Friday Night Lights

No, nothing to do with American football, and barely even night. You have to be quite the night-owl to photograph La Rochelle after dark, because the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10 o’clock and it isn’t all that dark even at 10:30. But determined to get some night shots, last night I found a spot to sit while waiting–in vain, as it turned out–for all three towers to light up.

Not long after sunset, around 10:15 p.m. Waiting for Tour de la Chaine to light up.
Not long after sunset, around 10:15 p.m. Waiting for Tour de la Chaine to light up.

There was plenty of other pretty light. Love the reflection on the water of the vieux port:

Quai Duperré
Quai Duperré
Le vieux port after the sun goes down.
Le vieux port after the sun goes down.

And no shortage of people:

Quai Duperré
Quai Duperré

IMG_3466

Since we were getting cold in the chilly breeze off the water and still had a half hour walk back home, we gave up around 10:30:

Still no lights on Tour de la Chaine
Still no lights on Tour de la Chaine

Somebody must have taken the night off. Oh well. We’ll be back. This weekend is the Cavalcade de La Rochelle and tonight there’s a night parade we’re going to try to check out. Wish us insomnia: it goes from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Espresso, anyone? Make mine a double.

Bon Anniversaire

I’ve reached the age where birthdays are more “Gha-a-a-a-a-a” than “Yea-a-a-a-a-a-a,” but we had a pleasant Saturday all the same. We decided to treat ourselves to a nice lunch here:

Les 4 Sergents
Les 4 Sergents

We had been here last year with Pascale and Jacky and loved it, but then we were here for dinner, we had dressed up, and we had a reservation. For my birthday lunch, we just showed up and were wearing nice-ish normal clothes, but woohoo, we got in anyway. So did this chien. Hey, we ARE in France.

Un chien aux 4 Sergents
Un chien aux 4 Sergents

David was smart enough to remember that the menu in French restaurants, which is always some combination of courses, is usually too much food, so we ordered only an aperitif, a main course and a bottle of wine. Here’s what came with the aperitif:

IMG_3400

If you know David at all, you can imagine his lack of delight at discovering the front right one was pureed baby peas with lemon. (Quite tasty for anyone but David.) Then we had the best steak we’ve ever had in France. (We haven’t quite figured out what to order here.) Here’s the waiter doing something fabulous with the sauce:

Our lunch in progress
Our lunch in progress

Then, okay, we did manage to find room for a Café Gourmand:

Café Gourmand
Café Gourmand

After lunch, a bit more wandering around town, our usual people watching, then eventually home for a relaxing evening. It was a quiet, good day, no balloons, no singing, no gazillion candles on a cake causing a fire hazard, just a few here:

Chez Nous -- (And a preview photo for the "Where's David" post)
Chez Nous — (And a preview photo for the “Where’s David” post)

This marker of another year passing reminds me once again of all I have to be grateful for: you, dear friends, this journey certainly, and of course, my companion in adventure who will even eat the occasional pureed pea to help celebrate a milestone. We met 36 years ago today. Now that’s an anniversary worth celebrating. Cheers!

 

Le Marais Poitevin

Sunday Pascale and Jacky picked us up and took us to see le Marais Poitevin, which is classified as un grand site de France. 

Le Marais Poitevin
Le Marais Poitevin

But before we got in a barque we had a bit of time to wander around the town:

Les Roses de Coulon
Les Roses de Coulon
Coulon, Marais Poitevin
Coulon, Marais Poitevin

And then had a traditional grand dejeuner here:

Auberge de l'Ecluse
Auberge de l’Ecluse
Auberge de l'Ecluse
Auberge de l’Ecluse

We ordered way too much food. The set menu included entrée, plat, fromage (optional extra), and dessert. First course for me, fois gras:

Entrée (first course): fois gras
Entrée (first course): fois gras

Then le plat or main course, where I misunderstood the menu and managed to order veal kidneys for both David and me. Jacky asked if I understood what I was ordering, but I assured him yes. David was, of course, at my mercy, since it was all written and discussed in French. Jacky also chose this, so here’s what three of us ate:

