July 29, 2009
I need to write about a thing or two or five or seventy-five. Top (or bottom) on my mind right now is that I’ve got a couple of stitches in my butt and in my thigh. Ouch. I went to the dermatologist today to have my moles checked for the first time in several years. (Several? A decade perhaps even?) Back then, I had two moles removed, and I knew I was long overdue to have them checked again. I would have felt like I needed a second opinion if the dermatologist hadn’t decided to remove any moles, but I wasn’t expecting six! Still, I’m glad to have them go if they look suspicious at all.
So two were taken off today when I was there, and now the one stitched part in my butt is twinging fiercely, and I’m fairly glad that the track workout for my ten miler training was cancelled for rain. (Just gloss over that ten miler bit; I’ll get to that if I ever remember to blog again.) Six moles! And you can only have two removed per visit; does anyone have any idea why insurance companies have that quota?
Anyway, the best part was how noticeably concerned my dermatologist was about this one particular mole. She didn’t want to wait two weeks before removing it (and because it’s bigger, and she wants to remove the entire thing and not just a piece to biopsy, she couldn’t do it today), which I think was the part that communicated the most concern to me. It’s a little ironic – the rush and the urgency – after ten years of not getting my moles checked that the doctor would be worried about two more weeks of a suspicious-looking mole on my leg. But there weren’t any available appointments before I go to Texas, so I will be rid of it on August 17 (post-Texas and post-tonsillectomy). (More things to write about the “next time” I blog – you know, in October.) Anyway, nothing to be concerned about though really because if it were bad, it would already be bad, and there’s nothing much to do about it before bedtime tonight, is there?
October 10, 2008
In just a couple of hours, Allen and I will jump in my grandma’s car and head for Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We’re spending our weekend at Highacre, a beautiful red house on top of town. Highacre is owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club members, of which Regina’s parents are members, and we have often split the week at Harpers Ferry with them in the past five years.
Allen and I first went to Harpers Ferry during what we called The Spring of the Civil War. Weekend after weekend, we explored different Civil War sites, including Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Gettysburg (though that happened in the fall). And one cold weekend, we stayed in Harpers Ferry, hiked up to Maryland Heights, and decided we’d keep coming back. Now we’re nearing our tenth visit (but who counts), and we got engaged there.
So I’m really looking forward to another weekend in Harpers Ferry. It’s the perfect setting for this fall weather. We’ll swing on the porch (and I’ll stitch), hike Maryland Heights (of course!), and wander the town-cum-national-park. So, back to packing!
June 8, 2008
I could reminisce for hours on the memorable places of my life. Last week, Allen and I revisited one of those places – the path through the Pyrenees known as the Sentier Cathare. We hiked from Quillan to Foix in five days, hoofing over 100 km (66.5 miles). We barely shut up the entire time, either. And along the way, I took a few pictures, which you can find here. I’ll follow up with a narrative as I’m able to catch up.
June 1, 2008
As usual, I’ll try to distract you from the lack of actual writing on my blog with fancy! shiny! pictures! You can see all our pictures from Montpellier (with a running commentary, of course) here. In the next few days, I’ll be trying to get up some stories from our Montpellier reunion 2008! But fortunately for me, Elizabeth is coming up for her last visit to Paris while we’re still here, so her arrival on Tuesday may mean that I need to venture back into the great outdoors, instead of putting my feet up and blogging. Isn’t life an adventure!
Apparently, I had the foresight to book first class tickets from Paris to Montpellier and then the good sense to forget all about it. So when Allen and I arrived at car number three and found it was a first-class car, we were very excited. “Just a little early anniversary present,” I joked.
Three hours into the trip, the TGV has finally slowed, and we’re pulling into the train station in Nimes. Somehow “I’ve been here before” is almost a physical reaction. My skin is tingling with anticipation of the heightening of that feeling in Montpellier. We’re twenty minutes away.
