Daily Living and a Haircut

Could there be anything more tasty than a warm baguette? That’s a rhetorical question. But if you were wondering, the answer is no. 2015-04-29 19.19.52On the way home tonight, I stopped at the boulangerie to be prepared for Friday. Perfect timing – he handed me the bread and it was warm! Hardly able to resist it before getting to the apartment.

I have discovered there are two breads: une baguette or une tradition. This link takes you to an excellent explanation by Marie-Louise http://www.complete-paris.com/blog/tradition-vs-baguette-a-tale-of-two-breads/

I usually asked baguette because I was uninformed. This time, when I asked for a baguette, he said, nope, all gone. (well, he didn’t say that but that was the idea). But there were Tradition on the shelf. Looked like a baguette to me. So I bought that and felt the warm bread. Now I am totally hooked. Things you pick up over the months. And I think this is now my preferred boulangerie. There is one closer and they brag on their window that they have won awards. But they are snooty. And the other bread tastes better. An extra block for French bread is nothing!

This may be a backwards blog. Before the bread, I enjoyed another couple hours with the MeetUp group of expats and French. These people are so interesting and friendly. Always pleasant to spend a few hours with them – we were up to 20 people today. Sat outside (chilly!) and conversations shifted as usual – French, English, people moved places. Learned new things, made new friends. Couldn’t ask for more.

Before that, a real adventure. But we will back all the way up to Tuesday. (Time confuses me enough here, I get to confuse you too!) Claire, my conversation exchange friend, met me in the 3rd arrondisement (Paris is divided up into 20 districts or arrondisements).porte de saint denis She showed me two of the “portes” of Paris – the gates into the city when there was still a wall around Paris. I had seen one of these last October on my search for the covered “passages.” But I didn’t realize that is what it was. Then we walked past the street she lives on as we headed to the Archives. On the way, there was a wonderful old building – the tower built in the 1100s. I thought I knew these very old places so I was happy to add it to my list. And at the Archives – exactly what the name says – a place for archiving records – she showed me a beautiful hidden garden. We sat there for our conversation. This is exactly the type of garden I have been seeking: on the list for the summer for places to go read and think. 2015-04-29 18.43.01She also gave me a book that she published. Well, it’s confusing to me – she comes up with the ideas with her husband. He takes the photographs, she usually writes the text, they lay it out as a finished product. Then they go to publishing fairs to find someone who will take on the publishing of it. We had talked about Calligraphy last time – she brought me a book as a gift, how sweet! Now I have to calligraphy a sign for her… some cool quote in English.

And the attorney and I met this morning. Yes, they both correct me a lot – I hope it is because they are feeling comfortable with me and because that’s what they are supposed to do. Not that my French is deteriorating. Although it could be because I have been speaking English too often with my visitors. When my next guest leaves, I am going to add more conversation exchanges. Just scheduled two hours this afternoon. And found a Frenchwoman to go to the cinema with.

And now back to today for the most exciting event. It’s been 9 weeks since I have had a haircut. shihtzuI feel like a shih Tzu with my hair covering my eyes. But OMG how to find a styist? It’s difficult enough in California. Heck. It’s not difficult, it is traumatic!

I understand there is an American woman here in Paris who flies back to NY every month or two to get her hair done. Not going to work for me. It’s a great story, but maybe she goes back for another more serious reason and just takes time for the haircut? I have asked around, I have searched Yelp, but my favorite research spot came through. TripAdvisor had a question just a week ago in their travel forum about where to get your haircut in Paris. The best response was from “Pattyinparis”. Michel, a stylist who is great and speaks English. I went over there today – it’s off the Place de la Bastille – maybe 30 minutes Metro from me – to see about an appointment. Patty on Trip Advisor suggested (and it made sense to me) to go in person the first time to set up the appointment. Fewer chances for miscommunication in person than over the phone. I was building up my courage. Ready for step one on this adventure – making the appointment. Then I figured I would have step two – the appointment itself and would have to again build up my courage. Yikes. Michel was available in 15 minutes. Um. OK then. Just quote MacBeth and say yes. “Screw your courage to the sticking-place.”2015-04-29 18.47.07 (2)

And I like it. Overall. For a first haircut, I am pleased. The real test will be when I wash it and have to do it myself. Another milestone of life in Paris successfully passed.

And now to spruce up the apartment for my Guest Two arriving mid-day tomorrow. She’s here in time for some rainy weather but I have a weather goddess friend who is working on that right now. The real question for me is Friday. Le premier mai. France’s Labor Day. I hear a variety of things – from everything is closed, including metro lines, to transportation will be fine, restaurants are open, and just avoid the “manifestations” (demonstrations).

