Friday, August 13, 2010

The same old routine, but better

Just got through my first week of work and did my second load of wash since returning from France. I've also done food shopping and prepared quite a few meals. (The terrine didn't turn out too pretty.  As a matter of fact, it broke when I took it out of the baking dish. But it tasted yummy. OK, so I'm not Julia Child.) The enchanted aura of my trip has worn off, but some positive effects seem to have stuck.

I think I successfully distracted my brain with spectacular sights, my taste buds with fresh fruits and cheeses, and my spirit with rejuvenating encounters with friends.  All that seems to have relandscaped a lot of my mental and emotional ruts.  I find that I can do my work with a lot less anxiety about trivial things that I had gotten in the bad habit of worrying about day in and day out.

Hmm...maybe that's why the French believe in spending a significant period of time away from work every year.

Et c'est une très bonne idée!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On being ministered to by F/friends

Rublev, The Hospitality of Abraham
It's not the memory of the Palace of the Popes,  the Coliseum at Arles,  the Eiffel Tower, or even Taizé ... or the sight of fields crowded with sunflowers or hills lined with grapevines that I will cherish most about my trip to France. It will be my visits with friends...some of whom were Friends as well.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts: Avignon, Congénies, Bassy, Lons-le-Saunier. At each stop friends welcomed me into their homes, shared their meals with me, took me sighteeing, gave me a room to sleep in...even let me take a refreshing dip in their pool.

I shared their living space and their lives for a few days, even trying to make myself useful when I could, setting the table or peeling vegetables, but mostly feeling inept and useless. Marie-France keeps a little vegetable patch and the Quaker House at Congénies has a sumptuous garden, while I've got to be the most horticulturally illiterate person in the world, not knowing one plant or tree from another. Like the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin, I neither grow nor harvest ...nor sew for that matter! Overcoming my self-consciousness, however, I let my friends in, listening as they told me all about about their lives, their families, their neighborhood, their concerns. I left my familiar habits and haunts behind and didn't miss them at all, letting myself become absorbed into my hosts' daily routine.

I went food shopping at les Halles in Avignon and in the outdoor marché at Pont-de-Vaux...bought fresh brioches for Susan's girls at the boulangerie in Congénies...and cleaned sorrel freshly picked from Marie-France's garden. Laurent showed me his drawings and Daniel played his bouzouki for me.
The sounds of late-night revelry kept me awake in Avignon, and sunshine poured through my bedroom window in Congénies.

The pilgrimage was inward too, I let friends enter some hidden recesses that I didn't know existed in my heart. The transformation may not be dramatic, but I'm sure it is enduring.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rest in peace, Dr. Karen


Dr. Karen Woo, a humanitarian working in Afghanistan and killed along with her colleagues by persons blinded by hatred, was a fellow blogger:

Like Margaret Hassan, Nick Berg, Tom Fox, Michel Germaneau, and others,  she lived a nonviolent life and died giving service.

She was an example for us all.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Coffee confusion

The beauty of a blog is that that it can handle quite serious topics such as complicity of medical personnel in CIA torture, as well as the flimsiest of personal trivia. So here goes my trivial pursuit of the day: my coffee addiction.

Because I spent a lot of my time in France with friends who were generously hosting and feeding me, their meal times were my meal times, and what they purchased and prepared was what I ate and drank. Which in France is a step up from normal American fare.  Fruits especially were much tastier and juicier, because they hadn't been picked before maturity in New Zealand or some other faraway place and then force ripened in a storehouse. And the humble baguette sold at the corner boulangerie is an unheard of delicacy here in the states.

However, I did not have access to a drip coffee machine and was obliged to limit my consumption to what my friends served at breakfast and lunch, plus an occasional crème in a café.  No coffee after dinner either (which I can drink and still manage to sleep, to my husband's consternation)!  Thought I was going to go through withdrawal but, of course, there was good company, lots of activity, and splendid things to see, so my caffeine-craving cells were quickly distracted.

In addition, the coffee I was served was stronger than the brew I've been accustomed to making at home, whether my friends prepared it in an espresso percolator...












or in a cafetière à piston, which we commonly call a French press.

Net result of drinking great French coffee for 2 1/2 weeks: back at home, my daily drip tasted so weak I was desperate. I dug out my Bodum French press. I purchased it last year after staying with some friends who made delicious coffee with it, but I soon relegated it to storage as it just wasn't as convenient to use as my electric drip coffee maker. Complications immediately ensue: coarsely ground coffee beans are required for the French press. Fortunately, had some whole beans on hand.  Got out the little gizmo I use to make breadcrumbs and did some quick and dirty grinding. (sacrilege!!) Used a large quantity of ground coffee...and voilà, a reasonable facsimile of what I enjoyed in France.

The net result, hopefully, will be fewer cups of better tasting coffee consumed each day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's not the heat, it's the humidity

If that truism is familiar to you, then you must be from Philadelphia.  I stepped off the plane last evening and stepped right into a sauna. Very different from the heat in Avignon, even though the thermometer reads the same: 33⁰ C (92⁰ F).  As a matter of fact, the heat was so dry in the south of France that my skin started to get dry and I had to buy some moisturizer.

 Managed to stay awake till 10pm here (4am Paris time) but then woke up at 4:00 this morning.  Still have a bit of adjusting to do.  Including getting used to what passes for coffee here...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Day and a half in Paris

 My last day in France, and I have so many experiences to process and memories to catch up on, including meeting and spending time with two penpals.

Statue of Rouget de Lisle (wikipedia)
...rolling hills of Bourgogne where grape vines grow in neat rows...Romanesque churches, deserted castles, a cheese tower, the ruins of Cuny...and Lons-le-Saunier, with its lovely park and statue of native son and La Marseillaise author Rouget de Lisle. Unfortunately, both camera batteries are now drained, so I can't transfer photos at the moment.

Got caught in the rain without an umbrella last afternoon in the Place de la Concorde...but waiting out a soft summer shower under the trees in the Tuileries is nothing to complain about. When the rain stopped, strolled down the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe.

Today, concentrating on several sites that my husband and I didn't get to see when we visited Paris in 2002, I managed in 12 hours to do the following, starting out from my hotel in the Marais district and taking full advantage of my carnet of Métro tickets:
  • Climbed the narrow, winding streets to Sacré Coeur
  • Crossed the Pont Marie to the Isle St-Louis - bought most of my gifts for family and friends there and had a delicious crêpe with warm goat cheese prepared at a little place run by two women.
  • Checked out Rue Cler (sorry, Rick, but it was underwhelming.)
  • Took a very long walk past the Ecole Militaire, the Tour Eiffel, the Invalides, the Assemblée Nationale, the Madelaine, and the Opéra Garnier
Strolling down the Champ-de-Mars and watching the Tour Eiffel loom larger and larger...and then seeing the mass of humanity from all countries lined up to climb to the top is impressive and unforgettable.

Vraiment formidable!