the american and french revisit the turning point of WWII

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since my boyfriend has a lot of vacation time, we took his latest one to go to normandy.  we started in caen where we saw the WWII museum.  it is very nicely done, and covers the time WWI ended through the d-day landings until the end of the war.  there is a seperate part of the museum that covers the implications focusing mostly on the cold war and the berlin wall.  that night we stayed in a creepy hotel above a cafe, and had crepes for dinner which is the traditional food of that region.  the next day we went to the american military cemetary which was covered in fog giving it a supernatural ambiance.  it overlooks omaha beach where the american deembarkment happened.  even my usually cynical facade was changed seeing that graveyard.  after that we went to see the bayeux tapestry, which my mom tells me is one of the first instances of a woman artist, though they don’t mention that at the museum.  it is the story of william the conqueror, and how he got the throne from harold.  bayeux is a very quaint town, but all around the area you can still see the scars from the shellings during the war.  that night we went to see the artist in this strange town.  it had an old school theatre with leather seats.  the movie was awesome, and it really deserved all the oscars it got.  it was also nice to see a fench movie with a happy ending because usually they are all exsistential and depressing.  when we left the theatre, a drunk old man asked us for a euro.  we said we didn’t have any, and he asked gui if he was american.  gui said no, and the old man said something like, i speak english but the french don’t speak it as well as the germans.  i think he was still living in 1941.  we went to mont saint-michel the next day, which is an abbaye sitting on top of an island.  we climbed all the way to the top, but the abbaye was closed, so we just stood and made fun of the people climbing the stairs with obvious difficulty.  we had lunch in st. malo, which is in the bretagne region, and walked along the ramparts.  eveidently, 75 million tourists visit france every year.  there are only 65 million residents, so at any given time when you see two people, one of them is a tourist.  we spent the last day in brest, which is a port town that looks kind of like philadelphia.  i do suggest that if you ever book a hotel in france you be sure to specify that you want a bathroom in your room, or you will be forced to use the community toilets and showers.  for us americans, that can be a little daunting, especially if you wake up late like me, and they have already started cleaning!  i had to drive to mcdonald’s to pee.  we are again back in lovely berck redecorating the bedroom.  it looks like a season is turning into two.  it was fall when i arrived, and it will soon be spring!  i guess that’s what happens when you’re in love!

a hike that was meant to be a walk

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yesterday gui asked if i wanted to go for a walk because it was a beautiful, sunny day.  we drove about an hour to cap blanc nez, which is on the coast.  from the top of it you can see great britain, and that was pretty cool.  we decided to take the grand escalade down the side of the point to get to the beach, and then walk back up the beach.  there are huge rocks covered in algae, and i commented that my grandma would probably like it here.  there are old nazi watchtowers and the remains of where they had the huge cannons pointed at britain.  they aren’t marked though as historic sites, you just have to figure it out for yourself.  after an hour or so,we finally made it to a spot we could walk back up, and realized we were like 2 miles from the car.  we took a back trail that led us around a mountain, and eventually to the car.  i was tired and cranky because i thought we were just going to stroll on the beach.  we drove to the town of wissant to have a beer in a cafe.  it was a blanc biere with hints of lemon, and there was a sweet old golden retriever that sat in the cafe.  i slept well and i’m really sore today, but it was a beautiful view.

