lundi 22 juin 2009
A windy mistral day in Provence...
Waiting for the bus after work...
When suddenly, a window that had been left open in the building across the street slams shut, the glass breaking and falling down onto the street and sidewalk below...

Before I moved to Provence, I had heard tales of the legendary MISTRAL.
The wind that you can apparently blame everything on.
Late for a dinner party? Sorry, I got held up by the Mistral.
Go nuts and shoot your spouse? Sorry, but the howling of the Mistral drove me to it.
Forgot to do your homework? Sorry, but the Mistral blew it away.
Get caught kissing someone else? Sorry, but the Mistral just blew me onto to her/him.

According to Wikipedia:
The summer mistral
The summer mistral, unlike the others, is created by purely local conditions. It usually happens in July, and only in the valley of the Rhone and on the coast of Provence. It is caused by a thermal depression over the interior of Provence (The Var and Alpes de Haute-Provence), created when the land is overheated. This creates a flow of air from the north toward the east of Provence. This wind is frequently cancelled out close to the coast by the breezes from the sea. It does not blow for more than a single day, but it is feared in Provence, because it dries the vegetation and it can spread forest fires.

Before moving here, I had also heard tales of pioneer women in the US, left alone out in log cabin and going bonkers just listening to the wind all day long. I thought "that's crazy- that could never happen"
But after four years here, I can understand how it might happen.

Anyway, back to my story of the Rain O'Glass.

After the first pane of glass broke, I kept a wary eye on the slamming window across the street. Where is that darn bus?
Another crash! and the entire rest of the glass panel came crashing down.
A worker finally came and removed the now-empty window frames, but all the rest of the windows had been left open, ready to be slammed by the wind.

There were a few of us waiting for the bus, and we saw a group of people about to pass under the building. We were waving and yelling at them to not pass on that side of the sidewalk, but just at that moment a bus came by.
A man with a baby in a stroller understood something at least was amiss, so he crossed the street, but an elderly lady just stopped and stared at us uncomprehendingly. She finally moved on, probably wondering what those younguns were ahollerin' about.
Here is a lesson- maybe if a bunch of people are yelling and waving at you to move away, maybe you should move because maybe you are in the "Risk of Being Bisected" Zone. Don't stop right in the middle and try to figure out what is going on- move out of the way and then figure it out because you might be about to receive a shard of glass in your neck.

The worker (they are renovating the building) locked up and left, without securing all the windows. As he walked away, another window slammed and a pane of glass fell down onto the sidewalk and narrowly missed him.

Next time the wind is blowing, I think I will be very aware of possible danger from above.
dimanche 21 juin 2009
My first two summers here in Provence, 2005 and 2006, I thought I was going to die from the heat. When we went to Bretagne in August 2005, it was a relief- finally, a break from the heat.
The next two summers, 2007 and 2008, were tolerable.
Hot? Yes.
I'm-just-gonna-sit-in-my-underwear-in-front-of-the-fan-all-day-long? No.

I'm afraid it goes in two-year cycles.

I can always tell how the summer is going to be by when we have to mount the fan on our bed.

Yes, we have a custom, integrated temperature-controlled bed.
That sounds way classier than "fan strapped to our bed", right?

Every year, after a few nights of restless sweatiness, we decide to break out the fan and attach it, using bandanas, to our bed. We have air conditioning, but the way it is positioned, the air doesn't really make it into our bedroom. Otherwise, I suppose we could sleep in the living room, but when I get up and get ready for work I would disturb Alain.

These past summers we didn't have to install the fan until mid-June.
This year? End of May.

Sometimes we leave it on all night, sometimes we stop and start it.
The only problem is that I can't stand the actual cool air blowing on my skin, so I have to sleep under a sheet, which slightly defeats the purpose.
So I am afraid it is going to be a long hot summer here in Provence.

On the other hand, the official start of summer (according to me) wasn't until Friday. That is when I first heard the sound of the cigales (or cicadas), which is later than normal. It is sound that has very much come to represent, in my mind, the sound of summer in Provence.
jeudi 11 juin 2009
In honor of Poppy Fields, I am posting some photos of a promotional event by Kenzo for their perfume Flower.

