Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clipping, Washing, Inseminating, Oh My! (And more…)

It has officially been three weeks that I have been in France. I’m not sure what to think (wow it’s already been three weeks or wow it’s only been three weeks?). Either way, I am more than content; not even the age of 21, I have made it to France twice in my life and am close to adopting the adjective “bilingual” as an identity to my persona. The #1 rule to speaking another language: don’t translate. I find myself doing this sometimes and I have to catch it; I tell myself to just think in French. It’s like running – you just have to do it.  Sometimes we catch ourselves thinking about the moving of our legs and arms, our breathing pattern, and then the distance. It eventually goes to our head wherein we have to remind ourselves not to think, but to “just do it”. So that’s how speaking another language is; you believe that you’re French, think in French, and just speak it. The (desired) result: Voila! You’re speaking just like the natives!

Tuesday morning, I woke up and descended down the stairs to meet for breakfast. For breakfast, the hotel offered fresh croissants, baguette, crepes, cereal, ham, eggs, yogurt, apple sauce, fruit, bread, jellies and jams, nutella, coffee, tea, and grapefruit juice. Moreover, you could freshly squeeze your own orange juice- I didn’t see this until after I had finished breakfast (Tant pis – oh well). Following our delicious meal, we all left to prepare for the show. We set up the chairs and tables for lunch, the showing area, as well as some other miscellaneous tasks.  As for the heifers, there was a bit more clipping, lots of washing and scrubbing, and then blowing the cows up. “Hold on, you had .. blown the cows up”, you ask? Don’t worry, only the tail and back. Hah, I think it necessary I explain. For starters (as I believe I somewhat previously explained), this whole showing of the heifers is so that farmers can buy embryos and have them transplanted into the less genetically favorable cows; it’s all about the best genetics of the cows.  In order to “sell the heifer’s embryos”, we need to primp and prime the heifers to look their best. Therefore, we put a hair dryer and brush to their backs so that we blow the hair up (and use hair spray), in attempt to give the heifers a straight-flat-back look. As for the tail, we just try to make it look puffy by pulling the hairs distal from the tail’s center. Around 10:00, all the workers and farmers met for a 1.5-2 hour meeting to talk about pedigrees and histories of the cows and bulls. I was interested in the embryo part but when they presented numbers and acronyms, I became the bored, head bobbing American. Meetings are difficult for me here in France; 1. I tend to find meetings wearisome in the first place and 2. It’s even worse when I can’t understand what’s said. Thus, I start drifting off. Once the meeting was over, everyone walked over to the tent to eat lunch. The presentations started around 2:30; 2 Pie Rouge, 2 Normandes, and 8 Holstein cows were shown. I didn’t show a cow possibly because I didn’t stay with the technicians and cows once the presentations started. Also, I had a stomach ache and was freezing (and I was wearing a tank top, long sleeve shirt, sweater, as well as borrowed sweater). From what I’ve heard, my followers are sweating from the heat while I’m freezing over here! Sometime after the show, I left with some colleagues of Nicholas and returned to Nicholas’ apartment around 7:30. For the rest of the day, I just relaxed, ate dinner, took a shower, and went to bed.

The next morning, I worked a bit with Nicholas. He let me prepare an “inseminator needle”! Also, he told me that for the needle to reach the heifer’s/cow’s uterus, one has to guide the needle straight, right, left, and then straight again. It can be very difficult to inseminate, especially with a moving cow. After about three stops, he dropped me off to another farm where I met up with an embryo transplant specialist, Jean-Francois. I rode with him to a farm to help collect embryos from a previously inseminated heifer. We had to perform two flushings/collecting to retrieve the final 8 embryos – 7 fertilized and 1 unfertilized.  Basically, we flushed the heifer’s uterine horns with a water, magnesium, and calcium solution which was then filtered out, leaving a bit of solution with the embryos. Jean-Francois then hopped in his laboratory (in the van) and searched for the embryos. According to the contract between farmer and CreaVia (the enterprise), the embryos are equally split. If there is an odd number, the farmer keeps the extra embryo. The price starts at 100 euros! Once we were finished, Nicholas picked me up and we had lunch with David at the apartment. Then, I worked the afternoon with Nicholas, returned to the apartment, and rested on the couch, watching TV until Anais came home; Nicholas had a meeting to go to. Changing the language only works for a select number of channels at a certain time so I had to watch Seventh Heaven in French; I prefer the actual voices rather than the dubbed over French voices. For dinner, Anais made “Une Blanquette De Veau” over rice. I would explain it as a veal stew with carrots, onions, over a bed of white rice. It was very yummy!

