Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ski report

After two days of instruction, and two days on my own, I’ve decided that skiing the slopes is more effective on my own. It frees the ski instructor up to yell at the other skiers, and I’m not as likely to be knocked down by someone in my own group. I’m still slow and cautious and getting a bit more comfortable on the blue runs. I like going my own pace and stopping or not stopping where I like. The lessons did help me find out where some skiable terrain was, however. There is one section high on the mountain that I’ve been descending on my bottom. I make it look like so much fun that almost everyone on the slopes wants to slide on down, but they’re afraid of looking silly, so they remain upright.

Sean has been getting into the wild by hiking alpine paths with beautiful vistas.

Q is now signed up for all day ski classes in order to enjoy skiing at his level for a full day. Every time I happen across M during my skiing, she looks sad and wants to go home with me. The last time it was because her pigtails were interfering with her helmet and causing her ears to hurt, which we fixed. However, by the time M arrives home, she is fired up and eager to ski with me in the afternoon. She knows I’m a bit neurotic on the slopes, but she waits at the bottom for me. The kids are really enjoying themselves both on the slopes and at the dinner and breakfast table. The food has been tasty- some savory Savoyard specialties.

Tonight we were treated to a spectacle during dinner. Skiers with torches descended a long slope on a nearby mountain, and afterwards there was quite a fireworks display.

I like the people in our ski area, Plagne 1800, they are average folks. No fur coats, fancy skiwear or beauty ski bunnies. Very friendly and always willing to strike up a conversation.

We are heading back to Paris a little early. We are going to take the “couchette” Friday evening that gets us into Paris at 6:30 AM. There are two bunk beds in the couchette on which we hope to get some sleep. We’ll see about that. I have visions of night marauders busting into our cabin in the wee hours trying to take our ski gear away from us.

Let the skies open up and send snow onto the mountain. It hasn’t snowed in weeks, other than a few flurries today. Each day we take the lift, more ground is revealed where the snow has melted away. So far, the runs have been unaffected, but there’s nothing like fresh snow for skiing. It lessens that horrible crunching sound that those #*@! snowboarders make as they come to a screeching stop or crash centimeters from my skis. Actually, on the serenity slope that I skied earlier today, there were few snowboarders or really anyone at all on the slopes.

After all, JP Sartre would agree that hell is other skiers.

*More pictures at a later date

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Here I go again

All I can say about today’s skiing, is thank goodness no one I knew was in my class. I was in rare screaming form which includes a gutteral, I’m going to die scream as well as a string of profanities scream. I’m not proud of this, it’s how I am at certain low times however.

The kiddies had a great time. We were conservative in the groups we placed them in, and they each were soon moved into a more skillful group. They enjoyed the level of skiing and are eager to return tomorrow, which is more than I can say. I could learn a lot from my kids, but I probably won’t.

The day began with a buffet which always makes anyone with Schweitzer in them very happy. There were croissants, yogurts, cheeses, boil your own eggs, bagettes, cereals, fruit and fruit compote, as well as juices and hot beverages. A great beginning to the day.

I started out skiing okay, but as we went on, I feel I got worse, maybe because the runs got a little harder- but not much. As we headed down a more difficult run, if we stopped at all along the way, my panic would set in, my brain would shut down, and my legs would stop dead in their tracks. It’s a real treat to be my instructor, or in my class.

After a respite for lunch, Q and I headed back out and we tried to navigate back down without going down anything too too hard. Q is amazed at just how incompetent I am on skis. We finally made it back down, but Q realized he would rather sign up for classes in the afternoon than be tortured by me, and I’m totally with him. I was just glad to make it down alive, removing my boots and sliding on my bottom only once. I’m going to wear a different hat tomorrow so no one remembers me.

On a lovelier note, last night the stars were absolutely gorgeous. The alpine skies without a lot of city lights offered a sea of stars.

Here's to a new day tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Les Alpes

Thus begins our week of skiing in the Alps. Doesn’t it sound scary? Skiing in the Alps. I’m mostly a green (in more ways than one) skier, and the thought of skiing part of the famous mountain chain makes me quite nervous. Those who have had the experience of skiing with me know that I like control (yeah!) when I ski. Never going too fast, I make lots of turns with my skis in a continuous wedge shape, and I sort of lean into the mountain, which is totally wrong and makes me the biggest dork on any slope. As you can imagine, no one much likes to ski with me. I even had a foul-mouthed (that’s a lot coming from me) Vietnam vet ski instructor give up on me. But despite me neuroses, I have gotten a bit better.

