Jardin Botanique de Metz

I ventured out in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week for my walk to take advantage of the relative warmth of a sunny May day. The sun was high, and I headed south, in search of an arboretum I had seen a few days earlier on my way back from a walk along the Moselle. I wasn't exactly sure where it was, so as I walked along, I asked various people where the Jardin Botanique was, and managed to walk right past it twice, before I saw the entrance!

Passing through the gate, I was greeted by a statue on a lawn area that looked like two vultures attacking a lamb, which you can see in my Lorraine Flora album. The Jardin Botanique de Metz is actually in Montigny-lès-Metz, but I believe owned by Metz, and I am not exactly sure whether Montigny-lès-Metz is a completely separate town, or a neighborhood within the city of Metz. It is adjacent to the Chateau de Courcelles, an early 18th century mansion, of which I know little about other than it has recently undergone major restoration. Today, its rooms can be rented out for meetings and conferences.

I headed into the arboretum first, where I found the little green beetle in the photo, above right. I am still learning how to use my camera, so I had to keep futzing with it to get the exposure and focus. Luckily, the little bug barely moved the whole time. But he wasn't the only specimen of the animal kingdom in the structure. As you walk in, there is a fountain with turtles, and in another room there are several birds. You can see them in my Lorraine Fauna album. They have several palm, orchid and citrus specimens in the arboretum, and the fruit looked really good ... maybe because they had signs on them that said hands off!

Back outside on the footpaths, I walked under an arbor with what looked to be yellow wisteria (left). I love wisteria! I have a 50 year old wisteria in my backyard in California that my grandfather planted. Wisteria, a vining plant related to peas with clustered violet flowers , are significant in Japanese (and Buddhist) culture, because although beautiful, they are considered humble, because they face downward. I have since found out these flowers are Laburnums, which are actually trees.

Planted under the Laburnum were several iris varieties, which reminded me of the iris my mom had all around her garden. She started with just a few, through the years divided the rhizomes, and eventually had a riot of violet blooms popping up all over every spring.

Outside the shelter of arboretum and arbor, the paths connect several gardens within the grounds, including a fragrance garden with herbs and scented flowers, an array of different colored azaleas (in the Flora album), three ponds (one is in the Flora album), a rose collection, grasses, flower beds, and several spots to sit and contemplate the world. I walked along a path of square pavers leading to a stone slab (right), which is where I chose to stop for a few minutes and just enjoy the sunshine.


Restaurant Atelier Cuisine

I was leaving town for a month on the 9th, so by the evening of the 8th, I had already eaten or given away all of my perishables (I hope), and didn't have the ingredients or desire to cook. I headed out the door into the chill, damp night in search of dinner.

Down rue Pasteur, a few short blocks from the apartment, a lone restaurant in the middle of the block was open, Atelier Cuisine. The menu looked promising, it seemed pleasant, and I was cold and starting to get a little wet from the rain. But I didn't want to give up so soon, just because it was the first place I saw. I continued down the street, passing fast food, Moroccan, Chat Noir (closed Mondays). Around the corner, heading back up rue Lafayette past a few bars, a couple of chain/franchise places, a few brasseries, Mexican, hotel restaurants.

Nothing else really caught my eye, and the walk wasn't warming me up as I had expected, so rather than head up toward centre ville, headed back to Atelier Cuisine. I pondered the menu, thinking the terrine de lapin en croûte de lard et buisson de salade (terrine of rabbit with bacon crust and salad) sounded good. But I ordered the magret de canard sauce acidulée aux mûres sauvages (duck breast with a sour dewberry sauce), because bacon can be a bit too rich for me, the berry sauce sounded interesting, and I really love duck when it is cooked correctly... and it was cooked perfectly! Presented on a bed of mirepoix, it was juicy, flavorful, and the tart sauce complemented it nicely.

