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Archive for the ‘Avignon!’ Category

Au Revoir, Avignon

The sun is once again rising over Avignon on a very quiet Saturday.  I’m staring out the window as I sit at my computer, listening to the birds chirping and soaking in the tranquility of the moment.  All around me are bags – bags, bags and more bags.  Suitcases that are full but not nearly as stuffed to bursting as they were when I got here, open backpacks, a big plastic garbage bag that I can’t bring myself to tie up and throw away until tomorrow, when I’ll do the scrub down of the room.  Everything about this place shows the reality of the situation: I have less than 48 hours left in Avignon.

Half of the crew! Stephen, Chika and Yours Truly.

Chika left last night.  As we speak she is roadtripping up to Paris with her parents, where she will catch a flight to Portugal to do a 2-week trek across the country and into Spain with her mother before heading to Ireland in mid-May, after which she returns to Vancouver.  She came over to my place to join Stephen and myself for one last cup of coffee, sitting at the small, old kitchen table that had been the origin of so many good moments between us.  I think of all the meals that were cooked there on the stove, all the nights where we’d stand in front of the fridge with the door open, asking each other, “whatta we got?,” trying to figure out how to make the best use out of a quarter of a red pepper, half a cucumber or zucchini, a few carrots, a small onion and tuna fish.  How we would sit there for hours chatting about what seemed to be everything under the sun.  Coffee after morning runs.

Stephen is leaving today, heading to Rome for a day before he heads off to Israel for a month of WWOOF-ing on a goat farm.  After wishing Chika goodbye, we headed back to his place where he ran around like crazy getting stuff ready and I cooked us dinner.  The boy was WIRED (he blamed me for giving him coffee, but the excitement of this next phase was, I think, the real culprit).  After dinner, we sat down just the two of us and polished off a bottle of wine as we talked long into the evening.  Saying goodbye to him at the end wasn’t nearly as finite; after WWOOF-ing, he’ll return to Avignon for the theatre festival and also to tour Provence with a friend of his, before hopping on a plane and settling down in The Greatest City Of Them All (biased?  Me?  How dare you insinuate such a thing).  It’ll be super cool to have a friend from the program back home.

My last week of work went swimmingly, and it was downright sad to say goodbye to all of my kids and coworkers.  But goodbye we said.  On Tuesday at Massillargues I did a yoga class with all of my students which they LOVED, and on Thursday I went to Farfantello to celebrate Carnaval with them.  It was SUCH an interesting experience and one that I had NEVER seen before.  They were all dressed up from head to toe in extravagant costumes like you’d see for Halloween:

Zakariah displaying his football pride.

My coworkers at Farfantello.

That awkward moment when kids are running around with toy guns. Alexi, Sabri and some other boy that wasn't one of mine.

Eric as a provincial farmer.

Mohammed and a friend as a Moroccan man (where Mohammed is from) and Dragonball Z.

Adelaide and some girlfriends as a Chinese woman, fairy princess and a witch.

Romain as a Native American.

Lucas as a caveman.

Dragonball Z, Darth Vader and Elias as another sort of superhero.

Hawaiian girl! 🙂

After hanging out in the courtyard, the kids and the principal began the old Provincial tradition of the Caramentran, a scare-crow like man on a stick on whom you blame all the bêtises (dumb things) you did throughout the year.

Caramentran, the scapegoat of Carnaval, pre-demise.

The kids reading their "accusations" out to Caramentran before he is, literally, sentenced to death by burning. This whole thing is QUITE violent, actually.

And after THAT, Caramentran gets paraded around the courtyard, set down in the middle, AND SET ON FIRE to purge everyone of the evils of the past year:

Alastair parades Caramentran around the courtyard before his unfortunate demise.

Um...bye, Caramentran. Also, that awkward moment when the doll burns away and all you're left with is a burning cross. Oy.

I will admit, being from the United States, it was a little unnerving to be standing in a courtyard of 200 people all dressed up shouting “burn it” at a burning cross.  When you combined that with the fact that toy guns were absolutely EVERYWHERE and the kids were chasing each other around pretending to shoot each other with them, it was a STINGENT reminder that we were definitely NOT in Kansas (or in this case, New York) anymore.  For a good moment, in the middle of all the craziness, I just kind of stood there blown away, with no idea what to do or how to react.

The highlight of the day was my 5th graders.  As I stopped in to say goodbye to them, I was given a standing ovation, with clapping, whooping, cheering and hollering, followed by chanting my name and being told that I was their favorite English teacher ever, hands down.  I loved that class and will miss them terribly.

