28 February 2009

There you are gay perry!

our last day in paris the weather gods were kind to us. let the sun shine down!

we started the day by hitting up a different bakery. same breakfast as yesterday, the croissant wasnt as heavenly but i survived due to the memory of that which came before it. then we hit up one of the saturday markets in our arrondissement (the 14th). it was great to see the colorful overflowing tables of seafood, flowers, breads, meat, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, dried goods, etc all in a row. it was a visual feast to the eyes after two days of mostly grey drabness outside.

(veggies! there you are my lovely radishes!; flowers!)

then we hopped the metro up to place de concorde. we came out into the tuileries garden again, just as the sun was starting to work at clearing away all of the clouds. this time, our aim was the unassuming museum called l'orangerie. it is on the SW side of the garden and isnt a very impressive building, but inside is a nice little gem. we walked into the partially glass building that was getting some nice warm daylight filtering in, grabbed a map and headed to the lower level. downstairs in a deep, grey, cool space they house their petit but thorough collection of picasso, matisse, renoir, cézanne, gauguin, modigliani, monet, rousseau, and a few other french artists (a new interesting one to us was soutine).

then, we headed back upstairs to experience the 2 expansive monet rooms they had. the top/ground floor of the museum was designed as 2 large, connected oval rooms (each about 40' x 100') that housed 4 each of monets les nymphéas paintings. there is a large oval seating area in the center of each room so you can take in the large paintings. you are basically sitting in the middle of a pond of lilies in the evening and you are trying to digest all of the subtle plays of light on this pond. its really great because they do everything to help you experience the scene. the ceiling even has a large oval cut out that is covered in a gauzy fabric diffusing the light coming in from the glass roof above. i am sure the mood of the paintings change as the light coming in changes. it had a similar, though decidely less depressing feeling to the rothko chapel in houston.

all in all, the museum was the perfect size to explore without giving us any "museum fatigue" and we felt like the collection was strong enough to warrant the money. this museum apparently was closed from 1999-2006 for renovations, so perhaps people who have been to paris before missed this museum, but if you get to go back, i would put it on the list.

when we came out of the museum, the sun had nearly eaten up all of the hazy clouds, so i sat in the garden facing the sun and basked in the warmth. then it was off to locate lunch. again, i had found an inexpensive bistro in the 1st arrondissement (very rare!) using Time Out, this place was called Bistrot Victoires. it has about 8 main dishes to choose from daily, each is about €10. we arrived shortly after it opened at noon and again had a really nice experience with the staff and food. i ordered the steak frites (complete with flaming sprig of thyme) and dave got the pasta dish with french ham. it was quite a healthy portion with a free, heaping bread basket. our wallets and tummies were very happy when we left.

(me in the tuileries garden with l'orangerie in the background; our lunch)

then we walked in the sunshine down part of the champs elysees. when we got to the roundabout near the grand palais, we headed off down avenue montaigne, the luxury store road. the road was very quiet, lined with expensive cars and valet men in front of louis vuitton, harry winston (one of the jewelry stores robbed in a recent multi-million dollar jewel heist), chanel, prada, jimmy choo, etc. it was fun to see the stores and strange how you could feel the exclusivity of them. the outside wasnt overly blinged out but the doors were massive and usually had a security guard leering, and no one was out flashing their goods. when i could peel my eyes from the fancy stores, i noticed the road was angled to be in direct view of the eiffel tower. score another one for the french. treat your shopping elite to the glamour and classiness inside the stores while giving them a unique experience outside, a stones throw from the symbol of the haute couture capital of the world.

anyway, we then turned up a road near the seine to find the small museum of modern art to try and see one of their exhibits we had heard about. unfortunately, when we got there, we found the entry for the ONE exhibit was more than we had paid to view any other museum this trip (they wanted €11 per person to view one collection of their museum). so we scrapped that idea and headed toward the eiffel tower. we came upon the grounds of the palais de chaillot which is on the northside of the seine, just opposite the eiffel tower.

the sun was now out in full glory and i was actually sweating, peeling down to my regular clothes. from this side of the river we had a great view of the tower but thankfully we werent directly on top of it with the mega crowds. the grounds and huge fountain were crowded but mostly with calm people laying in the sun enjoying their sandwich lunches. after we had enough, we headed further west along the seine towards the mini statue of liberty.

apparently at some point in the 1960s, we had the great idea of gifting france back a smaller version of the same statue they had given us nearly 100 years before. how bizarre? anyway, if you were on a boat facing this mini statue of liberty you would be able to take a picture of both the statue and the eiffel tower in the same line. i thought that was kinda nice symbolism.

from the statue, you can head back toward the eiffel tower via a small narrow island in the seine called allee des cygnes. it is a small cement path lined on both sides with benches and trees and was full of people reading, eating, and napping on this little oasis. the calm was most welcome before we folded back in with the crowds on the eiffel tower side of the seine to start wandering back in the direction of the hotel so we could catch our train.

(us in a nook in a bridge on the allee des cygnes; dave and the tower)

the combination of sunshine and saturday made for amazing amounts of people being out, i stand in horror trying to imagine what things must look like during peak tourist season. at one point, we crossed paths of the huge lawn in front of the eiffel tower. there were french children running and playing everywhere. there was even an organized sort of three-wheel bike race. these kids must know how lucky they are right?

(the bike race. the eiffel tower is just through the trees off to the right but you cant see it)

anyway, we grabbed some sandwiches at a nearby bakery for the train home, tried to stop in at the UNESCO building because i had read they had some picassos in their lobby (it was closed for visitors), and then we stumbled, swollen feet and all, back to the hotel to collect our bags for the train. there isnt enough ibuprofen in the world to cure that pain. my toe nails felt like they were gonna fall off and the spaces between my toes were filled with throbbing flesh. but we had had a lovely weather day and experienced, by foot, so much of the city. we walked at least 12 miles a day!

all in all, i would say that paris somehow felt like a gigantic and more historical chicago. it felt safe, walkable, visitor-friendly, and water was a central component of the energy. i think, for us, the experience of the huge french city was downplayed by the fact that we had already adjusted to the frenchness of it. it was a larger scale rennes in terms of the building architecture, metro system, language, food, attitudes and behaviors, etc.

english was spoken all over the place, but it still seemed to go a long way to know some french. we heard some anglophiles speaking horrid french but they were treated very well (the dude was even trying to ask for a coke zero...). we had absolutely no unpleasant french interactions. in fact, everyone was very, very kind. im sure patience may get slightly thinner during peak tourist season, but that seems like big city syndrome rather than rude french people. anyway, we were pleasanty surprised by that fact and had to fold it into all our previous ideas and misconceptions about paris to create a new and more accurate vision. i hope to go back with a plan to explore the lesser traveled, more personally-enriching experiences, and thankfully i think we will get to go back one or two more times before we leave.

