Friday, October 24, 2014

Mes Amis

It is due to people like these, and others, that I have a pretty good view of French people.

I was nervous meeting these folks -- except for the woman, I'd never talked to any of them.  They were warm and hospitable, though the youngest didn't seem to understand my French very well.

This is the friend who invited me to her wedding.  When I pointed out, at the time, that I couldn't make heads or tails of the French being spoken by one group at the reception, she laughed and said They're from Israel -- they're speaking Hebrew.

This friend, and her family, live in a quiet apartment that's only a block away from the bustling tourist area of Montmartre.  I told her that when she moves, I want that apartment.  I was not entirely joking.

Good things come in small packages.  Smart things, too.  This friend is a doctoral student at the Sorbonne.


Lille is another pretty city that gave me the feeling of quiet efficiency coupled with history.  It was pleasant to walk around the downtown area, just looking at people.  My friend asked if I wanted to go into a bookstore.  I said yes, heading towards one, and she shook her head. That's the expensive one, she said, and took me about a block away to a smaller but still well-stocked one.  Still a bit of a shock to see books in English labeled as Livres Étrangers. (Foreign books)

We went to a local restaurant called Les Trois Brasseurs (the three brewmeisters, I think).  It was kind of a burgers and beer place, and that's one of the vats that they make the beer in.
But not just burgers.

They insisted that I had to try Le Merveilleux, a hyperdense dessert.  As you can see, I didn't make much of a dent in it.

This, of course, is the entrance from the Lille metro to the Lille-Europe TGV station
Yes, really.

The Lille Europe Metro/TGV station (there are two -- the second,  Lille Flandres, is just across the street.). Nice, but if it's chilly out, wear a jacket -- the cold winds blow right through it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The nearest big city to Thourie (as far as I know!) is Rennes.  I liked it.  The place was clean, the populace was friendly (really -- as part of an exercise, I had to stop multiple people and ask directions to a well-known building or structure.  Every one of them was willing to do it.  Once, when I tried and failed to interest two people who were wearing headphones, a woman came up to me and said Sir, are you having some problems?)  and the whole place just felt approachable.  Now, maybe that's because it was the bustling downtown, and maybe the rest is awful -- but I'd go back.

Most of these are photos that we had to take to prove that we actually had found the places we were tasked to find. One of them, not so much.

Even the city logo has a clean look.

Yeah, that caught my eye.  My teacher was not amused.

Champs Libres appeared to be a kind of shopping mall, but very small.

This is the office of the mayor.  Rennes was having an exhibit of photographs taken in the area during World War Two, and unlike here, people seemed actively interested in looking at and discussing the images.

Another example of something that's actually fascinating -- they were excavating and restoring a structure that apparently was originally built in the middle ages.

It didn't even occur to me to take a photo until they were breaking it down, but this was a bike training rink where a bunch of young kids rolled under the guidance of local cops.  One person told me that on weekends, its a bustling open market.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thourie Accomodations

This is the small gîte that I stayed in during my French immersion class, near the tiny village of Thourie (about 30 minutes south of Rennes).  The accommodations were comfortable but, as you can see, pretty basic.  I came to the conclusion that gîte'' is the French word for 'this place is pretty old, and none of the appliances were purchased after 1955.'  Still, the experience was novel.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Apparently Blogger thinks my few photos of France are boring -- it won't let me upload them!

Monday, October 20, 2014


When I was in line for Customs clearance at Dulles, I noticed a sign for Global Entry users.  I had bought that, thinking it would help when I was leaving, but it didn't -- I still had to take my shoes off.  I followed the sign and found myself at a bank of six kiosks, each of which had a reader to scan my passport, and a pad where I could press four fingers for a fingerprint comparison.  I looked into a scanner, which said that yes, I appeared to be the same person. It asked me the standard customs forms questions, and then  punched out a receipt - which let me bypass the hordes of people getting off the plane who were waiting to meet a customs agent.  Hordes? Fun fact:  an A380 can hold from 500 to 800 people. And once I got my bag, that same card let me have this discussion with an agent:

Agent: Receipt?
Me: I hand it over.
Agent: Where were you?
Me: Paris.
Agent: Okay, we're done.

So it was pretty good. Except for the getting the bags part.  500 to 800 people, all clustering around a carousel, looking desperately for their bags.  Lots of uniquely colored bags, uniquely shaped bags, sliding by -- I still remember the one with the bright pink plastic shell, or the one with the bright yellow tape wrapped around it that said THIS ISN'T YOUR BAG.  But for the hundreds of pretty-much-the-same bags?  Yeah, good luck.  After a while I started to convince myself that my bag wasn't the color I thought, at all.

Why aren't luggage tags available that will, say, respond to a pocket sized transponder when they're sliding into range, within about ten feet of you?  SURELY that's possible?


What a delightful place to be. 

Even when I wake up in the middle of the night and think this room looks like my bedroom, but it can't be, because I am in France.....besides, I don't know how to say in French the name of every single thing that I see. 

It's still nice. 

Even when, just now, I thought c'est encore merveilleux.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Being sick, lost, alone in a foreign city, and not fluent in the language is a scary combination.  Having a friend who will search for you, bring you to her home (several kilometers from where Google Maps assured me it was located), feed you, and put you a taxi for your hotel is inexpressibly comforting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Shows of Force

Exactly what good does it do to have heavily-armed camo-wearing soldiers pacing through the airport?  Undercover, I can see, but otherwise, no.  They're not protection, they're targets.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some thoughts

I am capable of not realizing things that are almost intuitively obvious to other people. For example, that not everyone who uses an iPad does it because they are Apple groupies. The stuff may be overpriced, but it works. I've seen adults and kids use them in the last week, and they just work, quickly and effectively. Similarly, the tiny Apple tablet with detachable keyboard isn't the toy it appears to be. It works.

Other points of obliviousness relate to France, this trip, and me. I'm in the second week, and now that I'm not in that class any more, I'm much happier. When they said that it would be pretty much French all the time, I didn't realize that they meant exactly what they said. My head didn't ache, but it got very old very quickly to have to hesitate before a third of my sentences. I'm glad that's over.  I'm also glad to be done with the 'authentic food of Bretagne'. The others in the class gobbled it up, but as for me, not only was it inedible, the one time I did try it, my stomach revolted for much of the next few days (very glad I brought Pepto Bismol - its illegal here without a French prescription).

Now I am in Lille, staying for two days with a conversation partner, her partner, and their terrific kids, Alixe and Camille, and in addition to their other qualities, they like pizza.

Would I go back to Bretagne again? Absolutely. I very much liked the accessibility of the city of Rennes, which is beautiful (HINT: if you go, use a way-small suitcase,  because the storage area on the TGV is way-tiny.  And if you rent a car, think Volkswagen bug size, or less.)

I  wasn't actually sure that visiting the people here in Lille was a good idea, but now that I am here, I'm very glad I came, because they're very nice. I am very glad to have met them.

In two days I get to hustle/squeeze with my (relatively) massive bag onto the TGV and 90 minutes later hustle/squeeze off in Paris, where I'll meet with between one and five friends. Looking forward to that - and my return to the land of decent burgers and cold water in restaurants.