Archive for November, 2007

fotos, france, tout ça…

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I thought I linked last night to my “france” set on flickr, but apparently I didn’t… it is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erleichda/sets/72157603311042965/

Some photos of/in Blois:

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From the steps in the center of town, named after someone named Denis Papin.

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The cathedral, which has very pretty modernist (?) stained glass windows.

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La Loire in the evening light.

The young expat community (i.e. Robin’s friends):

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(cherry lambic is tasty)

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Le lendemain matin, after a frost.

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Robin saw me off at the train station with her bright yellow bike.

…And since then:

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The view of the Seine, and Paris in the distance, from the park in St-Germain-en-Laye.

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My hosts, Sylvain and Liliane, dans le jardin at the Rodin Museum in Paris this morning.

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My favorite thing about museums is getting to see other people interacting with art. I liked the Rodin Museum also because not everything is presented against a plain white background (I mean, some of it is in the garden, like so). More on this later on in this entry…

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Is that hot or what? I think it was a model for part of Rodin’s chef-d’oeuvre, “La Porte de l’Infer,” but I already knew that all the interesting, sexy people are going to hell or are there already…

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Saw this on my way to the Centre Pompidou after lunch, when we went our separate ways for the afternoon.

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The square outside the Centre Pompidou, from the escalators inside.

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This installation was part of a temporary exhibit and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to take this photo, but it was so cool and I couldn’t resist. It was called “Forest Without Leaves,” I think.

Okay. So. Museums. Museums are cool. Sometimes by virtue of seeing a painting in real life, in real size, you see something new or different that it’s impossible or difficult to see in a reproduction. Sometimes you see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise even as a reproduction ’cause you wouldn’t have thought to look. Or you’re not the type to look at art (especially modern and contemporary art) in books and such, but you go to museums anyway for the chic cultural experience, and you see something and have some epiphany, big or small, and you are changed by the experience. Inspired. Whatever. All this is REALLY GOOD.

But sometimes, especially if you are pretty well-educated and cultured and all that, or maybe if you’re particularly uneducated and have no idea how to look at what you’re seeing or no real interest in looking at it to begin with, museums can be SO BORING. That’s why I think museums should be more like theatre. Curators should be like directors… I mean, they kind of are already–they put works of art next to each other in a way that allows them to inform each other, be in dialogue with each other, complement each other, look awesome, whatever. But if directing was just putting pretty actors next to each other, theatre would be pretty boring too. It doesn’t HAVE to be, of course, and the actors are often powerful and beautiful, but even the best script can be improved by artful use of set, lighting, costumes, etc. And Shakespeare has been redone in such a myriad of ways because each production tries (and ocassionally even manages) to illuminate some new aspect of the work. So why boring white walls in museums? Maybe visual artists are afraid of people seeing their art in a context not precisely of their choosing, and so for simplicity’s sake that context has been frightfully standardized…

In conclusion, well, I heart installation art, and also I like museums and theatre both for the interaction of art and audience one finds in those media. Contemporary art museums are especially good for this because they tend to include works that are more interactive. So today I took pictures of people in the museum. Yeah.

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No people in this one, but shadows… and I love Alexander Calder’s work.

Oh, and I also found this hilarious series of photos by Man Ray titled “Mr. and Mrs. Woodman”… see here, here and here (kinda not work safe). Reminded me that I’d meant to mention the strangest room at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, which was full of erotic sketches more or less contemporary with his blue period. They were definitely explicit and I think most of them had pretty predictable titles, but my favorite was this picture of a couple having oral sex, with their cat on the bed, and the title was “two figures and a cat.” Heh.