It didn’t seem to make sense to travel very much in the fall, when I was settling in to Paris, and Allen and I were adjusting to inhabiting a shared space again (and a small one at that) after two months apart. And then I found work, and we had visitors, and I flew back to the States in December, then Allen did in January, and there was dreary February, and then half the people we know came to Paris seemingly at once. Now with five weeks left in France and fifteen minutes left on a train, I’m asking myself why we waited so long.
I’ve been back to Montpellier since studying here, in 2003 with my mother and my friend Sara. But this time will be so different. Last time my friend Adam was studying abroad in Montpellier with the William & Mary program (I like to think I had a hand in it), and he was living in our building. So we stayed two floors down from my old apartment. This time, we’re farther removed, staying in a chambre d’hotes. But this time is a reunion, with Allen and I meeting Debbie and Elizabeth. We’re about a fifth of our study abroad group right there. (And it’s worth noting that by luck – or a predictable sequence of events, depending on how you view it – we’re two pairs that lived together that year. Allen and Debbie were in the same dorm hall at Boutonnet, while Elizabeth and I shared a charmed apartment on rue Eugene Lisbonne.)
As the trip drew closer, and our discussions and plans more frequent, I started to notice the ways in which that year had been different for all of us. Our daydreams about the trip were revealing. Debbie was prepared to spend every day at the beach, as was Elizabeth. Allen and I hadn’t even given a thought to taking the bus to Palavas and the Mediterranean. Allen expressed an interest in visiting our old campus. I was entirely focused on listing all the places I hoped to eat.
I came to Montpellier when I was 19, and I’ve turned 27 this week. It will be different (and I would want it to be different). And yet – we’re pulling into the station now, and I can see the familiar orange and green tiles. I’m scanning the crowd for Debbie and Elizabeth; we haven’t planned to meet, but I somehow know they’ll be there. And it will all be just exactly the same.
May 31, 2008
Days of walking in the French mountains: 5
Distance travelled: 107 km/66.5 miles
Total hours of walking: approximately 35
Pictures taken: 315 (Montpellier and hiking)
Blisters formed: 10+ (combined four feet)
Hours of sleep we’re about to get tonight: A LOT
Look forward to further posts with pictures about our trip to Montpellier (3 days) and hiking through the midi-Pyrenees (5 days).
Unbelievably enough, we only have 30 days left in France!
May 16, 2008
In the spirit of the unphotographed doony, I bring you two pictures taken in Grenoble (La Tronche, actually) in the sunny month of May. And I ask you this:
What’s wrong with this picture?
And this one?
Weird Tour of Grenoble, if you ask me.
I stepped off the train in Grenoble, took in the mountains in every direction and the warmth of the sun, and I was ready to stay.
“You know how every time you visit Paris, you say you kind of wish you lived there? I’m feeling that way about Grenoble with these mountains!” I said to Elizabeth when she arrived at the station. Then we were off, to actually explore the town so I could further solidify my feeling of being happy to be somewhere smaller and warmer than Paris.
We had to stop periodically for me to take photos, starting at the dandelion fountain (which would be entirely unsuitable for me to have pushed Jenna in). (Grenoble had several lovely fountains though.)
Some form of cement was invented in Grenoble, and in the excitement, all the buildings were plastered with it, erasing original facades and eschewing past architectural standards. Still, the washes of color on the cemented buildings hold their own charm.
We lunched at a creperie, with bowls of cider to wash our crepes down. Then we walked right out of Grenoble to La Tronche, where Elizabeth lives with a host family.
We’d have more time to savor the view later; the three of us almost immediately headed out in search of other views on a hike up to La Bastille, the fortifications above Grenoble.
I’d say we found them. After our descent from the Bastille, we ate a basic but tasty dinner (including a vinaigre de noix in our salad dressing, which Allen and I ran out and bought for use at home). And we may have played some cards. (Did you guess that?)