End of April and Beginning of May

I don’t know if it is the date –   the 27th of April or the fact that it is the Monday in the week  when May starts…. But the fountains are going! Or running? Or working? What does a fountain do anyway? It fountains! And brings my heart great joy.2015-04-27 09.39.31  This photo is a quick shot from the bus as I was on my way to the Musee de l’Armee. Seeing the water was quite a surprise and my heart did leap. Someone in Paris is declaring SPRING.

Of course, they didn’t communicate that well to the weather gods. The high today was 58. And it won’t get over 65 these next 10 days and many of those days will be rainy. Still, the water fountains. Maybe the fountains flow.

2015-04-27 15.12.07 2015-04-27 13.40.05I bought freesias at the marche yesterday. These are the first flowers I have bought this stay which is unusual for me but . I don’t seem to have a close local flower shop. But I finally got up early enough for the local Sunday market and had a choice of many. Freesias are my favorite. Sadly, these do not have the wonderful – or any – fragrance. But they are still beautiful.

The other flower I see a lot of is wisteria. It was one of my mother’s favorites and so I am reminded of her often.

T2015-04-27 10.07.06he Musee de l’Armee is located at the Invalides, where you can also find Napoleon’s tomb. I have visited both before; neither interest me enough for a return visit. My niece spent hours and could have spent even more time at the War museum. You see one musket, or one spear, or one uniform… it’s enough for me. But Churchill. That’s a different story. Of all wars, I find that WW2 interests me the most. Intrigues me. And I am not as knowledgeable as I should be. My US history class in high school labored slowly through the years, reaching WW2 in May. We had a week for the war, I believe, and sped through it. I am reading a variety of books on the subject and any recommendations (fiction or nonfiction) are appreciated. Just include them in a comment to me; I will keep it private. Thanks.

Churchill has always been a hero for me. I recall a question posed to class I was in the States  after returning from my two years in Britain. The teacher wanted to know who our hero was. Apparently, all my classmates wrote the name of the current astronaut – I wrote Churchill.

When you lived in a city such as London at a time when you can still see the rubble left from the bombings, hear stories about the dud bomb that crashed through the apartment your family lived in, and have real black out shades still on the windows – it does give you a different perspective on the war. I spent 4 hours in the Churchill/War Rooms museum in London several years ago. And as a professional speaker myself, I admire Winston as an orator. Great book: Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln by James Humes. One of Churchill’s techniques was to write his speech out as if it were a poem, with spacing to help him in his presentation.

This exhibit, Churchill and De Gaulle, was small but still took me 2 hours. I was avidly reading most all the exhibits, but at one hour and fifty minutes, my brain shut down. I was in front of a interactive screen and had clicked on two people – read very interesting stories. And as I reached out to click the third, I heard a loud clanging noise in my brain. As if the doors to the museum input room had just banged shut. Done. Complete. Full. Go somewhere else. Now.

Good timing as I only had a few exhibits left and none that took great energy.

Leaving was easier than entering. And I don’t just mean because of security. The Paris bus stop put  me  at the back entrance. I walked all around to the front where I was told that entrance was closed today. The gendearme waved me around to the left. By the time I found a possible entrance, I was back exactly where the bus dropped me. But that was the entrance to Napoleon’s tomb. The gentleman there waved me to the left. Follow the signs. I did. There the gentleman waved me back to the front – I had to buy my ticket somewhere else. So as I retraced my steps I was getting more and more confused. I stopped another gentleman who could finally give me more information – the ticket office was near the cafeteria. The cafeteria is quite easy to spot. Hidden behind it – tickets. I was wearing my FitBit. I literally walked 1.25 miles extra trying to buy a ticket. No matter. Now I was ready. I did have a sweet interaction with an army guard – with his machine gun – who had tried to help me but he wasn’t a museum employee, obviously. He was a warrior. I came back with ticket in hand and gave him the thumbs up sign. He grinned.

It turned out there was some kind of ceremony, maybe a funeral, for some Russian who helped the French. That’s the best I could get out of the ticket seller. So that is why all the other entrances were closed. Bless him.

