Thursday, June 1. 2006
we handed over the keys, double checking with M. deVimes that the apartment was in the same shape we found it in. luckily he'd missed the small oily marks on the walls from the sticky tack that held up our posters. we'd been worried because he seemed like a real stickler when we moved in. he actually counted the number of holes in the walls in each room. everything was fine; we should see our deposit deposited in our bank account in a month.
dragged all the bags down to corinne's waiting car. fit - barely. and she wisks us to the TGV terminal for the first leg of our journey back. which is: train to aix en provence, shuttle to the marseille airport, shuttle to our airport hotel to spend a quick night since our flight is at 6am the next day. sleep. shuttle back to the airport. argue about baggage weight restrictions. hassle. pay extra. to frankfurt. to pdx. to vivaron's. begin painful and disorienting reintegration process.
at the hotel, miss was having a little bit of anxiety about the coming changes. i made us both calmer with the idea that we were in the space between chapters. the blank page that's left to let the mind pause before digging in again in a new direction. we can sort the future out later.
Monday, May 29. 2006
not firing on all cylinders, a couple sandwiches short, light won't light on one side. we're almost out of here. all the junk we had to buy or managed to accumulate through just being here has got to go, one way or another. miss made and put up flyers with dangly phone number tags for the big items. we got some bites and sold most of the clumsy stuff. not losing tons of money on that, and also we don't have to rent a truck to cart it somewhere to sell it, which saves euro too. had some lousy experiences trying to sell the remaining items at secondhand stores. they pay dirt. at one place i was actually insulted at what we were offered. but we're stuck. it's got to go, money or no.
tons of recycling. piles of paper and boxes and where did it all come from? in only 8 months? well, it's a lot better than when we moved out of the oak st! trying to be merciless in what we save and what we chuck. terminate with extreme prejudice.
we have about $40 in spices that are half-used. half boxes of pasta. anyone want cans of chick peas and a sack of quinoa? how do you get rid of this stuff? in france people don't move very often. way different than me, moving every couple years. there's not a lot of infrastructure for handling it that i can see. maybe the goodwills are just hidden somewhere in the suburbs.
ok, we lucked out and the girl and father who are buying the tv and little table will take our heavy set of plates and dishes and the half-foods and little leftover liquors and thank god the bar which we can't get rid of ourselves. for free they get it all. it makes them happy and us too. they were our only hope. they're hauling it all in a thefted shopping cart. they have no car. three (four?) trips to somewhere that's a half hour shopping cart round trip away. we get the impression the dad just split with his wife and has got a new place for himself. daughter helping him move. he's kind of sad and the idea heartbreaks me and i try to cheer him up by joking as best i can. at least he can have spaghetti bolognaise for free tonight.
also through the grace of god sold the bed to our french teacher. took her three trips with friend's borrowed car to get it all transported. could only get the friend with the big car the day before, so we had to sleep on our little mattress cushion on the floor the last night, in a dusty echoey apt. her and different friend with small car pick up the cushion and sheets today.
then clean clean and get ready to hand over the keys.
everyone in the last days has been so incredibly helpful and friendly (courteous, kind...) i really can't believe anyone thinks the french are snobby or stuck up. well, i can believe it if they're approached by someone with an air of entitlement. there's a little mean streak, but only for those who deserve it. for us, everyone has gone out of their way to help us out and wish us well.
one of the most touching sentiments (if i understood her right) came from our same-floor neighbor. i was telling her i'll miss france and avignon and i hope to return and she said "well, it's your pays now." pays is an important concept, as i understand it, representing the geographical and cultural region a french person associates himself with. it's where he comes from, and he feels ties to the land and the people there. even if one ends up living in a different region, he still consideres himself to be from his home pays. i don't mean to sound corny. i promise no more cultural overextrapolations. i guess i overexplain it because it's pretty foreign to me, who has few ties to any place. and it's easy that maybe i misunderstood her. but i prefer to imagine she meant it as just that, that we had been established here, adopted into it. i'm tired and susceptible to sentiment now, but it was a very sweet thing to say, and i feel quite touched. she got our last giveaway item, the basil plants missy's been growing. one of the main herbs of provence, it was thriving from the windowbox sunlight when we handed it over.
