Culture Shock – Part II

The story I had originally intended to publish next describes a completely different situation. It’s about my first night in France and another adventure courtesy of AirBnB. On a more optimistic and entertaining note, here it is:

It’s good to be back. Though arriving in a completely different manner – this time landing at St. Exupery in Lyon, then renting a car and driving through unfamiliar countryside after 14 hours of travel – I felt comfortable and empowered. It didn’t hurt that after reaching my destination, with just a brief moment of confusion over the address, that I was greeted by a surprisingly mature high school girl, welcoming me to her “mom’s” house in a perfectly American accent. The old farmhouse where I would spend the night was big enough for four people and set on a lovely plot in St. Bonnet de Mure, just across from the owner’s house. After setting in, I took a walk around, briefly discovering a typical small French town with Mairie, Iglese, Poste, Gendarmes, and small shopping district. A few people were out in the park feeding birds. Overall it seemed pleasant and safe. I returned and met Tracy, aka “mom”, a Brit who had emigrated 20 years before and who makes her living in oncology research in a lab on the east side of Lyon.

Thinking it a bad idea to crash and get on the wrong side of jetlag, I searched briefly online for something to do. It was too late in the afternoon to visit a museum but I did discover there was a dance festival going on in the 8th arondissement of Lyon, about a 20 minute drive from here, at La Maison de la Danse. Tonight’s performance had seats available and was looking to be rather contemporary – c’est bonne pour moi! I got dressed, jumped in the car, and made my way to Lyon. Along the way I passed through what appeared to be the local ‘brico’ and ‘meubles’ shopping districts – you can furnish, build and repair your house here, yes you can. The 20 minute drive took about 35 due to local traffic and concurrence with the tram, then a brief search for street parking, but I arrived.

The modern, and very tall, dance performance space was next store to the Mairie for the 8th and otherwise surrounded by apartments and hospitals. Not too much else happening other than a few bars and restaurants. I bought my ticket, center in the third row, but only after a slightly confusing conversation with the very nice man in the ticket booth. His accent, the vocabulary, or the context, my fatigue, all combined to make it so, but I managed a purchase and to learn that if I came back early something would be happening, though not sure what.

Maison de la Danse has a little café called Fred and Ginger so I decided to find dinner there rather than wander the neighborhood. There was no one by the name of Astaire or Rogers as far as I could tell. It was lively with people of various ages mange-ing and bois-ing, at tables between the bar and the small stage with extremely avant-garde danse-arte films projected on the wall. I was seated right away. Service was swift, my food tasty, and I was feeling confident. Returning to the lobby, I observed that indeed something was happening. A crowd was gathered and about 12 young danseurs were moving slowly through the crowd, synchronized, but not, very slowly shedding their layers upon layers of unmatched clothing from head to toe. After slowly folding their piles of clothes, they slinked away up the stairs, most of them wearing only underwear and camisoles. The night was getting more interesting.

The performance was a piece of danse-theatre by Alain Platel, “Tauberbach”. The music, by Bach stopped and started throughout the piece. The scene, a clothing dump in Brazil staged brilliantly from corner to corner of a full sized stage with no backdrop. There was one sound effect, that of a persistent fly, buzzing. Six people danced, writhed, stripped, convulsed, emoted, murmured, one of them a schizophrenic who talked and sang and yelled to herself in English and a little Portuguese. There were subtitles in French projected on the back wall. 90 minutes of avant-garde modern dance, extended vocal technique, choral singing, amplified bones, and almost but not quite porn on the stage, in and out of clothes that covered the stage and on catwalks that raised and lowered. In the face of dense and very difficult material, at times repulsive but impossible to ignore, with very few exceptions, the audience (which included college age, parents with babies, the retired, working people and me) stayed for the 100 minute spectacle without looking away. I might have dozed off for a minute or two here and there fighting the time change, but I wanted to see how this would end, and I did. The dancers stood in silence facing the audience for a full minute. Then the ovations began. One or two people stood. Most clapped their hands above their heads, the middle-aged couple next to me shouting their sincere “bravos”. The French public clapped their hands in unison for almost a full 15 minutes.

