Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part I)

Flashback Friday! And cheers to warm summer days and nights.

My introduction to France was in Nice, before the internet made research and reservations a breeze and when we still had to change currency and check passports each time we entered a new country. Backpacking through Europe with my cousin, we arrived in Nice by evening train and learned at the information stand that all the youth hostels were full. We couldn’t afford a hotel room, and while we worried that we might have to spend the night on the beach, made even more unappealing by the fact that I had a miserable chest cold, a fellow backpacker pointed out a white-haired woman carrying a red notebook. “She seems really sweet; she has a room to rent.” Thus we met Olga the Angel.

Olga was a spry woman with bright blue eyes and plenty of Je-ne-sais-quoi. Her red notebook was her guestbook, and entry after entry described a fabulous stay in Nice with Olga. She nursed me back to health with whiskey-laced hot chocolate, pointed us to her favorite restaurants and instructed us to say, “C’est bon!” no matter what, and strictly forbid us to take showers lasting longer than 5 minutes. We loved her and ended up staying with her twice as long as we’d originally planned. For me, France and Nice are forever colored by Olga’s bright smile and energy. My pictures from that time aren’t digital, but here are a few photos from a more recent trip to Nice:

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Espace Massena

Espace Massena

Marche des fleurs

Marche des fleurs

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice

We were there for the Fete de la Musique, a magical day in June where all the musicians come out on the streets to sing and play. This woman had an incredible voice:

074 Fete de la Musique

I love these Provencal windows

I love these Provencal windows

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old Nice

Old Nice

Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi

Old Nice

Old Nice

 

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 2)

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people. I approached the summer we spent in Antibes thinking I would probably be at least a decade older than most of the students in the immersion program, and therefore likely to spend a lot of time alone. I brought my laptop and blank notebooks, thinking I’d spend most of the time I wasn’t in school working on my fiction and studying French. Instead, I met some of the most fabulous women (many my age on language vacations) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. As it goes with traveling, sharing a common experience, we bonded quickly and became fast friends. I have to admit I have many reservations about things like Facebook, and even blogging (it’s so public! I’m so exposed!), but these things have enabled me to stay in touch with these lovely ladies.

Here are some photos from a walk/hike I took around the Cap d’Antibes with one of those dear friends.

Cap d'Antibes

Cap d’Antibes

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes!

Daring locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes! The water is powerful and the rocks precarious. I just took photos.

551 Cap d'Antibes

554 Cap d'Antibes

Ten Things I Love About The French

1. I love the appreciation the French have for good food and good wine. A Frenchman I know once stated that when a person isn’t willing to indulge sometimes, enjoy great food, let go a bit, it “really says something about that person.” He couldn’t comprehend people who never eat the good stuff, even if it might go straight to their thighs. Lest you think the French are okay with gluttony – they aren’t. (I think half the women in France are starving themselves because they certainly aren’t exercising!) They just aren’t into denying themselves the pleasures of life.

2. I love Sunday lunches, where families gather to spend a couple hours together over a nice meal.

3. That je-ne-sais-quoi French people possess. The way the women seem to never style their hair yet it still hangs in perfect waves with just the right amount of flyaways to say: I’m beautiful, and I’m not trying. The slightly arrogant, stooped posture of the men that says I’m more intellect than athlete, and I don’t care what you think about it. What is it about French people…it’s so hard to put a finger on it, it’s that je-ne-sais-quoi. They can drive me crazy, but I still love them.

4. I love that they flirt with most everyone, even in the most benign situations. Not to be anti-feminist, but turning a simple transaction – like buying a container of aspirin – into a dance of compliments and innocently arching eyebrows puts a smile on my face. I call it the French version of customer service.

5. I like that the French enjoy intellectual conversations and pride themselves on being realists. I like that they will engage each other in a verbal battlefield over ideas and current events, yet not take the conversation personally or allow it to damage a friendship. Except sometimes I don’t love this. I should probably put this on a list about things I don’t love about the French, too.

6. I find French men’s abhorance for white socks (even when exercising!) endearing.

7. I love that the French believe, and pursue, balance in life. Between work and play, time for children and adult time, in indulging in their desire to enjoy amazing food but not overdoing it….

8. I love the way my French friends are always happy to spend time together. We linger over meals, enjoying long conversations, enjoying each other’s company, playing games, long after most of our other friends have decided it’s time to get back home, or go to the next party, or who knows what. The French prioritize people in their lives in a way that I wish we did better here.

9. Scarves. I stayed in Paris long enough to learn several different ways to wear a scarf, and wear it well, but not so long that I stopped smiling at people. I love the elegance of scarves, and the way the French propel scarf-wearing to an art form.

