Thursday, May 26, 2005

I Am Alive, And In Perfect Hibernation

Since I got back from France, I have been in Chicago, Cedarburg, and Madison. Furthermore, I have gotten sick and started to recover.

Life in the immediate future will involve going to visit everybody and unpacking and telling heroic stories (lies) about my gigantic adventure in Europe (or, to those in the know, federal prison).

Also, I'm taking my parents to go see Star Wars. How cool is that?

Point being: if I haven't seen you lately, give me a ring or drop me an email and let's see when we can get together before I get revved up to go do Real Life again. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I Am Back from France (Did You Know I Went to France?)

Back in the States - very tired now. Walk in Wicker Park then bedtime.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bittersweet, Part II: Sweet

Well, this is it. I'm writing this in the guest bedroom of the Ferrand family in Chateau Gontier. All my furniture is out of my apartment, and I'm cleaning stuff up tomorrow with the intention of training off to Paris Sunday for the plane on Monday.

I'm pretty sure that because of (of course!) a strike I will have to take the train directly into the airport and hang there for the night in order to make sure I'm there in time for the flight. It's delightfully emblematic - my last night in France. I'm in Paris, right, the legendary City of Light, and because of a strike I'm going to have to spend the night in a concrete bunker/terminal far away from the action. Ahh, France, how you beguile me!

So today. It was another of those really good self-affirming days where everybody loves you. My favorite kind!

It started off at the stroke of midnight when I was trying to use the last few hours I had of a region 2 dvd player to get through Dancer In the Dark and this BBC Pompeii production I grabbed along with a magazine. Good stuff, but of course I was trying to watch, pack, and fret all at the same time. Difficult!

6-9 AM, sleep.

Until the dude (Sebastien) came by to help me load up the furniture I was cleaning like a madman. Rock on - after a couple of loads and a new dude who wants to immigrate to the US someday, I HAD NO FURNITURE. Here's where the fun begins.

Went to lunch with Pascal Vandergucht, Horrible Monster and teacher of Economics. We had a good talk about, you know, stuff, Norman Rockwell and reflections of idealized times that had been long in the past when the artist painted them in the first place.

But he also presented me with the coolest gift - a Swiss Army Knife to replace the one I finally had to part with at the Vatican. It was the best gesture I could have thought of. Just wonderful.

Next hours with Benoit and the others - Frederic Guichon and Annie, billions of email addresses

Quiet contemplative time on the floor chez moi after walking home in a baseball jersey with a book on my head in the rain

Book and wonderful note from Anne-Marie! She's totally on my Christmas card list.

Got back to school and grabbed a TV for Sylvie and then went to Bar de la Place to sit outside with Jerome Fretigné, Veronique Rossini, and Ginnette Ferrand. I was witty in French, and bonus that I learned some great expressions for "vomit" (poser une gallette, anyone? Hilarious!) It was a lovely time full of actual conversation and then flipping back to being weird. Everybody seems to be okay with the idea that I might come back to visit soon. Especially good was Veronique's offer - if I'm back in France one day, I should check my vacation against French scolastic vacation. She's offering her wonderful wonderful house if htey're out for a bit. Holy shit! How nice can you possibly get?

So on my way back to my apartment I ran into the entire butcher family (jean-marie Grélard) and ended up talking to the two daughters for probably 20 minutes. It was fun; they asked me if I knew about the show Charmed and it's only because they're 8 that I didn't tell them how unbelievably hot Rose McGowan is. Anyway, they're taking English classes and really want to visit America someday. Am I the only one who loves this shit? Foreign kids who really want to pack up and visit your beautiful country - I tell them DAMN RIGHT and move on to my apartment, where I'm just in time to catch a call from my Mom and tell her all the good news. We had a good talk for a couple of minutes.

Hey, I forgot to mention Benoit's going with his lovely girlfrined Florence to, oh hell, that island she's from - New Caledonia. Rock on, Benoit!

* Benoit is not in this case Benoit XVI, the Archbishop of Rome

So then off to the Ferrands, where I met Michel and neighbor Jacques in the big garage and had an apertif (porto for me, deuxieme apertif rules!) We talked about WWII and how there's not as much history in the USA as in Europe.

Then dinner, which was interrupted by Odette! and her daughter. Fantastic fun to talk to her again. It's a good full-circle thing. She said if ever came back to France and needed some laundry done I knew where to crash. They talked a lot about cats and dogs and stuff. Probably newspapers, too. Booooo-ring!

And now here I am, ready to crash out. So here I go. See you later, suckers!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I'm Back from Paris (Did You Know I Went to Paris?)

I’m back from a very successful vacation. Cathy (Ninja Warrior Princess) came to visit for a week, and we left tracks all over France, freaking out the locals wherever we roamed.

She came in to Charles de Gaulle (the airport, not the dude) last week and the time has just flown. Now she’s airborne and I’m back in Chateau Gontier. Summary time!


Got Cathy in Laval, where we visited the splendid botanical gardens and met baby goats. They were in a petting zoo, but the little guys were sticking close to the pack in the middle so we did not, strictly speaking, pet them. No matter; when baby goats say b-a-a-a-a-a I cannot resist the fact that they are completely adorable. I know this makes me weak but I cannot help it. After goats we came to Chateau Gontier, ate some good pizza, and crashed out at my apartment.


Chateau Gontier again. We also have baby goats here in my town, and this time we got to pet them. Goats here are affection junkies. Right after the goats we went for a quick walk down by the river to visit the horses. They were just being horses, walking around and eating and doing horse stuff. After Cathy and I talked nonchalantly for a couple of minutes by the fence, they came round - but only to eat, of course. Certainly not because they were curious. So our two groups ignored each other companionably for a few minutes: the horses with delectable munchy grass and Cathy and I with talking about Final Fantasy. But they were close enough to touch. Good stuff.