Also this week was Chika and my’s Farewell to Avignon 10K that we did out on Isle de la Barthelasse, which was a lovely way to wrap up our time in the city.  You can read more about that here.

Tonight I’m having dinner with Theresa, and tomorrow lunch with Marc and Sufia, the other two members of the 5-person gang I normally rolled with here.  I plan on going for a recovery run today and dedicate tomorrow to cleaning this place top to bottom, then first thing Monday morning…on the road again.

And with that, gentle readers, I end my time in Provence.  The next time you hear from me, I will be in Pays Basque with the wonderful and lovely Violaine.

The Goodbye Tour has commenced.

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On Friday, Chika, Stephen and myself headed out to Pont du Gard, an ancient and fully awesome Roman Aqueduct located halfway between Avignon and Nîmes.  The weather left something to be desired, but it was still a lovely area for a picnic and we were practically the only people there.

Pont du Gard over the Rhone!

Stephen doing his own version of locust. Kinda.

A blurry and wind-blown yours truly with the bridge in the back.

My only regret is that the weather wasn’t good enough to swim.  Oh well.

Yesterday, we had Bouillabaisse Night.  We all met up at the market yesterday morning and stocked up on the ingredients.  This is NOT an easy stew to make.  Aside from having to get 4-5 different kinds of fish, it also calls for a whole bunch of outlandish stuff like saffron and tons of fresh herbs and a metric eff-ton of garlic and onions and tomatoes.  The recipe is LONG.  The woman at the poissonerie was super helpful though, and helped us pick out a good selection of fish that would make a good soup without breaking the bank.  We went back to Stephen’s and, if I do say so myself, managed to pull it off SPECTACULARLY.  The result was downright DELICIOUS.  I had two whole bowls.  I did get one of the fish eyes in my bowl, however (while making the broth, you put the heads of the fish in with all the herbs and veggies and boil it for hours.  It eventually disintegrates for the most part and then the eyes kind of cook, shrink and mix in with the rest.  If that doesn’t tempt your palette, I don’t know what will.).

Bouillabaisse! A traditional Southern France dish.

More packing is on the menu today.  Mostly I just need to clean out the drawers of my desk, drop my clothes off at the donation box in town, and do some laundry.  Sometime this week I also need to get a goodbye gift for Françoise – I’ll head out to the mall on Wednesday when I have off.  She just recently shared with me that she will no longer be renting out my room to students and assistants – she’s converting it into a guest room permanently after I leave.  Not because she didn’t like doing so, but because she’s decided to now spend most of her time up at her second home in Ardèche, a region 2 hours north of Avignon in the mountains, and she’s not going to be here terribly often.  I’m going to get her a nice set of demitasse coffee cups – all of hers are chipped and broken, just like everything else in this awesome house.

8 days and counting until I bid Avignon goodbye for good.

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OK, granted I did not close a shop, nor did I sell the house, and my ticket, while going to a coast that lies west from here, isn’t exactly “to the west coast.”  There will also be no stand-up routine in LA.

My big suitcase, coming out of retirement for the journey home.

My last week in Avignon has finally arrived, and it has at long last come time to begin the process of moving on.  I took out my suitcases yesterday and dragged them up to my room, which at this moment is un vrai bordel (a total mess).  Clothes strewn everywhere, including two full bags of stuff I’m chucking.  Everything that did not get worn this year for reasons other than weather appropriateness or lack of a business occasion is going straight into the donation box next to town hall.  It has freed up a LOT of space in my bags which were stuffed to the ever-loving brim when I first got here, and which means that I might, I just might, be able to keep my huge suitcase under the allowed number of pounds for the airplane.

The airplane that, exactly one month from today, I will be boarding en route to New York.

After today, I have three more days of work (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of next week) and then one final weekend to essentially get it all together before getting on a train early in the morning of April 23rd.  First stop: Pays Basque to visit the wonderful and awesomely awesome Violaine.

I’m not gonna lie: I am SO ready to leave Avignon behind.  This has been a wonderful experience and ok fine, it’s been my home for the past year, but this is NOT a city I will miss in the slightest.  Honestly, this is not a REGION I will miss in the slightest.  I went out for drinks last night with Marc, Sufia and Chika and the way I put it to them pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter: Provence is an absolutely stunning region with gorgeous weather.  And that is pretty much all it has going for it.

