30 November 2008

Hobos-ken have new jersey, i'll take the original thank you

through an excursion trip organized by daves university, we went to the channel island of Jersey on saturday. although we had chilly weather (no rain thankfully) i would recommend to anyone that they visit this pretty island.

we had to get up at 5a so we could catch a ride to st. malo where the ferry to jersey was. we took a HUGE boat that carried people as well as cars. there was basically a boat on top of a parking garage, never been on anything so big. it made it better because you couldnt feel the waves as much i think. 

we arrived at the port, chatted with the friendly jersey customs agent while the line stretched out endlessly long behind us, and visited the atm for some british money. jersey has been inhabited for over a thousand years. it is the biggest channel island and is very close to normandy. it has wavered between being french and british land. currently it is not part of the UK or EU, it is a separate possession of the british crown. they do use the british currency though, but their 'watermark' is the picture of a cow, as in their famous jersey cows. 

as we walked away from the port, toward town, we saw a mercedes that was a taxi and i had to point and laugh, it was so silly. i had read that financial services contribute about 60% of the island's economy and that it was recognised as one of the leading offshore financial centers in the world, but i guess it still took me by surprise. throughout the day we saw more porsches, audis, BMWs, and other high-end vehicles than i have ever seen before all gracefully speeding along the windy coastal switchbacks of their island roads.

the group of 4 french geologists we were traveling with had differing plans for the island. two girls wanted to go christmas shopping (the primary reason the trip was organized) and the other 2 geologists were going to come with us to walk part of the coast of the island. we already knew this before getting off the boat, but we stood in front of the map of jersey's capital, st. helier, for 20 minutes figuring out a plan and a meet up strategy for later even though they all had cell phones...come on, lets start the day already...

(a harbor in st helier)

finally we were on our way. we found the bus station, received some curt words from the driver, and were dropped off on the east coast at gorey pier. we were hungry so we located a place that was open for breakfast. amongst working class jersey-brits we got a proper uk breakfast. dave and i split the 'complete breakfast': 2 sunnyside up eggs, 2 sausages, bacon, steamed tomatoes, beans, hash browns, toast with jersey butter and tea (dave got a scone too). holy crap. it was only £4.50 and it tasted like stereotypical british food. saltless, flavorless, and/or dry, depending on what you were chewing at the moment, but it was a nice solid breakfast. 

after eating, armed with a 'geology of jersey' map we walked north along the coast. we first hit a 12th century british castle (jerseys most famous castle, mont orgueil) that was built to fend off the french at some point. it was more boxy than the french castles we have been seeing.

we continued along during low tide, walking on the beaches, wandering the coastal roads, looking at the gorgeous houses, and marveling how much topography there was on such a little island. we walked up and down hills all day. there was a lot of plant diversity too. plenty of flowers still blooming, lichen coating the rocks, bushes, and pine trees. the smell in the air was lovely and im sure only gets better in the spring and summer. 

(the castle; dave. note the breakwall in the background where we walked to later)
(a huge house on the coast. they had lots of land, an unobstructed view of the water from their house, and a 7 car garage; us on lichen coated rocks)

we walked up to the ocean breakwall and decided to start consulting the map to look for a town for lunch. we found a footpath nearby and set out to see a little more on our way to lunch.

(the germans occupied jersey during WWII and built many bunkers on the island. this bunker was converted to a fish shack; this plaque on the breakwall commemorated the first jersey person to swam around all 41 miles of the island)

we walked along more coast, then countryside, then forest, then back to the roads. we started to realize the map wasnt connecting up with the actual roads we were walking on. i was getting hungry and we hadnt passed through any towns since the bus dropped us off at the pier so i flagged a couple cars down. everyone was very nice. the first couple were lost too (jersey doesnt have good signage for their roads. maps are worse. and there are no addresses in jersey, you live on a road and you name your house, this is how it is known to the post office. same with businesses.) but the second couple seemed to be residents but still werent very helpful, probably mostly because we were so confused. anyway, after i asked a third person we finally found the zoo which had a bus stop that took us back to town.

(an ancient celtic tomb we saw while on the route when we were lost)

then we bumped into the shoppers of our group. french indecision 101 began again as they juggled ideas about what to do, although everyone was hungry so the easy choice should have been 'lets eat.' 15 minutes later this decision was actually made and we walked to find food. i was anticipating another traditional english meal, perhaps fish n' chips this time, and then my smile dropped when the group chose a cafe in a hotel lobby a block from the bus station. really people!? you are nuts. we ordered tea and sat and chatted waiting for them to break off for more shopping so we could head out alone. 

i asked the hotel employees if they could recommend a good pub with food. they sent us down the street to a pub called Chambers. it was actually everything you would think of an english/irish pub being. wood interior, long bar, tons of tvs tuned to rugby and soccer. we got a plate of fish n' chips and a burger. the burger was dry and had onions in the patty, no thanks, and the cod was completely tasteless. some salt fixed up the fish though and we actually had our second enjoyable english meal of the day. perhaps it was aided by the fact that i was starving from only two meals that day. on the way out of the pub, i used their bathroom. i went to dry my hands and noticed the weirdest machine on the wall. next to a real hand dryer was a vaguely similar machine, but it had a hose attached. you pulled on the hose and air started coming out the end. the digital read out let you adjust the temperature. the hose nozzle wasnt very big though. i am confused, what is this for? when you spill beer in your hair does this help you dry it? or when you are crying from male rejection and you dampen your shirt with tears, do you just run in here, adjust the temperature for silk, and make yourself presentable again? mmm...

lastly, while the stores were closing we popped into a grocery store and bought some jersey goodies. mostly caramels and creamy chocolates. my chocolate bar was made with real jersey cream. it was milk chocolate but when you bit it it wasnt too sweet, it kinda flaked off in your mouth and then melted on your tongue into a creamy, rich (but not too rich) puddle of goodness. 

then having walked over 7 miles in the cool weather all day, we were spent, so we walked back to the port to wait for the boat to arrive. as we boarded they said there were fairly calm waters but that we might encounter some rough spots. we did end up hitting a part where we were rolling with the waves so i decided to sit outside. it was cold ass freezing out there but my windproof jacket miraculously shielded me from most of it. we were traveling at 50 mph plus the wind and it was less than 45 degrees outside and toward the end it started to rain. joy! but really, i was fine and we landed at 10:30p and were dog tired and somehow made it home where i slept like a log. 

