Archive for the 'Serre Chevalier' Category

17
Jan
11

Le Bourdon in my bonnet

 

The summer I lived in France featured countless steamy afternoons walking down into the gulley of Briancon for a scoop of creamy glace in a waffle cone.  My personal favorite was a decadent Snickers gelato, with thick swirls of hot caramel and giant, salty peanuts folded into chocolate and yogurt. 

We’d walk through the parc, with cool ribbons of liquid sugar running down our hands as we watched the swans in the lake and the inevitable soccer game on the field. 

There was one particular day, one of those bright blue jours d’ete, that during our walk through the winding sidewalks in the park, Gemma suddenly unleashed a panicked squeal, “watch out for Les Bourdons!  They like the sugar!”  She darted around me to avoid three tiny yellow bees, hovering harmlessly over the lake to our right.

“Buzz, buzz, buzz!” I teased, giving her a little pinch in the side.  Never much of one to find humor in these situations, she shot me a look and told me, in no uncertain terms, not to laugh.  “Once they sting you, it keeps hurting,” she said, solemnly.  I consented that this was true.

“I hate bugs,” Gemma muttered, taking a giant slurp of her sweet cream gelato.  Ten and surly, this was Gemma’s game.  She will one day be a master of stormy passion and the femme-francaise pout. 

The trick was to distract her or to get her to laugh.

“Even butterflies?” Noemie teased, “and the ladyladybugs.”

“Les Pupillions?” I guessed, appealing to Gemma’s love of being smarter than me when it came to French.

“PA-pillions,” she corrected, smirking despite herself. 

“Do you like bugs, Shannon?” Noemie asked, blue smurf custard giving her a charmingly bizarre goatee.

“Yes!” Gemma said, her face lighting up before I could deny it.  “You told Lucie you had TRAVEL  bugs.  Ew.  I bet they’re in your suitcase.”

Well, the truth of it is, they were in my suitcase, and in my clothes, and whether they liked it or not, multiplying by the day all over my two little French girls as we spent our lazy summer afternoons together.  I was dealing with a rather serious infestation of the travel bug, and we’ve all heard the rumor that there’s no getting rid of it.

When I was exiled back to Florida last year, I was so beaten down by the shitty economy and the special kind of hell that moving back home after being independent for five years brings to any functioning young adult that my travel bug went into hybernation to make room for the basic-survival bug that really needed to take over for a while.

It's true.

Well, after about five months here at my new job, I’ve got to say that all of my basic life reqirements are being met (and then some).  Last month, I was actually able to start tucking money away into a little tiered savings account I opened with ING Direct.  One of the tiers is labelled “Globe Trotting,” and man, my blood has started to heat back up to a rolling boil to get my ass back on the road, if only for a week or two here and there.

I think I’ve pretty firmly set my sights on South America for cheap and satisfying scenery change within the very small allotted vacation time I’ve got to work with here at work.  (at least for now)

I’m looking at a potential spring holiday in either Costa Rica or Guatemala.  I’d love to splurge and hike the Inca Trail or go learn Tango in Buenos Aires, but I need to start with the cheapest possible options since saving is still the ultimate goal … and eventually living abroad again.

So, for now, I’m dreaming of jungles and volcanos, and possibly sunbathing in a hammock in Montezuma or Antigua, and I have no intention of attempting to stifle my wanderlust.

I guess that means I do like bugs.

09
Apr
10

Vive la Marseille

I’ve been MIA on the blog, perhaps on purpose, for a few months now.  I’ve been trying to get my life in order, but the weather is heating up here in Tampa and it’s driven me to write.  I’m planted firmly in my desk chair looking out at the perfectly clear afternoon day and it’s making me nostalgic for last summer in France.

I remember wading through the ice cold foot bath at the base of the stairs at La Piscine Municpale in Chantemerle after checking on my kids and Nell to meet Lucie with her customary diet coke and giant sunglasses at a patio table she’d managed to swipe for us.  Reclining under the wide band of shade, even with all the complaints we both had about petty little details in our day-to-day existence as au pairs, it was still beautiful.  After a long stretch of silence while we looked out over the sparkling pool and our kids splashing away, she off-handedly remarked, “It’s a great summer.”

And it was.

Angie on the rocks in Vieux Port

Sure, it would end in drama for a few of us (everyone but Angelina).  There was a Norwegian girl who was forcibly evicted from her host home for daring to stand up to the bully of a mother, and in the final week before we parted, we accidentally flooded Lucie’s host house to the point where it was raining in the living room.  There was also this incredibly melodramatic interlude between us and some Moroccan jackass in the Old Town who not only got rude, but attempted to get physical.  And there was, of course, the trauma of having to leave my girls that final time after nine months of attachment.

But first, there was Marseille.  Beautiful, beautiful Marseille.