On Saturday, we walked into town to catch the bus to Le Sappey for more hiking! We ran a few errands - vin de noix (an aperitif made from wine and walnuts, a bottle of which will be crossing international borders with me soon), sunscreen, lunch provisions - and caught the incredibly affordable regional bus in front of the museum. Steps off of the bus in our destination, this was our view.
Unfortunately, I was feeling under the weather (Allen jinxed my good health a few weeks before, resulting in strep and then a sore throat/head cold), and I’m going to use that as the excuse for my very slow walking and my stopping every 20 yards. (I might be being generous with myself.) Fortunately, there were plenty of sights to enjoy during our frequent rests. It’s possible that I even stopped to breath under the ruse of taking a picture.
So we stopped and walked and stopped and picked the path back up.
After we finished our loop above the villages (some of them seemed to be just a cluster of houses), we had an ice cream in Le Sappey. Elizabeth opted for chartreuse ice cream, flavored by a liquor that is named after the mountains we were in. (I’d follow suit the next day, when I realized the ice cream wasn’t as strong as the liquor. I think my fear was legitimate; at Berthillon, the liquor-flavored ice cream is every bit as strong as the liquor in it. Ask Alan and Dave!)
We had hours to spare before we caught the bus back down the mountain, so we wandered a bit before settling down in the lush grass. The bright sun pierced through my poor translucent eyelids; I covered my eyes. We spent a pleasant hour thus, with occasional appreciative glances at the scenery.
The bus came with a minor scare in the form of engine troubles and sticky braking mechanisms. Elizabeth pointed out the distance to La Tronche. We’d walked farther in a day before. But the bus came through, and we rolled into Grenoble just before supper time, which we spent sipping vin de noix and eating gratin dauphinois in Elizabeth’s backyard.
We knew we’d have to leave on Sunday, but that didn’t mean we were going to waste an entire day of sunshine fretting about it. We were in town around noon, and we chose a likely restaurant with outdoor seating. Elizabeth and I availed ourselves of the 17 euro menu, indulging in a kir chataigne as aperitif. (A kir is a very French thing to order, and if you do, you’ll have a nice cool glass of white wine with creme cassis in it. But in this case, we had a chestnut-flavored liquor or syrup, which I found really delicious.) Our menu started with an appetizer of goat cheese and sun dried tomato on a cassis-studded bread with a light salad. We both enjoyed a basic steak of some unmemorable sort. Meanwhile, Allen munched on andouille sausage with thick French fries.
And then there was dessert. When we’d ordered, Elizabeth attempted to order the walnut tart, but they were out. So we both ordered the only other option – the doony avec glace au chocolat et au tiramisu. I’m basically okay with anything including chocolate ice cream and tiramisu, so I didn’t worry too much that I didn’t know what a doony was. When our doonies arrived, I had a good laugh though. (I’m still laughing.) On the plate, sitting atop artful drizzles of chocolate and caramel, was a donut with chocolate frosting, with a small scoop of ice cream nestled in the donut hole. Doony indeed. I only wish I’d taken a picture before biting into that donut with a spoon.
After I ate a donut with utensils, we wandered around town, scoping out the local parks (Jardin des Plantes and others) for a spot to sit. We opted for a shady area with a miniature train circling it. We munched on local strawberries we’d bought at the market that morning.
After a while we decided to walk a bit more, and the heat inspired an ice cream stop. I had chartreuse, and Allen had walnut, both very Grenoble. We made our way to the Italian section of town, across the river, as we licked our ice creams before they melted in the sun.
Elizabeth led us halfway up the climb to the Bastille from town, a cobbled path that afforded more views over the city.
Then Elizabeth remembered the chapel in the Musee Dauphinois, so we ducked inside to take a look. The chapel was closed for a concert, so we wandered through the cloister and found ourselves outside on the terraces.
Once again, the grass became our lounge, and the music from the concert wafted into the tranquil terrace of the former convent. Elizabeth started with the visible evidence of an idea, rustled around in the grass, and came up with a four-leafed clover.