Sunday, May 28. 2006
i'm trying to squeeze as much of avignon as i can into the little time remaining. something i've done a bunch here is going to see classical music. i was dabbling with it some in portland before i left, but it feels really natural here. maybe it's living next to the bourgeois ladies. probably moreso the ancient european setting. the same thing wouldn't feel the same in portland so i have to get it out of my system now.
i was raised in the public school music program, so i had a little history to go on. mostly it counted for getting my ears prepped to receive the music some time in the future. i'm actually paying attention to it now, and learning what i like and hate. interesting to see what's changed over time. it's nice to focus on the traditional aspects of composition and performance for a change. stuff my ears haven't been excercised in in a long time. you have to listen for different things and you can hold everyone to much higher standards in a lot of areas (and relax them in some others).
i'm really jazzed on art that can't be done properly unless you've been at it for thirty years. material that you need to have spent lots of time with to get inside, performed by people who have decades of emotional maturity and philosophical development behind them. i guess part of it reflects an ongoing crisis with programming, a general annoyance with the cult of the New Idea, and the desire for good workmanship (which usually falls by the wayside when New Ideas take precedence).
so anyways, brahms' "a german requiem" with two pianists and a choir was saturday night. sunday day was a last run through the calvet museum, which is painting and some sculpture from the 15th to 19th centuries (including the best joke romantic painting i've ever seen*). sunday evening was a string trio alternating with pipe organ doing a mix of bach and mozart in avignon's snazziest church. boy, that's enough for me for a while. i had to come home and play some 30 second long punk songs to clear my mind.
*long setup: joseph vernet was a famous local painter known for his romantic period canvases of epic scenes of nature destroying man. our street, the same one the calvet museum is on, is named after him. his son took up his father's style and has a large scene of a small sailboat getting tossed around in a pounding sea, about to founder on the rocks. very menacing. there's a couple people on board: one guy at the tiller losing his hat in the gale, a bare-bosomed woman just looking wretched, and a dude with a small notepad and brush tied to the mast. the title reads "joseph vernet studying firsthand the effects of nature." hah!
Saturday, May 27. 2006
*plus 180 american dollars s&h
it's a two part system. one half features a modernist floral pattern etched on a sliding glass door that stores all your favorite beverages. a mirrored bottom and gold toned faux-quilted background up the value times ten of that cheap vodka of yours. on the other side, a lacquered door with a complementing gold handle hides your plastic tumblers and twisty straws. how can you refuse the cachet of this modernist/50's revival gem? that is, if you live in portland or san francisco or any other u.s. city that's got it going on. if you live in france it's ugly as all get out and you want nothing to with it.
i made flyers a few days ago and put them up on grocery store message boards and at the university in an attempt to sell our furniture and recoup some of our initial expenses. and i'm pleased (and quite surprised) that we have actually sold nearly everything by now. as of yet unclaimed is an beautiful art deco style end table that i snagged for 2 euro. portland market value = $40 at least. anyone have a college apartment to furnish? we also still have lamp made out of a tall vintage chianti bottle. it's a new yet old, chic yet shabby spin on your beer bottle light. and then the bar. your friends admiration of your refined yet tounge-in-cheek taste = well worth 10 euro plus shipping.
Saturday, May 27. 2006
that's frenglish for "tasting." i learned from our chuckling french teacher that you can't turn it directly into the adjective "tasty", because then it means "disgusting," which it seems like it ought to in the first place. we had our last lesson today (snif), and she sent us away with a crammed lesson on the subjunctive verb form (does english even have that?) and lots of good wishes. we'll miss her, but as she left it felt like school was over for the summer. a little reminder of one of the best feelings anyone can know.
this evening avignon celebrated "the summer of vines and wine" in the main square. two euros gets you a little tasting glass and you can have at the 20 or 30 (lost count!) local winemaker's stands. an additional euro and you get a little wine-glass-holding contraption that strings around your neck like elderly/diner waitress eyeglass thing. missy opted for it, of course. they had a guy making wine barrels, sample vines of different varieties on display, and some stands of other local procuce like olive oil that were widely ignored.
we got to sample tons of different producers. all from around here, so to my novice palette a lot of it tasted very similar. it got fun to chat them up and ask about the different things they had and how they compared. it seemed like most of the people attending had american accents, so i think they were happy to have someone speak french to them. we bought a couple bottles of good stuff to enjoy before we head home.