27 November 2008

Makeshift frenchified thanksgiving

we dont have an oven and i havent seen even one turkey in the grocery stores, so we did not get to celebrate a normal thanksgiving here, but some of the other essential elements were there...

my favorite of all holidays has come and gone and if the date hadnt come up so quickly on us i probably woulda been more depressed about missing all of the normal days events, or non-events as happens in the best of years. the non-anxious feeling of waking up whenever you want (on a normal work day no less) to smell turkey already in the oven (thanks mom and dad for waking up early), the full day spent in the warm kitchen chatting and waiting for family to arrive, or just helping out and anticipating a loud and tasty immediate family-only meal. all the best and most warm of comfort foods await you at the same time on the table that stretches as long as a football field. gorging and laughing and yelling and joking followed by the football and movies and lounging and peace. a fridge full of leftovers for the next several days and a no-fuss day that stretches out over the rest of the extended weekend (i never participate in black friday, too stressful). the smiles and friendly, happy feelings and the food and the peace...love it, cant get enough of it. 

dave worked from home today and i had class for 2 hours in the afternoon. i asked him if he wouldnt mind meeting at the fr-amer institute later since he was at home today. he agreed! :) there were so many people at the chat group today that there was a group in the lounge area, and a group in the back at a table. i checked in with both groups and sat in the lounge area so dave would see me when he came in. many familiar faces were there and i got to introduce dave to them. there was more talk about the states than normal but all in a very positive way. 

one man is totally smitten with american culture. he is middle aged but threw himself into english classes and has been to santa barbara twice. i think he is a little timid to try another area because he loves it there so much. he wants to go back next year...but rent a car this time to see more of california. hilarious. he loves to ask me about american slang and sayings. the first time i met him we discussed the '6 of one, half dozen of another' phrase. last time it was understanding what 'he was at his wits end' meant. today i taught him that 'scram' is another way to tell people to 'get outta here.' he also loves trying to work on his pronunciation. they dont pronounce the 'h' in the beginning of words here so he was trying to say 'happy' and 'humble' and wanted to know if i could understand what word he was saying. too funny.

then there was a chinese girl who was interested in american culture. what does it feel like to vote, do people in the states like to save their money or not, how do we chose what we want to name our kids. lots of random things. she gets a chance to come to the states in june for the first time, to north carolina. i told her to stay and explore more if she could. she would like to but didnt know where to go. i told her to go up the coast. DC, new york, etc...she said she wants to see 'real america' and would try to go visit those kinds of places...lol.

then there was a young man who was working to save money so he could get the opportunity to live in NYC for summer 2009. he doesnt know anyone there nor would he have a job but he wants to fulfill this dream of his of coming to the states. he wants to see everything he can, including florida (! i attempted to talk him outta that one, but they dont have the sprawling sandy beaches here like in florida, so i guess thats the draw). most of all he said he wanted to go running in central park. i asked him where he got that particular fantasy...from the movies? and he said yes. lol.

later, i filtered back to the other group, back at the table, and chatted with a girl who emailed me last week. she is a native of rennes who recently came back from her year as an au pair in boston. she has nothing but total admiration for boston and the parts of the u.s. she got to visit. she is dying to go back anyway she can. she appears to already homesick for her life in boston. she found another group at a local irish pub that meets to speak english on mondays and told us to come. when we walked out with her at the end of the night she said goodbye and mentioned she had to go catch the metro...only she called it 'the T' which is what bostons transportations system is called. we giggled with her after her momentary frown of sadness for boston. 

all in all, it felt like a makeshift family event with most all of the fuzzy feelings of a holiday occasion (minus the food). people were happy and kind and interested and positive and as i shifted between the groups, i felt like i was just moving from the adults table to the kids table. i got all hyper and was perhaps speaking too fast, but everyone was very enthusiastic. one frenchman who had worked in the states asked me if i forgot to take my chill pill. we all laughed and poked fun at each other. (the chill pill guy was also kind enough to give me the number of his american friend who lives in brittany who has an english speaking/teaching company and told me to call her possibly for a job; so not a bad guy). tonight was actually my most favorite chat session yet. ive only been going for perhaps 4 weeks and these people are already very open and forgiving and kind. i am thankful for them and they make me thankful to be american and i am thankful in turn for them giving me that feeling. 

as we smiled and chuckled on the walk home in the chilly and rainy night, i was glad dave came with me for that good experience. once home, he got to work on dinner while i finished book 4 (loved it!). he created a makeshift thanksgiving of chicken (hey, its poultry at least), sauteed mushrooms, a baguette, and potatoes. some potatoes he had left whole, and some he had hand mashed himself and added milk, butter, pepper, and 'provincial herbs.' so tasty and very sweet. and now my stomach is full and all i wanna do is sleep. seems like the day came out nearly perfect. 

(the pics a little blurry and our table is a little sad with a computer and bills strewn about, but it was our thanksgiving feast)

26 November 2008

Poo patrol update

short amusing update:

my mom sent a small package with two books yesterday (thanks mom). one is just a fun read and one was a french 'culture shock' book. and even just briefly skimming through it it has already been worth the cost of shipping it. there was an entry specifically on the dog poo, with many of the same feelings i had been expressing. with some explanation:

1. the french ignore 'pooper scooper' laws

2. they pay high taxes to live in this country and there are crews of garbage men, street cleaners, and machines that patrol the city streets 7 days a week to attempt to keep on top of the mess

3. since that doesnt get to the messes quick enough, the french have also apparently decided that it is GOOD LUCK to step in dog crap...