Lost in Marseille

It was supposed to have been the three of us; Angelina, Lucie, and myself taking a weekend trip to the South of France to see one of the oldest cities in the world.  We’d planned it from the week that we all met and were finally putting our plan into action when Lucie realized her host mom, Sabine, was never going to give her time off.  I mean, ever.  Lucie worked every single day of that summer apart from the weekend she went to Milano for a romantic tryst.

I was pretty upset that she couldn’t come, but Angie and I booked our 5 hour train tickets and a room in a greasy motel near a metro station anyway, and met at the crack of dawn to head to the coast equipped with our Torino standbys of Fruit and Nutella-filled crepes, and this time some toffee I’d made in a moment of absolute boredom at the house while my kids were off with their cousins.

It was unbelievably hot the day we went.  I think after the winter, shoulder-deep in snow, I’d made myself believe that it never got hot in my little corner of France, but I was deluded.  It was scorching.  Marseille was about ten times worse.

Palais du Longchamp

Angie and I staggered off of the train around midday, immediately realized that we wouldn’t be walking anywhere, as we had in Torino, and immediately purchased metro tickets.  We got off at the right stop, but the directions of the various locals were convoluted and we ended up walking well past our hotel in the staggering heat, with our bags, for the better part of an hour before finding the right place.  When we passed by the building with a giant question mark, we decided it was a sign from God to turn around and start over.

It would take pages to cover everything we experienced in Marseille, so I’ve chosen two of the most all-encompassing experiences to highlight below.

Bouillabaisse

You can’t go to Marseille and not eat the most famous dish ever associated with a city.  Of course, if you eat right on Vieux Port, it’s going to cost you about 35€ for a bowl of the succulent fish soup, so Angelina and I scoured the areas surrounding the port during the daylight hours.  We originally intended to eat right on this gorgeous wooden ship comme restaurant anchored in view of the Chateau d’Elf, but alas, that boat was holding a sold out event that night and it wasn’t a possibility.

What we ended up finding was a little restaurant hidden in the stacked, Mediterranean style streets behind the water offering three courses for a measly 15€.  The soup was incredible, as is to be expected, as were the oysters I ordered, and Angelina’s almond-stuffed clams.  Dessert was goat’s cheese in a rosemary and olive oil sauce with bits of bread.

My favorite part of the meal by far, though, was when Angelina went for a bathroom break and got stuck drinking champagne with the chef for twenty minutes while he offered to chauffeur her around the city with roses at her feet.  It is extra amusing because he pulled the same move when I went up there and seemed shocked that I was onto his game following the performance with my dinner buddy.  It was just so … French.

Swimming in the Riviera

Our full day in Marseille was fully exhausting.  So exhausting that in retrospect, I’m shocked we managed to do anything the following morning, prior to our 2pm train, other than lie face down in our hotel room, groaning.

I woke up early and walked to the market that was on the same street as our hotel to buy some baguettes, fruit, and fresh yogurt for breakfast, and after a hotel-bed picnic, the two of us somehow managed to mobilize and get ourselves packed up and on the correct bus to the beach.

We chose a stop near a ferris wheel and across the street from a famous memorial park.  We’d worn dresses for the commute and had to change on the beach, but with all the topless, skin happy people from 2 years old to well past 80 wandering around, it was a stress-free experience.

The water had to have been the most perfect temperature in nature.  I understood immediately after slipping off of one of the giant rocks that extended into the ocean why the South of France is so famous for its beaches, even when it shares an ocean with Italy, Greece, Malta, etc.

We lost track of time entirely, floating along in the perfect wake.  All of the stress from a summer of living with our employers, all of the soreness and heat from trudging around like mad tourists the previous day, all of the thoughts of the future just melted into the perfect blue water and drifted out to sea.

We made casual conversation with fellow beach goers, we sunned on the giant rocks, and we let the sand get between our toes without a worry in the world, even when we realized it was time to go.

We took the metro back to the big train station, and spent our last precious minutes in Marseille buying postcards, a French fashion magazine, and some candy and water for the ride.  We met an American woman headed to Aix-en-Provence on the train who talked a lot about herself and her plans over the first three hours of the ride.

We were originally to go to Aix (pronounced “eggs”).  It had only changed to Marseille in the last two weeks or so.

I think Angie and I realized at the very same moment as the American woman departed into the tiny provincial gare that our change of itinerary was maybe one of the best travel decisions we’d ever made.

09
Aug
09

Bel Torino

View from the Mole

I’ve been to Turin many, many times before yesterday, but I can safely say that yesterday was the first time I’ve ever visited.

On Friday afternoon, I got a text from Angelina asking me if I wanted to make the trip to our nearest neighboring city at the weekend.  We decided to meet up at Briançon’s famed McDonald’s for a quick bite and some ramshackle planning.  We agreed to meet the following morning at 7:15am and head up to Oulx to catch the train.  We had a tentative list of destinations to hit in Torino, weather and distance depending.

