Category Archives: travel

busy, busy, busy

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i know i am not posting as often as i should, but i am so busy planning our summer holidays and the upcoming wedding.  it is very difficult to plan when you don’t speak the language fluently.  i think i may have found a florist though, which is the most important because that’s my forte.  we went to a music festival in arras to see pearl jam a few weekends ago.  we camped for three days and saw a lot of great bands, but i think i may be getting too old to spend three days camping and dancing.  i am working on a short story to enter into a contest(if i finish it in time), and i’m hoping to finally hone my skills as a writer in doing so.  there was a country rock music festival in berck this weekend, and i saw a lot of old american cars.  one was toting wyoming’s state flag, which is where i was born!  it is cold and rainy here in the north, not at all what i am used to for july.  i guess it’s better than the heat wave i hear is travelling across the states.  sherlock, the dog, is doing well.  he is hyper as ever.  we are getting a new couch that is a retro orange color, and i’m very excited about that.  otherwise, i am just reading and watching movies, surfing the web, or trying out new recipes.  i wish i had more news, or at least more interesting news, but after the summer holidays down in the south of france, i’m sure i will.  until then, wish me luck in trying to get my french up to par!

une nouvelle vie

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a season in france has turned into three, and it seems i will be here for much longer…a lifetime perhaps.  i spent my thirtieth birthday in paris with guillaume because i thought it would be the perfect place to start a new decade of life.  the night before the actual day, we had dinner with his folks at their home in vaux-sur-seine.  his mére made steak and hushpuppies, though they actually have an elegant french name that i have forgotten.  they presented me with a summery perfume called escada, and much to my suprise, an iphone.  the next day, we went to the city of lights.  the sun was shining for nearly the first time this spring, and the first time in 20 years it had on my birthday.  it used to be a running joke for me that it always rained on may 23rd.  guillaume bought me a dress at the gap, and some khakis and a tunic.  all the clothes i bought were navy and khaki which he said showed that i was getting old!  at my request, we went to starbucks because i love it so much.  we walked along the quai of the seine, looking at books and prints of ancient maps, then flanéed over to rive gauche to visit the jardin de luxembourg.  we visit there often because it seems as though it has never changed in 100 years.  there we sat and talked about our families.  his great-uncle was involved with the colonozation of laos and vietnam, and his grandfather lived under vichy during the occupation of WWII.  he said they found a pistol in his belongings when he died, and i like to imagine that he was part of the french resistance.  then we walked down rue montparnasse until we stumbled upon the carrefour where le dome, la rotunde, and le coupole all sit.  i hadn’t seen them before.  each of these cafés are mentioned in books by ernest hemingway and henry miller, two of my favorite writers.  we were thirsty, so we sat down at the terrasse of la rotunde and ordered diabolos which are basically shirly temples, limonade and grenadine. i explained the history of these cafés to my boyfriend; that during the 20’s and 30’s they were the hip places to be, especially for expats and writers.  there was a kiosque in front of us, so gui told me i could buy a magazine.  i naturally chose a wedding issue because i’m an events florist by trade.  as i was flipping through the pages, guillaume put a box in front of me and said, this is serious.  when i opened it, there was a band of pink diamonds set in rose gold.   is this a proposal, i asked.  he nodded and i said, oui.  it was hard to top that, but we had dinner at a mexican restaurant because it’s still my favorite food, even after living in france for eight months.  so, in january i will become madame brondy.  i am marrying an intelligent historian who loves rock and roll, books, and me.  i had to fly halfway around the world to find the perfect mate.  but now that i’m here, i will never leave his side.

