Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Saint's Day Parade


Today Liliane and I went to her parent’s village to see a parade.  The village was celebrating their saint’s day. . . . not sure which one, Liliane didn’t know.  The village streets were lined with parade watchers.  It started at the church by blessing a donkey, I think and then proceeded up and down the streets.  We actually got to see the parade twice.  The children were so cute dressed up in the old provincial costumes.  It was definitely an “event” with candy and lavender throwing.  The kids, all of us loved it!








Liliane's mother, son Remi, and granddaughter, Lola







So, this is it.  It has been a wonderful trip.  I leave in the morning at 7:00 and will be in Little Rock Monday afternoon.  Looking forward to seeing all of my friends and family and.........air conditioning!

Humbling

The one thing that I haven't mentioned about this trip is how humbling it is to be among people and not speak their language.  Liliane is a wonderful interpreter, but she can't constantly interpret everything in my ear when we are with a group of non-English speaking people--like last night.  We were invited for dinner to a couple's house.  Their home was lovely, overlooking a beautiful forest.  When we arrived we greeted each other with kisses on both cheeks, and Liliane introduced me as the American, with the emphasis on the last syllable.  Everyone smiles and nods politely.  One lady told Liliane, in French, of course, that the only thing she could say was "I love you."  They continue their conversations, as friends will do, and I'm completely lost, just kind of smiling when they do.  Every once in a while after everyone had a big laugh, Liliane would explain what the conversation was about.  Then help arrived in the way of a very unusual couple, the son and daughter-in-law of the couple who hosted the party.  The daughter-in-law was Japanese, and spoke Japanese and English, and the son spoke French and English.  They couldn't speak in each other's language, so they spoke to each other in English!  They met and fell in love in Canada.  They were delightful.  Sitting at the table, the girl would constantly ask her young husband, what are they talking about?  He would patiently explain the story in English to her.  She is trying to learn French, but obviously hasn't a good grasp of it at all yet.  When dinner finally ended around 12:00, she asked me if I was tired.  She laughed and said that French people like to talk a lot and for a long time!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Destination In Itself

Today I went to the grocery store with Liliane.  It was a destination.  Beside the strangeness of everything being written in French, I've never seen so much wonderful food.  The place is like Walmart, everything from paint to food.  There were aisles of wine and aisles of different kinds of cheeses.  The fish market had unidentified fish, but it looked straight from the sea. There were vegetables that I had never heard of, but also huge, beautiful, red, yellow, and green peppers. There was a sign that said "horse", but nothing was there, thank goodness. There were aisles of pasta and bread and condiments and olives and...................Maybe.....maybe, I might enjoy cooking if I had all that variety at my fingertips. . . . .maybe not.

Friday, July 9, 2010

La Ciotat and SALES

As I said earlier today, I just couldn't get up early this morning to go to the beach after going to bed at 2:00 am.  But, we made up for that this afternoon.  Liliane is determined to show me as much as possible in the short time that I have left here in France.  We went to the village to talk to a lady at a dress shop who promised Liliane that if the jacket she bought a couple of weeks ago went on sale, she would give her the sale price.  Twice a year the merchants in France are allowed to have a "sale".  This is a BIG deal.  The sale started last Monday.  Every shop has signs all over their windows:  50%, 40%, 30% off!  Kind of like McCrary's after Christmas.  Liliane brought her sales receipt and the lady gave her credit for the difference.  I was impressed.

We went to visit another beautiful church in La Ciotat.  Unfortunately, the French are not very religious, but their churches are works of art.  This church had beautiful modern murals on the walls.






After our trip to the village, Liliane took me to two fjords that are very popular for swimming and picnicing.  They were beautiful except for the steep steps descending to them.  There was a restaurant at the bottom of one of them.  It was BQ sardines night, obviously very popular with the locals.  What can I say?  We eat mud bugs.



Liliane wanted to take me back to town to the outdoor market at 10:00 tonight. I begged off, and said that if I could please go to bed a little early, I would be able to get up and swim again with her 85 year old mother.  They just put me to shame.

Caesar on the Rhone and Pink

Yesterday was a study in French cultural contrasts.  Liliane and Arthur enjoy going to museums, so they took me to an exhibit in Arles of relics excavated from the Rhone River.  The most amazing find was a bust of Julius Caesar.  This was one of the first statues of Caesar before they began worshipping him as a god.  This particular bust was amazing in the facial details showing the wrinkles of a middle aged man.  The later statues of Caesar had no such details; they were "photoshopped" out so to speak.































From Arles we traveled down the coast to a town called Fos.  Fos has the second biggest harbor in France.  It is an industrial town that is trying to improve its image, so the town came up with a festival that they call 

Chromatique

For the last six years, the town has chosen a color and built a festival around that color.  Last year's color was yellow, and this year's color was pink.  I mean really pink.  Everyone was dressed in some shade of pink.  Last night was the first night of the celebration, and it started with a pink parade. 






Liliane said that these were the CanCan majorettes!




All along the streets of the town there were art exhibits, music, face painting, pink hair designing, and even pink dress designing!  The children of the village were very involved in the festivities and obviously were having a wonderful time.



Liliane told me to be sure and take a picture of this and she would explain the meaning behind it. . . . probably some kind political satire.  The French love political satire.





Pink elvises and pink drinks!





The evening ended with a pyrotechnic show that was amazing!  Four guys were playing drums and various other kinds of weird instruments that were synchronized with fireworks......kind of like a "pops on the river" so to speak.