The forecast predicted this entire weekend to be a cold, wet blast of thunderstorms, so when I woke up yesterday morning to the rumble of the oncoming gale in the distance, I decided on a black wool dress with long sleeves, tights, and my rubber ballet flats, which are great in the rain since they’re waterproof.  I tossed a hat, a scarf, and an umbrella into my bag for good measure, as the morning sky was already shining an ominous black-gray, and quickly threw together two nutella-filled crepes, grabbed two green apples, and two tiny bottles of water.

Coffee on the Po

Coffee on the Po

I set out to meet Angelina in the parking lot of the same McDonald’s, which is a short walk from her host family’s house, attempting to consume as much of my half of the breakfast fare as possible while overcoming my early-morning grog.

The drive up to Oulx was chatty and surprisingly dry (thank all that’s holy), as we wound through the roads I’ll have covered three days in a row by this time tomorrow, since I have to pick up Lucie from her weekend in Milan at 8:30 tonight.  The train journey was similarly lovely as we wound through the Italian borderlands into Torino, a sprawling view of fog and rain clouds clinging the mountain scape outside of our little window.  We chatted amiably throughout the journey about our host families, politics, and our plans upon returning home at the end of the summer.

We rolled into Porta Nuova at just before ten o’clock, and were shocked to see that instead of threatening rain clouds, a pale blue sky was shining through the streaks of clouds.  As we hurried through the marble and stone station out into the morning air, I suggested that we detour to the right before hitting any of our planned venues to see the Savoys’ Valentino Park on the River Po that we’d both thought would be a pointless endeavor in the rain.

Beautiful Valentino Park

Beautiful Valentino Park

On the way, we stopped at a small café to buy some morning java, since I’d been complaining pretty non-stop about how tired I still felt.  Clearly inequipped for to-go orders, the man behind the counter poured our creamy cappuccinos into doubled up plastic cups, then covered the top in aluminum foil.  Rather industrious of him, if I do say so, and all for only 1€ each.

We held tight to the cappuccinos as we navigated our way into the sprawling green park, and searched for the perfect place to savor them.  We almost immediately found a lovely stone terrace that stretched out over the Po, and deigned it worthy of our morning coffee and the first photos of the day.

The park, as we wandered through, seemed to be strategically revealing its charms to us in progressively more impressive discoveries, perhaps appropriate for the gardens surrounding a 13th century palace owned by one of the most formidable families in history.

After encountering the moldering stone seats on the cusp of the river, the fruit trees, the Asian-styled bridges and rock gardens, the perfectly manicured flowerbeds, and after spotting two men in period costume who were apparently attending a wedding on the grounds – we saw the castle.  Or rather, what we thought was the castle.

Overwhelmed in the Medieval Village

Overwhelmed in the Medieval Village

A quick inspection of the grounds surrounding it showed us that we had not stumbled onto a crumbling building, but what seemed to be a preserved medieval village at the foot of the castle’s hill.  We wandered through the cobbled steps, the quickly escalating temperature causing us to roll up our sleeves as we went and taking in the elaborately painted walls and ceilings, the restored fountains and doorframes, cellars, and artifacts.

Angelina took particularly to a bronze pomegranite tree in the center of a fountain with gentle flows of water spouting from its lower branches.  It was all rather fairy tale.

We attempted to head up to the castle at the top of the hill, next, but were stopped by an accordion playing gypsy man who was telling us, in broken French, that the building is closed.  He then went on an equally incomprehensible rant in bad French that we took to be a list of all the other great buildings in great cities in the world that would be open to the public.  I’m still not sure if he was telling the truth, but we both decided not to bother trying to climb the hill again, since it clearly seemed to upset him.

I pretty much spent the entire time he was attempting to communicate with us staring at an aged photo glued to the inside of his accordion of a young woman in a hijab, smirking at the camera.

As we made our way back to the park entrance, I insisted on ducking behind a glade in the river overhang so I could take off my tights.  The sun had gotten unbelievably strong over the past hour, and I told Angelina that maybe before we stopped off to eat the lunch she’d packed for us, I should buy a cheap skirt or dress to avoid melting in the remainder of the day.

She seemed relieved by the suggestion and said she’d also like to buy a short-sleeved shirt and maybe some flip flops, since we were so ill-equipped for the turn the weather was taking.  We walked back to the train station and then north, through the expanse of Torino’s impressive plaza outlay toward Via Roma where Angelina said the cheap shops would be.

