Friday, September 29, 2006

Why I Must Be in France

Is that a Monsieur or Madame Chicken? It's true what they say, the French are very picky with food. I first found this out while on vacation here a few years ago. I was grocery-shopping with my then future mother-in-law. "I'm going to cook you adobo," I said, walking to the chillers to look at the poultry. I couldn't understand what it said on the labels, so I was just poking at the yellow skin-covered meat, looking for a plump specimen, when Jeanette interrupted with, "Une poule ou un poulet?" I asked Pierre what she meant. "Do you want a female chicken or a male one," was the question. Glimpsing a future full of life adjustments, many of them small but with great potential to annoy, I sighed and replied, "You guys are really not going to make this easy for me, are you. It's hard enough with your nouns, but must your chicken dishes be gender sensitive too?"

Fish is a luxury. Back home, when you talk of food for the masses, you talk of fish, like tilapia and galunggong. Over here, if you have not much money, you're better off buying meat that in the Philippines would be expensive, cuts of calf or lamb maybe. One time we decided to make kinilaw for friends, and off I went to buy a kilo a swordfish. I still convert, so I gasped when I saw my bill: 25 euros. If I were still in Mandaluyong, those 1,600 Philippine pesos would have been a week's worth of groceries. Next time I'm serving them pizza...

Even their pigs fall under the French paradox. Reading Ianne, I remembered that in the beginning I'd cook Pinoy dishes and find them always lacking a certain something. My sinigang was not as tasty; my crispy pata lacking the pumuputok-putok goodness of the same dish back home. It was only when I looked closely at the pork offered at the supermarché and boucherie that I figured out why. Missing is that solid inch-thick layer of yellowish fat between skin and meat that you'd get at the neighborhood talipapa. Instead all you have are a couple of millimeters, meager little strings of white. What nonsense, I exploded. Whoever heard of pig, non-fat?!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #5

One thing I miss: the palengke.

9. I've told you about how here they speak French with an accent, the way my father's people speak Tagalog with a punto. What I forgot to say is that in the Camargue it's not just a matter of calling bread "le peng," and hand, "le meng." Listen to the old folk talking, and you'll hear them agree not with a "Beh, oui." It's a "Beh-eh-eh, oui." It's also not "Et, oui," but "Et-eh-eh, oui." They want to interrupt you by beginning a sentence with"But...", they don't just say "Mais..." They prolong the argument, going "Mais-eh-eh-eh..." Oh my god, it just hit me: They really do have their own version of the Batangueno's "ala-eh"!

10. One of my sister's best friends grew up in Novaliches, in one of those communities where everybody knows everything about anybody, and they think nothing of stretching their heads out the window to ask a neighbor, "Oy, anong ulam niyo?" ("What are you having for dinner?") Here, though it's not as crowded, the tsismis (gossip) is still well accomplished. My mother-in-law would put down the telephone, and pass on that villager no. 1 is sick and that villager no. 2 was nasty to villager no. 3 at the association meeting. My husband would come home from a client, and say that he'd met villager no. 4 on the street, who'd whispered that villager no. 5's business was not doing so good because the guy is into inhaling prohibited white powder. Two different times, I put the two through the acid test and asked, "What are they cooking for dinner?" Pierre, to my utter relief, failed. Jeanette was up to the challenge. After a moment's puzzled pause, she answered, "Villager no. 3 is trying a new vegetable recipe."

11. Did your yaya ever tell you of the woman in her province who gave birth to the kambal na hito (twin catfish), or maybe you read in the tabloid of the maiden and her illegitimate son, the bangus (milkfish)? Well, I'd just been let in on a family secret. A long time ago, one of Pierre's uncles came home from a fishing trip and hid to surprise his pregnant wife. As she was coming up the stairs, he came running out of some cabinets, shouting "Boo!" and waving in her face a multi-kilo giant of a fish. The poor woman fainted. Months later, when she was in premature labor, out came swimming out of her a baby boy, who managed to live only a few hours. It wasn't really fit for life on land, they said. The infant had a body that elongated and finished into a cone, with the eyes and ears malformed. Up to now they only whisper about it: Pierre's cousin was born with the head of a fish.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1, #2, #3, #4.]

Monday, September 11, 2006


Totally humdrum this blog entry, no angst, no humor, rien!