Another bus incident… as I stepped out of the museum to find the bus stop, I saw my bus drive by. Shrug. At least I could see where the stop was. While I waited, I had an encounter with a German lady who needed bus directions to the Eiffel Tower, I love it when people think I am a local. Wait. I am a local! With my handy RATP app, I could show her the map and point out her stop. I initially responded in French as she tried to speak French. At some point she realized I wasn’t ’French; she preferred English to French. When I told her I was from California, she was effusively complimentary about my fluency. I smiled. Accepted the compliments. And recalled my last two conversation exchanges where my French friends seemed to correct my every sentence. Fluency is in the ear of the beholder!

After a break at home to catch up on my blogging, I ran off to the Trocadero area – it’s across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. A friend was going there to take pictures of the fountains. He is leaving on Thursday. We would have had dinner, but we never met up. And the fountains were actually off. I had seen them earlier today on my bus trip to Musee de l”Armee, but at 7 tonight: Off. Still, other fountains were active. So he will have to get photos next time. His next time has to be at least 3 months from now. Without a special visa, you can be in the European Union for only 90 days in a six month period.

Starting to plan for my household and pantry needs.  Friday is “Le premier mai” or the first of May.  It’s French Labor Day and from what I hear, everything is closed.  Everything.  We’ll see how that pans out.

Last days (for my guest – not me!)

My guest is gone. It was great to see a friend. But after 12 days in a 400 sq ft apartment with two people, it is relaxing to have it to myself again. Only for a couple days, however, as Guest 2 is arriving Thursday afternoon.

Guest one spent her last day, Saturday, packing and downloading movies for her layover in Toronto. We did find time for a delicious lunch at my favorite soufflé restaurant. It was closed for many months as it remodeled. Frankly, it doesn’t look that different to me! And it has a new name. Les Soufflés de Recamier. The menu now includes some things other than soufflés. But the soufflés remain delicious. The new dessert soufflé – pistachio! Mmmmmm

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On the way home, we stopped in at Guerlain 2015-04-27 22.16.18to buy my eau de toilette. In the States it is sold at Macys and Nordstrom’s and others. Here Guerlain has their own little boutiques. Quite snooty, actually. Friendly, but snooty. They have to wrap it just so. And with a pretty ribbon. And into the special very pretty Guerlain shopping bag. And your receipt isn’t handed to you – it is put in a discrete tiny folder that says Guerlain. All the clerks in little black dresses, heels, no hair out of place and with beautifully made up faces. I am sure my hiking boots stressed them out – but not enough to refuse my credit card. (Got another month to go with doctor- ordered hiking boots – remember the pulled tendon? I do.) (Speaking of hiking boots, I was walking on some serious cobble stones today 2015-04-27 10.36.37and thanked the heavens for these boots. I have no idea how French women get across this city in spike heels.)

Sunday we rolled Guest’s bags to the Air France Le Cars bus stop – conveniently located about 3 blocks from my apartment. And she set off for the US.

I came back and tackled the apartment. That meant cleaning and washing. 4 loads. Washing is another strategic process here when you don’t have a dryer. You have to think about each load- where will you hang the contents out to dry. What order is the washing? What dries the fastest and where? Will that spot be taken? Use the heating rack, sure. But do you need one or both heaters?

That and vacuuming did me in. Early night Sunday. But felt very accomplished and clean! And ready for Guest 2.

Insight while watching Guest pack.  I have decided that when I leave – I hate to think about it but I do have to come back – I was stressed enough trying to get here.  The thought of packing up to go home is intimidating.  But I have a solution.  I am going to move into a hotel room for at least one, maybe two nights.  That will allow  me to get stuff out of here and clean it up and be able to pack in a neutral setting without going crazy,  There’s one right around the corner.  OK, now that I have that settled, I don’t have to think about moving anymore.  Whew

Julia and Moi

When you think of France, you probably think of the Eiffel Tower and food. Or rather, Cuisine. And cuisine – makes you think of Julie Child. Which then might lead to Le Cordon Bleu where she took her cooking classes. That thought process led me to a wild idea back in January in Sacramento. If it was good enough for Julia, why not me? A web search uncovered day classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Or rather, ateliers – workshops.  My Guest agreed to take the Market Tour. Registered. Paid. Just waiting for Friday April 24.  Oh, this is going to be a long post….

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School facts.  At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (they have many locations outside of France also) there are about 350 students who are pursuing the 3 levels of cooking over a 9 month period at a cost of about almost 45,000 euros. This is, strangely enough, a cooking school for foreigners.  Apparently, the French go to two other cooking schools.  These other schools have restaurants for students to see actual stress of real world.  (Note to self: find those schools and restaurants….).

And what of our atelier? Actually, it was interesting but also disappointing.