Angelina Scouring the Map in the Streets of Torino

Angelina Scouring the Map in the Streets of Torino

Unfortunately, pickings were slim, and we ended up in this awful little shop.  I ended up buying a blue dress that isn’t bad, all in all, but was falling apart even before I got it out of the shop (and I mean that quite literally, the strap broke when I changed into it after purchasing and Angelina had to tie it in a knot).  I’m still wondering if I should’ve bought the orange dress instead, which was the same design, but way shorter and with sturdier straps.  I guess I wanted to be able to sit down for the rest of the day without being horrifically self conscious.  I might try to repair it today if I get a chance.

In My New Dress, Taking a Break in Front of Torinos Roman Gate

In My New Dress, Taking a Break in Front of Torino's Roman Gate

My shoes suddenly were less than perfect, since the rubber tends to rub against bare heels, but I couldn’t afford the expense of buying flip flops too after having just shelled out 15€ on a dress that was already coming to pieces.  At least they matched, and I can’t even describe the immense amount of relief it was to change into a light, summery dress in that heat from the black wool.

We set up our picnic on the side of the Palazzo Madama, which was one of our top choices of things to see in town anyway, and luckily happened to be right across the street from where we’d bought our new clothes.  Angelina had prepared a giant salad of rice, corn, tomatoes, and tuna which was absolutely perfect considering how famished we were feeling (and how long ago that nutella crepe seemed).  She also brought along fresh apricots and plums.

We leaned against the cold stone of the Palazzo while we ate and watched children run through the water spouts coming out of the stones in the plaza, people walking their dogs through a lovely afternoon, and couples collapsing onto the wooden benches in the sun to take a break from weekend shopping.  I decided that it was necessary to tell someone how I was feeling, and took a moment to text James, letting him know that the forecast had lied … it was a beautiful day in Torino.

A Corner Window in the Palazzo Madama

Upon packing up the remains of our lunch, we paid the 6€ fare to get into the Palazzo and began to wander through the rooms of the house, checking out artifacts along the way.  To be completely frank, the displays in the museum weren’t that great.  In fact, as Angelina pointed out later, it was almost like someone just wanted to confirm that kitsch has existed throughout all time.

But the rooms … the rooms were magnificent.  Madama is interesting from the oustide, as it was once an antiquity of a castle, but now hosts a flashy 17th century facade … that only covers the front.  So it literally has a glorious white marble palace in front and a brick fortress in the back.  But, the centuries of history behind it have produced rooms to stop the heart, even if the art and … numerous ceramic grandma figurines inside aren’t doing much for you.

Above us in the Window-Room

Above us in the Window-Room

We decided that the National Cinema Museum would be our next stop.  I honestly didn’t have high hopes for this one, but it’s located inside the Mole Antoniella, which is the highest point in Torino, and offers a spectacular panorama of the city.

It was a bit of a trek to get there, since we got turned around multiple times (trying to hit the Cathedral of San Lorenzo on the way, but it was closed when we got there).  We even stopped at one point and Angelina bought a coconut yogurt drink thing to refresh herself before continuing on.  I took the more economic (cheap) route and refilled my tiny water bottle about four times in a constant-stream drinking fountain on one of the side streets.  (This might sound unhygienic to my American friends, but it’s incredibly common out here, and there are dozens of those fountains in and around my own village that I’ve used many times without danger of illness or death.)

Chaplins Hat!

Chaplin's Hat!

Without enacting a play-by-play, I have to say that I was grossly incorrect about the cinema museum, and that it was easily the coolest part of the day.  From the “archeology of cinema” exhibit at the front (including a huge, interactive camera obscura), to every hands-on, comedically administered feature throughout, I was incredibly impressed, and enjoyed every minute of it.

But, by the time we’d finished our tour and were in line waiting for the lift to the top of the Mole, we’d decided maybe it was time to wrap up the day.  Our feet were aching, and though the Egyptian museum seemed amazing and definitely worth a visit, we were both on the brink of collapse after around seven hours exploring the city on foot.

The elevator is made of a thick crystal that allows the riders to get a view of the dome as they slide up it.  Honestly, I found this entirely terrifying and it made the journey feel less stable, somehow, but it was a sight to behold.

The panorama of Torino was nice.  Kind of underwhelming as I do think that it’s much more beautiful at ground level, and because nothing lives up to the view I got of Oxford last December when James and I stumbled onto an ancient bell tower that allowed us access right up to the top.

A transplanted Spaghetti Western Saloon set in the museum

A transplanted Spaghetti Western Saloon set in the museum

We took a few photos and then shuffled back down, both ready to just book it back to the station and find out what time the next train to Oulx was, and then get dinner as quickly as possible.

The walk probably took us half an hour, but it felt like a four day trek.  We were both whimpering with the pain in our feet and the total bodily exhaustion we felt as we tripped over Italian streets and parks and shopping centers, attempting to get back to Porta Nuova in one piece.

