28 March 2009

Breakdance battling bretons

we went to the second annual block party battle in rennes.

it was held in a large circular theater space with no stage and no permanent seating. there were risers with cushions along the walls. we got to the theater a little early, maybe 15 minutes before show time and thought there would be many people, alas no. besides their trains, these people are always seriously late at starting things on-time.

thankfully we did get there when we did though. we got a good, comfortable seat. then they proceeded to stuff hundreds of more latecomers into this tiny space. an hour later, they were ready to begin, so they closed the external doors...after the lights were flashing and the dancing started, you can imagine the heat...and smell. mmm.

so, there were 9 breakdancing teams and they battled through 4 rounds to crown a winner. in between rounds they had a french rapper, some special dance routines, and some beat-boxing. there were tons of young people and families in the audience. lots of parents brought their small children. many were thoughtful enough to make their kids wear earplugs but many were just exposed to the elements. and some tiny children were being bottlefed or breastfed in the audience...

anyway, the dancing was pretty decent and the 5 euro price of the tickets was definitely worth the entertainment. the emcee was pretty interesting, he often mixed spanish, french, and english while talking. some words or phrases the french just havent bothered to sully their language with so they left it in english. for example: block battle party was in english.

another amusing point, we saw at least three Michael Jordan wizards jerseys on dancers at the battle...do people not remember his record-breaking, fame-making career on a little team called...the Bulls!? perhaps, when he came out of retirement on the wizards, they over-produced his jersey, i guess the leftovers they couldnt push on american kids went to france...seems like a logical explanation.

25 March 2009

Its official, the definition of "fashionably late" is 5 months

upon invitation, we went to the préfecture and FINALLY got our official carte de sejour. we now have laminated, temporarily-permanent proof that we belong here.

miraculously, we also recently received our carte vitre in the mail. this is the card that you use to obtain medical services in france. wow. they seemed like mirages in the desert but then they just arrived and *poof* all the stress and idiotic running around town seems to be so far away.

i will miss this crazy mixed-up land for providing its blend of lovely food/lifestyle/culture with tragically-comic/illogical/asinine administrative and information gathering policies. oh the memories i can laugh at later...

(blurry, yes, but i dont want you stealing my information...nor do i want you to see our horrible pictures. the photo IDs here make you completely close your lips. no smiling whatsoever. makes everyone looks like an ax murderer. i guess it comes in handy for posting want ads of national criminals, you can go right to the national photo database and have at it.)

24 March 2009

I moonlight as an employed person

so, ive created a world where i do errands, lounge in front of the computer, take walks, and explore france with my adoptive parents by day, and by night i work to "justify" this lifestyle.

i recently added a new evening teaching position to my toolbelt, in a small northern suburb of rennes called la chapelle-des-fougeretz. tuesday nights i have an hour of intermediate english speakers (mostly adults, a few college-age kids) and thursday nights i have one hour of beginners and one hour of intermediates.

thankfully this putting-myself-in-awkward-situations stuff is getting easier. i wasnt nervous at all. i met my tuesday group and had them do an introduction exercise, ran through some adjective exercises with them, and at the end polled them for what they would like to learn in the future.

then there was a bit of time left, so someone asked me where i was from in the u.s. like a damn puppet without control of my limbs my hand flew up and i started pointing at my hand, aka michigan. they all stared at me like a crazy person. then i launched into my "in the north, bordering canada, we have the great lakes around us..." and as if JUST on cue, a young guy said..."ah, chicago!?" yes, exactly, we are chicago. so, so, so bizarre. now i need to bring a map of the u.s. and michigan next time and eventually teach them about our state. the same guy then told me he goes to school with a guy from chicago and that my accent is MUCH easier to understand than his...mmm? who is this person? what are they doing to the perfect midwest accent? i then had to remark that i thought that was strange because in the midwest, in general, we all tend to sound...just like me. we're the pride of the country...cnn and national news speaks like us...we are supposed to be the best of the best for pronounciation and understandability...alas, i held back these latter sentiments because i didnt want to be committed to a french mental hospital. i only wish that i could control my state pride and perhaps have my hands cut off so they cant be my insta-map for people who have NO idea what im talking about.

21 March 2009

Celebrate the arrival of spring with a picnic

glen and martin invited us to a picnic in the thabor park.

yesterday it was officially spring and what better way to celebrate than with a picnic on the lawn of the lovely city park in the sunshine. the weather was mid-50s and fabulous. at noon, our group gathered on the lawn. at first there werent too many people around us, but by picnics-end, the area was filled with people. they even had the park police out making sure people were treating the lawn nice (kicking people off lawns that were "resting" and making people move their bikes off the grass).

we had an assortment of cheese, spreads, bread, meat, veggies and desserts. we tried some lovely cheese from martins hometown (troyes, in the champagne area) and discovered some new spreads: a caviar eggplant spread which didnt actually have caviar in it, its just a word to describe how it was prepared, and some olive tapenade. yum!

