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

 

Summer Vacations and French Summer School

My month (+) long hiatus from blogging was unintended.

I had big ambitions for July of filling up my queue with posts, photos, throw backs to some journal entries of different adventures in France. Of getting some book and CD reviews out. I am now desperately embarrassed that I still haven’t completed those.

Instead, I spent most of July in San Diego. I could blame my lack of blog entries on the fact that I was there, alone for the most part, with my two-year-old boy (who is, as everyone I meet feels compelled to point out to me, “all boy”) and my almost four-year-old daughter. So, yes, that kept me busy. But the truth is: I’ve been lazy. In the best possible way. I’ve been idling away the hours at places like this:

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

Drinking in views like this:

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Drinking lots of this (minus the ghetto cups; ran out of glasses at this BK – before kids – party):

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Visiting with many dear friends, and eating fantastic food. I didn’t let 48 hours pass without a taco from one of my many favorite haunts.

It’s been a long time since summer actually felt like summer. Like a vacation. It’s one of the horrible truths no one tells us when we’re in school. Once you’re done, kiss summer vacation goodbye. With the U.S. standard of 2 weeks vacation per year, I spent more than a decade in the working world calculating how best to use that 2 weeks to spend holidays with family, take a short trip, and hoping that I didn’t get so sick I had to tap into vacation time. When I first discovered that France and most other developed countries had double or more the vacation time we get, and that it is a right by law (it isn’t in the U.S., each company decides how much vacation to bestow upon their employees) I was shocked and jealous. I still feel so grateful that I was in California when I had both of my kids. California has the most generous maternity and paternity leave policies in the U.S. Still, when compared to some countries, this isn’t saying much. I realize this falls deeply into the much maligned bucket of “First World Problems.” Still, I strongly side with the camp that says adequate down time improves performance, productivity, and creativity, and leads to stronger families which leads to a better future. I don’t define adequate down time as two weeks.

Now that I have kids and have the (very lucky) opportunity to step away from my career and stay home with them, summer feels like summer again. They are out of school (preschool), and we get to travel. This year to the place of summer dreams and our former home: San Diego.

We also used it as a chance to send our daughter to summer camp at her old school: the San Diego French American School. Our rationale: It’s too expensive to fly to France every year, but we really want to immerse our kids in French. So, we packed up the car, headed to San Diego, found an adorable bungalow blocks from where we used to live and right next to the first park we ever took our kids to, and trekked each day through the Southern California traffic (has it always been that brutal? I’ve only been away 10 months but I found it unbearable in a way I never did before) to school.

Results: Everything we’d hoped for. She had a great time, got to see old friends and familiar teachers. I’m told she understands everything and spoke mainly in French, rarely resorting to English. Her resistance to speaking with me in French is gone, for the time being. And with her San Diego “petit ami” – who is French – she spoke in French (unprompted) when playing with him. Success!

Next year, our son will be old enough to attend, too. Which means my kids will get an amazing opportunity to progress in French. And it means I’ll get a real vacation. I can rent a Laser and go sailing. I can go to the mall without herding my kids out of the clothes racks every two minutes. A book at the beach? I don’t remember what that feels like.

Summers are looking pretty fantastic.

 

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

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

La Politesse, and a Few Tips on How to Get Along With the French

Arc de Triomphe on Bastille Day

The French can be unfailingly polite.

No, really, I’m being serious.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone who has traveled to France comes home with some story about a rude Frenchman or Frenchwoman who treated them horribly and worse, seemed to enjoy it. It’s almost like we look for those moments now: it’s a rite of passage. We need a commemorative “I survived talking to a French person” T-shirt.

Yet the truth is, there is much politesse in the French culture, we just don’t understand it  because their social rules are different from ours.