Then I drove back to my little BnB. It did take about 20 minutes this time and I did not get lost, well almost. When arriving back in St. Bonnet de Mure about 11pm, I thought I could turn right at the Mairie to return to the house, but the turn was restricted. Having pulled too far forward in the intersection in anticipation of the turn, I could no longer see the traffic signal at shoulder height behind me and to the right. The car facing me across the intersection began to drive straight ahead, so I assumed it was my turn too. The gendarmes who approached and pulled me over did not agree. I had been driving in France for less than 8 hours. One of the men in the police van approached me. No drunk driver returning from a carousing trip in Lyon, just me, freshly arrived and a little too bold. Somehow remaining calm, I explained in French, that I had just arrived, was staying at a house in town and was a little confused. The man asked for my permit and the car registration. He explained that I needed to pay attention to the “red fire” (feu rouge), that it was dangerous to pass through them. Then he asked me for the address of the house. I clamored for it and showed him. He told me to follow, that his colleague would use the GPS and escort me. Would there be a ticket? Would they awaken the family and inform them of my crime? No and no. They simply wanted to make sure I got home safe.

The next morning I chatted with Tracy and her partner about life, her property, travel, teenagers. Then I set off for Lyon, a quick look around the Institut Lumiere, and a pleasant drive through the Rhone-Alpes countryside to Riorges. I reached L’ecole des Trois Ponts around 5pm. No incidents. Not a moment of stress. Rene was waiting for me. It was like coming home again.

St. Bonnet de Mure, between Lyon and St. Exupery Airport

L’hotel de Ville, St Bonnet de Mure

Maison de la Danse, Lyon

L’institut Lumiere, Lyon

Professeur Rene, previous visit to l’ecole. Riorges.

Nouvelle amie, Holly, et moi. L’ecole des trois ponts. Riorges.




Culture Shock – Part I: Cagnes-sur-Mer

The mind and body are curious machines. At once, engines of courage, yet, at the drop of a hat, a source of stress and disquiet. Today I am feeling decidedly different, not so fiercely independent, if not a little bit lame.

After my short run on the promenade and delightful breakfast on the front porch, I have tried leaving the house four times. The first time I made it as far as Musee Renoir by car. I managed to peruse the tranquil grounds and maison where the master spent his last days, surrounded by friends and family, painting from his wheelchair. It was a quick visit with entry free of charge because it is the first Sunday, but nearly closed for the midday break, making it difficult to linger. So where-to next? I would have thought it a great next stop to take a leisurely drive up to Vence and then return for a visit to Haut-Cagnes and the Chateau Grimaldi. A few minutes down the road, that’s when the rich Italian coffee, or my nerves, or both, kicked in. Feeling a little shaky for some reason, I decided to return to ma chambre sur la plage.

The grounds are beautiful at La Locandiera, an old stone Maison on the Cros de Cagnes where fisherman, sailors, tourists and local residents form a mélange of humanity in the Mediterranean sun. I grabbed my hat and a book and stretched out for a read on one of the chaises thinking it would be best to just profit from the perfect weather for a while. It was starting to feel relaxed, and the storyline in the French romantic comedy was getting interesting, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. Perhaps it was my back aching from the six hour drive yesterday, or the glare of the sun. I tried a quick walk – the shakes returned. I decided to try reading inside where it was quiet. After a while I tried to take a little nap. Feeling stronger, I set out across the way and grabbed a sandwich from the café on the port. Optimistically, I made another attempt to set out by car for the hills. Two minutes in, the nerves returned. Breathing deeply and humming to myself, I made just a brief tour around the neighborhood before returning here to write this story.

This time I went up to my room, closed the blinds, and shut the Windows to block out the world a bit. I could be coming down with something, yet somehow this feeling seems different to me. I think I might actually have a little case of culture shock. After all, yesterday was a big departure from my state of familiarity and confidence at the language school. By myself, I drove six hours across the country, with some difficulty involving a wrong turn and very strong wind. I arrived here, not knowing where to park, not being part of a group, no longer in a tranquil neighborhood away from tourists. Last night was leisurely, with a walk on the beach and takeout dinner al fresco by the sea but on my walk I was also propositioned by a seemingly nice French man on a moto who said he loved to have parties with Americans. He offered me dinner, champagne “tout en amitie” (just in friendship). He said he was a believer and a very good Salsa teacher. I giggled, thanked him for his kind invitation, and allowed him the French “bises” he requested. Who knows what bullshit that could have led to, perhaps it would have been fun, but I decided to “reste toute seule”. I returned to my room about 9pm, watched some good French TV, then slept like a baby, but with earplugs.

This morning started out well, but eventually ended up with me back here, writing in the dark.

I read about culture shock and its symptoms when I was in school last week. Evidently it is quite common. In fact, there was a friend at school who had never travelled alone before and also hadn’t expected the demands of living and thinking in another language weeks in a row. She had a little “crise” mentally and physically and was about to change her plans and go home. Heartened by the support of others, the next morning she felt better and decided to stay, albeit with a lighter class schedule. So to my readers, I admit that I am in paradise yet locked in my room, and I apologize to you who are at home wishing you could be here. I am optimistic about tomorrow. Just be patient.