The next day, I went to another heifer showing/embryo selling, but this time I went with Nicholas as a “guest”.  Nevertheless, I helped clean up lunch and helped the technicians and employees situate the heifers for their “photo op”. I would say that it was quite remarkable in the fact that it takes probably about 6 people to take a picture of one cow; the cow’s feet and legs, tail, ears, and head need to be situated a certain way. For the ear placement, they had an employee moo like a cow and enhance the sound with a megaphone. He also used a mirror so that the cow would see “another cow”, a radio if the mooing didn’t work, a bucket of fodder for the “feeding position” pictures, and a red cape for disguise. And the end result: a picture of a beautiful, perfectly situated cow. Well, I’m giving you the inside scoop so no more guessing! Later on, for dinner, we had David and Sebastian come over for pizza. They left around 9:50pm wherein I quickly sought out my bed.

Before I knew it, Friday came, wherein I was dropped off to work on a farm. The first thing I did was help Alan and Michelle (the farmer and wife) milk the cows. They have about 40 cows so the milking process was rather fast. Following, I left with Alan in the tractor for harvesting of the feeding hay. Since rain is really scarce here, the crops are dry; Alan has to deliver the hay to the cows in the field. While he did the “delivering”, I sent the cows out to graze. The family has a dog named Daisy, a lab and collie mix, but she is only 3 months and has yet to grow out of that puppy stage. Once she’s trained, she’ll be the one sending the cows out to graze. Alan then had me feed the calves while he fed the heifers. Their feed is similar to the cow’s feeding hay, but is presented in pellets. For those not so familiar with the feeding routine, calves receive milk for (if I understood correctly) about 3 months; they do not feed from their mother, but rather a bucket. Once we finished, we went inside to eat lunch. Michelle made an appetizer that was tuna bread. It’s basically tuna with some vegetables, spices, and a binding agent(eggs) cooked in a bread pan – I’m adding this dish to my book of recipes! Following lunch, I left with Pascal(one of Nicolas’ colleagues) to watch some inseminations. On the third farm, he let me stick my hand in the back of the cow! It was … pretty awesome actually; and I did have a long glove on. Once we finished with the inseminations, Pascal brought me back to his house to meet his daughter, give me freshly picked cherries, and show me a photo book of the family’s vacation to Africa two years ago. Everyone that I have met thus far has been extremely nice. I’ve been told that inhabitants of Bretagne are nice in general, but even more so when speaking with foreigners. Pascal brought me back to the farm wherein I was able to take a shower and play Mario Cart Wii with the family! Their two daughters were the true champions of the game. However, if it was Mario Cart with Nintendo 64, (don’t mean to “toot my own horn” but) let’s just say they would have placed less often in first. ;)

When it was nearing 7:30, Nicolas had come to pick up my farm work clothes – not me. He has a wedding to attend to this weekend with Anais; it’s the wedding of Anais’ brother. So, where does that leave me? Left at their apartment alone? Nope, guess again! It turns out that David and his family planned for a vacation this weekend, as well as Monday(a holiday here in France) and I got to go with them!!! They picked me up and we were off to David’s wife’s/Rosenn’s parent’s house, located in this area called the Baule. I highly recommend you look it up so you understand why it’s called the Baule (bowl). Before we arrived, we stopped at a Creperie where we all ate galettes and crepes for dinner. We finally arrived around 10:30pm and all went to bed; I had no idea what was in store for me the next day. Would you care to hear? So, it all started around 6:45am, which is odd because I fell asleep at 12:30 in the morning. Nevertheless, I immediately turned on my laptop and my friend Becky just happened to be on Skype! We spent two hours talking and searching for recipes for dinner; David informed Rosenn that I love to cook so they requested that I cook dinner. Finally, we figured out the appetizer and entrée(thanks Becky!!!), leaving me to figure out just the dessert. (Stay tuned for the menu) A tad bit later, I ascended up the stairs for breakfast with the family (David, Rosenn, and their two daughter Lily Rose of age 3.5 and Perrin of age 2.5). We then all got ready to go to the market and do some food shopping. Little did I know, we were going to an outside, yet roofed, market and on bikes! It was amazing; I saw the beach, the town, a merry-go-round, numerous boats, several shops, a cathedral, and the market!! The market comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats, and cheese galore! I was stunned. No, I was dreaming. No… I don’t know what I was but I was practically crying because I was soooo incredibly happy; I was actually living a dream- a dream that I once thought so impossible, it brought me to tears. Rosenn and David bought all that we needed for the day; fruits, vegetables, and cheese. For the cheese, they bought swiss(a huge rectangle of cheese ~ 8” long, 5” wide, and 1” thick!!) and then (sort of) let me choose the other two. In other words, I told them I loved goat cheese(#2) and pointed out an orange, hard cheese. Regardless of the price, they bought it! This specific cheese is comparable to the texture of parmesan cheese, but aged for a very long time. Once we returned, Rosenn made lunch wherein we had sole(everything but the head) and pasta, followed by bread with the three cheeses, and then cherries. What a meal!