I wasn’t a fan of the people here.  I’ll be honest.  It’s…backwards.  It’s old school.  It’s racist and misogynistic and aggressive and I’m kind of done trying to be understanding and culturally sensitive.  I’m tired of having to navigate some downright very unpleasant attitudes and battling a rather victim-blaming mentality in doing so.

There are exceptions to this, of course:  my coworkers for one.  They were AWESOME.  And my kids, of course (well, almost all of them).  And I did of course meet some very nice people.  But the overall atmosphere of this region, and this town in particular, is one I find extremely distasteful and that I cannot leave behind fast enough.

After my week with Violaine, I’m heading up to the old stomping grounds of La Roche to say goodbye to the high school crew, before spending a few days in Bretagne, after which I will finally, at long last, end up back in Paris for my final 3 days in France.  I’ll see Cécile for her birthday, and then I head to the airport the morning of the 12th for my 2pm flight.  First stop Reykjavik, then nonstop to the homeland.

Tomorrow Chika and I head to Pont du Garde and then on Saturday we’re holding our Bouillabaisse Night to basically say ciao to people who we might not get to see again and partake in a traditional south of France dining experience.

It’s bouillabaisse, said Hermione.

Bless you, said Ron.

(I couldn’t resist).

On Sunday we’re running a 10K on Isle de Barthelasse, right next to Avignon, then after work finishes next week Chika’s getting right on an airplane and heading off to Spain and Portugal to go hiking with her folks.  It seems as though everyone in the world is leaving ASAP after the 19th – she’s gone the 21st, as are Marc and Sufia, and many other assistants are leaving between the 20th and the 23rd, it seems, including me.  Almost all of us are headed off to other destinations in France or Europe.

And so it goes, huh?

On an unrelated note, I introduced my kids to The Beatles the past week, with mixed results.  Highlights were probably my one 4th Grade class standing up and swaying their arms back and forth, concert style, as I played Let It Be.  Today, my 5th graders ROCKED THE F*CK OUT to Yellow Submarine, immediately standing up and singing the thing at the top of their ever-loving lungs.  It was loud and obnoxious and crazy and I just didn’t have the heart to tell them to quiet down because IT WAS THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER.

However, two out of my three fourth grade classes just couldn’t see what the big deal was.  In my first one last Tuesday, they all exchanged bored looks with each other, before one boy, Théo, looked at me rather flatly.

“This music is weird.  Do you have any Justin Bieber?”

I don’t think I need to elaborate on how close I came to losing my shit on that kid.

Today’s 4th graders also seemed rather unimpressed, but at least expressed a semi-mild interest in some of the stuff I put on.  However, eventually, Mehdi raised his hand in the back row.

“You don’t by any chance have any Michael Jackson or Freddie Mercury, do you?”

The rest of the class fervently agreed.

I was so relieved that I complied without hesitation, and we spent the last 10 minutes rocking out to Queen.  Which wasn’t on the agenda, but with such a reasonable and tasteful request, would you honestly have done any differently?

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I’m writing this entry in my room as the sun is rising over Avignon, the light blue sky mixed with tinges of orange, rose and streaks of white from clouds and passing airplanes.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in my own bed for over a week, and while normally at this time I’d be getting up, getting breakfast and then heading to work at Louis Gros, it’s les vacances scolaires, which means that yours truly is off of work until March 12.

This past week bought a special treat as the one and only awesomeness that is Jennifer Kneeland decided that I was worth her mid-winter break, and decided to come on over to France for a week to see the sites and eat as much cheese and pastries as possible.  She arrived on Saturday evening and just left yesterday morning from Marseille, leaving us plenty of time to see things that neither one of us have seen before.

On Monday I had to work, so she took a day trip to Nîmes while I was at Louis Gros.  On Tuesday, however, I took her to school with me to meet my kids.  Jen is a teacher in New York and was super interested in seeing how it was done on this side of the big pond.  She was a HIT.  They were THRILLED at the chance to meet another American and ask her questions, and she was excited to see the differences between her school and mine.  I was so proud of my munchkins this week – they were SUPER polite and really awesome with her.

My interpreting muscles were flexed quite extensively this week as I essentially managed the conversations between her and…well, everyone.  I’m happy to report I was extremely successful.  I cannot tell you how awesome it is to allow two people who otherwise would not be able to speak to each other communicate.  My favorite part, by far, is what I’ve affectionately started to label “the void” – the moment just after one party says something funny or impressive and there’s absolutely NO reaction from the other party until you’ve said it in the appropriate language.  One of the funniest examples include when Jen told the kids about the size of her school compared to theirs:

Kid: (In French) How many students are in your school?