I was actually kind of rushed by the end of my visit because I told L and S that I would be back in St-Germain by 7 or 7:30, and I wanted to see the lights on the Champs-Elysee before I headed back:

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il faut cultiver notre jardin

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Salut mes amis,
I am behind on this blog but feeling lazy about it right now, so here is a bullet-point update:

  • have passed the halfway point of this trip. Was feeling pretty homesick for a week or so, am (just) now (just) kind of tired. I’ve been staying with various people for a week now, and it’s been lovely not having to pay for a bed and all that, but I actually kind of miss hostels. Being a guest is tiring even when your hosts are friends.
  • I have started acknowledging that I am not going to get to all the places I want to see, and that the Swiss Alps and Copenhagen and places like that are not going to be fantastic in December, and Greece will be hard to get to… and so I am crossing them off this (not literal) list and adding them to the list of things I will do/see when I do this again. ‘Cause I will do it again. In the spring. With a traveling partner. And again. Before or after Thailand, Nepal, India, the rest of the world, all of the United States I haven’t seen…
  • also I hella miss Portland.
  • anyway Bonnie, Scott and I spent a day visiting Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco. Villefranche-sur-Mer is a really, really cute coastal town with a hidden covered street and a chapel decorated by Jean Cocteau which was unfortunately closed when we were there. Monaco looks like it should all be in miniature. There are pictures up on flickr. Here, I’ll share some of my favorites and you can go look at the rest if you’re interested.

    Villefranche-sur-Mer…

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    (strangers at the train station)

    Monaco…

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    (yeah, so I miss my boyfriend)

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  • left Grasse the next day for Blois, where I spent a night on the floor of two assistant friends of Robin’s who piled blankets and blankets and more blankets on top of me; it was wonderful. Also Robin and I went out for this amazing chocolat chaud that’s kind of like hot pudding or custard. SO GOOD. (Portlanders, Robin says the gelato place across from Powell’s has stuff like it in the winter… il faut qu’on va quand je suis encore là.)
  • took the train to Amboise the next day, where I visited the chateau (Clos-Lucé) where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last three years. It was kind of kitschy–for example, this model of his “helicopter” invention, turned kids’ play structure in the accompanying park (you could make it spin, but unfortunately, no lift-off)–

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    Amboise was mostly a totally abandoned tourist town, but it was pretty, especially the Loire when I first got there (at 9ish)…

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  • in the evening Robin and I went out for crepes, savory and sweet. Last night we got Chinese food and I ate dim sum, which was great.
  • yesterday I mostly just got things done that I needed to get done–I slept late, bought face wash and toothpaste, bought a belt (mine broke in Granada), bought a pair of cute sneakers (I need to write a eulogy post for my poor, poor boots), drank tea and ate a pain au chocolat, read Candide in the cozy local library.
  • I finished L’Alchimiste but kept thinking about Candide and how “il faut cultiver notre jardin,” so now I’m rereading that (ouais, en français). More if I weren’t feeling so tired and scrambled…
  • last night the power was out in the area surrounding Robin’s home (about a half hour’s walk from the center of Blois). It was creepy as we walked, but then it became quiet, dark and beautiful. We could see the stars.
  • Now I am staying in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (at the end of an RER line from Paris) with some old friends of my paternal grandparents (my grandfather worked for Exxon and worked all over the world, but I think he met this couple when they were living in the states and the husband was also working for Exxon). They are very nice and I have already met five of their grandchildren, including two amazing twin boys who are learning how to read right now (can you imagine learning how to read quand votre langue looks like français??? Mon dieu!!!). Also, beacoup des bisous! I want to start habitually kissing my friends in greeting when I get home.
  • tomorrow we’re going into Paris and on Friday I’m going to Koeln. I am really excited for it to be December because all of Europe is suddenly going to be lit up like a Christmas tree. At least, here in France they have been hanging lights all month but have yet to plug them in. Plus, Brook says there are six Christmas markets in Koeln alone.
  • “je suis voyageuse” (but currently stationary in grasse)

    Friday, November 23rd, 2007

    Grasse is lovely.


    My fabulous hosts making the shape of France with their hands, yo.


    I did laundry and hung it up to dry comme ze French do!


    My fantastic hostess with tasty things for dinner.


    And limoncello for dessert!

    This evening a friend of Bonnie’s, another English (language) assistant, was throwing a Thanksgiving dinner party kind of thing, which they asked if I could come to. She said yes, and I/we decided to make cookies for it, and ’cause I miss baking cookies. So we walked to the grocery store…

    The cookies turned out tasty but not exactly as planned, in that we couldn’t find brown sugar or chocolate chips (we used regular sugar and M&Ms instead) and we weren’t sure if the little packets of “poudre à lever” with pictures of smiling muffins on them actually contained baking powder (as opposed to baking soda or something else). Bonnie and Scott do have standard measuring cups and spoons, but their oven doesn’t even have the temperature in Celsius–just numbers 1 through 10, so there was a little guesstimating there. Then the cookies started to brown on the TOP before the edges, and remained pretty lightly-backed on the bottom even when we pulled them out. But they were a hit anyway, and I ended up writing out my recipe for the girl who threw the party (Marianne. Or Mary-Anne, or Marian, or je ne sais pas).

