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I’m here. I love it! And some travel epiphanies.

It’s Wednesday and I’ve had three days of Institut Paul Bocuse cooking school classes, which are extraordinary.  The school is fabulous, so if anyone’s interested, this couldn’t be a more staggering opportunity.  I’m loving it.  I’ll write about it next, with photos.  And I’m having French and Spanish conversations and they’re going well.  Languages swirl around meGerman,Dutch, Spanish, French, smatterings of Chinese and English.  People have been amazingly kind.  Lyon is a fascinating and beautiful city, and these are some of the kindest people I’ve met.  And at the school, the most amazing cooks.  I’ll write about that with photos next time.

But, let me just get in writing some things that may help those of you who are coming to France/Europe this year:

1.  I didn’t have jet lag, and I almost always do.   I did something differently this time and the composite really worked.  I have never hit the ground running so smoothly.  I left St. Louis at 9 am. arrived in Paris Saturday morning at 6:15 a.m., ran and caught a fast train to Lyon at 6:59, arrived in Lyon at 9, took a shower and dropped off my bags at the apartment-hotel and went to a 12:30 luncheon downtown at the Place Bellecour Paul Bocuse teaching restaurant (LOVELY1) with my new classmates.  Didn’t go to sleep until 10 Saturday night and slept 13 hours and have been great ever since.  This is a first.  So here’s what I did:

a.  For the four days before the fight, I got up each day an hour earlier than the day before to try to cut down on the physiological jet lag from a 7 hour time change.  The morning of the flight, I got up at 2:30 or so.  I’d read about this before but never had the discipline to do it.  This week I had a cold and woke up early anyway, so I just used the general misery to bootstrap myself into good jet lag practices and I think it worked.

b.  On the flight – no caffeine, wine or carbonated drinks.  I did have tea with the breakfast when I woke up 1 hour before the flight ended, but didn’t do my normal coffee.  I hydrated like crazy all day and drank about ½ liter of water an hour and walked around (guess where?)  I always book an aisle seat, what can I say?

c.  I got the early meal – all courses served at once and went to sleep an hour and a half after the flight started instead of doing the long meal and a movie.  I got 2-3 hours of quite decent sleep a d a couple other hours of interrupted dozing.

d.  I took No Jet Lag homeopathic pills (these things really work – with arnica).  You take one every two hours.  Get them at or

Okay, that’s all I know, but I probably walked 5 mies Saturday, had a wonderful time at the lunch, drank loads more water, didn’t have any of that swimmy-headed feeling of disorientation I’ve had with jet lag before, and one long, fabulous sleep the next night did it.  Voila!

2.  Credit cards:  I very carefully got an upgraded American Express and a Visa (the Bank of America traveler’s card) because neither of them that charge the normal 3% “foreign transaction fee” for converting from dollars to euros and because they have the “chip” that European credit card merchants now need. I also got the sleeves that keep the credit card information from being pirated from your card while you’re sitting in a public place (I don’t ask, I just put the sleeves on the cards when Russ gave them to me,)  The cards are a great idea.  They really DON’T charge you for the dollar to euro conversion.  And the cards work fine in restaurants although there’s often some discussion of American cards and you just have to assure people that they will work and they just have to run them through.  They work.  In shop and restaurants.

However, the cards DON’T work in either ATM machines or to get metro/bus tickets.  Those automated machines demand a pin code that isn’t our American system in the cards with the chips.  I understand we’re going to go to it within a year or two, but it will require a conversion of all the credit card machines in the US (at least that’s what I have been told)  So for now, just know that you CAN’T use these cards at ATMs or for for public transport tickets.  So BRING YOUR bank debit card.  It WILL work with your regular bank passcode.  At least in Lyon, you have to have change in coins (NOT paper euros) to get tickets, so be prepared to (a) get a bunch of cash or (b) ask a friend to hare the metro tickets on his/her card).  This was the biggest challenge of the first day, when I was sorting through a handful of old Euros I’d brought from home, breathing on them, rubbing them on my sleeve to read the faint 20 or 50  or 1 or 2.  It was definitely not cool.  Finally,  I started chucking change into the machines and saw that it does the math for you and hands you a ticket when you’ve done enough.  So that’s good.

3.  TGV, train reservations and changing trains.  Moral of the story:  Don’t necessarily follow the rules, butt your way in, smile and ask very politely for help.  You can get rescued from the system by very sweet people who are there ostensibly to enforce it.  THIS was an interesting example of a dynamic I’ve seen 4 types in the last 5 days.  I had a reservation for the TGV (the fast French Train from Paris to Lyon).  I bought it online before I left from the only American option (I think – the Eurail people).  Totally easy, digital, print your own, reserved seat, etc.    However, my plane got i early and since I had a lunch in Lyon at 12:30, I REALLY wanted to get there as early as possible so I could drop my bag at the hotel and get a shower before the big lunch with all my unknown new buddies.  I stood in official change-your-ticket line and waited for 20 minutes as the queue moved at a glacial pace toward the two agents.  At 6:55, with another 20 minutes of waiting inevitable in this line, I gave up on good citizenship and ducked under the barriers. I bolted for Quai 4, where the monitor said another train with Marseille as a destination was waiting to depart at 6:59.  I ran for it, dragging my huge suitcase (see number 4), rushed up to the conductor as whistles were blowing, he referred me to the man standing beside him.  I showed him my ticket, explained that I’d LOVE to get there early and he waved me aboard with a shrug and a smile, tole me I’d have to pay a “supplement,” settled me into the lower level car and we pulled away.  I said “merci beaucoup.”  The ticket-taking man saw my incorrect ticket, which I honorably mentioned, and he shrugged, smiled and waved away the supplement as a mere bagatelle.