Rachel: (repeats that in English to Jen)

Jen: Well, I think you guys will be super surprised to hear my school has 700 students in it.

Students: (absolutely no reaction whatsoever)

Rachel: (repeats that in French)

Students: WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

It’s hysterical.  Especially when it’s kids who by this point you know rather well, and you know what they’re going to find LIKE SO TOTALLY AWESOME!!!!!  Being the medium through which that excitement is found is super fun and rewarding.

Wednesday we took a day trip to Aix-en-Provence, FINALLY.  I’d purposely been holding off going for when Jen got here.  It’s a beautiful town – very pretty, colorful, classically Provençal, and I introduced Jen to some of the local goods like Calissons, as well as tried steak tartar for the first time (it was okay, but not something I’d get again).

Due to a rather unpleasant run-in with street harassment in Aix, we arrived at Sufia’s on Wednesday a little tired and cranky, but had a lovely Indian-themed soirée with the gang with Sufia as master chef.  Absolutely delicious, and I’m glad Jen got to meet the people who I spend most of my time with here in Avignon.

Thursday afternoon was my last day at work before vacation, and then enjoyed another evening out with the gang at a local theatre where they were doing a free showing of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (the Passion of Joan of Arc), a really famous silent French film from the year 1928.  Then, on Friday, we woke up, I packed my little duffle/day bag and Jen packed her larger suitcase, and me, her and Chika hopped a train to Marseille for a fun girls weekend before Jen had to catch her flight back to New York on Sunday.

Chika and I had been to Marseille before but never to really hang out and see it – I was there for a training waaaaaaaaaaay back in the beginning in early October but only for one evening and I didn’t get to see anything.  I was also there for a few hours in early January when I got back from Nantes after Christmas, but only to crash overnight in a youth hostel.  I was excited to actually visit the town this time and take some time to explore.

We arrived in Marseille early afternoon to 70 degree weather and an absolutely impeccable, cloudless blue sky.  We immediately set out to see the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de la Garde and ended up staying there for a few hours, watching the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea and the city:

A little angel looking out over Marseille.

Marseille as seen from the Cathedral. The sea is just next to it.

Three lovely ladies hitting the town.

Cathedral artwork.

Sunset over the sea from Marseille. Words cannot describe how gorgeous this was in person.

Afterwards, we went out for absolutely AMAZING couscous.  Due to the North African/Tunisian influence in the south of France, you can find INCREDIBLE couscous at great prices in this area.  An appetizer, main dish, coffee, and dessert for under 15 euros?  Yes plz.

We slept like hell on Friday night (we are actually starting to wonder if we’re getting too old for youth hostels…perish the thought!) but plugged ahead on Saturday, spending the day taking the train out to la Côte Bleue (the blue coast), hiking the cliffs along the water and lazing around the small seaside towns:

Hiking the coast.

A little red lighthouse. Alex, this one is for you.

Seaside town on the Blue Coast.

After crêpes for dinner, we crashed hard and slept beautifully Saturday night.  On Sunday, Jen had to leave early to get back to New York, so we hugged tightly and said goodbye.  It really struck me while doing so that it actually wasn’t going to be too long until I saw her again – 3 months.  That’s all that’s left.

While she was in an aeroplane over the sea, Chika and I spent the once again warm and sunny morning wandering the streets of the Vieille Charité neighborhood of Marseille, a beautiful area recommended to me by Françoise:

Vieille Charité.

The windy streets of the neighborhood.

After that, we headed out to the beaches on the coast of Marseille, taking in the amazingly clear blue water of the Mediterranean Sea:

Me on the coast of the Mediterranean. Next stop across the sea, Africa.

After a drink at a small café by the water, we finally headed back to Avignon, arriving back around 6pm, exhausted, sandy and having had the weekend of our lives (or at least, of our time here).  All in all, I LOVED Marseille.  It kind of has a bad reputation as being dangerous and dirty (and according to Françoise, 10 years ago that was totally justified) but it’s gotten much better and I found it had SUCH a charm to it.  Every city has its own characteristics and slogan, and Marseille was a town of friendly, boisterous folks with a bit of grit, good humor, and a half metropolitan/half beachtown feel.  You get the feeling people here are just freakin’ trying to help you for cryin’ out loud, and what’s the rush with trying to get everywhere fast, and oh what’s that, you don’t like us?  Fuck you, we’re Marseille!

