Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 60 - mercredi

30 mars 2011

            Today is the sixtieth day of my French sabbatical. My thoughts are definitely turning towards my return to the States. After school today I went to a travel agency to plan my trips through the rest of my European stay. If I take two flights, each will cost 426 Euros = $637. I’m going to check online for other prices now that I have an idea of the airlines and airports suggested by the travel agent. The trip to Luxembourg City could be by train. It would cost much less.
            In class we learned how to form the present conditional tense. My mind is awhirl trying to sort out the forms for this tense, the future simple, and the imperfect. I understand the different uses – that’s a great step – but I need to practice a lot to clear the fog regarding the forms. All helps me to read the newspapers and my children’s storybook with much more understanding, however.
            There is little else to report today. I’m unsure as to where all of March disappeared, but the days are definitely warmer and brighter. May your day be bright, Dear Reader. A bientôt!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 59 - mardi

29 mars 2011
Today was a lovely warm day in Nice. In the Standard Course we learned about forms to write with passive voice. This seemed most difficult to grasp for the German speakers in the class, but I think we all had an understanding of it by the time class ended.
After school, Mariette, Rosa, Radovan and I went to a tapas bar. We spoke in French nearly the entire time.  I doubt that the language will ever feel natural to me, but it is becoming much more familiar and easier to express thoughts in a timely manner.
By the time I arrived home it was already 8:00 p.m. I felt really tired - could have been the wine, but it was only one glass. It's probably a good night to get to bed early.
Good night, Dear Readers.

Day 58 - lundi

28 mars 2011
            Today went quickly. In the morning, I spent time writing my reflections of the weekend. At school I tried to upload pictures to Photobucket, but I couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi. I’ll try again tomorrow.
            Mariette was back as our teacher of the Standard Course. Last week she was teaching for another school.
            After school I stopped at the grocer down the street for a few fruits and vegetables; then to the little supermarket for a few things more; then homeward.
            For supper I made a Hamburger Casserole. It was worth the wait. I was only able to download some of my pictures before bedtime, so the report of the Paris adventure is still on hold. Maybe it can be finished tomorrow.
            In the election, it seems that the “right”, UMP, has gained seats. This is the party of Sarcozy.

Paris is beautiful in the springtime

Days 55-57 Paris
Vendredi – 25 mars 2011            La fête de l’annonciation   Eiffel Tower, boat tour, countryside (Click the link to see PICTURES)
            I’m off to Paris today! Leaving the house at 8:50 a.m., I walked to the station. Everything is abuzz; there are lots of people waiting for the train to Paris. The ticket booth lines are long – I’m very glad to have my ticket already purchased. The first half of the train is already at the station, but my car, and the second half of the train, is yet to arrive. It came soon afterwards. We departed at 9:35 a.m. following the coast with only a few stops.
            Just after noon, we were at Aix-en-Provence. From here onward, the train is moving very fast; it makes my ears pop a bit. In this area, the vineyards are as plentiful as the cornfields in the Midwest. The rivers are carrying the azure (green-blue) water from the hills to the sea. By 12:30 we are in Avignon. Along the way, I am reading the Daily Matin, finding out that the clocks spring ahead Saturday night, and my bedtime storybook for children. It takes me most of the afternoon to work my way through the story – so many new words! (Kids know these?! How did we ever learn all the words that we know and use? What an awesome mind we have!) Finally at 3:20 p.m. we arrive in Paris, at Gare de Lyon.
            The station is very open, with shops and information booths. I immediately went to the booth to find out where to buy a ticket for Saturday’s trip to see the Junk family in Mennecy. The lady in the booth did not know the town, but she was able to find it on the computer. She gave me the times and directed me to another booth to purchase the ticket.
            At the first booth I find, it looks like I can buy a Metro/Bus pass for Paris for a day, so I got one of these. Then I proceeded on to another area where it looked like tickets could be purchased for other cities. I was redirected back to the place where I bought my city pass. Now I had my ticket for Mennecy – it must be used on Saturday, but I can catch any train heading that direction. The tickets are small, so I need to figure out where to put it in my purse. My bags tend to swallow a lot of small things. So I put both the city pass and the Mennecy ticket in an obvious place and headed for Metro line towards the hotel at Place d’Italie.
            Upon coming up out of the Metro, I had no idea which direction I was facing. The plaza is large, so I started toward my left. It would have been much shorter to have gone to the right, but eventually I had crossed every street and found Avenue des Gobelins. It was only a short walk from here to the Hotel Kyriad on Rue Veronnaise. 83 Euros for a room with breakfast.
            The lobby was under renovation. The elevator had room for one person with luggage, two people at the most. My room was on the fifth floor at the end of the short hall that was very dark. One can turn on a light when passing a switch, but the lights are on a timer – saves pennies, no doubt. The key was slotted for the pins to fall into place. It was obvious that it went into the slot, but then one opens the door, releases the handle, and removes the key. The room is clean and well worn. But the bed looks comfortable and the salle de bain (bath) is in the room. After a quick unpacking, and finding my maps, it was already about 5:30. The man at the desk gave me directions to Bateaux Mouches for the boat ride on the Seine. It boards near the Eiffel Tower, so I would see that tonight also.
            Exiting the Metro from above ground, signs pointed out the direction of the Tower. Turning the corner, there it was; an awesome sight from every angle. (This explains the many pictures.) The walk to the boat’s dock along the Quai is lovely and quite a little jaunt from the Tower. There are so many beautiful bridges and buildings and boats along the river.
            The boat trip lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes. Explanations were given in at least 6 languages. Since I was not atop the boat, I kept moving from side to side, trying to remember which was “port” and which was “starboard.” As the boat made its final turn back to the dock, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated. A cheer went up from the crowd onboard.
            After debarking, I walked toward the tower. It was too late to see another site in the area, so I stopped for something to eat at a corner restaurant. This would be my only sit down meal in Paris. I had wine called Les Violettes – it was good, red with some body to it.
            Then I walked to the tower. If there was one man selling little tower replicas that light up, there were 50+. The lines to walk or ride up the tower were long with over an hour wait, so I did not go up. But it is an awesomely, beautiful, graceful structure. As I was leaving around 9 p.m., another set of lights began to sparkle – for well over a minute. See the movie clip for a brief example of it. Wow.
            Back onto the Metro, I arrived at the hotel by 9:40 p.m. Lights out by 10:50.