Too soon, someone came around to say the museum was closing, and we slung our bags on our shoulders and marched back down to town. We sat at a cafe with a bar Elizabeth likes and sipped cold drinks in the sun. I took these pictures of Allen and Elizabeth, just living the life of leisure that is French cafe culture.
They looked so cool that I was deluded into thinking Allen should take a picture of me, too, so I could put all three of them together somewhere and be really glad that Elizabeth’s badass side had rubbed off on us.
Obviously, my vision will go unrealized. Still, as we finished our drinks and later as we headed to the train station, I felt an intense satisfaction from our day in the sun and our hikes in the open air of the mountains around Grenoble. What luck would the four-leaf clover bring us that we hadn’t already enjoyed all weekend?
May 9, 2008
We have seven weeks and two days left in Paris. As would be expected, we are in a haze of disbelief that the year has passed so quickly. They always do.
Allen and I are having incredibly schizophrenic conversations about returning to the US. Although it is already May, and technically we’re flying back next month (!), Allen still doesn’t know what his next work assignment will be. The most likely option seems that he’ll be working on an extension of his current project, but from the US. That would be in Westchester, PA, though there’s some possibility of us living in the DC area and him going up several days a week. (Actually I think that one’s a strong possibility, which would be very positive for my job situation. It would be difficult for me to live in Pennsylvania until the end of September, as far as teaching positions go.) But if this project does extend, there’s also a chance we could return to Paris in the near future (likely January 2009). There are so many other options, and it’s all so unsure, that I won’t go on at length here with all of the possibilities. Allen’s boss said that we should consider the Northern Virginia area our home base until he tells us otherwise. You can imagine how that amuses me.
So, as I said, we’re having these schizophrenic conversations. One minute we’ll be discussing where we’d like to live when we return. (We intend to continue renting out our house because of the potential that Allen will get assigned elsewhere, and we’d have to go through the renting process again.) If we find out that we’ll be staying in the DC area on a longer term basis, we’re planning on looking at houses/condos in Virginia (probably back in Arlington). So we’ll spend hours on Long & Foster or craigslist debating the possibilities. Then the next topic of conversation will be what we’ll require of our new Paris apartment when we move back (number one: a kitchen!!!). Our current apartment is quaint and oh-so-perfectly located, but it has some serious flaws that you’d never think of unless you tried to live here. Then we’ll turn the conversation again to moving and staying home, which involves me talking about how I want to adopt two cats, and maybe we should adopt black cats because they’re more difficult for rescues to adopt out, or how maybe we should foster kittens for a local shelter…I can go on and on. And then we’ll be back to what neighborhood of Paris we’d like to look at, enumerating the markets, parks, and attractions around a given area. It’s exhausting – and frankly, it’s pointless.
Besides the constant chatter – the what-if this and what-if that about all possible situations – I do try to be pretty zen about it. I cannot control it, so there’s no use getting frustrated that I can’t really apply for jobs (during the ideal window for interviewing for next school year) or that Allen and I may spend some time apart while I finish my grad school this summer. And here my mother thinks I’m not flexible.
What I can control is what we do with the remainder of our time here. So I made a list. So far I’ve ticked off a visit to the Musee National du Moyen Age, buying and trying bread from Poilane (good, but the dense sourdough was a little hard for me to get through), and seeing China’s terra cotta warriors (temporarily on exhibit in Paris). Remaining are visits to: Musee des Egouts (Paris’ sewer system – I think we’ll go with Antoine and Typhaine), the bio (organic) market at Boulevard Raspail, the photo exhibit Des Parisiens sous l’Occupation, the Musee Marmotten and Giverny (Monet havens), and the Marche Parisien de la Creation. Oh and finishing the City Walks. (We had 24 done heading into Thursday, but after some serious forced marches, Allen and I have completed 7 in the past two days, and now we’ve only got 19 to go!) Which leads us back to my original point, which is: we only have seven more weeks in Paris.