Anyway, on that note…

I’ve been experiencing such a period of calm, peace and reflection these past 2 months, and even more so now with le grand froid (the big cold) being over and the days getting longer and longer.  As I sat on the coast, staring out at the water with the sun shining down on the waves, talking to two good friends, I truly realized that I have arrived at a state of tranquility, joy and peace that I have not experienced since before my time at Columbia, which at this point feels like another lifetime ago.  I’ve been feeling generally quite good since I quit that job to begin with, but only now, over a year later, have a reached a state of what I would describe as “equilibrium.”  A sense of total calm, and contentment with my life exactly as it is – santosha, as we say in the yogic community.  I feel hope again, but more importantly, for the first time in years, literally years, I feel stable, grounded, and very, very, very alive, whereas before I always felt like I would fly away if the wrong situation hit me just right.

I have a plan that I am hoping to follow upon my return to the US that I am cautiously optimistic for but by no means married to, and that in and of itself is huge.  If there’s one thing I can say I’ve learned over the past 14 months, it’s flexibility.  I described it to Jen last week as she and I took a walk along the banks of the Rhone River.  For so long, I thought the path to what I wanted in life could only be taken one way.  Like I needed to be on this one highway, and if I got off that highway, everything would fall apart.  But now I realize it’s so much less complicated than I was making it.  I was at point A, and I want to get to point B.  As long as I’m steadily heading towards point B, which I am, what does it matter if I take the next exit and try a back road from time to time?  No one is going to die, and life isn’t going to fall apart.  Like Meg Ryan’s character says in French Kiss, one of my favorite 90s RomComs:

There’s no home safe enough, and there’s no relationship secure enough.  You’re just setting yourself up for an even bigger fall, and having an incredibly boring time in the process.

Amen.

It’s been a sort of change in energy, a shift in consciousness on my part, and one that I am welcoming, utterly and completely.  I am being smart and responsible while at the same time going on faith.  I’ve found a balance between the two extremes that I kind of swung back and forth between for a while.  And that, I’m realizing more and more each day, is what this year was supposed to be about.  Ostensibly I came here for professional reasons, but now I see that’s not why I really needed to come here.  I came here for my soul.  And my soul is very, very grateful.

As Chika put it to me as we hiked the cliffs the other day: “it’s been noticeable.  You’re just…more well than before.”

With only 3 months left in France, Chika and I have started to realize that the clock is beginning to tick.  The homesickness that I mentioned a few entries back is gone, replaced by a realization that we’re coming down the home stretch and we need to profit from our time here as much as we can, especially now that Spring is coming and the weather is getting nicer.  We’ve been very good about our day trips and seeing the region, but now we’re ready to sit down, calculate exactly how many weekends we have left, and plan out exactly what we want to do and when.  On our list is our much-talked about trip to Chatêauneuf du Pape, the wine region we plan to spend a weekend biking through in a few weeks, swimming under the Pont du Garde, renting a car to see the Ocre cliffs at Roussillon, and much more.

I leave for Nice on Friday morning.  2 days on the Riviera, then off to Rome before meeting up with the fabulous Rebekah in Florence next week.  I’ll check back in with you all after I get back, between the exorbitant amounts of yoga and running I’ll need to do to make up for the massive amounts of pasta I’m about to consume.

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Le Harcèlement

Le Harcèlement. (n.m)

Un enchaînement d’agissements hostiles dont la répétition affaiblit psychologiquement la personne qui en est la victime.

Harassment (masculine noun)

A series of hostile attacks, which when repeated psychologically weakens the person who is the victim.

A much more fun, light-hearted post about my otherwise wonderful week is forthcoming, but for now, I’d like to take a moment to talk about a phenomenon that has been very prevalent in my life since moving to France: street harassment.

I am from the 4th-biggest metropolitan area in the entire world.  I walk down streets alone ALL THE TIME.  I am surrounded by people 24/7.  And when I tell you that I have never in my life been verbally harassed and catcalled in the city that has been dubbed, not entirely in an unjustified manner, “the center of the universe” 1/3rd as much as I have been in this teeny tiny little town in the south of France, I am not exaggerating in the slightest.

