November 13, 2007


Part One of Marseille
(photos I couldn't figure out how to post below)

The beach reminded us of San Francisco beaches;
People swimming and others wearing parkas!

We rented bikes and spent the days riding up and down the coast.
These Bikes are great, they are free rentals paid for by the ad revenue from all the civic
bus shelter ads and kiosks. They are well maintained and available for pick up and drop off all over the city.
This is a new phenomenon in French cities, available in Paris, Lyon, and half a dozen others. A city planner's dream.

Back home, we went to tour a pre-history site 20 minutes away. Several amazing Dolmens and a cave where
they have discovered the remains of hundreds of wooly mammoths. They call it the oldest butcher shop of mankind(?)

And back in the kitchen we tried our first real meal on the kitchen BBQ. Funny photo, nothing is straight, in fact the grill behind
sets down into a level position once the coals are ready, and the photographer too!
We grilled Oysters with a recipe from Drago's in New Orleans, and then French pork chops. It was a great success,
despite the panicked look from the french girl in the photo, a bit of smoke, a bit of smell from the charcoal lighter,
then voila!
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Life's a beach

School's out. So we loaded up the bags and hopped a train to Marseille.
5 hours and a lifetime away. It was 15 degrees warmer, and like a different France.
Marseille is perhaps like Oakland, a real melting pot of the world. It seemed that every shape and size of human
co-exists there in relative harmony, unlike the homogeneous sud-ouest of our Martel, there is a wonderlful mix of cultures
all working off of each other and creating a vibrant city. I'm not certain that, had we started there, we might have stayed there.
But it was autumn, and the beaches were warm and the food was good, so perhaps it's an unfair conclusion.
We remain pleased as punch with out little town.

We spent most of our 5 days around the old parts of town, but did take a boat trip out to tour the
calenques (fiords) along the coast east of Marseille.

Just far enough out to sea to remind us why we prefer the land. The landscape was other-worldly,
it was hard to believe we were 5 hours from home.

The beaches were all rocky, but the sun was warm. We made it into the crystal clear water up to our knees but that
was only because it never occurred to us to bring bathing suits to the beach in November.
So we settled for rock sculptures instead.

Oscar's school schedule continues to delight us with 10 days off three times a year, well
worth the cost of a shortened summer. With so many destinations within easy travel distance
we are doing well at taking advantage of the opportunity. Next perhaps Spain only hours to the south.
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November 1, 2007

Slow Learners


Somehow we have lived in France for four years and yet last night was our first halloween here.
It seems that the occasion always coincides with the school vacation of Toussaint or All Saints Day,
And that usually finds us off exploring some corner of our adopted country. This year we stayed still.
We are still processing what we learned last night.

The preparation was great. Halloween is considered an "American Holiday". Like Americans, it is welcomed by many, and disregarded by some. But everyone is curious. The stores, which have a euro to make, happily sell crappy costumes, glow in the dark "scream" masks a plenty, commando fare, melting latex faces and the occasional politician. They sell candy, make-up, devil horns and flashlights. They don't carve pumpkins. They know about it, and a few efforts are made, but like good corn they don't have a variety of pumpkin which is really empty enough to carve well. And pumpkin is a food here. Carving up a pupmkin and putting it out on the curb, would be a waste, something akin to bobbing for apples or maybe driving an SUV. So, as Americans we decided to waste some food and teach some French kids just how to do it too. Our first was a classic jagged edged mouth jack-o-lantern, the second was a very modern, power tool assist, work of modern pumpkin art. Very successful!

The strange part came next, the art of the "trick or treat".
First, the French use shutters, so you can't even tell if people are home or not.
Second, easily a third of the population has never heard of Haloween.
Then a third didn't follow the invitation of the grocery stores to stock up on candy.
Then the kids don't have a handy catch-phrase like our "trick or treat?" They just blurt out in frustration "bon-bons"
People in there earnest efforts found things to give the kids. Oscar almost got an i-pod from one confused household. Friends handed out candied Ginger, bags of potato chips, oriental party mix, and the pharmacist gave bags of throat lozengers!
We had the norm, plus we took advantage of the innocence of an untainted occasion and also had home baked chocolate chip cookies.
It was a cold night and our fellow Martelaise would take there time in answering the door, thinking "surely that wasn't a knock at the door on the 31st of October!?" Eventually someone would turn on a light, open the door and ask what was up? Once they were reminded why there were a handfull of kids dressed up as ugly creatures (candy!) they usually rallied. Once a confused doctor said he'd run out to his car, because he had some candy there. Everyone was pleasant and came around and the kids were wonderfully appreciative and solicitous, after all, it's free candy and it's new, so there is no sense of entitlement. Wait till next year!

Next Year???? I suppose if we can manage to be in town again then we might need to have a party and be a bit more proactive in sharing the wisdom of this "American Holiday". We have a unique opportunity to shape the meaning of the occasion.
Costume contest?
Pumpkin contest?
Haunted House?
Scary music???
If they won't come to us (and only a couple dozen ever rang the bell) then perhaps we will bring it to them and get a few more Martel kids to dunk their heads in a tub of cold water on a cold night to grab an apple when there is tons of better candy around.
But they love it!

Halloween is right on the edge now. We are, for the most part, on good behaviour here, the idea of roaming the village and surprising people by asking for food is strange. So we, as parents, stood far behind, well disguised as a large green bird, and made certain that enough merci's were offered and that no-one got left behind or scared by barking dogs. Halloween is slow in coming here, it doesn't make much sense to the French, but we're doing our best to translate!
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