Day 56 - samedi  Around the town
            Up by 7:10 a.m. and down to the continental breakfast by 8:00. When I first sat down, I was alone, but a woman sat down with me a little later. She was visiting Paris with friends from work who were at the next table. She said that they do this occasionally with no spouses and no children. It’s mostly for the shopping. I told her what my plans were for the day. Then it was time for me to be on my way.
            Before checking out I made my plans about what to see and how I would connect via the Metro. I tried to include the bus, but I was having a very hard time figuring out that map, so I stayed with the train.
            The first stop was the Sorbonne – University of Paris – a very old site for higher education. Then I walked over to the Jardin du Luxembourg. I loved this place. The trees in Paris are just beginning to bud out. There were families, groups practicing tai chi, and young couples everywhere. At the center was an expansive open space, with fountains and tilled gardens that will soon be planted with flowers.  Surrounding this area stood statue after statue of the reigning women of France and its provinces.
            Walking up the Rue de Napoleon, I encountered Saint Sulpice. In front was a huge fountain dedicated to four bishops of Paris. The church itself is massive. Some of the paintings inside are by Delacroix – see the pictures of the embattled angels. Here I first encountered the glass confessionals. These allow for more light in the church, provide privacy for the dialogue, and retain a better perspective of space. This church has an obelisk that marks the meridian line. It was featured in Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code. The organ here is well known, too.
            Not too far away is St. Germain des Près abbey. This fifth century church was also a fort. It was taken over by the army during the revolution and became a gunpowder factory. Multi-colored painted columns support the high-vaulted ceilings, again impressive. The Stations of the Cross are on metal plates. The altar area has been renovated and is much brighter than the rest of the church. The philosopher Descartes is remembered here.
            One of my favorite sculptures, which looks very modern in its unfinished state, is the remnant of the Middle Ages discarded when it suffered an accident during carving, is that of Our Lady of the Smile. (See pictures)
            My next stop was Notre Dame cathedral. Even though it wasn’t too far, I decided to use the Metro. After one stop, it was announced that there was a delay because of an accident, so I decided to walk the rest of the way – it was just across the bridge. There were so many people in the plaza in front of the church. The line to enter was half way across the plaza, but it kept moving. There was a school group of (maybe) second graders just in front of me. The teacher was fairly strict with them. The two mothers accompanying them were much more gentle, taking care of one child who wasn’t feeling well.
The crowd inside was quite thick. I did not care for the atmosphere. But the church has many well-known artistic elements. Of course the rose windows, and around the backside of the altar were colorful wooden panels of Jesus’ life. One side was from his birth to his arrest. The other side depicted those to whom he appeared after his resurrection. Mass started at noon, but instead of quieting down, the voices grew louder. Ah, well. I got out my student I.D. to get in to see the church treasures. The woman at the desk chastised me (in English) because “students” are usually 26 yrs and younger.  But she let me pass with my 2 Euros. The room held amazing articles and gifts given to Notre Dame, including a reliquary of St. Louis (king). On the other side of the church, there is an altar dedicated to him as well.
In one of the chapels around the nave, there were two models of the church and a diorama of the building of the church. (See pictures) There is so much history here and in all of Paris.
Back to the Metro, I wanted to make my way to the old Opera House. But the next stop on the line was the Louvre. I knew that I didn’t have time to go inside to see the artworks, but just to see the plaza would be a good start. As I came out of the metro, there was a man selling bottles of water for 1 Euro – deal! I was parched. Walking through the archway, one is reminded that this was the home of the royal family. This would be where coaches were welcomed. Passing through the corridor, one gets a glimpse of the bright plaza where the famous glass pyramids give light to the museum’s gallery below.
The plaza is amazing – the vast amount of space is decorated with fountains, the pyramids, and people, people, people. In it’s time, it would have been a great place to play for a little prince or princess. (See pictures)
On to the Opera House that is now the Academy of Music and Dance. A performance was soon to begin, so those with tickets were allowed to pass through the gates. Other tourists filled the steps, having lunch, waiting for buses to pick them up. A city bus stop was just at the corner, so I hopped on the next one heading to Gare Lazare. Here I could catch the Metro to Sacre Coeur, the last church and site for the day.
The Metro stop is Abessess. Signs directed one to the funiculaire (like the Fourth Street Elevator in Dubuque) that would take one up the hill. I began my climb. Usually there are two or three sets of stairs to walk up from a Metro stop, but here, I kept climbing and climbing. I should have counted the number of stairs. I had to stop twice to catch my breath on the way up: mind you now, besides the natural workout of the ascent, I am carrying my little satchel of clothes for the weekend and I’m wearing a turtleneck, my wool jacket and my raincoat. By the time I reached the top, my face was beat red. Following the signs to the funiculaire, I was grateful to find it about 3 blocks away. The ride, filled with people, was quick, but then another set of stairs before getting to the stairs of the church. Whew! The area was crowded with people. This was a beautiful, warm day in Paris. The heavy air limited the view, however. I went inside.
Sacre Coeur church, built in the nineteenth century, is considered “the top of the wedding cake” of the city. It is filled with beautiful mosaics, and is generally brighter than the older churches that I had seen throughout the day. No pictures were allowed, so there are none to share of the inside.
Leaving the area, I walked down the many stairs past the funiculaire, back to the Metro to connect to Gare de Lyon. This route (#2) has air-conditioned cars and the map of the line lights up to show one the direction and stop. Very modern. I arrived at the train station just after 3:40 p.m., too late to catch a train to Mennecy until another hour would pass. This gave me time to buy some flowers for the Junk family, with whom I would be staying overnight, and find the quay for departure.
The station signs were not helpful in finding the track, but Amy Junk had told me it was the D line. This was helpful. The map at the station confirmed this. The D line is different from most in that it has several destinations – the line splits when leaving the city. I had to get on the right one. Standing between the stairs for tracks 1 and 3 and tracks 2 and 4, I asked a rail worker which goes in the direction of Mennecy. She was not sure where Mennecy was, but she indicated tracks 2 – 4. That’s where I descended. However, after studying the monitors and my map, I realized that the final destinations of these trains were north of the city and I had to go south. So I climbed back up the stairs, checked the map, found the end destination that passed Mennecy, and went down to tracks 1- 3. Now I was in the right spot, confirmed by the name of the final city showing on the monitor. Soon it was flashing all the destinations for that train, and I boarded at 4:41 to arrive in Mennecy at 5:27 p.m.
Once on the train, it began to rain. It passed through much more city, which gradually thinned, then the sun began to shine and as the train turned a corner, there was a rainbow (l’arc-de-ciel).
Amy and Ellie (Eleanor, age 5) were waiting for me at the station. The air smelled fresh. We walked to the nearby boulangerie for a baguette, and then we drove to their home at the edge of the little town. [This was the second car ride I had had in France.] There I met Alex and baby Simeon. Amy and Alex made a tasty chicken supper. It was great to hear about their experiences as Americans adapting to the French culture. It shed a great deal of light on my own adventures. We chatted until late. The clocks moved ahead overnight, so it was already 10:30 when I said “goodnight.”

Day 57 - dimanche  Pictures of the Junk family
I woke up around 6:45 a.m. and sketched down memories of the previous day. By 8:15 I was showered and downstairs. Ellie and Simeon were up and were hungry. They waited to hear me moving about before making breakfast. Amy made a delicious “baked oatmeal” cake – a Junk family recipe that I’d like to get.
After breakfast, Amy, Ellie and I went for a walk around her school. A woman inquired about her lost golden retriever. We had not seen a dog without an owner, but on the next street, there it was. We called the woman who was way across the schoolyard. Eventually, she made it around to the street where we were waiting with the dog who had lain down in the middle of the street. I suspected that the dog lived somewhere nearby. Indeed, we were right in front of his house. We continued our walk to the town centre to pick up some cheese for lunch sandwiches.
Once back at the house, Ellie went out to play with the neighbor’s grandson. I packed my things together then went outside to join them. This gave me a chance to converse a little in French. Amy said I did well. That was very nice of her.
After lunch, Alex took me to the airport, about half an hour away, as he was on his way to work to install a computer program for the office and the airport was a only a little out of his way. Once there, Easy Jet check-in was downstairs – all others seemed to be on the level where one walked in. After checking in, back upstairs through security and to the gate. Easy Jet is like Southwest Airlines – no frills. With open seating, I figured that I would be in between two others, but I was able to get a window seat over the wings. Legroom was minimal, so I stowed my carry-on in the overhead bin and rested for the flight that was just over an hour to Nice.
In Nice, it was pouring rain! I followed the signs to the bus terminal, the signs disappeared, I turned back; there it was, just outside the terminal door. The islands for the buses were well marked: Nice Centre/99. Upon reading the sign, it seemed that I needed to get a ticket at the window across the street, which I did for 4 Euros. When I looked at the ticket later, it was a day pass, which I didn’t need, but this is a first-time experience. Next time, I’ll just pay my 1 Euro for a “solo” trip to my corner.
By the time I made it to the apartment, the umbrella was laden with water. It was already 5:20. I had decided to go to the 6:00 p.m. mass at Notre Dame, so after a quick cup of tea with Michele, I headed off again. I was grateful that there was music at this Mass, too. Vesna came in just after the start of Mass, so she sat with me. After Mass, I walked Vesna to her house. We stood outside chatting under the umbrellas for a little while. She would like to inquire about being a “host family” for Azurlingua. I promised to pick up the papers and call her later in the week. She would be a fabulous host.
On the way back home, I stopped at Pizza d’Or to get a carry-out pizza for supper. It had eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes and olives. After dripping non-stop on the table, chair, and floor where I waited for a brief 20 minutes, I walked back home. There was no avoiding the puddles; water was standing everywhere. I made it home by 7:50 p.m. Michele was still working at the computer. Election info was on the TV. I’m not sure what the results are. Hopefully I’ll see something in the paper on Monday.
That sums up the adventure to Paris and back. Dear Reader. I hope you had a good weekend, too.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 54 - jeudi