Rognons de Veau
Rognons de Veau

Pascale had an assortment of things, including eel, which we tasted and actually liked. Definitely a new experience. Then, the cheese course. I wasn’t able to finish any course but the first, not even the two small slices of chevre, and explained to the waiter, “J’avais les yeux plus gros que le ventre.” This is a well-known French expression just like the English expression, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach.” But because it was part of the set menu, here came dessert after the cheese course. When the waiter set mine down, he said quietly to me, “Désolé.” (“Sorry.”) Too cute. Here’s dessert for me:

Ile Flottante
Ile Flottante

Fortunately, the top part of an Ile Flottante is a very light meringue, mostly air, and the creamy custard part was fabulous. Still, I could only manage to eat a  few bites. After this feast, Pascale and Jacky rented une barque, like one of these, for une petite balade in the marais.

Coulon, Marais Poitevin
Coulon, Marais Poitevin

Marais can be translated “bog, marsh, swamp,” none of which seem to evoke how beautiful and tranquil it all was. Pascale and Jacky were smart enough to rent the boat WITH the guy on the back, le pilote, to do all the paddling.

Une Barque avec  un Pilote
Une Barque avec un Pilote

At one point we caught up to a barque sans pilote, stuck sideways, blocking the entire canal, and the guys paddling managed to get it unstuck only to get stuck again, which was–let’s be honest–hilarious. Other than that, though, it was remarkably serene considering how mobbed the town was.

Marais Poitevin
Marais Poitevin

We glided along, completely relaxed, taking pictures and settling into the peace of the place. I kept feeling the urge to recite from The Wind in the Willows, especially after catching a quick glimpse of Ratty (or one of his French cousins) right before he dived under the bow.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” * 

I agree, especially if you can do it on a perfect Sunday afternoon with delightful friends.

*Rat to Mole in The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. See the quotes page for newly added quotes from Kenneth Grahame. 

For Nikki

My friend Nikki asked me to occasionally mention things that are not completely fabulous, to help her avoid feeling jealous, so I’ve wracked my brain (because we are having an excellent time) and come up with a few. So, Nikki, especially for you . . . .

Living here does occasionally require, well, intestinal fortitude. Or maybe gumption. Whatever the mot juste, I can assure you  it’s not always easy or perfect.

Occasionally it does feel like an uphill climb.
Sometimes it feels like an uphill climb.

Strong arms are required to live without a car, and having to schlep everything all the time, no matter how good it is for our fitness, is just not that fun. In addition to groceries, water, wine, etc., often there’s my school bag and/or my camera bag as well. Sometimes I can get David to act as my sherpa, and he certainly carries the vast majority of the groceries, but I draw the line at asking him to carry my girly-looking bags. So, tired arms and aching shoulders, not to mention . . .

My poor feet. Sometimes I can almost hear them demanding, “Seriously?!? Sit. Down.” Oddly, the most comfortable shoes for all this walking have been my OrthaHeel sandals, which are really just fancy flip-flops. You should see the looks I get. Feet-face-feet again. Could be the fab plastic jewels, but more likely the slap-slap sound. The looks I get are not admiring. They’re either stone-faced or slightly confused. It may change as the weather continues to warm up, but at the moment I may be the only person in La Rochelle, besides the occasional 20-something guy, wearing flip-flops.

Classy shoes on a distinguished gentleman reading Le Monde in Place des Dames
Classy shoes on a distinguished gentleman reading Le Monde in Cours des Dames

Next, strong nerves are required when you find yourself on a narrow sidewalk with a wall on one side and cars screaming around bends, practically on two wheels, on the other side. And I mean, Right There Next To You. So close your hair practically blows back. Yikes. Cardio workout anyone? Let me catch my breath.

Car art from a street vendor, since I'm not able to photograph cars speeding at me.
Car art from a street vendor, since I’m not calm enough to photograph cars speeding at me.

You also need adapability for the unexpected. The first time I walked into the rather posh restroom of the Café de la Paix and realized a gentleman was coming in with me, I was, to say the least, startled. Each person does have his or her own little compartment, but I felt just awkward enough that–I confess–I hid in mine until I heard him leave.

Johnny Walker in Café de la Paix – (No he wasn’t the guy in the restroom.)
Johnnie Walker in Café de la Paix – (No he wasn’t the guy in the restroom.)