**side note: the title "gay perry" is the name of the best character val kilmer ever played (from Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) while also being a play on the famous phrase "gay paree."

27 February 2009

You truly are the city of lights

today we hit our stride in paris and found some experiences that spoke more to us.

from our hotel, we headed toward a metro stop in search of some breakfast pastries. we chose a smallish, non-descript place to get a croissant and a pain au chocolat (if you havent had this, its basically croissant dough surrounding a tootsie roll sized piece of dark chocolate, its daves favorite). the pain au chocolat was still warm (bonus) and as i bit into my croissant i heard the joyful crunch of flaky layers of butter (double bonus!). this was the best croissant weve had in france, and thus ever. its a simple pastry, true, but to be crunchy, airy, buttery, flaky, and yet soft on the inside is not an easy task. many times in the u.s. they are just butter, butter, butter and you can maybe peel a few "flakes" off and pretend you are eating a crossiant, alas, you are not. and most times, even the french bakeries err on the side of too crunchy and flaky and not enough softness on the inside. anyway, breakfast was great. :)

we got off the metro on the ile de la cite conciergerie (the island with notre dame on it). we headed away from notre dame at first to walk along the seine around the rest of the island. there is a huge fountain nearby, south of the seine in place st michel that was lovely to see. we were having another gloriously grey and cloudy day, so im sure the fountain looks more brillant when the sun is shining off the water, but oh well.

then, we finally came into view of the notre dame catherdral. again, i guess i wasnt paying attention to pictures or had built it up too much in my head, but it wasnt as impressive as i was expecting. the front was very boxy and narrow. the intricate stone work around the doors, and the doors themselves, were, however, very stunning. inside, my favorite part was the windows and all of the beautiful colors and pictures that must have taken forever to create. afterward, we went around back and saw the famous flying buttresses and more of what i thought of as interesting architectural design. it was also at this point that both camera batteries crapped out and we started the day camera-free.

(dave in front of notre dame cathedral; one of the intricate doors of the cathedral)

we had an idea for lunch, so we chose to wander around aimlessly in that general direction. we walked along the streets of the tiny island just east of the notre dame island and window shopped. then we rejoined the mainland and saw the hotel de ville and place des vosges. somewhere along there, we were on a quiet street when we heard a crunching sound. when we turned around we saw a car trying to get out of its parking spot (these parisians are nuts, each car has approximately 3 inches of space in front and back of them to get out). what was most amusing was that the car the guy crunched, and then crunched again on attempt #2, was a new porsche. oops. you lose porsche owner, youre an idiot anyway for not owning a safe parking spot for it.

anyway, we continued on and saw the place de la bastille where they regularly have protests and which kinda marks a border to a peaceful and unique neighborhood called le marais. its kinda the neighborhood of tolerance being home to a large gay community, jewish community, and chinese community (even wikipedia says so, so it must be true right?).

in le marais, we stopped in to a cafe to get warm. it was here that dave ordered his first french coffee. a café caramel. to the tiny espresso cup with a splash of caramel he added a lot of sugar to make that stuff palatable. i took one sip and declared it poison (apparently my tastebuds accept radishes but still reject coffee) and dave slogged it all down saying that while he didnt like it, he thought maybe it would require a few more tries before writing it off for good. it was amusing that the tea there was €4 while the coffee was €2,30...if i were british i would be pissed.

anyway, we headed to the lunch spot but the place wasnt quite open so we stopped into one of the nearby jewish bakeries and chose some chocolate pastries. then the window counter opened and we ordered our falafel sandwiches. the place was called chez hanna and calls itself "the best falafel in the world" and while it was tasty, even tempting me by topping off my giant €5 sandwich with three slices of fried eggplant, i would still say we are spoiled in ann arbor to have jerusalem garden, truly the best in my world.

after i wiped my face clean of my sandwich, we found the centre pompidou, the largest modern art museum in paris. this is that wacky building you see that is basically inside out with all its ugly colored pipes strangling the building from the outside. yeah, it looks weird, but its about whats inside that counts. theres an observation area/restaurant on top and the art is on the 4th and 5th floors. we became familiar with some french modern artists who were new to us (picabia, dubuffet, delaunay), as well as seeing some great pieces from old favorites: rothko, newman, magritte, basquiat, kelly, miro, scully. we really enjoyed this museum experience for what we saw, the space it was presented in, and the fact that we felt more at home with its population of art goers. it was nice.

heading out of the art museum after fueling up with a pastry, we walked back to our hotel. we walked south past the seine, notre dame, down the blvd st michel, through the jardin de luxembourg (at which point the camera decided it had found enough juice to fire up for one more picture), through the montparnasse cemetary (where we found a couple of graves with my grandmas maiden name of fournier), and crashed at our hotel to prop our feet up for a few hours before dinner.

(in the jardin de luxembourg)

now, the dinner spot i had again found on the Time Out Paris website. it is a tiny place called La Cerisaie. it suggested reservations, so before we came to paris i had made a call, bungaled up my french, but had gotten the reservation made. when we got to the restaurant we were the only ones in the place (it had just opened, we had reservations at 7pm). there were 12 two-person tables to the whole restaurant. the woman was very kind and said she could speak to us in english if we wished, but had enough time and patience to let us do it in french.

we ordered the cassoulet escargot and chorizo to start. it was a tasty little crock of white beans, spices, thin slices of sausage, and small little black snails. yum! for our main courses, dave got black pork (a special, ancient breed of pig from the south) with winter vegetables. i got lamb (a breed from the pyrennes) with red sweet peppers stuffed with pureed potatoes and mushrooms. both pieces of meat were perfectly cooked with a thin crispy-crunch to the outer layer protecting and sealing in the juicy meat on the inside. everything was great and perfectly proportioned. by the time we were finished, the entire restaurant was full and buzzing. our one waitress was working the entire place with what appeared to be one cook at the helm.

with a full belly of calorie-laden french food (and fully recharged camera batteries), we decided to take another evening walk to see the shining city. we window shopped for our hip-and-modern imaginary kitchen on the way to the seine, and we watched the clock because we had about 15 minutes before the top of the hour. we arrived at the south side of the seine near the place de concorde and started west toward the eiffel tower.

this part of the city was quiet except for a few cars driving by. we walked alone in silence taking in the scene. just then, a huge tourist boat passed by nearly blinding us to death. the entire 200 foot long boat was lit up with enough wattage to be seen from space, what an eyesore!? anyway, once it passed we were immediately reenveloped in darkness and quiet. we were just getting to the ornate gold bridge in front of the grand palace when the clock struck 9pm. we went out onto the bridge to get a nice view of the eiffel tower sparkling and there was no one on the bridge with us. it was wonderful.