They installed a field of 200,000 (or so they said, I didn't bother to count) fake poppies in the middle of the Place de la Republique in Lyon, the Saturday that we were there.

They were handing out scented postcards and at the end of the day were giving the poppy flowers away. I think every woman (except me) in Lyon had a bouquet of them.

mercredi 10 juin 2009
On our final day in Lyon, we got going at, yep, yet again, 11. It was a cloudy, windy day.
We checked out of our hotel and walked away from the Centre Ville, towards the Musée Lumière.
And walked. And walked.

I'm hungry! Where are all the boulangeries for goodness sakes? Aren't the Lyonnais, by definition, French and therefore big bread eaters? Good grief.

We finally got to this museum, only to see that it was closed on Mondays. Argh. We decided to walk around the garden, which was open and had signs up. Then we saw that the museum was in fact open, so we went in.
The Lumière brothers helped to invent movies at the end of the 19th century. The museum was great, and we spent a good two hours. They had a large exhibition of early films, cameras, projectors, etc. There was an interesting movie, but we only saw a part of it. We probably would have stayed longer, but it was getting on towards one, and we still hadn't eaten and had a train to catch.
(Picture of us in front of an early 20th century photograph of the Vieux Port of Marseille)

We started to walk towards the train station, and stopped for lunch at the classic McDo. The gastronomic capital of France and we eat twice at McDonalds. I think I have had my fill for the summer.

We then continued on to Part Dieu train station, caught our TGV a little after 3, and were back in Marseille by 5.
I guess judging from my posts, everyone thinks we didn't have a good time, but we did. It was nice to get away and see another part of France.
Lyon certainly destroyed the illusion, to which I was desperately clinging, that every single other city/town/village/hamlet/grouping of more than 2 houses in France OTHER than Marseille is clean with no dog poop, graffiti, trash or urine on the streets.
Here is Megan's DogPoop/Graffiti/Trash/Urine rating of Lyon:
Dog Poop (five stars being Marseille, 1 star being "a blind man could walk safely down the sidewalks without soiling his shoes"): 1.5 stars
Graffiti (five stars being, again, Marseille, 1 star being Aix en Provence): 4 stars
Trash (five stars being, again, Marseille, 1 star being Lancon de Provence): 2 stars
Urine: (five stars being, again, Marseille, 1 star being Salon de Provence): 3 stars
Lyon in a nutshell:
There were some really interesting museums, and tons of nice shops. Just don't go looking for a boulangerie in Centre Ville.
The cuisine I can't really comment on. McDonalds is McDonalds, pretty much everywhere. What we did taste of Lyon cooking, it seemed pretty heavy to me- sausages and cheese and all the rest.
The people seemed much more Catholic than in the South- and I am not just saying that because every church was always in the middle of a service. We saw a Catholic University in France for crying out loud! The cars all seemed to be in better shape (fewer dings), and the buildings were all well kept up.
In summary, Lyon is a nice city to visit, but probably a better city to live in.
lundi 8 juin 2009
After getting started at the crack of 11 am, we spent the entire day Out of Sync.

We wandered around, trying to find breakfast which is usually pretty easy in France, however, there is not a single boulangerie in all of Lyon. It is true. All of the street-level space is taken up with Expensive Shops. Besides our miserable hike in the Alpes (where it rained the entire time) I have never walked so far in France without coming across a boulangerie. Yet there in middle of the second largest city in France (or third, depending on whether you are talking to a Lyonnais or a Marseillais), there was not a single one to be found. It was too early for lunch, and apparently too late for breakfast. We finally found a Paul (sandwich/boulangerie shop) and managed to get a tiny coffee and pain au chocolat (out of croissants).

Tried to visit a church, but they were having a service (at 11:30 am!! who would have thought?).

We headed over to the Musée de l'Imprimerie, but it closed at noon, reopening at 2. We then decided to head up towards the Croix-Rousse. Rather so-so in my opinion. If you are in Lyon, only go there if you really have seen everything else or else enjoy the smell of urine.

