Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nice is nice, Monaco is decadent.

Alright so where did I leave off on this story?

Well once all of us were sick and tired of anything having to do with citrus fruits, we left the Fete du Citron. My host parents wanted to quickly run to Italy (love saying that) to buy alcohol and pasta--the two obvious items besides gelato--in the border town of Ventimiglia.
To get there, all you have to do is not die on the scary highway that is on side of the cliff face over the Mediterranean, which miraculously goes through every mountain side.
 Which is only scary when you pop out the other side and all the signs are in Italian.
I don't know who's idea that was...

Anyway, despite having taken brief Italian lessons every Friday morning with the school librarian, I didn't get any chance to use my skills. Mainly because if you're French, or with a French family, and walk into an alcohol, pasta and/or gelato selling franchise the Italians know it immediately and start speaking French. (Because unlike the French, the Italians are willing to learn other languages...)



There are some really beautiful views on the highway, and you have the feeling when you cross the border that everything is instantly more romantic and more beautiful and more cholesterol-filled.
You know.
All the good stuff.

There were also some crazy crazy green houses! Right after you cross the border there are rolling hills covered in giant greenhouses! They're all slanted in a way that the hill is completely covered in glass! It's incredible! But I didn't get a specific picture of that, I was too astounded. And the minute I took out my camera we went into a tunnel...






And I even cheated for the picture to the left, that one is from Google maps... Because when I passed this spot, well, I only got a picture of the tunnel. Zut!


While in Italy (for an hour, barely) we did buy very delicious pasta, alcohol, and gelato, so everything I could ever dream of besides a volcanic eruption and a working political system happened. So that was good.

Here's an awesome view of Ventimiglia, I love the buildings-on-top-of-buildings look. I've been living in a Mediterranean, bright stucco, terracotta roof heaven here.


Then what happened was my host family drove me to Monaco and left me on a street corner. It was exhilarating. For all of you who don't know Monaco, it is a principality with a prince, a princess, the mafia and many, many yachts. Basically what happens is that if you have the money to live in Monaco, you don't pay any income taxes, however, you do pay 5 bucks for a Twix bar... Despite the law that says only native Monaconites (Monacans? Monacians? Monacists? Monacese?) can take advantage of this law, there are obviously ways around it, thus the large population of rich people and international financial fugitives. And people who have "temporary" Monaco addresses but live just outside of it. (Which is where I was for a few days...)
There are no end to ridiculous panoramas like this one (which is really the outskirts of Monaco to the west). But you can start to understand the verticality of this place. I have been consistantly amazed by the tenacity and audacity of the French (and Monacians for that matter) on the Cote d'Azur in constructing things in the most unlikely, inconvenient, and awkward places. Basically Monaco is all built into these cliffs perched over the Mediterranean--you can see the sheerness of it on the left of that photo; that's the big cliff where the palace is stuck on top.

Here you can start to get the idea of how scary this building model can get. I have NO idea how they figured this all out, but the Monaconites are the kings of layered, vertical, anti-gravitational infrastructure. I have walked every single street in Monaco (even those dangling stairs in the center-right) so believe me when I say that it is very, very mind boggling and very tiring. The  average height between one road and the next is..... THIS MUCH:
That actually wasn't even the beginning of that staircase, and you can't even see the end. Anyway, the result of this is that one side of a building is about  seven stories higher than the other side. Either that, or there is just a giant gap with a wall that suddenly drops off from the street. Very scary when the entrance to a building is a little bridge over sixty feet up. Anyway, by my second day in Monaco in converses, I had very very very tired feet.




Despite having several international phone numbers that I never succeeded in getting through to, I did finally contact the aunt of Athena, the friend who I was meeting in Monaco. Otherwise it could've been a very interesting stay! They picked me up and we did a little tour of the city (even with it's own independent statehood, it is really just one city) and saw the famous casino and five star hotels and whatnot. Not the kind of thing that interests me beyond curiosity and the opportunity for the hilarious juxtaposition of me amidst the fur-clad, Dior-porting, casino-going crowd. I did however, have a giant red backpack, so I was stylin' quand meme. But I'm sure I didn't stand out too much, because I mean, look at their expectations for tourists!!!
Apparently they've had problems with that in the past... Good thing I had forgotten my speedo at home...

Church on the cliff (don't back up too far for the picture!)