It is nigh impossible for a woman, any woman, to walk down the street without some guy thinking it’s just hysterical to shout lewd remarks at her.  I really hate to say this but unfortunately it is true – many Avignonnais (men originally from Avignon) are just not nice, respectful, or classy people.  Many, many, MANY of them originally come from cultures that do not value or respect women, and as a result, any woman in the street is public property and fair game to harass.  Sometimes it’s more benign – simply giving a lewd smile and leering while telling me how gorgeous/hot/beautiful I am – and other times it’s much more aggressive (like the time a group of men leaned out of their car and screamed all the unmentionable things they wanted to do to me, none of which I will taint this journal with by writing out).

There’s another kind, too – the “let’s harass the English speakers” kind.  While I’m in French 90% of the time, every so often when out with other English speakers, of COURSE we speak our native language.  Apparently, this has been deemed unacceptable by many Avignonnais, who feel the need to butt in and mock us speaking English.  We’ll take a moment to bask in the irony of this, as about 95% of the men who do this are the same ones who are ALSO speaking a language other than French to THEIR friends on the street, but apparently Arabic and Gitan (a dialect spoken by the very prevalent gypsy population here) are acceptable whereas English is not.  Or I guess I should be more specific – Arabic and Gitan WITH A PENIS is more acceptable than English.

As a result, if you happen to be a) female and b) speaking English while walking in the street, there’s about a 75% chance some misogynistic douche is going to get in your face (and I mean RIGHT IN YOUR FACE) and start SCREAMING (with horrible accents) “HELLO!  HOW ARE YOU TODAY?  WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!” or some variation thereupon.

This never used to really bother me – probably because in New York, it happened so rarely that when it did I was able to just say a snarky remark and move on with my day – but it is downright INCESSANT here and I’ve found that my patience for it has been wearing thinner and thinner every day.  The problem, as I’ve explained to many friends both here and Stateside, is that street harassment is the ultimate abuse of power by men over women.  There is absolutely no way in the world that a woman can “take the power back” in the situation.  The guy doing it knows this.  He knows that he can shout whatever he wants to you.  If you don’t respond and ignore it, he feels like he’s won and he gets no consequences.  But then here’s the kicker: if you DO respond, HE STILL FEELS LIKE HE’S WON, because he’s gotten you to react, and the entire group of boys laughs at you.  If you say something challenging back and shoot down his game/masculinity, he needs to save face in front of his buddies, so he immediately moves to threat of physical harm or very derogatory/vulgar insults that he knows you won’t respond to out of fear for your safety.  And the cycle continues.

I’ve tried all three of the abovementioned strategies and nothing works.  I cannot tell you the since of hopelessness, powerlessness and frustration that comes with this, and what’s even more frustrating is that you just don’t understand WHY ANYONE WOULD DO THIS.  I mean, in THEORY you do, but I just want to get inside their heads and figure out what is going on in there, what they are thinking that moment before they decide to harass someone.  We had an unpleasant run-in with a group of gypsy, for lack of a better way of putting it, thugs while in Aix on Wednesday and Jen, who spent the last week visiting from New York, told me that she saw it coming.  We’d been standing on the corner committing the grievous sin of doing absolutely nothing other than existing without dangling sex organs, and she’d seen one of the boys motion to the other three about us.

No matter how witty your response may be (“would you do this if your mother was standing right next to you?” or my personal favorite “I would stick with French, because your English sucks,”) they always find something to say back that is just cruel and terrible and vulgar and totally threatening (I was labeled a White American Whore on Wednesday, for example).  And what’s worse, is that because it’s street harassment, it’s not taken seriously.  If you’re raped and you can catch the guy, at least you have a chance of taking the power back by making sure he’s punished (in theory).  In the street, no guy is going to be arrested for shouting at and demeaning you.  And because you fear for your physical well-being, you feel like you have absolutely no choice other than to just let it go and they continue on feeling entitled to treat women like scum.  Because after all, who’s gonna stop them?  I would like to see every single one of these pieces of scum arrested and/or fined, and I would like to see them removed from society, but that’s never going to happen, so I ask you all now: please, don’t street harass.  It doesn’t make you cool, it doesn’t make you a man, it makes you a trashy, classless thug wannabe in an Adidas tracksuit who is overcompensating for his small dick and nothing more.  And by the way, about the f*cking tracksuit?  The early 90s are gone, and so are the clothes that went with them.  Just FYI.

Allez vous faire foutre et puis jetez-vous d’un gratte-ciel, sales connards.

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Joyeux Anniversaire

I turned 27 yesterday.