Hot air 4 - Steady, rhythmic thumping of the weekly routine

it may not impress anyone else, but it felt startlingly obvious to me today that i have settled into a comfortable, manageable routine here. school, study, read, laundry, grocery shop, weekend, school...

maybe it was more pronounced because for the past week i have been such a homebody reading this vampire series, but it woulda hit me sooner or later. yesterday, at the fr-amer institute i found out they had the 4th and final book in the series i was reading and nearly peed my pants with joy when i scooped it up and took it home. i managed to pry my eyes away long enough to head down the street to the laundry mat this morning. i almost laughed out loud at myself. when i got there, two normal, nice looking french girls were there putting their clothes in. i had a brief reflex to cringe away from them like they were vampires who would dart out at any moment and sink their scary french words into me...crisis averted, they barely noticed i was there. but it got me thinking...

i have actually gotten comfortable here, in a survival mode-type way. the environment has been shockingly kind to me in that the people have made it easier rather than harder. the biggest difficulty of this move was in controlling myself and my depressive mood swings when i wanted things to calm down and get back to a recognizable normalcy. for a while there i was just typing away because i had pictures, almost begrudgingly taken, that i wanted to post to explain what we were physically doing, even though my heart wasnt always in it. i feel daring enough to look back already to say that its been a good exercise in attempting self-control, and im glad no one else but dave was here to see it. yikes.

but now i feel like i can do this for the length of time required and i dont feel like im bracing myself against the unknown as much anymore. i have met some nice people, done some fun things, and have just enough happy feelings as embarrassing feelings to make me want to keep going forward and see what else i can handle. im waiting for something else to kick in, my normal curiosity to guide me places while the other facets of my personality come with it. i feel like ive had to leave my loud laugh, rapid speech, sarcasm, swearing, and goofy faces behind me...at home. its weird when you cast off your security blankets and life preserver at the same time. you wonder what you have left, and i guess im just now trying to figure out what else i have to offer. vulnerability is not something im used to.

the weather here has also been kind of...helpful. its very much a mild, stable climate. nearly every day, at least for a few minutes, it rains, but it has yet to hint at snow. the weather is just even keeled, patient, allowing me to get my bearings (once i realized i couldnt escape the rain). i hear that all of france retreats here to brittany in the summer because the weather is still cool and pleasant. sure it will get colder, it is the winter, but ive been overly prepared for that by my glorious upbringing in michigan. i love (and sometimes simultaneously loath) the wonderful seasons of michigan. you get large amounts of change in beauty and emotional benefits all year round. i had been very tied to the cycle: snuggly indoor comfort from the silent beauty of the snow, the gushing excitement when green and wildflowers creep back into existence and then burst forth to make a huge smile cross your face, the sun and sweat of the summer announcing my birthday is coming, the colors of fire and brilliance and crisp, cool air mixed with school spirit...im not going to get that here. but i also get to leave those warm-fuzzy memories back with my family and friends where the emotional heart strings pull the strongest. if i had to endure all that seasonal change without them i think this would all be harder.

maybe im feeling stronger because i am getting close to revisiting home and loved ones soon and no real homesickness has set it (im coming for you cheeseburger). i honestly cant say what i will feel like in march or beyond. i assume i will have gotten a better hold of things and will have figured out an even better way to soak up my experiences, to create lasting memories, and feel grateful while finding ways to nourish parts of my former and future self. ah let us hope...

to end on a less bittersweet note. some celebrity pics to make me smile:

(robert pattinson, aka, hottie vampire; lovely reese)

24 November 2008

Short street scenes

more brief notes, mostly involving stuff that caught my eye on the street...

1. friday night, dave and i saw our first french transvestite. this was a pretty burly woman, i mean she made Edna Turnblad from Hairspray look like Elle McPherson. plus, dave thought she was also a prostitute...i might agree with him, she was loitering outside the local sex toy store on a darker residental street...

2. sunday, we saw 4 young street bohemians brushing their teeth on the sidewalk near their car where presumably they had slept all night? really? the urban city is not a campsite. i mean what about your other morning habits? where did you take care of those? wait, maybe im blaming too much on the dogs in this city...

3. not! found some fresh footprints this morning. these were at least the third pair of poo tracks i encountered, and danced over, on my way back from class:

(sorry if you are eating lunch while reading...)

4. we went to a city south of us this weekend for daves Ultimate frisbee tournament. we had crap weather and were in the suburbs so i didnt get to explore anywhere and dave strained his hamstring. when we got home he went to the pharmacy to get an ace bandage and ice pack. the bag they gave him was made of the weirdest material. it seriously feels like a condom. like, 'hey, we're a pharmacy, we want to protect you as best we can, in case youre in a bind, this will protect you from scabies.' i think that was the motive, although, it does mention something about how you can compost the bag since its 100% biodegradable. 

5. finished the 3 vampire books this weekend. im obsessed and excited for the movie and want to get my hands on the 4th one, but i can control myself. just a couple weeks.

6. got a call from the job lady. interview is next week, monday, at 3pm. woo hoo! (the french move so slowly...)

21 November 2008

Quickies - in direct opposition to my upstairs neighbors

in direct opposition to the mid-friday noise i had to listen to above me this afternoon for 45 minutes, i am presenting some quickies...

1. i got an email back from the job lady. she said she got my resumé, is going to be in further contact with me, and is looking forward to hearing from me. i promptly sent an email back and spoke with glen to let him know what she said. he said she is often vague and so busy that it takes her some time to get organized. but i suppose it at least seems like things are moving along.