Though we’d been intending to find train times, then have a relaxing dinner while we waited, we decided upon (finally!) reaching the station, to take the train that was arriving in 15 minutes and just buy a quick combo meal from a restaurant on the platform called Mr. Panino.

The Museum had specialized viewing for each genre.  Velvet bed for Romance, Animal Print thrones for Horror, and Toilet Seats (of course) for Comedy

The Museum had specialized viewing for each genre. Velvet bed for Romance, Animal Print thrones for Horror, and Toilet Seats (of course) for Comedy

I think this was the right choice.  We collapsed into the seats on the familiar double-decker Trenitalia service and dug into our food with such gusto that I think we were unaware of anything else until it was completely gone.  From that point it was just silent collapse waiting for Oulx to appear outside of the train window.

It was raining on the drive back down the mountain.  Not heavily, but enough to completely fog up the windows on my car.  This was made extra inconvenient by some famous marathon race going on down the mountain and in the middle of the already narrow road right into Briançon.  I didn’t hit anyone, but there were some near misses.

What a Day :)

As I bumped and putted over the pot holes, following dropping Angelina back off at her door, I could feel the resolve of staying conscious slowly leaving my body.  I got to the house, intending to eat a big bowl of spinach or tomatoes or something to replenish, but after a few minutes conversation with the family, I knew I couldn’t stay awake any longer, and decided to call it quits.

I’m still sore this morning, and I’m eyeing the blue dress from Torino wondering if I should begin the repair process.  There are kids singing Hannah Montana loudly above me and I kinda want everyone to just vanish so I can laze around today and eat a bunch of their food … but that probably won’t happen.

It’s not raining today.  It’s beautiful outside.  But, as much as I appreciate it, I think I just need a nap before making that trip up to Oulx one more time this weekend.

07
Aug
09

The Alps at Dawn

My phone went off at 4:30am this morning, rousing me from only recently-accomplished slumber.  After a few minutes of confused deliberation I groaned and sank under the duvet, remembering that it was Friday, and that meant I’d agreed to meet Lucie at 5 in Chantemerle and give her a lift up the mountain to the train station in Oulx, about 45 minutes to an hour away.

This really shouldn’t have struck me with surprise, considering I’d only left Lucie’s house about seven hours prior after a day of full-on (and completely unexpected) activity.  Yesterday, under the impression that I’d be able to sleep in, since both girls were off staying with their grandmother at the family’s Chalet in the mountains, I’d closed my shutters and wrapped myself up prepared for the lie-in I’ve wanted for a month.

As you, dear reader, have probably guessed, this did not go down as planned, and at 8:00am, the doorbell rang.  Long story short, a water rafting expedition was apparently taking off at 9:30 with home base in my kitchen, and soon the house was swarmed with children by the dozen.  I didn’t sit down for the rest of the day.

Not to say it was all bad.  After two completely uneventful free days, spending an afternoon eating Italian gelato in an outdoor café with Lucie, Nell (Lucie’s ward), and Noémie, while Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” drifted lazily over the cloudless afternoon, and then heading to the pool for a long stretch out on the cement risers while the girls splashed around below, or prepping dinner in the crisp evening air on the patio outside of Lucie’s place, with its incredible mountain panorama, sipping rosé and dipping crusty bread into a fresh vegetable soup puree … the day absolutely had its charms, and it was a great one.  It was just unexpected, as I said before.

Anyway, back to this morning, where I was stumbling around in my room, turning on lights and attempting to reinstate my lucidity.  There was a giant black spider looming over my bathroom doorframe.  That really wasn’t okay, but I wasn’t in a place to do much about it.  The bugs in this house since I got back … ugh, that’s another story entirely.  Let’s suffice to say I spent about two hours on Wednesday night throwing shoes at a cricket that was hiding in the curtain for the sliding glass door because it woudln’t shut the hell up, and I’m incapable of killing it for real.

I expected the cat to handle it, but she’s just a disappointment.

I attempted to pull on a pair of leggings to protect myself from the chill in the air that comes with summer nights in the Alps, I grabbed my passport and keys and tried to feel my way out of the house without knocking anything over or waking Lou.

The Twisty, Mountain Road to Montgenevré

The Twisty, Mountain Road to Montgenevré

Rubbing my eyes while putting down the road down to Chantemerle, I flipped on my brights in the pitch dark of the abandoned village, which at this hour in the winter, would’ve been dotted with drunken hitchhikers trudging through snow and the holiday bulbs casting red and green illumination onto the strip, trying to secure passage back to their hotels or various host homes.  It’s really shocking how much more sedate the summer is.

I pulled into a parking lot that used to be the base for a ski pub at the top of the hill, where I’d once slid on black ice trying to back out of a parking spot in the wee hours.  Lucie arrived henceforth, dropped her stuff in the backseat, and thanking me excessively, collapsed in the passenger seat and began to peel a shared breakfast banana as I put the car back into gear and headed back toward Briançon, on the path to Montgenevré, and eventually Oulx.