The older I get, the more I find that Birthdays kind of mean less and less to me.  Remember when we were little, and birthdays were like, OH MY GOD, the coolest and biggest deal ever?!

It’s gotten to the point where the days leading up to it, I’ll be doing something, and I’ll suddenly find myself saying, “oh yeah, it’s my birthday next week/in a few days/tomorrow.”  And I’ll keep forgetting that’s the case, and then when stuff happens and people make reference to it, I have to reflect for a bit to realize what they’re talking about.  As was the case when Chika invited me over for dinner on Wednesday.  At first I thought it was just another one of our dinners, but then realized, oh yeah, that’s my birthday.  Duh.

She said that she and Anaïs, her roommate, wanted to make me a little birthday meal, so could I come over at 7:30 on Wednesday?  I agreed.

I spent yesterday driving around Provence with Françoise, heading to St. Remy to do some small shopping.  We walked around the cute little town and stopped at two places in particular, where we were on a mission: Joël Durand Chocolates and Confiserie Lilamand, two home-made, authentic shops that sell two of Provence’s greatest specialties: the first being what has been called the best chocolat in France, and the second fruit confit (candied fruit).

Durand Chocolat, which, quite honestly, is INSANE. Literally every flavor you could think of.

We entered the little store, and were surrounded by thousands and thousands of these little squares of chocolate.  Each square has letters on it representing a certain flavor.  Here you’re looking at E – Earl Grey chocolate.  Others include Cloves and Lemon, Cinnamon Nutmeg, Orange, Coffee, Lavender, Rosemary (OMG YUM), Chestnut, Licorice, Szechwan Pepper, Praline and many, many others, including seasonal varieties as well.  A hurried looking, very stern and serious man took my order as he filled my boxes with the selection available.  I didn’t see him crack a smile once.  He reminded me of a Broadway Show director, perfecting his art.

When we left, Françoise leaned over to me.  “You were just served by Monsieur Durand himself,” she whispered.  The founder and creator of the store.  Ah.  That explained it.  He was an ARTEEST.

Candied fruit! A provencal speciality.

Our next stop was Lilamand, a candied fruit wonderland that reminded me of what Honeyduke’s must look like.  Baskets and baskets of candied fruits, dripping with syrup, lined the store.  Pears, peaches, cherries, strawberries, melon, grapefruit, mandarins, pineapple, apricots, orange, lemon, you name it, they had it.  While there, I tried another specialty of the region, calissons, a sort of cookie with a hard candied topping that was quite yummy.  They had it in regular and with ginger.  I preferred the latter and munched as the woman filled up my boxes of candied fruit.

By the time we left, the sun was out and the day was warmer than it had been before.  We passed by Glanum, a Roman site with beautifully preserved ruins, on the way home, and walked around a bit.  I made a decision to return here again with a bike as soon as the weather got warm again.  According to Françoise, it’s absolutely stunning in the spring with all of the bike and walking paths and definitely merits another go.

I got home (just in time, because I was so carsick by this point it wasn’t funny) and finished an episode of Law and Order à la française, and then around 7:30 left to go to Chika’s for dinner.

OK, I’ll admit it – I had kindasorta guessed what was going to happen.  Well, sort of at least.  I had an inkling something was planned, but I wasn’t 100% convinced, which is why I decided to skip bringing the camera.  I was by no means POSITIVE something was up, but my senses were alert enough that when I got to Chika’s and opened the door and a group of people jumped out at me shouting “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” I wasn’t shocked at all.  Touched and happy, but not “holy crap I just had a heart attack” stunned like my surprise party sophomore year at NYU.

Chika had gotten all the assistants together for a birthday meal for me.  I cannot express how grateful I am to have met her and become her friend here.  A whole long table was set up, with salad, couscous, pasta bolognese, caprese salad, and the works.  Mark, Sufia, Aurora, Ed, Nicole, Sarah, and Stephen were all there with hugs, and we spent the next 5 hours eating, talking, and having a wonderful time.  I really love this group – they’re such a nice mix of people and we always have so much fun whenever we hang out.  It was a beautiful evening and a wonderful way to celebrate when all of us are so far away from home.

Afterwards, they walked me home, we all hugged and kissed goodbye, and a little after midnight I was back in my room.  I went on Facebook and saw my wall, where written next to my picture was “it’s your birthday!”  I refreshed the page and it went right back to the way it had been the other 364 days of the year – “Born December 14, 1984.”