1 La Locandiera. Cagnes-sur-Mer. Peaceful just before dusk.


2 Musee Renoir.

3 Haute Cagnes, in the distance, so close and yet so far

4 Ma chambre, aah

A memory recaptured

Alain de Botton   “It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Je vien d’arriver….  I just arrived here in France. Or it seems so, but so many little moments have already passed, and even some big enough to warrant a story or two. Before I get to those, I have been remiss in recounting an important travel episode that happened in summer 2012. At the time, I was so absorbed in the experience, and perhaps posting pictures on Facebook, that I couldn’t find a way to write it down. As I think about the last 24 hours here, with new memories courtesy of Airbnb, I think it is appropriate to account for my first experience with the service, which has opened the door just a little, for this shy geek girl with dreams of being worldly.

Airbnb started as a graphic guy’s quick scheme to make his rent in the bay area. It has since become an economy, a social network, and more personally, a burst of courage and small stories that have enriched my storybook, making me much more entertaining at parties. It first brought me to a corner of Rio where the artists and bourgeoisie live alongside the homeless, the persistent throng of Friday and Saturday night, and a yellow streetcar beckoning another era in this colonial city. It was July 2012, I had just been in Buenos Aires on business, traveling on my free weekend, not just to Rio, but to Isa and Paolo, and their stack of colorful boxes called a home on the edge of Santa Fe and Lapa near the center of the city.

Arriving at nearly 2am, without enough Real to pay the cab driver. Paolo, an ex telecomm engineer from Italy who first came to Brazil to follow his passion for African drumming, with a smile paid the fare and said “don’t worry about it”. The pulse of Lapa, at the bottom of a steep urban staircase leading down from the house, was still strong and I could feel it humming through the green wooden shutters in my simple room on the upper, entry level floor.

I awoke the next morning to warm coffee, cake and conversation with Paolo. Isa was working at her computer and perhaps more shy due to her limited English. At noon, my driver, Carlos, arrived to shuttle me around to the sites in Rio. We danced a sort of made-up language tango as he tried to teach me a little Portuguese and I faked my part by adding some extra ‘zhh’ to my French/Spanglish responses. Carlos was quite a bit younger than me but treated me as if we were kids playing together. Excitedly taking me by the hand and pulling me, because he discovered a friend who could get me to the front of the queue for the shuttle up to Christ the Redeemer atop the Corcovado. The day went like this, he directed me, I visited, he fetched me, and so on. As the sun set, I was staring down at the lights of the city from Pão de Açúcar – Sugarloaf mountain.

The day was not over. Around 9:30 pm it was time to go out for dinner. I was invited to join Paolo, Isa, and their neighbors, a young couple – husband, Lino, also from Italy, pregnant wife, Rita, a Rio native – and their friend, Elisabetta, who had just arrived from Bologna for a visit. A neighborhood steak grill restaurant – cook at the table, side dishes shared all around, trust your companions not to poison you – hosted a group with three duets crossing and in parallel, in Italian, Portuguese, and Italian. We laughed until midnight, when Paolo asked if I’d like to see Lapa. He drove me in the van he uses for his recycled fabrics business, and gave me a tour of the all night outdoor party, with young people absolutely pouring out onto every street, something I would have been very nervous to do alone. Paolo proudly showed me the best clubs and restaurants, and how the colonial buildings had been gentrified to host the entertainment tastes of a new generation.

After a happy sleep, I braved the rainy Sunday to visit Santa Fe’s artist studios which were open for the weekend. I met and talked with the starving, the struggling, the passionate, and the well-established. I viewed not just their studios, but their homes. That evening was a baby shower for the neighbors. I met all their friends, most of whom had come from a rally for the local candidate running on a marijuana platform. I, having known Rita and Lino for less than 24 hours, was welcome as part of the family. Among the local delicacies were hot dogs and popcorn (Pipoca). And from the faithful Mac, tucked into a nook in their tiny apartment, blared the cool tunes of Gilberto Gil.

My last day took place on a tropical, undecided Monday. Elisabetta, with her jetlag and fresh mosquito bites, walked with me for miles around the city center and it’s massive park. With her poor English and my lack of Italian, we found that we had a reasonable French proficiency between us. Later, after discovering the metro and enjoying our beer on Copacabana beach, we had somehow connected as fellow travelers, though we were 10 years different in age, and in other respects maybe worlds apart, with our only common connection that of speaking French and a set of coincidences set in motion by Airbnb.