(the seine and eiffel tower [in mid-sparkle] at night; us with the tower poking outta my shoulder)

after it stopped glittering, we continued in the direction of the tower. eventually we got within a street light of the tower and we saw the stacks of people. the jingle jangle of peddlers trying to sell eiffel tower key chains and lit-up towers brought on a little nausea. young people, families, old people, every kind of tourist was crowded under the tower just to stand in the illumination coming off the structure. we moved past these people to get more south, and further away. it was only 20 minutes until the tower would sparkle again so we decided to walk some more of the grounds but stay within a straight shot of the tower. there were so many drunken, noisy people milling around it was a bit sad. but many of them shut up when the top of the hour hit, momentarily catching everyone up in a moment of awe.

to recap day #2, before dinner, i would say i was still not feeling the magic of paris. the mega tourist areas were not for me and i wasnt feeling the vibe or identity of the city yet like i usually can when we visit new places. i realized that my goal next time will need to be to find the neighborhoods with personality and/or the less common attractions. the times we were able to get off the beaten path were the most pleasant, and is something worth searching for. also, during the day the vast amount of open spaces that were void of greenery was quite depressing, but i am sure this changes with warmer weather.

i am glad, however, that we were able to get out so much during the evening. the city is wonderful at night. the larger amounts of quiet places, beautiful walks, golden glittering monuments and the illuminated iconic images of paris really feel impressive. it was during this time that i felt the energy, the "it factor," the romanticism, and the reason to visit paris.

Visit paris, check, see the louvre, the arc de triomphe, check...

headed to paris today!

unfortunately, we both had gotten less than 4 hours sleep, so it was only a matter of time before we fell flat in the middle of our first day in paris. dave had to get some work set up and running before he left and i was a tiny bit too excited, a tiny bit too wired from finishing season 2 of dexter, and a tiny bit too annoyed at the sound of dave tapping away at the keyboard 3 feet from my head to get much sleep.

we arrived at the montparnasse train station around 9:30am and walked to our hotel about 10 minutes away in the same arrondissement (paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, which are like large neighborhoods). we dropped off our bags and hit the street. on our way, we were delighted to find that our hotels area felt very much like rennes. it wasnt loud or busy and it had character.

we found a metro stop, bought a packet of 10 tickets for future rides and boarded the metro. the process was quite easy compared to new york city, and the metro itself reminded us of a version of the T in boston. anyway, we got off near the louvre at the stop called "les halles." i mention the specific name because no one should ever get off there. it is a HUMONGOUS mall-thingy and we were trapped in it for a solid 10 minutes trying to get out to street level. i felt like a gerbil in a habitrail, totally stuck. thankfully, we eventually found our way to daylight. not sunlight (we had a majorly cloudy day, but at least the temp was like high 40s).

dave didnt want to consult the map (the first time we looked at our map was near our hotel, we werent lost, just getting oriented. someone stopped and asked us in english if we were lost. embarrassing, but very kind), even though none of the signs we saw mentioned anything about the louvre. but i went over to the corner of a building and casually found our location.

anyway, once on the right path, we stopped in to a bakery for some goodies. we got a red berry crumble and a pain au chocolat. the berry crumble was awesome. i was happily munching on it when we entered the grounds of the world famous museum. we cut through one courtyard and entered the one with the major glass pyramid front entrance. it is a sight to see thats for sure. uber modern glass structure with centuries old architecture surrounding it.

(me triumphantly lifting my berry crumble in front of the pyramid)

we descended into the museum upon entering the glass pyramid and i grabbed a map. i had tried to prepare myself for what kind of art there was before we left, but when i had skimmed the website it wasnt immediately obvious how to find out what specifically was in their collection. so, upon looking at the map i realized just how much of the museum was made up of ancient art. now, dave and i dont have art preferences that exactly overlap, but they are sufficiently the same to allow us to know what we like and what to avoid...trouble for us was, the louvre has almost nothing that we are interested in. we were mostly guided there by the fame, prestige, respect, and "it factor" of the museum. live and learn.

we chose the paintings section of the museum to focus our efforts. this still left us with minimal entertainment since nothing in the museum was more recent than the 17-1800s. there were so, so, so many italian religious paintings it made my head spin. and we practically missed the mona lisa because of its tiny size and lack of impressiveness. i have always found it difficult to get into portrait paintings of people i dont know the story of. (now, frida kahlo did a huge amount of self-portraits, but all of them express some heavy emotion she was feeling at the time. plus, i know her story, her life). with the mona lisa, the only "story" i know is that it is super famous (and yes, ive read the da vinci code)...not much for me to get excited about. for anyone with tendencies similar to us, i would perhaps suggest seeing the outside of the museum and then doing the virtual tour.

i guess, basically, for us, we had heard so much and expected so much from the louvre that we were underwhelmed. and i must say that i was annoyed when we maze-snaked our way to the "vermeer room" and found...one stinking vermeer painting...thanks guys, i find something i wanna see and you scam me. plus, there seemed a large amount of people were only in the museum because it was a top tourist attraction. they looked bored, lazily strolling through the hallways without stopping to look at anything. sometimes couples or young people would stand next to a statue or painting and make a silly face, but i didnt see much "art appreciation" going on.

however, an interesting thing we saw was that randomly around the museum artists were set up at easels, painting replicas of the art. it was cool to see art going on amongst the art. and for our part, one thing that ended up intriguing us was...body hair. of the hundreds of naked people i saw painted that day we didnt see one representation of body hair. did men and women straight-razor themselves back in the day, or was it just very difficult to realistically paint body hair with the tools of the time? i know not the answer.

the museum highlight for us was the beautiful ceilings. each vast hall had different paintings, carvings, sculptures, and riches adorning its ceilings and that was interesting to look at. seeing as how the louvre was at one time a palace, it was amazing to think of how it must have looked and been used in its day.

(favorite painting from the louvre, need i explain why?)

we came outta the louvre and headed west to stroll down the champs elysees, first going through the tuileries garden which was much more dead than any park in rennes (but it makes sense since brittany is a couple degrees warmer than paris and doesnt really freeze in the winter). then we hit the place de concorde and peeled off to grab a €4 sandwich. we ate while finishing the walk to the arc de triumphe. the walk was packed with tourists and unique stores like the gap, adidas, and mcdonalds. from the louvre to the arc it was nothing but hourdes of people moving together in a wave, running around snapping photos of things, and it made me kinda check myself and my feelings.

i think i am becoming averse to crowds and to generic experiences. i am not terribly adventurous nor am i someone who lives life to the fullest, but i am slowly carving out my favorite way to live by my experiences here and in the past, and i suppose i am finding myself less than satisfied by things i might normally have enjoyed in the past. its a weird feeling, but when i find myself in the midst of an experience that is "me," a wave of comfort and an involuntary smile spread across my face. i guess vacations are all about finding that feeling, no matter what you are doing or what might make other people happy.