    She lives just outside Cannes, so we took two buses there and then ran into another group of English-speaking young people going the same place. There were SO MANY PEOPLE THERE! English assistants, some of whom were English and Scottish, Italian assistants, a Spanish assistant, a German assistant, French people, and plenty of people I never actually talked to because there were so many people! And Marianne had made SO MUCH FOOD! I ate so much chips and salsa (oh my goodness, I had no idea I’d been missing chips and salsa) before dinner was even served that I got pretty quickly to that Thanksgiving “I can’t eat another bite; I probably can’t even MOVE” point.

    While the food was for the most part traditional Thanksgiving fare (with guinea fowl instead of turkey, whole turkeys being difficult to find in France), the meal itself was kind of chaotic (lots of people in a small French house) and there was also lots of wine and baguettes. I tried to get people to do the thing where you go around and say something you’re thankful for, and it kind of worked, but people mostly said “je suis heureuse d’etre ici avec vous tous” and such, which, I guess, probably can’t be stated enough, so okay, that’s cool.

    People assumed I was an assistant as well, but when asked I said “je suis voyageuse,” which was fun to remind myself of.

    One girl told me she was sure, based on looking at me, that I was French, or maybe German or English–in any case European–because of my piercings and the way I was dressed (I was mostly wearing black, but with lavender knee socks and my beat-to-shit turquoise boots, and she commented on the colors and the boots). I thought that was kind of cool, and it made me feel better about not being super-elegant like so many European women I see on the street.

    Pumpkin pie for dessert:


    Meta-photo! (Bonnie and Scott are big nerds, which is really refreshing! I miss my geeky Portland friends…)

    barcelona photos!

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2007


    From the train, somewhere in Spain…


    The first picture I took in Barcelona. ‘Cause. Dude. This city!! Even the lampposts!!!


    Plaça Catalunya.


    La Rambla of the Little Birds


    Rick Steves told me about this–an ancient Roman road lined with ancient Roman tombs. It was off a random pathway from La Rambla, and apparently was discovered by some company building an apartment complex. They were going to just ignore it and keep building, but local apartment-dwellers blew the whistle on them. To which I say, yay, because this is awesome.


    Back on La Rambla. One of many florists’ kiosks.


    La Boqueria, which I loved!


    Miró did this mosaic, about halfway down La Rambla.


    In a little square off La Rambla.


    Apparently these lampposts (there are two of them in the square) were Gaudí’s first public works. (Definitely not as cool as his later stuff…)

    Some “living statues” on La Rambla–


    Hobos in Spain have strollers instead of shopping carts.


    At the base of the big statue of Columbus at the end of La Rambla.


    La Rambla del Mar, which leads to a big modern mall.


    There were a couple of these dudes floating in the harbor. They’re holding stars behind their backs.


    Looking back towards the city proper.


    I would like to live in this particular world.


    Casa Batlló, down the street from my hostel, in the evening.


    SO COOL. Peter told me this building is based on the story of George and the Dragon, which is why it looks vaguely skeletal–the dragon built his lair out of the bones of knights he’d killed, and all that.


    The staircase in my hostel.


    On the way up Montjuic.


    View of the city from the top.


    The castle on Montjuic, home of the military museum (which I didn’t visit).


    Saw lots of this in Spain.


    More my style.


    Outside the Miró museum.

    La Sagrada Familia… if I try to write about these pictures, I will turn into a little stuttering puddle of understatement. So, uh, here’s some totally inadequate photos–


    And one kind of silly photo of me being a giant looking into a plaster model in the museum.

    Parc Guell!–


    Just outside the entrance.


    That banner was obviously placed in such a way that English-speaking tourists wandering Parc Guell would see it. Kinda funny/interesting. Does that metaphor even translate, I wonder?