At the top of the steps outside Isa and Paolo's leading down to Lapa.

At the top of the steps outside Isa and Paolo’s leading down to Lapa


View of the favela on the way up Corcovado. Carlos suggested we stop and take a photograph.

View of the favela on the way up Corcovado. Carlos suggested we stop and take a photograph.


Carlos insisted on taking my picture as well

Carlos insisted on taking my picture as well


View from Pão de Açúcar at dusk

View from Pão de Açúcar at dusk



With Isa and Paolo at the baby shower

Copacabana after the rain

Copacabana after the rain

Elisabetta and Me

Elisabetta and Me

Buenos Aires between meetings…

Most popular billboard shot, taken from my taxi, Windows folks, look familiar?


It’s winter, it’s raining, we have only one afternoon to be tourists, so what the heck – go where all of the tourists go. El Caminito in La Boca. The taxi driver took us for a quick tour past the famous stadium where Boca JR, the famous soccer team has their home games. Then on to the street where tango was born and souvenir shops rule the roost:

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Soccer fans, recognize this famous Argentine?


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And on this crisp but clear morning. The view from my room on San Martin viewing out towards the central train station and the harbor….


Unfortunately this may be my last glimpse of the city as meetings continue through tomorrow afternoon, then we are off. At least tonight I got a taste of the famous Argentinian beef as Las Lilas in fashionable Puerto Madero.  If you go, bring a credit card, a lot of cash, and your appetite. Be sure to sit on the covered terrace. Ladies, the maitre d’ will physically attach you bag to your chair Smile. Loved the atmosphere and friendly service. Thursday night is a big night out, lots of families with kids and I’m sure the tourist/business folks like ourselves.

Ciao for now, more meetings tomorrow!

A Paris, avec mari sans ordinateur

Bonsoir mes amis. Juste un petite note a dire “hi”. Il y a plusieurs jours le PC est mort, mais Tim est ici!!!!!!

Jeanne et moi avons survecu les orages de la sud et sommes arrives a Paris, Lundi. Tim est arrive Mardi.

L’appartement a Cour Damoye est tres cool. Jeanne a sorti hier, puis Tim et moi nous sommes devenu “supertourists”.

Je souhaite que je partage plus mais maintenant je suis tous thumbs Sur le portable.

Voici des phone pix de Paris

Six leçons pour rouler en France


4 novembre, Aix-en-Provence

Depuis j’arrive en France j’remarquais nombreuse de voitures avec le panneau que dire « Auto Ecole ». Au début, j’ai pensée que la raison étais les routes tranquilles dans le paysage Bourguignon sont meilleur endroits pour les jeunes d’apprendre à conduire la voiture. Mais à Roanne, à Lyon, et maintenant à Aix, il y a beaucoup de magasins qui ont la même panneau, et partout je roule, je remarque les débutantes sur les routes. Bien que j’aie l’expérience de rouler en France lors de mes dernier vacances ici, maintenant j’ai des nouvelles expériences à raconter.

Since arriving in France I have notice numerous cars with a sign reading “Auto School”. At first I thought the reason was because the quiet country roads in Burgundy were better places for young people to learn to drive. But in the cities of Roanne, Lyon, and now, Aix, there are many shops that have the same sign, and everywhere I drive, I notice beginners on the road. Although I had driving experience the last time I was on vacation here, now I also have some new experience to tell about.

Leçon 1, la voiture énorme – The giant car


Quand j’ai réservée la voiture sur l’internet, j’ai demandée une compacte voiture (un niveau après le plus petit mais très économique). Je pensais pour Jeanne et moi, et nos bagages, que ce type de voiture serait parfait. Mais quand je suis arrivée à l’Europcar, l’agent de location m’a donné cette belle voiture (un nouveau Renault Laguna), avec tous les gadgets, même le mouvement des miroirs est électronique. Je l’adore, mais il est plus gros que la voiture je m’attendais. En fait, quand j’ai retournée à l’Ecole Trois Ponts, c’était un peu difficile de tourner à l’allée de la maison. Puis, après je l’ai stationnée, j’ai remarquée que la voiture est plus long que les voitures de l’autres étudiants et des professeurs. Mon ami, Terry, s’est exclamé que ma voiture est énorme. Donc la voiture a le nom – « la voiture énorme ».

When I reserved my car on the Internet, I asked for a compact (one level above super economy). I thought that for Jeanne and me, and our bags, that this type of car would be perfect. But when I arrived at Europcar, the agent gave me this beautiful new Renault Laguna with all the bell and whistles, even the side mirrors retracted automatically. I love it, but it is bigger than I expected. In fact, when I returned to school the first time it was difficult to steer it into the driveway. Then after I parked it, I noticed that it was longer than the all the other cars there. My friend, Terry, exclaimed that my car “est enorme” (giant). So my car has a name, “the giant car”.