We had an enjoyable train ride to our destination of Aime/La Plagne, of just under five hours. The route was very scenic with little towns at the base of hills and later mountains, complete with church steeples and farms with sheep and cows. We passed beautiful waterways, some wide and peaceful and others mere streams where one might see gnomes carrying firewood. I noticed gardens along the way growing lettuce and chard.

After a bus ride of 30 minutes we arrived at La Plagne 1800, so called because of its elevation. We are definitely in a beautiful setting, with mountains all around accented with pine trees and ski lifts.

During our tasty pork and duck dinner we finally had time to fold out the map of the slopes, the exciting beginning of any ski trip. I looked and looked and looked some more, but just couldn’t find les pistes vertes. Being a newer skier, it’s very important to locate the green runs, especially on a new mountain in a new country, because they’re the easiest. We chose this area because it said there were 12 green runs, maybe 30 blue, and frankly, I didn’t care about the other colors, because we all know I’m not going down ‘em. Finally, I see about a centimeter length of green run. That’s it? Now, I’m really nervous. Either I’m going to spend 6 days going down un centimetre of green run 30,000 times, or I’m going to break my neck going down a scary blue run. At least that’s what my brain tells me. It has been wrong in the past, and I can only hope it is wrong again.

Let the adventure begin.

Monday, 18 February 2008

La Tour Bonickhausen?

Q's first "research paper" is due tomorrow. He chose Gustave Eiffel as his subject for obvious reasons. Later, after learning about DaVinci's inventions, he wished he had researched DaVinci instead. Eiffel was pretty cool himself, however.

Facts you may not know about Eiffel or his tower:
Eiffel was born in Dijon with the surname Bonickhausen, but his parents later changed it to Eiffel as the French had a hard time pronouncing his name.
He was not always a good student, but did come away with a degree in Chemistry.
Eiffel worked on the structure for the Statue of Libery.
He worked on the Panama Canal, and was purportedly the first to think of putting a tunnel under the Eiffel Tower and a train system under Paris.
The Eiffel Tower is actually painted three different colors, getting darker from bottom to top, so that it looks uniform.
The completion of the Eiffel Tower was a builder's dream: on time, no mistakes and no accidents. Imagine.

Enjoy pictures that we (mostly my son) took.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Morning on the Mont

We scurried out to see the tide at about 8:30,and it had come in around Mont St. Michel, making it almost an island. High tide was scheduled for 9:17, so we again went to the front gates to watch it rise.

After breakfast we toured the Abbey which is at the top of Mont St. Michel. We happened in during mass, so the kids and I stayed. Q and M even carried candles up at offertory with other children. The sound of voices singing in that space was spectacular.

Sean hooked up with his buddy Luke who shared some interesting details about the Abbey with us.

Too soon it was time to go, and we headed back out with the tide. Along the way, we passed many pedestrians making the "pilgrimmage" to the Mont just like in the past.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Bring back the franc!

Mark your calendars, all you franc lovers. On Sunday there will be a demonstration to bring the franc back as the currency in France. I have to admit that if I'm anywhere in the area, I'll be stopping in, as I do miss the franc. I especially miss the 50 franc piece that featured St. Exupery, and his character the Little Prince.

The franc may be out of sight, but not out of mind. At an art opening, I overheard two Parisiennes talking about the price of produce and how it has increased significantly recently. They were comparing prices in francs, not in euros, which I found endearing. Vive le franc!

Mont St. Michel at evening high tide

As night fell, the tide of tourists slid back out the gates of Mont St. Michel, and a wonderful quiet enveloped the city. What a joy it was to be in this walled city in February, when there are very few people spending the night inside.

We headed to the northern most wall to watch the tide come in. Curiosly enough, we heard the tide approaching before we saw it. We cupped our ears and heard the sound of waves breaking, and the sound grew nearer and nearer. We began to also hear the calls of seagulls, who, my husband guessed, had been advancing with the tide to catch some fish there were caught in the rushing waters. There were at first about seven other people out there with us, then three, and then just the four of us. The fortress was ours for the night. The stars in the sky were fabulous.