We made our way down to the school in the evening, where the teachers had a little going-away reception for me. It was one of the best things all week. Details later.


Enough Chateau Gontier! Cathy and I hired a helicopter* and sped* our way north to the pirate town of Saint Malo. I have described this before - it is a walled city that was designed to repel serious assault, and it is breathtaking. The walls on the outside are complete and in good shape. They separate the rocky coast and bay from the rather posh botique-ridden inside. Tourists throng inside, but we were hardcore and spent most of the time clambering on rocks outside. We were so hardcore, in fact, that even as the wind picked up and the rain started to fall we took off our shoes and waded into the English Channel. Just like in the Mediterranean Sea, I was Huck Finn. Cathy only needed to gather her skirt, so I guess score a point for girls. But it was a fantastic experience and we got to taste a little bit of the power that is the weather over the sea. When Mother Nature brings a storm to this place, I bet she brings her A-game. Anyway, we rule.

Further adventures include me climbing way out to the inaccessible rocks (no, not the dangerous ones, Mom) and being all satisfied with myself until I came across what looked like a used condom. Clearly there are two someones harder-core than I. Also I did manage to slip and tear a hole in the knee of my pants and then bleed on them a little, which sucks because I always liked climbing and I’ve always thought I was good at it. It’s like trading in a perfectly good pair of pants for a brand new sense of failure. No fun. Anyway, Saint Malo continues to be a fantastic place to go. So go!


Enough Saint Malo! Cathy and I invented underwater jetpacks* and rocketed* to the Mont Saint-Michel, which is one of the seven wonders of the world and, I believe, the only one I’ve been to twice. To recap: imagine the middle of nowhere. Now take away the hills. And the trees. And the grass. In fact, imagine a bunch of mud, perfectly flat for a long way in every direction. Pretty empty, yeah? Now in your mind’s eye plunk down a 300-foot hill with a bigass cathedral on top of it. Impressed? You will be if you go there. If you, as we did, pay your way into the cathedral and walk all the way to the top of it you will look down on circling birds and 500 foot drops and beautiful gardens. If you’re lucky you’ll see the tide come in. Did you know that Victor Hugo once said that the tide coming in could outrun a horse? This place is worthy of the wonder-of-the-world title.


This was mostly a travel day. Thursday and Friday were both holidays (Ascension, I think). France shuts down on holidays and so we had Wild Adventures trying to get back to Chateau Gontier - eventually accomplished with the help of Charline and David, two of the lovliest French people you will meet. Back in C-G we scored three types of cheese and some of the best strawberries ever (picked no more than three days ago) at the Thursday market. Then we had us some lunch and regrouped for more travel. Some gnomes gave us an ornithopter* and we strapped on our goggles and flapped* into Paris*.


This was the Big Day in Paris. We swung by Notre Dame on our way to the Louvre. There we saw TOO MUCH STUFF. My head just kind of swelled and told me to stop looking at stuff otherwise it was going to have to dump my brain in a corner somewhere. Before I gibbered to a complete mental halt I saw the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. Winged Victory: Awesome. Mona Lisa: Very small, overshadowed by the crowds jammed around it taking pictures. Any dead curators lying in pools of blood? Nope. So we left and walked directly from the Louvre down the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Did we go up to the top? Yes, we did! I really loved looking at Paris in springtime from such a great vantage point. I figured out where all the major landmarks are and just generally enjoyed the wind and the sun and the fact that I was in Paris. Epic.

We took from the Arc the street that pointed straight at the Eiffel Tower and on our way passed by the Place des Etats-Unis (this basically means USA Place). It’s kind of tucked away, not far from the river, and it has a little park in the middle. Moms and dads and tons of kids playing, sunlight and a tiny breeze, no traffic. We found a patch of grass and busted out my Best Frisbee Ever, the portable Royal Observatory fold-up number that I bought in Greenwich. This bit is possibly my favorite part. In between all the epic events of Paris - just me and an old friend playing frisbee on a beautiful day in a beautiful park in the middle of the City of Light. Doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

But of course we still needed to get to the Tower. We finished our walk and bought tickets from a fast-moving line at the base of the West Leg. I’ve noticed over the course of my time in France that I have a fear of heights that flares up whenever I’m WAY TOO FAR UP IN THE AIR, so I was a little nervous about going all the way up this vertical monstrosity. But up, up, up we went. At the first platform (which is going to be the beach volleyball location if Paris gets the 2012 Olympics) we had to wait in line for a long time, but when we finally got into our elevator it was a hell of a reward. I got used to being so far up at the top, and then we got to see the sun go down over La Défense and watched day melt into night. This part I can’t actually describe. All I can really say is that I didn’t want to leave, even when we’d been at the Tower for 3 hours and seen basically everything there was to see. What kind of magic is this? I guess you call it Paris, yeah?

Last thing about the Tower: it’s just packed with strobe lights. Every hour or two they all go off at random intervals. The whole thing sparkles for 10 or 15 minutes. We waited on the platform of the Trocadero for the lights to go. At exactly midnight, they did. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle its metal heart out, then we grabbed the métro back to the hostel and enjoyed the feeling of a trip well spent.

* Actually, we took a train [BACK]
* It was kind of slow [BACK]
* A couple of buses, actually [BACK]
* The slowest rocketing you’ve probably ever seen [BACK]
* No, they didn’t [BACK]
* Complete fabrication [BACK]
* At least this part is true [BACK]