Thursday, November 04, 2004

October 23-November 3

October 23, 2004

Watched _In America_ last night—those girls are so cute! I wonder if that is what Rowan and I were like. I hope so. There were cute without being sickening. They did sort of find themselves in the same roles that Rowan and I found ourselves—the younger being an absolute charmer, the older being mature beyond her years. (Yes, I’ve always been mature beyond my years. Just ask my Mommy.) The movie has a French language track so I may bring my laptop down to the kitchen and let the others watch it. I don’t know, though. They may complain that it is too “Hollywood” with its happy ending. Hey, I like my documentaries and my art films, but I like happy endings occasionally. I think I would be depressed if I only watched sad, thinking person films.

So, I don’t know about this trip to Brittany. I spent all say yesterday in the Camille Vernet computer room with Natalia (and sometimes Alessia) looking up stuff for the trip. They want to rent a car so I was looking up car prices. When I would find something, there would be some problem with it. Oh, and when they were budgeting for the trip they forgot to include the price of gas. Hell, that was the first thing I thought when they said car. I thought, oh shit, how much is gas going to cost us? Then, out of the five of us, only two are able to drive in France (and guess who one of the two is…). The other one is 24, so that complicates matters because here, as in the US, rental car drivers under 25 have to pay extra. So I was looking for something the size of a Geo Metro for five people that ran on diesel and that didn’t have expensive extra charges for people under 25. Oh, something else. You have to rent a car for a minimum of three days. So I spent all day yesterday looking stuff up and making suggestions. Suggestions which the others totally disregarded.

Anyway, the computer room closes at 19h every evening so we had to have the car reserved and paid for by then (and guess who has the only credit card in the group. Yup.). So at 18h 56 I’m like, “okay, we need to make up our minds really quickly now” and everyone is turning off their computers. Then at 18h 57 I’m like, “Hey you guys, don’t forget, I have to get on the internet to pay for the car” and they are totally surprised by this piece of information (which, I must add, I had told them several times—in French—during our search). So at 18h 58 they turn another computer back on and—wait, one of the girls needs to check her e-mail real quick—okay, it is now 19h 01 and BAM the connection is gone.

And that is why I stayed in my room last night, avoiding the company of those with whom I will be spending a total of seven days with… in a tiny car… maybe.

I keep asking myself, is this something I really want to put myself through? But yes, I think it will be amusing, if nothing else. And I will be forced to speak in French for seven days—no English at all. And I will get to see parts of Brittany that I would not get to see otherwise. So yes, I think it is something that I want to do. I just hope that, once this thing is planned, things will go a bit more smoothly. And I am a more relaxed traveler than I am a planner. I tend to get really uptight when planning things, but then I am pretty laid back when actually traveling. We shall see how laid back I can remain for seven days.

October 24, 2004

I am going on a bike ride today with a bunch of other Americans. I ran into another American assistant and her husband yesterday and we spent the day walking around Valence and comparing notes. It was nice being able to speak with another American, not just because we share the same language but also because we are experiencing similar things now. Even though the Brits speak English, they come from a country that is more like France so this is not as strange to them as it is to us Americans.

We talked about being cold when the radiator hadn’t kicked on yet, about there being no sun, about there being constant rain, about the fact that everything closes Sunday, Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon, Friday afternoon, and Saturday late afternoon—oh, and for two hours every day during lunch. We were like, “It is lunch time and all the restaurants are closed! How the hell are you supposed to eat?” We also talked about the copious amounts of dog shit everywhere—as if people were taking their pet elephants for walks. We talked about how most of the streets look alike (which they do. I’m usually pretty good with finding my way around, but occasionally I get turned around and it is usually because everything looks the same to me).

Still, at the end of the day it was nice to be able to go back to the assistants I live with and have a comfortable dinner (I had pizza and a coke!). I realized how much I enjoy the company of the assistants I live with. It is very relaxed (usually. Well, with some of them. But even the high energy level of some can be amusing.). So far I think (for the most part) we have been pretty good about respecting each other. Then again, I live pretty far from the kitchen and the center of it all, so I may have a completely rosy view of things.

I have giant dust bunnies in my room. I have no idea where they come from—maybe the wool blankets—but they are huge! I just swept them up about ten minutes ago and I looked down and saw a new crop. And that dead fly stuck to the wall is grossing me out. I guess I should probably go scrape it off.