24 mars 2011
            At school today, Alexandre showed a typical French movie, a romantic comedy, called Hors de prix. It is set in the hotels of Monaco, with one scene in Nice. It gave us a chance to use the vocabulary of likes and dislikes, and to describe our favorite movies and actors. Now, I like movies, but I don’t see very many. I did find out that I’m the only one who likes Star Trek (i.e. science fiction) and that three of us like Tom Hanks.
            During the morning break, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul from Sweden. Paul is new to our class. He’s an anesthetist and is taking this language course because his wife likes to practice her French and visit France. She is in a group called the French Ladies that meets regularly. Paul wants to learn more French in order to do more than just make commercial exchanges in the shops.  He seems to be enjoying the experience and will stay at least two weeks.
            After the Intensive course, I found Radovan on the garden steps. I was hoping to connect with Marina since she is leaving tomorrow, but she wasn’t around. Radovan took my phone number so that he might call me later. I’d like to say good-bye to Marina, but her boyfriend is coming in this evening. Ah, well, c’est la vie.
            When I got home, I put in another load of laundry. The clothes will likely not dry overnight, it was really wet when it came out of the machine, but I need some of it for my trip. It may be a bit damp when I pack it. Now, I must go consider more thoroughly what needs to go into the bag.
            For supper I ate lots of leftovers. Then I heard from Radovan and Marina. So at 8:00 I went to the school residence. We had a great gathering for an hour and a half to send off Kate and Marina.
            That’s all for now, Dear Reader. I hope to check in again on Sunday evening. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 53 - mercredi

23 mars 2011
            Today was another lovely blue-sky day, but it had quite a chilly edge to the breeze. Anyone watching the news in France is very aware that the radiation cloud from Japan has finally reached us.
            The trees in Michele’s garden were scheduled for their triennial trimming today. Suffice it to say that it was a very shady garden yesterday with lots of privacy. Today it is a sunny garden. The mimosa tree had a nest in it with baby birds. Michele asked the neighbors to put it in their tree, which they did happily. Hopefully the mother bird will find her brood.
            After classes today I let the teachers know that I would not be in class on Friday since I am traveling to Paris for the weekend. They were both delighted with oohs and ahhs. Of course I will be obligated to relate the whole experience in past tense when I return to class on Monday, so I best make the most of it.
A note to you, Dear Reader: I will not be taking my computer to Paris – it’s too heavy to lug around and I don’t want to “lose” it. My constant companion will be missed, but it’s not worth the risk and frustration. This means that there will be a few blank days up coming. But never fear, I will certainly fill you in after I return from the capitol city.  [humming] “I love Paris in the springtime…”
This afternoon I did the mandatory laundry in preparation for the trip. Michele is lending me a small carry-on bag in which everything MUST fit. I’ve learned to travel quite lightly and comfortably, so this will be perfect. She’s also given me a book with all the arrondisements and streets of Paris. Along with the info that Louise K. gave earlier, I am set to find my way across the city.
That’s all for today, Dear Reader. Love to all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Days 51, 52 lundi et mardi

21, 22 mars 2011
            This week I have a new set of teachers for both the standard and intensive courses. Alexandre, a young woman of about 25 years, is teaching us with confidence and care. She is still working on her skill to draw pictures on the board when we don’t understand a concept, but she has a good sense of humor and gives creative assignments. Marie is teaching us for the intensive course. She is experienced and keeps us talking, but tends not to engage the quietest students in the room. I am the spokes woman for the United States. To be honest, I am likely giving some wrong information: for this I apologize to all.
            Yesterday afternoon I attempted to make travel plans to Paris for this coming weekend. I received lots of advice, some helpful, some not, and still had not made any reservations by the end of the day. So today after school, I set everything in place. I’m telling you first, Dear Reader, that I will not go to classes on Friday. Instead I will take the train to Paris in the morning, arriving there early in the afternoon and able to see a few nearby sites. Friday evening I will be staying near the Place d’Italie. On Saturday, I will spend the day seeing the other places on my list. Mid-afternoon, I will take the train out to Mennecy to see the Junk family.
            The Junks are from Iowa. Their uncle Rocky Junk and I have known each other since Bellevue, IA days. He gave me the recommendation to visit, and I am delighted. They have two young children. I will stay with them through early Sunday afternoon. Then I will go to Paris-Orly airport and fly back to Nice. That sounds like plenty of adventures for one weekend, don’t you think?
            After making my online purchases and reservations, I took my computer back to the apartment, then walked over to the train station to purchase the ticket to Paris – it was much less than reserving it online.
            Then I walked down and back up Jean Medecine Avenue looking at the shoe stores. The spring and summer shoes are on display now. If I could find something reasonable, and practical, I would purchase some, but I won’t buy shoes (those with comfort and support) for nearly twice as much as they are in the States. [The dollar is NOT doing well right now.] That is why I did not buy shoes today. However, I did buy a belt and a children’s storybook in French – for the 8- or 9-year old child.  I like stories, and these seem like they will be my speed.
            It’s hard to keep up with the world when so much is going on. The disaster in Japan, the war in Libya, and the French elections (Thursday) dominate the news. Oh, French football (soccer) is always on the news, too, but that’s usually when Michele begins to surf the channels for the evening entertainment: sometimes she watches Cold Case or CSI: New York, with French overdubbing.
            That’s all for today, Dear Reader. Have a good one yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 50 - dimanche

20 mars 2011 - Beautiful day in Nice
Everyone here seems very aware that tomorrow is the first day of spring. Today was the most beautiful day I’ve seen here. There were lots of people out walking this afternoon.
Just to relate a few of the miles I made because it was so nice, I met Rose and we walked to church. Afterwards, I walked with her towards the Promenade (along the bay). When we reached the Place Massena, I was surprised to see that the Gallerie Lafayette was open today with a sale. Since I had to look for something at this store for Jim M., I went in. The store is much like a Younkers or Macys. Then I discovered that I did not have the details to purchase Jim’s item, so after waiting 20 minutes with my little items in the checkout line without moving anywhere, I decided to come back later with all the info that I needed.
I arrived home a little after 1:00 p.m., so I made a substantial lunch, and headed out again about 2:30. Back to Gallerie Lafayette, via the tram this time. I found what I had selected earlier and purchased all that Jim requested. I walked back towards home, and decided to call Vesna – the doctor from Croatia that I had met the first week that I attended Notre Dame church. She and a friend had just stepped out of the house for a walk along the promenade: would I join them? Of course!
Now I have met Veronique and Antoinette. Both are nurses who have worked with Vesna over the years. We walked down to the promenade, then west toward the old city, then to the port. By now my feet are tired. We stopped in a shop that makes chocolates and confitures (jams), and the dried fruits soaked in syrup. During the week, one can get a tour of the factory. But today, we could only visit the shop upstairs. There were samples to taste. They had jams that were flavored of rose, jasmine, and violets, alongside those with figs, citrus, and other more common fruits. From here, we headed to Grimaldi square.
Vesna wanted to go to Mass at 6 p.m. at a nearby church. I agreed to go with her while Veronique and Antoinette waited for us. Unfortunately, there was no Mass at 6 at that church. We walked back to join the other two. They had disappeared. We soon found out that they had gone to get gelato. Veronique let me taste her jasmine flavored ice cream. It was quite good. I wonder if this fad will make it to the States.
At Place Massena, Antoinette left us, and Vesna, Veronique and I walked back to Vesna’s apartment. We chatted in English and French. Vernonique had to catch the train an hour back home. I stayed another half hour longer with Vesna, then I too had to head home. It had been a delightful, but very long, afternoon. I got home about 8 p.m.
With a pot of tea and a piece of the Lemon Pie, I listened to the news of the world. Things are heating up in Libya. If you recall the map of the Mediterranean Sea, Libya is just across the “pond” from France, and I am living on the southern coast. France is assisting prominently with the attack on Libya. It is an uncomfortable situation. It does not seem that a proper amount of time has been given to negotiation. Please pray that there can be a peaceful solution soon.
The day is nearly over. Tomorrow begins week 7. Classes will be in the morning each day, and I have a new teacher for the Standard Course, so there will be much that is new. Have a great week, Dear Reader.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Days 48, 49 - vendredi et samedi