By this time, it was almost midnight.  The freeway was closed going to Marseille, so we were caught in traffic in Marseille.......again.  It took us a couple of hours to get back to La Ciotat. It was another long full day in France.  Liliane was up early to take her mother back to the beach.  I begged off and stayed home.  I'm a travel wimp.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Marseille

We went swimming in the sea again this morning.  It was cold, but after a night of 80 + degrees in my room, it felt wonderful!

Today was the day to see Marseille.  We started at the highest point in Marseille, Our Lady of the Guard.  I actually remember this beautiful church from 43 years ago, because hanging from the ceiling were airplanes, boats, and even a tank.  The Nazis took over Marseille during the war in order to deport the Jews.  It was liberated by the Allied Forces in 1944.  Marseille is a big city with lots of cars.  It was almost impossible to drive through the city.  Arthur was getting very frustrated with the traffic.


We ate lunch at the church, a restaurant run by Catholic nuns from France and Africa.  The food was excellent.  I had a delicious flounder with potatoes.

After lunch we drove down the coast, stopping several times to "Take a little walk," one of Arthur and Liliane's favorite things to do.
My day ended with my first taste of Pastis, the national drink of France.  It tastes like licorice and wasn't half bad.

Liliane's mother

Liliane's sweet mother is the picture of a little French lady with her curly white hair and sturdy figure.  She is a survivor.  She was the daughter of a Jewish couple who moved to France in the 1920's.  Her father was quite the entrepreneur, dipping his hand in business and politics.  He became very wealthy and his wife and little daughter were treated as royalty.  Unfortunately, his ways exceeded his means, and one night he simply disappeared, leaving his wife not only in debt, but with no means of national identification.  The authorities picked up the wife and child  and took them to jail. Liliane's mother was only 8 years old, but they kept her mother and released her to make her way on her own across Marseille.  Somehow she came in contact with relatives who went to the authorities to get her mother released.  Liliane's grandmother had no means to support herself until a neighbor lady took pity on her and taught her to sew.  So, that was what she did to support herself and her child.  During WWII, Liliane's mother was sent to the middle of France to hide out from the Nazi's.  If she was stopped for her identification, she would claim that it was at the very bottom of her backpack and the impatient soldier would let her go.  She refused to wear the star of David that Jewish people were required to wear during the war.  She has the most infectious smile and a laugh that makes me smile.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence Day

When I went down to breakfast on July the 4th, Liliane, Arthur, and Regina sang (sort of)  the Star Spangled Banner.  It was so good, that I was obligated to stand and put my hand over my heart.  They apologized for not having any fireworks.  We had a picnic instead.  We drove to several small villages in the area.  

These French villages are so picturesque that they don't even seem real.  I must have taken 50 pictures of ivy covered walls and colorful shutters.




We shopped in some of the little village stores.  This was a cute little antique shop.



French people eat ALOT, but they are in very good physical shape because they walk so much.  The trip up and down the streets of the little villages could make for some big calf muscles.




Regina and John Michael graciously drove us all over the countryside, in and out of the backroads, places that tourists never see.  We walked down back alleys, through tunnels, and saw the best and most interesting places.  I'm sleeping well at night!


We left their home Monday morning and drove to AIX (pronounced X).  This is where Arthur and Liliane went to college.  We walked all afternoon, in and out of shops, eating at a wonderful restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious vegetable crepe.  


A funny thing happened at the restaurant.  Our order fell on the floor, so to make up for the lost time, the waiter brought out a special sparkling wine drink.  He filled Liliane's glass and Arthur's glass and then left.  When he came back he brought a glass of apple juice for me.  Liliane could not imagine why he didn't give me the wine drink, also.  Then she realized that he didn't get a very good look at me, so I must have looked a bit younger (or smaller) from the back, and he thought I was their daughter!  We all got a huge laugh over that!  I love France.



Impressions:
  • French people must not need a bathroom very often, because when you need one.....there are NONE to be found!
  • They like statues of naked men.
  • French men get mad when they dent their car door and say cuss words.  I think I learned a new word.  John Michael hit the passenger door of his new Toyota going into his garage.  I think the word started with an “M”.
  • French people love to drink “aperitifs” at the beginning of a meal that taste like licorice and aperitifs at the end of a meal that taste like licorice.
  • And French people really do sit outside at little street-side cafes and sip their aperitifs.


This morning, Liliane went to get her 85 year old mother to go to the beach.  She is quite the sassy French lady.  I have her story for another time.  Now it is time for my siesta.  French people speak Spanish, too.



Monday, July 5, 2010

The Week-End Getaway

It's 11:30 at night.  Hard to believe that I'm awake at my computer.  I mean "really" awake.  Actually, I thought I would start writing some tonight and more tomorrow morning.  I have decided that if I lived in France, I would add about 10 more years to my life because I am staying awake at least six more hours a day!  We just finished dinner (10:30) and it's finally time for bed.  I promise you, Preston, that I won't bring this schedule home with me.
We spent the week-end with a lovely couple, Regina and John Michael and their daughter, Aut.  They had a beautiful chateau (house) that was decorated with a soft, weathered blue and different shades of beige and white.  Her style reminded me so much of Emma's, simple yet very elegant. Regina was such a gracious hostess, feeding us several wonderful meals at this beautiful table.  The first evening, I know we sat at the table for at least two hours.  Our first course was prosciutto and melon. The second course was salad, shrimp (huge), smoked salmon, poached salmon, and potatoes. This was accompanied by a bottle of champagne and white wine.  After the main course, they always bring out the cheese.  I have never seen so many kinds of cow and goat cheese.  That is eaten with more of their good bread.  The meal was completed with fresh cherries (picked from their very own cherry trees) and a spot of limoncello.  Rolling up to bed, I woke up to this in the morning.



It really is getting late, so I'll finish this in the morning.  Of course, you'll be asleep when I get up!