Once the tide did come in, it was indeed "galloping" as Hugo wrote. We raced the tide to the front of the walled fortress to see the water approaching the front gates. The kids had a great time watching how high the tide got, just passing the opening of the front gates. The water had gotten so high, it covered the pedestrian bridge that normally allowed it's users to stay dry. Many people jumped over the puddle, or were carried by their partners. Soon, it was too deep to cross. I took pride in telling the people that the tide was just about at its peak and the bridge should be crossable in about a half an hour. And then we discovered another exit which we revealed to people who thought they were stranded.

Hungry, thirsty and tired, we ordered onion soups and a plate of frites to top off our spectacular evening. I waited behind to pay the bill and walked back through the deserted streets. What a special night.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

A walk on the bay

After we walked up the curvy narrow streets to find our hotel room, we headed back outside to walk on the bay at low tide. Next to the bay were signs warning us of the potential dangers, including quicksand, which I of course took very seriously. Acquaintances in Paris and the people at the tourist office recommended a guided tour because it is more safe. But there were no more tours for the day, so we headed off on our own.

We took off our shoes and sank our toes into the cold wet sand, which was not actually sand at all, but silt. It was very slickery.

There were no more people around which made me nervous. The kids were given strict orders to stay behind us. We had self-imposed orders to follow the footprints of those that had gone before. At times, we could not see any footprints, and after a long stint of not seeing any, I declared it was time to turn around.

Sean and the kids made a big smiley face in the sand. While waiting, it felt like there were worms crawling on my feet. I looked closely at my feet, and indeed, tiny little worms? were crawling on my feet. Rather disgusted, I proclaimed, "Okay, time to head back." It was cool, however to see Mont St. Michel from another view with the sun setting behind it.

We washed our feet off in a little puddle left over from high tide, which I now realize was very dirty water. Soon enough we'd wash them in our room inside Mont St. Michel. It was nice to be staying there.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Happy Birthday Sean!

Along with the other throngs of people sending messages by phone and email, I thought I'd give my spouse a happy birthday shout.

We celebrated his big day first by dining at the Jules Vernes on the Tour Eiffel. The food was really tasty and there was an overriding theme of froth. The little precursory taste of lobster was in a foamy froth, which was light and tasty. Our cauliflower veloute was but a tiny avocado souffle in a cloud of froth until they brought the steamy soup and poured it on the froth. A very cool effect, and delicious. My entree of fish was also on a sea of froth and champignons. I was actually surprised that our carmel pastry dessert was not resting on a bed of froth. A sweet bed of egg whites could have been easily whipped into froth, I think it was an oversight. Overall, a tasty meal, and a gorgeous day to spend overlooking the city of light.

For dinner, Misplaced and Dodging Lions joined us along with DL's beautiful wife, Julie. The kids performed a skit wherein they dressed up like their dad and did a very silly dance. We had a Corsican veal stew with moelleux au chocolat for dessert. Quite a fun night.

Magical Mont St. Michel

This week's posting will be details of our weekend at Mont St. Michel. During our last visit, there was only time for a brief looksee, and it left us wanting more.

After studying the calendar and tide schedule, it looked like the weekend of February 9th-10th would be a great time to catch the tides at reasonable hours. Saturday night, the tide was scheduled to peak at 9:02, and Sunday morning at 9:17. There are days and weeks in which the tide doesn't come in at all, so we figured we would be very lucky to catch the tide at night and in the morning.

We booked a room about a month and a half ago, and set out on Saturday at 10:30 AM in a rental car. It was a beautiful journey through the countryside, and as we approached Mont St. Michel, small farms with sheep and haystacks were a common sight. It was about a 3 1/2 hour trip in all. You could see Mont St. Michel beckoning in the distance, and I thought about Dorothy finally seeing the majesty of Oz.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Ah, l'architecture!

A friend recently posted about going to Nice to escape the "monotony of the buildings" in Paris. Personally, I think the buildings are exquisite. You be the judge. Don't forget to click on the image to enlarge it.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Super Tuesday in Paris

You could feel the excitement today at the American Church where the democratic global primary was being held. Between noon and 10 P.M. Americans could vote for their favorite democratic candidate.

Unlike the usual voting booths in the U.S., here in Paris voters sat at a table and filled out a paper which asked for name, address and phone number. To select the candidate of choice, a box needed to be checked. No hanging chads here. A good old-fashioned check mark in a box.