Friday was a morning to study, then to school in the afternoon. It was a lovely, sunny day. A number of people were not in class, likely enjoying the sights of the area and beginning their weekend early. In the Intensive Course, we played Taboo, the game where you describe some thing, person, or place to get the others to guess the word. By the end, we were doing quite well. And Eric changed the rules a bit, letting us use the related words on the card. Normally these words are to be avoided. It was fun to play, and we were doing quite well determining the answers.
Chissa was leaving Nice Saturday morning, first to Paris for a week, then home to Tokyo, so several of us went out with her to the oldest Japanese restaurant in Nice. It was very good. We were an interesting collection from around the world: Japan, Hong Kong, southwestern China, US and Britain/Brazil. One would think that French would be our common language, but it is still English. We had a very nice time. I got home about 10:45 p.m.
This morning, I arose at 5:35 a.m. in order to meet Rose at the train station by 6:40 a.m. to visit Grasse and Antibes. Grasse is known for its perfumeries and Antibes for its beautiful water, the old city and the Picasso museum.
We arrived in Grasse just after 8 a.m. and took the bus up the hill to the old city. Our stop was the Fragonard museum and perfumery. The scent of the city is not like any other. Since the museum opened at 9, we walked a little ways down the narrow street of the old city for a little breakfast: orange juice, a hot drink, and two Viennese pastries for 5.50 Euros.            
At the museum, we saw the old machinery used for distilling the scents for the essential oils used in the perfumes. There were many beautiful containers, some very tiny, that were used to hold the oils and beads. Most were small enough to wear as jewelry. Some box collections, for travel, were quite extravagant, including a tea set and hairbrushes. On the lower level, the factory is now producing jasmine oil and making their scented soaps. The jasmine oil is produced the “old-fashioned” way because the petals are fragile. In a glass box, animal fat (20% pork, 80% beef – also aromatic) is spread. The flowers are placed face down into the fat. This is left for a month, so that the fat absorbs the flower’s oils. Then the fat is “distilled” just as if making beer and the essential oil is the result. It takes tons of flower petals to create a relatively small amount of oil. I’m not one to wear fragrance very often, but this was so gentle, I purchased a set of sample fragrances for women and another for men.
Next we visited the Fragonard Museum – Grasse’s museum of the art and history of the province. This was simple but interesting. The house was built in 1769. It was turned into a museum in 1918 that shows the lifestyle of those who built the home. The furniture displayed has never been re-covered – it looked quite worn. Very little remains from the original owners, but one gets a sense of the extravagance. There were rooms dedicated to the people and culture of those who lived in the Province before modern times, and displays by a German artist who teaches sculpture in Nice, as well as everyday items used in the region, like an (olive) oil press and barrels.
Next we had to return to the train station for the afternoon adventure in Antibes. It took us a little while to discover that the bus makes a loop through town, so we had to walk to the station up the hill a little ways to catch a bus that would head downhill to the train. Once on the train, in less than 20 minutes, we were in Antibes.
The sky and water were very blue green today despite the wispy clouds. At first it didn’t seem that many people were around; many boats were in the harbor.  We reached the ramparts of the old city – a deep and tall barricade to the town – and entered through the portal. That’s where everyone was! It was teeming.
We made our way towards the Picasso museum, stopping only to down a sandwich – mine was ham seasoned with oregano and Camembert cheese – so-o-o good.
The museum has a broad collection of modern art. Picasso stayed at this former home for a few months in 1949, which is why it became a museum dedicated to his life and work. Seeing a collective body of an artist’s work gives one insights into the person and his/her style and thought. There were no “famous” works here, but it is a significant collection.
We made our way back to the train station. We had to catch the 16:37 to Nice. Because we arrived earlier, we were able to take the 16:22. There were signs all over the station telling riders that the last train for Nice was leaving at 17:16 as there is going to be maintenance work on the track until late Sunday evening. It was good to get back to Nice shortly after 17:00 (5 p.m.). I know that I am tired.
Enough travel for me for until next weekend. More about that tomorrow, Dear Reader.  Also, Mom is home and doing well. With gratitude to all for your positive thoughts and prayers. Have a good night.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 47 - jeudi

17 mars 2011             Happy St. Patrick’s Day
            This morning the sun came out and it warmed up nicely. Because I had to do a load of laundry, I was most happy. Tomorrow it is to get up to 17º C (i.e. 62º F). Everyone seemed more awake and positive at school today. Yeah (!) for the sun. St. Patrick's Day is nothing special here, but one of the students remembered that it was a day that I usually do celebrate. And I wore green.
            There is really nothing extraordinary about today, except that, after another week, I find that I’ve gained another level of facility in being able to read more easily the articles in newspapers and magazines. The speaking is slightly better, too. I’m also practicing reading aloud with fewer stops to correct myself. My new concentration is on pronunciation. Michele and I discussed this a bit yesterday. As an Iowan-American, my vowels are quite wide to the French ear. To speak French with less of an accent, I need to close them much, much more!
            Mom’s surgery is today. As I write this, she is with the doctor and nurses. As it is already 9:20 p.m. in France, I cannot give a report today, but I will tell you more tomorrow. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.
            Wishing you good health, Dear Reader.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 46 - mercredi

16 mars 2011
It rained hard all night long and most of the day today. My pants were wet up to my knees by the time I had walked ten minutes to school. The umbrella was doing a great job keeping me dry from the waist up, however.
This morning was also the time to make the American version of a Lemon (Meringue) Pie. It was beyond my comprehension how difficult it might be to convert a US recipe to an European one – Michele has only one tall glass with measurements for various things. She does not have any measuring spoons, either, so there was lots of estimation that went into this recipe. In Europe, measurements are given by weight. We measure by volume. Also, I had to make the recipe that Mom sent me last week, a little bit bigger because of the size of the pan.
Last night I found a recipe for piecrust made with oil rather than continuing my search for lard. I had doubts about the quality of the dough, and that was confirmed this morning when I saw the oil that had puddled beneath the small ball. OK, I decided to add flour as I rolled the dough flat. It became obvious that was not going to be enough dough to cover the 10-inch-plus size pan. I made another batch, being much less generous with the oil, then joined the two balls. Ah, this seemed about right. It rolled out much more easily and held together. Whew! Task one, completed. It baked fine – I had the oven temperature calculated correctly.
Next to make the pudding. The measuring of the cornstarch (maïzena) was difficult without a tablespoon; my estimation came up short, so the pudding did not thicken as expected. I mixed up some more cornstarch and water and gradually added that until it seemed to thicken appropriately. The lemons were juiced, the eggs were separated. From here on it should be easy. Except that the pudding still was not thickening as it needed to. I added more cornstarch and water. Now I was more hopeful, but because the eggs were in it, I wasn’t sure that it should come to a boil again. Oh well… at least the mixture tasted good. I poured it into the baked pie shell and let it cool.
About 11:20 I began making the meringue. Once the egg whites were frothed, Michele assisted by spooning in the sugar. When stiff peaks formed, it was spooned onto the pie and baked until slightly brown. Overall, the meringue was probably the easiest part of the entire task.
When I got to school, my teacher Mariette told me that she had done a search for the saindoux (lard) in her neighborhood and purchased some for me. I had to tell her that I had made the pie in the morning. But she gave me the lard anyway. I’ll have to figure out what kind of treat I can make with the lard that I can take to school next week.
After school, with tea, Michele and I each had a piece of pie. It tasted pretty good, all in all. It would not win any blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair, but it was an accomplishment considering the measurement and ingredient obstacles. Michele announced that she will make the next lemon treat – she has both a French lemon pie and an Italian lemon pie recipe which are very different from my version. Yummy, in any language.
I hope that you all had a good day. Mom’s surgery is tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers, Dear Reader.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Days 44, 45 lundi et mardi

