Tuesday, May 2. 2006
my folks came to visit for a great two week stay (as missy has better described).
with the overpowering effectiveness ratio of photos to words, i give you pix from our sidetrip to Nice and Monaco and for the rest of their stay. we did lots of driving and saw a huge amount of provence that we would have been unable to do otherwise. good sights, good food, good company.
Saturday, April 29. 2006
lets play catch up. this was originally going to be a series - I, II, III - because our travels with seth's parents encompassed three distinct voyages, but then there were the times that we weren't taking two day vacations, when they were here in avignon, and those parts bear mentioning as well. so we'll divide it differently, and somewhat arbitrarily, like those memories are now --
I. nice & monaco - seth's folks had just arrived in marseille from the states, and first thing booked it for the sunshine. we can't blame them, so we decided to meet them on the côte d'azure for two days. nice was a big french city, but with palm trees and stone, richesse and beach. the best part of this trip was the drive from nice to monaco. there are three possible drives - the low, medium, and high roads, each with their own spectacular views, each with their own odd histories. we took the low one to monaco and the the medium back. beautiful both. the sea is green-blue, the rocky cliffs gray and tiled roofs clay-red coloring the scene pure mediterranian.
II. rick steves - one of the handful of guides that seth's folks brought with. when i was in sixth grade i had a social studies teacher, mr beam, who one day taught us about communism. "if you live in russia, you can't decide what you want to be when you grow up. they give you a test and the results determine your job," he said bitterly. it sounded like a great idea to me. maybe we're getting older, but sometimes we're tired from traveling and thumbing through the lonely planet, tired from making choices every few minutes about this museum over that restaurant and that historical landmark, and we want someone to make up their mind for us. that's where rick steves comes in. compact, concise, easy to read. tell us, rick, tell us what to do next.
III. the côtes du rhône and luberon - malaucène: we stopped for the wednesday market. i bought olives with herbes de provence. i love those things. and i bought goat cheese made that very morning. crestet: population 37, but since it was early in the season the town was practically deserted but for one, an old woman walking up the hill when we arrived, still walking up when we left. a quintessential provencal town nested in a mountain. so many of these towns up high, carved into rocks, overlooking gorgeous valleys below. vaison la romaine: not much of interest in the lower, more modern town but a good lunch, and we didn't make it up to the top. oddly, i did run into a fellow assistant walking down the street. much to his chagrin he was stationed there. didn't seem so bad to me. fontaine de vaucluse: this is where we spent the night. it's a beautiful town under a high rocky cliff with a clear blue-green river running through it, the sorgue, the start of which magically bursts forth from some rocks. we could spend days here. also the home of the surprisingly delightful santon museum. santons are basically dolls that originated as nativity figurines. a regional specialty, they feature provencal archetypes - the painter, the old woman carrying lavender, the shepard. isle sur la sorgue: called the venice of france (many bridges, a river), it's pretty charming. famous for its 200 antiques dealers, but they only open thursdays and sundays. rouillson: called the colorado of france (golden mountainous terrain), everything is a ruddy brown color on account of famous clay earth everywhere. they sell pigment to tourists by the scoop. gordes: a mideval castle town, again carved high into a rock. on the drive there, when the town comes into view from across the valley you gasp ooh and ahh, (or at least i do), it's so stunning.
IV. coq a vin - we wanted to cook a nice meal for them, something quintessentially french, so we gave this dish a whirl. first we had to buy the coq, but unfortunately the baker didn't carry coqs, so we had to settle for a poulet, head and feet still attached, bien sur. i giggled and elbowed seth - you'll have to cut off it's head. but the butcher heard this, and offered to prepare it for us. with a butcher knife he whacked the head and feet clean off, took out the insides from the cavity and put the good ones back in, trained a blow torch on the skin to burn off the remaining feather parts, and finally tied it all up in twine. this took him about two minutes. but we had to finish it up at home, cut up the bird to fit in the casserole, and we have never done this before. thank you internet for helping us through. (when you think about it, it's amazing that this was the first time cutting up a chicken, so far from our food that we are.) after that it was seth that took the cooking reigns, melting the butter, frying the bacon, frying the veggies, frying the chicken, all in the same dish so that you build up a nice multi-layered fond, then adding a whole bottle of wine and boiling some off. it was a lengthy preparation, but the result was delicious.