Another year older.  🙂

 

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I woke up on Saturday the 26th at 7:30, and rolled out of bed, careful not to wake Chika who was sharing the bed with me.  I slipped on my socks, slinked out the door and stumbled my way through the halls down to the kitchen – due to the AMAZING European utilization of shutters, much light gets blocked out in the mornings (which leads to me sleeping deeper, longer and better in general, but that’s besides the point).  I was still rather zonked from my 7 hour train ride the night before to get here, but I’d slept well and was ready to tackle the task ahead.

I came into the kitchen:

The sight that greeted me at 7:30 Saturday morning. Everything one needs to make the perfect pumpkin and apple pies.

I tied on my apron and got to work.

A half an hour later, Hélène came into the kitchen, prepared with her camera to photodocument the entire day that we were about to spend cooking.  On the menu was:

  • Turkey (awesomely acquired for us by Hélène’s mother Geneviève who has a friend who owns a farm.  Otherwise, grosses dindes are quite hard to come by in France any time before Christmas).
  • Stuffing
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup
  • Stuffed Mushrooms

Throughout the day we scraped and scrapped and mixed and chopped and cut and blended and cooked and spatula-ed and everything else you could think of.  We were eventually joined by Hélène’s parents, Geneviève and Bernard, Chika, Leidi, and Cécile as we lovingly prepared the entire meal from scratch.  This was my first time being responsible for Thanksgiving dinner in my life – Mom has always been the chef – and I was determined to not mess anything up.

Since, once again, a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m going to let them do the talking.

I peel les grosses pommes for the apple pie!

Getting ready to put my apple pie in the oven! The idea of putting a crust on top is quite alarming (but ultimately well-received) by the French.

I create stuffing. My grandmother's recipe. It usually calls for stale white bread. I used stale baguettes.

Yum!

Chika and Geneviève prepare the zest for the cranberry sauce!

I stuff Danielle la Dinde!

Danielle la Dinde! Tom Turkey's female French counterpart. Stuffed, tied up and ready to go in the oven!

Allez hop! Danielle goes into the oven.

Chika and Leidi fastidiously "shell" the Brussels Sprouts.

I gotta say, I am EXTREMELY proud of myself.  Not only was this my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner, but I had spent 3 hours, a week prior, at my computer painstakingly and slowly converting every single recipe into the metric system.  With the exception of one mistake I made with butter, which I caught in time so I was able to avoid a mess, I converted everything correctly and the dinner came out, and I really can’t think of another way to use this word, PERFECTLY.  The turkey was perfectly juicy, nothing was burnt or dry, and it just could not have been any smoother.  We rocked it!

Finally, around 6 pm, we sat down and enjoyed the fruits of our long, rewarding labor.

The spread!

A table!

The plate! Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with butter and syrup, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and Chika's gravy, and my grandmother's stuffed mushrooms. NOM.

Me enjoying my homemade pumpkin pie made me fresh pumpkin puree, and which was easily the best pumpkin pie I'd ever tasted (sorry Mom).

This was followed by several rounds of us sucking at Guitar Hero:

Leidi all stylin'.

How bad I am at this game is unforgivable.

The only sucky part of the weekend was the fact that we had to turn RIGHT back around on Sunday and make the 7 hour train ride back home, but I got back to Avignon not too late.  That didn’t stop me from being absolutely dead the next day at work, but I will say that it was most definitely worth it.

A light display in Centre Ville.

And of course, now that Thanksgiving is over (or at least that week, however normal it was in France), Santa has thrown up all over Avignon.  In a sharp contrast to how it was 10 years ago where pretty much the only indicator that it was Christmas time was the one lone red bulb hanging on that one tree in that one corner of Place Napoleon in La Roche, France seems to have a last caught up with America, at least somewhat, in the whole commercial aspect of Noël.  Lights and greenery line all the streets, every tree is wrapped with ornaments and sparkles, a huge Christmas market sprawls over Centre Ville, and carols play pretty much all the time, all over the place.

I gotta admit I’m loving it – it’s a little bit of home despite my being so very far from it.  There’s 10 more days of work, and then on the afternoon of the 16th, I head to Paris for four days before heading on out to Vendée once again, and I’ll up there until the 4th, when I’m flying home to Marseille from Nantes.  20 euros for the flight.  Merci, Ryan Air.

As I write this, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” plays on my Spotify music station.  Sigh.

Deck the Halls. Literally.

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