Modified Tunnel in Cesana

Modified Tunnel in Cesana

This is the same drive that caused me to puke in Olivier’s car, but in the opposite direction.  Up and up the winding mountain roads toward the Italian border, stuck in second gear so the car won’t stall out on the steep inclines, and due to Lucie’s car sickness tendency, we were both grateful that it was too dark to see over the measly barricades keeping cars from toppling into the valley, hundreds and hundreds of meters below.

Through tunnels ranging from red and black, well-lit paths up to the next level of the mountain, to makeshift passages through medieval ruins that have been expanded to allow cars through.

We made good time, and as we waited on the train platform, Lucie nervously tapping her foot at the anticipation of meeting up with her paramour in Milan this afternoon, the sky started to slowly brighten, sending sparkly reflections off of the understated sequins stitched into her flowery shoes.

I hugged her and wished her luck (and demanded lots of texts and gossip) as the train rolled in.  But, this time, as I walked through the underground pass back to where my car was parked, as I’ve done so many other times in the wee hours of the morning, I realized this was the first alpine sunrise I’d see properly.

Somehow, all the other times had been fogged or snowy, often the conditions at such a high altitude in the winter when I’d made this trip previously.

As I started chugging back toward Briançon in my little volkswagon, I realized that I probably wouldn’t get a proper sunrise, due to the fact that the sky would brighten well before the sun was able to crest over the mountains.  But, I was wrong.

It was incredibly hard to focus on the road over the next hour, as before my eyes the mountains in front of me (opposite the rising sun) began to shift and change color, adapting the prism of the morning sky.  Pink and green and powder blue mountains shimmering on the skyline as I drove home, tempting me to ogle and drive right over a barricade.

If there had been a place to pull over and take it in, I would have.  How often do you get to see a sunrise without the danger of looking into the sun, anyway?  I did mentally kick myself (yet again) for not having my camera handy, since it’s still in FL.

I’ll have to make a point to witness it again from a good vantage point with a high quality camera.  Not this weekend, since the storms have already started, and are expected to continue through until the middle of next week.  I’m watching one right now while I type this.

I might go to Torino tomorrow and take in the indoor bits of the city, since it’ll be raining outside.  I’ll probably have to leave early again, but somehow I doubt I’ll get to see what I did today over tomorrow’s wet and cloudy dawn.

29
Jul
09

C’est la vie d’une jeune fille au pair

Les au pairs du l'été: (From the Left): Frederike's Friend, Frederike, Marie, Lucie, Angelina, Me, Ala

Les filles de l'été: (From the Left): Frederike's Friend, Frederike, Marie, Lucie, Angelina, Me, Ala

Well, as is evidenced by my lack of posts over the past week, things have been a little nuts.  The summer is definitely here, and oh my, is it different.

I’m awaken every morning by the violent sun stream pounding in from my bedside window and the open door of my bathroom, showering in light from the other direction.  We live in a valley on L’Adret side of the mountain (south side), so there’s lots of sun here all day long, and it’s particularly brilliant in the mornings.

This sunlight is then accompanied by the frantic pitter-patter of feet as my host family rouses and starts their morning routine – which is Lou getting ready for work, and the girls turning on loud, French-dubbed cartoons right outside of my bedroom door, then plopping down naked on the couch and waiting for breakfast to magically appear in front of them, as kids do.

Lucie and I taking a break on a hike up to the citadel ruins last weekend

Lucie and I taking a break on a hike up to the citadel ruins last weekend

I usually wait until 9, when Lou leaves for work, to finally drag myself out of bed officially.  I’m either desperately attempting another few minutes of shut eye before that, or messing around on the computer.

There are tennis lessons for the kids in the morning which is both a blessing and an obligation to get up and wrangle them immediately upon rousing.  There’s around 45 minutes of breakfast, picking out clothes, hair brushing, teeth brushing, finding hats and water bottles and tennis raquets, etc. etc.  that kind of sets the mood for the rest of the day.

This is all good though, because it’s immediately followed by the only two hours I get per day of being blissfully alone to shower, study French, cook myself breakfast, or whatever.  Last Friday I spent a lovely tennis-time  browsing shops in Briançon with Lucie, and then the two of us joined Angelina for gouter (kind of like tea/snack time) at my favorite spot in the winter for hot chocolate – Il Cappuccino.  I had an Orangina and bought a dress with money I’m supposed to be saving.

I met Lucie two days into my first week back on the job.  She watches after Nell, a lovely little girl around Noémie’s age who used to be looked after by my friend Zuzana, and we were meeting them to take the kids to the pool after tennis last Monday.  She’s from Prague and (as I hoped), speaks excellent English and is all-around just a fun person to spend an afternoon with.