Certainly strong self-esteem is required–or at least a willingness to laugh at yourself–because making stupid mistakes in French is a daily event. Every. Day. Multiple. Times. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve asked for 6 or 8 planches (which means planks or shelves or boards) of bacon fumé instead of 6 or 8 tranches (slices).

Mon Charcutier Préféré
Mon Charcutier Préféré

Then Wednesday, instead of explaining I was fatiguée (tired) after my little illnessI told the receptionist at school I was fatigante, which is likely true, since it means tiring or annoying, but was not what I meant to say. Everyone, whether vendor, server, friend or teacher, has been unfailingly kind and helpful, correcting the gender I’ve used and/or my pronunciation (un pain ordinaire, pas trop cuit*, with no T sound, but une baguette, pas trop cuite*, with the T sound). I’m still not too great at saying le moelleux, but since that’s a delicious warm chocolate lava cake with a melt-y center, I’m not going to quit ordering it!  

Café Gourmand
Café Gourmand, including a miniature moelleux chocolat next to the whipped cream

Sometimes you even need a strong stomach, since there are a great number of, how shall I put it, souvenirs des chiens on the sidewalks. They are easy to avoid, but are not pretty. This is in spite of the signs requesting a ville propre (clean city), complete with a rendering of how exactly one cleans up after one’s dog, since it’s such a foreign concept. (I know, right? I so wanted to include a photo of the sign, but I’m afraid David vetoed it for the Good to Know post, so I probably shouldn’t put it here either.)

Le chien who went berserk after I took his picture.
Le chien who went berserk after I took his picture.

And if you happen to walk through the central outdoor market area just after it finishes for the day, but before the debris has all been swept up, beurk!*  But your timing has to be spectacularly bad, as ours somehow usually is, because the clean-up is thorough and immediate. David loves offering me items from the gutter as we pass by, as if he were a waiter. “A little fish today, maybe?” as we pass a particularly odiferous leftover. “Or perhaps a squashed tomato?” Dégoûtant!*

*Vocabulary:   Pas trop cuit(e) = not too cooked (browned)       Beurk! = roughly, yuck / Dégoûtant! = Disgusting  

Le marché while it’s still pretty.
Le marché while it’s still pretty.
One of my favorite vendors at the marché, while everything is still pretty
One of my favorite vendors at the marché

So . . .  helpful? It’s surely not news that there is no perfect place on earth, or perfect people for that matter. We all make do the best we can. It brings to mind this: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 Seems like an excellent goal, wherever you are.

 

 

Les Maladies

This weekend David and I both had the opportunity to experience adventures in ill-health while abroad! Yippee. Saturday evening David developed some sort of stomach bug, complete with fever and chills, and was just sick enough for me to start freaking out about my lack of preparedness for health issues while here.  Neither of us is prone to sickness, so I didn’t really think I had to have that all figured out. We have international health insurance because it was required for the long-stay visa, but other than knowing where to find a few pharmacies, I felt pretty ill-equipped. I do know 911 is useless here. Instead, you call 15 for medical emergencies, 17 for the police, and 18 (or 112–don’t ask me, I have no idea) for the fire department.

La Police (instead of David feeling unwell)
La Police (instead of a photo of David feeling unwell)

Fortunately, no emergency services were required, and David is on the mend. But just when he was starting to feel better yesterday, I started feeling unwell–I’ll spare you the details–and became increasing convinced that I’d have to miss my first day back at school and would somehow need to find a doctor and get myself there, since antibiotics would be required to get me back to health.  I remembered the welcome packet for school (yes, I’m one of those people who read things like that) had a page of emergency contact information, so I was able to find a clinic half an hour’s walk from the house. It’s just around the corner from here (below):

Place de Verdun et rue Fleuriau
Place de Verdun et rue Fleuriau

I was still in a bit of a panic, since although my French is definitely improving, I’m not great at talking on the phone, but I felt I should call the school to let them know I could not return today, and then I had to call to get an appointment with a doctor. I managed both, in a rather bumbling, incoherent way, admittedly, but . . . yay . . . gold star for me.