    View of the city and the Mediterranean from the park.


    Lots of people selling cheap jewelry, some genuine artists.


    The benches are supposed to be ergonomic (Gaudí pioneered that trend, I think) and are surprisingly comfy.

    Casa Milà/La Pedrera–


    The crazy roof terrace.


    This might be my favorite photo I took in Barcelona. Yup, that’s la Sagrada Familia in the distance.


    Looking down into the courtyard.


    I took this picture for my mom, who collects teapots. It’s the only picture I took inside the apartment, which, while pretty, was much less remarkable than the exterior of the building.

    And here’s a huge amount of pictures from just walking around Barcelona–


    Even the lampposts…


    This was my lunch on my last day in Barcelona. The juice was dragonfruit and pineapple. I bought it for the color and because I had no idea what dragonfruit was (and I can’t remember the Spanish–or Catalan, who knows–word for it, which started, I think, with a P). The bowl of fruit had a slice of dragonfruit in it, but it tasted surprisingly bland. The juice was delicious, though.


    Along the Mediterranean.


    Where I ate my lunch. Please ignore my finger over the lens and pretend it’s artsy vignetting.

    And with that, I am caught up.

    paris photos

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2007


    Sacre Coeur at night. Si joli.


    Jesus, the cat I made friends with at the hostel.

    The Christmas window displays at the Galleries Lafayette department store were nuts! You have to imagine these as animatronic and with accompanying tinny music. Also, I kinda like the quality that the reflections give these pictures.


    At the Tuileries.


    The Louvre.


    This part of the fountains was empty, which made for cool reflections.


    Vélib!!


    We went to Notre Dame. Devin was impressed. I didn’t take any pictures because eighty million better pictures have already been taken. (You will notice that this argument had no effect on me in Barcelona, however…)


    Yow. That guy is… stuck.

    Then we went to the train station and hugged goodbye and off I went to Barcelona!

    belgium photos

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

    Antwerp


    We just found awesome playgrounds everywhere. This one was, like, explorer themed. There was a jeep with a flat tire, jungle palm trees, buried treasure, and this toy microscope! Unfortunately, it did not actually magnify.


    Also this sweet rope jungle gym.


    This was on the side of our train to Brussels. Strawberry + tooth = best friends forever?

    Brussels


    The beautiful square near the train station. It was full of people.


    There were tons of groups of little kids around. We never really figured out if it was a special school day or what, though. At one point some of them asked us if we had something on the bottom of our shoe, like on a treasure hunt–they had to find people with something specific on their shoes?? I dunno.


    Pretty much my reaction to Brussels.


    YUM


    Devin covered in powdered sugar.


    Apparently this fountain is famous. I was more amused by this Russian couple trying to take their own picture in front of it. (Devin asked, in Russian, if they’d like him to take their picture, but they said no, probably because his hands were covered in chocolate and waffle.)


    This is where Brussels started to be beautiful yet, uh, gritty.


    I REALLY should’ve taken a picture of the explanatory placard about this sculpture. It’s supposed to be a critique of Christianity or something. How ridiculous does it look in front of that grand old building?? Very ridiculous. I admire it for its sheer ridiculousness.


    The detail on this carved wood… argh what’s the word!… in Brussel’s handsome cathedral was pretty amazing.


    Back near the train station and onwards to France! Nope, I did not get a picture of the sketchy dude in a sketchy ski mask in the sketchy park.

    den haag photos

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

    At loooong last, photos from the Hague–


    Lauren and Caitlin at the Thai restaurant where we at dinner.


    Pretty courtyard at night. The city was full of stuff like this.


    We found this umbrella turned inside-out on the street. Here’s Devin being carried away…!


    What do Reedies do when they get together? Exchange backrubs. Duh.


    Caitlin and Lauren are both dancers (which is why they were in Den Haag–for the Holland Dance Festival). Caitlin just got her first pair of pointe shoes (is that how you spell it?) and Lauren gave her a mini-lesson in the hotel room.


    Reading Asterix in bed. (I think it was Asterix in Great Britain…)


    On our walk the next morning. The hotel we were at had a big basket of free apples in the lobby. This park went on and on and on and on… on our way back we saw a map that suggested it went all the way to Rotterdam!