2. i am now completely enveloped in the teen vampire book series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. based on suggestions from my mom and jules (thanks guys) and from the blistering hot pics of the lead actors on people.com for temptation, i rented the first three books from the fr-amer institute. i finished the first book in two days, i am nearly done with the second one, and i have plenty of time this weekend to finish the third. i will have to wait to get my hands on the fourth one because they dont have it here, but i think i will need a psycho-fan break by then. theyre really fun and interesting and partially intelligent to read, definitely teen focused, but i am enjoying myself obviously. ahhh, anything to read a good story before you can see it created before your eyes on film with well-casted hotties.

3. we picked up the bagels from the bakery this morning. i will say that they werent bad, but they arent american bagels. i hadnt expected as much, but i suppose i was still hoping. they werent boiled first so they didnt have that outer crunch with the inner softness. but they also werent entirely just bread in the shape of a doughnut, there was some recipe there, so that was positive. enough to stave off my hunger for homeland creations. mostly i am just eyeing that hamburger now. we were able to make a tasty mexican dinner recently with the stuff from ntinas package, so that was lovely for my tastebuds. :)

19 November 2008

Hot air 3 - the theme song of americas favorite prostitute is not something i wanna hear at 3am

what would a week be without more laundry day babble and a rant (another one)?

1. anyone following my job prospect might be interested to know that i heard from glen that the woman received my resumé, is very 'keen' on speaking with me, but is very busy so she will contact me soon.

2. i finished two more books: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell and Grass Harp by Truman Capote. dont get too excited about the paris book, it was interesting, but basically a semi-autobiographical account of being poor and living among the poor in both cities. chapter 22 is awesome for its essay comparing the rich and poor saying there are no differences except that the rich have fear. chapter 32 was an amusing essay on the ebb and flow of english swear words. right up my alley.  :)

grass harp is a novella really but very good. anyone who enjoyed 'secret life of bees' or 'to kill a mockingbird' would like it i think. two favorite lines from the story: 'so little, once it has changed, changes back' and 'she became what he'd wanted, the one person in the world to whom everything can be said. but when everything can be said perhaps there is nothing more to say.' 

the other thing i got from it was the fact that most notable books (and plenty of fun, fluff books) include one or more french phrases in the story, even if it was originally an english work. apparently the french have a way of expressing themselves that is a truth universally acknowledged to be fitting for every story. you arent legit unless you have inserted a french-ism to your creation. seriously try it out. every book i have picked up here has had at least one french word in it. from grass harp: 'once we sent away for a book of french lessons. dolly was willing to try, but "passez-moi a spoon" was the best she ever did, and after learning "je suis fatigué," catherine never opened the book again.'

3. why am i tired? could it be because from the hours of 1:30a and 3a i was listening to terrible in-home karaoke through my ceiling? its a tuesday night, why on earth is this activity okay? where should i begin? ah, perhaps with some happy news: we solved the mystery of the punctures in the ceiling. when we moved in we noticed the ceiling had several half moon shaped divots in it. what tall thing could have accidently poked those shapes so many times without someone realizing it? ahhhh, no, they were purposely attacking the ceiling mr. heckles-style with a broom or mop or jousting sword. and now i can see that it was all in an effort to get the assbags upstairs to shut up.

we have heard them on occasion shaking the bed springs and making other loud 'affectionate' noises and simply thought they were annoying and didnt have day jobs. come to find out, they dont have night jobs either. they routinely play bad techno and other nonsense, but apparently they also have some kind of karaoke machine, either that or they havent imported u.s. cds since the early 90s. last night they were blasting this crap. first was a tone-deaf rendition of A Whole New World from, yes folks, disneys Aladdin. come on people...dave and i inserted earplugs at this point. there was other muffled music playing for hours and then, as if i needed the greatest finale of all time, roy orbisons Pretty Woman was the last tune that came through my earplugs before the joyous sound of silence. i want to write these people a note. but would it do any good? would it make things worse? should i just go ring their doorbell every morning at 5a for the next week? decisions, decisions.

4. and people.com made some important decisions this week and awarded the Sexiest Man of 2008 to australian Hugh Jackman. eh, he seems to be a sweet guy at least, even though he can knit a whole bodyhair sweater in less than 24 hours.

17 November 2008

Keep your poo off my shoe or i'll fling it at your l'amour

no action from me today, but some other peoples actions got me writing.

i had to meet dave on campus to drop something off. this meant taking the bus. the ride is maybe 5-7 minutes long. at minute 2 or so i get to grab a seat (i was standing before) and lucky me i am sitting staring at a young couple in love. this is like the millionth young couple i have seen making doe-y eyes at each other since arriving in france. oh l'amour l'amour, how beautiful and special and gag-gag-gag, some chunks are rising in my throat. im really not trying to be cynical. ive been there, i know it was lovely and exciting and giggly and intimate. you are the only two people on the planet. seriously, i understand. ive just noticed that there is something distinct in the public expressions of love in france compared to the states.

for one, there is a LOT of groping. seriously, > 50% of body parts need to be touching at all times, preferably the mouth is buried in the other persons neck for an extended period of time, possibly producing a hickey. once we come up for air on that one, this is where bulky sweaters and long jackets come in handy because torso groping commences. ass grabbing now becomes necessary and when a hand cramp occurs this is where they begin gazing into each others eyes and speaking in a tone of voice only the two of them can hear. usually the man starts stroking the womans face (and this is the part that i actually think is very sweet and most different from the u.s.). he is very soft and deliberate and doesnt seem to care that a male friend of his could be on the bus to see what he is doing and call him a 'pussy' later. i mean, he is really being outwardly sensitive and genuine and adorable. this lasts a short while before nose rubbing begins which can also be kind of endearing, but this stage gets passed quickly when they move into kissing mode. normal pecks. movie kissing. oh, okay, full on tongues. yup, with an audience of fifty you are practically making babies right there on the bus. the strength of this passion episode seems to be most strong if one person in the couple is getting off at a different stop than the other. the ultimate showdown of emotion must occur before you get off that bus. it is vital to your relationship, to mankind, to the universe staying in motion...