What we got wasn’t quite what was described.   Jane the translator said the class was just changed. Hmmm: bait and switch comes to mind. But that is for the Trip Advisor review and the letter to Cordon Bleu.

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It was a market tour. I expected the chef to be pointing out, teaching, how to select this or that. He was supposed to be buying for the meal he was going to prepare that afternoon. This was one of the changes – he was no longer going to pick the food, the food was already bought and waiting for him at the school. At the market, we just walked by the stalls. The chef didn’t offer all that much info.  And certainly nothing about how to select the best of anything. It was a nice market – in the 15th.  Both sides of 2 blocks.  A variety of items.

Veggies fruit fish meat.  Stuff!  Clothes bedding scarves housewares flowers.  I was blasé about the market.  My sister has been taking me to farmer’s markets for years. And I go to the Sacramento ones on my own.  I am so accustomed to seeing beautiful vegetables and fruits that these simply remind me of California.  I posted that on Facebook and a friend commented that the French market she went to didn’t seem at all like a California market.  Got me thinking… Food, yes, still similar but perhaps not as many single item farmers – like the Berry Man in Visalia- in France. 2015-04-24 10.04.17 Yes, California does have some other items – usually crafty.  Certainly, I don’t recall any markets that are right on the street itself – usually around a park or in a mall parking lot. As I continued this comparison, I suddenly realized that I have been going to French marches for at least 5 years.  Perhaps the main reason this market trip didn’t impress me is because I am so familiar with them already.  The other members of the class were here for just a week or two and they were delighted with the market.  And last year at my immersion French class in Tours, my class had an assignment of conducting a sondage at the market.  That’s a survey.  We had to develop our questions and then talk to participants.  We found out that most of the venders were secondary marketers, not the individual farm owner/growers.

However, no one seemed delighted with the commentary or rather, lack of commentary.  Chef and Jane the translator would occasionally point out an expensive item. Answer a question here and there.  2015-04-24 10.15.27Again, I was expecting more of a show and tell.  Pick up the – insert name of fruit or vegetable here -and talk about how to select the best one.  What to look for.  Special ways to cook or serve it.

And the timing was off.  We left at 8:45 am, dallied at a café for coffee/tea on the way.  (Jane told me that I would soon be drinking expresso – because it was going to be too expensive to continue drinking tea.  And an expresso is the least expensive coffee drink.  She’s right about cost.  It’s even cheaper than bottled water.  But I cannot see myself drinking coffee ever.  Never understood the rest of the world’s craving for coffee.)

Then when we arrived at the market, we sauntered up and down.2015-04-24 09.47.34  Lunch was at a nearby café at the unParisien time of 11:30.  Arriving early, they put us at tables on the street with a glass of white wine.  Bit early for me…

Lunch was a plate with a variety of cold ham cuts and three cheeses.  With bread, of course.  And another glass of wine. Not very appetizing.

Suddenly, after all the leisurely time, we had to rush back to the school.

And I do mean rush.  The school called Jane several times to see where we were.  Chef went on ahead to prepare for the demonstration.

Chef was a very personable guy but a bit shy.  Clearly he knew more English than he let on.  At lunch we discussed celebrity chefs.  He worked for a 5 star chef for 15 years.  Even spent 4 months in Las Vegas helping prepare the new restaurant at Cesar’s Palace.  But when I asked if the top chef was “gentil.” Nice.  I received a wry smile.  I think the answer was no, but I can’t put words into his mouth. That led to stories about chefs and others physically abusing employees. Chef shared his own teaching style, of encouragement and support. And later, in the demo kitchen, he showed us his great sense of humor when he and the assistant stepped into the back for something and he returned, saying he had to beat her for a few minutes. It was funny and don’t get on a serious note of abuse is not funny. It’s not. This moment was.

At the school.

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The demonstration meal was an entrée of white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, rack of lamb, and strawberry tart.

My first time in a demonstration kitchen, I was amazed at the set up.  The student desks (chairs with the tablet for writing that folded up or down) were on risers so the view (over the heads in front of you) was unobstructed.  The work table was maybe 12 foot long.  2015-04-24 13.29.56Above it was a huge mirror angled so that the students could see everything the chef was doing.  And if that wasn’t enough, there were two tv screens on each side of the room with the ability to move the camera and zoom in or out so see the detail of the action. That was Jane the translator’s responsibility.

