Where is Exotic/Mundane?

June 27, 2007

Well, I pretended that I would post to both blogs, but I’ve failed. If you’ve been reading and want the updates, try the new and improved (and hopefully a little profitable) Exotic/Mundane.

Sorry for the trouble.


Driving in a foreign language

June 19, 2007

Way, way back when we were planning our move to Crete, R wanted to rent a car in London and drive down. It didn’t work out that way, which was something of a relief to me because I was terrified of driving in Italy. I still haven’t driven in Italy, but after driving on Crete I wonder if there’s anything to it. I have nothing to back this up, but I’ve heard that Greece has the highest rate of traffic fatalities in Europe – so really, how bad can Italy be?

What brings this all to mind is that yesterday I was driving back from the grocery on our two lane country road. It is well paved and substantially wider than any country road I ever saw in Greece. I heard a siren and soon saw a Gendarme van coming from the opposite direction, lights flashing.

I actually never experienced anything like this in Greece. I actually never saw a police car with its lights flashing, let alone running a siren or going somewhere. I reverted to my training from childhood and slowed down while pulling to the right. Granted that the van had no obstacles and could easily continue on its way without me pulling over, but I have always pulled over – better safe than sorry (plus, it is the law.)

There were two cars behind me and they seemed (from my rear view mirror) to be confused by my behavior. I never got to a full stop and the Gendarmes went their way quickly.  But it caused a little panic – what is the right thing to do? The thing is, if it is not common practice to pull over and stop in this scenario, I could cause accidents.

In Greece, a friend told me that Greeks drive like the people in Thailand. She said it’s more like a dance, drivers do what they want/need to do and others react and respond. Obviously if the data re: traffic fatalities is correct, the Greeks need some dancing lessons. In truth, though, the most dangerous people I saw behind the wheel in Crete were the tourists who had heard that ‘anything goes’ in Crete and paid no attention to other people on the road.

But now we’re here, in France, and I face driving in a third language. In France, for some reason, people entering a road from the right have right of way. I can’t figure how this is good, or even how it works – do you slow down to allow entry?  Do they charge out in front of anyone no matter what? I don’t know.

A big adjustment for me has been crosswalk etiquette (and law). In Greece, there were crosswalks, but they were equally ignored by both pedestrians and motorists. In France, if it even looks like you might be going to cross at the ‘zebra,’ motorists stop and wait. Even when traffic is heavy and they are going quickly. This has been a difficult thing for me to remember – but I haven’t clipped anyone yet. Back in the states, I never drove in the city much, and when I did crosswalks generally were equipped with lights telling pedestrians when to go (and motorists when not to go).

Here, people just step into the street when they want to cross, and all traffic simply stops.

I’m gearing up to get my driver’s license here in France.  After all these years of driving, it seems like this should be an easy thing. I think it will not be.


Update without actual content

June 15, 2007

Right, I’m incredibly busy right now so I haven’t written. Sorry. It keeps raining, the patisserie is closed until the 28th, and while the Grease reality show is over, there is now a fabulous and addictive replacement: Britain’s got talent. Holy cow! It’s great. While there are arguably people with more actual talent, my favorite is Damon Scott – I call him the monkey guy.

I like fake monkeys, so I feel a certain kinship to Scott. I laughed till I cried watching him. Here’s a linky: Damon Scott, Monkey Guy .

Watch it, it will change your life. Okay, maybe not – but that 3 minutes will be better.


Summer in France

June 10, 2007

I’ve been thinking about a story I read sometime in school. Maybe as long ago as elementary, maybe as late as high school. I can’t remember, but I remember the gist of the story.

It was set on a planet where rain fell all but 15 minutes a year (I could be wrong about these details, but it rained a lot.) The story took place on the one day during the year when it would not be raining. One girl, the victim of bullying, is locked in a closet. When the sun comes out, all her classmates forget that she’s in the closet and she misses the 15 minutes of good weather. It was tragic.

Recently, we’ve had good weather. When I say recently, I mean yesterday and the day before. For about a month before that the sky dumped oceans on us pretty much constantly. Yesterday around noon I started to get a headache, so today’s heavy grey skies were totally expected.

That story we read back in school? I used to think it was set on some faraway, fictional planet because such extremes of crappy weather could not exist here on Earth. I was wrong, the story was set in France. I guess I should be grateful that no one locked me in a closet.



