Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunny Days in the south of France

Frederic didn't have class on Thursday and it was warmish and sunny out, so we took the boys to the park in a neighboring town. Outside in just jackets in February! Love it!

On the way home, we stopped at the Tour Carbonnière that everyone told us we could go up to the first level in and look out, but that information turned out to be outdated - apparently the Tour is no longer open as of a couple of months ago. So looking around didn't take very long.

This is what La Camargue looks like. It's very marshy land, and much of it is protected for the wildlife.

Then we stopped to see the bulls. There are a lot of bull ranches around here (manades). They have bull runs in the summer time, and bull fights, and we found out they make a type of bull salami as well.

Today we went to a couple of second hand shops in nearby Nîmes, and found a portable high chair for Noah at less than half price.
We're only here for another month, but the price was right and we figured he might be getting tired of eating in his carseat, and after all, we can keep it for company once we don't need it anymore.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We're in trouble now...

Noah started going up the stairs a few weeks ago, but just a couple at a time and then he lost interest. But yesterday he went from the bottom all the way up to the top, unassisted, without stopping except to peek through the banister to see what he could see from up so high. AND the same day, he climbed up onto the couch! Of course, he doesn't know how to go down the stairs or get off the couch yet!

We had told Benjamin up til now to keep the toys he didn't want Noah getting into up on the couch. I guess we'll have to find a new solution!

Benjamin has been having a French "language explosion" lately. It is just like when he was about 2 and learning new words in English so quickly that we couldn't keep track anymore of how many different words he knew. He's doing the same thing now in French, and picking up things we had no idea he knew. We have been concentrating on speaking English with him, figuring he'd pick up French quickly enough once he went to school in September, but it's nice to think he won't be totally in the dark when he starts school.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I thought that since we were spending the weekend in Marseille we should go to Cassis and see the Calanques. The town of Cassis is only about 30 minutes from Marseille. The jury is still out on whether or not you pronounce the final S of Cassis (kah-SEE or kah-SEES). I have always heard CassiS and prefer that pronunciation, but we heard the lady at the tourist office say "CassI" on the phone. I looked it up as well as I could online afterwards and found partisans of both pronunciations. This aside is probably only interesting to me, so I'll just move right along now to our visit.

This is the scenic route:

We figured since we were going up, and the Calanques were down, we were probably going the wrong way. So we turned around and headed back to the city, and the aforementioned tourist office. This was on the way back down. Still scenic.

At the tourist office, Frederic looked at a map and discovered that the one Calanque that is accessible on foot is a 30 minute walk. That must have slipped my mind; but then, I think the last time I went there was about 13 years ago, give or take. We figured the 30 minute estimate was counted without a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old tagging along, and we wanted to be home by lunchtime so the boys could nap. So we nixed the Calanque and just visited the port instead.

There was a very strong, very cold wind blowing on the beach!

The beach! Ahhh! What more could a land-locked northerner ask for in the winter? Well, maybe the beach without the bone-piercingly cold wind. But I'll take what I can get.

Benjamin liked looking at the boats. We were able to walk out onto the piers here, they weren't closed off like they are in Marseille.

Fishing nets. We saw a fisherman on the port selling sea urchins! I didn't get a picture of that, though.

Noah stayed nice & warm in his little eskimo suit. We never used anything like that for Benjamin, so I guess that means we go out & about a lot more with Noah.

Valentine's Day

Frédéric & I had our first Valentine's dinner out in 8 years this weekend. Since our oldest child is only 3, it's clearly not just a babysitter issue, so maybe I should preface this post by explaining why we haven't made a habit of going out for Valentine's Day.

We tried to go out to eat on Valentine's Day 2001, our first Valentine's Day as a married couple. We thought we'd head out a little early since we were going into Paris, and Frederic had to be at work early the next morning. Frédéric's little sister, who was about 12 at the time, was staying with us for a few days, so we got her McDonald's for dinner and headed out.

So we headed down to Chili's on the Champs-Elysées. Only, when we got there... it wasn't there. An Irish pub now stood where the Chili's had been. We didn't have much desire to have our dinner in an Irish pub when we thought we were going out for Mexican, so we decided we'd try Chi-Chi's instead.