I just have to announce--because Cindy had been bitching about failing her driving test three times (despite having successfully managed the roads of three different countries!), Kala was complaining that her driving instructor slapped her on the hand, and there was a time that I'd be going to Tommpouce's blog and all he'd be talking about would be driving lessons--I have to announce that my French driver's permit arrived in the mail last Friday!

Yes, I know, I gloat... I'm actually so happy about this that I'd post a picture of the permit if it weren't such an ugly piece of pink.

Heard that normally it's not easy to get one. You have to go through hours of lessons and pass the exams, while doing that shelling out precious euros that would amount to about a thousand. That's half the price of my secondhand car...

Mine was the painless immigrant's path. It turns out that as long as our first one-year residency card is valid, we Filipinos can exchange our driver's license for a French one. So I went to the Aigues Mortes mayor's office, got the required form and filled it out; had my LTO license translated; had ID photos taken; photocopied my carte de sejour, and then submitted all the stuff back to the mayor's office. (I'm lucky that Aigues Mortes is cool like that; in some places you have to go to the prefecture to do all this.)

So thanks to Kala and Makis for insisting I get off my lazy flat ass to do it, pronto!, and to Analyse for giving me the how-to details. Now, Boots, I know that driving is the last thing on your mind right now, but you have to do this!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"Wala Nang Pangit Ngayon"

I believe it was beauty journalist Ria Limjap who used to say that. She'd then go on to declare that it's all a matter of styling; you just have to know to apply the right makeup and wear the right clothes. I'm sure Ria is right, but let me add to her theory.

When I'm there in the markets, selling my handmade jewelry, I sometimes get to wishing that with me were Tara and Lea.

You know how it is back home, you're only pretty if you're a white-skinned mestisa. So both girls suffered growing up--Tara in Surigao, Lea in Pampanga--just because they were too brown. "Ulikba," Lea was cruelly teased. As a kid my mom swears I was a rosy-cheeked cutie, which may be why I escaped the bullies, but eventually the cuteness faded so that in my twenties a boyfriend told me, "Okay, you're attractive, but not beautiful." I should have retaliated, "Well, you're oily skinned, flat-nosed, and pot-bellied." Instead, stupid me carried the little hurt around for years.

Well, girls, I have a perfect cure for our insecurities. Buy yourselves a plane ticket and move to where we're all pretty! There's something about our black hair and brown skin that makes them do a double-take over here. Men and women alike. They stop at my stand to say, familiarly, "Tu es tres jolie," formally, "Vous etes magnifique," exclamatorily (inventing a word here, maybe), "Quelle est belle!", and even lyrically, "Vous etes ravissante."

One time a tall blonde approached me, saying she wanted to take a trip to Asia, then asking, "Are all the girls as good-looking as you?" Answering truthfully, I responded, "I'm really just average over there." I savoured the look of doubt that stole over her ocean-blue eyes (the kind that we all grew up wishing we had), and couldn't help but laugh out loud when she said, "Maybe I'll be skipping the Philippines then."

Flipping hair over my shoulder, finally and once and for all, I swooshed away the White Goddess with my thick strands of black.

So, yes, it's a lot about styling, but also this: Beauty is a matter of finding the right address. Now, if only somebody could tell me where they like pot bellies and oily skin, I could send an e-mail to my ex...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Life in the Countryside

The reason I've not been blogging is we've been making jam. We live surrounded by trees and vine, apples, grapes, jujubes, almonds, prunes, and olives. The past years there's been no one to harvest, so much of the the fruit had ended up rotting on the ground.

Now here Pierre and I are. Being extreme creatures, predictably we have transformed from free spirits to sensible country folk. Why, said these two budding paysans, we can't let all that good food go to waste!

So we take a kilo of sugar and a kilo of fruit, put them in a giant casserole and bring to a boil, stirring all the while. Once all sticky, the mixture is spooned into sterilized jars that cool upside down. (We've done this so many times that these days, when I sweat I swear that my armpits smell of something sweet and syrupy.)

After all our efforts, we have now in stock, in glass containers of various shapes and sizes, some 15 liters of preserved fruit. Last night we looked content upon our cupboards, imagining ourselves waking up with the sun, sitting down to cups of strong coffee and plates of warm bread that we top with slabs of butter and spoons of our delicious homemade jam, fig being our favorite. It would be the perfect way to start a day spent outdoors, him doing things like mending fences and pruning trees, me maybe harvesting late tomatoes.

Then his phone rang, a client calling. A reality check as we remembered: we roll out of bed at ten to work all day in front of computers, indoors. And we don't even eat breakfast.