I’ve read somewhere that doctor’s appointments in France are rather different than those in the states. Don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve read that you have to take off all your clothes and sit there, awkward and freezing, on the examining table without so much a tissue: no gown, no drape, naked as the day you were born. And while it is true that things were rather different–no nurse checking my blood pressure, taking my pulse, making me stand on the scale, no nurse at all, in fact, and best of all, ZERO paperwork–I’m happy to report, no nudity was required. The doctor was the one to fetch me from the waiting room, and we walked through a little courtyard to a small exam room, but he sat at a little desk and I sat in a chair on the other side and we had a conversation–flipping between English and French as either of us lacked the necessary vocabulary. Then he explained the prescription he was giving me–three pills, take one a day, avoid the sun, drink LOTS of water–then asked me for 23 euros, shook my hand and showed me out.

Les Minimes -- No beach for me this week!
Les Minimes — No beach for me this week!

I retrieved David from a bench in Place de Verdun and we went to the pharmacy where I turned in my prescription and was immediately given the packet of pills–cost 13 euros 56 centimes. Done and done in about 20 minutes and for about 40 bucks USD. Love it. We, however, did not feel quite well enough for lunch here:

Café de la Paix
Café de la Paix–Best Salade Chevre Chaud in La Rochelle

And while I certainly would have preferred that neither of us get sick, it was one more fear conquered–okay, two–the phone AND the doctor. Here’s hoping your fears can be conquered without the need for ill-health.

À votre santé!*
*(Common toast in France, roughly: Cheers! Literally: To your health!)

Life in Oz

No, we’re not actually in Oz. We’re still in La Rochelle, which we love, but sometimes Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz springs to mind, as in, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Here we see things we would not ordinarily see in Fort Collins, Colorado. Like this:

I have no idea.
I have no idea.

Well, maybe we do see things like that occasionally in Fort Collins, but only on Tour de Fat Saturday!

Don’t see these, though:

L'hôtel de ville de La Rochelle

L'hôtel de ville de La Rochelle
L’hôtel de ville de La Rochelle

Or these:

Citroën 2CV – Classic French Car
Citroën 2CV – Classic French Car

Or toddlers sporting fabulous scarves:

Toddler in Scarf Cropped

Or man-bags:

IMG_3236
David says no thank you.

Or Converse worn quite this way:

Very French
Very French

Or women of all ages enjoying fashion quite this much:

Rockin' the Mini-Skirt
Rockin’ the Mini-Skirt

How about this one?

Maybe a rock star?

None of the above are isolated random sightings–well except the dude in pink. Converse, man-bags, beautifully wound scarves on children, and even stylish seniors in mini-skirts and boots are everywhere. We can’t get enough. We walk and look or sit and watch (and sneak furtive photos with a long lens) every chance we get.

Finally, check out this little piece of the vieux port. Can you imagine a drop-off like this in the states with no railing? And yet, we all manage to walk along it every day with no mishaps. Well, few. There was a bike at the bottom you could see at low tide the other day, and be sure to scroll down to note my hat’s new home.

The sad end of my fab hat!
The sad end of my fab hat!

Sunday my best new hat was stolen from my head by a strong gust of wind and dropped down into the silt of low tide, as you can see above. Of course the port area is always thronged with pedestrians and café-sitters, so there was a sympathetic chorus of Oh! Là! Là! Là! Là! (It was more than a two Là! catastrophe, but not quite a six. “Oh! Là! Là!” is used differently here, reserved for mishaps.) I could possibly have climbed down the ancient iron ladder affixed to the wall and then squished across eight or ten feet of muck in an effort to retrieve it, but decided to let it go, rather than attempt it with such a large audienceLater when we came back that way, the tide had come up a bit, but it was still visible and was providing quite the conversation starter. I overheard no fewer than five separate groups of people, “Blah, blah, blah, un chapeau . . . .” One man in a hat was leaning over and looking without holding on to his own hat, so I felt compelled to warn him. “Ah, attention de votre chapeau, monsieur! C’est mon chapeau là-bas!” (“Be careful of your hat, sir! That’s my hat down there!”) Guess that was my fifteen minutes of fame—kind of lame. Yesterday I went back to La Chapellerie and bought another one, but David has made me promise to hold onto it when near the water.

Once we’ve had enough people-watching for the day, we head back home,  and although Colorado is certainly very beautiful,  I can assure you we’ve never glanced down a random side street in Fort Collins and seen anything like this:

Rue Bazoges, La Rochelle
Rue Bazoges, La Rochelle

What a treat for the eyes this place is.