14, 15 mars 2011
Monday evening, I had the pleasure of talking to family and friends via Skype. Earlier in the day I had completed the post regarding Genoa. After that, I forgot to add an entry to the blog for the day. It was an average Monday, though, slightly rainy, with time to study in the morning since school was in the afternoon.
When I arrived home, it was a shock to hear that there had been more nuclear plant explosions in Japan. This multiplies by the thousands the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami.
Today, Tuesday, I needed to shop for groceries. I’ve decided to make a Lemon Meringue Pie this week with the lemons I bought in Menton, so my task was to find the other ingredients. I was fairly successful. The only thing I could not find was lard or a decent substitute, like Crisco shortening. My choices are to find a charcuterie (a shop that sells pork) that might have some, or find a recipe that uses oil. The second choice would be easier, I think.
I was going to do a load of laundry, too, but it was raining again and not a nice day to hang things on the line outside my window. Now I see that tomorrow will be another rainy day. I don’t have a choice, however. It must be done.
After school, I completed my shopping list by stopping at the fruit and vegetable grocer near there before walking home. Once home, Michele tells me again about the ongoing tragedy in Japan. I hope the world can respond quickly to the needs of the people.
That’s all I have for today, Dear Reader. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Days 42-43 in Genoa, Italy

Pictures of Genoa, Michele, and laundry day
12-13 mars 2011
            On Saturday I was grateful for the alarm sounding at 5:30 a.m. because the night had been fitful, with dreams and frequent checks of the clock. The night before I had set aside the things that I was going to wear and to pack for the trip to Genoa. I had to keep moving in order to leave the house by 6:35. Rosa wanted to meet at the station by 6:50. I told Michele not to get up for my sake, so I downed a bowl of granola cereal, then left for my first trip into Italy.
            Rosa had said that she had wanted to get a cup of coffee at the station, so I looked for her there first. Because I did not find her, I waited in the station near the gate until she came at 7:05. She had not found her coffee, but I did find that the tabac stand open, so I purchased some credits for my phone.
            The train was on time and we were off on our adventure. It was not raining, but the sky looked quite heavy. Inside the train it did not matter, of course. At Ventimiglia we changed trains. The train we moved to looked older and less well-kept than what we had been used to in France. The seats were assigned; they were near the window (land side). The cabin was comfortable and clean.
            It took quite a while to get to Genoa. Along the way we say many small towns and some flower and vegetable fields, but much of the time is spent in tunnels. Only one other woman joined us in the cabin before we reached Genoa.
            Genoa is a huge, modern city. The seaport there is what made it famous, since the time of the Middle Ages. We arrived just after 11 a.m. The station is near the port and the old town. Our first task was to buy our tickets for the return trip. The second task was to get a room for the night. After purchasing the rail tickets, we walked outside to find a large monument to Christopher Columbus that greeted us. This is the city of his birth.
            We started walking down the street, looking for hotel signs and assessing whether or not we even wanted to walk into them. We soon realized that since the station, a man was following us. So we scooted into the next hotel entrance.
To actually get into Hotel Vittoria that is built on two levels of the hillside there is an elevator. The lobby was small, but quaint. There were two gentlemen, one older, one younger, who greeted us. Rosa asked to see the room before we took it, so the young man took us upstairs, across another lobby, to an elevator, to the fifth floor. It had two twin beds and a little balcony. Most importantly, it was clean. I liked it immediately. Rosa was unsure, but I liked the hotel’s location just across the street from the train station and that it was well kept. Breakfast was included, too, and the price was just 35 Euros each. Rosa’s only reservation was regarding an escape route if there was an emergency. But for one night, it was OK. I was glad to have made a quick decision so that we could get about seeing Genoa.
Next we had lunch at a little restaurant across the street from the hotel. From there we walked toward the old town. There are a number of palazzi that were built by the rich families of Genoa in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are AMAZING structures now used for universities, museums and public offices. One can walk into the courtyards if the doors are open. Because of the hill that we were walking along, there were staircases that lead up to the garden, then at least two levels of building surrounding that.
We walked toward the home of Christopher Columbus, a narrow structure with three floors. His parents sold cloth. It is amazing to think that a family could live and work in that space.
Nearby were two towers that were part of the walls that protected the old town. With our entrance fee to Columbus’ house we also took this site. One could climb the tower stairs to take a panoramic view of the city. By the time we reached the second level, we were already happy with the view, and it was raining. It was interesting to reflect on how impressive a structure this is today even amongst all the other buildings. What must it have meant to the people of Genoa when it was built?
The many churches show evidence of years of remodeling and renovation. We went into San Lorenzo Cathedral built in the early Middle Ages. Today they have a statue of Pope John Paul II, an unexploded bomb that hit the church in WWII, and beautiful altars in front and along the sides. I have a few pictures, but they only give a glimpse of the majesty of the building.
We found a coffee shop in order to rest our feet, and then we purchased some meat, cheese, bread, wine, and fruit to eat a the hotel later. As we continued back towards the hotel, we found the church of Saint Filippi – the Filippian fathers. Next door was a beautiful room, the Oratory of St. Filippi Neri. I realized much later that this was the spot where oratorios began (!), the birth of opera. It was being set up for a concert in the evening, two women’s choruses. We decided to come back for it at 9 p.m. When the church bells started to ring, we went to the mass in the church. 
It seems the Filippian Fathers have a school for abandoned children. The children, who seemed to be from ages 4 to 17, were all in attendance at the 6:00 p.m. liturgy. The liturgy was a bit of a throwback to another time: the vestments were of a pre-Vatican II style, and that the priest had his back to the people for the Eucharistic Prayer. There was no music at this liturgy either. Other than that, it was as we know it. How strange to hear Italian and not French this time.
After Mass we returned to the hotel, had our Italian evening meal, and returned to the Oratory for the concert. Two women’s groups were performing. It seems that it was a collaborative effort. The first group was generally an older group of women, but their voices were like those of girls. The second group was younger women but had somewhat rounder tones. I recorded one piece done by the first group and several from the second group so that you can hear them, too. At the end of the concert, gifts were exchanged between the two groups. We did not stay to mingle. The crowd was quite happy with the concert and their singers. We got back to the hotel about 10:45 p.m. I was very glad to go to bed.
At 5:30 a.m., wouldn’t you know, my alarm went off! I shut it off right away, but it had woken up Rosa. She got up at 6:00 to prepare for the day thinking that I wanted to get up at that time, because the alarm had gone off. Not at all! I did get up at 7:30. By 8:40 we headed down to breakfast that was quite lovely – yogurt, cereals, juices, coffee(s), pastries, cold meats. At 10:00 we checked out, leaving our baggage at the hotel until we were ready to meet our train at 5:00 p.m.
It was pouring rain today – not the heaviest possible, but enough to make us quite wet. We walked down to the port to the Galata Museo del Mare. This museum takes one from the earliest days of Genoa seafaring to modern times. There were many scale models of ships, including those used by Columbus for his famous trip to the Americas.  But there were also two full-size ships that were built into the museum. The top floor was dedicated to the plight of the Italian emigrants heading to America. All was well presented; the children had many hands-on activities.
We left the museum at 2:30 p.m. looking for food. We stopped at a little café full of people that featured Genovese cuisine. We enjoyed this much – I had pasta with pesto, cooked beans/carrots, and sausage (nicely spiced).  The server who could speak to us in English guessed that I was from Iowa. He had spent three months working in New York several years ago.
This was the close of our time in Genoa. We purchased one sweet thing from a pastisserie before heading back to the hotel, picking up our things, and then getting to the train.
The Genoa train station is nothing fancy, but has 19-20 tracks. We waited until 15 minutes to departure time to go to the platform. It pulled in shortly afterwards. Our compartment was nearly full, but relatively quiet. We arrived in Ventimiglia about 7:20. From here any train heading east is OK to board, so we were able to hop on one heading out at 7:25. We arrived in Nice just after 8:00 with only a few stops along the way. I made it home by 8:15 p.m.
It’s good to be back in Nice. Vacation is hard work, but well worth it. Michele is telling me that the news from Japan is not good. I need to catch up with the world now.
Have a good week, Dear Reader. Take care.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 41 - vendredi