(our first view of the eiffel tower, from the place de concorde. you can see what a grey day we were having)

from the arc de triomphe, we turned down one of the other 8 spokes in that HUGE roundabout and headed back in the general direction of the louvre. this is where we started to have a peaceful, comfortable time. the streets were nearly empty, there were some funky stores to windowshop in, and some opportunity to watch regular parisians go about their day. when we made it back to the place de concorde, we found our feet were throbbing and our bodies were full of lead, so we hopped the metro back to our hotel and took a nap.

glen had told us about Time Out Paris, a london based on-line magazine that reviews things to do in many large cities. in our area, there was a bistro listed as having authentic, cheap eats. it was dark out but we still wanted to see more of the city, so we plotted the restaurant and found a few sites to see nearby and headed out. many of the famous paris buildings are lit up at night, and we had a map that listed which ones. we first saw the back of the hotel des invalides (part army museum, hospital, church, and burial site of napolean) and then walked a short ways to position ourselves in the center of a road that headed straight toward the eiffel tower. the tower was still a ways away and we were hungry so we didnt get any closer but we did find that at the top of every hour, the tower sparkles for 5 minutes. normally the tower is lit up, just like other buildings, but during those 5 minutes it is the shining star of all the city. good thinking france, you successfully created the feeling of magic and wonderment for millions of people at the same time.

(a bar we saw while we were out. funny, its called at the dog who smokes)

once we tore ourselves away from looking at the tower, we found our bistro to be closed. :( so, we headed back toward the hotel to a nepali restaurant we had passed on the way. we had a rather inexpensive tasty meal in a calm restaurant to help us wind down our first day.

22 February 2009

Hot air 5 - Can you ever forgive me oscar?

sunday, february 22, 2009, the oscars. this was the first time i havent been stateside to watch them. missing them was serious.

i always at least watch the red carpet, but many times i throw an oscar party and force my friends to come over and watch tv the whole night with me. i cant believe that the red carpet was only just starting here while i was going to bed. it was truly a strange experience to not be a part of the hoopla.

i had actually seen many of the movies (slumdog, the wrestler [amazing movie], benjamin button, dark knight, revolutionary road [wonderful]) and had picked my favorites to win. many did: sean penn, heath ledger, kate winslet. we were able to find some of the good speeches on youtube, and the in memoriam dedication with paul newman. :( ah well, the dresses were not very exciting this year, so perhaps it was the best year to be absent.

from my internet searching/stalking, i have my favorite images from the night:

(marisa tomeis pleated dress was gorgeous. in the background, natalie portmans dress was great too; emile hirsch is the man. he will be getting an oscar one of these days; robin and sean penn lookin great. congrats sean; reese and jake...ah, i love you)

Raclette 'n rollin'

when we got back from fougères, we went to dinner at daves bosses house.

they started with a simple appetizer of fresh radishes served with a small dish of salt. they explained that in belgium (both daves boss and his wife are originally from belgium) people are known to eat radishes at all times of day, all year long. radishes for breakfast is fairly common. me...never had a radish. i figured i would try it out. took a little pink, firm guy half the size of my pinky finger, dabbed one of the ends lightly in the salt, crunched off a bite in my mouth and was quite pleasantly surprised...cut to me, polishing off nearly half the bowl in 5 minutes...i love radishes, who knew?

then, dinner was the fabulously social meal of raclette. raclette is a swiss cheese, an event, and a state of mind (according to me). it has a similar feel to fondue night, but i think it wins in the race to be the most awesome. when i am a real adult, i will own a raclette machine and have people over to enjoy. now, daves former boss (todd) and his wife (who is swiss) had us over in the past for raclette. but raclette is kinda hard to find in the u.s. and they were vegetarians, so this experience with jean and his wife was a bit different.

they had bought my body weight in raclette cheese from the rennes market earlier in the day. it was sliced and laid out on two plates. there were two more plates filled with a variety of meats: sausage, salami, prosciutto-type meats, and uncooked bacon. then the condiments were in small bowls randomly placed around the table: gerkins, sweet onions, greens, etc. and of course, an important raclette component, potatoes.

now, raclette is a semi-soft, salty cheese meant to be eaten after is has been melted. to melt the cheese, there is a traditional machine you buy with usually 6-8 individual cheese pans for each person to participate and serve themselves dinner. you put a slice of cheese in your pan, put it in its spot on the melter area and start the fun. usually the melter part is on the bottom of the machine. the top of the machine is for cooking the meat or veggies you have accompanying the feast. this could be sliced mushrooms, peppers, or sizzling bacon...mmm. when the cheese is melty and bubbly, you cut a potato (only small-size potatoes are used) in half, and pour the cheese over top the potato. you can sprinkle on ground pepper, paprika, aromat (a swiss seasoned salt), etc. before topping it off with your meat or veggies. once it cools to edible conditions you pop a bite in your mouth and enjoy!!! its best to drink a white wine with the meal to help digest all that fat (even i comply with these rules). the feeding frenzy continues until the plates are empty or your pants have burst.

(from google images: a raclette machine; the pouring of the cheese onto the potato)

after dinner, jean started preparing dessert. holy crap, i gotta eat more? no problem, just gimme a few minutes. while enjoying good conversation with these friendly people we waited for dessert. it too was wonderful. whole pears, skinned, stuffed with cinnamon, marinated in a bit of belgian liquor and baked for 30 minutes with sliced almonds, served with a lump of vanilla ice cream topped with cinnamon biscuit crumbles...ive died right? this is heaven?

Fougéres is nothing either good or bad

took another foreign student organization field trip today (see also: "A cara-vannes of spaniards") to the fortified city of fougères and then for a walk in the country in a nearby village called le châtellier. had a pleasant day.

we got on the bus at 9a and headed to fougères, a town northeast of rennes near the border of brittany and the region called pays de la loire. first stop was a group entrance to the huge chateau/castle. the town was actually high up on a bluff and the castle was below in the river valley area, a strange and unique placement. we had an hour long tour in french. of course i didnt understand much, but an interesting thing dave heard was that if the tower staircases spiraled to the right and had evenly sized and spaced stairs, they were made for enemy attack...the defender could run with his sword and stab the attacker while descending the stairs (since most people would wield their sword with their right hand). staircases spiraling left typically had less attention to detail with regards to stair uniformity because they were not intended to be a spot for defense.

