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broodings from the burrow

November 13, 2008

reprieve, got it, and childhood
posted by soe 10:21 pm

Despite knowing intellectually that today was Thursday, I sort of forgot that I ought to post three beautiful things from the past week. Possibly because I’ve been blogging about beautiful stuff all week… Regardless, it’s a tradition and who am I to break with it now?

1. Despite the sign-rattling wind, it was great to see the sun today. We haven’t had many blue skies during our trip, so it was especially nice to see it as our vacation wraps up.

2. The waiter at Les Deux Garcons pretends to misunderstand our order, and we realize that it’s a joke. In French.

3. In the same way that French life seems a step more civilized with it’s closing for lunch and its greetings, it also seems to retain an appreciation for childhood as a special time. Rudi and I have now passed a number of toy stores and rare is the one displaying computer games or electronic toys. Dolls, toy cars, tinker toys, and hands-on games still populate the French childhood. Even the tv ads show toys that we would have been comfortable with back in the ’70s and ’80s. I know it’s good to have kids who are acclimated to computers, but it strikes me that maybe that’s why we have a culture of kids diagnosed as hyperactive. Regardless, it’s nice to see a culture where children can be children and not mini adults.

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france, day 8
posted by soe 9:57 pm

A really quick post because, night owl that I am, I find myself awake at 3:30 a.m.

At the suggestion of our innkeeper, this morning we caught a local bus over the Rhone to Villeneuf lez Avignon, which holds their market day on Thursdays. As you may have noticed, I love farmers’ markets, and this was no exception. We chatted briefly with a few farmers and vendors, but most were busy trying to avoid damage to their property and wares from the nasty wind that cleared today’s skies. As folks began to pack up, Rudi and I hiked up a few blocks into town to wander a bit. Unfortunately, our timing was bad, as we arrived during the lunch break. Yep, that’s right. In much of France (particularly outside of Paris), shops close for lunch — for two or three hours. We had a bite to eat, possibly as the only non-locals in the restaurant, weighed our time constraints, and decided to forgo visiting the town’s castle in exchange for more time exploring Avignon’s Papal Palace.

The palace is impressive in size. I’m sure it doesn’t begin to compare to the Vatican, but when you consider that the construction was completed in the 1300s, it’s hard to scoff at its vastness. Audio guide tours are included with your ticket, but, oh my God!, do they go on! I’m not sure who would have time to listen to each and every feature, but that would have you there all day! The highlight of the palace has to be the view from one of the turrets. The winds were nasty — a gust tore my hat from my head — but even with numb fingers and runny noses, we were really glad to get outside to see the views over the Rhone.

After pausing at a small patisserie for warm refreshment, we wandered back toward the center of town and found ourselves in the pedestrian-only shopping district. Surprised to find stores open still (because, yes, after reopening at 3 following lunch, generally stores close promptly at six), we realized that Thursdays are the one night a week that shops remain open later. The atmosphere reminded me of the Christmas season, but without the stress. Lots of residents out and about, shopping, picking up odds and ends… The spirit of goodwill is probably emphasized because the French, being a polite people, dictate that the shopper greets the shop owner upon entering (“Bon jour/soir, madame/monsieur.”) and that they also exchange niceties before departing (“Au revoir, monsieur/madame.”) It just seems so … connected. I wonder what the clerks at Rite Aid would think if I called a greeting to them every time I stopped by for cat food or toilet paper…

After the shops closed at seven, we continued wandering for a bit, but the wind (have I mentioned the wind?) just tore at us, and I demanded that we seek shelter. Seven is really too early for a French dinner, so we headed to a bar on the main drag where I could get tea. Rudi sampled the local anise-flavored liqueur, pastis, which is so strong that it’s served with a carafe of water to cut it to your taste. He describes it as ouzo done right.

We finished the night with a late dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. As with most of our meals in France, this was well-cooked and quite tasty. And I have to say that the wait staffs of nearly everywhere I’ve visited have been very helpful in explaining to me what certain culinary terms mean as I attempt to navigate around the meatier dishes. And when I end up with food that contains things I don’t eat (such as tonight’s ravioli and shrimp dish), Rudi is always happy to pitch in and consume the expensive parts of my meal. I like it when everyone leaves happy.

Tomorrow we go to see the Pont d’Avignon, a broken bridge across the Rhone. Our hotel owner says that every year they dance on it. I hope to find out why tomorrow. I do know there’s a French children’s song about it — kind of a “London Bridge”-type thing, I believe. In the afternoon, we catch a train back to Paris. How sad to be leaving already; it feels like we just arrived…

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