Afterwards, I had(well watched them drink) coffee on the terrace with David and Rosenn(the girls were sleeping).  Right after, David and I got ready to go out on the ocean, on Rosenn’s parent’s boat!! We ended up casting a net for mussels and a cage for crabs as well as do some fishing. I thought I had a fish the first time, but I think the hook was just caught on a rock. End result: no hook. Of course, we had a box with several hooks, but I of course had to lose the one with four hooks and shiny fish tails(for the optimal fishing experience). Nevertheless, I would like to go fishing again! Finally deciding to give up, we headed back to the house. Once we got back, Rosenn and I took the motor-scooter(?) to a thrift store. Rosenn then drove me around and showed me several salt harvesting areas. It looks like a lot of work, but the end result is totally worth it: salt! There was also something similar to pickles that they were harvesting. We then returned back to the house to do some digging- literally. Rosenn and I changed into shorts, got our boots on, and went to the ocean to dig for seafood, along with several of the locals. You see, the ocean here rises and falls every day and in great distances too. Therefore, eating fresh seafood is as easy as eating fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, except their garden is the ocean. We dug for moules(mussels) and coques(shells). With relation to the shells, we had to abide by the rules and avoid collecting the tiny “babies”. I also ended up finding a few tiny crab friends, an oyster, and a star fish. I would have kept the star fish, but I didn’t want to kill it just for keeps, future breakage, and eventual garbage. So I took a few pictures instead. The time was eventually nearing dinnertime, so I called it a day, took a well-deserved shower, and started cooking dinner.

During dinnertime, several people came over: Rosann’s sister(Marine) and sister’s boyfriend(Bruno), Rosann’s best friend(Anais) from before pre-school days as well as her friend’s children(Romeo of 8 months and Maorie(sp?) of 3 years), and some random guy. We enjoyed aperitifs, quail eggs, baguette with several spreads(olive tapenade, hummus, blended fish eggs, cucumber spread, and a crème fraiche with roasted red peppers spread). Granted, I was cooking at the same time so I was mostly in the kitchen. All the same, I love to cook so I was as happy as a clam. We finally got to the meal around 10:00pm; I cooked a vegetable and pasta soup for the appetizer, basil and lemon chicken with a side of roasted apricot balsamic tomatoes for the entrée, and a strawberry and apple pie for dessert. They loved it and I’m so glad they did because honestly I didn’t follow any of the recipes as they were written; I formulated the soup recipe from my head, the tomatoes were roasted with an apricot balsamic vinaigrette because that’s what the family had, the chicken was prepared and cooked completely in a completely different way, and the pie had less sugar than called for – which turned out perfectly because of the added lemon juice and sweetness of the strawberries and apples. Around midnight, they decided that they wanted to go to the casino. I stayed for three reasons: 1. I didn’t have my i.d., 2. Someone had to stay with the children and keep an ear out for them, and 3. I was very tired. This is the second time I have not been able to go to the casino and it may not be “just bad luck” in not having my i.d. The Bible does say not to gamble, right? So maybe God just isn’t giving me the opportunity and I sincerely have no problem with that. In the end, what a day! I experienced so many different things in one day I find it frankly unbelievable.

The next morning, I again had breakfast with the family, Anais, and her children. An hour later, we all left for the market again but instead on foot, with strollers. Since today is Sunday, there were many venders selling food, jewelry, pictures, clothes and shoes, and the more. At the market, we bought food for lunch and I bought a small container of the local salt. Our last stop was at the patisserie and boulangerie for some fresh baguette; the children just about ate 2/3 of one during our walk home! :D Upon our return, Rosann started cooking lunch and David and I went out to the boat again to see if we caught any crabs as well as other seafood. As a side note, all day today, it has been overcast with a tad bit of wind and sporadic wind. Going out into the ocean is neither a very smart idea nor safe act, so several people are staying off the water today. Even still, I wanted to go out and I didn’t want David going out alone. When we first left, there were waves, but very small. Once we got deeper into the ocean, the waves got bigger so the boat rocked a bit more and we drank a bit more water than desired. We decided it was too difficult and dangerous to try and retrieve the net and box as well as whatever it contained; David did manage to grab the buoy once, but the waves, wind, and weight of the box beneath the water made it too difficult to reel in. I have to admit, when we were out there, I was a bit scared; thank God for God, for I know He’s with me and that, with Him, I have no reason to be scared. When we returned, Rosann had prepared langoustine(bay prawn that resemble mini lobsters), huitres(oysters), coques(shells?), and moulles(mussels) all in separate bowls, paired with white wine; white wines are paired with seafood while red white is paired with meat. It was a fresh seafood feast! We had the customary cheese and bread following our seafood and then a chocolate fudge cake that they bought at the market. Since then, we’ve all just been relaxing, looking at photos, sleeping, etc. Sometimes I have to take a step back, out of this world and realize where I am as well as just how lucky I am to experience all that I have, all that I am, and all that I will. Not sure if I have a run or a bike ride in my future, but just the same I’m sure that whatever I do will be enjoyable. To be continued...

P.S. Pictures coming soon!

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