(in their blog debut: glen being very "great gatsby" and martin being trés chic)

we were in charge of desserts, so that was a lot of fun for me. we brought: a chocolate tart with white chocolate chips on top, a pear and chocolate tart, a red fruit crumble, a dense chocolate cakey thing, and a tart filled with salty butter caramel. yummy! we also brought some regional cider to help wash down all that fatty stuff so i didnt have any problems with digestion later. :)

(glen caught this precious photo)

20 March 2009

St leonard came out of his tomb to bite my ass

hung out with jj today, saw some new things.

first we had lunch with jacques and anne and jjs scottish friend. that was fun, as expected.

then jj took me out near the rennes forest, to the small village his sister is the mayor of called ercé. they had a small village center with old renovated farm buildings being used for community buildings and shops. we headed to the village café and read some things in french.

first, jj had brought another book of poetry, from paul verlaine (rimbauds boyfriend). his most famous poem is called "Chanson d'automne" (Autumn's song). it was nice, but not as interesting as rimbauds words to me. then we read the french newspaper and i learned some new vocabulary and pronounciation. ugh, its hard to read a string of foreign words and not sound like you are a recent stroke victim. ah well, its how you get better.

then we drove back to rennes along country roads admiring the hilly farmland and ancient churches. on one open stretch of road we stopped at a mystical/superstitious place called the "tomb of saint leonard." i guess there is a legend that this man, leonard, who had lived a crime-filled life only to repent and ask for forgiveness at the end, was buried there. in fact, there is only a tomb, but no body. however, people still come to his grave everyday to pray, leave him gifts, decorate him with flowers, and hope for their dog/child/health to return.

(the path leading up to the grave; the grave)

the desires and hopes of the people are serious indeed, but the fake grave and the aisle of gifts, notes, photos, plants, etc left in his honor were bizarre. there were buckets of fresh cut flowers on his tomb, so people seriously frequent the place. in fact, while jj and i were there an elderly couple walked up and spent a few quiet minutes alone at the grave.

we headed home kinda shaking our heads at how weird the place was. apparently st leonard doesnt like to be treated in such a way, even if his body isnt buried there. later that night, dave and i were walking around trying to find dinner. we settled on a falafel sandwich from a lebanese place on a neat street with lots of ethnic food. we ordered the falafel and asked if hummus came on the sandwich. the woman said "no," but she could ask the kitchen to add it. she called and described what we wanted, then there was laughing, and a gesture toward us and a story about how there are foreigners who want their sandwich this way, more smiling and gesturing, and she hangs up. she says our sandwiches will be ready in 5 minutes. we asked what was so funny. she said "the kitchen says your sandwich isnt healthy." oooooh, total burn. ah, those STUpid americains. whatever, we got our order (including the super unhealthy side of fries; what must they really think of us), and our food was great, so i guess i would suffer the embarrassment again. take that st leonard...

19 March 2009

Say, you know who i havent seen in a while? my good friend mr protest

france had a nationwide protest today, jj offered to meet up and show me around.

we live just off the major street in front of the train station which is the typical starting place for rennes protests. there was a national protest in january that drew nearly 20,000 people in rennes, but this one was expected to be bigger, bringing together more unions.

in france, a protest needs to be declared and approved before it can occur. some unions will get together and agree on a date. usually once it is announced, other unions will get on board and on the day of the protest, every person is obviously welcome to join in.

at around 11a, there were people milling around and the sidewalks were feeling full, but no one was yet in the street. a lone truck was pulling a trailer with a smoking bbq grill up the street. then i met up with jj and we went to his friends apartment just above the main street for tea to wait for the crowd to gather. 30 minutes later, all of france was in the street. galette saucisse street vendors were open for business and lines were forming.

the scene was calm yet energetic. a few unions had bullhorns and were chanting things, but after the chant it would go back to "normal." banners and flags were blazing among the sea of people and everyone was chatting and shaking hands and kissing cheeks. it very much felt like a city parade/massive backyard bbq rather than a protest.

i was told that when the marching starts, its important to find the union you agree most with and walk behind them to show who you are and who you support. so, within the protest there is a popularity contest. there are about 5 officially recognized unions in france that can lobby and have direct negotiations with country leaders. no worker in france is required to join a union, and if you dont want to join the "official" ones, you can join one of the dozens of other ones out there. there are unions for specific trades, specific political leanings, specific population groups (disabled, retirees, youths, etc), unions for employees, for employers, for executives. its very bizarre.

so, each group gathers around its flag the people who are supporters and friends. and it seriously feels like a community meet-n-greet. its like an extension of the french love for being outdoors and people watching. what better way to people watch than to call your fellow citizens out to the street to talk, eat, walk, and complain about things together?

i was out on the street for about 1.5 hours near my apartment, but our area still wasnt actually marching or moving forward yet so i went off in search of lunch. all my bakeries nearby were cleaned out due to the crowds. i went home to wait for the protest to move away. then i went out looking for food again. i found a restaurant that offered tacos, burritos, empanadas, etc and had to stop in. i took a small high-top table facing the street for myself. the waitress took my order: tacos with chicken, vegetables, and salsa. i sat back and waited to see what this mexican food would look like.

it arrived on a bed of lettuce. one soft taco tortilla laid flat as the bottom layer. then chicken, salsa, and pureed curried vegetables, then another soft taco laid flat, then sour cream and salsa drizzled on top. no. these arent tacos. nice try. do i dare try them? sure, what else am i gonna do. while i dig into the first bite, a group of union workers stops in to order food. they all seemed to be having a great time in the sunshine enjoying spending a day off work with their fellow co-workers fighting for truth, justice, and the french way. and while im chewing this bizzare but tasty concotion (seriously, the pureed curried veggies were delicious but absolutely strange) a part of the protest that had broken off from the mass was coming down the street in front of the taco shop. a whole group of young people chanting about something. very impressive.

all in all, over 30,000 people showed up for the protest in rennes, with estimates between 1-3 million across france. for the estimates, jj said it is important to get the most amount of people near the front of the protest because the police station themselves above the rally and take pictures to provide official estimates of attendees to the media. for the most part, all protests were peaceful. sometimes, when the official rally is over, some "anarchist" groups stay around and try to provoke the police, but they are by far the minority. the purpose is to make a visual statement to the president and world, not to harm anyone. this feeling was very evident during the time i was among the people on the street.