Leçon 2, Tourner ou pas à tourner – To turn or not to turn

Selon le site web… (pardon my French, as I roughly translated this from the original English)

Q : Quand on doit faire un demi-tour en voiture dans une rue étroite et la plupart de circulation roule vers lui quel type de tourne est le meilleur ?

When you are obliged to make a u-turn on a narrow street and most of the traffic is driving towards you, what kind of turn is best?

A : La plupart de voitures des passagers doit faire un tour trois points (ou tour comme K ou comme Y) dans la plupart de rues. Le tour trois points est plus efficace dans la plupart de rues grâce a leur étroitesses ; au début on tourne vers la bordure du trottoir lorsque on reverse (en lieu de rouler toutes droites), et après roulez toutes droites vers la première bordure du trottoir (en lieu de la revenir).

Most passenger sized cars should make a three point turn (or K turn or Y turn) in most roads. The three point turn is most efficient on most streets because of it’s narrowness; at the beginning you turn towards the curb then reverse (instead of driving straight ahead), and after that drive straight ahead towards the first curb (instead of returning).

Le site web n’dit pas le meilleur conseil : Conduisez pas les voitures énormes dans les vieilles villes ! Cette photo racontes l’histoire de notre quartier à Aix. Imaginez la même rue a nuit, avec beaucoup de gens, beaucoup de chiens et, oui, même beaucoup de voitures. Puis imaginez vous que je conduit la voiture énorme la!

The web site didn’t say the best advice: Don’t drive giant cars in old cities. This photo tells the story of our neighborhood in Aix. Imagine the same street at night, with many people, many dogs, and yes, even many cars. Now imagine me driving the giant car there.


(the arrow indicates the turn onto our street)

Leçon 3, L’Autoroute – The Autoroute

L’autoroute en France est la même que « freeway » aux Etats Unis. Mais en France, la plupart d’autoroutes ont le Péage. De Lyon à Aix, nous avons payee envers 25 euro pour la privilège de conduire sur le célèbre A6, «l’autoroute du soleil ». C’est semble tres cher, ce vrais, mais sans congestion, la route était tres efficace pour nous, et la plus vites route entre les villes.

The Autoroute in France is the same as the “freeway” in the US. But in France, most of the autoroutes have pay stations. From Lyon to Aix, we paid almost 25 euros for the privilege of driving on the famous A6 “Route of the Sun”. This seems very expensive, true, but in light traffic, the route was very efficient for us, and the fastest way between cities.


Entre les sorties c’est quelquefois tres longs, mais il y a beaucoup d’Aires (aka « rest stop ») en route ou on peu utiliser les toilettes, mange le dejeuner ou snack au restaurant ou cafeteria, visite le petite marche ou meme se douche ou fait une petite sieste. D’habitude l’aires ont monuments sur place ou grand vues de chateaux ou d’autres sites celebres. Nous avons arretees a l’Aire du Mornas, juste avant d’arriver à Orange.

Between the exits it is sometimes very far, but there are many rest stops along the way where one can use the bathroom, eat lunch or snack at a restaurant or cafeteria, visit a little market or even shower or take a little nap. Usually the rest stops have monuments nearby or great views of a chateaus or some other famous sight. We stopped at l’Aire du Mornas (the rest stop at Mornas) just before arriving in Orange.


Leçon 4, Deuxdeuche

Deuxdeuche est le surnom pour le Citroën 2CV qui est la voiture stereotypique de la France.

Deudeuche is the nickname for the Citroën 2CV that is the stereotypical car of France.


Selon Wikipedia:

“Citroën unveiled the 2CV (Deux-Chevaux,literally “two horses”, initially only 12 HP) at the Paris Salon in 1948. The car became a bestseller, achieving the designer’s aim of providing rural French people with a motorized alternative to the horse. This car remained in production, with only minor changes, until 1990 and was a common sight on French roads until recently”

Comme la Vespa, la Mustang, et autres types de voitures classiques, il y a beaucoup de gens qui reste consacrés à Deuxdeuche

Like the Vespa, the Mustang, and other classic cars, there are many people who remain dedicated to Deuxdeuche.