I was stuffed by the time I finished, but the dessert menu was placed in front of me, and well, I have a raging sweet tooth. Everything sounded delicious, but the riz au lait sur lit de caramel à la fleur de sel (rice pudding on a bed of salted caramel) intrigued me. I have often been pleasantly surprised by sweet/savory combinations, and this was no exception. Even though I was already uncomfortably full, I ate every last bit.

Heading out of the restaurant, I walked around the neighborhood a bit before heading back to the apartment to ease some of the discomfort of having eaten too much. I will definitely return to Atelier Cuisine if I have the chance.

Restaurant Atelier Cuisine
26 rue Pasteur
57000 Metz
+33 3 87 16 35 10



Tuesday morning, I woke up early to run to the bank to withdraw money from my US account and deposit it into my French account before heading home. Unfortunately, the atm at Crédit Agricole told me my bank had refused my request, gave me my card back, no cash ... and a receipt that said it had issued €450 to me! I ran to my apartment to check my account, and Citibank already showed a $640 withdrawal. I ran back to Crédit Agricole, explained what had happened, and the woman behind me said the same thing had happened to her! Alexandre, the branch manager, called whoever it is he calls when this happens, shut down the machine, and told me the transaction would be reversed. To emphasize his point, he crossed out the 450 on my atm receipt. I am sure Citibank will not accept that as evidence. 4 days and several messages later, Citibank still has not reversed the transaction. Grrr...

The fiasco at the bank ran until 15 minutes before my train to Paris was to depart. I ran back to the apartment for my things, and headed out the door to the train station with two heavy bags, one of which was awkward to carry. I ran to the station, saw my train was running 10 minutes late, grabbed coffee and a roll and headed to the track. When the train rolled in, I queued up to enter. Just as I got to the door, it shut on me, and wouldn't open again! The station agents made me go halfway back down the tracks to enter through another door, then I had to walk all the way back up the interior of the train to reach my seat. The bags were bruising my legs, I was sweating, my shoulders were complaining, and my hands were cramping. I was not pretty.

The rest of the day went more smoothly. I spent the day with my sister, had dinner with her and a couple of her crewmates, Marco and Gus. Gus is from Colorado and is a bow hunter. Marco is from Cuba, and at dinner he told us how he had been branded a potential "problem" by government officials, because he had been "poisoned" by the influence of his college classmates from other countries, and they gave him detailed instructions on how to find someone to take him out of the country! I met two more of my sister's crewmates on the way back to the hotel. Hervé is from Congo, has two wives and likes to flirt. Franz is from France, is unmarried and likes to flirt.

I flew with my sister and her crewmates from Paris to Miami Wednesday morning, then continued to San Francisco, arriving home in the evening. It was a long day, and I am still a little jet lagged. My body doesn't handle travel as well as it used to. I don't know why. I am home for a month, then go back to France for a month. If I am still not earning a regular salary at that point, I will be packing up my things to move back home. If I do have a salary, I'll apply for a long-stay visa and hunt for a new apartment, preferably one with laundry facilities in the building and an oven.

I still have photos from Jardin Botanique de Courcelles to upload, and some of what I think are interesting architechtural elements, so I will put up at least one post while I'm home. I have received a few messages since arriving home, and have not answered yet, but I will get around to that as soon as I catch up on house, bank and a few other issues that have popped up.



I can't think of a more pleasant way to get to know new people than over food and drink. I invited myself to Arnaud's again, this time for ratatouille, and this time, his girlfriend, Anne-Lise, was in charge.

Ratatouille is a relatively free-form dish, so ingredient proportions are adjustable. Ingredients: sliced onion, minced garlic (germ removed), aubergine/eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini/courgette cut into ~1 inch cubes, bay, thyme, rosemary, and a good virgin olive oil.

Anne-Lise sautéd the onions in enough oil to coat the pan (she mentioned that traditionally, they use a lot of oil), and added the garlic just as they were caramelizing, while the eggplant and peppers were prepped, then added to the pot. The tomatoes went in next, and the zucchini saved for last, added as the other vegetables softened. Anne-Lise added a little water, three bay leaves, and the leaves from a sprig of thyme and a sprig of basil to the pot, and the concoction was left to cook, with an occasional stir.

