sometimes a new school bag we couldn't wait to show off and sharpened pencils and new ink pens. Plus meeting many friends after a whole 3 months (we weren't used to calling them over break). Thats what made school reopening very exciting... at least for the first week when we didn't have homework, classwork or assignments to do.

Guess what? I joined school today. After a whole 3 month wedding break. After 9 months of working. A year after completing my Masters. This time for a higher objective - a PhD. And no, I don't need to take classes or give exams. I just have to do what I like best - research. And so its begun. I have my new desk (though temporary), my computer access and I've started reading up on what I might be required to do... And now I realize the importance of the environment. While at home, I couldn't read 2 lines of a paper without distraction or without switching over to something else, here I've already read 3 papers in my 2 hours here (hence the break, hehe)... And whats more surprising - I'm excited about this. Its a different kind of rush. Maybe it has to do with the two little prefix letters these three years will earn me superceding the 2 letters behind my name currently.