Angelina, Lucie, and I in the Old Town on Sunday.

Angelina, Lucie, and I in the Old Town on Sunday.

The other au pairs I’ve met since my last, despondant night out are Marie (from Norway), and Ala (from Poland) who are pictured above and both speak very good English.  Oddly, Ala looks remarkably like one of my ex housemates.  For those of you who’ve known me since university, I’m absolutely certain that you all remember Kim.

We’ve had one group night out so far, which was kind of a bust, but an entertaining memory all the same.  We met up at Frederike’s apartment (she’s the only one of us who has her own space) and had a few glasses of wine to start the evening off, only to realize soon after that I was the only one with a car who wasn’t already well past tippling, and that two of our number didn’t actually intend to stay out all night.

Summer days in Briançon

Summer days in Briançon

Long story short, we were not thrilled, and after a quick drink at Eden Bar in Briançon, Lucie and I split off from the rest of the group to go have a drink at La Grôtte, drop off Marie and Ala (who wanted to go home), and wait for someone to sober up so the rest of them could meet us in Villeneuve.

La Grôtte was horribly dead, complete with empty room and a bad cover band playing that was clearly comprised of three generations of the same family (elderly man on bass, pre-teen on drums), being cheered on by the bartenders only.  Lucie and I stayed for one drink then decided to get the hell out of there before it got any more uncomfortable.

We ended up meeting the other girls at Escapade.  Escapade is a remnant from the 90’s rave scene, and has now been transformed into a would be night club that just happens to also have lasers, deer heads on the wall, and a giant screen for psychedelic imagery.  It used to be our final stop on nights out, because it stayed open two hours later than Saloon, but going for the whole night was quite the experience.Orange Shirt

There was this woman, who actually looked remarkably like exercise guru Teresa Tapp.   She was clearly on some sort of stimulant drug and very early on in the evening walked calmly out onto the dance floor and then began to gyrate with so much intensity that she immediately cleared the area.

She continued this for at least four hours, ending up all over the club.  You’d lose sight of her for a moment only to realize she was swinging from table top to table top, or dancing on a pole next to the DJ stand, or walking like an Egyptian out of the bathroom area.

She even approached us at one point, demanding, “Dansez!  Dansez-vous!”

We briefly complied before slinking back to our booth, stifling laughter.

6729_1109531411084_1010808043_30266299_934585_nThe evening, apart from cracked out Orange Shirt was otherwise uneventful.  I was home around 3, and had the presence of mind to close my shutters before going to sleep so I’d be able to sleep in.  The following morning, I woke up with a raging headache, so I went for a walk on the beautiful river path below our garden to clear my mind, and spent the rest of the day studying French.

The family was in Bardoneccia with Lou’s brother and sister-in-law mountain biking over the Italian Alps, so I had the place to myself.

The following day is what’s mostly pictured above.  Lucie, Angelina, and I met in Briançon and decided to climb the citadel ruins, much like I did with Catha in the winter.  We spent the whole day 6729_1109531571088_1010808043_30266303_4970762_nwalking up and down the Old Town, browsing shops, taking the tour of the ruins, and sitting in a café next to the moat, drinking coke and chattering carelessly about our various plans for the future.

All in all, I’d say, compared to the awful first week back wherein I was alone, sick, and mopey, the last week has been a fantastic recovery period.

James is visiting me on Saturday, and so far this week has gone well too.  Forecast looks good for having a phenomenal six weeks in my memory bank when I board my flight out of the life of an au pair on August 20th, and leave this summer behind.

19
Jul
09

Back in the Saddle

I went to sleep last night making sure, one last time, that the house was sparkling clean.  For the record, that is now a shattered illusion of yestertime.

The night out with Angelina and the new au pairs was rather disappointing.  First of all, all of our old haunts are either closed (Saloon), charging cover fees (Escapade), or containing five unattractive French guys sitting in a corner, itching to cast their baleful, depressed glares in the direction of any female who enters (La Grôtte, and everywhere else).

And secondly, none of the new girls speak fluent English.  Angelina’s English is okay, but it’s clear that it doesn’t come incredibly naturally to her.  Frederike, the girl who has replaced Lisa, speaks only a spattering of very basic English (she’s German), and Anya, the Polish girl, speaks none at all.  I fear a very boring summer on the horizon when it comes to nights out under these circumstances.

Anyway, after a jack and coke (6€) and a coke chaser (2€ … 2 euro for a coke?!), a brief albiet depressing conversation with Poro, the British bartender at La Grôtte, and a lot of awkward silence, we gave up and decided to head home with tentative plans to try again Monday.

I hope to God that Sabine’s new au pair (replacing Zuzana), a girl called Lucy, is as native to English as her name.