Tips.  Many of my readers are accomplished chefs.  They know I am not.  Not even worthy of the name cook.  For office potlucks, I bring the bread (bakery-bought) or the utensils.   But I do like asparagus and at the Cordon Bleu I learned how to tie the bunches together. 2015-04-24 12.59.33 And I do love a good hollandaise.  My arm got tired just watching him whisk the sauce.  OMG he was so fast.  2015-04-24 13.10.21And changed from right to left and back without losing a beat.  And whisked forever.  The sound of the metal whisk on the metal saucepan created a beat – I wanted to get up and hand out the rest of the pots and pans for us all to join in a percussion jam session.

2015-04-24 13.33.01The asparagus was delicious and I seriously wanted to lick the plate for the last drop of hollandaise.  Mmmm

Then he started on the lamb.  Oh, no, he worked on the pastry shell so it could cook while he worked on the lamb.  See – organizational skills beyond my capacity.  2015-04-24 15.14.50As a true Perceiving individual under MBTI and a follower of the Cult of “SQUIRREL” (from the movie UP), staging a dinner is beyond me. You’d get the asparagus, then wait for an hour for the lamb, if not longer, and then a hour or two for the dessert.  And with the multiple courses of wine, you’d be fast asleep.

Which is what I almost was.  I did catch myself in one of those jerky movements you have just before falling asleep on or before falling off a chair.  That’s because they served us another glass of wine during the asparagus preparation.  3 glasses of wine before 2 pm.  Yikes.  Snoooze.

I learned of baking beans

– used to weigh down the center of the tart pastry.  Never know when I might need that!

2015-04-24 14.19.52And then he showed us how to prepare the lamb.  Again, for those that know me well, you recall my tale of taking chemistry AND physics in order to avoid biology in high school.  Cutting up things… nope.  And eating things that look too much like a real animal gives me the willies.  How I became a first aid instructor I have never understood – except for my pact with God – if I teach enough people, I won’t ever have to use these skills.  Thank you, Universe.

Which means that as he was showing how to separate the meat, the fat, the bones,  I was elsewhere in my mind. My neighbor, a Canadian recruiter, told me she gets her butcher to do that for her. Smart lady.

He prepared the “jus” with meat, fat, and veggies. My Guest said that’s how she’s going to make stew from now on. But eventually he strained it, after mashing the veggies up to get every last drop, and it was a delightful accompaniment to the lamb. Good stew tossed. Shrug.

While the lamb was cooking, he finished the pastry. But do you know? He overcooked it. My friend thought he was nervous. Maybe – I did notice that he just started working there this year. Maybe this was his first Market Tour atelier. Maybe he was demonstrating to us that cooking is an art and is not always perfect.

The results: The asparagus with hollandaise – 5 star. The lamb, 4.5 stars. The tart: pastry 2-3 stars, the crème and strawberries – 5 star.

You know how you want to end with a big finish? So that people leave with a good taste in their mouths – oh that’s wasn’t a pun! But really. If you can end any enterprise on a high positive note, that’s what people walk away with in their memory.

Someone needs to remind Cordon Bleu of that. (Probably me. And the Canadian recruiter. We shared the same opinion and we are both Top Contributors to Trip Advisor. Kindred Spirits.)

Before we could all get up out of the desk/chairs (there were ten of us), the students for the next class barged in. And barged is the right word. They pushed their way between themselves and then onto us. Two almost kicked my wine glass. Another almost shoved my papers to the floor in her rush to find a seat. The translator was out of the room at that time. I finally yelled – and I did yell – Attendez! Wait! That got their attention for 2 seconds and then the hoard pushed on. At that point, Jane returned to the room and spoke forcefully and told them to exit the room to allow the current students (my group) to gather their belongings. After she repeated it once or twice, they slowly turned and let us regroup.

Rude. And these are not French students, remember? The Cordon Bleu Paris students are foreigners. So we cannot lay this at the French door. (In fact, I am finding the French more polite each year.)

Does this reflect on the student’s culture? Or is a reflection on the attitudes of our future chefs? Or are these students rich kids whose parents are giving them a free ride in Paris? Is that last question fair? How can someone afford a 9 month class for 45,000 euros AND afford room and board in Paris? We talked about salaries over lunch with the chef. Starting out, these folks may make 25-30,000 euros a year. Probably less.

I’d go to a cheaper school myself.


From the Medical Arena to the Roman Arenas…  Arles.

2015-04-22 10.34.58  2015-04-22 10.37.02 The Rhone RIver and the city walls

Great Roman Ruins. And a Wednesday market. Of course, we have to go. 2015-04-22 13.43.53It’s just a 20 min train ride from Avignon, a simple day trip before returning for our 5 pm train to Paris.