a small day trip

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bonjour!  i have bronchitis and can’t speak, but at least i can post something to the blog.  i’ve been working very hard on learning french, and now have two of my certificates in the european language course i’ve been taking.  last week, i was bored so i asked guigui to take me to a bigger town to walk around for a bit.  we decided on amiens, which is about two hours to the south of us.  we are really into taking little back roads these days, so that’s what we did.  you really get the feeling of being in europe once you get off the highway.  amiens is a very big town or small city with about four major churches and one cathedral.  we went inside the amiens cathedral to look at the architecture.  i had put my scarf around my head a bit before to shield myself from the cold, and the old man holding the door looked at me like i was a devout catholic.  it took me a minute to remember that many women wear veils when they go into a church.  the statues in the church are amazing.  there are many grottos with statues of saints where you can light candles.  the altar is huge and the ceilings go up really high.  there is huge organ up on the balcony and i’m sure you can fit a thousand people in there for mass.  i did stop in front of the saint christopher statue because he is the patron saint of travelers.  my mom has made me carry his medal around since i was fifteen years old.  after we left the cathedral, we walked around town.  the sun finally came out, and it did a lot to brighten both of our moods.  in the north of france in the winter, it is pretty gray and cold.  amiens was one of the towns that was saved by allied forces during world war II, and like many towns in france, it has a beautiful hotel de ville, or city hall.  that weekend we went back to paris for his sister’s birthday, but i will not write about that because we pretty much acted like fools by dancing and drinking all night.  we are back in berck for the time being but we will go to lille next week so guigui can take a test for his work.  it will give me three days of roaming around solo in a pretty sizable city, and i’ll get to practice my french.  i’m a bit worn out, so bonne journee, and i’ll write soon.

joyeaux noel and bonne annee

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well, well, well.  i have just returned to berck after a few days in beauvais in the picardy region where guillaume’s sister lives.  we decided to take the back roads on the way there rather than the highway, and that was a good decision.  the french countryside is very charming with it’s it’s winding roads, farms, and little villages that look like no one has settled in for 500 years.  the week before(because gui is on christmas break) we went to paris and had a drink at harry’s new york bar, the oldest cocktail bear in europe.  we also went to the cinema and saw notre dame again while searching for books on the boulevard saint-michael.  he is teaching the middle ages right now, so i am getting a crash course in romanesque and gothic architecture.  but, back to christmas. on christmas eve day, we went shopping in beauvais, and madame brondy bought me a pocketbook.  guillaume got a leather coat.  we looked at the beauvais cathedral which is the tallest church in europe and was built in the middle ages.  on christmas eve, we had an aperitif with his parents, sister and boyfriend, and his parents.  we had pousse rapier, which is a liquor you drink with champagne that the muskateers used to drink.  there were lots of vittles like apricots wrapped in bacon and mushrooms with a cheese spread.  we then sat down to a dinner of foie gras, oysters, and duck.  i refused to eat the oysters after gui showed me what happens when you squirt lemon juice on them.  then at midnight, while i was on the phone to the states, they all started singing we wish you a merry christmas in english, so i would know it was time to open presents.  i got some books, lingerie, cds, and tickets to a festival from gui.  we also got red wine, i think one is a vintage 2002, and we have to save it for a special occasion.  the next morning we went to nico’s uncle’s house for a traditional family gathering.  there were so many people there.  i’ve talked about this before, but i will never get over how much kissing you have to do.  and depending on the region someone comes from it’s either 2 or 4, and sometimes you have to start on the right.  we started with what i can only guess were screwdrivers, orange juice and vodka, and ate verrines which are little glasses with layers of veggies, cheese, and meat.  then came the croquettes with potatoes and foie gras and a sweet white wine.  i didn’t participate in the next course which was seafood.  they opened the ten year old bordeaux superieur for the cheese course.  and i ate way too much roquefort.  there were other courses that i stopped paying attention to, then cake and champagne.  after that, because we were in the north, we drank beer.  i was so full and a little drunk.  i understand why people get a prejudice about the french drinking habits because if you aren’t used to it, it seems like a lot of drinking.  however, they always eat while they drink, unlike many americans, so they don’t get drunk the way many less refined drinkers do.  after we went back to his sister’s, we watched et.  i then sat up and read a book about french history.  the next day we left to return to berck, again taking back roads.  the houses in that region often have exposed wood beams on the outside, and some have been built with mosaic bricks and tiles with fleur de lis.  it’s very quaint.  we are planning a visit to azincourt this week to go to the museum.  it’s a battle site from the hundred years war that goes down in history as near genocide, and has a lot to do with hostilities that plagued the british and french for the next 500 years.  it should be interesting.  merry christmas and happy new years!

