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...
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
every transacton still feels like a great accomplishment. there's a little shop on the other side of town that sells electric gadgets. not electronic gadets, only stuff that wasn't invented in the last forty years. i've always wanted to go in because the signage is from the late 50's and beautiful. the whole place looks like it wormholes out of the same vortex that portland does.
the tiny old lady with few teeth is so friendly and helpful. i show her the old bulb and tell her the wattage. she rummages around in drawers under the electric razors and alarm clocks and asks me how many i want. there's a little confusion as she tries to tell me i have to do something with the bulb. something about my rights. we work it through: hm, halogen bulbs. i can't touch with the hands? hands->fingers->"doigts" (not "droits"). ah, got it!
i pay her more money than the bulb is really worth, but if it keeps her in business i'm happy to help her. probably not enough people buying handheld back massagers and rotary phones these days. bon soir! merci!
then i go across the street to a fancy boulangerie and get a snazzy sandwich to eat at the park. yeah! i'm on a roll!
Wednesday, March 15. 2006
i've been hacking on my photo gallery software some. new design and some new features.
lately, i'm finding it easier to add little blurbs to photos than to write whole stories. i added an RSS feed feature to the gallery, so that those with feed readers ("aggregators" or whatever they're called) can keep tuned in to updates to the photo site. any directory in the gallery can be monitored, and it chooses the most recent files from everything in subdirectories too. so you can stay in touch with everything new in avignon by using this feed. or if it makes you feel better:
bonus: through the magic of xsl, the same link should render well in any recent browser. so you can still stay up to date by bookmarking it and checking in there now and again.
of course, let me know if things aren't working right.
also, i'll try to post to this blog when i put up a new set of pix. i'm only three weeks behind now!
while i've got you:
i don't know if i mentioned it specifically a couple posts back, but it was chocolate yoghurt. weird. also, the yoghurt drink i tried wasn't thin like an indian yoghurt drink, it was pretty much just drinking peach yoghurt. (you can get choco flavor and the other usuals too.)
also, am i the only one afraid of a thing called an aggregator? i can draw one for you in crayon and it's pretty scary to me.
Tuesday, March 14. 2006
a couple weeks ago miss and i took a train trip to go see corey, our portland friend who's doing the same program as missy a couple hours away.
the train ride was great. an unexpected snowstorm hit as we were leaving. it got pretty intense. the train couldn't run at full TGV speed so we missed our connecting train in paris (even with a harrowing action film taxicab ride from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse) and coerced our way into having SNCF put us up in a hotel there for a night. we had just enough time for a midnight dinner and glass of wine and some bitter cold getting lost on the walk home.
miss had a $8 cheeseburger and it really was worth it.
all trains go through paris, even if it makes the journey twice as long as it would be direct, like this time.
the next day we get to poitiers and there's lots of snow here as well. the most anyone's seen in a really long time, says carole, corey's french sweetheart. there's a small open source art conference going on in town (the other, lesser, reason for coming) so carole drops me off and everyone else trundles off to drink tea and stay warm. interesting presentations. half of them in french, the other half in english and translated into french (good practice!) learned more about some things i'd heard of but never investigated and met the folks that make em. hard to summarize. worthwhile.
that night we had a nice meal in a french restaurant that had american road signs and posters plastered inside. probably named Arizona or something. who would think to check for those things first? also the rarest steak that can exist. the french call it bleu, but that's absolutely backwards. too much for carole even, we politely ask for a little (more?) heat be applied and right on cue leather comes back. good fries though.
and then off for the real piece of resistance, the night wander! we walk through the blanketed town, bordeaux in hand, checking out the old town and cathedrals. great architecture here. the town houses have the swiss wooden X embedded in white stucco thing and severe second story street overhangs. really cozy/claustrophobic. it's saturday night, so there's a buch of other loud drunky wandery folks out too. they're friendly if we share our wine.
later: corey lives in a small room in an odd wing of the school he teaches in, which he describes as Hogwarts from Harry Potter. yeah, it really is like that, especially at spooky quiet night and we're the only ones around. we decide to snoop around the huge old school and see what corners we can poke into. mostly anything interesting is locked, but we find a cavern near the base of an out of service elevator. it's a brick arching catacomb place, not unlike in Poe's Cask of Amontillado. the floor is made of scattered old wine bottles. some of the dates on the bottles go back to the 70s. the ones with labels. so either people are drinking well-aged wine, or there's ghosts of old malcontent students about. i gather it's the "smokin' in the boys room" of france. the girls won't come in. corey and i goof a dead poet's thing for a while until the girls have had enough. i wish i could find those photos.
the next day all the snow has melted. corey and carole show us the main huge poitiers cathedral in the morning. i cram in as much art conference as i can in the afternoon before the tired train ride back.
