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, 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.
Monday, November 14. 2005
there are a number of little mosaics around centre ville avignon, all depicting old 8-bit computer game characters. this one is a pacman ghost ("inky", i believe) affixed looking out into the main square of the pope's old palace. it's got a great view of all the touristy comings and goings. it's a nice little counterpoint to the ancient surroundings.
not-coincidentally i came across this blog entry about how space invaders enemies were based on wells' war of the worlds. small world.
smaller when a comment to the blog entry points to the website of an artist who likes to put up tile representations of old video game characters all over the world. like in avignon. (quicktime)
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".
Tuesday, November 8. 2005
i keep forgetting you guys don't know where we live.
this is a shot of our building. we're above a store that sells 250€ men's shoes. i'm not sure why we're allowed to live here. you can walk three doors down to a fancy restaurant/club that has 12€ cocktails. i don't think we'll ever go there. but people do, and they come out smashed at 1:30 in the morning. people like to get stumbly and loud around here. and we like to watch them from the window above. we like to get stumbly and loud too, but we can't afford it. beers are 5€ at a bar. a bottle of wine at home is 3€. as a result, we have to do our recycling often.
this is miss in front of our big wooden door. you can't open it with the weight of your body. you put the key into a small slot on the right and turn and a big creaky electric door opener grinds for 30 seconds and grudgingly opens up for you. honestly i fell in like with the apartment before i ever saw the inside because of this door. there's a whole chapter in Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong about the french love of grandeur. the door is it and i love it.
this is a plane tree. they're all over the place and have really beautiful bark. apparently they're the same thing as sycamore trees. i'm not sure if they're special or not, but my pop was asking about them and i just found out what they are. they line the quaintest-of-the-quaint street, Rue de Teinturiers, that you'll see if you visit here, next to a small canal with water wheels. then you'll like them too.
Saturday, October 8. 2005
the monks moved on long ago. now, the place is part museum, part writer-hermitage. this is a shot at the back of the main chapel. the area near the altar has fallen (or been bombed) away, and now gives a beautiful view of the castle iforgetwhat on the hill. rock doves* fly around the inside and perch on the stonework. in the walls, halfway up, are what looks like large empty earthernware jugs embedded to their rims, gaping out. the tour notes for the room indicate they were intended to capture the echoes that i'm sure plagued this huge stone box. i doubt they had much effect, but i'm curious. missy and i are dealing with the realities of large acoustically reflective spaces in our apartment, and i'm anxious for any suggestions.
just outside is a garden with trees bearing fruit i've never seen before. the fruit look like lemon-sized pumpkins, and are undoubtedly either yummy or deadly. i spend some time trying to learn the french names for herbs using my limited ranger plant-identifying skills and the little signs near each plant.
theatre is very big in avignon, as a result of jean vilar starting his festival here in the forties. the french government gives grants to writers of all kinds to live for a time in the old monk's cells in chartreuse and produce what they will. we walked through one restored cell on our tour of the grounds, and even in the state it was in in the 1600s it was enviable. they were basically small two story row houses, with secluded private herb gardens in the back (in the shape of a cross, of course) and a common quadrangle in the center. extremely serene. i was ready to sign up for a life of peace and quiet and the occasional penitence. miss and i couldn't quite figure out how to sneak her around convincingly as a man though.
missy took the above photo for when i publish my first novel.
Friday, September 30. 2005
this morning we got into our place, but for only an hour while the electric man came to turn on the power and the realtor did the inspection. i see for the first time, under light, that the bathroom is a pretty beat. years of grime have found their way deep into the grout work of the little pink tiles, in fact, it's seems that under light there is dirt cakes on all the tiles in the house. and in the toilet room (the bathroom and wc are often in separate rooms here; this is a good thing for us), well, there is a rusty patina etched so strongly in the bowl as if someone dropped a bunch of pennies in there decades ago and they decayed in there. this dampened my enthusiasm for the place somewhat, i must admit. were we too hasty? are we paying too much?
tonight we saw a debussy & shostakovitch quartet at the chapelle des pénitents blancs (church of guilty white people?). though everyone but us was decked up and over 60, it was only 6 euros (we claimed the student rate) to get in. seth enjoyed himself immensely, but while i found the musicians to be amazing, and the chapel a perfect venue for the quartet, the music's dichromatic tones gave me anxiety and i left needing therapy.