October 25, 2004

I woke up about fifteen minutes ago and it was so light I figured it must be about six in the morning. Nope. It is just a little after midnight. I guess maybe it never gets too dark here—maybe to make up for the sun never shining. I figured I’d sleep well tonight—we did about 22 km on the bikes yesterday—but I here I am, awake.

The bike ride was nice. There were four Americans, two French guys, and two women on a bicycle built for two (one of them was blind). One of the French guys was a real rider, with a bike that weighs about 1/2 ounce (give or take—it was pretty damn light). We rode out of Valence. The city ends abruptly—just gives way to farmland. It is all flat, with the mountains in the distance.

Okay, I’m awake again. I decided that I was sleepier than I thought. So now it is about 11am and I have fought the shower again. I decided that, fuck it, I’m going to get a proper shower even if I have to stand in three feet of water. This was going well, until I looked down, realized I couldn’t see my feet, and then remembered the open wound on my right heel from—you guessed it—my pair of French shoes. So I hopped right out, put my glasses on, and decided that it was probably a good thing that I had just left the shower because the water was about to overflow the shower edge. So I dried off my still slightly soapy body and went, tail tucked, back to my room to get on my laptop and complain some more about the shower.

Things I would like mom to bring me when she comes for a visit:
Superglue (don’t ask)
A copy of Sopranos season two CD
Three books from my bookcase (the small one in my room. The books are on the middle shelf, probably towards the right side—or on the top shelf if I reorganized them by size instead of topic before I left).
Atoms of Language

Topics (because I don’t remember the titles):
History and development of the French language
History and development of languages in general

Anyway, I think I impressed the other French bike riders yesterday. On the way out they asked me if I was getting tired (I was using an old bike—and I was the chunkiest one out there). Then, after about 6km, we had to stop because the older French guy was sick. He was diabetic and his blood sugar had gotten too low. The other French guy (the one with the light bike) raced back to get his car while we waited. When he got back we loaded the older guy and his bike into the car, then we all got back onto our bikes and followed the car back to Valence. I was at the lead of the group (we were all spaced pretty far apart by this time), right behind the car. (This was mainly because, at one point, we had lost track of the car and had almost taken a wrong turn. So I decided to keep right behind the car and pay attention to which way it went, then drop back some so the others could see me before I made any turns.) Well, maybe impressed is not the right word. But the French biker guy did seem to warm up to me a bit after we got back.

So I need to go to the train station today and change the date of my ticket to Rennes. I’m not looking forward to going by myself to the train station and trying to get this done. Oh well. I will manage (je vais me debrouiller).

Later—still October 25. I went window-shopping with Helene (the Russian), Alessia (The Italian), and another Russian girl. We went into stores and saw wonderful, cute clothing that I could never hope to slide my sausage-like body into. Then we stopped by the train station so I could change my ticket. So now I leave with everyone else on Wednesday. That means I have to do laundry tomorrow, but that is fine.

Tonight we ate Russian soup and an Argentinean tortilla. I cut the garlic and onions. The others are amazed at my inability to cook. They want to know what I do chez moi. I explained that a lot of my food comes in little packages that I can microwave. It didn’t sound too appetizing to them (nor does it sound so to me—one of these days I have to learn how to do more than cut onions, boil water, and heat pizza.)

It is amazing to me how long everyone takes to eat dinner. I usually go down to the kitchen at about seven and a little before eight we start cooking. We eat when the food is ready and then I am usually not back in my room until after ten. I am used to being able to microwave, eat, and clean in under a half an hour. I wonder how I will cope when I get back stateside—especially without my international chefs!

The curtains fell on my head last night—not a pleasant way to be awakened. We requested some curtains to provide privacy and we got thin, lacey curtains that are a little too small for the windows. We also got the hardware to hang them up with—a pole that is just barely long enough and some plastic things to stick to the windows. Unfortunately, the tape on the back of the plastic things does not seem to be able to support the oh-so-heavy weight of these tiny lace curtains. Thus—BAM—curtains on my head last night. (Well, less of a bam and more of a cobweb feeling on my face followed by a very small thump of the too-small-hardware hitting the windowsill.) Now I keep glancing anxiously at the curtains too see if they look like they are going to dive bomb my head at about three in the morning.