    Devinmonkey in his natural habitat.


    A dad and his kid out for a ride. Aww, the Netherlands…

    And then we found this TOTALLY AWESOME playground thing!–


    Devin’s the king of the castle.


    This zipline was so cool.


    This kinda backfired amusingly on him when he got to the other end and started back in the other direction.


    I was upside-down when I took this picture…


    Caitlin takes the throne.


    To complete our little kid morning, we ate our nutella sandwiches.


    Back in town–I liked this picture of things that aren’t allowed in Den Haag.

    I think it was somewhere in here that we went to the torture museum, which is worth mentioning. It was in an old prison and included a rack thing that was used for executions–they laid you out on it and used a club to break all of your bones (there were dips underneath your arms and legs so your bones would break easily) before dealing the fatal blow to your sternum and heart. We were a little shakey about it for the next few hours. Pretty interesting though!


    We walked past this random fashion show outside a mall.


    This was on a poster for a dance company outside one of the venues that was hosting the Holland Dance Festival… but how cool is that image?? I predict that Kati will get a big kick out of this picture.


    Dan Haag is such a cool-lookin’ city.

    In the early evening we took the tram to the beach–


    On a little path up a hill to a mysterious tower on the other side of the street from the beach… that’s the city behind Caitlin there.


    At the top–Devin can show you the world (seriously, he was singing).


    We look high already and the joint isn’t even lit yet.


    Caitlin dances while I struggle to light it. It was very very windy.


    That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.


    Devin confronts the ocean.


    The ocean wins; Devin runs away.


    How badass is this guy!? He’s biking home from the beach in a wetsuit with his boogie board! In November!


    This is vla. Vla is kinda like pudding, except it comes in a carton, and, according to the Canadian woman who picked us up in Amsterdam, it’s healthier than pudding because it has more milk. Vla is awesome. In part because it is called “vla.”


    Waiting to see if we’d get tickets to the dance concert we wanted to see. (We did–the Francesca Harper Project–pretty cool.)


    And the next morning, on a very early train to Belgium. Whew!

    good times and walls (the long journey to grasse, france)

    Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

    So I’ve finally made it to the French Riviera–I’m in Grasse at Bonnie and Scott’s cute little apartment on a hill. Bonnie is my friend from summer camp (I’ve known her since we were 10 or so, but hadn’t seen her in 5 or 6 years) and Scott is her fiancé. Getting here was a saga, but as Bonnie pointed out, being inconvenienced by a strike is part of the French experience.

    On Tuesday morning I went to the train station in Barcelona and asked for a reservation for the train to Montpellier. The guy behind the counter said, “no train. There is a strike.” “No trains to anywhere else in France?” I asked hopefully. “No trains. Go to the Estacio del Noord, there are buses.”

    So I paid almost 30 euros to sit on a bus for 6 hours to Montpellier, because damn it Spain, I’m getting out if it kills me (and it’s looking at that point like it just might). There was a very frazzled phone call to my parents somewhere in here. The past couple days have been hard. When I got to Montpellier, the tram I took to the train station (with the help of a Spanish [I think], French-speaking rasta man named Alex) was covered in this bright floral pattern, and the seats inside were the same floral pattern in muted monochrome red. Later I saw a bunch of trams that were blue with white birds, so I think the pattern varies by line. Mostly, though, I spent my time in Montpellier sitting in the train station, waiting for the train to Marseille (as far east as I was gonna manage to get that night) and feeling stubborn. I wrote in my journal:

    “Remember how when I was first planning this trip, one of my reasons for it was that on every other trip I’ve taken, alone or not, I’ve been headed home about when I’ve started to get lonely and homesick, and so on this trip I wanted to get past that point and come out on the other side and see what was there? Well, the last few days I’ve been there… so far I haven’t quite figured out whether I need to tunnel through, find the doorknob, leap across, or what, if you know what I mean. It’s still a nice view from here, when I can appreciate it. I’m like a little kid next to a wall that’s just a little bit taller than me, jumping up and down to catch glimpses of the other side. I gotta grow up a little. And I gotta stop extending metaphors to ridiculous lengths.