Wednesday, September 28. 2005
our bank appointment was at 9am. the monsieur that scheduled the appointment and another mademoiselle help us set up our account. between our limited french and their limited english we manage to finish an hour and a half later with a joint checking account, and a carte bleu/visa/debit cart. there are lots of fees associated with french bank accounts. (as i'm learning, there are a lot of fees associated with everything here.) there were fees for my bank card and a different type of fee for seth's bank card, a fee for opening the account, a fee for automatic payments, a fee for checks, a fee for internet connection. oh, but there are no fees for using other banks atm machines. so to spite them i will never use theirs. ever!
we come back to the etap hotel to take a nap. the etap is where we've been staying for the past few days since our first hotel was booked. it's close and the same price, but the room is barely big enough for the uncomfortable bed. and it has a 1985 mauve and green trimmed decor. it's incredibly ugly. and everything in it is the lowest quality they could find. the shower curtain looks like a trash bag with loops, and how is 9 square feet of plastic supposed to keep water in the tub anyway? i wake up with brush burns from the sandpaper sheets. my face hurts. seth's back hurts. the worst thing is that it's nearly completely automated. you check in with a kiosk outside and slip of paper shoots out with your room number and 6 digit code. there's one guy that works a short shift in the mornings and evenings, but otherwise you're at the mercy of a sleep machine. "open the pod bay doors, HAL."
at least we have bbc on the telly.
Wednesday, September 28. 2005
it's truly beautiful here. to my outsider's eyes, it's quintessential french to a degree that feels almost disney. i expect a tiny careening renault to finally roll a 1 and clip a stone building as it navigates a turn, revealing merely styrofoam beneath the precisely weathered patina.
there will be many more photos if we ever get a decent camera, or i'll just start scanning in postcards. it's pretty overwhelming to see and be inside.
the reason for this photo, this corner in particular (though you can't read it), is that it's near the apartment it looks like we're getting, and that it's named after the new member of the meyers family. we thought she'd like to see that she already has 400 year old streets named after her
Wednesday, September 28. 2005
we wake up and head for la poste/western union to pick up the money that seth's parent's have hopefully sent. that was our best idea. the next best idea involved maxing our daily atm withdrawls for about a week and hoarding the money at the etap. have i mentioned how much we need up front to get a place? in france, you typically get an apartment through an agency and they take a hefty finders fee, usually less then a months rent, but our chi chi agency charges more. then there's first months rent, and a security deposit of two months rent. also taxes, renters insurance, paper fees. so we have a huge stack of money we're carrying and i'm nervous. but we make it unmugged, and we sign all the paperwork and viola, the place is nearly ours. but not yet. we are informed that we will have to wait until the first of the month. afterwards, i realize that i have been bitten alive the night before by mousquitos.
Tuesday, September 27. 2005
all last evening and all this morning and afternoon we tried to figure out how to get the money for the apartment. we have the money, but no way to get it out of our american bank account on time. so we have some pastis at a bar and think about it.
later i got yelled at for strolling in and using another bar's restroom. they're pretty touchy about that stuff here. oh, and i stepped in dog merde (which is everywhere, everywhere i tell you) and dragged it into an internet cafe.
Monday, September 26. 2005
it's a nice square. there is a big old church (ho hum), an artist supply store (maybe i should try sketching again), Pizza Rapido (yet to try), and two doors down is The Koala Bar. we can't go in there because missy used the restroom without buying anything once and got yelled at. it's ok, the place is bright pink with curvy plastic things everywhere and constant europop. if portland's Tube bar is the man, the Koala is the woman. they would have a torrid disaffected relationship.
also is a homeless guy on crutches. he was here yesterday too. he has a game: he stumbles around, overtly disabled, until a pretty girl walks by. then he drops his crutches in her path. one time in ten, she helps him. actually, those aren't bad odds. for a moment i'm jealous.
(i apologize if any java hacker gets the joke caption. some things, no matter how hard we try, are stuck in our brains.)
Saturday, September 24. 2005
so it seems that we have some time to kill. we went to the tourist office for brochures, then take a bus across the river villaneuve, a small provincial town on a hill. we got off the bus at a huge flea market with beautiful antiques and european trinkets. we can't afford most of it, but covet it all. we have lunch at a place, some cheese melted on bread item, good, but not 8€ of good. i buy 250g of olives from a woman at an olive cart for 1.95€. it is my first experience with the metric system. we don't finish the olives, and we won't for days.
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short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.