18 March 2009

Back to school, back to school to prove im a fool

today i gave a presentation at a local french high school for their "international week."

through the trickle down effect, a teacher who goes to oconnells pub and is friends with the new zealand geologist that dave works with needed foreigners to come to her school during their international week to talk to the students. i volunteered to come (and glen too, but then he "forgot" he had a french exam that morning...). so, ALONE in the scary land of teenagers, i gave a 45 minute presentation.

it actually wasnt that bad, but im surprised i wasnt more nervous. the room was like a small gym with a small stage and big projector. there were like 70+ students there, and many of them had only moderate english language knowledge. i tried to chose easy words and speak slowly (i had a microphone, ah!). i spoke about the u.s. in general, life in the suburbs of michigan, going to university, and then my experience in france. from what i could tell, i didnt kill anyone from boredom so i suppose that equals success.

at the end of the presentation only a couple kids had questions, which i suppose isnt too bad, i mean its not their native language and they would have had to use the microphone to ask the question. i wouldnt participate either, but it was awkward that the teacher spent like 5 minutes trying to get more kids to ask questions. i kinda felt like the bad guy.

anyway, once they were dismissed, a few other kids came up afterward and talked to me for like 15 minutes. one was going to finish high school in rochester, ny next year (rennes sister city is rochester). he was asking me lots of things and a couple other girls had some questions too. at one point the guy asked me what stereotypes given about the u.s. i felt to be false. i should have come prepared because it would have saved me.

i couldnt really think of any stereotypes that were completely false about americans because some population or another actually does behave like that. i eventually got past the question only to have him ask me, "what stereotypes do americans have about us?" oh god, i am NOT good at lying...should have prepared...i had 4 pairs of french eyes on me and i could hear the seconds pounding away in my head. i finally began by couching it that "very, very, very stupid people say..." (like that could save me) and i ended up telling them that people say they are smelly/dont bathe. they looked very shocked and asked "why?," to which i pulled out a few more "they are very, very stupid." i felt like i had to continue to try and find a more "pleasant" stereotype to offer. so i said "some people say you are rude." then i went further to say "our conservative tv channel also tries to tell us that all french people HATE americans, and that that is why we should dislike you guys." to which the guy replied "we do hate you." awwwwesome.

i wasnt actually offended, but something inside tried to retaliate by briefly flashing the final-nail-in-the-coffin stereotype of "french women dont shave their armpits." thank my f-ing lucky stars that somehow we began to move further away from the subject so that that monstrosity didnt come barreling outta my mouth, proving once again that i was born with a broken social filter. coupled with the fact that i have a hard time lying, this is a deadly combo. perhaps that is why i was given the crappy constellation prize of being able to blush EXTREMELY easily so that people would know how horrified i am of my own mouth. (although, honestly i HAVE met at least a FEW populations of french people who DO smell...)

ahhhhh, anywho, hopefully i wasnt the worst american "ambassador" of all time, hopefully. the adults who watched the presentation said they really enjoyed themselves (but maybe theyre better liars than me) and those kids stuck around to talk to me even after i stuck my big foot in it, so hopefully they forgave me, or at least thought no worse of the u.s.

i stayed to have lunch in the staff cafeteria with the host teacher afterward. most teachers were self-conscious about their english so they either said "bonjour" and smiled and ignored me, or they tried to speak to me in english but felt the need to add in some jab. thats fine. my most fatal error was grabbing a lunch plate and putting some appetizer pasta salad on the same plate at the same time as my main dish: galette saucisse and peas. they said i was being american.

at first i thought this meant i had taken too much food, but i seriously hadnt, and by meals end, these people had eaten WAY more food than me. nope, they meant i wasnt following the code of eating my starter course first, then getting up to refill the plate with main course food, then getting up again to get my dessert course. sorry, i live in the land where its okay to eat your yogurt with your main dish (dave gets made fun of at school for doing this, yogurt is considered a dessert here), and its okay to eat pasta salad at the same time as your meat. ah, well, at least i had learned to keep quiet by then and just smile.

after lunch, the teacher had to get back to work so she pointed me in the direction of the center of rennes and i chose to walk home in the glorious sunshine and beautiful weather so that i could lick my wounds on the long walk home in a nice, peaceful environment.

17 March 2009

This rimbaud is not someone sly stallone could play

met up with jj today and learned about a famous french poet.

first we had some tea and discussed my visit to the alps, in french. i was complimented on the progress i have been making. although, i still have the absolute hardest time understanding questions. ugh.

then we saw a small art exhibit at the champs libres. they had a collection of photographs on the area surrounding la paz, the capital of bolivia. it was interesting because jacques, who was also with us, had actually been to la paz recently so he added in his memories.

then jacques had to leave, so jj and i grabbed lunch at a place nearby. while we were waiting for food, jj brought out a book of poetry from one of frances most famous poets. Arthur Rimbaud (pronounciation is similar to "ram-bo"). he only wrote poetry from age 16-21, then he stopped and led a life of drunkenness and domestic violence with his boyfriend, poet Paul Verlaine, but later became a traveler and a trade merchant in africa before dying at age 37 from cancer.

jj introduced me to perhaps rimbauds most famous poem "le dormeur du val." i have included it here in french, and then english. its not very long but is very beautiful. and i cant usually get into poetry.

