Archive for the ‘Mundane’ Category

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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.

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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.

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I’ve Got A Bad Latitude

May 28, 2007

About a year after moving to North Carolina (35°N) it dawned on me that I’d been doldrums-free for a very long time. I loved North Carolina, and one of the things I loved best was that it didn’t get too dark in the winter and never suffered from the low level but unpleasant depression that had been a part of my entire adult life.

I’d lived in NE Ohio (41°N) and Eastern PA (39°N) and both left me slightly bereft for 3 or 4 months of the year. I was happy to have left it behind.

Crete, Greece is approximately on a par with North Carolina (35°N). My mood was generally good there.

Tonight as I stood outside at 10 pm I realized that I could read a book by the daylight remaining. It only just occurred to me to check the latitude. It’s not good news. We’re sitting here in the mid forties. That’s like living in Canada!

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Dreaming

May 23, 2007

Most of the time my dreams are clearly my brain jamming everything I’ve thought about or noticed into one scene.

An example: Last night I dreamed that I had been recruited to take my Grandmother to the hospital for a checkup. I agreed with my Mom to stop at a local NE Ohio grocery to pick up supplies on the way home. I arrived somewhere to get my Grandma but she wasn’t there, so I went to another hospital to talk to my Grandpa about it. Their house was just down the street but I didn’t stop there. The trip was to take two hours and we were leaving at 9pm. I called everyone but couldn’t find my Grandma.

Finally she came to the hospital at 10pm. I was angry but didn’t ask for explanations and none were volunteered. Several cousins (from both sides) were coming along, as were some anonymous French people. They were necessary because when I asked my Grandma where we were going, she said Menton (in France)! I tried to explain that driving to Menton took a lot longer than an hour, but they all acted like I was making a big deal out of nothing. I asked the French people and they agreed with me, we’d never make it.

As the van was getting loaded I turned around to talk to my cousin, so I was sitting cross legged with my back against the steering wheel. Apparently my grandfather decided we’d waited long enough because he started the van from the co-pilot seat and managed to get us onto the road.

I was struggling to turn around in the seat but there wasn’t enough room. We were approaching an intersection with traffic and it was urgent that we stop, but my feet weren’t anywhere near the brake pedal. No one else in the van seemed at all concerned and I couldn’t make them understand the danger. I finally got turned around, but not seated, and jammed my foot down where the brake should be. As it turns out, someone had exchanged the brake pedal for a stack of red Wendy’s chili cups which I had to push into the floor to brake. But I couldn’t get the angle right and kept crushing the cups.

That’s pretty representative of most of my dreams. But a few nights ago, my dream actually made sense. Someone asked me what I was going to do after I made a million (presumably dollars, though I’d prefer Euros at this point) and I said, I’m going to sail the world, but not in a sail boat – on a big ship. And even if I were awake, that’s exactly what I’d have said even though I’d never thought of it before.

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What A Difference

May 20, 2007

Our absentee landlords arrived in the area late on Wednesday; Thursday was Ascension day. I celebrated with another headache, this time bad enough to make me nauseated. As I stood steaming my head over the electric kettle (a wonderful invention – every home should have one!) I heard some shouting at our gate.

Thankfully, despite my sick headache I’d changed out of my pajamas because it was our newly arrived landlord. What I hadn’t done was anything else. I hadn’t put away the groceries, washed dishes, cleaned the stove, put away the laundry or taken out the trash. I’m not exactly a neat freak, but the house was a disaster even by my standards.

I welcomed him and explained that I had a migraine and R was still abed battling to sleep after several days’ insomnia. He was ‘on the fly’ and just wanted to check in. I stood with the heel of my hand pressed hard against my brow, hoping that my skull would cave in.

“Do you have our number?” He asked

“Um…no, not the local one.” I said. I knew where this is going. I would have to get a pen, and I couldn’t tell him to wait outside.

“I’ll give it to you.”

“Um, okay. Well, come in, the house is a wreck because I’ve been fighting with my head…” I start to explain.

He shrugs and cuts me off, “It’s your house now.”

Back in Greece I panicked every time our landlords or neighbors appeared. I knew that no matter how clean and neat the place was, there would be something that they would not only see, but comment on. If the floors were clean, the stairs were dusty, if the stairs were clean, the sink needed scrubbing, if the sink was clean, the balconies needed to be hosed, and if all else was perfect, there were always the fingerprints on the doors.

And while one would think that with such picky landlords the house would be in perfect condition, the rain coming under the front door, the thirty year old sofa with torn upholstery, the sprung and mildewed mattress, and the water pouring out of the fuse box in the living room would tell the truth.

So, while this house is certainly no palace, it is probably more livable than the Greek houses we rented. It doesn’t hurt that I’m not afraid of my landlord, either.

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Eurovision Song Contest 2007

May 11, 2007

I’m starting to understand that the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t about entertainment or talent, but is instead about something mystical, something unfathomable – something European.