4  Phones, WiFI, etc.  Aargh…  I’m only half-way through this one.  On Saturday I went to the Orange store (a chain) I got a cheap (10 euro!) phone with texting (very basic.  They called it “classic,” accent-on-the-last-syllable, not “bon march,” which means cheap.  I thought this was a brilliant bit of salespersonship and told the nerdy phone guy that in French, with that European right hand-sign that looks like you’re shaking water off your hand sideways, but means, “whew!  that’s really something,” and he grinned modestly). So I’m on a $20 euro a month plan for infinite phone calls in France.  I told him I also needed phone call outside the US.  Somehow it didn’t get added.

I can’t add it to the plan without going back to the stone because I have an American credit card WITH chip and WITHOUT the pin, so it doesn’t work on the web site.  I’ll go back later when I’m not cooking 10-12 hours a day.

AND speaking of SIM cards for internet connection, they’re necessary.  I’m tethered to a cable as we speak and am SO grateful I brought my iMac Pro with old technology.  My new iPad with the drop-proof and waterproof case (don’t get one) won’t let me put in the new SIM card that would run it.  You’re SUPPOSED to be able to take this thing off, but 7 people, including my cooking buddy Erica, the brilliant executive who’s in charge of Cisco in China and three guys at the Orange store couldn’t get it opened.  I tried chewing it off with my teeth, but stopped after a while because I really don’t want to be able to do an entry here on French dentistry.

So there are little bits of issues, but I’m trusting that on Saturday, when I’m out of school and have time to go back to the Orange technical center with the technicians, that we’ll get this all straightened out.

5.  Looking like a tourist.  If you want to look like a tourist of any stripe, carry your camera.  If you want to blend, wear black and buy a baguette and carry it around all afternoon.  I’m not kidding.  It works and it cost a euro..

So I’m here and life is fabulous and I’m loving it.  I’ll tell you about the school next.  With photos.  It’s AMAZING!

In need of a sabbatical…

I’ve been working too hard for too long – 300 speaking engagements (2/3rd of them on planes) and 4 books in 3 years. Like that. And much as I love the work I get to do, I realized a couple of years ago that I’m burned to a crisp and need to take a break. I kept working and loving it, but I’m getting shrill. Two years ago I didn’t even know what a break might look like. The only thing I had the energy to imagine was kayaking in northern Minnesota, then reading Jane Austen and eating bonbons.

Our Minnesota lake

Our Minnesota lake and the nose of my kayak

But after talking with friends and thinking a bit, something of the old me, the high school me, started to wake up. I wanted to do something that wasn’t motivated by Duty.  Something that wouldn’t help anyone in particular.  I bought Rosetta Stone and started to learn my first French. And I loved it. I have a language ear. I’m like a parrot. And in the last two years I’ve read 30 books in French, done immersion weeks at Concordia Language Villages (a wonderful place), and have listened to at least 10 audio books. Given the fact that I’m old enough and bossy enough to do what I want with my fun, there’s no one in the world who can make me read Camus or Sartre again. So I’ve read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and all the Harry Potter books in French. I’m fluent in mysteries. I know the French words for all the Quiddich vocabulary, “wand” (baguette magic), and “flesh-eating-slug.”  I’m multi-tasking in escapism.

In the last two years, I’ve gotten to the point of real danger in a foreign language. As my brilliant French filmmaker friend said, “you don’t have any right to sound that good. You don’t know anything.” My accent is now good enough that I’ll probably sound as if I intended to say that awful thing I just accidentally perpetrated.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve done this French thing hours each day: I don’t seem to be built to relax. But I can change obsessions. So in order to wean myself off of 50-70 hours a week of work (okay, I’ll be public about this. Our website is I shifted the overdrive into French.

Last February my husband broached the idea of walking the Camino of Santiago of Compostela (530 miles across the north of Spain with a backpack, and I’m just not going to go into the bedbug thing). I murmured a gentle “non, merci, my love” to his kind invitation and as we talked, the idea hit. Why not cook in Paris while he’s walking???

So I’m going to. I’ve done applications on a level of complexity akin to Princeton’s. I’ve honed my baguettes & croissants & stuffed, roasted chickens & sauces, and practiced les desserts over the last year. I’m heading off for three months of cooking in France this Friday – three months of cooking with some of the most amazing chefs’ teams in France (L’Institut Paul Bocuse, L’Ecole Alain Ducasse, Le Cordon Bleu, Lyon, Paris, the Loire Valley and in Quimper in Brittany). In French. On January 24th, I used some of my zillion frequent flyer miles to run up to Chicago, clutching 55 pages of “dossier” to my bosom, had my interview in French.  The Consultat de France in Chicago gave me a visa to stay 93 days in France.

Look!  My visitor pass to the French Consul.  I'm official!

Look! My visitor pass to the French Consul. I’m official!

Look: they punched my ticket.  I now have a big league French visa stapled onto page 8 of my passport.

I filed my last research report on February 7th. This afternoon, I started packing my one carry on bag. I’m trying to save room for 5 pounds of Bob’s Red Mill organic flour to give to the boulanger (baker) in Lyon who showed me how he does the best baguettes I’ve ever tasted.  Also some wild rice.  My friend Judy, who lives in Brittany, assures me that there are stores in France. I got a new credit card that doesn’t hit me up for 3% to buy toothbrushes and scarves in Europe. I’ll take two black outfits, two pairs of shoes, my French makeup, my Kindle, my iPad, my computer and 4 bottles of vitamins. That ought to pretty much cover it.

Even writing this makes if feel as if it’s going to happen. Thank you.  It helps to talk about it.  If you’re interested, stay tuned!