11 mars 2011
            Class was in the morning, so I left the house about 8:30. At school, it was quiet in the courtyard.  A number of people depart today but only two that are in my classes. At lunchtime, I enjoyed peanut butter on a wheat baguette. Michele had the opportunity to taste this delicacy, but she flatly refused. This makes me smile, as peanuts are one of my favorite foods: an obvious sign of my American heritage.
            At lunchtime, I surfed the net for information regarding the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The images are unbelievable. I had a chance to speak with Chisa who is from Japan. Gratefully her family in Tokyo is fine.
            After class I took home my computer bag, then headed to the store to buy a cell phone, un mobil. Because I have several trips planned in the next month and then will be on the road to other places, it seemed like the right time to get one. There was a good sale going on for the simplest phone. It is all in French, of course, so it will take me a little while to get used to the nomenclature. If anyone needs a phone the next time you travel in this direction, the phone is yours to use. You only need to buy credits to be able to use it.
Friday’s are always nice, aren’t they? There is so much to look forward to, so much potential for the weekend. At 5:00, I attended a poetry reading by a friend of Michele’s at the grande bibliothèque downtown. Sophie read poetry based on short nature films made by her husband – he is also a painter. I am still only catching words, no, phrases, here and there – but by the time I “understand” (i.e. translate) what I’ve heard, the topic has moved forward and it takes a bit to readjust and “listen” again. Michele is lending me several of Sophie’s books that I will attempt to read. There might be a song possible for one of my composer friends.
Rosa and I will be leaving for Genoa, Italy early in the morning tomorrow, Saturday, and returning Sunday evening. (If there is a break in my “transmission”, this is why.) Rainy and cold is the weather forecast for our destination so warm clothes will be needed.
This evening I realized that the outer sole of my favorite pair of shoes is breaking loose again. I had them repaired before I left, but possibly because of all the rainy days that I’ve worn them here, they are coming apart again. Michele recommends that I look for a new pair in Italy – everything is cheaper there. Rosa said the same thing. I do have my white athletic shoes, which don’t have the same enduring comfort. If I wear them, though, everyone will know that I’m a foreigner for sure.
Well, that’s all the news for now, Dear Reader.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 40 - jeudi

10 mars 2011
It’s hard to believe that it has been 40 days already. At the end of this week, I am halfway through my French training. It has been a true adventure. At times, this place seems quite like home; at other times, I realize that I am definitely not at home.
Because I’ll be traveling across the border to Genoa, Italy this weekend, it was necessary to do laundry this morning. Rosa was able to get train tickets for Saturday morning at 7:30. We will stay overnight on Saturday and come back Sunday evening. The weather forecast is not promising, but maybe this will keep the other tourists at home.
There were a number of people missing from our classes today. This actually makes it nicer for the rest of us because we get more individual practice. I do feel that I am getting braver about attempting to answer in class. Mariette is quite patient and encouraging. I wish everyone could speak as clearly as my teachers do; it would help me understand so much better. It’s not that they speak slowly (I’ve noticed that their rate of speaking has increased), it’s just clear and distinct.
When the Chinese and German speaking students are speaking, each has particular issues with pronunciation. I know that I do, too, of course! Sometimes I have a difficult time understanding the other students when they are speaking French, but I think it’s likely because of their “accent”. We are quite the motley crew when it comes to the French language.
After school, I bought some postcard stamps. Marie Curie was on the first set that I bought. Mother Theresa is on these.
Here comes the weekend, Dear Reader, enjoy the anticipation of an “ah” moment.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 39 - Mercredi des cendres (Ash Wednesday)

9 mars 2011
Morning class so the day started moving early. Over the noon hour I made plans with Fang Xu to go to the Conservatoire this afternoon. She wants to audition for the upcoming musical there. She will be bringing along another Chinese friend who speaks French better than either of us can. This will prove to be extremely helpful.
After the Intensive Class, I was already tired. Eric had us practicing making hotel/taxi/restaurant reservations, cancelling them, and modifying them. My head was spinning as now we are using future simple tense.
When class was over, Fang Xu, her friend, and I walked to the tram station and transferred to the no. 24 bus that passes the Conservatoire. We realized a little late that “we should have gotten off at the last stop.” Pas du problem. It was just a short walk back to the school.
The place was abuzz with people of all ages. The facility is relatively recent and seemed to be well cared for overall. After picking up the audition sheet, and attempting to fill it in intelligently, we finally read the last paragraph – (in French, of course) “sing a two minutes French song.” Well, this was a deficit for Fang Xu. She decided to let it go.
Because we were there, since she also needed to make an appointment for an audition, we were able to do that with lots of help from the staff to find the office. The secretary did not speak any English, but she managed pretty well as we struggled to find the words to explain what we had come for. After finishing Fang Xu’s purpose, I inquired about meeting with a professor who could give me some info regarding contemporary French art song. It seems that I need to meet with the same person that Fang Xu needs to meet, so we will return together in about 2 weeks.
As we arrived back in the lobby, Fang Xu’s friend strongly urged her to audition for the show, for the experience, both musically and for the language practice. She decided to go ahead; maybe she could sing something else for them today. At this point, I said “goodbye” so that I could get to the 6 p.m. Mass at Notre Dame. The bus connections were not immediate, but I was able to get back to the apartment to drop off my computer bag and head out the door to make it to the church in plenty of time.
The church was crowded. There were many children up front. These were the first communicants and older students who were coming into the Church. They carried a moderate size cross up the aisle in procession. Also, as the ashes were prepared for distribution, they went up, and Father gave them ashes first.
A cultural comment: no one has explained to the French people about taking turns. Everyone stands up and gets into the aisle. There isn’t really a line. The people from the side pews are standing there, too. Then those who have trouble walking are trying to return by the shortest route, which is back through the throng. The French sense of personal space is not as large as ours either. It’s important to get one’s foot into the aisle if you don’t want to be shoved into the aisle by the elderly woman behind you. Of course, for today’s Mass, we got to do this twice – ashes and communion.
On the way home from church, I stopped to buy a baguette for supper. It was whole wheat and was a great complement to the leftover vegetable soup.
The day has been long, and I’m quite tired, so good night, Dear Reader. Lenten blessings from this side of the world.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 38 - mardi

8 mars 2011
            Since school was in the afternoon, I did a load of laundry. I need to do another, but that will wait until Thursday. It takes the little machine over an hour to wash one load and spin it dry. It was a nice day, so there is a good chance that the blouses and pants will be nearly dry by the time I come home. While it was working, I was working, too, on my French.
            After class, I walked over to Notre Dame. There was a demonstration for International Women’s Rights Day. A small group of bystanders participated in singing songs and chanting. The leaders were dressed in various costumes representing women’s affairs – even one man in drag.
            Not much else to report. Tomorrow is an early day, again, for morning class. In the afternoon, I will accompany Fang Xu, another student who wants to study at the conservatory here in Nice, to visit the conservatory. Both of us are looking for a place to practice.
            I hope you had a great Mardi Gras celebration, Dear Reader.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 37 - lundi

7 mars 2011
            As the sixth week begins, the pupils of the Standard Course A-1 have again been shifted about to meet their general needs for grammar and speaking. In my class, four of us have been together before and four are new. Tomorrow, there could be another influx of members depending on how the “novices” scored on their entrance test. Even though I am still quite the beginner, today was very comfortable for me regarding assignments, understanding, and speaking.
            Eric is again my teacher, this time for the Intensive Course. His demeanor is enjoyable, so I’m glad to be in his class. This is considered A2, which will be a proper challenge since it takes me a bit longer than the rest of the students to speak. Nonetheless, it feels like a good fit, too.
            I stayed at Azurlingua (school) to read emails and do homework until 4:35. By then my eyes were not focusing too well on things close up; it was time to head to the apartment. When I arrived home, Michele was taking a nap, so I found quiet things to do in my room. We shared a pot of tea after she woke up, then I prepared supper. It’s in the oven. I will try reading a French newspaper while it bakes.
            That’s really all for the day, Dear Reader. May your day be a good one, too.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 36 - dimanche