10. Get away from Paris or any other major city, and you will find the French to be some of the most welcoming, gregarious people you will meet in your travels. Even Paris is getting better – complete strangers have – gasp – smiled at me and offered to help me when I appeared lost or confused. Parisians in restaurants have complimented my imperfect French and cute accent. Learn a few key words and get ready to knock down those stereotypes!

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 1)

Here’s the conversation I had with the guy at the bike shop yesterday:

Him: “Are you ready for the snow on Sunday?”

Me: Jaw hits the floor. “Wh- the- snow? Are you kidding me?”

Him: Big shrug and amused smile. “It’s only May. Welcome to Colorado!”

I don’t want snow. I want flip flops. Sunburns. I want the Riviera. I’ll have to live vicariously through my own pictures and memories. Maybe I’ll crank up the heater, don a tank top, close my eyes, and drink a glass of rosé.

Here’s Antibes:

A few years ago, we spent part of our summer in Antibes, France. For me, I got to attend a French immersion program and explore the south of France with the friends I met there. Fabulous. For my hubby, he was working. Hard. Sophia Antipolis, located in the south not far from Antibes, is a mini-Silicon Valley, home to a growing number of software companies. Stef’s job had a site there, so we thought: great! Summer in the south of France! It’ll be like an extended vacation! For him, not so much. Poor guy put in some serious hours and left our “vacation” exhausted. I made sure to take one for the team and did extra exploring and extra rosé drinking. I’m a good wife like that. Here are some photos from that adventure:

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Centre International d'Antibes - my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I'm working on!)

Centre International d’Antibes – my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I’m working on!)

Healthy petunias partout

Healthy petunias partout

Cap d'Antibes - the oldest part of the village

Cap d’Antibes – the oldest part of the village

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Funny story, this photo (above). Apparently, a group of Swedes comes to Antibes each year to welcome the summer solstice. We were eating at a pizzeria across the street and the owner was watching them, arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head. Inevitably, a couple of girls needed to use the facilities and made for his restaurant. Their blond locks decorated with leaves and flowers and their innocent young faces alight with mother earth goddess energy, they asked him if they could use the toilet. Reality crashed upon them. He chased them off with harsh, “Non!”s and “Only for customers! Buy my pizza if you want to use my toilet!” Crushed and desperate, they begged, but elicited no sympathy. They finally gave up and left, and he turned to us and complained about the crazy Swedes who do this dance every year and line up for his toilet. I was almost scared to ask where it was, because I actually needed to use it too, but he told me, “You, I don’t mind. You ate my pizza.”

Street in old Antibes

Street in old Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Spices in the Marche Provencal

Spices in the Marche Provencal

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Photo Day: La Camargue

One thing my husband and I have discovered in our many travels together is how differently we can perceive the exact same thing. Such is the spice of life! La Camargue was one of those places for us. Located where the Med meets the Rhone River Delta, this marshy region is hardly the France advertised to the American tourist. When I think of France, I picture the grand streets of Paris, the dramatic Cote d’Azur, castles and gothic churches, old stone farmhouses set in vineyards. For my husband, the grand streets of Paris are… meh. He grew up seeing them, so they don’t awe him the way they do me. And while he appreciates the beauty of the things I’ve listed, they aren’t foreign nor dramatic to him. La Camargue, by contrast, fascinates him. On our visit, he energetically spouted out all he had learned about this region and kept pointing and saying things like, “Wow! Isn’t that amazing?” Much the way I do in Paris. For me, it was a bit… meh. His enthusiasm did rub off on me after a while, at least enough so that I will post these photos. For him. And for those who appreciate things differently than I do.

513 Le Camargue

515 Le Camargue

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

528 Le Camargue segulls

Egret

Egret

Egret

Egret

536 le Camargue

537 le Camargue

Couldn’t resist this one: Our view during dinner in Carry-Le-Rouet, on our way back to Antibes.

Gotta love 'em, those Frenchies in their speedos

Gotta love ’em, those Frenchies in their speedos

By the way, this region produces some amazing salt. It’s a staple in my kitchen:

IMG_7365

Ten Things I Love About France

Because it’s all about lists these days, right? In no particular order:

1. Walking the streets of Paris – the entire city is a work of art. I love to simply stroll along the avenues, people watch, gaze at the architecture, find unique spots in each quartier, inhale the scents, leading to #2…

Latin Quarter

Latin Quarter

2. The smell of a patisserie. I’ll never forget the time I was strolling down a narrow street and was stopped in my tracks by a rich, buttery scent pouring out a patisserie door. I stopped, whispered, “Oh. My. God.” Closed my eyes, and stood there inhaling deeply, unselfconscious until I paused, looked inside, and saw the pastry chef watching me with an amused, and pleased, smile on his face.