Here's just a bunch of pictures that I took, there are lots of pretty things in Monaco. Everything is very impressive. However, after that, everything is of minimal cultural value, modernization and tourism is much more in the now, and the place in general is way to crowded and over-constructed. So the word "beautiful" as a whole, I would only use in the sense that it is striking and very unique.

The buildings range from some really beautifully ornate ones like the casino and grand hotel, to some really architecturally interesting ones like a residence I saw of sort of cut-out leaf formations, to just a bunch of ugly apartment buildings. I don't know who all really lives there, because life in Monaco doesn't seem all that glorious unless you're seriously living in luxe... Otherwise its just claustrophobic un peu... and wicked expensive.
Casino at night




The port was another story all-together. Athena's aunt, at who's house I was staying at, actually had a boat in the port. It was a "reasonably" sized boat of like 40 ft. The biggest yacht was literally a cruise ship with smoke stacks. There are people who clean these boats 24/7 I swear. 

The other funny part was the names given to these boats. I think yacht names must be becoming like band names--they just have to keep getting weirder and weirder. 


I was also surprised at how many yachts were Australian or at least claimed Aussie flags. I'd never really thought of Australia as a big yachting community, but more intriguing is that there is just a lot of ocean between here and Australia... I don't know how that works. Anyway, I heard plenty of great Australian accents while walking like a homeless person around the port. 
I also saw this, which I find either quite contradictory, or on the contrary exactly spot on... I guess it depends on the owner's intention.
I'm sort of thinking along the lines of liberal capitalism and personal wealth versus, I don't know, personal happiness and freedom...

One of my favorite sights was this car, nestled in between two mammoth boats in a bay of modernism:
Alright so I know this is a lot of photos, but I just saw some really funny stuff! I'm only posting the half of it! Anyway, here is my favorite urban scuba diver:

I don't know what he was doing, but I'm sure he was having a better Monday morning on the job than most people can claim!

Where we were actually staying was just outside of Monaco in a town called La Turbie, which is basically perched on the hill just above Monaco, which itself is perched on a hill, so you get the idea. Vertigo. If you're rich, and you're scared of heights, go to Luxembourg.
This is the view from the porch of the Aunt's house. The 180 degree sea-view was quite impressive, as well as the view down the valley of Monaco--the giant Royal Aquarium, the big building silhouetted on the left in great juxtaposition with the old Roman ruins on the hill behind it. (No picture there)
It was also really great to talk with Athena's aunt, who is basically an exchange student still on exchange--an extended exchange. A gap years. She came to France for a year and then apparently never left!
And oh boy does that give me ideas....

I think the best moment I've ever had singing Adele with two middle-aged women in a tiny european car was on the ridiculous highway to get to Nice, the nicest city in the twenty-kilometre area. I do have a video but i'll spare you that and leave it to your imagination. The best part was that we "swung by" Italy really quickly before going to Nice just to grab Athena's ipod that she had left at a restaurant. Any place that you can just run quickly to Italy, or any country for that matter is way cool in my book. I say yes to border jumping! Vive Schengen!

Here are some nice photos. 
This is Nice
This is Nice
This is Nice

This is Nice
While In Nice we checked out the old city, which is an exemplar of traditional European-feeling neighborhoods with tiny streets and little cafes and tall shuttered stucco buildings. So if you're someone who likes really that, the old Nice is the kind of place that makes you want stop and even take pictures of random alleyways and staircases. There are tons of little boutiques and more importantly, snack bars.We stopped by one that specifically sells Nice specialties like Socca, a delicious flat thing, a kind of cross-between Indian naan, and a crepe made from chick-peas: Triple YUM!

The best part about Nice is the fact that it is really close to the three most important things here: the beach, Italy, and the alps. And I believe I captured at least two out of three of those in quite clearly in the picture to the right, might I add while streaming by in the TGV going 200 mph...
The Italy part we could call included in the delicious pizza that was in my belly at the time...

Anyway, on my last day I took the train from Monaco to Toulon, with a change in Nice. Which was nice. But I didn't have time to go out and grab some Socca... Dommage!
This is nice. But it's not Nice, it's actually Carqueiranne...
And I stopped quickly in Carqueiranne, the town just next to Hyeres, to say hello to some friends (while still lugging around my big backpack which garnered some funny looks) and later to snap a picture of the magnificent sunset from the hill near where I live!