V. arles - arles is a like avignon, but bigger and grittier. instead of the palais des papes there's an old roman arena. arles is the one time home of van gogh and a bunch of impressionists, but not much remains of that but sunflowers canvas totes. we stayed in a nice family run hotel with sunny rooms and a good breakfast. the hotel had a gallery, and this month was host to a photographer whose specialty was photographs of barbie doll women with arched backs being sprayed with water. we put a down payment on one right away. On the more tasteful side of culture, we throughly enjoyed the arlaten museum which is devoted to all things past and provençal. it was created in 1896 by frédéric mistral, a provençal regionalist writer and educational advocate (i teach at a school that bears his name), and contains costumes, furniture, tools, objects relating to religious and superstitious traditions, that illustrate life in provence during the 19th century. would've sounded dry to me a year ago, but living here made it fascinating. i want to dress up provencal and be a sheep herder and cheesemaker.
VI. camargue - i was looking forward to seeing this area, one of the few nature preserves in france. it's a swath of marshy land where the rhone meets the mediterranian, and it's famous for it's wild horses, flamingos, and mosquitos. Oh, and did I mention the salt? There is a famous salt distilled here that retails for up to 6 euros a container. And there's a salt museum, that (un)fortunately was closed when we stopped by. When we visited there was very strong mistral (not related to the writer, by the way) a blowing, and we could barely get to the salt hills from the car. but the photos attest to us setting foot on this martian landscape for all those unbelievers. behold.
Monday, April 24. 2006
we were panicked, when last i spoke to you. missy talked to our upstairs neighbor about the hot water situation. sounded like she'd lost her hot water too, and was pretty mad about the whole thing. all the other neighbors, including our landlady and next-doors (the ones in charge of our heat), were away on vacation. landlady to return at the end of the month. nervousing news.
we got used to boiling water on the stove every couple days to take tiny baths.
then missy caught our next door neighbors coming home and tried to grill them about it. they have bourgeois accents and speak fast. they play with our 19th century fusebox for a bit and tell us they'll help us call the rental company on monday. very nice of them. and about an hour later missy's washing her hands and notices that the water is slightly warmer from the hot tap. somehow, some way our heater got turned on again.
i'm not asking any questions. i have my ideas, but i won't risk jinxing things. boy oh boy warm showers are great! i took them way too much for granted before. no longer.
well, maybe i'm jinxed anyway. missy has just finished giving me a haircut. i'm good and itchy. and the construction workers outside just buzzed up to say they're shutting off the water for "5 minutes" to switch over the lines or something. an hour later... i'm curious if they'll get around to it before quitting time.
it means the bathroom is off limits too.
really, i'm only whining. it's something to blog about since most of what fills up my life isn't barely interesting. but i ought to be used to random interruptions and outages from my time at oak st. at its worst there was something new and annoying every day for a month. i hear it's the european way. a little bit of chaos to give spice to your day and remind you what's not important. we have electricity brownouts here all the time. wanadoo upstream DNS breaks fairly regularly for hours. that anything works at all should be considered a miracle. i don't mean that sarcastically. one forgets the amount of progress that's been made when your own history is so recent.
i try to put it in perspective by thinking about the same streets i walk on having been home to lepers and littered with chamberpot dumpings out of second story windows. cobblestones were revolutionary. probably the same stones being dug up now to run new water and fiber lines. for that matter, avignon is the site of the oldest evidence of human construction in france. in 600 BC people were building fort towns on the hill. things are pretty good now, comparatively. no more "god turned off the fish supply and it looks like it's going to be a cold winter."
update: it's 6pm, all the workmen have left, and the water's still off. hee hee.
Tuesday, April 18. 2006
we lost hot water in the apartment yesterday for some reason. missy thinks it's a landlady mistake since it's coincidental with our radiators not making heat anymore. i'm inclined to agree with her. the water heater doesn't feed the radiators, but my initial tests show that electricity isn't getting to it, so probably two switches were turned off in some remote closet in the building instead of one when shutting down the chauffage for the season. rrr. the water's too cold to take a shower. brrr.
i had to go to the immigration office this morning to turn in all my paperwork. so i took a page from the old french how-to manual and spritzed on some of a cologne sample i got when buying missy's fancy lipstick. now i smell like flowers instead of armpits. i prefer armpit, but with cologne, it's not really about you, is it?
