Thursday, May 9, 2013

My First Week in France

I have explored most of Aix and am about ready to venture out to more distant villages. I plan to find out about how to take the buses tomorrow.

Two years ago, I found out in Croatia that Lonely Planet books don't work very well on a Kindle. Now I know that it  is almost as bad on iBooks. It is wonderful to avoid carrying the heavy books around, but the LP books just don't work well for me unless I can highlight important stuff and put all kinds of little flags and stickynotes wherever I need them. It just means that I have rely on the tourist office more than I normally would.

Of course, other problems have come up as well, as you might expect when I don't really speak the language. For example, my appliances don't speak English. I took a morning off yesterday to take care of laundry, but it sure took a lot of guesswork to get it done. The clothes got washed and then they got dried, so I guess that's what counts, right?

A few days ago, I realized that my computer was not charging when I plugged it into the voltage converter. It turned out that the voltage converter had died. I bought it in Portugal in 2008, and it worked great through Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia, so I guess I did pretty well for 8 euros. But when I tried to find a replacement, I had one heck of a time. I walked all over this town, looking for any kind of store that might carry any kind of electronics or electrical stuff and that also had an employee who spoke English. Just in case, I also had the original box to clarify what I wanted. Finally, my blistered (really!) feet were about to give up when I stopped at one more place near my apartment. I found an English-speaking clerk and we were trying to figure out what I needed when two (Mexican!!) women joined the conversation. They pointed out that I didn't need a converter for the computer, just an adapter, because the computer could accept the 220v electricity. I just needed the plug adapter. The store didn't have one, but they knew where I could get it. Thinking that I could charge my iPod Touch through the computer, I bought the European cord rather than the adapter. Worked fine! Then I realized that I still couldn't charge my almost-dead camera battery. It also could use 220v, so I went back to the store and bought the plug adapter. It cost 20 euros in all, but well worth it for computer, iPod Touch and camera.

A sign on my door says that I must tie up my garbage bag and put it out any evening but Sunday after 7pm. So when I'd finally filled up a small bag, I took it downstairs about 8pm. I figured I'd see other garbage bags and know where to put it. Noooo. I stood there, trying to figure out what to do. I certainly didn't want to cart it up five flights. It wasn't heavy, but still... Then I noticed a rather small trash container. I'm sure it was designed for all the people walking the streets, and I'm sure I was not supposed to put my garbage in it. However, all I had was one small plastic grocery bag. I quickly put it in and ducked back inside the door. I still don't know how it is supposed to work but I have another couple of days to figure it out.

I have Celiac Disease. I cannot eat gluten without getting sick. I have adapted over the past five years since I figured out what is wrong. I know how to eat in Mexico with no problems. I hardly ever get any accidental exposures to gluten. It is also very easy in the US. Everything is labeled. There has been a huge gluten-free industry that has developed over the past five or so years. Many restaurants even offer special gluten-free menus. However, I accidentally glutenized myself in Portland when I assumed that tortillas for tacos would be made from corn like they are in Mexico. Apparently they had adapted them to the gringo preference for flour by mixing some in with the corn. That little oversight on my part meant that I had a very unpleasant flight over here. It took about three days in France before I was really recovered. Then I went to a market and bought some bleu cheese. I absolutely love bleu cheese! For a long time, I thought I couldn't eat it because the bacteria that puts the bleu in bleu cheese is grown on bread. Then I found out that Rosenburg (I think that the name of the brand,) which is sold in those little triangles the US and Mexico, is made with something gluten-safe. I've been eating it happily ever since. But, of course, I forgot all about it when I got here. The home of bleu cheese would never think of making it in some fake way - nothing but real bread for French bleu cheese. It took two days of eating it before I figured out why I was still getting sick so long after the tortillas. It was the cheese. It hated throwing it away, but I did it.

Then I started having internet problems. The internet comes through the satellite dish here. Now it is coming  and going - mostly going when I am trying to work. I'm guessing it has something to do with clouds in the sky. Today I had one more essay to send back to the student. I'd done my work and just needed to send it back to him. I tried over and over again for an hour and a half before I finally got that essay to fly back through cyber-space to this poor guy waiting in New Jersey for my response. My rental agent is working on getting it reset for me, which should take care of the problem.

So, that's all the bad stuff. The first good thing is that I am drinking the local rose wine without getting headaches. Not that I'm drinking tons, but a glass or two without problems is fantastic. Especially when it costs 3 euros a bottle.

I can get real Italian pecorina cheese here!!! I absolutely love this cheese - ever since I discovered it in Italy two years ago. I have been eating some other cheeses, too, but I think I will just stick to the pecorino from now on while it's available.

Au revoir! Thanks for reading!


  1. You are soo making me jealous, with all your stories. I am sure your adjustments will take some time. I agree that travel books need to be "real" paper than electronic. Hopefully your eating experiments will not be too painful.

    1. Thanks, Barb. I think I've got the gluten thing under control now. I just got so used to eating what I know is safe at home in Mexico that I forgot to consider that it might be made differently here in France. I've discovered two health food stores not too far from my apartment, and they both carry quite a bit of gluten-free food. And the wonderful produce markets make it a joy to cook and eat simply at home!

  2. Kathy
    I have been following your adventures since this is something that I have been hoping to do with my husband after I retire this year. I have been hesitant because he too is a celiac and I wasn’t sure what to expect. So finding out that you too are a celiac and can barely speak French; but are managing just fine (other than your experience in Portland) is very encouraging. Have most of the restaurants been able to accommodate you?

    1. I prefer to eat at home rather than in restaurants, which is one reason why I wanted to rent an apartment with a kitchen. I can eat for an entire day for the cost of one simple resaturant meal. However, I printed out a card from that is designed to hand to a waiter at a restaurant. It explains everything in French. Also, from, I printed out a product list in French that lists items that are safe, unsafe, and those that GF must be verified. These are my back-up. But there are still surprises. Two years ago I found out that some Italian gelato has gluten; a waiter with celiac told me. But I ate gelato everywhere we went and never had a problem until just before I flew home. I knew that last cup of chocolate had gluten in it after just a few bites. Apparently, it depends on the flavor and who makes it. But I took the chance knowing it night happen. BTW, that last bad one was not from a gelato specialty store like I had been visiting; it was a junk-food place by the train station. That may explain it. But don't let celiac force you to stay home. Remember that people from all over the world have this problem. We just have to figure out how they deal with it when we visit where they live.