Tuesday, January 3. 2006
looked out the windows a couple days ago, and there was straight-up snow coming down! living in mild portland after spending so much time in tahoe, i'm well prepared to be excited at the first flake. so i dragged missy into her coat to wander around and enjoy it while it lasted.
there were a couple kids trying their best to make snowballs from the small amount that was sticking. mostly people looked confused and annoyed. i think it frightened a lot of people to stay inside. at least it kept the wind down. why does snow do that? i'm sure brady has a scientific explanation.
after seeing the cezanne studio and going museuming with april and missy, i was really in the mood to appreciate how radically different the quality of light can be when falling on the same objects. it's easy to forget that objects are invisible without light. you're really looking as much at the light as the object.
we had a silly game as kids when one of us found out that a red ball looks red because that's the only color that bounces off it. so really it's blue and green and everything else but red! we'd ask adults what color things were and then make fun of them for getting it backwards. that wore off quickly.
when you look at the credits in any 3D animation there's as many lighting folks as animators or modellers. it didn't make sense until i tried doing that stuff myself. it's very not easy.
anyway, it was a nice little link into monet-world, which i usually don't appreciate that much. then the sun went down and it got cold and a lot less fun. so we went inside for some tea.
Saturday, December 24. 2005
marvelous mikl sent us my camera that i left in san francisco before we left for france (d'oh!) so i've been taking more photos than writing words lately. i managed to put a bunch up for your viewing pleasure.
a little backstory for some of the categories:
SF: i had to go back to san francisco last week to pick up my long stay visa. i hadn't given myself enough time for france to process the visa application before we had to leave, so beaurocracy being what it is i had to go all the way back to get it. worse, what we thought was a confirmed flight back somehow only ended up being a reservation, so when i got to the marseille airport at 4:30am i found out i didn't have a flight and had to buy it then and there, almost doubling the price. drat. still not sure what went wrong with that. anyway, i got the same flights i'd reserved before and it all worked out ok eventually.
it was weird to be back. i didn't want to get re-sullied with my US thoughts so i tried to lay low and off the radar, with limited success. i'm almost back into the french swing of things.
aix: all the flights to and from the US were at awful hours and required staying a night close to the marseille airport either the night before i left or the night i came back since trains and shuttles didn't run early enough. so miss and i took the opportunity to take a little trip to aix-en-provence, a little town about half an hour away. it's not as ancient as avignon, but it's very pretty.
cezanne did a lot of later work there, and we got to walk through his old studio. a little walk out of town and up a big hill overlooking the town is a small two-story building he had built. it used to be the only building on the hill back in the day, and it still has a great view. the same view of Mt. St. Victoire he used as a study over and over again. neat!
the second floor of the building was his studio. a huge sparse room painted in medium grey, with immense warehouse-style windows on the north wall for maximum light. there was a special tall skinny door to the outside that he could move the large canvases out when they were finished. the place still vibrated with the guy's spirit. i felt instantly calm and productive there and really wanted to stay. he knew a good work environment, and it's rotting fruit on the tables and pictures of naked women on the walls.
holidays: avignon is all wrapped up in bows and twinkly lights. maybe it's partly the progressive portland influence, but i really appreciate the benefits of high taxes spent well by the state. between this, the opera, and the library i feel like the normal citizen is getting a lot better value for money than say emptying the budget into halliburton's pockets. why do i pay taxes again?
missy's sister april is visiting right now. she and miss took a trip to paris while i was in SF, and we're trying to show her the sights of avignon. (there's only like five!) there's a little ice skating rink set up in front of the main market we're going to go to later on. and maybe even go to a mass tonight, for old time's sake. i still get sentimental and soft on christmas eve, and they have churches here like you wouldn't believe.
well, joyeuse fêtes, as they say!
Monday, November 14. 2005
it's maybe just the mildly autistic part of me talking now, but i'm surprised and excited to find that euro-coins have the two faces facing in the proper direction, relative to each other.
hold a US coin by the edges between two fingers so that you can spin it to compare the design on each side. most likely, you have your forefinger at the top and your thumb at the bottom, like the guy in the photo. notice that if one side is rotated correctly, when you spin it around the other side is upside-down. that always bothered me. long ago, someone had to make the decision of how the obverse (front) and reverse (back) would relate to each other. it was a tiny decision, almost without consequence, but they flubbed it and did it wrong. i only know the word obverse because this fact irritated me enough as a kid to investigate it. here in the enlightened european union, someone spent the extra time to question whether, of two seemingly equal choices, there wasn't some angle they could slice the question to come up with a deciding factor.