IMG_4273

3. Flower boxes on windows.

132 Window in Nice

4. Fields of lavender right next to fields of sunflowers in Provence.

Abbaye de Senaque

Abbaye de Senanque

435 More sunflowers!

5. Provence. For its beauty, its romance, its cuisine, its otherworldness.

6. Riding a bike through Bretagne.

IMG_4005

7. Eating galettes and drinking cool apple cider on a hot day in Bretagne.

IMG_1790 8. The French language. For all the grief it causes me, I love the sing-song beauty of this romantic language.

9. The Impressionists.

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

10. And Paris. I really love Paris. Cliché? Perhaps. Still, to me, she will always be romantic, mysterious, something I will never quite touch nor truly understand, yet a place where I come alive and life beats forward at a quicker, more exciting, more beautiful pace.

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

She’s there, she’s everywhere
But she’s really here

         -Cole Porter

011 Same as G Belmon painting

Photo Day: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villefranche sur Mer

Happy first day of spring! Dreaming of warm days, tank tops, flip flops, and a cool glass of rosé after a hot day at the beach. Here are some pretty pictures with lots of pretty flowers, all taken a few years ago in the south of France. Ooh la la!

A short train ride from several villages on the Mediterranean coast, these two destinations are worth a visit.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was built in the early 1900s by the Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (architect Aaron Messiah). When she died in 1934, she donated it to the Institut de France, and it is now open to the public.

334 Villa Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

330 Villa and Jardins Ephrussi de ROTHSCHILD

Peek inside at the chairs for her little dogs.

Peek inside at the chairs for her little dogs.

Foyer

Foyer

Nine themed gardens surround the home.

339 Jardin

342 Stone garden

Views of the surrounding areas, including Villefranche-sur-Mer, are stunning:

340 View west of Villeneuve sur Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a colorful village located near to the Villa (one or two train stops apart):

139 Villefranche Sur Mer

144 Villefranche

148 Stef in Villefranche

151 Villefranche

154 Villefranche

Some trivia: Many villages in france have names that begin with “Villefranche.” Translation: Free town. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the bourgeois settled in these areas and were freed from the feudal lords and also freed from many financial obligations to those lords. This allowed the bourgeois to use their resources to develop, among other things, the banking system in France.

Hope you enjoyed a little armchair traveling and perhaps are inspired to make some summer travel plans! I know I am!

Photo Day: Arles and Pont du Gard

Arles and Pont du Gard (the latter you may recognize, the first perhaps not) are both in the south of France, but enough off the beaten path that we, as American tourists, don’t always have the time to see them. Understandable, with the limited vacation time we get! When people ask me for advice on where to go in France, I usually ask them what they are interested in. Seeing the sites you are “supposed” to see? Nothing wrong with that. There’s a reason places like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, St. Tropez, and Nice are so famous. When time is limited, I hate to miss those major attractions. What if you never get back to Paris, and you didn’t grab your chance that one day to see the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa? But when people want to get away from the throngs of tourists, get a more “authentic” experience, I have tons of suggestions there, too. Arles is perhaps in the middle. It’s still a tourist destination, but less crowded than many others.

Arles

Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Entering the midieval portion of Arles

Here’s one of Arles’ main claims to fame: It’s where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park By Night:

453 Place where Van Gogh painted Cafe Park by night

While we were in Arles, we attended a bull fight. It wasn’t the fight to the death kind, I couldn’t stomach that. In this type of fight, the bull has a thick collection of yarn laced around his horns. A team of players tries to distract the bull, while one of them uses a special tool – a rigid (and aggressive looking) extension of his hand – to tear at the yarn. If all the yarn is torn before the timer goes off, the players win. Otherwise, the bull wins. The bull always lives to be tormented another day. The players display an impressive array of acrobatic skills as they run, dodge, then leap from the bull pen to cling for their lives to the surrounding barriers.

458 Look out!

461 Run!

Just on time!

Just on time!

467 going for the yarn

469 Mad bull

477 Yikes!

Awards Ceremony

Awards Ceremony

Here are some photos of Pont du Gard, a well preserved aqueduct from ancient Roman times:

498 Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

The Rhone at the Pont du Gard

502 Pont du Gard

Inside the Aqueduct - we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Inside the aqueduct – we were able to walk through from one side to the other

Chez Nous, On Parle Franglais

 

64Before kids, conversations between my husband and I were mostly English, sprinkled with some French here and there, or, after a trip to France, a healthy dose of French with a sprinkle of English. Sometimes we spoke more French deliberately – so I could practice, or so we could have “secret” conversations when out on a date (so scandalous of us, that randy young couple! In truth, we were more likely talking about something mundane like work, or gossiping about our waiter). Sometimes we’d do it so we could make fun of each country’s accents: I’d don a thick, affected French accent, complete with a nose in the air and a French shrug, and my husband would try to emulate a New Yorker or a Texan. Sometimes we bounced back and forth between languages without it consciously registering, until we noticed someone staring.