Saturday, March 4. 2006
we've been eating pretty well here, whether from our own slowly developing culinary skills or from eating out, despite a few bumps in the road to our stomach. thanks to all, by the way, who have contributed recipes. i've made quite a few of them and they've made us happy and full.
now that the weather is getting warmer, all the cream and butter, bread and chocolate, wine and undercooked meat that are so beloved by the french (and now us) are starting to feel heavy. all the mental and physical sluggishness of winter needs to be sloughed off. the crocus bulbs that i planted in a window box when we arrived are beginning to bloom. they say, "the spirit is in need of renewal!" in their flower language. they urge me to clarify and purify. and they push a radical diet transformation. they tell me that we'll call it the 10 day cleanse. no dairy, no wheat, no sugar, no meat, no caffeine, no alcohol. add some daily yoga and meditation, candle-lit essential oil baths, and a massage from the significant other and we have a diy home spa retreat, "nestled in the south of france." hurry! for a limited time only!
i was vegetarian for a couple years in high school, having gotten bitten by the animal rights bug. then dropped the stringency and started eating chicken and fish occasionally, and this pseudo-vegetarian diet was with me for almost a decade, that is, until i met seth. i won't blame him wholly; it was about the same time that many of my previously vegetarian and pseudo-vegetarian friends started reverting back to omnivores (ironically, about the same time we moved to portland, one of the most vegetarian friendly places in the western world). i will say that having never been a vegetarian, seth didn't attach any special importance to eating a steak or italian sausage. it was natural to him, guilt-free. it might sound strange, but having only dated the vegetal variety, being so comfortable around someone who is so comfortable about eating meat, naturally transformed me in into a meat eater once again.
i'm now on my fourth day of my cleanse and my diet has thus far included: cooked buckwheat, pumpernickel bread, spelt almond and sesame cookies, kasha pasta with mediterranean galettes vegetal (flat vegetable and whole grain cakes) and olive tomato sauce, apple and prune compote, pears, strawberries, pineapple juice, rice milk, hazlenut & almond rice dessert, tofu and pepper stir fry with brown rice, chickpea and tomato curry with red rice, herbed spinach with carrots, green vegetable soup, rye crackers and rice cakes with curried vegetable pate, herbal teas, and lots of filtered water.
some of these things were bought at the local health food stores and organic co-op. i was happy to find out that they exist here too, in almost the same configuration as they do in the states, and with almost the same patrons. now, one doesn't need a natural foods store to do a cleanse. you can be even more basic about it - just fruit and vegetables and whole rice. you can make it about eating humbly. or you can eat all raw food, or go a step further and do a juice fast. the idea for me was to invert my ordinary dietary patterns, thus altering my daily choices and considering ones that i take for granted.
so far i'm keeping the cravings under control; my self-discipline is intact. but i'm curious as to when exactly i'm going to begin dreaming of cheese wheels and baguettes.
Sunday, February 19. 2006
it's not really spilling the beans if it's a month late i guess. miss was tired of planning our trip logistics always, so for her birthday trip she wanted me to handle everything. transport, hotel, sites to see, even the destination was to be a secret. fun! all her fellow teachers thought it was so romantic. she's writing up how it went down (spoiler warning!), but basically i walked her onto a nameless train and handed her the gift-wrapped lonely planet barcelona guide (in french) as we departed.
i'm not going to get too in-depth about the normal eating, walking and looking facts because i got so jazzed on the city that i have to run my mouth about some of that. contrasts to avignon: lots of other tall skinny friendly scruffy bearded guys (zero french guys with beards). bars are much more comfortable if you can squeeze into one and are open late. food was good but not awesome *except for tapas*. spanish doesn't come automatically if you know french.
barcelona is huge and has tons of culture of all kinds. lots of young people culture - great graffiti, lots of live music, lots of interesting looking people and cats wandering around. you could just breathe it in. partly i've been stuck in this small city for a long time, and stuck in my apartment and stuck in my head trying to get stuff done. barcelona has a lot of the same winds blowing through it as new york, but without the coffee jitters. really perked up my art/thinking-nose.
Saturday, December 31. 2005
sorry, couldn't resist. missy's sis april visited us for christmas. i took a couple photos of the parts of it that i was involved in, which some of you might find interesting to look at. now with captions!
no more spoilers since i think miss is going to cover things in a separate post. it was great to have her here. i got a deeper glimpse into the wonderful world of haywards and thankfully avoided getting my butt kicked at rummy 500!
Wednesday, December 7. 2005
i've come to accept that for the next months i'm going to be living in a world of bread crumbs. it's ok, it's the price of eating yummy crusty fresh bread every day. it's just a little shocking, the things you never expected to be shocked by.
it does make some things easier. miss was making chicken parmesean the other night. all we had to do was drop the cutlets on the dining room carpet, flip, and fry.
suresure they're all over the kitchen and dining room and all in the keyboards of our computers. that's to be expected. but i find them in stray corners of closets and in the bathtub. maybe they're mobile. maybe they attach like burrs to your clothing to gain farther reach. or catch and ride the drafts through the halls.
we've got an inside joke that it's mice. seems every time one of us buys tasty bread or chocolate when we get it home there's a small bite taken out of it. it never happens to the turnips for some reason.
anyway, this photo is about another mythical avignon creature: the halfling. there's stores that sell 1/3 scale adult outfits. and i've actually seen tiny people in the stores and in the streets. like sub-4' sized. and there's a number of them. if the archeological remains of a race of small humans was recently discovered in indonesia (and they were pretty recent), it's not unimaginable that their relatives could be living amongst us now.