So besides arriving home shabby and bearded and tired it was definitely one of the better backpack adventures I have ever had in the south of France.
And it was interesting to see so many different places  in so little time! I had never been to Italy twice in one weekend before! Or been practically homeless for a little while in one of the richest places in Europe! Or eaten sardines on a salad! (they're salty) Or walked the equivalent of the circumference of the earth twice, in stairs! Or been almost pummeled by a tram in total daylight on a busy street! Or drank a six dollar coffee the size of a large thimble! Oh goodness, how many wonderful experiences wait outside if you only take the time to get out there! And it's even better without any plans, and a big ol' Rotary smile!

I'll leave you with this Nice video of somebody who made me really happy:
video

with love,
will  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Lemon Festival and Other Adventures of Recent Import

Hello my friends.

And  not contrary to the rumors, I actually did disappear off the world this time. I just woke up and it was February. Man, don't you just hate when that happens?

People here keep asking if it's difficult to spend an entire year abroad; I tell them one year goes by so quickly I wish I could take five--heck ten! I recently spent several days at the house of an ex-patriot, ex-exchanger ('ex' perhaps there for extended exchanger, depending how you look at it.) She came to france for a gap year and basically never left. She has been leaving here now for about thirty years! And she's starting to give me some ideas..... mehahahahaaa.

Anyway, besides life passing me by with the swiftness of a 3,000 ton TGV train not stopping at the particular train station expected, everything has been just groovy lately. Let me tell you what has been happening lately, and then maybe someday in another post I'll go back and give you some highlights from the previous months if I ever find out what happened to them.

First of all lets talk about it snowing here on the Mediterranean coast. The Riviera. The Cote d'Azur. The South of France. Whatever glorious golden epithet you wish. It snowed. I saw it.
And the worst part is that its all my fault.

Here's a photo taken in Ripton, VT on February 1st.

(http://www.gmoutlook.com)












Here's a picture in Hyeres, France on February 1st.

I can't help it, the irony is hilarious.

Anyway apparenetly it's all my fault, I brought all the snow from Vermont to France. The south of France has never seen snowfall like this before, and they're incredibly unprepared unequiped to deal with it.
I was planning on going out that night, but we basically couldn't move. Might I remind you that even the driveway here has two switchbacks and is rather steep, and then the whole hill down to town was a giant morbid car slip n' slide.
Thankfully we were able to get out the next morning because I had plans to take the train, which involved taking the bus to get to the train station. And the morning after an epic snowfall is not prime time to dabble in multiple forms of public transportation, when no one here is used to dealing with icy weather...

But it all worked out in the end! Here's my host dad trying to take care of the driveway with a spade shovel, and on the right is a somewhat thawed out vineyard with a little bit of snow remaining, taken from the train:




I was taking the train with my exchanger friend who lives in St. Cyr (near Marseille) to visit our other exchanger friend who lives in Cannes (where the film festival is!). It's approximately an hour and a quarter from Toulon to Cannes, so it's doable. And while we were there it snowed again, and we only had minor train delays. Speaking of Cannes, if all goes as planned I'll be there for the film festival with my class! More on that later... 


More importantly LA FETE DU CITRON!
So what exactly is this ridiculous homage to citrus fruits that has taken place for the past 79 years in Menton, the boarder town between France and Italy? 

Well basically every weekend for about a month, hundreds of thousands of people come to this small town to watch a crazy parade of dancers, musicians and....giant floats made entirely of real lemons and oranges! I mean, why not?! 
 So there were a lot of people there.
Like a lot a lot.
I've never seen SO many old french people fit in so many tour buses! Think of the big apple senior tour kind of buses ALL going to a small French town of 30,000. Menton is perched on a hill/gorge, if that's even possible (and I swear it is); here in the south of France they have managed to build cities in the most unlikely of environments. The perfect example would be Monaco, coming up in the next post.

Anyway, we parked the car about 3 km away and walked into the center of town because that's really the only way.
There were some pretty ridiculous costumes as well. The funny part was that some of them were so intricate and large that they couldn't make it through the street, the crowd pushing in so much for either side. Like this poor flower girl. Her petals couldn't make it through the crowd until some parade security helped her through. That was one unhappy flower. 
And there were even giant avatars on stilts! Why not?! 
Anyway, we bought silly string and confetti, and apparently so did thousands of other people. I cannot imagine the street sanitary crew's woes the day after. (Well apparently the festival happens three weekends in a row, so I can understand why everyone looks tired)
Also, more importantly I spotted the most badass tights-toting trumpeters ever seen on this side of the Atlantic.
And you can tell that he knows it. Apparently these kind of positions are passed down through the generations as well! Who'd of thunk it? But nothing is cooler than filling the shoes of your grandparents if that involves really odd trumpets and a cape like that!!