"Le Dormeur du Val"

C'est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D'argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c'est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l'herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

in English (one of many different translations):

"The Sleeper in the Valley"

It is a green hollow where a stream twitters
Wildly hanging on the grasses rags
Of silver; where the sun from the proud mountain
Shines: it is a little valley bubbling with sunlight.

A soldier young, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
The nape of his neck bathing in the cool blue watercress,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the skies,
Pale on his bed of green where the light rains down.

His feet in the gladiolas, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child would smile, he is having a nap:
Nature, cradle him warmly: he is cold.

Fragrances do not make his nostril quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
Peacefully. He has two red holes in his right side.

(and, a link to a short discussion of the poem, in english)

15 March 2009

Les deux most perfect days in the alpes

i cant believe our luck. we had two of the most perfect ski weather days on earth. another cloudless, warm and sunny day greeted us as we peeked out of the window.

after breakfast, we chose the other, smaller mountain just behind our hotel to hit first, since it was south-exposed and was getting all of the morning sun and would probably be mush by the afternoon. we had more beautiful panoramas and lovely runs with great snow as we skied around the mountain to canvas as much of the ski area as possible before we left.

(top of chairlift of our first morning run)

in general, the trails were not as well sign-posted as in the u.s., but i definitely felt like we knew what skill level the path we were chosing was and it continued to be marked at key points as you went down the mountain. compared to u.s. ski areas, they didnt seem as attached to the random names they gave each trail, they just made sure there was a small but visible sign to let you know what you were getting into, for your safety, but it wasnt intrusive to the ski experience.

also, they werent as crazy about grooming the trails each morning. the hills were never bumpy or dangerous, they would groom for that, but it wasnt something where each trail needed to be diligently attended to. this theme also carried over to the chairlifts. there was usually one or two staff members at the bottom of the lift and one at the top. they didnt hold the chairs for you to slow them down or overly baby anyone. again, they were there for safety but they expected you do be able to take care of yourself a bit.

after we had been out for a couple hours, i needed to use the bathroom. we went into a canteen near the top of the glacier and i looked around for the bathroom. you had to put 30 cents in the basket to be able to use the toilet! i again grew envious of the yellow spot-makers-in-the-snow...to rebel, i chose not to leave my money in the basket. no one was guarding it anyway and i saw other people not paying, humpf!

anyway, we chose a few more runs, took a few more pictures, and enjoyed the snow. there was an impressive lack of lines at the ski lifts. only the largest gondola at the bottom had the faintest whisper of a line (we waited 5 minutes i think). granted, we were there just after a 2 week school holiday, but this was still a weekend afterall and the weather was glorious! surely there must be locals and other tourists who could come and clog the village. while there were definitely many people out and about below and on the mountain, everything was large and spread out enough that everyone could enjoy things at their own pace.

at around 1p or 2p we decided to head down to the village. it ended up being our last run of the day. i had not fallen at all (woo hoo!) but i was loving the weather and really just wanted to finish the last couple hours down in the village back in my regular clothes, exploring the rest of the area before we had to get the bus back. plus, daves ski boots were rubbing his foot on one spot that made him agree that he would enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the village as well.

it was about 9 celsius in the village (and -1 celsius at the top of the glacier) both days we were there. we grabbed lunch sandwiches again and sat out in the sun in front of our hotel. we actually saw some people in capris and short-sleeved shirts. we also noted that the roads in the village were very non-invasive. cars had to drive quite slow, there was basically only one lane, and pedestrians could walk in the street if they wished. there were no curbs and you could head back to the sidewalk if a car came along. it was nice to feel that the village belonged to the people and not to cars and busy people trying to race around the mountain to squeeze the most out of their skiing dollar.

(me being a little french girl in front of the "crepes a go-go" restaurant)

at 3p, the chocolate shop across the street re-opened (from their 2 hour lunch break), so dave and i stopped in for some goodies. they had fantastic caramel chocolates and a dark chocolate with earl grey tea ganache inside. mmm. with sweets in hand, we walked to the edge of the village near us where we saw paragliders riding the thermal currants coming up from another village in the valley below. we walked up to the cliff and enjoyed this new scene. we also acquired some slightly red noses since we forgot to reapply sunscreen after we came off the mountain. oh well.

(paraglider; dave and i near the cliff at the edge of the village)

anyway, our bus was at 5p, so we went back to the hotel to collect our things. they were very nice. being a sunday, i guess they didnt have new people coming in that night for our room so they let us stay in our room all day until we needed to check out for our bus back to grenoble.

we had a full bus back to the city and enough daylight left to stare up at the mountainside as we came down. the steep canyon below was a bit freaky, so i tried not to look down, but after a while i calmed down because everything was so beautiful. that was definitely the best ski trip ever (minus the one to whistler/blackcomb when i met dave i suppose...awwww, gag me).

back in grenoble, we located our hotel, checked in, and went out hunting for restaurants that would be open on a sunday night. we found "el sombrero" and decided to press our luck with mexican food in france. while they definitely took liberty with the dishes and uniforms (cowboy hats, bandanas, and gun belts), the beans were good, the green sauce was actually hot, and they had bottles of negro modelo. not too bad, i wouldnt be opposed to going back again.