(me yawning by the chateau wall. the weather was very damp and foggy when we first got there)

anyway, afterward, we were given maps and dave and i ran away from the group in search of some interesting sites. we found a beautiful walk along the river. well landscaped, quiet, peaceful. the path wound its way up the steep hill to the city centre. it was saturday, market day, so we bought our produce for the week here. the town has a struggling economy and it was kinda sad to see so many people selling homegoods, like it was a yardsale.

(dave in the area by the river. this was some sort of "thing" that i think would have water in the bottom during the summer? weird)

we wandered through some of the main streets of town and started to get chilly. the weather report had promised part sunshine and low 50s, however, it was damp, and cloudy, and breezy, so we stopped into a café for tea. there were a bunch of loud annoying people surrounding us so it wasnt the most pleasant respite. we thought french people were supposed to be private, quiet people...not necessarily true...

after the warmth returned to our bones, we headed to the towns public gardens. neighboring a large church, the town had some lovely groomed gardens with steep, wandering paths down the face of the towns bluff. with views of the chateau, we had lunch and enjoyed a few intermittent moments in the sun. when we were finished, we descended through the gardens down to the river and meandered through the older, historic part of town below, near the chateau walls.

(us at a fountain in the public gardens; view of the chateau from the public gardens; me down in the lower historic part of town. i am less than 5'6" and my forehead touched the door frame)

we then made our way back to the bus so the group could head out to the country for a walk. a group of females were late. the last of them on the bus, asked if she could go use the nearby bathroom, thereby delaying us that much longer. once she got back on the bus, she jumped around in her seat and talked loudly to the girls behind her...all the way to the next village. needless to say she was on my shit list, and she stayed there.

starting from the village of le châtellier, we did a 6km walk on a maintained path through the countryside. our group was about 25 people large, but we managed to have our own peaceful bubble for much of the walk, ahead of the group. toward the end, we were unavoidably bunched together. on a road heading back to the village, we encountered a few cars on the road. most of the group moved to the shoulder, as any normal human would do. the annoying girl decided it was her comedic duty to stand in the road, arms and legs stretched out, to force the car to stop. she waited until the woman was probably just at the limit of her patience (i woulda honked by then for sure) and stepped out of her way. a few minutes later, a tractor came, hauling a load of mulch/manure down the same road. can you guess...she stepped in front of him too. she did the appendage stretch again, but this time, was even more bold. she kicked his shovel-load full of mulch and acted like her next move was going to be to climb on top, but then she stabbed at it with her walking stick and reluctantly stepped out of the way of the 3 ton machine...wise move you mentally-deficient wacknut. i mean, i almost felt like asking her if she left her medication at home...alas, my french vocabulary isnt large enough yet...but i amused myself with imagining him dump the load full of manure on top of her...

anyway, the walk, in general, took us past farmland, tiny communities, wooded areas, lonely country roads, a large mansion on many acres, and back through to the woods near the village where the walk had originated. the site-to-see was a megalith called "la pierre qui fume" (the stone that smokes). apparently it was supposed to look like the devil cooking galettes...i am not convinced.

(farmland near le châtellier; "le pierre qui fume" megalith; me giving dave my impatient face. here it was being used to get back to the toilets and the bus before annoying girl.)

**bonus points for figuring out the title is an attempt at a shakespeare quote from hamlet: "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." fyi, in case people care why/how i make my titles, this one was because we had a good day in a pretty place, but nothing super memorable about the town stuck out.

18 February 2009

The rennes fairy left 3 munchkins under my pillow

i gained a new circle of french society today. babies. i now have the trifecta: the older "true french" crowd, the young people/student crowd, and the infant/children crowd.

back in november, at the same time i posted for a french-english chat exchange person (how i met jj), i also posted that i could babysit for a family wanting an english-speaking person to watch their kids. recently, a nice british woman named helen emailed saying that she has a 3 year old girl and 8 month old twins (boy and girl). i went to meet them today.

hilarious, and a continuation of my good luck. the woman looks just like my friend jody back home (holla!) and is very, very friendly, outgoing, and is a laidback mom. her husband is french and grew up north of rennes and is also very nice. they actually lived in the states for a bit before kids, in denver and boston. the mom speaks english to the kids and the dad speaks french and they hope to offer their kids a truly bilingual life. the twins were hilarious. they were very calm and curious and have the most pinchable chubby baby features. and the older girl was quite well behaved. of course, i was hanging out with them with their parents around, but there are definitely parents whose kids are totally unruly even when they are around. i mean, im sure with 3 little ones there will be moments when all are fussing, but they seemed like easygoing children, and it helps that the parents arent the nervous, overbearing type. i shall take pictures if i get the chance, they are a cute lot. and im heading back over there tomorrow for round 1 of babysitting! bonne chance (good luck) to me!


(s.n.a.f.u.) situations normal, all frenched up

1. just like in the u.s., having a landline means you are subjected to having phone solicitors call at all hours, sometimes several times per day. to ward them off, i answer with a strong american accent and "hello!" this usually causes them to hang up. sometimes they call directly back and hang up again. mmmm, did you think you accidentally dialed america? no, i just wont be able to understand you so stop calling! since most of the bills and bank info is in daves name they usually ask for monsieur whipp, if they are brave enough to get beyond my "hello." i have to say hes not here and that i have no idea when he will be back. i just keep saying "je ne sais pas" (i dont know) until they hang up. ive gotten as many as 4 calls in one day usually in late morning-early afternoon. by the last one i wanted to scream at the person. then i thought, our friend jody gave us a "dirty french" book before we left, wonder what they have in there...
"tu es chiante" = you are a pain in the ass
"fous-moi la paix" = leave me the hell alone
"va te faire foutre" = f*$k off
or some awesome childish insults:
"t'es une vraie quiche aux jeux vidéo!" = you are so lame at Gameboy!
"ta mère elle accouché dans une poubelle" = your mother gave birth in a trash can (apparently a classic french middle school saying)

2. in the alley near my building i heard running water this morning. i look over and see a man urinating on the wall. lovely. i know this happens in the u.s. but it feels like i have seen this activity way more here, than i ever have back home. all hours of the day in any place offering a remote amount of coverage. also, as part of some miracle, it hasnt rained here in nearly 4 days, everything on the streets are dry. when you see wet spots, you start to wonder...with all the dog poop, human/animal urine, and vomit piles on the streets (from the hard nights partying, and barely a day goes by when i dont see a pile) i often feel like im living in a toilet. are these people really considered to be the be-all-end-all culture mavens?

3. while heading down the street to the laundry mat, i saw two cop cars and maybe 5-6 cops arresting a guy. not sure what he did but he was cooperating. the police didnt make a big scene, just led the guy to one of the cars. i heard one of the cops say something about handcuffs, good to know handcuffs is the same word in both languages, thats a real useful one.