Leçon 5, La Congestion – Traffic

Si on a la voiture dans la ville, on doit juste la laisse au parking. Le première jour a Lyon, je pensais que je pourrai conduire de Vieux Lyon à Lyon Part Dieu de retrouver Jeanne après la long vol. La distance est quelques kilomètres, la route plutôt directe, et le parking au Vieux Ville très cher. Bing a prévenu 11 minutes pour le voyage. Alors, j’ai conduis a travers Lyon. Je me suis trompée. Apres 60 minutes en voiture et 20 textes nous avons rencontrées enfin. Hier, a Marseilles, nous avons laissée la voiture énorme au parking souterrain au Bourse Centre, et pri la bus. Le conducteur a naviguée la congestion, est nous avons eu une grande conversation avec un Marseillais (un homme en retraite), qui devrait notre guide pour la basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. C’etait la meilleur choix.

If you have a car in the citty, you should just park it. The first day in Lyon, I thought that I would drive from Old Lyon to Lyon Part Dieu to pick up Jeanne after her long flight. The distance is only a few kilometers, the route pretty direct, and parking in the old city was very expensive. Bing predicted it would be an 11 minute voyage. So, I drove across Lyon. I made a mistake. After 60 minutes in the car and 20 text messages we finally met up. Yesterday in Marseilles, we left our giant car in underground parking at the stock exchange and took the bus. The driver navigated the traffic (shown below), and we had a great conversation with a local retiree who became our guide for the basilica Notre Dame de la Garde. It was a better choice.



Leçon 6, Mon Cher Pierre

Pierre et moi nous sommes rencontrés à l’Europcar à Mably. Et depuis, nous sommes le meilleur d’amis – au moins le meilleur ce soit possible entre une femme et un appareil électronique. Si vous ne pas encore déduire, mon amie Jeanne (qui est humaine) est le meilleur ami, et Pierre est notre GPS. Il est très poli, n’est jamais en colère si je ne lui écoutée pas, et toujours, il dirige nous a nos destinations. Je ne sais pas comme je serais roulé avec confiance à tous les petits villages, châteaux, même les grandes villes, sans Pierre. Merci beaucoup, mon ami.

Pierre and I met at Europcar in Mably. Since then, we are the best of friends – at least the best possible between a woman and a device. If you haven’t guessed already, my friend Jeanne (who is human) is the real best friend, and Pierre is our GPS. He is very polite, never gets angry if I don’t listen to him, and always gets us where we are going. I don’t know how I would drive with confidence to all the little villages, chateaus, even the big cities, without Pierre. Thanks a lot, my friend!



 November, Aix-en-Provence

After an almost comically stereotypical arrival in Aix this evening which I’ll explain later, it is at last time to catch up on the news from France. I hope to catch up in French later on for friends following from l’Ecole.

Lyon is an amazing city with amazing architecture, stunning views of the hills and rivers, and a thriving cultural and commercial life – at least as much as we could experience due to holiday schedules. My friend, Jeanne Parson, flew in from the bay area on Saturday afternoon and we set off on our adventure in Lyon, speaking French as much as possible.

The apartment we stayed in was located on Petite rue Tramassac – in Vieux (old, very old) Lyon. We mounted a spiral staircase to the 3rd French floor (that’s fourth for you and me) and arrived at our stylish pied-a-terre with the bones of a Renaissance garret.

Au Revoir Notre Appartement

We spent the better part of the time walking and taking in the sights, scenery and history of the city. Central Lyon is situated between two rivers (actually one river and one ‘fleuve’ if you want to get technical) the Saone, and the amazing Rhone. That part of town is called ‘presque’il’ or almost island as some of you may know from Jeanne’s email yesterday. Anyhow, there’s a lot of bridges in this town and we crossed several of them.

Over the past few days we have taken in beaucoup de views of fountains, churches, place Bellecoure, place Terreaux, place d’Ambert, and other “places”….

Place Terreaux

We learned a little about silk making and decoration

Atelier de SoieAtelier de Soie

And took in the view from hill in front of Notre Dame de Fourviere

Basilisque Fourviere

It was amazing

Heights View - Fourviere

the interior of the basilica, jaw-dropping

Basilisque Fourviere

We spent time in the history museum of Lyon – did you know that Lyon produced major innovators like Lumiere (modern photography), Ampere (modern electricity), Jacquard (silk and textiles), and others in the field of veterinary medicine and human vaccines? Lyon also produced Guignol and generated a legacy of puppetry and marionette theatre in France.

Gadagne - Vieux Lyon

On Monday, with Halloween evident in the shops and streets in Lyon, (yes, it’s true), we took the relatively long walk from our spot on the right bank of the Saone

View across the Saone towards le "presqu'il" (almost island)

And crossed the amazing Rhone river.

Rhone River

(The weather was insanely gorgeous, ne c’est pas? Si!)