14 March 2009

Not everything is bigger in the u.s.

aaaaaah, can you say the alps are huge…and breathtaking ? we had an absolutely gorgeous ski day.

first of all, our hotel served free breakfast. its an italian owned establishment so the people spoke italian, french, and english. all of which we heard in the breakfast room. this wasnt just some lame stale breakfast, it was practically a feast: cereal, fruit, toast crackers, spreads, croissants, baguette slices with cheese and meat choices, yogurt, and prunes and peaches in syrup.

next we went to pick up our skis at the place right across the street from the hotel. we had brought our own boots and so were just renting skis. the price was quite reasonable, 71 euros total for two people for two days. then we went to get our ski pass. now, dave had done this ahead of time on-line, but when he went to pick up the passes at the office in grenoble, they only had daves ready, not mine. so now we had to find the main office on the mountain to pick up mine. people kept giving us directions to the nearest ski pass ticket counter, but we needed the specific main office. thankfully, when we finally made our way there they had the pass ready for us. anyway, since breakfast we had wasted 1.5 hours getting skis and hunting for the ski pass, plus the sun was in its full glory with no clouds and we were sweating our butts off shuffling around the village in ski boots.

eventually we successfully boarded the 20-person gondola and started our trip up the mountain. the resort has an aerial tram, a 20 person gondola, 2 other smaller gondolas, an 8-person high speed chairlift, and dozens of the more standard 6 and 4 person chairlifts. both sides of the village had skiable mountains so basically no hotel was far from a lift, and they did a good job of making each trail/lift accessible to the rest of the resort. once you got yourself on the mountain you could easily get over to any other area you wanted.

anyway, the gondola stopped at a mid-way station where we got off and chose to get our legs moving and ski down to the nearby 8-person lift that would take us up to 3200m. its always a bizarre and nervewracking experience when you make your first ski movements of the season. im never really sure if my muscles can take it or if my equipment is up for it. i started skiing later in life so i never really trust the "its just like riding a bike" sentiment. in any event, we got over to the chairlift and started our ascent up to the glacier.

when we got off, the scenary was nothing short of spectacular. there wasnt a cloud in the sky, minimal wind (for being at the near top of this mountain), and there were peaks and peaks for miles around, and beyond those peaks…more peaks. i just felt hugged by the world. thank you french alps for reminding me to appreciate the legs that i ski on and the eyes that allow me to gaze, awestruck, at your beauty.

of course, we pulled over near the top of the lift to take our first pictures of the day. as dave pulled out the camera and attempted to capture the landscape, i made some observations of my own. for one, there were tons of spots of yellow snow off the border of the skiable area near where we were standing. i followed the border and saw an endless row of similar stains in the pure white line. i was both disgusted and envious: more frenchmen using the world as their toilet, and jealous that i couldnt just stop whenever i felt like it and leave my own mark on the alps. it would save me a heck of a lot of time. when i could tear my eyes away from the pee, i noticed a pack of brits exiting the chairlift. they were wearing…hooded sweatshirts…all of them…thats it. most didnt have a hat or even headband on, and all of them were wearing sunglasses, not ski goggles. it was a bit windy and -1 degree celsius up there. are they mental!? yes, yes they are.

(dave flashing all his new ski gear; me)

our first run was great. big, open trails with lovely snow and minimal people along the path. so instead of focusing on dodging human obstacles you could simply enjoy the flex of your muscles and the beautiful mountainscape. we continued to randomly choose runs and chairlifts all morning until we decided to head down for lunch.

(after our first run)

i was feeling pretty good, if a bit overly comfortable, when i chose the final run that would lead us to the bottom of the hill back to our hotel. now, in the u.s. there are green, blue, black, and double black trails (green being the easiest, double black the hardest), here there were green, blue, red, and black trails. in the u.s. i avoid double black diamonds, and so i should have avoided the black ones here. its not usually the steepness that gets me, its the snow conditions that make turning difficult for me. with the morning sun having warmed up the snow in this area for several hours, the trail was now mainly icy snow.

i was able to outsmart it for about one-third of the way, then i made some minute fatal error and fell ass over teakettle down, down, down. i was traveling mostly headfirst and was trying to calmly find a way to dig in an elbow, boot heel, finger, anything to stop the sliding. a few times i was able to turn myself to be traveling feetfirst, but it was icy and steep enough that i couldnt actually stop myself and would whirl right around to being headfirst again. i got myself back around to feetfirst traveling again when dave caught up to me and used his body to slow me down, we still slipped a couple of meters before i could finally stop. shortly thereafter a kind and brave person dropped off the ski that i had left littered above me on the ski hill. i managed to finish the rest of the trail and get down to the village safely. all in all, i only managed to bruise my pride, which is the best kind of injury i suppose.

to mend my battered ego, we found a bakery near the hotel and purchased some sandwiches and a giant cookie dipped in chocolate (yum!). the sandwiches were actually reasonably priced and fantastic. awesome bread and a good portion of meat. yum yum yum. i got my normal ham and butter while dave got the moutain ham and butter. the mountain ham was smokier, saltier, and softer than mine. quite tasty. just what i needed to refuel and get back out there after lunch.