17 February 2009

Heavy petting zoo

met up with jj and saw some of the country to the south of rennes and then went to the rennes agro-museum where "love was in the air."

because the agro museum closed for lunch (what self-respecting french place doesnt?), we went to see a nice part of the vilaine river south of rennes. it was a lovely spot. a wide part of the river with hand crank locs on one side and an old mill on the other side. the opposite river bank was rocky and actually had a small hillside/cliff. jj said his family would come on sundays and picnic and walk along the river.

next we went to a breton university called ker lann and had lunch in their student café. at ker lann, there are separate colleges with their own independent focus. some offer graduate degrees, some only bachelors. some are public colleges, some are private colleges. apparently the campus is layed out "american-style," i guess that just means a sprawling and open campus because it didnt remind me of too many universities back home.

lastly, we went to the eco-museum in rennes. just outside the highway loop is this large outdoor agricultural museum. it was a large, old farmstead that is now publicly maintained. they have many varieties of goats, sheep, horses, cows, chickens, and pigs from around the brittany and normandy regions. as spring is coming, many of the animals were pregnant, recently gave birth, or were anxious to be making babies. the goat males were hitting horns, the sheep had given birth to a few lambs that morning (SO cute, tiny little guys bumbling around), the cows and mare were waiting for their babies to arrive, the birds were squawking, as usual, and the pigs were grunting and nudging each other. the male pigs were sticking their noses through their pen to the nearby females and getting everyone excited. dear god. animal nature can be so embarrassing to watch sometimes. anyway, it was a nice place to visit once, nothing terribly exciting enough to bring me back multiple times.

(a true breton horse breed. short and robust for plowing the fields; the pigs of this area are very hairy and have long ears that totally cover their eyes)

14 February 2009

Saint vitré day

after strolling the rennes market this morning, we decided to explore the nearby town of vitré.

the train ride was 30 minutes and the sun was shining. we exited the train station and started walking away from the shopping area along the city wall. in a nice sunny spot in view of the chateau, we sat down to eat the sandwiches we had bought earlier in rennes.

(in the plaza where we ate lunch)

after consulting a nearby map of town, we set out for the path along the river. it was strange. the town is right next to the river valley. so, on one side of us, up high, was the town with all its beautiful buildings leading steeply downhill to more greenery until you hit the river. on the other side of the river was instant farm land: sheep grazing and small toolsheds along the fence rows.

(dave by the river near some weirdly chopped trees)

when we hiked back up to the edge of town, it was into an interesting area. there were a few large country homes near the river and on the next terrace was a community garden. once on top, we weaved among some very quiet, very country-feeling apartment buildings, thread through a narrow alley, and were back on a major road. we cut back toward town and hit one of their two largest churches. it wasnt open so we couldnt look inside. we walked deeper into town and found a path to walk along the ancient city wall. it was very quiet and scenic looking down to the river where we had just been and out to the countryside. the end of the wall led us back to a plaza in town, in front of their notre dame church.

(the symbol of brittany, the weasel; dave along the ancient city walls)

i was telling dave that i have often felt very dense since coming here. in this instance, because you always hear of the famous notre dame cathedral in paris and i was well aware of the rival UM school notre dame back home (which i assumed was somehow in homage to the church in paris). for the longest, naive time i thought those were the only two places where "notre dame" existed. but since learning the language and seeing that practically every town has a notre dame church i feel like smacking myself in the head...duh, it just means "our lady."

we then poked around the chateau vitré, which is partly the town hall/mayors office, how cool? near the chateau, there were banners announcing that the town is celebrating 1000 years of existence. pretty amazing. we then strolled through the oldest, historic part of town before deciding we were chilly and should look for a place to warm up.

(me in old town by a door of the same color as my pants; chateau vitré)

we chose a place near the lively part of town and had tea like a real european, almost. i am getting much better at sitting for long periods of time and just enjoying the food/beverage, atmosphere and conversation. normally i would be impatient and wanna get going, but we came in to get warm and i was gonna enjoy that time as much as i do seeing something new. we didnt sit as long as some people around us, but we had a nice private area and things to chat about so we enjoyed ourselves before heading out.

next, we headed south of the tracks in search of the city park. we found the gates and entered the beautifully landscaped green space. these french parks are always so well thought out. gazebos, ponds, islands, a wide variety of plants, on occasion a few animals in cages, birds, or whatnot, and always a playground or two. the french design some fantastic playgrounds for the kids, if you mixed the french and new zealand playgrounds we have seen...kids would never come home. heck, id never come home. there was even a tiny magical forest with the perfect species of tree that grew in odd ways to make the childhood dream of climbing trees a reality.

(me in the trees in the park)

we headed back to town, bought a raspberry pastry from the bakery, and took the train back home. we spent our anti-valentines day (we detest the holiday) eating dinner at home and finishing season 1 of dexter, a show about a sociopathic serial killer who works in blood forensics. no seriously, the show is awesome. dexter is really likeable and the writing is awesome. the french people watch dexter too...

(these posters are ALL over the rennes train station)

13 February 2009

Déja vu, am i coo coo?

the songs "its a small world after all" and the chorus from "here we go 'round the mulberry bush" swirled in my head all day.

i met up with jj and his friends for lunch. at one point, jj's friends asked if i played sports. i said i had played baseball (didnt know the word for softball) and swam. then his friend asked me if i had heard of ultimate frisbee...yes, my husband plays here in rennes as a matter of fact...really! our son plays here in rennes too! on a team called mr. friz...really? thats the same one dave plays for!... when i got home and asked dave if he knew the kid, of course he did. too funny. strange how everyones connected.

then i went to meet glen and martin to have martin help us go to that french labor building to get the form to demand our wages. we got to the building, martin explained in french what we needed, we got a form and headed to work to have the HR lady help us fill it out. we get to her office and find out its the wrong form, apparently there are multiple different situations for which you can demand wages, and each situation has a different form. so, now the office is closing in 20 minutes. we grab martin and head back to the office where he re-explains what we need. they have a rapid-fire french conversation followed by some whispering when the man tries to tell us something he isnt normally supposed to say. we get the form and head back to work to see if its correct. [not really sure why, but 'here we go 'round the mulberry bush, mulberry bush, mulberry bush' was on CONSTANT repeat in my head at this time. probably to keep me from going postal]. after determining it was the correct form and spending another 30 minutes discussing how to fill it out, i stumbled home, starving and pissed that i would have to do the french paperwork dance of shame once more. as i sat down to my computer, glen IMs me and says, "look in your bank account. i just got paid for december." sure enough, my funds were being transferred into my account. gahhhhhhh! i had to spend friday afternoon acting like a mental patient when the money was coming all along...damn you france...

to calm my brain, dave and i decided to go out friday night. we met up with glen and martin at the irish pub. another funny thing, there is a new zealand faculty guy in daves department who spends most of his free time at this pub. glen has been spending much of his time at the pub as well. so, now this geology professor and glen know each other. they were both at the pub when we got there friday. pretty funny. another 'small world' effect.

anyway, had a nice night chatting about movies and such. oh, and to end with something amusing, glen has showed me this site that is most decidedly american, or at least american-inspired: this-is-why-youre-fat-com.