there are never equal choices. if it looks like it, you don't understand the situation well enough yet. for a long time, i've loved being presented with a coin-flip decision, so that i could at least come up with some arbitrary reason why one choice is the better. but hey, that's no better, really!
in writing this, for the first time in a long time, i questioned what the reasoning would be for having the reverse upside-down. well, the questioning happened as a by-product of coming up with reasons to do it like i like it. i came up with about an equal number of reasons for doing it either way. drat.
but this is good. this is one step past self-centered, past NIH. except it brings the decision nearly back to being a coin toss.
when i took my last big trip, i was writing about how iced coffee means something totally different in australia. an australian friend called me out for writing about nothing, of missing the entire point of travelling: getting deep into the culture talking to people. but claire was way more social than me. i hear her voice now in my mind, nagging, but i'm still excited by this kind of stuff. rain man still enjoyed his trip to vegas, after all.
Sunday, November 13. 2005
this year we got to witness the fascinating phenomenon of the importation of holloween.
all saints' day or toussaints is the holiday on november 1st. i know that it exists in the usa on wall calendars, but since i'm not a catholic, i have no idea how it is celebrated back home. here it is celebrated much like memorial day, by bringing flowers to dearly departed in cemeteries. there may even be a parade or procession of sorts through the graveyard.
the halloween that we know didn't exist here until very recently, and it still has a long way to go before it reaches the frenzy that exists in the us. according to the french who i spoke with about it, it's been around for less then ten years. the french have mixed opinions about halloween. they recognize it as being an american holiday and hence some view it as yet another example of the encroachment of american culture on france. hand in hand with this is halloween's strong commercial aspect: halloween came here in large part because of advertising and store merchandising. but of course it appeals to kids for obvious reasons, and so most parents are likely to go along.
in the stores there were small sections peddling pumpkins and pre-packaged witch and devil costumes. when i asked my classes what they were going as they all answered, "witch... witch... devil... witch... ghost... witch... devil."
from october 29th to 31st i stayed with a middle aged couple in béziers. the woman had bought a big bag of hard candy for the trick or treaters but when one showed up on october 30th she shushed him away, telling him to come back the next day. on halloween afternoon, about 4pm, the next-door neighbor shows up in costume, which is basically an orange trashbag with a picture of m&m's trick or treating. above the picture in black magic marker he wrote, "happy halloween," and across the bottom, "bonne halloween". it was a self-referential halloween costume.
the neighbor then invited us over to show off the halloween decorations that they had put up: a paper skeleton on the living room wall, a plastic spider clutching a bunch of stretched cotton over a corner, and "caution! risque!" yellow tape rolled out across the front of the house. the family was proud of their halloween display in a way that suggested it's novelty, in a way we might feel about having a dia de los muertos display in the usa. look! sugar skulls!
trick or treaters are not called trick or treaters. i have no idea what they are called, but i don't think they pluralize their halloween command: bonbons ou bâton, literally "candy or stick".
Monday, November 7. 2005
well, we just put the capstone on our apartment. we did it, we got a television. not because we can't live without television, but because we need to learn french. honestly, that's the real reason. our first ten days here that we were forced to live in a tiny hotel room had one benefit we were not anticipating, that is, our french comprehension shot way up from all the tv watching we were forced to do. after that the learning curve dropped sharply. and while we are immersed here in language all around us, beyond overhearing conversations, making out signs, buying groceries, and saying ca va? to our neighbors there is a limit to how much we pick up in our daily life with the amount of french that we know now. we are always upping the bar the most minute amount, and we learn just a little bit more each day. but unfortunately, unlike corey, who by the way is surprisingly well equiped in decent street/conversational french, neither of us are very adept at going-out-there-and-meet-the-french. we want to, and we hope we will by the end of this sojourn, but we are worried, as corey said it -- well, we sound like we're about five years old. that is the language level that we're at. and who would really want to hang out with a five year old? so our language is a slow aquisition.
so in the meantime, we bought a french friend. one who does't listen that well and talks a lot of garbage, but who at least will talk.
by the way, did you know jodi foster speaks french? we didn't, but we just bought the tv and turned it on and there she is, speaking french on a talk show. crazy.