i have seriously watched this scene many times. which is why i am always that much more curious as to where this emotion goes when the couples opt to stay together. france is like us in that 50% (or so) of marriages end in divorce. they also have a legal civil partnership option that many heterosexual couples use as a less traditional mode of partnering for long lengths of time. anyway, the couples with children i have observed seem to stay as far away from each other as possible and are as aloof as possible both toward their children and toward each other. maybe i havent had the right atmosphere for observing but it just seems disconnected. i am not expecting them to be making out at a crosswalk while allowing their children to play in traffic and go fishing for lunch in the gutter, i just mean that is seems like their should be some smiling, or glances between each other or at least some co-parenting going on. i dunno. i'll have to keep my eye out more for better examples to try and prove this wrong. on the upshot, i have seen older couples (i mean middle aged, not 80), without children running around, who were very touchy and smiley and on their own planet. so maybe they just take a hiatus. 

anyway, after i met dave on campus and decided to head back, i walked over to the bus stop to wait. i passed another young couple, a girl sitting on a guys lap. i sat down thinking 'great, i hope the bus arrives before i have to hear them sucking face,' and after rolling them, my eyes came to rest on a leaf stuck to my shoe. i bend down to remove this debris and find POO. dog poo. 

this practically puts me over the edge. my brain launches into yet another complaint. why on EARTH cant these people pick up after their dogs? if people in new york city can, then why cant these people. its like playing hop scotch, only instead of rocks, its warm steamy piles of crap. how does one walk through your city attempting to admire the architecture, history, and surroundings if i have to constantly look down to avoid punting fecal matter on your citizens? there is no need for detectives in this town because if someone was running away from the scene of a crime all youd have to do is follow the footprints of dung to the criminals hideout. seriously, i followed a set of poo-tracks down the block to my school this morning. it is really disgusting. the carpet cleaning bills in this area must be very high. 

i have yet to see even one person bend down with a plastic baggie glove and pick up after their beloved yippy dustmop. there are a few 'dog run' areas that appear to be used, but the city has absolutely no rules or fines to make people perform this essential duty on their own. there are air guns lining our street that scare away the crap-tastic birds that roost in the trees, but nothing to deafen or scare the dogs or dog owners. it just seems hypocritical. 

in conclusion, 'keep your poo off my shoe or i'll fling it at your l'amour.'

also, i love this people.com picture of kate hudson and gwyneth paltrow looking totally hot and representin' for flat chested ladies everywhere...holla!

15 November 2008

A cara-vannes of spaniards

we went on an organized bus trip to the city of vannes and the southern coast of brittany to see suscinio château. the trip was part of a monthly excursion series hosted by europole. they give discounted rates for people who are students or faculty at the universities they work with. it was only 8 euros per person and 50 people went.

we arrived early with our pique-nique lunch (i now believe that yogi bear was french. 'hey boo-boo, do i see a pic-a-nic basket...' its pronounced the same way). there were a few buses being boarded by young people speaking english, but, 3/4 of the bus population had acne and were giggling like morons, so we asked the driver if it was the right trip....wrong, it was an american high school taking their kids on a field trip. yikes, that woulda been torture if we had made that mistake! 

we ended up finding the correct bus and the trip began. behind us were two college girls from seattle who were here for a semester taking a few courses in rennes. in front of us were two spanish guys who heard us speaking english and turned around to chat. one was a physicist working at daves university, the other was a phd candidate in biology. the physicist had spent 3 years in boulder, colorado and asked us where we were from. we told him michigan, the state with the great lakes around it. he thought for a while...'near chicago?' 'yes.' 'i love chicago, i went there for a concert.' this is the most typical thing we have gotten here...every time we say michigan we have to prompt people that it is in the north and has the great lakes around it. presumably, lake michigan pops into their head and invariably people say, 'ah, near chicago.' i have yet to understand this. when you see the floating outline of our country, the ONLY discernible states are florida, maine, maybe part of texas and MICHIGAN. you know, the hand waving at you from atop our nation. yeah, thats us. hi! apparently we have been reduced to 'that place that had the lake named after it that chicago gets to sit on and partially dyes green every st patricks day.' mostly i am frustrated because i dont get to use my hand trick where we point to the city we are from because people dont even understand the state is shaped like that. and hell if i know the french word for 'mitten.' argh, so frustrating having michigan pride!

anyway, we get to vannes, receive a map, dodge the city tour given in french (like we would understand anything) and explore alone. vannes is 90 minutes southwest of rennes and its river flows only a few miles before emptying into the ocean. the town is over 2000 years old and has a nice open park along its ancient city walls to walk along. we then went into the historic city centre and visited their lively saturday market, bought some things, and wandered around taking pictures until we had to board the bus again.

(views of the outer wall and park area of the city centre; a cute sign of a flower shop in the city)

we then headed more south to the coast to eat lunch on the beach near suscinio château. 

(dave at a weird wall structure on the beach; a view of suscinio château from the beach road)

the château was built in the middle ages as kind of a vacation home for the dukes of brittany. it had been dilapidated for many years until being restored in recent decades. the tour of the château was of course in french. i understood nothing. but the pronunciation of the name 'suscinio' kept sounding like 'si, señor' to me, a preview of things to come...