Wandered back and waited for the Musée to reopen. Spent a good two hours visiting the museum, which I highly recommend IF you can read French. If you can't, you will probably be bored. It was really interesting. After we finished with the museum, we were hungry, but now it was too late for lunch but too early for dinner. McDonald's it is! We had some McDonald's by the Place Bellecour, then went to visit the Palatial church- yep, another service at 5 pm. Visited the treasury and waited for the service to be over.

On the way, I saw this maternity wear store, which I thought the name is hilarious. Hey pregnant ladies! Feel like you are as big as house and that you might actually explode? Nothing fits and you might as well wear a rucksack? Come shop at Balloon!

By this time we were tired, so we headed back to the hotel to rest for an hour or so.

Around 8, we wandered out again to find dinner. After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided on a place by the Hotel de Ville. Lyon at night is very beautiful.

Had some ice cream on the way back (not as good as in Italy) and crashed at around 11.

dimanche 7 juin 2009
Last weekend, we spent a great 2.5 days in Lyon.
We took the TGV from Marseille to Lyon- unlike our trip to Rome via Nice in December 2008, this time the train "actually existed" so we didn't have to squeeze onto another bursting to the seams TGV.
Except that this time the ventilation system was bad, and it smelled rather like the bathroom.
Smell of toilet+extreme hunger+1.5 hour trip= Not Good

We arrived in Lyon at around 10 and walked to our hotel, which I found for a decant price on the internet, and it was located between the train station and the centre ville. We checked in, unpacked, and headed out to find food.
Lyon, for all that it claims to be the gastronomic capital of The Entire World, is extremely hard to find food in, especially at off hours.

We walked to the Place Bellecour where a Lyonnais boulles tournament was being held. Apparently, this is similar to pietanque, except that they are allowed to take running starts before throwing their balls. Anyway, off to do more important things, like eat.

We found a restaurant near the square, and it was probably the best place we ate our entire trip.

After a leisurely lunch, we wandered up to the old Roman amphiteater ruins, and went into the museum. I don't know, I think we are rather burnt out on Old Roman Stuff- Arles, Nimes, Rome, Pont du Gard, I think there is only so much old Roman sarcophagus carvings that a person can take in one lifetime.
Also, it probably didn't help that there was a crazy woman with a violin wandering around the museum, playing (not too well) her violin AT the statues and saying "Atmosphere!" (moves on to next Old Roman Thing and plucks at her violin) "Atmostphere!"

We tried to move away from her, but she kept following us around the museum. I looked around for the candid camera or guards or something, but nope.

Next we went to the humongo basilica overlooking Lyon.

If there was one way to guarantee that a church would be having a service, it was for us to want to visit it. I swear, every single church we went in, they were in the middle of a service. I guess it didn't help that it was Pentecost weekend, but still. We could have decided to go visit a church at 4 am on Monday morning and it would be full of people.

We then wandered through Vieux Lyon and found a lively area with many different restaurants. It was okay, but we were rather beat. Dragged ourselves back across the two rivers and fell asleep around 9:30.

samedi 6 juin 2009
Yesterday, Alain and I went back for our yearly Happy Happy Fun Time with the Prefecture des Etrangers in Marseille.
We have to go, together, to get the file to renew my carte de sejour.
By now, we know the drill pretty well.
Take: passports, livret de famille, and carte de sejour.
Arrive: around 8 am. Wait in line for about an hour to even get into the building. Try to prevent anyone from cutting in line.

Go inside, get in another line. Wait for several hours in said line. There was a couple, a Frenchman and a French-canadian woman, waiting in line behind us. I guess it was their first time there. The man said "Don't worry, after the first year, it renews itself almost automatically." Oh yeah? Then what the heck are we doing here, year after year after year? I don't know if he was just unaware of the depths of inefficiency of the system, or did know but just didn't want her to go screaming back to Quebec. We didn't enlighten them. Poor couple- just married. Best not to.
About a half an hour later, one of the workers came out and announced that there were no more tickets (they give out 200 per day and that's it) for the upstairs part- first demand of the carte de sejour- and to come back another day. This is what happened to us my first year too. We had to come three times to even get the file, once we arrived at 5 am and still didn't get the darn magical ticket.