So the most surprising and bizarre part about all of this was not, in the end, the Eiffel Tower made of oranges, or the strange cow costumes, or even the large plush Mario Bros running around--it was the inane calmness and even disgruntledness of the crowd! I swear, French parade-goers are the least lively crowd ever seen since Kenny G's Christmas Special. It wasn't even that they weren't rowdy or drunk, like any festival you'd find north of French département 89, more that they were actively party poopers! Any moment when my exchanger friends and I would cheer for a float, dancers, or musicians, all the old français would turn around and give us indignant looks, like "Now what are those damned youngens doing ruining this nice little, tranquil event?" Meanwhile giant avatars are strolling by trying to stir up the crowd of 80% over-eighty French senior citizens. The kind that take bus tours. That's why we didn't get a good parking spot. So many buses. 

Anyway, my friend and I successfully tango danced down the parade street, sprayed silly string onto the big pink angry flower lady, and got about three collective pounds of confetti suck on the little bald sections of elders' heads. Another awkward moment was when we were yelling absurd motivating quips to the parade performers in English, then realized that the couple standing in front of us was British. Oh Europe. So diverse. They sure had some funny looks on their faces. 
....
....
Alright, so as usual, something like 25 days have gone by since I started this post, so I will give in and post it despite my previous ambitions of a multi-subject blog. I will just stick to the plan of publishing posts directly; otherwise it just get's ridiculous! 


much love,
Will

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thanksgiving à La French





So for thanksgiving, unfortunately, I didn't make pilgrim hats and Indian corn wreaths and have my host dad kill a turkey to eat, and retell the entire story of America, but it was nonetheless a great success. We put it off until the first weekend in December though, because I was still trying to find certain ingredients. Thankfully, fate, french substitutes, and the postal service came through.


Mainly, nothing burned, exploded, or died because of measurement conversions. 
I will also thank this site for excellent help. Because it's really not enough to be able to convert ounces to grams and cups to milliliters. You also have to know the density, so thankfully all of my most important ingredients were kindly converted to metric equivalents on this site. And thankfully it showed up on google when I searched "how much does one cup of flour weigh?" Ah, the internet is really, really great.... 




Sorry for those not up to date on vague Broadway references. 


Alright so here was my menu for Thanksgiving--or with the French accent "sanksgeeveens"--with the french translations just for your cultural advancement:  

  • Chicken: Le Poulet So because we were only four, we decided a whole turkey would not be a good idea. (also my host family is adamantly opposed to leftovers, which breaks my heart just about ever meal.) Apart from cutting off the chicken feet and thrusting them in my face, my host dad let me let him do this part of the meal himself. So everything went fine there. 
  • Dad's secret stuffing: La Farce Well for this, I never had enough information to be sure I was doing things right. Along with some personal improvisations, and some mis-communications, it turned out delicious. I was trying to explain that at home we roast the chestnuts and then crack them open to put into the stuffing, but my host mom insisted on her chestnuts-in-can-of-syrup method which is to open a can of chestnuts and drain out the syrup. Which really doesn't make a food that already looks like a human brain any more appetizing. And even after we went to a chestnut festival (next post) where we ate outdoor fire-roasted chestnuts, they didn't get the idea. Oh well. The stuffing turned out great anyway. Despite the offsetting colors below. Don't worry. 
Green bean casserole: Ragoût aux Haricots Verts Was a total success. It's one of those dishes that is impossible to explain beforehand, to a French person. "So you take green beans, pour soup on them, and then bake them with fried onions?" Anyway, because "French's ™" fried onions definitely do not exist in France (they'd be called "freedom fried onions" anyway), my mom thankfully managed to send me a can in the mail, along with my favorite Life is Good t-shirt. Win-win. Anyway, for the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (also difficult to explain) we were pretty lost. Then my host dad found basically the classy French version of it, Knorr Gourmet Fancy Mushroom Truffle Cream Soup thing in a box. And just like Campbell's is the key to the real recipe, this was the key to my success, because I swear the casserole was waaaaay better than normal.
It's all in the truffles my friends. All in the truffles.
Here's the results of my efforts
  • Yams: Des Patates Douces Somehow my host family had never tried these. They then tried to tell me that they shouldn't be eaten a lot because they can make you fat. Some people. Meanwhile they're happy eating industrial butter replacement with artificial colors. I'm not really sure where to put the emphasis for that one. Anyway, after they tried the yams they were immediately won over. Because they're delicious, duh. Except in France, they're a really off putting green/yellow color on the inside. Not the good old bright orange like I'm used to. But they were really good all the same. 

