Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Final Dijon Whimsy - Why I Love France

Things have been happening here at too rapid a pace to take time to write about it.  Tomorrow I head home and I have a lot of unexpected business to take care of before I leave.  I try to look at it all through the rose-colored glass of this enclosed terrace, though.  So if you’ll be patient with me, I’ll explain all and bring even more stories of France after I touch down in the U.S. and get a good massage and take my dog to the park.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a little video that shows why I love Dijon.  We were sitting at a restaurant at Place de la Liberation having before-dinner drinks and this drumming troop started up across the plaza.  They drummed and worked their way along the restaurants that line this very large horseshoe-shaped plaza.  In Dijon you never know when something like this might happen.

And I also leave you with the 11 commandments of writing and creativiy by Henry Miller, shared by travel writer Nancy Pistorius.  I think it could apply to more than persistence with the written word.

Tell me in the comments box where is your favorite place to do people-watching or to catch the unexpected?  Where do you like to go just because you know sooner or later something will happen to entertain you?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Moving Story From Dijon

The town of Ornans, FR along the Loue River

Sometimes no matter how much you travel to get away from the mundane realities of everyday life, it just has to follow you across oceans.  I took off in a car to drive to the city of Ornans in the Doubs region to see a special exhibit at Musée Courbet and saw a lot of this

Comte cows, eating the grass that defines Comte cheese

And of this


One day soon I hope to tell you all about it, but when I returned to Dijon that night Brad announced that once again we had no hot water and would have to move to a new apartment.

Yes, I came all the way to France to deal with plumbers.  Our landlord tried to fix it a few times.  No luck.  And in this country you don’t just call a repairman, put in an order for a new water heater, and have it installed the next day like at home.  So Brad and I had to pack up everything – a daunting task because we accumulate while here – and move on Saturday.  We also spent the afternoon looking at apartments to buy because we’re contemplating owning our own little piece of this country.  By the time we got moved in and I figured out how all the appliances worked I was even too tired to celebrate Bastille Day, but I hear the fireworks as I type.

Even though I’ll return home very soon the stories of France will continue.  You’ll hear more about Paris and Ornans and tidbits of France.  Meanwhile, read all about the roses that fill the country on Lynn McBride’s Southern Fried French.  Lynn is a transplant from Charleston, SC who offers wonderful recipes that combine her Southern heritage and her new French influences.  She gardens in the Burgundy region just south of Dijon, near Lyon.  Next to the ubiquitous red geraniums, roses seem to be the second most visible flower here.

A perfect rose in the garden of Musée Courbet
Since we’re talking roses, tell me in the comments box, how does your garden grow?  My sister said in an e-mail today that all the lawns and gardens are dead in the Midwest.  Has your garden fared better?  What’s your favorite flower or plant in a garden?  If you have a link to a favorite gardening site, share that also.  Or you could share your own plumbing stories.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Going Green In Paris


Paris is a fascinating place.  You could never run out of things to do in a lifetime.  But it’s also crazy and fast and crowded.  And full of stone and concrete.

As a Midwesterner I’m crazy about the color green.  Green as in trees and lawns and gardens.  I’m used to shady canopies over me as I go down the street, a dozen different birds in my yard, soothing green on all sides.  There’s even a limit to how long I can visit a place like Arizona.  Something just doesn’t seem right in that moonscape.  My eyes starve for the color green.

I think that’s why I could never live in the heart of a megacity.  Yes, I know about parks and things, but there just isn’t enough green in all its wonderful variations for me.  All the culture and excitement in the world just couldn’t make up for the lack of that one peaceful color.  That’s one reason cities like Paris (or New York or London) are great places to visit in short spurts but not to stay for the long haul.  Even Dijon, where it’s easier to reach little oases of nature, I dream about grass between my toes (not that the French actually ever step on grass) and all the related bits of nature it brings.
So during my two days in The City of Lights I was drawn to every greenscape I saw.  Here are a few for you to enjoy.
One of the courtyards in the Musée Carnavalets.  The museum was made by connecting two townhouses,
so it was blessed with some outdoor space that they fill with green.

The French do try to create gardens wherever possible.  This first photo was a corner of the small courtyard outside my hotel window.  Two sides of the courtyard were my hotel and filled with HVAC equipment and the like.  On the remaining two walls apartment dwellers tried to beautify the industrial atmosphere.  In the second photo notice the bit of purple in the upper right corner.  They’re training a clematis to frame their window.


Jardin du Luxembourg.  It’s the back yard of everyone on the Left Bank.  It’s the only place in the city I see joggers.  Even the Luxembourg chairs are green.  And on a nice Sunday afternoon every single one was taken.

I noticed this little park along the canal that branches off the Seine near the Bastille,
between the 4th and 12th arrondissements.

As I exited the Varennes metro stop near Les Invalides (Napolean’s tomb), I caught a view of the Eiffel Tower through the trees on the grounds of the monument.  The grounds of museums seem to have the highest concentration of trees and grass.