November 3, 2004

As I said in the last post, what the hell is going on in my country and why is Fox still considered a valid news source. Right now I’m pretty disgusted with the US for not being smarter in their choice of president. That is not to say that I think other countries are perfect, but I have a certain amount of, well, lets call it patriotism and I hate it when the actions of my fellow citizens leave me very little to be patriotic about. Fuckers. Brain-dead fuckers.

I suppose I should be recording my Toussaint vacation to Brittany but I’m feeling a little distracted right now. I also have the feeling that I will never be able to compare with Bill’s perfectly preserved mouse skeletons. But I will try.

First, a list of things I have learned in the past week:

Never travel with more than one Italian or Latin American at a time. Traveling with one Latin American and one Italian is also not the best idea.

Five people, four with very large backpacks, can fit into a Clio Twingo (a car slightly smaller than a Geo Metro). The smallest backpack (mine) always gets the lowest priority and thus winds up under someone’s feet. Usually the person who stepped in the French dog shit.

It always rains in Brittany.
Brittany rain is very cold, and if you are right next to the water, it does not fall straight down, preferring instead to hit you at a 90-degree angle.

Italians and Latin Americans are always cold and thus keep the car at an ungodly temperature.

It is really, really difficult to drive when four people are giving you directions and critiquing your driving in four different language.

It is really funny people who can’t speak English repeat your cuss words without knowing exactly what they mean.

Trying to make decisions in four different languages is pretty much impossible.

Traffic circles are not the best place for navigational conferences—I think I went around every traffic circle in Brittany at least four times.

Mosquitoes are alive and well in Brittany, even if it is freezing cold. They are now really well fed.

Another thing I learned, though not in Brittany, is not to get cocky with French food. I just went to a sandwich shop and ordered a ham sandwich, a jambon cru. I brought it back to my room and took a bite of it. “Funny,” I thought, “this ham is really slimy. And cold. It doesn’t have quite the consistency that I am used to. Oh well, must be a special French ham.” I got through half the sandwich before I got up the nerve to check the French dictionary. (After about two bites I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what jambon cru was.) Yup, it was a raw ham sandwich. I had a mouth full of sandwich when I read the definition and I barely gagged it down. Then I ate a bag of honey-roasted peanuts, some cookies, and drank a can of Coca-Cola. Next time I order something to eat, I am going to bring a dictionary with me.

Good news: Mom is going to come and visit me for my birthday! I am excited and I’m trying to think of places to go that she might like. There is a village close to Valence that is famous for its lace, so I am going to check the train schedule. There is another village famous for pottery, but it is further away. There was a lot of pottery in Brittany and I wanted to get something for mom, but I was afraid whatever I bought would break. Oh well. I did buy a couple of Christmas presents—I figure I need to get Christmas stuff out at the beginning of December… but I’m usually pretty bad about getting people their presents before Christmas, so I don’t see why I’m concerned about it now.

I still don’t know what to get for my little sis. I looked in Brittany, but again there was the breakable issue. I figure I can go to Lyon for a day of Christmas shopping and get presents there for everyone still on the list.

Oh, I thought I was going to freeze to death this morning. I woke up around 7am but didn’t manage to make it out of bed until after 10am (and only then because I was anxious about the election). It was colder in my room than it was outside. Then, when I got back to my room, the radiator had started working again and it was burning up so I had to open a window for awhile. Then, it stopped working again so now I’m back to cold. There is also a smell of stinky, uncooked ham so I’m burning incense. Only that reminded me of the creepy experience I had in a crypt in Nantes, so I’m about to open the window again just for some fresh air. (The creepy experience was this—the crypt of the big cathedral in Nantes was open to the public so of course I went down [as an aside, I think the church is broken because I lit a candle for Kerry and it doesn’t look like it worked. I wonder if I can write a letter and get my one euro back.] Anyway, there were steps and more steps leading down and the air got thicker and thicker and dustier and dustier until I could barely breathe. I finally got down to a tiny little room where there was incense burning and the smoke was so thick it was like being in a burning building. I thought I was going to go slight mad and suffocate—I suppose it was the small space and the smoke that awoke terror in me—so I ran back up the stairs and out the church.)


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