I saw my painting teacher and we discussed at the voting table how hard it was this year to choose a favorite in the primary. Many of us were torn between Hillary and Obama. I convinced an American who was visiting from Brussels to come in and vote. What I was actually doing was stalling, because I honestly couldn't decide who to choose.

This young woman was at the table having difficulty also. We talked about Hillary and Obama for a little bit, and through discussing it, we were able to finally check a box. That's what I loved most about voting here in Paris. The fact that we could sit down at the voting table and discuss the candidates up to and even after we finally checked that box.

The excitement continues as the results from the States start coming in. This is a scene from the election returns party which took place at 67 rue Pierre Charron. It's an exciting time, potentially voting for our first female or black President. This is the first time that the oversees voters will be sending delegates to the Democratic National Convention. May the best candidate win!

Fat Tuesday

While walking down the street, I glanced at a couple of teenagers kissing in a doorway. Not too unusual until I noticed the wardrobe. The boy was wearing what looked like prison-striped pyjamas and the girl was wearing pyjamas under a robe. They both were sporting slippers. The building didn't look like a hospital or nut ward. I wanted to take a picture, but kept staring instead. Next, I passed a black angel scurrying down the street with a fabulous pair of black feathered wings. It could be a coincidence I thought. Soon after, I passed a girl with a blue face. I figured there must be a high school play in the neighborhood.

My teacher mentioned picking up her disguised son at school. Finally it dawned on me. "Oh, the students here wear costumes to school for Mardi Gras?", I said aloud. "Yes, they do, and they parade on the street as well if weather permits," she explained to the slow learner.

On my way home were more fun costumes, and I asked the kids if I could take their pictures. They were more than happy to pose. A peace-loving hippie is a popular costume the world over.

I'll quit tomorrow

Last night I was filled with dread and started my usual avoidance routine which involves actually cleaning up around the house and doing laundry. To most people (as well as myself most of the time), this is just part of the day, or the part that is normally avoided. For me, it's a desperate attempt to escape what I really needed to do.

What I should have been doing:
Send out a girl scout related email (why did I get involved?).
Rehearse my lines for today's theatre class.

After maxing out on the laundry, I finally sent off the email. Not so painful.

However, as for the lines I needed to memorize, I launched into my other mode of coping: deciding I'll just quit. It's too hard. It's taking too much of my time. I'm just cheap entertainment for the other people in my class (my bad accent AND bad acting must be amusing). As you can imagine, this just sent me spiraling downward, filling me with negative energy.

I decided to at least look at the scenes I needed to study. It turned out there were only two scenes, as opposed to three as I originally thought, and the scenes weren't as long as I feared.

After reading through the script, I realized, I have the b---- role in each scene. Now mind you, in real life, it is not hard for me to really get into this role. But the characters in this scene weren't acting how I wanted them to act. It was hard to portray them as my teacher wanted us to. I was a little irritated with her. I kept thinking "that's not how I would do it in real life!" And of course I wondered, why am I the be-ahtch everytime? That could also be a philosophical question, but there's not time right now.

Finally it dawned on me, "that's why it's called ACTING, you sensitive little bull head". So I need to act like a neurotic family member, which if I recall, I can do pretty well in real life. I think part of the problem is that we are working from a Woody Allen movie, and his female characters leave a lot to be desired.

But here goes.

Monday, 4 February 2008

The fun of immersion education

This is to balance out my last report on the kids' schooling- the perils of immersion education.

Today our daughter came skipping out of school with this darling little recipe. It is a simple French cucumber salad.

Upon arriving home, M. eagerly washed her hands and we set out to follow the recipe. I would read out "épluche le concombre", and she would diligently scrape the green skin off. There were no quantities given, so she just added what she felt was right. After all four ingredients were combined, my little chef said, "it's better if they soak a while in the dressing." By the time dinner was served, they were quite perfect.

Our son has been busy adding drawings to his history text, as well as learning how to conjugate avoir, être and -er verbs. Every couple of weeks he is given a French song to sing. The song for the past two weeks is actually a poem by Jacques Prévert, set to music by Joseph Kosma and sung by Yves Montand. It's quite a long poem, and we listened to the song to try and make it easier, but it's a tricky one in terms of tune and rhythm. Little Q. is on his own for this one.