6 mars 2011
            When I woke up a little before 7 a.m., I decided to “study” by watching a movie that Mariette lent me: Albert est méchant, starring Christan Clavier and Michel Serrault. This movie is very silly, but the plot is intricate enough that I was glad to have the subtitles in English. I’d like to watch it again without the subtitles, now that I know the story, to see how much of the French I can understand.
            Mass was as usual; Rosa and I met at 10 to walk over to Notre Dame. The organist there is quite fine. I recorded a little of his postlude with my camera for all my musical friends. Since Lent, Le Carême, begins this Wednesday, not only will Nice be quieter because Carnaval has ended, but I suspect the organist will select quieter music, too. I hope you enjoy it – there was quite a bit of chatter around me after Mass, but you can get a taste of this excellent musical treat. [The link to the recording and a few pictures of the day is at the end of the entry, below.]
            After Mass we headed toward the old town to see if we could get tickets for the opera. Today the opera house was offering L’elisir d’amore by Donizetti. Since no door was open yet, we walked along the Marché aux Fleurs until we found a spot for lunch. It was a very busy day for this street. It is the last weekend of Carnaval. Just like the other tourists, we sat outside because the sun was shining brightly and it was a gently warmer day. We shared a salad, a plate of cheeses, and some regional red wine. Delightful.
            About 2:00 we headed back down the street to the mid-19th century opera house. We were able to get tickets for 12 Euros. On the ticket it mentioned that there was no promise of a view of the stage, and it was open seating. The seats were benches without a place number. I saved two places for us near a pillar. Indeed, there was no view of the stage. This meant that I stood through most of the 2 ½ hour performance, but it did not matter. The four main singers were from Italy and it was glorious; the staging was delightful, too. The orchestra and chorus were those of the Nice Opera house - beautiful all around. What a treat!
            Afterwards, Rosa and I stopped for a tiramisu and some coffee at our favorite Italian restaurant on Rue la France – the perfect end to a perfect day. Tomorrow school is in the morning, I think, so I will have to put in a little time to review tonight.
            Have a great week, Dear Reader!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Days 34 and 35 - vendredi et samedi

Day 35 – vendredi et samedi
4 à 5 mars 2011              This entry covers events of the last two days.
Vendredi, 4 mars
Fatima Sheriff celebrated her 19th birthday on Friday. Her friends certainly made it special for her. Besides singing happy birthday and presenting her with flowers and cakes, I was invited to the lunch that Rosa made for her: a beef stew with rice and a Brazilian chocolate pudding dessert made with sweetened condensed milk and Nestlé’s Quik (I hope to get the recipe).
After school, I headed home for a little break, then came back for the 7:30 departure to Safari Restaurant on the Marché aux Fleurs in the Vieille Ville (Old Town). Fatima was dressed in a gown from Nigeria that was a birthday gift from a friend. She looks like an Egyptian goddess. Of course, the party did not begin to move out the door of the residence hall until nearly 8:00. Since Fatima’s dress was floor length, she wanted to take a taxi. Because the student residence is located at an inconvenient place for a taxi stop, we hoped to call for a cab from the hotel across the street. The receptionist suggested that we walk to the train station, just another five minutes walk since the cabs line up there. Rosa and I, and Corinne who had the cream cakes, went with her in the cab.
The rest of the students walked down to the Vieille Ville of Nice arriving shortly after we did. Mariette met us there, too. It was a treat to have her join us. I tried the alcoholic aperitif Pastis – it is an anise-flavored drink of a pale yellow color. I’m not a big fan of the flavor, but after a while, it was fine. For dinner I ordered Porchetta Niçoise. It was described as a stuffed pork roast. When it came, it did not look as I expected. The two very thin slices looked like a mosaic of pork meats with pistachios wrapped with bacon. It was a bit fatty, but it had a very good taste.

After we shared the cakes, the group departed the restaurant a little after Fatima's birthday and Citrus Festival in Menton - picturesmidnight. A number of us were heading back to the school/residence, while Fatima and the others were going to a discotheque. I, personally, was glad to head back. My group walked me all the way to the door of my apartment building. We arrived at 12:40 a.m. As most of you know, this is very late for me, but it was a lovely evening.

Samedi, 5 mars
Today I woke up before the alarm went off. After breakfast and cleaning my room, I headed to the train station to buy a ticket to Menton. This little town is east of Nice, along the coast, right next to Italy. It has a Citrus Festival that lasts for 3 weeks. It was a lovely day with the promise of warmth, so it was a good day to head out of town.
At the station, I attempted to purchase my ticket at the machine with my credit card. This is the second time that my Visa has not worked in a machine – I suspect because it is a debit card, too. Not a problem, there were several people selling tickets at the windows. The ticket I bought allowed me to depart from Nice at any time of the day – the same was true for leaving Menton later.
On the train, I sat on the “wrong” side – the sea was on the right and I was on the left. I determined that I would sit on the “sea side” for the return trip, hoping to get some pictures. The water was sparkling and a deep green-blue today.
Along the way, the train passes through several tunnels, but mostly one can view the surroundings. The Monaco – Monte Carlo station is underground, however. The train has a long tunnel just after Monaco. I could feel my ears popping along the way, so I knew we were changing altitudes, both up and down, as we proceeded.
Menton is pretty little town. A good number of people disembarked from the train along with me. Already at 11:30, the town was active. I first found the Office of Tourism to get a map. In the same building is an exhibition hall. On the first floor, the local agricultural organization had an exhibit of the past store fronts. Upstairs, they were holding a display of orchids and regional artisans were at booths with everything from honey to jewelry. If there had been a demonstration of ever-sharp knives, I would have thought I was at the Iowa State Fair.
With the map, I was able to work my way along the promenade. The sea was gorgeous today. Quite a few folks were sitting on the pebbled beach having their lunch. Others were at canopied tables being served their lunch – elegant – just like the movies.
In the old town, many shops had special displays. I worked my way uphill to the old basilica. It was not open, so I continued up the hill to a cemetery, which was on the site of an old chateau. Just like today, those who want the best view, build on the hills. The mountains are definitely remnants of early volcanic activity. Because of this, sometimes a hill can be relatively isolated from the mountain range. This is how I would describe the site of the cemetery. Every side provided a bird’s eye view of the area. The pictures show the splendid colors – the blue of the water, the whiteness of the beaches, the orange of the rooftops, the slate grey of the mountains, the green of the trees.
The cemetery is still being used today. There is no grass. As is typical of European cemeteries, the marble encasements and mausoleums pave every inch of the ground. But many graves are decorated with potted plants. The oldest grave I saw was from the 18th century when the last chateau was razed. The Russians left their mark on Menton, too. Several Russian princes were buried here. One sees grave markers in French, Italian, Russian and English.
By the time I headed downhill, it was after 2:00 and time to look for something to eat in the old town area. I selected a crêperie. The 11 Euro special offered 3 crêpes: one with butter, one with ham and cheese, and one with jam. The first would have been enough, because they were large and filling, but I ate them all, along with a café crème – my new favorite drink.
As I was walking back to the train station, I stopped to buy 6 lemons. Michele would like to see if I can really make a lemon meringue pie. I think I’m up for it later this week, after I see that I have all the necessary equipment and ingredients. Lemon pie is one of my favorites, too.
In front of the festival entrance, a high school band with a very old man dressed in an all white suit directing them and the dance team with white pom-poms was performing. The large crowd was spilling out into the street in front of the casino. Everyone seemed happy for the performance, and the music was quite well played.
On the platform at the train station, there was no place to sit. Then when the train came, there wasn’t a seat to sit in. My feet were not too happy after all the walking and now standing still. But by the time anyone left the car, I only had one more stop to be in Nice.
This is a good time of year to visit the Coté Azur area of southern France since there are local festivals up and down the coast – a spill over of Carnival before Lent starts, and celebrations of local agriculture. Then, of course, there are the “famous” places to go, too, from Cannes to Monaco.
So this week, I made it outside of Nice twice. Once the bottle’s open, it’s hard to keep the genie inside. There are a number of other adventures ahead, Dear Reader.