Arriving at the Parc Tete D’Or with public gardens, a huge lake

Parc Tete D'Or

and ….


giraffes? Mais, oui!

Parc Tete D'Or





There’s more to tell about Lyon but will save for stories to share when I return. One last note. We met an artist (originally from Baghdad) on Sunday morning at the outdoor market along the Quai du Saone who commented that Lyon was nice but not “Le Capitol”. True, it’s not Paris. Still, as a center for textiles, medicine, technology, food, innovations of all kinds, a unique landscape and a rich cultural history, Lyon has tons to offer.




Notre petite soiree–our little party

28 Octobre, Riorges

Ce soir nous avons fêtés la fin de la cours de cuisine et pour la plupart de nous, la fin de nos courses de la belle langue française ici à l’Ecole Trois Ponts. Pour le soirée, les étudiants de cuisine ont préparés les petites et très élégantes hors d’œuvres servi sur la belle table.

Hors d'Oeuvres - Par les etudiants de Cuisine   Plus d'hors d'oeuvres

La représentative des professeurs était la toujours élégante Geneviève. Comme d’habitude, Mickael, notre chef était là, accueillant tous les mondes dans sa cuisine.

Chef MikaelProf Genevieve

René, le directeur de l’école, a apporté une très fine bouteille du Champagne à l’honneur de l’occasion. Terry, un étudiant d’Australie qui a fait de visite l’école pour la septième fois, a eu l’honneur d’ouvrir la Champagne. Nous avons portes les toasts à la bonne semaine qui a passé, et à notre santé, bonnes voyages, et que notre progrès de parler française va continuer.

Terry a l'honneurGenevieve et Moi

Il y avait aussi une petite ceremonie.

Graduation Ceremony

Kiss Kiss

C’était une heureuse occasion, mais un peu triste aussi. Tous les expériences ici étaient plus que ce qui j’avais espéré. Je souhaite que je puisse rester ici une semaine plus. Je sais déjà que je voudrais revenir. Le staff et les étudiants étaient tous agréables. Et bien que nous étudiions beaucoup chaque jour, notre temps ensemble etaient pleine d’amusement. J’ai appris une bonne nouvelle expression lorsque j’écoutais d’une de mes podcastsla semaine dernière. C’est à-propos de l’atmosphère à l’école cette semaine, je pense. La courant était bien passe entre nous.

Notre Bonne Groupe

J’espéré que nous pouvons rejoindre à l’avenir, peut être ici.

Merci à René, Valérie, Mickael, Geneviève, Adeline, Nadia, et Terry aussi. Vous êtes superbes! A tous les autres étudiants – bonne voyages, bons continuations des études, et bon sante !

A bientôt tous les mondes.


Tonight we celebrated the end of the cooking course and for most of us, the end of our French language studies at L’Ecole Trois Ponts. For our soiree, the cooking students prepared beautiful little appetizers laid out beautifully on the serving table.

Representing the teachers was the always stylish Genevieve. As usual, Mikael our chef was there welcoming everyone in his kitchen.

Rene, the director of the school, brought a very fine bottle of Champagne in honor of the occasion and Terry, an Australian student who visited the school for the 7th time, had the honor of opening the Champagne. We also had a little ceremony.

We toasted a great week, our health, wished each other bon voyage and that we would continue to progress in our French speaking ability.

Tonight we celebrated the end of the cooking class and for the better part of the group, the end of our studies in the beautiful French language.

It was a happy occasion, but a little sad also. All the experiences here were more than I had hoped for. I wish that I could stay here another week. I already know that I want to come again. And although we study a lot each day, our time together is really fun. I learned a neat expression while listening to one of my language podcasts last week. It’s a good description of the atmosphere here. Literally – the current passed well between us – or more simply, we really got along.

I hope that we can meet again in the future, perhaps here.

Thank you René, Valérie, Mikael, Geneviève, Adeline, Nadia, and Terry too. To all the other students, smooth and safe journeys, continuation of your studies and good health!

See you soon everyone.

Le Tour de Vin (in English)

My loyal readers know that I have already written a bit about my experience with wine in France, which is to say, I don’t have much experience, but the wine was good and the tastings quite interesting.

Wednesday was once again the day for students to kick back in the afternoon. My primary activity was an exhilarating if not death-defying bike ride around Riorges, Roanne and environs (for another story), but there was another activity early evening before dinner. The students this had week decided against the local village excursion and opted instead for a French wine course and tasting session. There were three students strongly opting for the course so I helped out by joining the required foursome. The two-hour course held here at the school in one of the classrooms. I won’t bore you with the technical details of the class, but this experience was fun and on my French
wine tour so far, the people have turned out to be interesting as well.