(the view from the front door of our hotel around lunchtime)

for the afternoon we had more lovely skiing and beautiful weather. for perhaps an hour some clouds came through but when they left, it returned to the same sunshine. i saw a woman going down the hill on a monoski. pretty cool and freaky piece of equipment. you wear ski boots and strap both feet in directly next to each other, facing forward (downhill) so that literally its like you fuzed two skis together, dave says this equipment originated in the alps.

more afternoon observations included the convenience of the ski pass. each person carries around their ski pass in their left pocket. it is a fairly thick piece of plastic with the ability to be sensored through the clothes. you ski through a turnstile at each ski lift and it beeps to let you pass. very convenient and it means you dont have to wait around for the resort staff to scan your ticket.

we took a short break in the afternoon at one of the mountain canteens. they had a sundeck with very comfortable chairs and there were many people resting and sunbathing. each canteen we passed on the chairlift had these kinds of chairs set up for primo relaxing facing the sun. quite a way to spend your vacation. again, these people know how to enjoy the day. and from the smell of things on the various trails, others choose to relax by using marijuana on the mountain…

(love the sign postage; me chillin' in the sun)

anyway, back in the village (after i had a wimpy fall while traversing across the bunny hill to get back to the hotel, ugh how embarrasing), we wandered around before dinner. i have never seen so many furry uggs in my life. quite a fashion statement. when i wasnt pointing out wacky footwear, we were noting the village offerings. many, many restaurants had the heavy dinner choices of fondue and raclette (because we were near the swiss border), and tartiflette (a dish consisting of potatoes, reblochon cheese, and meat, often bacon; no i did not try any, i was afraid of barfing again). we also noticed a high concentration of butcher, deli, and cheese shops that smelled great and offered a wide selection of items. if you were staying in the village for a week, you would be able to have a different gourmet meal each day (and youd be the luckiest person alive).

after getting another takeout pizza (gimme a break, it was cheap and fast and i didnt want a heavy french meal), we watched the only channel that we got on our tv. bizarre french tv where the people embarrased themselves for an hour, not unlike american reality tv but so strange. afterward, we caught an episode of "walker, texas ranger" with chuck norris, dubbed in french. really? can there be a market for this garbage in france? yikes.

13 March 2009

A gre-noble effort on the worlds largest stairmaster

we had a successful trip to grenoble, the gateway to the alps.

by way of a 5 hour train ride (transferring to a local train in lyon), we arrived in grenoble on thursday at around 3:30p. i had a monster headache which promptly ate up the rest of the afternoon. for dinner we found a nearby tunisian restaurant and decided to try the cuisine. we had a dish called "brique," which is a deep fried pocket containing an egg with meat, our meat was fish. it was served with a salad and bread. pretty good. then came the cous cous course, with lamb. also quite tasty. then, for dessert we had some wonderful berry, mint, rose water tea with some mediterranean pastries.

friday we awoke to sunshine and started the day at a bakery and then toured a couple of the city parks. next, we checked out of the hotel and took the city tram to university joseph fourier where the geology school is. the host professor met us at the tram stop and then dave went off to have his academic day meeting top geologists in his field and giving his talk. he had a positive experience, so thats good.

meanwhile, i headed off on my own adventure: exploring a foreign city completely alone (not even a cell phone) without full command of the language… i took the tram back to the edge of the city centre and got off to start walking. i had about six hours to kill but less than 10 euros. i walked past the art museum and admired the lawn sculptures, then headed toward the river and started walking along it. it was gorgeous: sunny, in the 50s, and mountains were all around me. grenoble is in the valley of the beginning of the alps, there are peaks in every direction.

(buildings along the isère river)

i was told that with this great weather, a good place to take advantage of the city is by hiking up to some old ruins called the bastille on the side of the mountain at the edge of town to get a view of the city and scenary (the bastille has been credited as the most extensive example of early 18th century fortifications in all of france). i found a pedestrian bridge and crossed the river. shortly i was joined by a troup of school children who were headed in the same direction. i walked quickly to get far enough ahead of them to enjoy myself. the trail was only occassionally dotted with other people so i wandered along and observed my surroundings. i found there were two ways to ascend the mountain, by numerous switchbacks, or by stairs, stairs and more stairs, straight up to the top! i chose the stairs. :) there were even fewer people taking this path. at one point, i lingered to stay within earshot of a small group of english speakers until i was confident that i would make it alone. then i ditched them, too slow!

(just one small fraction of my stairmaster)

most of the stairs were just completely exposed steep staircases, but several were enclosed in part of the stone bastille structure which was nice and cool, a welcome feature because by this time i was sweating. After a set of particularly steep stairs, i encountered a woman who was carrying her long-haired daschund against her chest and i just about died. ick, WAY too sweaty for me.

anyway, i had great weather, great exercise, great beauty all around me and i was taking my time, stopping for pictures and sips of water. i felt triumphant when i reached the top. there werent that many people around and i was able to take some pictures and locate a place to sit to eat my sandwich. just as i was settled in and was chewing my first bite, a couple of joggers stopped nearby and proceeded to hack, gag, and spit near me for 5 minutes. couldnt take it, i had to move, which meant climbing more stairs…joy. it was worth it. i was the only one in this partially shady area with a light breeze. i chose a well-positioned bench and ate my lunch. then i laid down for a cat nap, and later sat up to read before mustering the desire to head back down. the interruption that spurred me to move was when a group of french military guys walked up the steps into my area with their swords. i couldnt tell if they were going to do some drill or exercise up there or what, they didnt ask me to leave or anything, but it was weird so i started heading back down.

(view of part of grenoble from above, it was a bit hazy; the military guys with swords, i casually tried to take this picture, looks like at least one of them caught me)

down, down, down all the stairs. my calves were shaking by the time i hit the bottom. i saw more people on the paths (including a dude in a black leather jacket...?) but i was still able to be alone most of the time. i even caught a few glimpses of the lizards that were scurrying across the warm rock walls.