2015-04-22 10.30.49As soon as we reached the market, we separated. My friend on a search for market goodies and I for the Roman ruins.

I have heard the best Roman Amphitheatre is in Nimes.   Maybe, but this one was pretty good. Well, now that I say that, I have to disclose that the top level is gone. That kind of thing amazes me. How do things just disappear? I recall in England, in Glastonbury, I was told that after Henry VIII got rid of the Catholics, people would simply tear the church buildings down and cart off the stone for another use. Big stone. Heavy. Big cart?

So the top level of this Amphitheatre met the same fate. But the medieval folks added four towers to the sides. Maybe they used that stone. However, one of those four towers is gone now too.

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In the middle ages, the locals actually built a town inside the center of the Amphitheatre.  Well, it certainly would seem safer.  2015-04-22 10.59.25But as I looked down on the arena, it was hard to imagine it filled with several-storied buildings and streets and bustling people.

I climbed up to survey. They still use this area – for entertainment and for bull fights. I suppose some people consider a bull fight to be entertaining? But these are not your grandfather’s Spanish bull fights. These are a smaller, wilder bull and they don’t kill it at the end. The cattle are raised with scant attention from the rancher. Calves are dropped, literally, in the middle of the field (or, wherever in the field the mom decides). And left alone by the rancher unless there is a problem. So the bulls are raised with little human contact and become great fighting bulls – or so I read and hear.

2015-04-22 11.28.49On the day I was there – no bull fights. But lots of kids – maybe 6th grade? Learning to be gladiators. Put through a series of fighting stances with spear and shield at one end of the arena and tossing discus at the other end. 2015-04-22 11.20.46 2015-04-22 11.21.02 Clearly a good school tour.

2015-04-22 10.42.59We met up for lunch at a Breton Creperie.   Love those crepes! My friend found a leather bag at the market and was quite pleased with herself. After lunch I had a quick tour through the Roman theatre ruins. Very small. 2015-04-22 13.14.29 2015-04-22 13.14.25 2015-04-22 13.13.08 2015-04-22 13.11.08 2015-04-22 13.09.09 2015-04-22 13.08.41

And then we hot-footed it back to the train as we had dallied too long over lunch. But it was a beautiful sunny day – it just called for relaxation and a reluctance to look at a watch.

Back in Avignon, we were touristed-out so we sat at the hotel before collecting our bags and heading across the street to the train station.

The return scenery was as beautiful as coming down. Mustard fields. Big mountains. This time we spied snow. We were smarter this time and had purchased sandwiches and drinks for our own picnic on the train. That meant we just grabbed a taxi home and could unpack and go to bed. Long day.

Of Ramparts and Drugs…

2015-04-21 14.41.55  After my lunch of Plat du Jour – cheeseburger with egg, apple and cheese…  I set off for Ft St Andre and La Chartreuse.  They are located on the other side of the river from the town of Avignon.  Bus time!  2015-04-21 17.07.14While waiting for Bus 5, just inside the city walls,, I struck up a conversation with a couple – with the woman, actually.   They were going the same place and we both weren’t sure so we set off helping each other find the right bus and the right stop.  From Belgium, she told me her son worked on Wall Street in NYC – “just like in the cinema!”  That’s scary.  But she w2015-04-21 15.18.04as a proud mama.

La Chartreuse du Val de Benediction was started by Pope Innocent VI, a local boy made good.  He donated his lands and a private residence for a monastery for 12 monks.  It flourished, becoming the biggest Carthusian monastery in France.  2015-04-21 15.22.32Then came the revolution.  Divided into lots and sold.  Damaged,   Library and art scattered.

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In 1835 Proper Merimee (ring a bell? Author.) who was then Inspector of Historical Monuments, saw the frescos and put it on the preserve list.    2015-04-21 15.39.34It’s a big place with many different rooms open.  You get a feel for the daily life – the herb garden.  The cemetery, the garden of the laundry and the laundry.  Cloisters.  Mausoleum of Pope Innocent VI.  He was buried there in 1362 but during the – you guessed it – Revolution, it was moved.  In 1959 the mausoleum was returned.  That was a good thing.