The other students in the class included two directors of finance for global companies one working in Paris, the other in Geneva. The last student was a retiree from Australia with a gourmet streak and long experience with French language and wine. Our instructor was Gerard Willenbucher, oenologist and professor of wine (link to his blog here). Gerard studies and teaches the art of winemaking, and we recently sampled one of his roses as an aperitif on Sunday night when the new students arrived. If there is such a thing, this guy is a true wine geek. The art has been in his family on his mother’s side since the mid 1800’s but he didn’t have any of the pretension of the Burgundy
vintners I had the privilege to meet. Gerard was a regular guy with dirty hands
and a passion for wine. Gerard’s son, Vincent, is a local vintner of the Cote
Roannais, at age 32 is quite well-known around here.

Gerard doesn’t speak English and taught the course entirely in French (normal for activities here at L’Ecole).  He used many technical terms relating to the art and science of wine, drew helpful pictures as well, and for the first 90 minutes we didn’t drink any alcohol, so comprehension was pretty high among the group. We learned about French winemaking in general, the history and the economics included. And we focused on three regions – Champagne, Bourgogne and Bordeaux. I used some of my knowledge gained in Puligny and Aloxe-Cortone to help with some of the translation. After the explanation for each region, we sampled a very good bottle from the same origin.

Pommard from Burgundy - been there, tasted that 🙂

This was not like the winemaker’s lunch which was very long and interspersed with six courses of fine gastronomy. It was five people drinking a bottle “gadammit”. At 64 inches and let’s say a hundred some-odd pounds, I was not about to have an even split with les beaux, fortes hommes in the class. As for the wine, I wanted to get a good taste of these bad boys, so I had my share. I know my limit, but let’s just say that for me, and really for everyone who shared our leftover Grand Cru, dinner was very relaxed afterwards.

First Pour - Champagne

First Pour - Champagne Laurent Perrier

Off to another fine dinner at l’Ecoole. I plan to write a new French post with tales of biking and wine-tasting later on. For now, a toute a l’heures.

Vive le weekend

24 Octobre, Riorges

Après une semaine pleine d’indécision, j’ai décidé Vendredi après midi que Clermont-Ferrand serait la destination pour le weekend excursion. C’est le ville principal de la région Auvergne et le meilleur point de départ pour visiter le sommet de Puy-de-Dôme. Je suis tellement reconnaisante. J’ai eu de la chance ! Le weekend Samedi et Dimanche le temps était très agréable, non, plus que ça, magnifique, et mes projets se sont passés parfaitement.

Après avoir retrouvé le voiture d’Europcar (‘aka’ la voiture la plus énorme…une autre histoire), j’ai quitté Riorges à dix heure et demi. L’excursion à travers le paysage Roannais était exceptionnel – les couleurs d’automne, les vaches blanches, et le brouillard épais (even I had to look that one up). Et, tout ça, avant d’arriver à l’Autoroute !

En arrivant à Clermont-Ferrand, 80 minutes plus tard, j’ai visité le quartier historique des Templiers dans lequel le Musée d’Art Roger Quillot est situé. Le quartier était pratiquement vide, mais charmant. Et la collection au musée raconte une bonne histoire de Clermont via art et artefacts.

Clermont-Ferrand Historic Quarter and MARQ

Après le déjeuner et une petite visite au centre avec l’église énorme, « La Cathédrale Noire », j’ai pri la direction de Chamalieres où j’ai réservé une bonne chambre à Le Radio. Ma chambre était parfait ! Elle donne sur la ville avec la grande cathédrale au centre. Là, j’ai changé mes vêtements, laissè les bagages et après ça j’ai conduit en bas du Puy-de-Dôme.

View from Le Radio onto la Cathedrale Noir

La route de Chamalieres m’a offert beaucoup de belles vues et j’ai souri tout le trajet. Il fait tellement beau, même les vaches blanches souriaient Smile

Puy-de-Dome la basse

Pour monter le puy, c’est nécessaire suivre le « Chemin de Muletiers ». Ce n’est pas une petite ballade ; il y a des « switchbacks » (les virages) et la côte est quelquefois sévère. Mais juste après chaque virage, une autre vue. Et chaque nouvelle vue est meilleure que la dernière. Sans aucun doute ça vaut le peine.

Hangliders at Puy-de-Dome   Moi aussi

Plus tard, j’ai fêté dans la grand restaurant à Le Radio. Le repas était superb, et un peu cher aussi, mais ça, aussi, était valait le peine.

Hotel Le Radio at Chamalieres