    “…I suspect that there is really nothing beyond the wall except good times and then another wall, good times and walls. I think that probably has nothing to do with traveling, except insofar as traveling is making literal the metaphor of life as a journey…”

    I got to Marseille after dark. I’d asked my parents to look up cheap rooms for me, and I had the address of a place that would’ve cost me 30 euros or so, but when I finally found a map of the city, that address was way the fuck on the other side of town. I walked around for awhile looking for someplace that looked clean and cheap, until everywhere around me felt sketchy and my pack felt heavier and heavier and I kept thinking about Landon and Dan’s night in a Marseille gutter (heh). So I backtracked towards the train station and found a clean bed for 60 freakin’ euros, locked myself in the room and succumbed briefly to the temptation to feel sorry for myself. Then I watched some incredibly trashy French television (”incroyable talent!” or something like that) and went to bed.

    In the morning I went to the train station, saw no trains to Nice, walked across the center of town to the port, asked at a tourist info about buses, was told that since the strike is general, there are no buses, either. Bought some groceries (this was a Very Important Step towards feeling better). Walked back to the train station. Took the only picture I took of Marseille:

    Saw that in fact there WAS a train to Nice about four hours hence. Ate some food. Wrote,

    “Basically, I have been doing a really bad job of remembering Lesson Number One of this trip (that is, If It Doesn’t Work Out, Do Something Else). I have been terribly stubborn and as a result I have spent a lot of time in train stations and bus stations the past few days…”

    Then I wrote a list of things that have been nice recently:

    –at the station in Montpellier I sat on the platform across from a French girl and we grinned and shook our heads every time the PA increased the delay on the TGV to Paris by another ten minutes, and we giggled together when they announced that the TGV to Paris scheduled to depart an hour after that first one would depart soon and almost everyone waiting for the first one moved in a flurry to the other platform. (The two trains ended up leaving at almost the same time, I think.)

    –the trams in Montpellier

    –I bought a copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in French (because it didn’t look as trashy as most of the stuff in the train station newsstand, and I’ve heard really mixed reviews of it and was curious) and I’m reading it with no problem.


    (Unforgiving translation: the circulation of trains is very perturbed…)

    In any case, I eventually made it to Nice, where Bonnie and Scott met me at the station and we walked around and saw the ocean and these strange colored people lights (Bonnie said, “it’s kind of the only time it’s appropriate to say ‘colored people’…”)–

    And we ate a very tasty dinner at an Indian restaurant and took the bus to Grasse and they inflated their air mattress for me and today it’s raining, which is kind of nice, really, and I’ve just uploaded eighty bazillion pictures, which will all show up here eventually.

    Oh, and happy Thanksgiving, my American friends.

    we all need somebody to lean on ($%!& spanish trains!!!)

    Monday, November 19th, 2007

    Tonight was one of those things you’ll (I’ll) laugh about later… so it’s probably a good sign that I am already pretty much grinning uncontrollably to myself about the whole thing. It’s that or lack of sleep or the fact that all I have eaten today is biscuits, peanut butter (food of the travelin’ gods), a few caffeinated peppermints (an attempt at staving off a withdrawal headache) and the last of my ibuprofen stash (’cause it didn’t work; maybe it was a hangover but I only had three drinks last night). Oh, and a mediocre chocolate croissant that this Japanese couple gave me. Hahaha, I’ll get there.

    So last night I went on the tapas tour my hostel offered (by the way, I loved the hostel I stayed at in Granada. If you ever find yourself there, stay at the Oasis Hostel… great location, completely adorable, painfully easy to meet people). Directly before that, at the encouragement of a Kiwi staying in my room, I got around to cashing in my “welcome drink” (mm, sangria) and participated in a game of drinking Jenga (hahaha) just long enough to down it all in a waterfall. Then tapas… in Granada (and other places in Spain) tapas are little free dishes of food you get when you order a beer. Sometimes you can choose them, sometimes you can’t. Anyway, I got a girl named Jessica who speaks Spanish to order for me, and I ended up with some tasty things. Lots of standing around chatting and trying to juggle a mug of beer, a plate of food AND a fork. But I was social and buzzed and having a pretty good time.