By the end I was sweating and thirsty.  And knew I had to climb this big hill in the beating sun to reach the Fort.  No water available at the monastery but she gave me directions to the village store. 2015-04-21 16.00.01 I as quite surprised to discover the village – we had gotten there from the parking lot.  Drank the water in almost one gulp and set off.  Wishing, however, that it was a meal time because I would have loved to eat at the Café of the Univers… 2015-04-21 16.00.46-22015-04-21 16.00.59-2 Would like to know what the Univers suggests…  🙂

2015-04-21 15.03.11It was a hot but beautiful climb to the fort.2015-04-21 16.07.44 2015-04-21 16.06.16 2015-04-21 16.02.29

The Fort.  This is clearly a strategic location.  You can see for miles.  It’s both a Fort and an Abbey.  I only had time for one and choose the warrior path.  Pack in Avignon I was told I took the wrong one. But the Fort was included in the Chartreuse monastery ticket…  <Shrug.>  I was very glad for my hiking boots as the Fort was a rough and tumble place. 2015-04-21 16.16.57 2015-04-21 16.16.58-2 2015-04-21 16.32.30 2015-04-21 16.38.44 2015-04-21 16.39.07 2015-04-21 16.07.44 It was built by John the Good in the 14th century to protect the boundary of the Kingdom of France.   The photos tell the story better than I can.

A delicious meal that night thanks to a great review I read on Trip Advisor. 2015-04-21 20.34.19 Balthazar.  Another tasty steak.2015-04-21 21.12.18

Oh.  And what of the Drugs?

Most of my day was spent by myself as my friend was battling the French Pharmacy.  It is strange – things you cannot get in the states you can get here, and vice versa.  But the pharmacist is much more involved in diagnosing.  In fact, you are expected to see the Pharmacist first, before the doctor.  She has an awful cold and wanted decongestant.  And he didn’t want to sell it to her.  Finally he gave up and sold her the only one he had but it came with Tylenol.  She went back in the morning to go over her cold history with him and get the right medication.  I was happy to let her handle her medical issues on her own.  My interpreting skills do not extend to the medical arena.

Oh and what a nice segue from medical arena to Roman arena!  Next entry: Arles.





Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse…

Excepting me.  No matter what the old song says, I did not dance on the bridge at Avignon.  In fact, we didn’t even cross it…  that’s a joke, actually.  It’s only half a bridge.  Which raises a question – is it still a bridge?  Oh my, I am getting philosophical like the French!  It’s a bridge from the 15th century – that the strength of the current destroyed – well, part of it at least.  We saw it from a distance, but they seem to be working on it and it truly wasn’t a draw, given what else is in Avignon.

Before we get into the history, a bit about the getting there.  2015-04-20 10.59.31 - CopySilvi went along, of course.   We passed by many mustard fields. 2015-04-20 12.22.35 - CopyAnd every now and then a castle on a hill or a church in a valley surrounded by a pretty village.  And mountains in the distance.  Not peaky mountains – more massive hills – but so massive they were mountains.   I saw a pre-teen girl with braces!

The TGV (Tres Grand Vitesse) (High Speed Train) got up to 187 mph at one point.  It dropped us at the TVG station and there we took a navette (shuttle) train to Avignon centre.  While we waited in the restaurant, I saw two nuns.   One was eating, the other had her hands folded in her lap and was praying.  So calm.  So peaceful.  Just made me feel good.

Until she raised her hands to the table… with her smart phone and started sharing a funny post with her nun companion.2015-04-20 13.40.50 - Copy


Our hotel was close the train station.  Great idea!  Discovered this US favorite right outside the train station:  Food Truck!2015-04-20 14.14.31

2015-04-20 16.25.54We trammed around the city to get our bearings, had a glimpse of the famous bridge,2015-04-20 16.37.52 did a bit of shopping, and ate at a Cooscooserie recommended by a shopkeeper.  Very tasty.

Tuesday we devoted to Avignon.

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From 1309 to 1377 the Catholic Church had it’s center in Avignon.  Much history – suffice it to say, strife between the French crown and the pope, politics, stacking the cardinal deck so the conclave voted for a Frenchman, Clement V, not an Italian.  Clement decided to stay in France at Avignon.  The next 6 popes stayed in Avignon.  Finally in 1376, Gregory XI moved his court to Rome.  My quick history source (Wikipedia) is unclear as to why Greg wanted to go back, but back he went.

And if you have your papal court in Avignon, you better have a palace, right?   For 67 years of court, those popes were busy building!  2015-04-20 16.49.14After the papal reign, the building kept evolving.  Other kings and royals made changes.  Those dang French revolutionaries messed it up.  They loved to knock the heads off statues and thoroughly destroy anything that had to do with the previous rulers.  Phhhttt.  (Someone in a Meetup compared the ISIS people who are tearing down religious icons in the Mid East to those revolutionaries…)   The history was pretty much, “let’s tear down this to build that.”  Why they tore down the front towers is a mystery to me but fortunately some smart Frenchmen restored them as new in the 20th century.