(finally figured out how to use the timer on the camera; a pic of the area through a cut-out in part of the bastille wall)

finally got back down and walked into the city centre. it is mostly a plain, non-descript european city with the occassional feeling of the ski atmosphere. there were several wandering ski bum-type people and the populated plazas had a ski village vibe.

i made my way to the train station to wait for dave to come from campus. while i waited, i bought some pastries and found a sunny spot on the grass to lay down and read. what a lovely day. pretty good for my first major solo effort id say.

so, dave arrived and we found the correct bus to take us to the ski area called les deux alpes. the ride was a bit less than 2 hours. as we left grenoble behind (to the sound of young people loudly making out) we entered a seriously steep and narrow canyon. theyve had deadly rockslides around there and staring up the mountain faces while driving…i can see why. i almost felt claustrophobic. then, the last half of the bus ride we were on a narrow, winding two-lane road while the songs coming from the bus radio were "another one bits the dust" and "one-way ticket." thanks. i was white knuckled during all those switchbacks and we were traveling on the safer rock side (as opposed to cliff side) of the road. im gonna need medication for the ride back, especially if we encounter another ass hat who decides to pass the bus while coming around a corner just before entering a tunnel…you may have a death wish but i dont.

anyway, thankfully the bus was quite agile and got us there before i passed out from fear. we only had a one minute walk to the hotel when we arrived. we dumped our stuff off and went out looking for food. after walking up and down one of the main strips of village we came to this conclusion: there were bars with no food and restaurants with no space (some were half empty but said we couldnt come in because we didnt have a reservation). so, we got pizza takeout.

10 March 2009

Homeward plans abound

alrighty, i am now set to return to the u.s.

because we only need a one-way ticket back to the u.s. there are very few airlines willing to make that task easy on us (read: under $1000 to get home). plus, our car is in florida, awaiting its drive back up to michigan, so i needed to find an airline to get me back there.

aer lingus was an obvious choice, but it now seems fairly difficult to get to dublin from rennes and even from paris. the itineraries didnt link up very well and the easiest idea would have been to fly rennes to cork, spend a few days in cork then train it up to dublin and take the flight to orlando from there. but then dave found a more interesting option, and one that only makes me get on one plane.

so, i am flying from dusseldorf, germany direct to miami on airberlin. it is quite cheap. thank you! so i booked the following flight home:

Airberlin flight number AB1900
from Wed, 24.06.2009 13:40 Dusseldorf
to Wed, 24.06.2009 18:00 Miami

now, the plan unfolds from here. first, i am going home ahead of dave so that i can visit my family, drive the car up to michigan, help friends with potential wedding stuff, and get some of our michigan stuff taken care of alone before canada. dave will spend the last few weeks in france focusing on work and wrapping up the financial and apartment things alone. it kinda sucks for both of us, but at least he will get to stay at work longer and not have to spend time driving the car up and being in limbo for too long. he will just be able to fly straight home to michigan, visit with family and friends, attend a wedding, get stuff outta storage, and head to halifax.

dont worry, we are getting a short "vacation" before we leave. quite short, but desirable. as you see, my flight is out of germany. so, after my last teaching class on june 18 (thursday), i will be wrapping my stuff up on friday and then on saturday dave and i will travel to germany via train. this will either be a belgium-netherlands-germany itinerary or perhaps luxembourg-germany, we havent decided. this way, we can see a few countries outside of france that we might not easily be able to do in a future europe trip, and dave can come with me to the airport. he will fly back to paris and i will only have to be on one plane alone. woo hoo!

then my next phase of travel will commence, i will arrive in miami and spend the evening and next day there with my mom before we drive back to melbourne. i will stay in florida through the weekend and then drive up to michigan. i plan on driving up the east coast and seeing some places/people rather than driving straight through. on my list are: savannah, charleston, charlotte, d.c., philadelphia, and perhaps cleveland or columbus (i have a cousin there, gimme a break, i wouldnt randomly step foot on osu campus). then i can visit my peeps and places in michigan and get ready for canada.

my friends wedding is on july 17, and dave will come in from france a few days before (he hasnt yet booked his flight home). we plan on trying to get on the road to halifax the next week, perhaps even that monday or tuesday. as we roadtrip out to halifax we have another wishlist to visit things/people in: cleveland, NYC/nyack, albany, providence, boston, and st. john (new brunswick). so this would put us into halifax in late july/early august. depending on our cat situation (with nutmeg we will have to make a much faster trek out to canada; without her we can do the longer roadtrip) and barring anything unforeseen, i dont see why this shouldnt be possible.

07 March 2009

In the aftermath of paris

i feel like weve had some subconscious changes in behavior since paris because we totally had a parisian-like saturday here in rennes.

we headed over to the market area. normally, i am totally claustrophobic and wanna get in and out, but this time we were able to wander around and take a peek at most of the produce stands. some of flower stands were selling cuttings of mimosa so i pointed them out to dave and we stopped to smell the...mimosas. then we bumped into daves boss and his wife, they had just finished marketing...bought a lobster! then, turning back to the task at hand, we chose 3-4 different stands to buy our zucchini, potatoes, apple juice, spinach, etc. we had a nice time observing the people in line, hearing snippets of the conversations they were having, and absorbing how orderly and calmly (and often slowly) market day proceeds.

when we left with our goods, we slowed our pace to take in the wonderful weather. we took the long way home to fantasize about the bits of town we want to show upcoming visitors. certain buildings, streets, places of energy, and the wonderful treasures we have discovered.

we stopped at some restaurants we normally just pass by to peruse their blackboard menus and get an idea of dishes, prices, and general appeal. we popped into a chocolatier shop to buy a mint/dark chocolate bar and some handmade caramel. we peered into more shop windows and actually wandered through a "french hippie" store. then we found a bargain place selling super cheap socks (sounds lame, but from all the walking going on here i have ripped through several pairs of socks and was in great need of replacements). to round out the morning, we stopped to buy our lunch sandwiches and a chocolate pear tart. mmmm.