June 6, 2007

Anyone who actually knows me or has been reading for a while knows that I have a lot of respect for fabulous desserts, and a certain admiration even for just good desserts. While we were living in Crete, I was seriously deprived unless I made the dessert myself. I love to bake, especially if sugar is one of the main ingredients. But it was difficult to do in a place that doesn’t even have vanilla. Tools and ingredients, the essentials, were in short supply because Greek desserts are related to European and American desserts in the same way that kangaroos are related to reindeer.

Every Tuesday, I leave the house at 17:15 for a 10 minute car ride to the bakery. Once I’ve parked, I sit watching the clock until it is 17:30. I have to time this perfectly because at 17:30 all the pastries are 50% off!

The silly part is that I don’t want to show my face at the bakery before 17:30 because they might think I’m only there for the discount. (Which is true.) I can’t arrive after 17:30 because someone else might get all the good stuff. I worry that some day I will accidentally get there at 17:29 and either have to pay full price or tell them I’m only there for the discount. This is the same shyness about talking money that caused us to eat a fish dinner in Athens without asking “how much is that?” If we had asked they might have responded, “a trillion gazillion euros/gram.” And we would have decided that we’d prefer something with fewer zeros.

Yesterday I got to the bakery at 17:31 to find 6 people in front of me. I have a mandate to buy opera torte, but after the very first time we were there, they haven’t had any. Maybe it’s a seasonal dessert. Second to opera is the l’imperiale. It’s chocolate with hazelnut praline and wonderful. There were three portions in the window. But there were six people ahead of me!

I don’t really know what happened, but the first guy bought bread, the next guy bought a full sized cake (with candles,) the third lady bought bread. That left me with three people ahead of me. For some reason, they all told me to go next. Maybe the drool or the hyperventilation made them uneasy.

Not L’imperiale

Whatever, I got what I came for.


Tourists in France

June 3, 2007

For the first time our relationship, we did some tourist stuff. I enjoy tourist stuff. I’ve been to Graceland and had my picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Statue of Liberty. But that was all pre-R. Despite our travels over the years, we’ve never done tourist stuff.

But Friday dawned partly cloudy and we were off to fulfill a decades old desire for R. We toured Chenonceau, a famous and beautiful chateau in the Loire valley.


The ‘partly cloudy’ weather was important, because Geena was going with us. We arrived after a small detour through the adorable and thoroughly re-visitable town of Vouvray, where some homes are built inside the cliffs. This detour also allowed us a brief view of the town and chateau Amboise.


After these detours we arrived mostly without incident at Chenonceaux, the village where the chateau Chenonceau is located. It’s a tiny town and cute as a button. We parked in the shade of the trees and joined the throngs headed toward the big house. Geena was intrigued and relieved to see that there were at least a half dozen other dogs on the grounds.

The rule at Chenonceau is that small dogs, carried in your arms, are allowed inside the chateau. Geena’s definitely lost weight since we left Crete, but she’s still at least 10 kilos (probably more like 10.5). How old is a child that weighs 22 pounds? Do people carry them much? My back was killing me after 10 minutes and we took a break outside.

R took went to look at the gift shop while the dog and I rested outside. Two American women were going through their just-acquired loot and I took the opportunity provided by anonymity to eavesdrop a bit. Here’s what I heard as they looked at the receipts:

“Where does it say how much that is in dollars?”

Which I probably should keep to myself to stop the perpetuation of the rumor that Americans are a bit egocentric.  Aside from more Americans in one place than I’ve seen in the last two years all tolled, there were lots of Asian (perhaps Japanese?) tourists. These women all carried umbrellas which they used them to shade themselves. There were also quite a few French people and the obligatory Brits.

Aside from the very pretty chateau, which R informs me is 596 years old, there were also two decorative gardens and a potager where they’d managed the apple trees to grow as borders, 18 inches high and wide and about 10 feet long. Cool! There were several things (including a maze and the wine cellars) which we saved for next time.

The train goes right to the village which is within a stone’s throw (if you’ve got a good arm) of the chateau. There is camping practically on the grounds. All in all, I think it would be a fabulous place for a weekend break or as a part of a tour of the Loire valley.


Three differences between France and Greece

May 31, 2007

1. The grocery store is rarely out of something in France. If they are, it is replaced within a few days. I once waited 3 weeks for rice to arrive at our local grocery in Greece, and regularly had to go to 4 different groceries to find Geena’s favorite dog treats.

2. In France, I have yet to see a gas station where someone will pump your gas. In Greece, I never once saw a gas station where you were allowed to pump your own gas.

3. In Greece, presenting a bank card or credit card for any purchase threw people into a tizzy. Mostly they didn’t accept them, and if they did, it was an ordeal. In France, even our local village bar takes bank cards, without a fuss.

That’s it for today.