2015-04-20 17.17.11 2015-04-20 17.19.43 2015-04-20 18.24.43It is a beautiful place.  And the rooms are massive.  I don’t recall ever seeing a building from this time period with rooms so large. 2015-04-21 11.17.072015-04-21 11.30.58Oh yes – saw some workmen with their rock climbing gear getting ready to fix something on the castle walls. 2015-04-21 10.27.06

2015-04-21 10.53.14 Everyone knows Popes have a lot of money, right?  The Palais des Papes has it’s own treasury – with an inner room that had only one way in – and only two people could go in there -the treasurer and the Pope.  What’s amazing is that there were hidden vaults in the floor that were only discovered in 1985!  This photo shows the stones lifted up so you can see inside.  Wish I knew what treasure they found – but they did not say.

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2015-04-21 11.58.11 And I forgot my new hat in Paris so I just had to buy this one.  Actually, I really did!  It was California-like sunny! And  a very hot sun.  One of those days where you boiled in the sun and froze in the shade.

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The afternoon continues in the next post..


IMG_4627   A labyrinth is a unicursal path, usually drawn on a floor or on the ground.  That means there is only one way in to the center of the Labyrinth and the same way back out.  That’s what makes it different from a maze.

Many people confuse the two.  They see a geometric design and think immediately that it is a Labyrinth.  Nope.  There are famous mazes.  Like the one at Hampton Court in England.  And corn mazes in the fall on farms.  These are fun to get lost in and spend sometimes hours trying to find the way out.  You can come upon dead ends or choices to make as you wander.

Not so in a Labyrinth.  Just one way in and the same way out.

Why are they confused?  Well, it’s that dang Minos guy in Crete who had a “labyrinth” built to keep in the Minotaur.  Ya. It was a MAZE.  But I don’t think I can fight that legend.  We will just move along.

Labyrinths are predominatntly in two styles

– classical and Chartres.

The Chartres labyrinth was put in the floor of the nave  2015-04-17 13.51.32when it was built in 1190s.  No one is exactly sure why and what it was used for.  There is some research that the clergy played a “game” on it during Easter – of the priest walking to the center and then tossing a ball of yarn out to others standing on the outside…  back and forth… to somehow symbolize Christ’s resurrection.  Others say it was used as a way for people to make a symbolic pilgrimage when they were not able to make a real journey to the Holy Land.  Records were lost in WWII.  And there is also speculation about the classical labyrinth.  Some say that Swedish fishermen would walk the labyrinth before a fishing expedition to “trap” the evil trolls in the labyrinth so they wouldn’t jinx the trip.

IMG_5917All I know is that the labyrinth is a magical mediation tool.  When you walk a labyrinth, there is no right or wrong way.  Only the way you walk it that day.  You can go slowly.  You can go quickly. You can go barefoot.  You can wear boots or high heels.

What most do is use the path to the center as a time to consider the concerns you are having – or be free to see what comes up in your mind as you walk to the center.  In the center, you can take a moment or longer, to receive.  To receive guidance, ideas, messages… whatever fits for your beliefs. IMG_5963 And the journey back out, covering the same path, is a time to reflect on how to integrate whatever you have received or learned into your daily life.  Or just relax back into the world.

Labyrinth experiences vary.  Some people laugh, others cry.  Some just walk.

I personally have had profound experiences. And no experience.  Depends on what I apparently needed that day.  The labyrinth walk on a Chartres design is truly a walk into another state.  As many times as I have walked this design, while walking, I have no clue as to where I am in the labyrinth.  You turn back and forth so many times, you lose yourself.  And that is the point.

Another spiritual experience at Chartres.  (And if you are interested, you can find labyrinths near you by using the worldwide labyrinth locator.  http://www.labyrinthlocator.com  And if you are near the Bay Area – there are two at Grace Cathedral.)

Food and miscellany

Several photos of markets and other interesting subjects…IMG_4682 IMG_4681 2015-04-18 16.07.23 Asparagus for my Dutch friends.

And Guest picking out veggies…  2015-04-18 16.15.552015-04-18 16.13.14 And look – I even eat hamburgers now.  2015-04-18 15.22.55Awfully rare hamburgers for me…

The trashmen who fortunately did NOT pick up trashIMG_5905 the day I lost my keys!


2015-04-18 17.39.01And a quick visit to L’Orangerie.  Love this Matisse. 2015-04-18 17.43.36 And this Picasso



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And don’t I look happy?  No surprise!