happiness on foot

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well, it’s cold and snowy here in the north of france.  it’s been awhile since i posted, but it’s been pretty eventful here.  a couple of weeks ago, guillaume had to take a concours in lille.  that is some sort of competitive test for his work.  i decided to go with him for the three days it would take and just walk around the city.  the first night we went to the palais de beaux arts, which is the museum there.  i wasn’t overly impressed.  they did have some really cool minature models of various cities in the area and a nice collection of artifacts from the middle ages.  we joked that in 1000 years, there will be a section for iphones.  the one painting that i was happy to see was monet’s tower of london in the fog.  we got a beer at the cafe citoyen which is everything you can hope for.  it was small with cool music playing, a friendly guy who helped us with the map, and very shabby chic in decor.  i spent the next days just walking.  i started at the metro station near the palais and walked in circles, slowly moving out.  the great thing about cities in france is that they are usually based around one large building that you can see from all points, so you can always get your bearings.  there is a grand place or square and a huge opera.  there are lots of churches.  i didn’t really take the names down because i was just wandering dreamily.  i found cute little street that seem to have no purpose, and then you end up going over a cute stream and out onto a big street.  i walked as far as the military school, then found a canal so i followed it.  this led me quite by accident to the citadel, which was built by vauban for louis XIV.  i scoured the entire thing, and must admit it was tres cool.  now they have incorporated a zoo into it, but all i saw were some monkeys and ducks.  maybe a heron.  i went to the large commercial center (read: mall) to warm up and admired all the after christmas sales.  some very old french guy asked me a question which i tried to ignore, but he kept saying, pardon mademoiselle, so i just said i don’t know but in french.  he just continued talking so i looked at my watch and said bonne journee!  i don’t know why i’m always getting singled out by children and old men to chat or ask questions.   i must have a friendly face.  that weekend, we went to paris for the birthday party of a friend.  we went to a crepe restaurant and then to cafe cheri to dance.  and dance, i did!  on sunday morning, we went to a big market to get veggies for lunch and see our friend who was passing out tracts for the mayor who is running.  it was then i think i became french.  standing at a cafe in the middle of a fresh market, saying hi to people, drinking a cafe and talking about politics and the grand prix.  i felt like hemingway reincarnated.  i love europe.  i love france.  i love this life.

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.

az(g)incourt

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notice how i had to put that g in parentheses?  that’s because this battle from the hundred years war was misspelled by the british, and still is to this day.  we went to the site of this famous battle the other day, and learned that the french and british still have very different ideas on the subject.  whereas the british feel that it showed thier ingenuity on the battlefield with thier superior archers and strategy, the french believe that the mud was too muddy and the armor to cumbersome.  it was the turning point of the hundred years war, and guaranteed henry V as a hero and future shakespeare main character.  happy new year’s everyone and bonne annee!

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!

les enfants terrible

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i apologize for taking so long with the new post.  i was incredibly ill with a cold.  i wanted to do a post about amsterdam, but i am still processing the information, so i will tell you about the latest trip to paris instead.  guillaume and i went back to paris (well, technically it is vaux-sur-seine in the outskirts of paris) this weekend for his father’s sixtieth birthday and his sister’s graduation from nursing school.  i was incredibly nervous, but they made me feel at ease right away.  his father speaks very good english.  we arrived very late at night due to guillaume’s work schedule that day, so we had a quick drink and went to sleep.  well, guigui went to sleep and i read an incredibly outdated french book that still has the word for waiter as garcon and the french word for carborator which i don’t think have been used in cars since like 1975.  when i woke up and looked outside, i realized the seine is right in their backyard.  we went shopping and i got two pairs of boots.  one pair are knee high black leather and the other are grey suede ankle boots that sort of look like cowboy boots.  we got back just in time for lunch.  guillaume, as is his typical way, failed to mention that grandma and aunt would also be there.  i was very polite and did the kissing thing that all french people do when they meet, when they say good morning, when they say good bye, etc.  they kiss a lot in france.  really.  like a lot.  after lunch, guigui, his father, and i went to pick up the new car.  as it turns out, it is the new citroen with all the fancy, space age gadgets.  it’s a red and black hatchback, and gui and i were like two teenagers on christmas playing with the radio and gps, linking the cellphone with the car’s system, and then playing with the locks because when you hit the button the sideview mirrors retract.  we sat down to aperitif and watched his dad open presents.  then more food.  i swear most of my days revolve around meals.  i have gained a couple kilos since my arrival.  his mom is an excellent cook, which i guess is where he gets it.  guillaume and nikolas(his sister’s boyfriend) spent the entire meal clowning around while i talked politics with dad.  i know you’re not supposed to do that, but he started it, so i was obliged to follow suit.  i played with the dog a lot.  he’s a brindle french bulldog.  at one point his dad told the kids to go to bed.  i think we were getting a little too rambunctious.  guillaume was all mad because his mom took down the anarchist posters from his bedroom.  sunday morning we went for a drive and basically just rocked out.  and…more food.  we took a bunch of books and movies.  this is all i do.  eat, read, study french, eat.  i’m sorry if this post isn’t very interesting.  i’m trying to get back in the habit of writing, but i don’t have anything interesting to say.  i’ll work on it for my next post.  it will be about that awesome city called amsterdam where we had tons of fun.  bear with me.