12 February 2009

Clusterf#$k to the nuthouse

after a long blog hiatus, i return to complain...so what else is new?

basically, the day after we got our carte de séjours back in november (blog entry: Ooooh those 'french' ways...) dave started work on getting his work contract extended so that we would be valid to stay the entire length of time planned. his first contract said he was being paid on a french salary by the government science fund, CNRS, until february 11. so, they had issued our carte de séjours until that date, feb 11...yesterday.

since november, we having been complying with our required residency terms: we had our chest x-ray doctor visit, we filed for social security numbers for health care (this took 2 months because they lost our file the first time we went in), and dave has been in communication with his canadian prof to get that side of things done. starting this month, dave is being paid in wooden nickels (aka, the wimpy canadian dollar...while we live in the land of strong euro currency) but in order to stay here in france, and collect these nickels, we had a STUPID hoop agility course to jump through.

first, he had to get the canadian university/government paperwork approved and made official. then, he had to find the right person here in france to be willing to sponsor/honor the canadian contract and issue a twin french contract saying "he has a contract to be paid by canada. we know this, and we allow him to work here while being paid there." this was what took the better part of 3 months. after over a dozen emails of lameness, miscommunications, threats, and anger at being forced to do her job, dave was eventually told by the contact woman that he needed two things still: to get work insurance and a document from canada saying they know he is living and working in france and that he will continue to live in france while he is working under their canadian contract.

the canadian document was relatively easy to have created. thank you canada! but the work insurance has been a pain in the butt. here was the loop of stupidity:

to get the french work contract you need to have proof of work insurance -> you cant get work insurance until you have a contract saying you are staying in france to work ..... -> which idiot yields first, the chicken or the egg?

meanwhile, our temporary carte de séjours were wearing thin on time. finally, yesterday, by some miraculous breakthrough, dave was able to apply for and receive work insurance. the lady said, "mmm, your carte de séjour expires today..." dear god just gimme the insurance! of course, the documentation stating that he filed for work insurance will be mailed to us later, so we thought they wouldnt be able to have his work contract ready. but, the contract lady emailed at 5pm yesterday saying dave could pick up the contract.

today (as illegal residents in france), dave went to pick up the contract and came home so we could go to the préfecture and renew the expired carte de séjour. but, first we had to go on a scavenger hunt (based on things told to us by our contact lady at europole who helps foreign researchers in france). to pay for the chest x-ray doctor visit from december, we had to go to a special government office to buy €55 stamps, totaling €275, to prove to the préfecture that we paid for it (we cant just pay at the préfecture because for some reason they except stamps, not real money). this office however is closed for lunch from 12:30p-1:30p. so, we go to the train station to get new passport/ID photos taken because we were told we had to provide more to the préfecture. this costs €10. we grab lunch and a self-addressed stamped envelope from a nearby post office (we are also told we need this envelope for some mysterious reason). then we arrive back at the special stamp place right as it reopens. we buy the dumb stamps and start the trek to the préfecture.

we arrive and have only 13 people ahead of us. not too bad. dave makes a few last minute necessary photocopies and we sit quietly and nervously hoping they wont take us to jail for an expired carte de séjour (the penalties are in fact possible jail time and/or up to €3700 in fines). the lady calls us up and dave says "we need to renew our carte de séjours." the woman begins renewing our documents without asking for any proof that we have the right to do so. after she is finished she collects only a few things from us and says we will get a letter to come pick up the permanent carte de séjour cards in a few weeks. she didnt take the new ID photos, or the stamped envelope. she didnt even notice or mention that we had expired documents...i ask you, why in the name of all things SANE do you test my patience like this? be bureaucratic, be strict, i dont care just make your system make SENSE and follow some set of rules, any rules. have you no pride man!? grrr...

to make matters worse, glen and i have not been paid for december or january work. in france, it is guaranteed that a company, no matter their financial situation, will pay their employees first, before shareholders and suppliers. after pleasant inquiries and vague threats to the paris office, glen and i now have to trek down to some other, NEW government office building tomorrow to pick up some form to fill out to force the school to pay us. the office will send a bailiff to deliver the salary request and the school has 15 days to comply. if still no money...we have to initiate the next phase...of what, im not sure. threaten the guillotine? put their balls in a vice? i dont know. maybe to simply threaten to give them papercuts with the huge stack of forms that need to be filed in the case. i cant wait to fight for my money each month...i am slowly going crazy. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, switch. slowly going, crazy am i...

04 February 2009

One small step for woman...one giant leap toward 3 weeks school vacation

teaching was better this week, no murderous thoughts. i count this in the good column.

the first hour of class this week was "present your favorite object." really, i dont think it could get more generic. i sent all my students a list of my expectations for their presentation so that they wouldnt be lame and infuriating.

the first night was great. monday nights always trick me into a brief sense of security and happiness. not ONE kid chose to present his laptop and most all seemed prepared. i had a presentation on a reclining chair, bed pillows, a motor bike a kid built with his dad and drove around europe, and one guy presented his 1980s VW bus. he hated the gas mileage, but loved that the size meant he could fit a fridge of beer and three girls in back...he had a powerpoint presentation to show his car and its features. hilarious.

tuesday night seems to be when all the hooligans descend on me and try to see how much patience i have. most every person acted like i never sent them an email. their presentations were crap, too short, and not at all thought out. i had 4 presentations on laptops, 2 phones, and one kid said he wasnt ready because he didnt bring his object in...i dont CARE, no one said you had to bring the object in, this isnt show-n-tell. i said, what are you presenting on? ...my piano... okay, do the presentation without the piano... well, i am not ready yet... or, you NEVER prepared...grrrr.

while this kid was "preparing," a student (my comedian who said i "emasculate" dave by making him cook) presented his ethernet cable (he hadnt prepared either). he, however, was hilarious. he said his cable provides the magic of the internet, but can also be used as a sex toy whip, or a jump rope for exercise (he demonstrated these two activities, no joke). he also said he slept and showered with the cable and wondered if i had as much fun with my cable at home...ah, no, sadly i have wireless... lastly, one of my favorite kids did actually seem prepared. he presented his favorite basketball, that he had stolen from a tournament he was in. he only uses it playing indoors because he doesnt want to mess it up or get it dirty. his favorite NBA player is T-Mac or Kobe, i had to make fun of him for tracy mcgrady, the guy is hideous.