From the Left: Noémie, Gemma, and Flora (not mine unless her mother is under extreme stress)

Anyway, the family burst in the door around 9:30 this morning, which snapped me awake immediately.  I took a few deep breaths, not feeling quite as well rested as I should’ve been before pulling on a pair of stretchy shorts and venturing out into the kitchen for hugs and excitement.

The family brought me back a lovely beaded necklace from Corsica with a large wooden charm wound around the middle.  It’ll look great with my strapless white dress, if I find occasion to wear it.

The day unfolded in a genuinely lovely fashion.  Lou installed the water system out in the garden to get the lawn back into healthy form now that the snow is gone, and the girls, ecstatic at the prospect of spending an afternoon running through the sprinklers, sprinted upstairs to change into their bathing suits.

This nearly ended in tears as Gemma realized that the cat had taken the opportunity of having the house to herself to crawl into Gemma’s wardrobe and take a nice pee all over her clothes.

Gemma yelled this announcement down, sounding quite upset, and Lou responded with an exasperated, “What, again?!”

This was quickly followed by Noémie jovially adding, “Ooh!  She did a poo too!”

Eat it Or Ill Cut Your Toys

Eat it Or I'll Cut Your Toys

Luckily, Gemma’s swimsuit from Corsica was drying outside and she was able to slip into that while the soiled clothes were quickly shunted into a basket and taken into the basement.

This led to an afternoon of delighted squeals as the girls darted in and out of the water stream and played on a very wet trampoline.  We had a small lunch of baked fish and creamed spinach on the picnic table outside in the midst of all of this, but it was a fairly simple afternoon.

Lou went out this evening and I had dinner duties.  This is always a bit daunting since the girls are quite picky and unless it’s pasta or rice, don’t tend to eat much of what I make (hopefully the French cookbook Lou has just bought for me will help, since I think it’s American delicacies like Drop Biscuits or baked chicken with breading that they don’t like.)

This evening was a similar flop, but only because my supplies in the house are INCREDIBLY limited until Lou goes shopping tomorrow morning.

In other news, I have a garden party to attend on Wednesday evening (as an escort to the girls’ as it’s for Lou’s workplace, but maybe I’ll meet some people who speak friggin’ English … yeah, I know I’m in France.), and two sets of my friends got married yesterday, and another engaged.

I woke up in a really impulsive mood and cleaned yesterday.  Clearly something was in the air.

18
Jul
09

Out Of My Rut?

Streets of the Old Town in Briançon

Streets of the Old Town in Briançon

So, this is a little bizarre, but for some reason, I woke up today feeling … refreshed?  Energetic?  Ready to do chores?!

Yeah, whatever.  I’m not sure what happened while I was sleeping last night.  Maybe it was the act of finally putting the sheets on the bed and then sleeping in them (yes, I’ve been sleeping on a bare bed.  Judge away), or maybe my body is just bored with the whole homebody, depressed thing that I’ve had going on since getting back to France, puking all over Olivier’s minibus, then contracting swine flu.

I didn’t go out last night, or yesterday at all for that matter.  I just had no desire to uproot myself from the damn couch.  I wanted to sit there, eat frozen dinners, chat to my boyfriend, and ponder how much I wished I wasn’t sitting there, alone, sick, and depressed while it rained outside and I continued to sneeze.

Anyway, I was snapped awake this morning by a wind storm prying one of the wooden shutters attached to my window free and slapping repeatedly against said window.  This was followed by frantic meowing outside of my door by a very frightened, very needy housecat.  This should’ve put me in a bad mood, but I opened my eyes and suddenly felt … better?  I dunno, I hope this isn’t some fake, bipolar, temporary high.

Summer in the Plaza

Summer in the Plaza

I dragged the vaccum and a mop bucket upstairs immediately so I wouldn’t lose gusto after my cereal, and commenced to spend the last four hours cleaning this house top to bottom.  I still have to do the kitchen and the little foyer area by the door, but I still feel good, which is a relief.

Angelina called me about an hour ago to tell me last night was just awful.  Apparently they went all around the little villages that make up Serre Chevalier and couldn’t find a single good bar or night spot to enjoy.  They’re going to try again tonight, just to find a small bar to relax and have a drink, and I think I’ll force myself to join them tonight, just to keep on with the trend of not wasting away my day today.

Besides, I know photos will be begotten of any outing with Angelina.

Today is uncharacteristically cold compared to how the last few days have been.  It’s brilliant and sunny and blue outside, but I guess the rain last night and all the wind today has brought in a chill from the mountains.  So I might actually have to wear a coat out tonight, which is a big surprise for me.

Anyway, I’m off to finish up the kitchen, then take a shower and maybe have lunch.  Will I accomplish unpacking today?  Well, I guess we’ll see.




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