I’ve witnessed arguments between strangers where despite the obvious disagreement, they continue to address each other as “Madame,” et “Monsieur.” Usually without sarcasm. Ever had a homeless person hop onto your metro car to ask for money? Their speeches often mirror each other, and usually begin with a grand, “Mesdames et Messieurs, pardonez-moi de vous deranger.…” Translation: Ladies and Gentlemen, please pardon me for bothering you…. Even the term used for the homeless is more dignified than the word “homeless.” It’s SDF, or “Sans Domicile Fixe.” Translation: Without a fixed home.

Whenever I travel to France, it’s as if a flip switches in my head and I go into French mode. Things that would drive me crazy here become tolerable, because I’ve spent enough time there to understand why things are as they are, and to better know what to expect.

Kind of.

Who am I kidding. There are some things the French do that I will never understand, no matter how many times my husband or my French friends try to explain them to me (or deny their existence). At any rate, here are a few examples of things you can do to make your next trip to France run more smoothly:

When entering a store, always greet the shopkeeper with a “Bonjour.” While here in the US it’s not uncommon to enter a store without acknowledging, or being acknowledged by, the employees there, in France it’s considered incredibly rude. Same for leaving. Make sure you say, “Au revoir.” Toss in a “Bonne journée !” or a “Merci !” for good measure.

Flower shop in Paris

Flower shop in Paris

Try out some French, even if it’s only to say, “Pardonez-moi, mais je ne parle pas Français. Is it okay to speak English?” After all, the French have grown tired of people walking up to them and barking out a foreign language. I know I’d grow tired of it. I’ve been scolded by patients incensed that I don’t speak Spanish fluently, and that never brought out my benevolent side. Ease into the conversation, and the French are much more likely to be okay with speaking English.

Personal space there is very different from here; the French require much less of it. So if someone is bumping right up against you without acknowledging that they’ve jostled you, don’t take it personally. It’s all normal for them.

Chances are, the waiter is not ignoring you. The French like their meals long and uninterrupted. Unlike the US, where tables must turn over quickly in order for the restaurant to make money and the waiters to make adequate tips, in France, if you reserve a table, it’s pretty much yours for the night. A waiter won’t bring your bill unless you ask for it. To do otherwise would be rude, the equivalent of asking you to leave.

Just because the French person you’re speaking with isn’t grinning and enthusiastic, it doesn’t mean they’re annoyed with you. Well, they might be. But it’s more likely that it’s just a cultural thing: the French don’t grin and get enthusiastic in conversations with strangers. They are more reserved and tend to hold back until they get to know you. Give them a chance to warm up and you may end up making a great new friend. I’ve been told by my European friends that they knew I was American because I’m always smiling. I see this as a good thing, but I’ve also come to realize that the huge grin that comes so easily to my face is hardly a universal trait.

Ladies, enjoy the French version of customer service. I posted on this previously, here. Now’s not the time to go indignant feminist – let those shopkeepers flirt with you and treat you like a queen for a few moments. It’s really fun.

As for forming lines – they aren’t going to do it. This is one of the areas I have the hardest time with in France. After being shoved around trying to claim my coat at the counter after parties, swept past repeatedly while waiting in line for a toilet, and literally shoved off metro cars, I finally realized I had the necessary skills to survive, all learned during my years of playing basketball. It’s all about claiming space, blocking out, and moving toward the ball, or as the case may be, the toilet. Don’t be afraid to get wide, or even throw out a forearm to ward someone off. When it comes to lines in France, expect nothing less than pure Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Another tip: get out of Paris. Paris is gorgeous, stunning, there’s tons to see and do, but it’s still a big city. And like any big city, people are in more of a rush, stress levels are higher, people are more closed off to outsiders, and fatigued of tourists. That’s not to say that pleasant Parisians don’t exist – they absolutely do. But if you want to experience a little more joie de vivre, more bienvenue, hop on a train for the countryside.

I hope your next encounter with a French national goes smoothly. If all else fails, a French shrug (see this post here) and a resigned, “Eh ben,” are perhaps the best responses.

Me in a lavender field

Try a visit to Provence. Beautiful country, friendly locals!