(us in front of the château; me in the still-dilapidated part of a wall/room of the château)

we boarded the bus home and hoped to doze off during sunset and magically arrive parked back in rennes. my butt hit the seat and i got comfortable. the bus couldnt leave because two girls were missing. we drove up closer to the château and there they were, just strollin' back to the bus. they got on laughing and sat down directly behind us. great. then they start speaking spanish. since that was the language i learned in school, i could understand like every 10th word. 'because...brother...3 years...called...yes yes yes...' they came on the bus giggling and NEVER stopped talking. i was actually shocked that they were able to breathe at the rate they were speaking. and these werent mexican girls speaking spanish, these were spanish girls. spain spanish is hyper annoying because they lisp several of their sounds: most z, s, and th sounds get lisped. imagine you are watching tv at a rather loud volume and you accidently turn it onto telemundo (mexican soap opera channel). at the same moment, someone knocks the remote outta your hand, chains you to your lazyboy armchair and runs over the remote with a semi, forcing you to listen. now pretend it is sped up 5 times the normal talking speed and every character has a lisp. play that continuously for 2 hours and you might have an idea of what our ride home was like. 

we did safely make it off the bus without strangling anyone, acquired some sausages at a butcher shop on our walk home, and passed by my favorite bakery, cozic. no one was inside except the nice girl working at the counter. i told dave i wanted to go in. she was very friendly and patient with my poor french. she said they could make me some bagels, so we ordered some to be made for us on friday and dave can take extras to school for others to try. yay! that made a nice end to the day. :)

14 November 2008

Hot air 2 - my cleaning man brings all the girls to the yard

laundry day strikes again. 

for those of you keeping track of the boredom factor. i finished Animal Farm by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. i like going back and reading classics that your classes skipped over back in high school. they are classic because they will always seamlessly fit in with whatever time period you are reading them in. the portrait of greed, exploitation, and elitism in animal farm's communism allegory was spot on. and the adolescent-frozen, self-centered, suppressed, anti-Shakespeare world was far from brave but was a good lashing of things that societies can pander to if they want to, with pathetic effects. kudos to classic reading.

i spent the rest of my day creating fantasy travel itineraries for france on google maps and wikitravel (it was raining, gimme a break).

but, the moments of zen (we watched 'the daily show' clips during dinner today) are the reason i am posting.

1. i was going to take a shower when dave said 'well, then i better clean the bathroom before you do, ive been meaning to do that and you might as well have a clean shower.' he then put on his pink gloves and went to work, i was able to catch him mocking me with the toilet brush. he had to attempt to reclaim some masculinity...

2. reese witherspoon was in nashville as a CMA presenter. isnt she puurty?
i think she would be seriously appalled knowing she was featured next to dave and the toilet brush, but i think she would be ladylike enough to get over it.

Thrill me some more...

nothing particular happened today, but several things amused me...

i was lazy and still laying in bed at 10a when the scary door buzzer went off. thankfully dave was here and let the mystery person in. lo and behold it was a mail delivery person dropping off a care package. it was from our good friends from dc, ntina and ben. ;) we ripped into that thing like we were kids on christmas morning. scissors! yes! those freakin' things cost 15 euros here. french-u.s. plug adaptors, cliff bars, refried beans (hallelujah), spanish rice, trader joes goodies (a tear of joy rolls down my cheek), a deck of cards, two good books. the only thing missing was a juicy hamburger with cheddar, mushrooms, black olives, and ranch dressing...mmm. anyway, a ray of americana sunshine lit up our living room today, thank you much. :)

while i was still bleary eyed with tears of joy, i sat down at the computer to check email. i got an interesting one from that local rennes tv newswoman i mentioned in 'the token american.' she was a younger woman who spoke english very well (from what i remembered), and she apparently wants to meet and chat about american culture, not for any news story but perhaps just for a friendly chat. i include her email not to make fun, but just to give you an idea of what it looks like for someone going from french to english:

"Hi Alice*,
It's Lucie from Tv Rennes. We met at the American Institute just before the elections. Could we meet for talking? I'm really interesting in american culture. So tell me if you are ok. We could have a coffe this week end.
See you!!"

*note: my name still gets misspelled over here, people apparently dont put the letter 'y' in the middle of names. you have your yvonnes and yves' but no y's in the middle. also, its hard to pronounce the letter 'y' over here, its name is 'y grec' when you are saying it in their alphabet song. several people so far have heard me spell my name but write alice. its a worldwide conspiracy.

lastly, i went to the french-english chat group today and one of the young women there was a baker (which apparently is a male-dominated profession here). she was saying that she works at a bakery near my apartment and was wanting to get a recipe for bagels because the other bakery on their street (my favorite one, called Cozic) makes bagels on request! holy crap, no way! what would a french bagel taste like? who cares i want one! i am going to march in there and embarrass myself for a drooling chance at getting these people to make me homeland comfort food. i hear it will be difficult to get cream cheese though. i was told i could get some in paris (you know, next time im there) or some weird store near the bus station apparently sells north african cream cheese at the back of their store...sounds highly plausible and delicious no? and dreams of cream cheese on egg poppy seed bagels dance in my head...

13 November 2008

Ooooh those 'french' ways...

some orders of business got taken care of yesterday:

we went to the préfecture with all the appropriate documents finally gathered and ready. we got there 10 minutes after it opened, pulled a number...91. there were lots of lines for different kinds of paperwork so i hoped for the best. we sat down in the correct area and i looked up at the red number they were now serving...2. oh god. an hour plus goes by and we did actually get called up. in a total of 2 hours we had our temporary 'carte de séjour,' which means that we can now legally stay until february 11, 2009. daves bosses are going to use canadian money to pay him to stay here in rennes until july. all signs point to that occurring. the only thing left to make that happen is to find the correct way to create documentation that links dave to money (canadian) while showing that he is going to be here doing the work. and since the french love their paperwork, they are having a hard time figuring out which department is the correct one to handle that kind of documentation. ugh.

also of note, i sent my resumé and cover letter off for that job, via escargot mail, because the people here in france have some aversion to the internets. i swear, every person asks for a phone number instead of an email address. all websites are horribly underdeveloped, and one seriously wonders how they efficiently travel around their country without having information at their fingertips. i guess its just one of those things that makes me happy to be from the states. i know how much information is out there, where to get it, and i like it. i hear halifax is like this too. also, since we are traveling through dublin on our way back to france after christmas (with a few days layover for exploring), i found the uk websites arent much better. ah well. chalk one up for good ol' capitalism supply and demand.