She and Arnaud took some potatoes they had boiling and riced them into a large bowl, adding crème, salt, pepper and nutmeg -- Anne-Lise is grating the nutmeg into the potatoes while Arnaud stirs in the photo. I have never had mashed potatoes with nutmeg ... they are delicious that way!

Finally, fresh seabass was cooked on a hot frying pan, browned to perfection. I went to the market earlier in the day with Arnaud and Anne-Lise, and watched the man at the fish stand filet them. It took him all of 15 seconds at most to do each one. The last time I attempted to filet a fish, it took me about 5 minutes, and I mangled it.

Boissons... Before the meal, I had a glass of pastís, an anise liquor. It pours clear, and turns cloudy when exposed to water. According to Arnaud, pastis is very strong, and a favorite among alcoholics, but it is also a typical French drink. We had a good Bordeaux with dinner, and a wonderfully fragrant Earl Grey tea with a mirabelle pie Anne-Lise made from scratch.

The pie was to die for! Mirabelles are a small plum grown in Lorraine. For the pâte brisée, Anne-Lise recommends cutting 50 - 100g butter into 150g flour (she did not use sugar for this pie, although she says a little sugar can be added), then sprinkling on just enough water to make everything hold together in a ball (and not futzing with the dough too much once the water is added). She baked the pie with very little added sugar -- mirabelles are sweet, with just a hint of acid, from what I have tried.

We will attempt one more cooking session when I return in July, and then Anne-Lise and Arnaud are off to vacation in Iran! I have never been to the Middle East. I would love to trek the Karakoram range, but Americans aren't very popular in Pakistan right now.

I am off to Paris in the morning, possibly the Louvre in the afternoon, and will spend the night bumming off my sister's room at the Marriott before the flight Wednesday morning.

See more photos of dinner in my food & drink album:
Food and Drink


Summer Reading

It is raining, the first in over a week, but unlike the past month, today's rain was an all-day affair and cold! It has been cold enough the last couple of days that I do not venture out without donning at least a sweater, usually two, plus a jacket. As I march down the street at a brisk pace, hoping to warm up, I notice the people around me in spring-like skirts, t-shirts, and light jackets, and wonder if I am coming down with something. I have spent sub-freezing evenings in Truckee (California, by Lake Tahoe) shoveling snow from the driveway dressed in my long underwear, proof that I am not rendered entirely useless in the cold, but the mountains are a bit more arid. The cold here is similar to the Bay Area in that it tends to be humid as well, and the moisture seems to conduct the cold deeper into my body.

This weekend celebrates the L'été du Livre (summer of the book) in Metz, and there is a huge tent filled with books, their authors at the ready to speak with attendees and sign copies of their work. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, I might add, to read Le Parfum (the French translation of Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind). The vocabulary is more than a bit beyond me to try to parse out meaning as I go. So I headed up to the book sale to see if I could find an English translation so I could read them side-by-side, or another book in French that would be easier for me to get through. I wandered through the whole tent once, scanning covers only, to get an idea of what was there. I love history and socio-political commentary, and a few titles caught my eye, but I didn't want to bog myself down in those yet.

She is in my Metz Events album.

On my second pass, I stopped at the table of Zaz, whose books are produced by a small printer in the little town of Sarreguemines (I stayed there last November at Auberge St Walfrid, beautiful rooms, excellent food, highly recommend it). She had a book, Mémoires d'un Labrador, with a photo of a black lab leaning on a bed, paw held up as if wanting to shake hands. All of my dogs growing up, with the exception of one sheltie, were black labs. Of course I bought a copy! I skimmed through the first two chapters, and it looks to be an amusing read.

Zaz's links:

Mabrouck Rachedi
Also in the Metz Events album
I continued through the tent, and a man began speaking to me in what seemed to me to be rapid-fire French! I panicked and my brain froze. I picked up one word ... three. It is probably good that someone who works with numbers for a living can recognize them in more than one language. But in this case, it didn't help at all. I asked in my broken French to repeat what he said more slowly, and he said in English:

This is the third time you have passed by, which means that you must really want to read my book!