  • Golden Crescent Rolls: Croissants (no, not the real ones) So this was the one recipe that suffered a little. First of all, quantities for baking are always more specific and more tricky when something with conversions goes awry. First of all, we did a half recipe, which always lends itself to stupid mistakes in fractions. Second of all, my conversions were slightly approximated. So when I had finished adding all the ingredients, the batter was still extremely sticky and liquid. But we had run out of white flour, so I added a good two cups worth of whole wheat flour, which completely changed the texture and taste, and also I think was the reason they never really rose. 
They looked kind of sad... But after baking, they were...
...still not really what I was expecting. But they were delicious, and everybody liked them, which was surprising because they were nothing like the light and buttery rolls I was planning for.  
  • Pumpkin pie: Tarte à la Citrouille For the pie, pretty much everything went as planned, except that it wasn't a pumpkin pie to begin with, because we couldn't find any pumpkins. So instead it was a squash pie (une tarte au potiron).  My host mom, keeping with her habits, would usually use a pre-made pie crust rolled up into a triangular box, but I thankfully didn't need that as a back-up because my pie crust from scratch came out splendid! 
And after that, the filling happened really quickly and easily thanks to this thing called an electric mixer, which was pretty cool.I used that to make whipped cream also. It was pretty fantastic. Watching it go, my arm was getting tired just from my memory of always mixing things by hand. So modern!


And despite the initial skepticism of my French family, they all really enjoyed my Thanksgiving feast. Because imagine just for a moment, the massive coulinery history of France and the inherent mindset that that forces on the French, young and old. They have a right to be proud. However, the cliché of snobbishness is completely true and definitely manifests itself in their constant ridiculing of the British and most other countries because of their food. And of course they discredit American cuisine pretty much simply because McDonald's exists. My host brother kept saying he was just completely confused and surprised about what a real American meal meant. 
 I said to him, what did you expect, a Thankgiving's hamburger? I mean come on. We can cook too! And I would say Thanksgiving, despite all of the variations among family traditions, is about as American as you can get.
And yes, a casserole involving canned soup does sound strange, and yes, potatoes that are sweet do sound strange, and yes it is odd to make a pie out of squash meat, but then again, take a look at real French cuisine I've eaten so far: escargots (check), live oysters (check), smelly cheeses (check), blood sausage (check), everything you can possible imagine with liver (check check). 


The best part about all of this was that I managed to cook all of this by myself for the most part. I love cooking, but I really haven't done much cooking here in France. The thing about my host dad is that nothing is done right unless he does it, and everything is planned out. So that makes it nerve wracking to cook anything just for fun, like I would usually do at home. So this was the first time I had really cooked here (besides a lone cheesecake a while ago). 
What's more, I've always helped out with Thanksgiving back at home, but I normally wouldn't do any of the dishes completely by myself, besides the golden crescents, which were my specialty. But I think the first Thanksgiving away from home is a long held tradition for young traveling Americans. We've all got to grow up sometime, and learn to make stuffing. I'm just glad nobody got hurt or sick. 
Oh and here's the table. 

I imagine if I were on exchange in, say, the mountainous region of Tibet I would have a hard time pulling it off...  However, if Tufts would give be another year off I'd be definitely willing to try it! After this, I'd be willing to put off college for a few more years. 


Oh and one last thing: The day after, my host mom and I drove to this really beautiful spot in the town next door. I wish I had a picture of the road we took, but I was too busy peeing my pants. It was quite a bit narrower than most one laned roads, and was set into the side of the mountain with a precarious cliff on the other side. Oh, and did I mention it was two laned? Anway, at the end of it there was a mine museum on the site of an old mineral mine, and a beautiful walk around the mountain, with gorgeous views. I took plenty (too many) photos and attempted a panoramic picture, which didn't work out because the sea looks the same in all directions. But I'll leave you with just this:




NEXT UP:
Chestnuts Roasting in a traffic jam from hell
Noel Chez Noel
High School, again






Affectionately, 
Will

Monday, December 12, 2011

PARIS--The End of the Questionable Past-Expiration-Date Leftovers

HEY friends, family, and frequent fliers! I've got so much to tell you that maybe I just won't.