11 November 2008

Mont Snail Mussel

since today was veterans day, it was another holiday where things were going to be closed and people werent going to work. the two geologists we have made friends with (vincent and christelle) offered to take us in their car to the coast.

we drove up to st malo and then east along the coast. we stopped twice for some scenic viewing. while stopped at a beach, vincent mentioned that during low tide you can see people collecting their own seafood. oysters, mussels, snails, crabs, and even barnacles apparently can be collected and eaten if bbqed and chewed long enough. he also said that september-january is oyster season. the other months of the year they are mating and produce a non-tasty milky substance. anyway, this is why oysters are a favorite delicacy at christmas time. we were ramping up our seafood talk because they wanted to take us to a coastal town for a seafood lunch.

(us at pointe du grouin, the northernmost part of brittany, near cancale)

east of st malo is the town of cancale. it is on the bay of mont-st-michel and probably has more seafood restaurants than there are people in the town. they also have a type of oyster named after the town. before it started to rain we ducked into a place with interesting items on the menu for a reasonable price. 

basically, for 10 euros per person we each got a seafood appetizer and main dish. pretty cheap. we shared the appetizers: fish soup, ocean pâté, sea snails, and oysters. i tried everything but the ocean pâté because it looked like spam with candied fruit in it and dave said it tasted like really smokey fish which isnt up my alley. the fish soup tasted fine, nothing fancy. the sea snails were really fun and tasted good. they are kind of like calamari. highly recommend those, plus, the little snail utensil is so fun to use. the whole snail, once you pull it out kinda looks like a giant slimy hearing aid. the oysters...i can take or leave. i ate one and didnt hate it, but also didnt really get anything from it. you dont chew it, you swallow it. you doctor it up with lemon and/or sauce, so you dont actually taste it. it slides right past your tastebuds...what is the appeal? eh, what do i know...then the main course arrived. everyone got mussels but me, i got white fish. it was good, so dont bug me. i wanted to try the mussels before committing. they were steamed with white wine and onions and tasted good, but im not sure i could eat a giant plate. christelle and vincent said some places make curry steamed mussels, which do sound delicious.

right before lunch ended there was a downpour. we waited it out and attempted to race the rain cloud to our final destination further east...mont saint michel. this is apparently the second most visited tourist site in france, after the eiffel tower. it was, in the past, a complete island of granite that over the past thousand years has been built upon and used for various purposes; currently it has a monastery on top, a small village down below, and a fortified wall as the outer boundary. during low tide it is accessible and during high tide it would normally be out of reach, except that a road and parking lots have been built for tourists. this basically felt like mackinac island with some seriously high elevation. we didnt get to stay long because it was getting late and the tide was coming in so some of the parking lots were needing to be emptied before getting covered over by the tide. i would come back again if others wanted to explore, it did seem like a quite a feat to have built up that high with such precision.

(its really tall. the street inclined at like a 30 degree angle and every staircase was steep and practically straight up; an outer wall, very far drop down; no i am not giving the finger...)

10 November 2008

Zero degrees of separation?

apparently the social circle in rennes is tiny. i could barely believe this dumb luck myself.

if you happened to read the 'french election reaction' entry you may have glazed over the bit about a young french-american woman who stayed up all night waiting for the election results. i ended up talking to her after the group chat that night to ask her a couple things about rennes and it came up that i wasnt working but looking for work. well, apparently, that weekend she was at the birthday party of the australian guy (Glen) in my french class. she must have remembered my name, made the connection at the party that glen was in my class, and glen was kind enough to come up and talk to me after class today.

i remembered he had mentioned in class one day that he recently got a job teaching english at a new engineering university in rennes. well, apparently they are looking for one more native english speaking person to round out their teaching pool. its part-time work helping their students pass english language proficiency tests. french people start taking english classes in middle school. they learn loads of grammar and language rules but dont really get to put the language into practice if they dont leave the country. so all these students will have working knowledge of english and i will just be helping them use functional english and bone up on the information necessary to pass their exams. this seems great: money, something to do with my time, talking to young people, possibly learning more french in a non-scary environment, me being in a position of power...okay, im already plotting ways to misuse my power. this is why i cant be in charge of young minds. im barely in control of my own... ;) 

anyway, glen emailed the HR lady who asked him if he knew any other native english speakers to hire and said that i will be sending my resumé along shortly. they dont care if i have a teaching degree (apparently glen doesnt even have a university degree yet) and she has my email to contact me if she has further information. i FREAKIN' HOPE this turns into something good. holy crap i might have something to do here when i come back in january... 

i skipped home in the drizzling, spitting rain after class this afternoon with a smile on my face. people are seriously nice here. and helpful. this is good, very good.

09 November 2008

Looking for malo-er wind...

with a low chance of rain in the forecast, we went to the coastal town of st. malo. its 45 minutes north of rennes, on the english channel. this is also the town where you can get a ferry to the channel islands of jersey and guernsey, where i hope to get out to in the spring.

anyway, while there wasnt rain, there wasnt a whole lot of sunshine, but there was plenty of wind. i couldnt complain too much i guess because at least we were dry. it was nice to be near the ocean and after only a few minutes you could taste the sea salt on your lips. there were periods though where you were literally pushed along by the wind and i think my face is windburned. 

so, saint malo is a fortified city dating back to the middle ages. it has always been a bustling port with pirates and explorers alike. apparently jacques cartier, the acknowledged founder of canada, was from saint malo. this part of france also seems to like to assert its uniqueness (brittany was a sovereign nation at one time). from 1490-1493, st. malo declared itself an independent republic, taking the motto 'not french, not breton, but malouins.' since france is always compared, in size, to the state of texas (which was also at one time an independent nation), i find it amusing that at least this part of france seems to be populated with a similar texas-sized personal pride in their homeland... 

when the bus dropped us off it was grey, windy, and low tide. we went out onto the beach to explore some of the sand-stranded forts and islands. during high tide, these places are inaccessible, which adds a layer of protection against invaders. pretty neat, though since it was non-tourist season, the fort we walked out to wasnt open for exploration.