As I headed down the stairs at the Sèvres-Babylone metro stop near Les Invalides I caught sight of this renegade lavender trying to escape under the fence of the small park that sits on top of an underground parking garage.

Are you as addicted to green as I am?  Or do you do just fine in a jungle of asphalt, stone, and brick?  What’s the greenest place you’ve been or the one with the least amount of color?  Share your experience and preferences in the comments box.  Or, if you just want to tell us about your favorite place in Paris or your favorite park anywhere, that’s good, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Food I May Or May Not Be Eating In France

I've been absent because I've hastily been planning a quick trip to Paris to visit a friend.  It's a rainy Sunday (wish I could send some to my family scorching in the Midwest) and it probably will rain for the whole time after such a gorgeous day yesterday.  I thought I'd give you, however, a quick tour through some of the food I encounter in Dijon.

Bon appétit!

Some of the more exotic food for the French (to be honest,
there are some Moroccan restaurants.  Haven't eaten there yet)


Asian food


The bounty that is the covered food market three days a week



Variations on the standard French salad -- lettuce with hot chevre on toast



Desserts (read about the labor that is macarons, here)


Macarons, at about $30/dozen

They garnish everything

cinnamon ice cream with a French berry I can't remember

Things I shouldn't eat

Is it a wonder American's are 3 times fatter?

Ok, you caught me, but at McDonald's they have machines for placing your order, then you step up to the counter to retrieve it

And the French version of fast food - Kebab and frites (kebab=gyro on better bread)

What's your favorite food to eat when traveling that you don't often get when at home?  And what have you been eating to survive the heat wave across the U.S.?  Talk to me about food in the comments box.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Postcard From Dijon

I've already sent these.  How would you like one of your own?

Dear Readers,
Wish you were here.  Today a young guy rode by me on his bike.  He was wearing the head of a donkey.  It took a second for me to realize that something was strange, then for just a tick I thought I was in a street performance of Shakespeare’s Midnight Summer Night's Dream.  But then his friend rode up behind him wearing a helmet camera.  Wouldn’t you love to know that story?

That’s why I love to travel places where I can go à pied.  On foot you’re so much closer to all the quirkiness of the world.

One way I refuse to adapt to this country, though – I have made a habit of NOT giving correct change.  This characteristic of the French is not quirkiness.  It’s just plain irritating to stand in line behind three people who all insist on counting out every centime.  And no thank you, Madame.  I don’t need your help digging through my coin purse to see if I have that one final euro that makes the count perfect.  Just take my 20€ bill for the baguette and let’s all move on.

On Sunday we tried to go to the Musée Gorsline in Bussy-le-Grand.  American artist Douglas Gorsline moved to France for inspiration.  The museum isn’t much bigger than a three-car garage in a small village in the middle of nowhere.  Except we didn’t get to see it.  The sign said knock on the door across the street and someone would come let us in to the studio-museum.  We never got anyone to answer our knock.  That’s sort of how things are over here.  C’est la vie.  You have to learn to just go with the flow.  Reserve expectations for things like success at open-heart surgery, not day to day events or plumbing (see all past comments about French toilets and my hot water problem).

Word for the day: éthylotests
France has always been very strict about drinking and driving.  On July 1 the country began requiring that all cars carry two breathalyzer tests in the glove compartment.  Two, remember.  Not one.  If you’ve spent the night drinking alcohol (duh . . . you’re in France), then you’re required to administer the test to yourself and abstain from driving if the response says you’re over the limit.  On Sunday night before the big Euro2012 final I saw a line stretching down the sidewalk at the Tabac shop (pretty much what it sounds like).  I guess they thought they might have a sip or two during the match and needed to be prepared for after.  The regulation is still debated.  Many see it as yet another impôt (tax) or a good ol’ fashioned vache à lait (cash cow) for the state.

Went to see Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom Monday night at one of the theaters that shows movies in English.  I’m slowly adjusting to the fact that they don’t sell any food of any kind at the cinema.  Sometimes they might have a vending machine. The important thing is, though, that you see that film.  Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton.  How can you go wrong?

So that’s what happened over the weekend.

Here is what I see as I walk
Postcards.  Snippets of impressions.  No room ever for the whole story, but enough to give you a taste of life in another part of the world.  With internet, smart phones, Skype, and every other instantaneous form of communication (did you know that I can call from a land line in France back home to another land line for FREE?) the fine art of letter writing dies a little more.  No more glossy souvenirs arriving through the post box, dreams of the future that you hang up over your desk while you await the day when you will get there yourself.

However, I want to slow down that sad literary decline.  If you like postcards, raise your hand.  Or, more practically, go to the comments box as usual and tell us about your postcard/thank you card/letter writing habit or history (you know, those things where you have to supply your own message).  Then if you want your own postcard from France, find my e-mail address on my profile page and send me a message by July 8 with “postcard” in the subject line.  Include your full name and address in the e-mail and I’ll send you a bit of vacation nostalgia.  Maybe one day you’ll return the favor.

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