(Gosh that was liberating)

Well let's get going on the Leftovers, and then we can get to the Restovers, before we get to the Bereftovers. And that comes right before complete denial. Which is generally never far away from my blog. 
Which I've renamed, for your information, Will's in Hyères, Unless You Have Heard from a Credible Source. 

PARIS! The city that never dies, in terms of topics for Will to try to recount. It was that great. 

Where did I leave off? Oh yes, LA GREVE. (Just a side note, now the teachers at my host brother's school are all on strike. Go figure. And today the was a strike at the cafeteria, and I didn't bring a lunch and so I never ate anything. Consequently I was dead for my 4 o'clock French Lit. Class...) 
So anyways, I was told we were out of luck to go to the Musée D'Orsay because of the strike. 

But we all know that that sign is kept up there at all times just to keep away French, English and Spanish tourists.  

So the day after the Louvre we went to the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution at the Museum of Natural History. And my first thought was: goshback where I come from evolution is still a disputed fact!  I mean, really. We're still seeing images like this:
...then what can you expect of the museums?
Well, this I suppose...

Oh Kentucky. Whatever shall we do with you?
Yet in France they're sensible enough to devote a whole huge beautiful museum to evolution. 
I especially liked the very clear and scientific exhibits on the genetics behind evolution. I could tell they were all funded by the same socialist liberal government that wants to destroy all of our freedoms and faiths. 
Anyway, here's the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution:
It awesome. It changes colors. It reminds me of an opera house. Except filled with dead animals. Mr. Fohloff's heaven? I think so. It was like if a taxidermy shop that never sold anything grew to five floors and was payed for by the state. Impressionnant. So basically a zoo where they don't need to buy animal feed. A dead zoo. Yeah, I guess it was that.

Shout out to my girl Electra. I found you're cousin:

I know you don't care about me, but you'll always be number three to me! And you don't look any more friendly inert.  
Also I was incredibly struck by this little guy. Something just spoke to be from his pea-sized head and "oh, like, whatever" paws:
And mom (sorry rest of the world) :  It's your guy! I found your guy! The French version!
That last picture came from the hall of extinct animals. Whoo, it was rough. It is this giant hall with really intense low-light glass displays full of lions and tigers and hares, oh my. All extinct now, or on the brink of extinction. One tiger was labeled as a species that had been extinct since the mid 1800s. I looked at the description box, and whadya know: "Added to the collection in 1858." Hmmmm. Makes you wonder. It all seems a little weird to walk through a species graveyard like a wax museum, where the most people can remark is "Oh that's a shame. This one was even cute."  Oh well. So it goes. 

We also went to a kids exhibits all about spiders. But I really don't have a whole lot to say about that except: kids being loud and obnoxious. There you go. 

But I did find a dinosaur all the same! But no Jesus riding it:
Oh and to continue with the theme of american omnipresence, can you spot the McDo? They're everywhere! And everyone here thinks I'm crazy because I don't like McDonald's. They think its amazing. But in France all the McDonald's are super clean and have touchscreen ordering stations and sell macarons and fancy coffee and stuff. Not at all the same kind of disgusting. They don't believe me when I say that in the US its all gross and dirty. Well, I guess there are some fancy McDo's maybe in California, but I have never seen one. However, I will note that I get the same headache when I walk into French McDo's. So the radioactive ingredients I guess haven't changed... 

Alright, so then after the museum we went on the Bateaux Mouches, otherwise known as loud tourists screaming on big floating barges on the Seine river. I tried and failed to take pictures; my new digital camera is not super well performing in the dark. But I did take a video of all the Asian tourists screaming each time we passed under a bridge. (Note: there are about 40 bridges)

video


So then the next day we found out that the Musée D'Orsay was reopening, so we got up super early to stand in the line for a few hours. And walking towards the museum I saw these two army types patrolling with giant AK-47s or something. Man it was sureal. I didn't take a picture because they probably would have taken me for a spy dressed as a tourist and brought me in for questioning. Or shot me. I'm not sure how the French justice system works. Anyway they looked something like this: 


Apparently somebody got away with taking a picture. But they were probably deported right after posting it on the web...