(the fort when we first got there; later in the afternoon with the tide up and sun out)
(view of the fortified part of st malo from the island fort; dave in a lookout in the fortified wall)
(this island had a raised walkway out to it during low tide. apparently a few famous people are buried on the island. there is also a small fort to the left of the island; the island later in the afternoon)

when we first got on the beach, we saw in the distance the little island with the walkway out to it. we thought we had plenty of time to get over there and circle the island. by the time we got to that part of the beach however, the tide had come in enough to nearly cover the walkway. there were still some idiots running barefoot in the cold across the walkway while waves were crashing over it. genius. the rest of the people on the island who became truly stranded had to be rescued in a dingy and brought to shore. this must happen a lot. dumb tourists. while walking up on the wall nearby, we saw the following sign:
we were chilled and windburnt after a couple hours so we popped into a creperie for lunch. we learned that 'galette' can mean both cookie and a savory crepe. dave got the butter special for lunch. his meal started with a butter galette, then a 'complete galette' which included cheese, ham, and an egg, for dessert a butter and sugar crepe, and to fill in the cracks, some breton alcoholic cider. i had a galette filled with mushrooms, cheese, and bacon. in french, bacon is called 'lardon' and it isnt eaten in crispy strips, its chopped into little fatty pieces. what possesses me or any other person to put something called lard-on into their mouth is beyond me, but perhaps the salty, smokey, fatty goodness is one reason.

after lunch the sun came out, finally. we walked back over part of the wall to see high tide and the sun hitting the water. it really was beautiful and seems like a lovely place to bring people who may end up visiting in the summer. part of the beach even had a weird cement sea pool that was filled over by the ocean during high tide, but functioned as a swimming pool (complete with diving platform) during low tide. anyway, since we did not have a map of st malo to determine more places to explore we ended up taking a train back to rennes in the late afternoon rather than waiting for the bus at 7p. transportation does seem very easy to manage here, once you figure it out. 

08 November 2008

Gir up for more rain

i hate rain. being a pedestrian in the rain sucks. rain on the weekend blows. am i making myself clear?

after getting soaked to the bone shopping at the morning market, we were reluctant to go back out. when we saw a streak of sun, we ran out to the bakery and kebab stand to acquire food. after some delicious shaved lamb meat sandwiches, another batch of rain showed up. 

at around 4p, we got inspired to get out of the apartment by sheer boredom. we hopped a bus to a town 20 minutes southeast of rennes called châteaugiron. it was a nice little town with a large church at the city centre, cobbled streets, a creek with stone bridges, fall colors still flaring, rolling hills, and a castle from the 1400s. we had a couple hours before the last bus of the evening, so we started wandering around. we walked around the castle, got some pictures...


...and just as we were starting back toward the city centre, the rain let us have it. totally soaked again. thanks, i love it. we thought we would just get some meat at the nice butcher shop in town and catch an earlier bus home. got some beef, went to what we thought was the bus stop, the rain finally stopped, and we saw the bus to rennes pass by and not stop. crap. it got dark and our shoes were squeaking wet and our rain jackets were making us cold and we had an hour and a half to wait for the next bus. argh. we were now doing that waddle walk you do when you dont want any of your clothes to touch your skin anymore than they have to. thankfully, we found a bar and sat by the heater before catching the bus home.

the only good thing is that now that i know that it i am living in baby seattle, i try to take advantage of the days or hours when its not raining. one weekday recently, i went on a couple hour walk while things were dry, saw new parts of the city, and got some exercise.

i found a huge cemetery and decided to look inside the tall boundary walls. all of the graves were above ground and landscaped with gravel. as far as the eye could see, loved ones had elaborate granite, marble, and metal grave sites. because november 1 was all saints day, i think the graves were more decorated than normal. also, in the back of the cemetery, there was a portion of land dedicated to WWI soldiers.


06 November 2008

French election reaction

in case you were curious about the french response, i found some headlines:

i went to the thursday chat group today. they said they had mostly spent the last couple days talking and being excited about the election, so there wasnt a ton of discussion left. one young woman (who was french-american though had never lived in the US; her mom is from new york) said she stayed up all night to await the election results. 

most of the men seemed to be happy but were now jealous that we were getting a welcome change and that they really want a new leader too. they said that sarkozy has a napolean complex and gets up most mornings and makes statements about things he wants to do without consulting anyone...they also said he has the annoying quality of not backing down from his statements once he makes them. i was told that back before their election, the liberal party made some fatal error about the number of candidates it let campaign thus splitting votes and leaving the door open for sarkozy, a conservative, to step in. they have 3 more years with him.

one frenchwoman was flipping through the newspaper on the table and came across a picture of obama with his two daughters. the woman mentioned that the french people had found that to be a bit shocking. the girls are so young and to parade your family around on campaigns is just not done in france. the french are very opinionated people, but they keep their private lives private, so they had had a hard time understanding that behavior.

lastly, a soft-spoken woman told me that she was watching the election coverage and when they announced that obama won and the coverage turned to scenes of celebration across the nation, she said she could see on peoples faces and in their energy what they were so excited about. she said that for the first time in her life, she understood what the american dream was and why it was worth fighting for. she said it kind of melted her heart and made her curious to come see our country.

05 November 2008

Yes we did!

GObama! never been more proud.