Except this time, they changed it on us. We got in the building, got in The Line, and after only a few minutes, got to the front and explained why we were there. We got a nice ticket with a number on it, and were told to wait for our number to be called. 166. Oh fantabulous.
It took them about 45 minutes just to give out the tickets, before even starting to call the numbers. Luckily they started at 100 instead of 000, otherwise we would have been there all day.
Alain ran across a guy that he knew while doing his Master's, so they spent two hours talking about research while I read the newspaper.
Finally, two hours later, our turn came. All in all, it took us about 4 minutes at the guichet (why couldn't they have just done that the first time instead of taking three minutes to give us a ticket? Another minute or so and it would have saved everyone time. Don't ask questions about French Bureacracy Megan, just deal with it or they will send you to the very back of the line.) - we showed our passports, she checked the names against the Livret de Famille, we signed some papers, and she gave us the file. She also gave us the sheet of extra things we need to send in if I want to get the 10-year card. Yes yes yes yes yes yes!

So here is what I need to send in:
(besides the file, the declaration of non-polygamy, four photos, the copies of our taxes, bank accounts, gas bills, and everything else "proving" our life together this past year.)

1) a letter stating why I want the ten year card.
Well, that's easy- so I don't have to go through this hassle every year. Oh, wait, what? I'm supposed to spout off something about the fabulousness of France and how I would be so honored to have a ten-year carte de sejour? Yeah okay, whatever allows me to not spend about 40 hours per year here.
2) An integral copy of my passport.
3) Justification of our familial life. Uh what, you want photos of our last vacation in Italy or something?
4) Justification that I have a health insurance.
5) Justification of my kids going to school. That's an easy one.
6) Our three last tax declarations
7) Justification of my resources (work contract, pay stubs, etc.)
Yeah, sure, how about I send all my private financial information, along with address and photograph to some unknown worker? How about my pin codes too?
8) A declaration, upon my honor, that I engage myself to respect the principles that govern the French Republic.
Okay, sure, I can do that. Strikes, wine, cheese, a boatload of public holidays in May, five weeks of vacation per year, and not cleaning up after my dog. Next!
9) A declaration, upon my honor, that I don't live in a polygamous fashion. What, like people can handle more than one frenchman at a time? One is enough thanks.

The best part:
Your demand will be examined in light of the elements sent and in application of the reglementary dispositions raised as a function of your nationality.

Yay French bureacracy! Here we go again!
vendredi 5 juin 2009
A young, modern couple deciding to evenly divide up the household chores.
Woman says: I will do the cooking, and you should do the dishes.
Man hears: She will do the cooking, and I will do the dishes.
Man understands: She will do the cooking, and I will do the dishes.
Man says: Okay, deal.
Woman means to say: I will plan the meals, see what ingredients are needed before I go to the store, buy the groceries, lug them home, put them away, cook, and place it on the table. He will then clear the table, put away the leftovers, wipe off the counters and stovetop, do the dishes, rinse out the sink, put the dry things away, and wipe off the table.
(But this is so obvious to her, that she doesn't understand why it needs to be explicitly said. All of the first stuff goes with "cooking" and all the other stuff goes with "doing the dishes".)
Woman does: plan the meals, see what ingredients are needed before going to the store, buy the groceries, lug them home, put them away, cook, place it on the table, and clear the table.
Man does: the dishes.
Woman then does: put away the leftovers, wipe off the counters and stovetop, rinse out the sink, put the dry things away, and wipe off the table. ***********************
Woman gets: irritated
Man thinks: I don't understand why she is mad, I am doing the dishes like I said I would?
Woman says: But when I say "do the dishes" I don't just mean "do the dishes!"
Man says: Huh? Well why not just say so?
Woman says: Because it is so obvious, that it shouldn't need to be said!
Man says: Huh?

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