Day 33 - jeudi

3 mars 2011
Today I finally traveled beyond the city limits of Nice. Kate and I took the bus to Vence. It is a little village in the mountains, not far from the coast. It is noted for it’s beautiful “old town” that is a walled city, and the Dominican chapel which was designed by Henri Matisse - quite a contrast of notable attractions.
The bus trip took one hour. We arrived just after 4:00 p.m.  Kate is a master traveler. Her first technique is to find the information office and then head out. We were directed to go to the Matisse chapel first since it closes to the public at 5:30. It was about a 20-minute walk across the bridge and up the hill.
The Dominican chapel is called “Rosary Chapel”, like the one in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. That is where the similarities end. This chapel is quite small, it could hold maybe 50-70 people at the most. The windows have a leaf pattern rendered in Matisse’s favorite bright blue and yellow. The rest of the chapel is stark white with large drawings painted on a tile surface. (No pictures were allowed, sorry.) The wall to the right was of Mary holding Jesus. On the wall behind the altar, also on the right, was an outline of St. Dominic holding a book. Both of these drawings, which are formed from black lines on white tile blocks, are stark. The back wall of the chapel has the 14 stations of the cross, in the same severe style, crowded into the space, back and forth across the length of the wall. Matisse’s style may have inspired the pictographs in the Good News Bible that was so popular in the 1970s. The altar was made of stone and had a candelabra with 5 candles. All were designed by Matisse.
Behind the chapel was a small museum with a collection of drawings and models of the chapel as Matisse was developing his ideas. Also on display were the vestments he designed for use here. They must have been quite a shocking display in their time, around 1950. All the colors of the seasons of the church year were represented; even the rose color was there.
Next we walked to the old town that we had seen across the canyon. The structure and organization of a city within walls is amazing. The streets are quite narrow, some being just roomy enough for a car to pass, but not others. Pictures cannot capture the feeling of closeness.
The old cathedral is dedicated to St. Lambert, a former bishop of the region. The original structure dates from the fourth century. It is still an active worship space. There are signs of subsequent renovations over its many years. It could use some simplification – there were lots of statues and paintings over the side altars – but the heritage of the people has been well preserved.
After our tour of the old city, we looked for a place to grab something to eat. We stopped in a café near the bus stop, but the hour was after 6:30 and too late for anything but a cup of coffee. (The small caféPictures of Vences close about 7 p.m.) The owner did suggest a piece of the chocolate fondant cake to go with our coffee. We each enjoyed one – they were small. This got us back to Nice in good stead.
It’s been a lovely day, even without the sunshine, Dear Reader.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 32 - mercredi

2 mars 2011
It was a long day, again. Before I left the house at 10:30, I hard-boiled some eggs for tomorrow’s lunch.
Then I walked to the “Post” to mail two envelopes and a postcard. As I was looking for the envelopes in my bag, a nice man came over and asked if this was all that I had to mail: “oui.” He led me over to a machine and proceeded to show me how to weigh the envelope, choose the destination and got me to the point of payment – then he left. Of course, I’m looking at a screen all in French. I attempted to use my credit card to pay, but it was refused. Maybe I had it in the wrong way, so I turned it around. The meaning of the message I on the screen was, literally, completely foreign to me. The machine would take coins, if I had enough. Miracle of miracles, I DID. After plugging in nearly the exact amount needed, the two printed stamps came down the chute, as well as my change. Whew! Then I found the slot that would take mail outside of France: étranger. It was a great accomplishment, but I was definitely the stranger.
School was it’s own challenge today. Even though I’m less experienced than the rest of my class, I think I’m at about the same level. Each comes with gifts and challenges of his or her own. Despite my personal weaknesses, I’m willing to hang in with this group for the next week. Then I will decide whether or not to return to the first group. Right now, I feel as though my eyes are being pulled out of my head. It makes me tired. At least I will sleep well. Tomorrow is another day to go forth with humility and a smile.
After school, Rosa invited me to share a pot of tea with her and her friend who has been living in Nice for five years. This friend from Brazil teaches Portuguese and English here. She speaks beautiful French; she apologized that she teaches written English, but cannot speak it. This meant that we spent the hour conversing (even though haltingly) in French. Rosa’s friend (I will have to share her name with you another day) was so good about correcting our French and explaining the rules so that we would understand. I hope that we can meet each other again soon.
I arrived home about 7:30.
I am waiting to hear whether or not my mom will be able to go ahead with her scheduled surgery tomorrow. She came down with an infection that is being treated, but it could postpone the surgery. I am grateful for everyone’s thoughts and prayers for her at this time. This is when it is especially good that the family is large and loving.
Good night, Dear Reader.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 31 - mardi

1 mars 2011
The fifth week of school is well underway. Because of the new level, I am again just keeping my nose above water as the information washes over me. While I’m trying to take notes, Mariette continues to pour out the explanation. By the time I get everything copied, she’s asking the class questions and I need to switch back to French. But this is OK, since I know it will get better in about two weeks more.
It was another overcast day in Nice. However, it didn’t do much more than drizzle about mid-afternoon – just when I was heading out to run some errands. Today, at the office store, I was able to print a few pages that need to be sent off to the States and to buy some envelopes. After dropping off my book bag at home, I headed down Gambetta to the supermarket near the Promenade. This was a good-size store as most go around here and had a variety of items for a fair price.
I even found Skippy Peanut Butter – both creamy and chunky – for a reasonable price, under 4 Euros – so I bought some.  I invited Michele to try it when I open it. She made a face, not looking terribly eager to taste it, and said, “That’s very American.” I have noticed that there is little in the stores with peanuts or the peanut butter taste. Last week I purchased some cereal bars with that were identified as chocolate/peanut butter. When I tasted it, I was disappointed because the peanut butter flavor was so faint. Each culture has identified what is healthy and efficient food. Peanut butter is SO American.
When I returned home, it was nice to have tea with Michele. Then I made vegetable soup. It is quite good. I have enough for two more nights, I think.
The other purchase that made me very happy was a bottle of milk. I was looking for anything that did not say dèmi-crème, which is what I have on my cereal each morning. It is quite good, but I didn’t think I needed to drink “half and half” for my other meals. Well, I bought whole milk and I don’t care too much for its taste ; it is “stronger” than what I’m used to. It is certainly tolerable, but I won’t be purchasing another liter of milk.
These were the greatest adventures of the day. I’m fortunate that they are so mundane. Good night, Dear Reader.

Day 30 - lundi

28 fevrier 2011
            Today the weather was cool, on and off wet and windy, and a long day at school. I arrived at school about 10 AM because Fatima wanted me to look over her personnel statement for a university application. She did not come then, so I thought maybe it was 10:30. When she was not yet there at 11:30, I messaged her on Facebook. She came downstairs about 11:50. “Were you waiting?” “Well, yes, I was.” Oh, boy. I wasn’t upset because I used the time to study and read email, but I am finding that plans are “easy come –easy go” with this generation.
            There were a number of new students doing placement tests today. In the intensive course, there were three more people than last week. Two of them have been with me in the standard course.
My standard course was all new people (including myself) except for two. The group seemed serious and was able to get right to business. All but myself and Elisabeth have had the –IR verbs, so this means that I need to learn about them for homework. Mariette keeps things moving. She is always willing to explain, but I will ask only when I’m really lost - because I have to do it in French.
Michele was watching a movie on la télévision tonight that used lots of words and phrases that I recognized. If I had been able to focus on the content, I might even have enjoyed it – it seemed to be similar to the Angela Landsbury series - serious about crime, but with lots of visual spoofs.
The day has been long enough, Dear Reader. Dors bien! (Sleep well!)