Saturday, June 25, 2016

The U.K. Disowns My Daughter!

Source: The Spectator
So the U.K. has done it. It has disowned the European Union--and my daughter.

How could that be? Am I taking this too personally? We’re long-time residents of France. But my daughter was born here and at 13 years old, became a French citizen, which gives her rights throughout the EU.

One of those rights is to go to university in any EU country, and she is (was) planning to go to a university in the U.K.

The night before the Brexit referendum on Thursday, we were in the living room, firming up plans to go on a 10-day tour of universities in Britain. Should we even bother to go?

Once the U.K. is out of the EU, my daughter will be treated as an “international student”—at fees three or four times the usual amount. Right now, EU citizens can attend U.K. universities for 9,000 pounds a year (and ones in Scotland for free), which is a bargain compared with U.S. universities, but expensive considering that tuition is free many EU countries.

Yes, that means U.K. students can attend university in the EU for free or at home rates. (See this story, "Leave the UK, Study in Europe.") Or just for a year as an exchange student under the EU Erasmus program. More than 200,000 U.K. students have participated in Erasmus, according to Universities UK. Belonging to the EU does have its advantages.

We're hoping it will take years for the U.K. to untangle itself from the EU. My daughter might get into a British university at "home rates" under the wire. We’re not calling off the trip, but thinking about a plan B.

Maybe the University of Pittsburgh? (The irony here is that the city and by extension the university was named after one of Britain's prime ministers, William Pitt, whose country when he ruled was engaged in wars with its European neighbors.)

With Brexit, a parent in the EU family has sued for divorce, and the division of the household is not going to be friendly or fast. Living together is hard, but fighting against one another separately for centuries is worse.

And it is the parents--the oldsters, who are to blame. Compared with around 40% of over 65s, upwards of 60% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain. And 16-year-olds like my daughter didn't have any say in what will be their future. As in any divorce, it will be the children that will suffer the most—the next generation who did not choose this path.

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes the blog Paris, Pittsburgh, And More, about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, email me at rose.burke89 "at", or follow me on Google+.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

When Life Gives You Franco-American Crumbs

What I had in mind
My daughter celebrated her 16th birthday this week, and as usual,  the mere idea of making a cake was stressing me out. 

No, I couldn’t cop out, and go to one of Paris’ many fantastic bakeries; the cake had to be homemade. 

How it really turned out
Last year the request was for a baklava cake, and I reacted with a typically French “can’t do attitude.” But with my daughter's help, we  pulled off this stunning feat. And it’s not as hard to make as it looks (go here for the recipe).

By comparison, this year’s request sounded so simple. It was for a plain yellow cake with strawberries and whipped cream, a simple version of the French frasier, in other words--strawberry shortcake.  No problem, I thought! 

My husband bought the gariguette variety of strawberries, which are small and delicate, but bursting with flavor. And they were in season. We were off to a good start.

But of course, I had to make it complicated. I thought I’d try to bake the cake into thin layers, and then stack them artfully with sliced strawberries, using the whipped cream as mortar (see the photo for my dream cake).

And of course, I made the batter using an untested American recipe. The cake came out partially burnt, uneven, and stuck to the pan. Why? Because I insist on using American recipes with French ingredients, which is an intercultural marriage with bleak prospects.
Last year's baklava cake
I salvaged the larger pieces of the cake, but abandoned the project, letting it sit overnight. I’ll just start all over again, I thought. (At least I had enough common sense to build in a day in case the cake was a total disaster.)

“How about cutting out small rounds with the end of a glass,” my daughter suggested. “And make a mini leaning Tower of Pisa?” I added.

When life gives you crumbs, make crumb-cake?

I started stacking, alternating a layer of cake with whipped cream and strawberry halves. My husband, the engineer, suggested impaling the tower with a chopstick for structural integrity. 

“It won’t last that long,” I said. 

We took a few photos before the tower collapsed under its weight, and somehow made it onto our plates. 

This mashup of an American recipe and French ingredients was messy. But put on the blindfolds, and it was a marriage made in heaven!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rain, Rain Go Away!

It was a state of emergency in Paris (again) this week, but this time, the brutish side of Mother Nature came calling. A month’s worth of rain dumped on the city, swelling the Seine.

We live just two blocks away from the river, and were worried because our new apartment building sits on a flood plain. The architects built it to withstand a 1-in-100-year flood. The last Big One in 1910 submerged the city for two months. Paris was overdue. (Pittsburgh beat that with the Great St. Patrick's Day flood in 1936, classified as a 1-in-500-year event.)

Someone was rolling dice over our heads. How would they land? Snake eyes?

The weather moved in with bolts of lightning a week ago, badly injuring a group of children and adults at a birthday party in Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement, where I regularly go to eat my bagged lunch.

And then the rain just didn’t stop falling on our plain. Nevertheless, Parisians kept on keeping on, even as umbrellas gave up their ghosts, and despite transportation strikes that cut back on train service.

The flooded RER C line
But water trumped even the forces of France’s ardent unionists, and by Thursday, flooded out my train to Paris, the RER C commuter line that moves 500,000 people each day. To avoid the crowds on the bus and Métro lines, I pedaled into work—about 9 kilometers or 6 miles.

The mayor warned residents in my building to move their cars out of the underground garage onto the street, because at any time, the authorities could bolt the anti-flood doors.

A houseboat on the Seine
A friend of mine who lives on a houseboat upriver, “Captain” Bob, was up to his waist-high waders in water, batting down the hatches. He was safe and sound, but exhausted. Not only from bailing himself out, but his neighbors as well.

Bob moved into his boat in the fall of 1982, missing the last big flood by a few months. “I’ve experienced flooding, but not this much,” he said, noting that the Seine was only 5 centimeters away from beating the 34-year high.

One thing you can’t beat, he says, is the “real spirit of camaraderie. Everybody’s helping each other out.” The biggest problem is reaching shore. A Parisian houseboat isn’t meant to move, but remains moored in a fixed location as flood waters rise around it.

What’s impressive this year, he said, is that French bureaucracy moved at record speed to help the houseboaters. A few days ago, a municipal truck made the rounds, delivering 6-meter long planks to residents, so they could extend their gangplanks to reach shore.

For years, Bob said, his boat association has been talking about preparing for the 100-year flood, but nobody has taken that seriously. Actually, that's not entirely true. In March, Paris staged an exercise to test the government's response to a centennial flood, illustrating the devastating effects with this video. But more should be done, according to this OECD report on risk management for the Seine.

The waters are receding today. The banks have held, and dryer heads have prevailed. However, the threat of the Big One still lies ahead, looming ever larger as we mess with Mother Nature, tempting our fate.

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes the blog Paris, Pittsburgh, And More, about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, email me at rose.burke89 "at", or follow me on Google+.