Mar 2, 2014

A Long Way to Drive: Dôme de Vézelay


France's unofficial motto may be "French Bureaucracy: Not Infamous for Nothing," but that doesn't mean it has the monopoly on annoying, crazy bureaucracy. And so, I find myself flying 20 hours door to door, from Paris via O'Hare to San Francisco, in order to renew my California driver's license. Set to expire on my birthday soon, I have recently learned there is no way I can renew it by mail or online because I've renewed it the last two times by mail and, therefore, used up my remote allotment. I was in living in San Francisco at the times, but I was just lazy and never saw the downside of avoiding a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Well, I see the downside now. California law says that after two remote renewals, a person must renew in person, at the counter of the DMV, in order to update the photo and possibly re-test.


I can't transfer my license to France because France has a reciprocal agreement only with certain states: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- none of them states that most American drivers in France actually come from. That means that in order to get a French license, I would have to take the course, the test, and pay the fee, and believe it or not, that would probably take me at least several months and just the fee for the license alone (not even the course) would be upwards of a thousand dollars. It is notoriously difficult to get a license in France. And, frankly, because France would require me to relinquish my California license, then I'd have to turn around and re-take both written and road tests when I move back to the US.

So, for a bargain $650 airfare, four days of my time, four horrible plane movies* (one of them played three separate times: for the morbidly curious, see below), and a heap of jet-lag both directions, I commute 20 hours each way to stay two days and go to a 45 minute appointment at the DMV. At least it works, and I walk away with my new driver's license -- only one wrong out of 18 on the test it turns out I have to take (in emergency circumstances, it is OK to use a cell phone in your hands while driving). Not only am I good to go when I move back to San Francisco, it also means that I can drive rental cars while we live and travel in Europe.

On the positive side, I do get to see my new niece (a.k.a. the cutest baby in the world):

And the colors of San Francisco, complete with warm weather and spring plum blossoms starting to bloom early. Meanwhile, back in Paris, it's gray, freezing, and snowing/raining.


I get fresh-squeezed lemonade -- lemon juice in a cup, simple syrup to sweet, and water to dilute -- and creative California cuisine; here it's French toast made from challah stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with lemon curd.

And last but not least, a special field trip to Trader Joe's to buy ridiculous amounts of cereal, seaweed snacks, and other ingredients that are hard to find or too expensive in Paris.

I have come with luggage full of hand-me-downs and gifts to give away, and even a carry-on packed inside my big luggage. All with the expectation that I would bring back groceries. Weirdest suitcase ever. Staying with my friends, the girls help me take the 15 boxes of cereal out of their cartons to make more space. Everything makes it across the world just perfectly. I mean, let's face it, Joe's O's (which are essentially Cheerios) make perfect packing peanuts.

*For the morbidly curious, the following are the four films shown on a small screen at the front of the cabin on the four legs of my American Airlines flights, on a schedule determined by the air crew. Anthony did not know planes without private on-demand screens were even still flying. My friend Sarah has dubbed my movie/plane experience "cruel", and I'm inclined to agree, except for the fact that it means I got a lot of needed sleep I might otherwise have skipped.
The Lucky One, a Nicolas Sparks romance, starring Zac Efron. Shown three times, twice of those in immediate succession. Mushy and formulaic.

Trouble with the Curve, a movie with Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams, which sounds promising, except that it's about baseball and is horribly predictable.

Sparkle, starring American Idol star Jordan Sparks and Whitney Houston. Before she died, obviously. A Dreamgirls rip-off.

Here Comes the Boom, in which (spoiler alert) Kevin James as a high school science teacher fights in Mixed Martial Arts bouts in order to raise money to save the school's music program, led by Henry Winkler, and in order to get the girl, Salma Hayak. Enough said.

THE CHEESE: Dôme de Vézelay

This cheese looks like it would be dry and crumbly like a Taupiniere, but instead it's a giant leap beyond creamy; it's wet and oozy. It's as if it's a delicious, goaty, melted cheese sauce just at room temperature. According to my research, it's best between spring and autumn, but I have it in the dead middle of winter, and I don't see how it could possibly be improved.

It's a raw goat's milk cheese named after Vézelay, in the Yonne area of Burgundy. It's a young cheese, just one week of ripening.


It's got the letters DMV right in the name: DôMe de Vézelay. But I don't have to go as far as San Francisco to get the Dôme. I just walk around the corner. And compared to the actual DMV, this cheese is a ball.


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