As usual, I’m behind with some goings-on. I’d like to share some pictures from the last days of Sarah’s visit, April 22 and 23. Fortunately I had hardly any work to do, so I got to bum around with her the entire time.
We began with the Jardin des Plantes, or Paris’ botanical gardens, which I hadn’t visited since 2001 when our tour bus dropped us off for a 15 minute look. My favorite part was the Jardin Alpin, a sunken garden with narrow paths and plantings everywhere. It was an intimate change from the well-planned and perfectly-laid gardens elsewhere in Paris. Entering the garden by passing through a tunnel added to the feeling that you’d discovered this gorgeous place.
It even had a little pond with goldfish.
Exiting the back of the Jardin des Plantes we skirted the Mosquee de Paris.
Then we wandered Rue Mouffetard, which feels medieval for its narrowness (and pedestrian-only designation in places).
We walked together to my tutoring (passing Allee du Seminaire, shown below).
Afterwards I ran into Sarah on the metro at Duroc! What a strange coincidence. We rounded out the night by having a drink with Antoine and Typhaine and strolling past Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame after dark.
The next day Sarah and I walked all over Haussmann’s creation. We tried to lunch at a Cameroonian restaurant (Sarah spent two years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon), but it was closed. We walked back from the far 11th to the Promenade Plantee, which was flowering beautifully (but the sky wasn’t playing along for photos). Then we searched for lunch elsewhere – at Rue de Rosiers, where everything was closed for Passover, at Marriage Freres where we got skittish about the price of a cup of tea, and finally at an Asian traiteur where we munched on roulades de printemps. In between we took a quick look at the ensignes (old signs that would hang over shops) and the Art Nouveau jewelry shop at Musee Carnavalet.
Next, we hopped on the metro and headed to the Champs-Elysees, home of another Laduree – and oh, the Arc de Triomphe and stuff. Whatever, back to the macarons. We admired the gorgeous lily-of-the-valley boxes for May.
And we gorged on macarons.
We also purchased what we liked to call “chocolate spaghetti” but which is actually a Mont Blanc. We held onto it for later. Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower, and the weather was suddenly clear and beautiful for perfect Parisian pictures.
After our little photo shoot (I think I said to Sarah, “After you’ve satisfied yourself with the Eiffel Tower” and then we were both like, “Ummmm…” Okay, who am I kidding – we laughed like American tourists.), we took the RER home and picked up Allen for dinner. We were concerned, however, that we hadn’t had enough desserts in one day. Oh no, that wasn’t it. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get Berthillon after dinner, and it was Sarah’s last day. So we stopped for ice cream first. Sadly, Berthillon itself was closed (school holidays), so our choices were slightly more limited. I got pineapple and caramel.
Then we climbed the hill towards the Pantheon, and more importantly L’Ecurie. We ate our ridiculously cheap (17 euros for entree, plat, dessert, plus a free glass of sangria with the menu and free glass of cognac with the bill) three course dinner in the dank (and intimate!) cellars of L’Ecurie, including another dessert of course. (Sadly, the chocolate mousse was not as good as the creme caramel, which they hadn’t made enough of that day.) The cognac burned us up inside, but we were pretty glad for that trou. (A digestif is sometimes called a trou, which means hole, because it burns right through what’s already in your stomach, and you can eat more! Or not feel fit to burst.) Why were we so glad? We still had the chocolate spaghetti from Laduree at home!
Sadly, the chocolate spaghetti was a horrible disappointment. As Allen and Sarah will attest, I was really hoping it would be chewy. Instead it was…I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m terrible at identifying tastes. But it was a little soggy and mushy. The only redeeming portion was the meringue underneath. We threw away a good part of the most expensive pastry I’ve ever paid for half of. Boo. And boo too that we said goodbye to Sarah in the morning. We’ll always have Paris…