Two years ago, I watched my first Eurovision Song Contest. We were in Greece, and Elena Paparizou won with “You are the one.” Elena is in fact Greek and competed for Greece, despite the fact that she is also Swedish.

Elena

Looking back, my first Eurovision (2005) may have been the best one I’ll ever see. The Greek announcer was so excited I nearly cried. Every time the votes came in she thanked the voting country in their native language and Greek, so excited she completely abandoned the normal presenter’s objectivity.

“You are the one” was subsequently used for every cell phone’s ringtone and on several TV ads. If that wasn’t enough, the Greek news managed to string out Paparizou’s win for three months. Naturally, every time they ‘reported’ on her, they played that song. Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, Eurovision 2006 came along and the Greeks revived “You are the one.” I did learn from that song, though, what ‘capricious’ means.

Last year, Sakis Rouvas and Maria Menounos (a Greek-American) presented from Athens and the European populace, seemingly sick of Euro-pop, elected Finnish monster heavy metal group Lordi as their European Song Contest winners. Weird.

Lordi

I’m starting to wonder if Lordi didn’t win last year because they were the worst possible choice. Last night in Helsinki at the qualifying round, several people/groups who could actually sing were passed over for acts which push the definitive boundaries of the term ‘music.’ I actually wondered if some people, in a bid to reduce the competition for the automatically qualified acts, voted for the absolute worst acts of the evening.

Who didn’t get in?

Andorra – a Green Dayesque punk group (called ANONYMOUS) admittedly from a place which is a nation by a hairsbreadth. Andorra obviously doesn’t have the social/political alliances necessary to secure a Eurovision win. They were good – really good for punk. They got sent home. Sad.

Anonymous

 

Switzerland sent DJ Bobo with a song called “Vampires are alive.” There are several remarkable things about this act. First, they were considered front runners to win Eurovision and didn’t make it past the semis. Second, DJ Bobo can’t sing, not that this seems to have any bearing on winning. Third, this act reminded me a lot of Cats or Phantom. It had a distinctly Andrew Lloyd Weber feel to it and seemed to be yanked from a musical stage show – or I could simply be searching for a context in which this song would make sense. They went home and I’m glad.

The Netherlands sent Edsilia Rombley. She reminded me of Toni Braxton. She could sing, even if the song was boring and unremarkable, she sang it with a voice. Bye-Bye Edsilia.

Edsilia

Iceland, Croatia and Czech Republic all sent what I would call hair bands in a bid to repeat Lordi’s success. Of the three, the Czechs were the best. It was like high school all over again. But it didn’t work, they’re all going home.

Belgium sent The KMG’s with a reincarnation of Kid Creole and the Coconuts called Love Power. It was fun, it was silly, it’s going to stay in Belgium.

Who got in?

A lot of crap acts.

Belarus sent Koldun with an act that, while not close to the worst of the evening, was bad enough that I was laughing audibly by the end. Work Your Magic, indeed.

Incredibly, Bulgaria had a drumming/really bad singing (wailing) act who qualified for the final. This was so bad I am bewildered by their qualification. Their song was an actively unpleasant experience, Water.

Georgia’s Visionary Dream was crap, but I guess having swordfighting backup dancers meant something to enough people. She hurt my ears.

Magdi RÚzsa from Hungary gave us a reincarnation of Crystal Gayle’s Don’t it make my brown eyes blue and did it well. She called it Unsubstantiated Blues. She’s in.

Latvia sent Bonaparti.LV with operaesque Questa Notte, a song which would have been far more effective if they’d left the accompanying music at home. Still, they’re in and they’re okay.

Serbia sent the ambisexual Marija ŠERIFOVIĆ, who performed her act in a mannish suit which obscured her body to the extent that she might have been a badly drawn cartoon. Add to that her backup singers, who looked like Texas beauty queens from the late 80’s and spent most of their time touching her meaningfully rather than, well, singing backup. What you get is a boring but not awful song which somehow beat out other people to make it into the final.

Serbia

If Eurovision is anything to go by, I’m never going to understand Europeans.

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Some Stinkin’ Bastard Ate Half My Cherries!

May 10, 2007

The fussing I’ve done over these cherries should automatically disallow any thieving. I’m an incredibly obsessive fabulous fusser and the cherries were no exception. Trying to shed the last dregs of their petals? I was there. Twisted around another stem? I was there. One of those stinky green farting priest’s wives (more on these in a future post) sucking out the juice? Me, again.

And now this. The day before yesterday should have been the first day the cherries were ripe. Sometimes when you go the all natural route you lose a bit of the crop – I can accept that.

Cherries Eaten Cherries Eaten Two

It’s a bit like taking a bite out of every chocolate to see what’s in the middle and then putting it back in the box. Every single cherry which might be ripe enough is half eaten. No cherries for me.