we ordered a little food item to share from one of the vendors. we thought was going to be quail, but it turned out to be a spinach and paté loaf of some kind (in the shape of a quail?). that was doubly ok, because it was delicious and with the intense winds it ended up flying after all, into some american lady's lap. har har. we apologized in french.
astute readers will remember that one of the first things we attended here was a wine celebration in the main square for the new wine. so it was nice to wrap things up that way too. normal readers will recoil at how pretentious the whole thing sounds. yeah, we do too. one of the neat things about travelling is that you get carte blanche to ignore your own stupid prejudices and enjoy what you want without noticing as much what it looks like.
then i cooked boeuf bourguignon and at midnight it was ready and tasted not so bad. seth's easy french omni-recipe: brown/sautée any kind of meat and veggies in bacon fat (with the bacon). add a whole bottle of red wine. simmer for four hours. that's the 80% solution, and it's just fine to get you started. i'd be tempted to say there's nothing to this cooking thing, but the choco chip cookies i made the night before are terrible. actually, that's exactly what i said as i was making them. sigh.
Monday, May 22. 2006
two sets of new pix, along with other scattered ones. the first from a wonderful visit by our friend may's mom and stepdad. they live a short ways from here in grenoble, which was miss' second choice city to be stationed in. we showed them avignon for a day, and they took us sightseeing around provence the next. they brought some fantastic grenoblian treats, including a walnut pie, walnut paste candies (kind of a cross between almond paste and maple sugar candy), and hard candies filled with walnut, praline or chartreuse in a decorative walnut shell. miss cooked a lovely meal we all shared. it was great language practice as well. two days of nothing but french. danielle and andre were very patient and helpful. that was the best i'd spoken. which is a shame then that we split town for:
london. boy it was nice to have everyone be able to understand you. i felt more awkward though. tons of walking and seeing things and eating and museuming. i think we overdid it in our excitement and sprained our travel muscles. after all, there were two more cities to go on the seth and missy's european vacation...
Sunday, May 14. 2006
we're back after a long slog through three more great european cities; our last big side trip before our return. ten days, two nights max per bed, 300-some photos to put up (> 1/hr!), and really worn out shoes. we slept 11 hours last night, which for the New Seth is unheard of (how did that happen?)
for me, it was also a ten day internet fast (mostly out of lack of means, motivation, and opportunity). although i once used missy-surrogate to mapquest a location. i think that's ok. who knew one could survive without 50 RSS feeds, daily web comics, slashdot, digg, and reddit (ok, the last one hurt a little bit). good for perspective. i'll be culling some of these time-wasters from the daily routine. there's a lot of stuff that's just not that important compared to what i want to do. interestingly, towards the end, i got really itchy for my tools. maybe i just wanted to get back to monastic life. but having taken in so much, with projects having been abruptly put on hold, i was anxious to get back to making stuff. as perverse as it sounds, it felt good to have emacs under my fingers again.
so anyway, this is a little placeholder post until such time as i can get the photos online and miss can write up the notes she's taken. looking back at it, i'm pretty impressed with the density of culture and information per hour we were able to soak up. more on the details soon...
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.
Friday, April 28. 2006
some people don't like to eat animals that are cute. that's backwards. i don't want to eat anything ugly. lobsters and mussels may taste good, but they're not appetizing. fish is kind of on the edge. thanks to france, the line between friend and food is eroding. boar, bunny, and lamb are common on the table. since the words are the same for the food and the thing walking around (not like beef vs. cow), when i see something furry i start thinking about eating it. i start checking out the legs for meat.
the "cute" thing points to having established a bond with the dish. "i can't eat it, i just pet it." somehow there's a difference in utility. but i want a relationship with my food too. what's more intimate than eating something? and mammals are easier to relate to than e.g. fish. "thanks. i appreciate you." chomp chomp.
i don't like abstracting food away from the source. aside from losing some pleasure in understanding and appreciating what you're eating, it opens up lots of opportunity for food abuse. if you won't look under the covers, people will take advantage of that and put any number of horrible things in. transparency is good for food and government and just about everything else.