And outside the museum on the curbside there were also guys selling roasting chestnuts. It was interesting the setup they had; a shopping cart with a tin can stove contraption and a burner with holes punctured in it. I saw the same thing all over Paris, in Montmartre and by the Eiffel tower too.                                                       So for the actual museum I don't have any pictures, because cameras are prohibited. But if I could've taken a picture I wouldn't have taken any famous paintings or anything. I would have captured the moment where my host brother was sitting, bored as can be, playing video games on his smart phone next to Rodin and Monet. That's the kind of ironic juxtaposition that'll be engraved in my brain forever though. I would title it, "My Generation."
However, I had my second Ben and Jerry's siting, and my first French Ben and Jerry's tasting. They were selling the little pints with the spoon including (love those!) at the museum cafe, and so we got some good old chocolate Macadamia. Apparently in Europe it's made in Belgium. Cool. I feel like Belgium is kind of the Vermont of Europe. It's the little state thing. Except in Belgium its the Southern half that speaks French.  
Anyway, the Musée D'Orsay was awesome awesome awesome, besides my host brother scoffing at all my favorite artists. I'm sure its not the first time someone has wanted to strangle someone in front of a Van Gogh. Hold on, I really shouldn't say that; violence is never the answer, especially when dealing with such expressive art. Van Gogh teaches us that you can jam all of that feeling into a painting, and if certain types of people don't understand it's beauty and power, well.... 
cut your ear off. 
And go on strike.

Alright so the last night before we left, we had a splendid dinner at the host aunt/uncle's house, along with they're daughter, a franco-germanic bilingual nephew (maybe? never fully understood how he was related), and his girlfriend, who lives in London. The nephew (?) was perfectly fluent in French, which was pretty impressive. But I couldn't feel too bad for myself and my average ability, after all he has a French mother... Anyway, it was quite the international dinner. The table looked like this in the beginning:

And then we all slept really well. And we headed off in the morning to catch our train back to the south. 


Episode Two of The Universe is Freaky
So of the two train stations in Paris, of all the parking garages in the train station, of the 5 floors of that parking garage, of all the elevators in the parking garage, of all the moments in the world, I got into the same elevator at the same time as this girl I know from my French lycée. The universe is freaky.

It gets better.

The TGV is literally 20 cars long, including two front end cars face to face attached right in the middle just to be stylish:


Anyway, Max and I walk the entire platform (we're in the last car, or first car as the train flies), get onto the second level of the train, walk to the back of the car and sit down in the second to last row. Then I turned around and a girl from my class was sitting behind me.The universe is freaky. That makes three times in one trip that I randomly bumped into people like that. Weird. Paris obviously attracts enough people to make coincidences happen frequently enough to seem freaky. (Tried to make that a pun in my head, but the spelling just doesn't work, sorry.)


Oh, and also, when we got back to Hyeres, it was about 85 degrees and sunny. We were way overdressed. But the joke was on the south, because apparently it had rained the whole time we were gone. Parisiens love it when it rains in the south. Kind of like how Vermonters love it when it snows an inch in Virginia and all life stops. 

Speaking of weather in the south, it is December 13th (whoa) and there are still mosquitoes. Dammit they follow me everywhere. 


Ah yes, and here's my one last wonderful edition of ironic juxtapositions, caught at 300 km/h going by one of the billions of hectares of vineyards in France: 
You know that wine has just got to be good. Who makes red, white, and rosé anymore, when you can make uranium? The next time I see glowing bottles of wine at the supermarket, I'll know where they came from. 


Oh yes, and one last picture. I made it myself, as part of a thank you note. 
(see first Paris blog for corresponding photo)

So there you have it! That's Paris! From the perspective of me, two months after the fact! 
Someday I'll blog about this week too. But I wouldn't expect that for a while. 
Take care. Happy holidays! Whichever ones you subscribe to! I'll be doing Noel chez Noel, which works out pretty well. In French, Santa Claus is called the "Père Noel", as in father Christmas. In my host family, the Père Noel is always around. If only my family name were "Hannukah." Goodness wouldn't that be fun. 
Oh and happy Festivus for the rest of us, as I think Seinfeld said. 

Affectionately, 
Will