the young parisians

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the morning we left for paris, guillaume had to drag me off the couch because i didn’t sleep the night before.  naturally, i was incredibly cranky but as we neared paris i brightened up a bit.  you see, somehow being in a city changed my feelings of culture shock.  metropolitan areas all have the same vibe in that there are people and cars and activity.  even though the brands are different, the hustle and bustle can be extremely comforting to a city rat like me.  we stayed at a friends’ apartment and took the metro everyday to all the places i’ve read about from the art history textbooks to hemingway.  our first night, we went to the sacre coeur to see the skyline at night.  this church is on one of the highest hills in paris, and was a huge problem with the working class of paris when it was built because of the sheer scale and money put into it.  so, being working class heroes, we sat on the steps of the church and listened to the clash while drinking wine.  then we walked around montmarte and ventured through the red light district to moulin rouge.  these few things were enough to make me adore paris, but the next day we had a picnic in luxembourg gardens, and ambled through until we happened to stumble on the lilas, which is the cafe hemingway wrote in during his expatriate days.  it was unexpected and i have to say i was overcome.  coincidentally, i was reading a moveable feast that morning.  all of guillaume’s friends live near to or in paris, so we went to see the young parisians that night.  one thing i should’ve learned before i jetsetted off to france was how to speak the language but pantomime is a valuable  tool, and so is wine.  one thing everyone in the world understands is a toast. and if you ever want to make friends, sing rock and roll or get them to sing the la marsailles.  it’s a crowd pleaser.  we went to the notre dame which was cool.  a little boy ran up to me and started asking me in french what the name of the church was, and guigui was a doll, explaining to the little tyke that it was called notre dame and that i was american.  i think he was asking his mom and she pointed to me and said ask that nice young lady.  just me and the little boy’s luck.  i was out of books so we found a big bookstore that had english titles, then went to shakespeare and co., where i was a little starstruck so we just browsed.  again, hemingway.  we went and put our metro tickets on serge gainsbourg’s tomb, respectfully talked by jean-paul satre‘s grave, then made the pilgrimage to jim morrison’s grave.  i smoked a marlboro and left the graffitti ‘vini,vidi,vici’.  we did go to louvre.  i saw all of the stuff you are supposed to: la jacombe or as we like to say, mona lisa, the winged nike or victory, and the venus de milo.  we looked at all the paintings from the french revolution and the coolest part of the whole museum is the foundation of the medievel castle they found while excavating for the pyramid they built for the modern wing.  guillaume made me hysterical while we were walking through by humming the darth vadar theme from star wars.  we went to another small museum with an incredibly cool exhibition on the working class of paris during the 19th century.  it was a highlight of our trip.  you know they call brassknuckles points americains?  apt.  i have seen so much stuff, i can’t remember it all.  i forgot the camera.  oh, versailles.  the opulence of this palace is pretty thought-provoking.  my main comment about it is that if i had marched from the slums of paris to the palace at versailles, i wouldn’t be angry, i’d just be tired, and maybe hungry.  puts the french revolution into perspective.  marie antoinette didn’t say let them eat cake.  she said give them my pain au chocolat.  silly girl.  after that, a few of us rented a house in champagne for a few days.  beautiful country.  the owner of the house owned a vineyard so we went and toured it and his cave, but i didn’t learn a thing since, again, i don’t speak french.  we did go to the moet caves where dom perignon is bottled, and held up our poor tour guide by laughing the entire time.  we were like the bad kids on the school field trip, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves even if the rest of the tour didn’t.  on our way back to berck we went to the reims cathedral which is the first real world war damage i’ve seen.  they’ve reconstructed most of it, but you can still see where nazi germans’ bombs hit.  the thing that occurs to me with the old architecture is that my entire life i’ve never seen anything older than 200 years.  1000 year old church?  it’s incredible to think of it from any point of view. but all people love gargoyles.  the french kids i was with loved them and then i heard an american say oh look, the gargoyles are awesome!  we then felt the need to translate i love the gargoyles into every language we collectively knew.  german was my favorite because i envisioned a young hitler youth saying to his friends, but wait, the church has awesome gargoyles, maybe we shouldn’t bomb it.   i have now driven in europe, too.  we worked it out, and the highway speed limit in france is 100mph.  sorry family, but it was a lot of fun.  honestly, the metro at rush hour is more dangerous.  and we did get to witness a few bomb scares, though no strikes.  c’est la vie!