Friday, November 18. 2005
here's something that will make you happy every single day of winter: in the morning, after you shower, lay your pajamas on the radiator. when you're ready for bed at the end of the day they'll be toasty.
i feel the process of aging is accumulating knowlege like this.
that's our sparse bedroom. the blanket is made from old dinosaurs and i'm convinced it gives me allergies. we have two. the other isn't as ugly but is worse for allergies because it was in the room when i beat the rug senseless. so it's in a corner crumpled up.
the drapes are short like that on purpose. that's what missy says.
here's the "dining room" area, with the kitchen-closet behind. we have one table and it's skinny. you can tell in the photo how missy feels about skinny tables. it holds laptops mostly, and sometimes food. there's a great stone tile floor that really gets the echoes going.
the kitchen has two hot plates. we bought a big toaster oven and we're thinking about what size turkey can fit in there for thanksgiving. one of the shelves has a big gold "Ralph Lauren" imprinted in it for some reason. gives the place some class. the microtable we got for under the oven has a couple wine rack shelves in it. good thinking! i've been trying to keep a decent selection on hand, but it's not easy.
and the living half of the main room, of which the dining room is the other. that's corey text messaging on the phone in the foreground during his visit. so euro!
the glass (french?) doors close letting the room double as a guest bedroom. missy's sitting on the little fold-a-bed contraption they call a clic-clac, for the sound it makes when you operate the folding mechanism. so far three of the springy wooden slats they use instead of box springs here have been broken just from normal sitting. now it's kind of tricky to sit in without falling in. plus the foam part was really chintzy to start with and the slats are pretty far apart so it's more like sitting on a horizontal ladder for all the enjoyment you get out of it. we're tracking down leads on where to find a supply of backup slats. i hate getting what you pay for.
and what tour would be complete? this is one of the two half-bathrooms. the big munga water heater is perched right above and kind of overlapping the toilet, getting into its space. you can't really sit up straight. i'm only somewhat conscious of how mass and volume and all that other sculptural and architectural stuff affects your mental well-being, but man if that isn't a foreboding unsettling arrangement. you don't have to be any kind of aesthete to get spooked in there.
there's pipes for the water meter and vents that seem to only work backwards, pumping in smells from other flats. it really feels like the room with the least attention paid to it. or with the most malicious attention maybe.
this is the stairway leading down to the street. pretty bourgeois but pretty tattered too. there's a whole host of old ladies in the building that seem to run things around here. one is about 80 and rides a heavy steel bicycle around town, all full of energy. she's awesome.
they're all wonderfully friendly and helpful. they're insistent on helping to the point that i feel i'm missing some obvious social cues of some kind and not upholding some part of the neighbor bargain. but they haven't bitten me yet. sometimes one or another will have a large dinner party in their lavish apartment. we'll hear all the guests at night in the hall leaving. boisterous crowd noise sounds the same in every language.
Thursday, October 27. 2005
well, i'm sick somehow. all achey and stuff. miss is doing a great job of tending to my whininess though.
so many things have changed in a short time it's hard to pin down what caused it. things first started getting sniffly when we bought a new (used) rug. we were excited because it was pretty cheap and in decent shape. maybe a little too good of a bargain. even before we unrolled it i started getting an allergic reaction to it. it must have come from a cat factory or something. so i leaned it out the bedroom window and beat it like a stepchild. which was a lousy idea because the wind was going the wrong way and i and the bedroom got covered in dust. an entire cup of dust, as i later swept up. now it lives in the "dining room", and i have to open a window at night to get fresh air across my nose to keep from stuffing up.
missy bought some antibacterial rug-scrubbing product and really did a number on it this afternoon. also much vaccuuming of rug and everywhere. if that doesn't solve it it's going back to the store.
but really, it's the kind of sick that feels like a flu and not crazy allergies. it occured to me that missy's going to be the vector for three schools and twelve classrooms worth of 10-year-old viruses in the coming months. in fact, one of her teaching manuals devotes an entire chapter to the topic. echinacia blast time!
but who knows. the french are more liberal with foodstuffs. nonpasteurized cheese, weird sausages, like that. i'd be really bummed if some delicious cheese did it.
but anyway, this will pass. it's a good excuse to lay in bed and read french graphic novels. and we managed to download James Burke's Connections 3 series before another spat of internet hassles, so we've been doing one a night of those. more on him later, as he says.
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short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.