related: i had a sausage last week that had big bits of tripe and other things in it. weird enough to make me look up what was really in it. can't say it didn't make me a little nauseous afterwards, but it's my responsibility when eating to know what i'm eating. but this is a good counterexample: all the bits and pieces of the animal are just fine with me. use the whole critter. waste is a sin. better you and me eating it than it gets ground up and fed to chickens, who get ground up and fed back to pigs, which is how farmers get around the restriction that you can't feed ground up animals to themselves or they get BSE. (anything can get solved with one more level of indirection, after all.)
of course it's hypocritical of me. i'm not a big enough person to work for a year in a slaughterhouse. living in a rural virginia turkey town turned me off of chicken for a long time. the death wasn't the problem for me (carrots scream when you pull them out of the ground, you know), just the horrible conditions. so like anything there's no solid ethical high rock to stand on, but shades of your legs being wet. life creates destruction as a byproduct. that is an inescapable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. to be alive is to kill something else. so for me it's about being as aware as i can be of what i'm doing.
why not be vegetarian? related discussion topic: the difference between kiling me and a killing a carrot. contexts include: self, family, friends, community, humanity, earth, universe.
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?
Friday, April 14. 2006
just got back from a long strange goose chase to get four official stamps and pay a bunch of money for my residency card, which i doubt will even show up before we leave in a month and a half. had an 8:30*am* doctor's checkup to start off the day. ahead of me in line at the doc's were seven monks. brown robes, contemplative, and everything. they were nice and we exchanged hellos. they had green passports, but i couldn't make out where they were from.
the only part of all my french language dealings today i didn't understand was the doc telling me to take off my shirt so he could take an x-ray of my lung. the eye test went well and i felt lucky to know the alphabet (good quiz). the guy at the final stamp-place asked if i was swiss as i fumbled over "timbres" (it starts easy but gets complicated). i was flattered. it's easier to fool people if i keep it to two or three words comprehension is good, but word-finding when speaking is tough still.
missy's friend alexa is coming into town tonight for a visit. hopefully we can go out somewhere and i'll get a chance to practice speaking to the locals. although i fear for any boys that might get caught in the miss/lexa tornado. in america they crumble like single-wides. i find it best to stay behind a bunker just in case.
speaking of visitors, seamus and laurel joined us for a few days on their whirlwind france tour. there's a couple photos up and a few words. i didn't get to take more unfortunately. i had a great time showing them around the twisty streets and we solved all the worlds problems over a couple bottles of wine.
i've been doing more with the photo site lately than the blog. i've got such a backlog of pix and it's easy to caption them. you can stay updated easily by using the photo feed, which always shows the latest several images i've put up. it's easier than digging through the folders.
otherwise, it's beautiful weather today. in the 70's and ultrasunny. the baby peep-ducks have shown up along the riverbanks and are very cute. but now i must away and satisfy the tax man. it's time to pay the price!
Saturday, April 1. 2006
Monday, March 20. 2006
dipping candles and cheese fondue got me thinking about cooking. what kind of food could you make by gradual layered accumulation? related: sedementary food (flaky pastry, lasagne, spanikopita, butterfingers...). what about other processes of nature? sous vide is the hip thing these days, where it's not getting outlawed. that's enough like the formation of petroleum to make me want more parallels.
artistically, it's appealing to me, since simulating and highlighting neat nature things is what i'm about. it's an added conceptual level to great cooking. "we're having a cretaceous meal tonight, honey." "mm, bronto-burgers à la tar pit!" "the plating is excellent. the sesame seeds represent the rebirth of plant life post-comet-impact-winter, and the chicken nuggets remind us how low reptilian derivatives fall in the food chain."
metamorphic, porphorytic, igneous food. candy is the obvious branch for weird food science experimentation. too easy. we were watching an iron chef america episode last week (awful show, don't bother) where mario batali was battling some guy who must have been a plant from the processed foods lobby. his specialty was using all the weird chemical additives you can't pronounce that are in foods you shouldn't be eating because the ingredients lists are bigger than your palm. along with border cases like carrageen, he used some odd amino acid to weld together the molecules of mashed fish paste to eventually produce noodles made completely out of fish. that's disgusting, but curious. i'm sure there's more traditional ways to approach the subject. anyway, it got me thinking...
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short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.