Monday, October 31. 2005
corey is visiting now. he and i were talking about the french taste in food. we were eating some thin sliced dried cured ham (jambon cru) along with baguette and cheese for a pre-dinner snack. [before making a quiche -- haha, get it out of your system.]
a while ago i'd tried to categorize french food as a love for dairy fat, thinking of the sauces, cheeses, cream-based dishes, and ice cream. but the ham fit into the same taste category, and like prosciutto, is as close to butter as you can make with meat. a common sandwich is ham (really more like raw bacon) and butter. so it's really a love of subtle-flavored fat. that's not a dig: subtle as opposed to thai, which is full of coconut milk fat but heavily spiced.
but all that fat needs a compliment, which it gets in coffee and chocolate. small amounts of strong bitter acids to cut through.
starches take the third spot in the holy trinity. everything is grounded by starch. bread and potatoes are revered here. bread everyone knows about. french fries, mashed, and au gratin get more attention than i'd ever thought to give them. french au gratin potatoes are much different than betty crocker: very light and subtle. lightness shows up unexpectedly in a lot of places in food here. it's easy to make heavy fat, and just as tiring to eat. but make it fly, and you've really got something.
as a thought experiment, i was imagining what all these flavors would look like visually. rivers of tans, both warm and cold, dividing and linking fields of light creamy earthy tones, subtly varied. and the occasional dark brown or red incision. that's basically the palette of our bare apartment, and what i see in lots of old architecture around here. another nail in the coffin of coincidence? spooky.
what is not a coincidence is that the three work not just in inextricable harmony on your tongue, but also in your digestive system. you'll notice fruits and veggies aren't mentioned. since i don't drink coffee, it throws off the recipe. nature doesn't work with nearly the same regularity, if you catch my drift. i've resorted to drinking a cup now and again and riding out the buzz. oof. really no excuse since we have a great farmer's market in town. on the todo list...
Sunday, October 23. 2005
missy's been doing a little gardening lately. she bought a petite rose for 4€ and has been lovingly tending to it. it has a home in the space outside our windows where flowerboxes live. it's got a great view of the goings-on below.
all comic tropes come from somewhere, as all myths are based on truth. i took a lot of the humor i was raised on at face value, not having had the personal experience. i'll take their word for it that banana peels are slippery, guys carrying ladders are to be given a wide berth, and that french skunks are amorous.
but to lean out a third story window and look out onto a busy street, it's almost irresistable not to grab for the flowerpots.
Sunday, October 16. 2005
miss and i saw the new wallace and grommit film last night. at a totally shady cinema. we saw the 10pm show, and i think there were four people in the building total, for the five screens they had. of the other two, one sold us our tickets, the other ran the projector and smoked.
being in a movie alone is always a little spooky. moreso if only half the light bulbs work, there's no music (not even a stray cricket to break the xray blanket silence), and the walls are sticky as well as the floors. and for some reason we still whispered to each other before it started. perhaps fear.
movie trailers are audiovisual fast food burgers. we both understood the overdubbed harry potter and narnia trailers just perfectly. it's not the kind of thing you notice when it's in your own language, that the VO is speaking third grade english. i'd complain about being pandered to, but i was thrilled to understand someone speaking f r e n c h.
i'd checked out the theatre ahead of time and i was pretty sure it was going to be in english. we had fingers crossed, but i was wrong. interestingly, a lot of the shots with signs, newspapers, buttons, had it in french. they must have shot a couple versions of the backgrounds at the same time. anyway, it would have been obvious to anyone watching that we weren't native french speakers. i was killing myself at all the slapstick and visual humor but timidly chuckling ten seconds late, if at all, to anything verbal. i'm happy to have even gotten one language joke.
i really liked the movie. some excellent inventive visual gags and some good stock ones executed well. also, a good amount of cuteness. 100 bunnies on screen at a time? it worked with sheep, it works with rabbits. i think they were using some new construction materials occasionally too. i don't remember fuzzy hair in an aardman piece before. the voice acting wasn't great, but you don't have to worry about that. the english talent listed in the credits looks pretty top notch. i wonder if it would have enjoyed it less if it were in english. it's so easy to love something you're straining to understand.
Monday, September 26. 2005
we're currently staying in the cheap hotel in town since the nicer one missy set up for us ran out of space after our reservation period ended. i guess we thought we'd have a place by now.
the Etap, as it's called, is almost the same price, but, well, i'll let missy complain properly about it. when we mention to anyone in avignon that we're there, they immediately express sympathy for us, if that gives you any idea. at least it has the BBC World channel on the tv. this is just enough english to not go crazy and just repetitive enough to force us to the french channels for real entertainment and proper cultural absorbtion.
but they also have this sign by the elevator that lists all the emergency numbers, should anything untowards happen during our stay. i love the poetry of how it reads:
incident. accident. incendie. évacuation.describes in four mellifluous words the plotline of any really great evening.
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short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.