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

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 http://www.chacha.com… (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!


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.

Getting there is half the fun…

Welcome friends and followers. This is my first ever blog entry written jet-lagged on day 1 of my great French adventure, let’s see how it goes….

12 October 9:30 am Paris Gare de Lyon.

Bonjour tous les mondes. It may be too early to admit defeat,  but at least for now I need to take a break from conquering the French transit  system on my own. So I am sitting on a bench in what appears to be the basement  level (niveau -2) of Paris Gare Lyon station, near the rue de Bercy exit. The  place is undergoing some construction and is a bit confusing to get around en  ce moment.

My flights from the US were smooth and I arrived at Charles  De Gaulle Terminal 1 at 6:45 this morning without a hitch.

Only a few moments  to collect my baggage, clear customs, and a few minutes more to stumble through  the terminal to find the correct shuttle to catch RER B train into central  Paris. If you haven’t taken this train before, it does not resemble in any way  the cushy Disney-esque Heathrow Xpress train. This is a city commuter and worse  for wear. I was protective of my bags and felt only a little guilty taking up a  seat with some of my hand luggage.

The ride to Paris Gare du Nord took a little longer than the  advertised 30 minutes, but it was an interesting exercise in people watching as  the morning commuters came on a few at a time, including two older Frenchmen,  perhaps in their 70’s who “sont bavardes” (chatted) resolutely but yet in a  muttering tone that made it near impossible for me to interpret. Exiting to the  platform it was only steps to the RER D train and a relief that I did not have  to drag my one too many bags too far. But this train was a double-decker; to sit  it was either stairs up or stairs down – so I stood with my bags by the door the  two stops to arrive at Gare de Lyon.

Then my adventure began.

It is overcast and probably in the low 60’s but I am  sweating.  Il y a une petite histoire, here is my little story…

The signs exiting the RER platform at Gare de Lyon include  mention of TGV trains until you get to the gated exit where the ticket is  surrendered. Then the signs only say “main line trains”. Controversy in my head  – do main line trains include TGV trains? I held my breath, dragged my crap  through the turnstile, and followed the signs. Yes, I began to see yellow and  purple ticket exchange machines. The purple machines said “TGV”. I was in the  right place. Or was I?  After debating in my head the possible meaning of the French instructions, I cancelled and started over in English.  Still a quandary, was the meaning of “exchange” tickets the same as in English? I typed in my  confirmation number and my name and was told “you may not exchange your tickets  in this machine”.

Crossing my fingers, a difficult feat considering how much  crap I was hauling, I tried the yellow SNCF machines – voila, my ticket is in  hand! I now must only remember to validate the ticket before I board the train.

Next hurdle, find the baggage lockers. I follow the signs  labeled “Consignes” and follow the arrows downward. Buzzz! Thanks for playing.  That arrow meant walk forward. Back up the escalators and now to the locker  room. I hauled my stuff through the x-ray machine and into the sauna like room  only to find that I could not use the change machine because I only had a 50  Euro bill. The machine accepted only 5, 10 and 20 bills and the lockers  required exact change. I left the lockers, went back to the terminal area,  could not find an ATM (none on this level) was directed to walk outside the  station, walked for two blocks with all my stuff, still no bank. On the bright side, I have  glimpsed Paris in the morning and busy people going where they are going.

So now with my brain on, I just buy a candy bar and get “le monnaie” (the change).

Hiking back to the lockers, storing my bigger bags, now in a full sweat,  intending to explore outside again, I give in. Buying a sandwich, sitting here,  this brings me to now.

Platform assignment for my train is still not up, so going  outside again to get some fresh air and find la face de la Gare –  the front of the station with familiar clock tower.

Obviously I have not conquered France yet. Now on to my train ride and arrival in Beaune, more later mes amies.