Romasco-Kelly Family

September 14, 2002

Grenoble, France

Shootout at the Place de l'Etoile, no more tears, and other exciting stories!

It's the morning of day 9 and Ev went off to school today for the first time with no tears and no wailing, heart-wrenching laments of, "please don't make me gooooo! It's too hard...I can't do it...pleeease - just not today!" Yahoo!  I've been taking the boys to school the past few days even though Mike reminds me that we agreed to take turns. But, as hard as it was to watch him anguish, it was harder for me not to be with him. My tummy would churn all day, then usually when we went to pick him up he was a little happier. I would end my evening with my new French cocktail - a glass of French champagne with a pepto chaser!  It looks like we might be over the hump though!

I have to tell you about the lunch at their school - which is eaten in the cantine. As you may remember, this has been quite a source of anxiety for the boys - especially Ev. The kids have a two- hour break for lunch.  Because about 30% of the students are international students (German, Italian, British, and American mostly) who don't live in the neighborhood, and because many of the neighborhood kids have two parents who work, most children stay at school for these two hours. I think it's well over half of the kids who stay. They have an actual one-hour sit down lunch, the younger (1st/2nd grade) kids first, then the older kids.  Can you imagine this in the States? I am now beginning to understand that in a country where food is next to Godliness, the lunch hour is as much of an educational priority as math or history. It's pretty cool - they serve several courses including an appetizer, main dish, cheese course, then dessert. The kids are obliged to try all the food, but in reality it depends on which teacher ends up sitting at their table. For our kids, especially the younger one, this is quite a challenge. We eat about 5 things - pizza, cheeseburgers, pasta, fries, and an occasional oddity like fried calamari and szechuan chicken. Here, they are getting foods that I've never even heard of (and that's from the limited list of things that I can understand on the menu!) They are getting quite yummy things too such as lamb shanks, roast beef, quenelles (a specialty from Lyon that are kinda like cannelloni), filet of fish with basil sauce, etc. Each day features a different type of French cheese, just before dessert. And the desserts are nothing to sniff at either - mousse au chocolat, creme dessert vanille, glace, and gateau de caramel. Pas mal (not bad), eh?

Back to the point I'm trying to make... The French are having a bit of a national food crisis right now. There is a great fear that younger people are not growing up with the same love of and appreciation for good, quality, French food, and that they are losing the custom of the leisurely, 2 hour lunch. Food, and the enjoyment of it, is a cultural icon. There is an alarming trend here which is in full force in the U.S. - fast food is rampant, people are always in a hurry and don't have time to prepare meals and sit down and enjoy them together with friends and family, etc. The French live in fear that this will happen to them, and rightly so if you ask me. There are currently 914 McDonalds in France, and they say that one million French people eat at McDonalds each day. Many French see this as a national shame, and a failure to resist the fast food trend. France is full of small boucheries (butcher shops) carrying good, quality meats and poultry, artisan boulangeries (with a dazzling array of breads, tartes, cream puffy things, etc.) and fromageries (stinky cheese shops, as the boys call them) with hand made cheeses from all over France. And there are outdoor markets on every other street corner somewhere in the city where farmers bring their produce, homemade wines, sausages, honeys and preserves to name a few goodies. Their prices are higher, but the quality of what you get is very good.

The Boulangerie across the street However, these smalll shops are in danger of what is becoming another big threat to the French traditional food scene - the dreaded supermarche. Picture Walmart times five and this is what you find on the outskirts of cities - much like the Walmart concept in fact. These supermarches have everything from food (not as high quality as the little shops) to cosmetics to appliances, at the lowest prices in town, and they are PACKED! I know, because, well, uh, we've been there. Or, well, actually, we go there quite often. This is because

  1. We can drive and fill our car with heavy items like milk, juice, diet coke, and ladders, laundry detergent, shelving, etc. These get heavy schlepping them across town on foot
  2. It's the only place I can find maple syrup, Ritz crackers, and microwave popcorn - three staples in the Romasco-Kelly household, and
  3. It's all under one roof.

So I am completely aware of the seduction of these supermarches which is not surprising since I am a suburban dweller at heart, but what amazes and saddens me is that the French are falling for this too! As lifestyles become more hectic, meals become shorter and less elaborate, people look for shortcuts where they can. It's very sad. I must add that now that we have our household basics, we are trying to shop locally and wean ourselves away from the less expensive, terribly convenient, seductive supermarches! I'll be damned if I'll be accused of adding to the French national food crisis!

I just finished reading this great book, "A Goose in Toulouse" written by Mort Rosenbloom, former editor of the International Herald Tribune. He went around France interviewing chefs, farmers, cheese makers, and other foodies about their perceptions of the role of food in France today. It is a good read and has given me a better perspective on things like the 2 hour lunch at school. There is a concerted effort in France to teach kids to appreciate and eat good food.  He writes about an experiment that is being conducted in some elementary schools in France. A group of chefs has designed a food appreciation course for kids that focuses on getting in touch with your five senses. Each session focuses on a different sense. For example, the session on smell consists of the kids smelling several viles of spices and other scents and then trying to identify them. The course ends with the kids preparing and eating a traditional French meal. Pretty cool, huh?

We have also seen that for an outsider who is not yet completely in touch with the wonders of French food, the adaptation can be a bit rough. Yesterday when we picked the boys up from school, Kyle whispered to Mike, "I threw up at lunch today." "Why? What happened?" we both asked. The teacher made me eat all my gratin de courgettes - baked zucchini. Apparently, Kyle tasted it like he was supposed to, then said that he didn't want to eat any more. The teacher made him eat it all, until the last bite when it all came up again. We asked what she did then, and he said, "she told me I didn't have to eat anymore!" Poor guy. You know me... I was all ready to go in and say, "look, the deal is that they try it, right? Blah, blah, blah." Then I thought, no... he is big enough to fight his own battles, and the more I do it for him, the less practice he has in turning into a feisty #!*#! like his mother. So there. I can learn too!

The Shootout

Okay, enough about food for now. I'll bet you're wondering about the shootout, right? Well, last Wednesday afternoon, we were hanging around in the apartment with the windows open. We suddenly heard a big commotion outside on the street below with lots of yelling. We went out to the balcony to check it out and saw that there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on between 2 guys from the fruitier (the corner fruit and veggie shop) and a group of 6 kids in their late teens. They were progressing down the sidewalk pushing and shoving one another, while others tried to hold them back and prevent a fight. It was getting rather heated and we couldn't tell what was being said but guessed that the kids has stolen something, or messed with one of the displays. Anyway, along comes this guy out of nowhere and starts shouting, reaches into his pants and pulls out a pistol, aims it at the group of kids and fires! I shouted, "Mike, get out of the balcony before that nuts starts shooting up here!" But, unwilling to miss the action, we creeped back to the balcony and saw the guy turn and run down the street still yelling something unintelligible (to us anyway!) We looked around but didn't see anyone who looked as though s/he got shot. A few minutes later the police arrived and I expected people to run up to them and tell them where this crazy guy had fled to, but no one paid them any attention! Hmmmm... wonder what that's about? It was quite an exciting moment and made me realize that I'm not in Redmond anymore either! I'm planning to go talk to the woman at the pizza shop across the street to get the scoop, then I'll fill you in. We have gotten to know each other a bit, since I'm there quite often. She makes a ravioli pizza that is to die for!

Well, that's all the scoop for now. Thanks to all of you who have lent your kind words of support last week as we were going through the first week of school. Take care, and keep in touch!

 -- Lisa