Now, as our kids (age 3 ½ and 19 months) progress in this bilingual environment, we see that in our house, we all speak Franglais.

My daughter, the oldest, had the opportunity to attend a French Immersion school last year, so her French comprehension is great, but she prefers to answer in English. We’re bribing her with her favorite foods to get her to respond to us in French: “You want another chip? Il faut parler en français !” (Another mommy fail – I once declared I’d never bribe my kids with food.)

If she doesn’t know a word in French, she’ll say the word in English with a thick French accent: for example, “soccer ball” becomes “sew-care bowl.” This, despite neither of us ever pronouncing English words in this way. I love it. Sometimes, she’ll babble nonsensical words, but the sounds are distinctly French, and she’ll tell me that she’s speaking in French when I ask her what language she’s using. The other day, she said the character in the book we were reading was “Rose-ing the lawn.” (The French word for “to water” is “arroser.”) She’s gotten used to hearing from her Papa, “Fait pas de bêtises,” (don’t goof around), so the other day she told me, with a mischievous grin, “Mommy, I’m bêtise-ing.”

In the summer, when mosquitoes abound, I tend to say, “I’m getting MANGED!” (Manger – “to eat” in French) instead of the more common, “I’m getting eaten alive,” or, “I’m getting attacked by mosquitoes.” I suppose this isn’t helping anyone in the house learn French.

Then there’s the word “doudou,” (sounds like “doo-doo”) which is the French word for “lovey,” or stuffed animal. It’s one of my son’s first French words, and one that my daughter uses commonly. As in, “Where is my doudou?” Or, “I love my doudou,” and, in response to Mall Santa’s question, “What do you want for Christmas?” “A Mickey doudou and a Minnie doudou.” That earned me a stern look from Santa, and required a lot of explaining to my confused, but ready-to-milk-it-for-all-it-was-worth, brother.

IMG_7206My son’s language is starting to take off, so I therefore poo-pah all the nay-sayers who claim bilingual kiddos will be behind in their language development during their first few years of life. Both of my kids understand French and English without difficulty, and are well beyond the “normal” expectations of spoken language ability for their ages. His first French words have been: “coucou” (hello, familiar), “doudou,” “l’eau” (water), and, my favorite, “Pi-pah-po” for “papillon” (butterfly).

My favorite misused word in English: “Happies.” When my daughter was first learning to speak, she had a set of pajamas that said, “Happy” across the chest. So, we would point and say, “Happy,” every time she wore them. Thus, pajamas became “Happies,” and we all put on our happies each night before bed. I can’t think of a better word to describe the most comfortable of clothes and the relaxation one feels when finally getting to slip into them at the end of a long day.

I don’t believe that my kids are confused. My daughter knows very well which words are French and which ones are English, despite sometimes using them in sentences together. I know, because I ask her – is that a French word or an English one you just said? As for my son, chances are he’s mélange-ing the two (see, there I go again) without realizing it. I have no fear that both kids will eventually sort the two languages out in their own brains; research shows that bilingual children eventually do. In the meantime, their prefrontal cortexes are getting an excellent workout.

I’m okay with a little Franglais. It’s one of my favorite languages, and one we’re all fluent in, chez nous.

Photo Day: Christmas in the Alps

I haven’t been to France in over two years (a toddler and a preschooler on a plane… I wish I were so brave), so many of my photos are older. These are from a Christmas we spent in the French Alps, in a small mountain village called Samoens. A beautiful, charming place, where we stayed in a cozy converted farmhouse, read books (the house had quite an Asterix collection), and indulged in Raclette after days spent on the slopes. It was my first Christmas away from my own family, so I learned of some of the French traditions my husband grew up with. Midnight mass (3 hours! We Presbyterians shudder at the thought), bûche de noel (yule log), and real chestnuts roasting on an open fire served in the village at their Christmas carnival – it was charming and so different from my own traditions. It was here, too, that I first saw Le Père Noel est une Ordure. I sat there, perplexed and not understanding, while my husband, his brothers, and my sister-in-law rocked with laughter and called out lines before the characters. Now that my French is better, as is my understanding of French humor, I find it pretty hilarious, too.

Here’s the charming farmhouse we stayed in, taken before the snow came:

035 Le Ferme

137 Le Ferme

Some photos of Samoens:

025 Fountain in Samoens

026 Samoens

139 Samoens

Twelfth century church where we attended mass . We sang Angels We Have Heard on High, one of my favorites, in French:

141 Samoens

The Alps, near Samoens:

045 Alps

075 Alps

055 Alps

060 Alps

070 Alps

Early morning frost:032 Frost

A visit to the nearby village of Annecy, with me obviously American in my running shoes:

091 Annecy

093 Annecy

097 Annecy

100 La Roche sur Foron

La Roche sur Foron

098 Annecy

And skiing in Alvoriaz:

130 Carol

135 Alvoriaz