We parked across the street and looked at the restaurant, which looked decidedly empty, and it was at least 8 pm by this time, so a normal hour to eat dinner in France. We got out of the car and crossed the street to take a closer look. The tables were all set, but the restaurant was most definitely closed. There were no hours posted anywhere, and it was a Wednesday. There was no indication of why it was closed, but it didn't seem likely it would be opening soon if it wasn't already, so we got back in the car to try plan C.

Plan C turned out to be a very brief consideration of a nearby Pizza Hut, but it was only a take-out. Eating in the car didn't seem like very much fun, not to mention that there was nowhere to park anyway, so we didn't think about that idea for long.

We knew there was another Chi-Chi's in a suburb of Paris, so we headed over that way. When we arrived, we found it in the same state as the one in Paris. Tables all set, as though they would be open any minute... but they weren't. As it was after 9 pm by this time, it didn't seem likely they would be opening later on either, so we continued on our not-so-merry way.

We were starting to get very hungry, so we decided we would just go to the Pizza Hut near our apartment. By the time we got there, it was 9:45 pm, Pizza Hut closed at 10 pm, and the line was out the door! We didn't even attempt it, we headed back home and made dinner there. Frederic's little sister never did understand how we came home from dinner so hungry that we had to make another dinner at 10 pm!

After that experience, we decided to give up on the holiday altogether. (We did find out later that both Chili's and Chi-Chi's had gone out of business in France.)

This year, then, was an exception to our tradition of non-celebration because the teens from the church we're attending in Marseille hosted a Valentine's Day dinner for the married couples in the church. (No defunct restaurants to worry about in this case.) Some made the dinner and served us, and sang for us, and others babysat the kids. I think about 20 couples attended, either members of the church or friends.

Here are our placecards (minus last names for the internet). Some of the kids from church made them earlier in the week.

We had a great time, right up until it was time to go and Benjamin threw a big hairy fit. He was not happy to be leaving, and that's an understatement. He screamed in the car as we drove back to our friend's apartment, and while Frederic took Noah up to bed, I waited with Benjamin in the car until he calmed down enough that I thought we wouldn't wake up the whole building with his wailing and shrieking.

But the next morning he remembered how much fun he had had... when we got to church, he told me, "I want go to church and play games and watch TV!" Um.... I'm glad church is making such an impression on him. Or something.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Frederic wanted to show off

his training. This is what the table looks like when he is studying.

And a close-up of one of the flight maps. Part of preparing a flight is figuring out what path the flight should take from point A to point B, and he uses a map like this to do that.

* * * *
And on a completely unrelated note, this is a letter that I got from my grandparents the other day. Mailed January 16th, arrived here February 7th. Not bad for a letter that was:

Um... what? I blurred out the addresses, here it is larger in case you can't see it in the other picture:

It's true that France and Malaysia are in the same general area... oh wait. No, they aren't. Maybe it's because "France" written out looks like "Malaysia"? No, that can't be it. I don't know, any USPS employees care to try to explain this one?

But here's what I'm really wondering. This happens often enough that they have a STAMP for it?!?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I have not said much about this town

The one we are spending three months in. And there is a reason for that.

This happens to be the ugliest town I have ever seen in France. Even its fountain and its church are hardly picturesque, especially with the large (temporary? permanent?) stadium (bull ring) built just next to the church, and no town square to speak of. I suppose what might have once been the town square is now taken up by the bull arena and a nearby parking lot.

The street sweepers don't seem to come around very often, and there is no apparent architectural harmony among any of the buildings, most especially the newer homes going up on the edges of town. The 2-meter-high privacy fences don't do much to enhance the beauty of the town, either.

Our little village at home is definitely much nicer-looking - now if we just had the southern sunshine to go with our village, we would have it all!

The French are encouraged here, as in other towns, to pick up after their dogs. They even provide little baggies.

The French here, as in other towns, refuse, and this town is no cleaner than any other (except perhaps Aigues Mortes).

Not many little boy pictures lately since we haven't been doing much, but here is Benjamin, looking all serious (this doesn't really happen often):

And Noah with his crazy curls after a bath - Frederic says I dry his hair this way on purpose instead of smoothing it down. He's probably right.