I was pretty sure I had only been through the tent twice, but I guess it was possible I had ventured down that particular aisle three times. I told him I needed a relatively easy read, because my French vocabulary is limited. His name is Mabrouck Rachedi -- Click here for his Myspace page -- and he assured me that his book, Le petit Malik, would be a perfect read for someone just learning French. If someone makes the effort to speak with me out of the blue, and yes, use one of the oldest sales tactics on earth in making what he has seem to fill my needs, I am more open to what he has to say. Of course I bought a copy of his book! I skimmed through the first chapter at lunch, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I did not need my dictionary to get the gist and was able to figure out most of the new words based on context. So far, it seems a bittersweet tale, although I have only been introduced to one of three main characters.

By the way, Mabrouck has been invited to attend what I think is a writer's workshop at the University of Iowa. Iowa is not exactly one of the more exciting places to visit in the world, but I hope he is able to go, as it seems he will have the opportunity to network with other writers from around the world.
Another man offered to make a little watercolor painting on a card for me as I passed by. His name is Eban, and his books are collections of his paintings and poems. He is from Vietnam, lives in France and has family in the US and Switzerland. I am ashamed to say I did not buy one of his books, although I like his work. I was on a mission to find books that would help improve my fluency in French, and when I am on a mission, I can be pretty focused. If you are of Japanese heritage, his books make nice omiage (hostess gifts, I think is the best English translation) when visiting someone's home.
I saw Veronique, the docent from the museum (she actually works at the library, I found out), who led me through one of the exhibits so she could translate for me today, as well. This time I remembered to give her the URL to my blog.
Learning to make ratatouille tonight... will report back!


Economies and People

Need a container? The man at left (whose name I did not catch) has one for everything. The market was packed this weekend, although from what I heard, it was mostly lookers. Not so many buyers at the end of the month! And, I suspect, not so many this year.

I sit in my apartment, tapping at my laptop, clenching my jaw at the bleak outlook of my future. No responses to job applications other than the automatically generated "thanks for applying" responses. The governor slashed the community college budget back home. Physical Education in particular has been dealt a severe blow, so my backup plan may no longer be available to me come August. And though there is demand for the product my company sells, the companies who want them are not willing to extend loans to have them made. For the first time in my life, I am tasting defeat, and I am not so sure how to handle it. I know that things are tough all around, and that work is scarce for everyone, but if you are someone who has always landed on your feet, it is a lot more painful when you finally don't. The golden child has tarnished.

On a brighter note, I had my Quiche Lorraine lesson with Arnaud. The man eyeballs everything! Luckily, he emailed the recipe with approximate amounts:

Ingredients: pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry -- savory, not sweet); 3 eggs; 100g smoked bacon, 50g enmental cheese (optional, and not traditional), 15cl cream (Arnaud used crème fraîche, but I think heavy cream and whipping cream will work, too -- he also added a little milk); salt & pepper.

Lay pastry in a shallow baking dish with straight sides. Cut bacon into small pieces, and place into bottom of pie pan -- it should be evenly distributed, but not not too dense. Beat the eggs until they turn light yellow. Add cream and milk, and continue beating until the mixture becomes frothy. According to Arnaud, the cream/milk proportion controls the pouffiness of the quiche. More cream = more pouff. Pour over bacon. Shred the cheese and distribute evenly across pan. You can also add onion, which makes it a quiche Alsacienne. Put in a 200c / 390f oven until lightly browned and cooked through.

Between the cream and bacon, it is a very rich dish, and is therefore traditionally served with a salad. Arnaud sliced tomatoes and basil for his salad. Alas, I forgot to bring my camera that day! I assure you, everything was delicious.

According to Food Reference, quiche Lorraine "originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine," and the word quiche is from the German Kuchen, for cake. Let's just say it's a dish from a region that has experienced several changes in administrative authority, and leave it at that.