the second hour of class this week was a discussion on "do you believe in aliens or UFOs?" awesome. there was a lame article on a UFO seen during obamas inauguration. i again had emailed them all to come prepared with something. i said to find a report of a famous alien sighting or UFO story. i had only a few people who had read the text for the class, and virtually no one who had read my email. so, on tuesday, i decided i would make them spend 5 minutes to imagine an alien invasion on earth, then present to me what the creatures looked like, why they were here, and what the earths reaction would be. most of them rolled their eyes. i didnt care. but i did have a big, tall kid give me a death stare (i suddenly remembered the story missy told me about talking to a huge student of hers out in the hall one day...gave me shivers). whatever, they ended up (some of them) getting into it and coming up with some good stories. "he has 3 tentacles, two for working, one to hold a girl. he has 3 fingers, two to hold a gun, and one to pull the trigger."

on wednesday, our classes were so small that glen and i pooled the students and combated them as a team, which went much smoother. all in all, the week was okay, i just need to come prepared for war on tuesdays and always have an activity i can make them do that they might hate, but may teach them that if they prepared, we wouldnt have to resort to this...

03 February 2009

Short pilgrimage around rennes

jj showed me a sample of the churches around rennes.

first we visited a catholic church with spanish-influenced architecture. he said it was kind of a strange combination. this was also where he pointed out marble prayer plaques that people had bought and had displayed when their prayer came true. it was strange how many people had asked to pass their exams, or receive a masters degree.

next we saw the cathedral of rennes. very much a place to see and be seen on sundays. it has a very beautiful ceiling and a large impressive organ. it took 300 years to build because the ceiling kept collapsing. the huge doors to the cathedral face part of the old city wall. the duke and duchess of brittany would ride over the drawbridge on their horses into the city limits and were able to enter directly into the church for their grand entrance.

the lowest layer of city wall was created back during the time of the romans (~200 A.D.), and afterward the wall was expanded and built on top of for more fortification. there are only 3 parts of the wall of rennes that remain. near to one part of the wall is a pub with all original interior of the 16th century wooden buildings of rennes, we took some tea there. jjs daughter knows the owner of the pub, it was a nice place.

later, i was telling jj that my moms mom is french-canadian and that i wasnt sure where they were from in france, but that her name was fournier. on our walk around the city, jj stopped into a bookstore that sold old and rare books because he knows the owner. jj partly grew up in western brittany, where "real bretons" live. the owner is a "real breton." jj told him about my grandmothers name, fournier, and the storekeeper said the fournier name is well-known in the town of brest, because they are winesellers who offered tax-free wine if you guarenteed you would drink it on your boat out in international waters. very odd but interesting, and the man was very friendly, he said "we could be cousins!"

next we popped into an art school nearby and looked around. jj said they often have small exhibitions up and you can come look around whenever you want. there were a few items up and the students were milling around. it was a nice building with lots of glass and sunlight.

next stop was the old church on the edge of thabor park. it is nearly the oldest in rennes. it was made during the transition from roman to gothic architecture so the builders were still perfecting the new styles and not much about the church is uniform. it is much more plain and simple but apparently every surface was painted, now only a few spots of paint and one nearly faded mural remains. it was an interesting contrast to the others seen earlier today.

lastly, we walked in thabor park a little. jj showed me where the orchestra plays under the gazebo in the summers. and where the crocus' come up. amazingly enough, several of them were already out and you can see where the daffodils will be. i couldnt believe i was seeing springtime flowers in the beginning of february. crazy. we exited the park and worked on my french street words: sidewalk, road, lamp post, gutter, drain pipe...

01 February 2009

Any given weekend

for the first time, we had a regular, american-feeling weekend of total relaxation.

friday night, dave came home from school with some movie passes. the government science program that funds his research here in france, has some kind of office on campus. they offer discounts on certain things to foreign researchers. dave got a packet of movie passes that are less than half price of a normal ticket.

we decided to grab a quick bite to eat near our house and head to the new, big movie theater a block from our apartment. we saw "the curious case of benjamin button." the theater was HUGE. the seats were so plush and comfy and we noticed that, unlike american theaters, they dont bother putting seats within the 15 yards closest to the screen. that way no one has to strain their neck and everyone has a decent seat. the movie was nearly 3 hours long but it was quite good. it was in english with french subtitles (labeled in the paper as "v.o." = version original). the movie location was new orleans, and it was funny to have the deep south language translated in french. they seemed to totally remove all the slang in the translation. something like "oh child, you aint doin' nuthin' right" would be translated "dear, you arent behaving properly." strange and amusing.

on saturday we woke up late and dressed for the market. we got a galette saucisse and walked the market buying our regular veggies. this time we opted to try a bottle of homemade apple juice we keep seeing the merchants selling. there was a man who was selling nothing but apples at his stand, a dozen different kinds. we bought his juice. we got it home and filled a glass...this stuff is amazing. its a blend of many kinds of apples and you can taste the wonderful mixing of those different varieties. heaven. it basically tastes like the cider you get in the fall in the u.s.. we actually looked it up, apparently "cider" is known all around the world as an alcoholic apple beverage, but in the u.s. and canada "cider" is just unpasteurized, unfiltered apple juices made from a blend of apples. ive gotten some weird looks when i have tried to mention cider from back home and described it as non-alcoholic. anyway, this apple juice was fantastic...made me feel like i was back home and had never missed cider mill season...

(best galette saucisse place. all around the market you can hear people discussing when they are going to go get their galette saucisse)

on the way back from the market we stopped into our favorite bakeries to pick up bread, sandwiches, and sweets. after lunch, we went grocery shopping at the new mall i found on friday with jj. inside there was a fancy grocery store. we found some nice items and a shelf full of regional breton beer. dave cant wait to drink his way through that shelf. we picked the beer with the ermine on the label to start.

(blanche hermine breton beer. pretty cool label)

after we got back, we hopped a city bus out to the wealthy suburb of cesson-sévigné. we rode the bus to the end of the line and walked along the river all the way back to daves university. there were parks, tree-lined paths, bridges, ponds, very scenic stuff. there was even a kayak course set up in the river at the faster moving point. kinda cool.

later, dave started making dinner from the items we had purchased that day. duck breast glazed with fig jam and prunes, potatoes, broccoli, and baguette. yum.

sunday was just a lovely lazy day of lounging, eating sandwiches and lamb kebab sandwiches, and getting ready for teaching this week. after dave got back from afternoon ultimate frisbee practice we made dinner and finished season 1 of mad men...neither of us cared for it, but we soldiered on to finish the season. we wanted to smack all of the characters and then lock them in a room without booze and cigarettes to see who would come out alive.