a date is set

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my mom got my ticket after much frustration on her part.  her paycheck didn’t come in so she had to borrow money, then put it on a card to buy my ticket online.  then she could only afford a one way ticket.  so i am at the mercy of my friends to send me back when the time comes!  but i’m sure it will all work out.  anyway, i leave tuesday october 11th at ten pm.  i have one hour to changeover at heathrow, so i am very nervous about the flight being on time.  i’ll be in paris in the early afternoon, and we are going to see the eiffel tower and some other things then drive back to berck because my friend has work at 11 the next morning.  i already packed my suitcase and backpack.  that’s how excited i am.  i mean, i have a week to go and i’m already packed.  i just want everything to go smoothly.  i have always been one of those people who are super-prepared for any thing.  i wasn’t able to sleep in high school unless my clothes were laid out over the chair where i could see them.  i finished delta of venus, and was blushing the entire time.  i’ve been around the block, but her descriptions of sex are very detailed.  now i am on to a moveable feast, and i really am enjoying it.  i think i will take it with me so we can go to some of the places he mentions in it.  i have already been asked to christmas dinner at guigui’s parents who live near paris.  he says his dad speaks english well and it will be funny watching his mom try to speak it.  i will, of course, try to speak french to her though out of politeness.  i really am out of my mind with excitement.  i packed only my very best clothes so that i feel chic, and my mom gave me her chanel number 5.  this is going to be such a new experience.  i’ve seen all but 13 of the united states, and i’ve been to niagra falls on the canadian side, but never across on ocean.  my flight is at night so hopefully i will sleep.  it’s just amazing that i have this opportunity.  life and love are waiting for me.  i leave on the hunter’s full moon.  i hope that brings good luck.  i have worries about lost baggage and not catching my connection.  but other than that, i feel really comfortable with the idea of being in a foreign country with no resources other than my friends.  what’s the worst that could happen?  i’ve seen enough tragedy that nothing will be able to spoil my good time.  i’m going to be a brave little bohemian and take each day as it comes.  no agenda, no plans.  just life.  nine days and i get a chance to be who i really want to be.  away from this dirty city and these downtrodden people.  away from the memories on every corner.  i get to make new ones in new cities, new corners.  who could ask for anything more?

research in a sense

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A Moveable Feast

Image via Wikipedia

my mom and i went and bought books for my trip.  i got a culture shock edition for france which i read all of last night.  she insisted i get a moveable feast by hemingway since it is like the quintessential expatriate french novel.  i also got delta of venus by anais nin since she is a french author, and a close friend claimed i would love her(he thinks he is henry miller).  that girl has a dirty mouth!  it’s good though, i must admit.  as of friday i will know when and where i get into paris, and i am so excited i can’t even sleep.  i think all day of red wine and baguettes, cheese and the louvre.  we probably won’t spend that much time in paris other than to do the touristy things like see the eiffel tower and jim morrison’s grave.  the town i will be living in is in the north, right on the english channel.  evidently it is only a three hour train ride from paris to london via the metro that runs under the english channel.  i am going to make the most of this trip in case it is my only chance at europe!  i have friends in germany we will see, and brugge is on my list after watching the colin farrel movie in brugge which is destined to become a cult classic.  and of course the netherlands.  i am a florist so the dutch have a special place in my heart.  too bad the tulips won’t be in bloom.  i learned a lot from the culture book, and i think i am going to fit in well with the french sensibilities.  i’m sure my language will improve after a few weeks, but more than anything i am looking at this as a new lease on life.  tragedy has been around every corner, and i think this is the universe’s way of telling me it’s ok, everything will be fine now.  i know this so far hasn’t been a travelogue but it will be.  i just thought a diary while preparing would be interesting to start with.  i have my host gifts already packaged, my passport in a safe place, and have washed all my clothes.  leaving philadelphia is going to be a great change.  i’ve left before(and am not a native)but this time it feels different.  i will still be win, but i will be an adult win travelling europe with eager yet experienced eyes.  i can see the beach in my mind in the town of berck-sur-mer.  walking along the channel, imagining a world i will no longer be a part of.  a world where i leave a deceased husband, abusive boyfriends, and streets i cannot walk down without some sort of shell shock.  i know i must return, but perhaps i will come back a new person who isn’t as haunted and who’s skeletons don’t feel like dancing any longer.  i am alive again for the first time in years.  my soul is awakened to what the meaning of life might be.  the little prince tattooed on my shoulder is guiding my way. and as he says, “if you love a rose that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night.”  well i love a flower who lives on a star, and he is telling me to blossom.  the time has come to put away my thorns, and cultivate my dreams.