after lunch, we decided to take a walk around town. since it was a clear day, i took dave to the top of the champs libres to have a look at the view. its not the best, but it was a neat perspective to see the city we live and walk around in, from above. then i took dave on my promenade trail along the river. there were already some things blooming and promise of much more on the way. we circled back to walk through the city centre and see what everyone was up to.

its so funny how the french choose to spend a saturday. those who arent livin' it up lounging on the green spaces in the park, are smoking, drinking, and chatting shoulder to shoulder at tiny tables crowded too close together along the city streets. they feel absolutey no shame in sitting at their tables in such a way so that EVERY person is facing the street. they make a national pastime of people watching, and judging. its weird to walk down the gauntlet of buzzing frenchpeople in their black-on-black-on-black outfits staring at you through chic sunglasses. i dont feel as self-conscious about it as it used to, but it is just a strange feeling to know that you arent invisible to the masses. anyway, we emerged from the busy city area to the thabor park. more things were blooming, the sun was shining and every demographic was out using their park. leisure time is definitely not wasted by these people, and you gotta respect that.

for dinner tonight, i had made reservations for daves early-birthday celebration at a nearby place we had wanted to try. per usual, we were the first ones there (it opened at 7:45p, i cant survive without food much later). we ordered fried shrimp ravioli for starters (very beautifully plated and fancied-up of course) and when it arrived we finally had company in the restaurant...two tables of senior citizens...apparently the "early bird" times around here are 8p.

for the main course, dave ordered beef bourguignon...amazing. for €15 this dish was a steal. it came with a heaping side of amazingly prepared buttery potato slices, and a large bowl with a generous amount of perfectly cooked beef, mixed with the carrots and other traditional fixings, complete with some soft, cubed mystery item that melted on your tongue, swimming in the most flavorful wine sauce...mmmmm. i could barely keep my fork on my side of the table. but my dish was good too. a skewer of scallops on a bed of delicious truffle risotto with a small moat of seasoned meat juice.

for dessert, we shared a layered dish of perfection. on the bottom were cut and spiced pears, then a tangy sweet lacy citrus square that was thin and crunchy, topped with a scoop of salty butter caramel ice cream (the flavor of the caramel they drizzle on crepes). yum!

i guess i say that today felt like we were positively affected by paris because to look at our list of activities for the day id say "yawn." but the way we were able to take our time, enjoy ourselves, and to observe and better appreciate the social behaviors of the french seems like the influence of what we saw in paris. experiencing more big city behavior helped to make a comparision with rennes, like a guide for reaping the most out of the simple joys of walking around and getting to know your community.

**additional comment (do not read on if you get queasy easily): for anyone thinking 'damn she ate a ton of food rich in fat and calories without expierencing negative effects,' you would be wrong. a few hours after dinner, i sat up in bed to spend the next several hours in the bathroom attending to both ends of my digestive tract. thankfully before the sun came up i was able to get to sleep and wake up feeling hungry and thirsty. i can only think that this was caused by my lack of ability to digest that much rich food. dave had two separate bites of my food and didnt feel sick at all. he also had a couple beers, i did not have anything but water. i think that it must be that i didnt have any wine to help cut the fat in my digestive tract (remember that i drank wine during the raclette meal to avoid any bad problems). i think these french people dont just drink wine because they make it so well and have many opinions about it, but because its a freakin' vital necessity to consumming food in their country. this is the theory that i am operating on at least, because it didnt feel like a food poisoning-type of stomach problem, it was so bizarre.

03 March 2009

Mimosas arent just an alcoholic beverage

jj and friends, and i, went to see the blooming mimosas along the northern coast of brittany today.

(this isnt the car we drove in, but it is a very typical old french car called a deux chevaux [as in 2 horsepower])

we picked up jacques and anne (aka, my extended family) and headed to the emerald coast near cancale for a nice walk along the water (port picain to port mer) to view the flowering mimosa trees and enjoy some seafood for lunch. we parked in a little boat launch area and began the small hike along the water. it really is a beautiful gem color, hence the name, duh, but its nice to see such natural beauty is only an hour away.

along the walk there were many mimosa trees in full bloom. they have a short flower life of maybe a week or so, their scent wasnt at full power because they had bloomed a while ago but when you smelled one up close it was delightful. not too sweet and perfumy but very lovely. and the bright yellow against the green water was beautiful.

(the coast and mimosa; my adoptive parents: jj, anne, and jacques)

we walked out to a point and spotted mont st michel way out in the distance. they also showed me an island 10 or so miles offshore that was the source of all the granite used to build the village and cathedral on mont st michel. interesting that they carted rock from one island to build up another island.

(more coast; a german WWII bunker still with its gun)

it was getting to be lunch time so we walked to a small beach area with three restaurants bordering the sand. we chose one and ordered food. red fish for me and paella for the rest of them. the bright yellow rice of the paella was in competition with the flowers outside.

after lunch it started to rain (how terribly unusual for brittany?) so we made our way back to the car. on the car ride home we drove along the coast and through st malo. it was nice to see a bit more of the town beyond what we saw the last time we were there, even though it was just a brief driveby.

later that night i meet up with them again to attend a free theater performance in honor of international womans day on march 8. everyday, 3 french women are killed by domestic violence and this event was bringing awareness to the issue. it was a one woman play (all in french of course) so mostly i was going to freak out my brain and ears. i actually caught most of the words, organized some of it into short phrases, but then lost much of the general message. it was nice of them to invite me, and the more practice i have the better i might get, right?