    I had to get back to the hostel by midnight, though, to check out, ’cause reception is closed from midnight to 8 and I had an early train to catch this morning. So I left from the second bar before the group was even thinking about heading back. I thought we were pretty close to Gran Via, the main road through town, but I must have headed off in COMPLETELY the wrong direction, because it wasn’t too long before I realized that I was pretty tipsy, alone in the dark in a strange city, pretty much unable to communicate, and COMPLETELY LOST (I did have a map of Granada, but ask me to show it to you sometime.  I do not know how maps this thoroughly bad get published or distributed to clueless tourists such as myself). Add my tendency to be a kinda emotional drunk and some 5000-miles-away stuff I’d rather not write about here… stir…

    I asked directions a few times (”Por favor, Gran Via? Gracias…” &try to follow their gestures) and found my way back with about ten minutes to spare, but it was not a happy thing, you know?

    So today I was SO looking forward to spending my long train ride back to Barcelona staring out the window and zoning out. All went perfectly according to plan until about eleven hours into what my ticket assured me would be a twelve-hour journey, when… I… missed my stop. Everyone was getting off the train but I knew we COULDN’T be in Barcelona yet. There was a Japanese couple still on the train, too, and I asked them if they were going to Barcelona. They were, so I sat back down and figured it’d be cool. The train was just starting to move again when I got up to use the bathroom. Coming towards me was a train official, whose expression when he saw me was not exactly pleased.

    The train official spoke about three words of English, but after a lot of him talking at me/us (I have to admit, it kind of DOES get easier to understand if they just keep talking at you. It also drives me totally nuts), I gathered that we were supposed to get off at the Tarragona station and take a bus to Barcelona-Sants, since the track was being repaired or something in between those stations. Okay, so–in every Spanish train I’ve been on, there’s been a little piece of paper on the seat that said “RENFE INFORMA” (Renfe is the train company) and a bunch of stuff in Spanish. I kinda tried to read the first one and found it irrelevent or incomprehensible or both, and when I saw them afterwards I figured they were all the same. Dumb of me, probably. After this guy explained the bus thing, I picked up the info sheet and… well, damn. If I’d bothered trying to read it, I could’ve figured out that much and, well, been in Barcelona by then.

    So we’re riding this ghost train to god-knows-where and the train official is yammering into his cell phone and gesturing violently and probably making fun of us, and we’re eyeing each other and giggling and exchanging bits of food. Finally he explains (for another, what, half hour??) that we’re going to the Barcelona-San Andreas-something else station, and from there we can take a train to Barcelona-Sants. But then that changes to a taxi, which will be free. The problem is that everytime he explains something and I understand it, he says something else that I don’t understand, and I say “no comprendo” in case it’s important, and then he explains ALL of it all over again. The Japanese couple don’t speak very good English and even less Spanish than me, so I’m the go-between.

    Oh and meanwhile the official is smoking in the middle of the train car (with no smoking signs at either end) and ashing onto the floor, which I find hilarious. Spain seems to be that way with rules in general.

    Long story short, there’s another long exchange about how they’re going to get us a taxi each and they can take us straight to where we’re staying, yes for free, and we get to the station and the Japanese couple each get their picture taken with me because they think the whole thing is hilarious too, and I get to my hostel and the guy at reception recognizes me ’cause I was here, you know, three or four days ago, and they’re playing “Lean On Me,” and I really want some fruit juice but it’s 11 o’clock at night. And, man. Hilarious or what? I am all shakey and weird and emotional. Tomorrow I am going to France. There, I will still be a stupid American, but at least I will be an American who knows how to apologize for her stupidity. (How do you say “sorry” in Spanish?? I just did lots of “gracias, gracias, muchos gracias” tonight.)

    vive la langue français et les silly mittens (granada)

    Sunday, November 18th, 2007

    I discovered that though the shopkeepers around here mostly don’t speak English, they DO speak French! So I had a couple of small friendly conversations that felt so good (plus they thought I was from Canada). One of them suggested I walk up to the Mirador de San Nicolas at night for a great view, so I found my way up there, and he was definitely right:

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    When I got back to the hostel, one of the Americans I met said, “yeah, I’d love to go up there, but I’d never walk up there alone at night.” I think my sense of such things is a little off. Here’s hoping it never gets me in trouble (KNOCK ON WOOD).

    Also, my hands are now warm and anthropomorphized:

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