25 February 2011

p-e-p

cloudstoday. or was it yesterday? it started above clouds.

and now, your feet are happy to be back on french soil.

it’s another p-e-p day. paris-evreux-paris in less than 24 hours.

unpacking. then immediately packing.

resting. then immediately preparing.

saying hello. then immediately saying goodbye.

arriving. then immediately leaving.

soon, many stories. but right now, sleep.

16 February 2011

post-it

post01post-it notes. stacks of them are always near you. just like your glasses, you can’t function without them.

post02you use them to plan. trips. meals. ideas. otherwise, you’ll forget.

post03your friends make fun of you because you use them on the back of your phone. but for you, digital notes just don’t work the same as pen and paper.

post04important poems are marked for you to read. because finishing all of les fleurs du mal is looking less and less possible. so the favorites are highlighted for you.

post05they’re also used in library books for great quotes and photos you’d like to remember.

post06and they’re also used to keep track of all the people you’ve met. because you’ve got a terrible memory of who is who and how you met them and when you met them and what they do and all sorts of other details.

post07but your favorite? it’s the one you didn’t write. it’s the one that someone else writes and leaves on your wall for you.

07 February 2011

three days, three countries, three waterfalls

esc01ait starts with an ice climbing mix.

esc01for an eight hour road trip.

esc02to trélechamps.

where?

near argentière.

still don’t know where that is…

basically, chamonix.

ahh, okay! i know where that is!

for you, the french always have to list the nearest big city, or otherwise you’re lost.

esc05alet’s back up.

what, exactly, possessed you to sign up for an ice climbing trip…?

there’s only one response. the one response all french people give: pourquoi pas? why not?

but you’ve also got some other motivations.

esc09un. snow-capped mountains do not exist in texas.

esc05deux. if you don’t do it now, you are not sure of your next opportunity to do this. you might be 85 the next time you’re near the alps. 24 and not-super-fit is better than 85 and frail, you tell yourself.

grimptrois. the most important. three girls. three girls who climbed in evreux last year. three girls who tried to get you to climb as well, but you adamantly refused each time. and then, in the summer, when separated and alone in texas, you decided to take up climbing to feel closer to them.

and it turns out… you liked climbing!

they inspire you. and you can’t wait until the day you get to climb together, all four, whether it’s in canada, in france, in texas, or in england.

esc03here, in the alps, you stay in a gite. basically a holiday home. but for you, it is an 18th century wood cabin.

esc04as always, the petit-dejeuner is taken.

esc14as you hike and hike and hike and hike and hike, you walk past this sign. the sign that tells you that you’ve just left the “safe” area

esc06and here you are, at la crèmerie. frozen waterfall number one in france.

esc13you. are. terrified.

esc11walking in snow is difficult enough.

hiking uphill in snow was another beast you just conquered.

and now, you’re about to climb a frozen waterfall?

don’t forget – you’re from texas – and more specifically a grand prairie.

even your friend questions you. “cathy, when you were growing up, did you not have any hills or anything that you ran up and down…?”

your answer is no. of course not. not in the plains!

esc07but! there isn’t time to stress.

you change into your crampons. cleats. spiked shoes. crunch crunch crunch.

esc10more importantly, you’re surrounded by people who know exactly what they’re doing.

esc08and, you attack.

up is the only direction.

esc12you can be scared. you can be petrified. you can be stressed.

but you have to trust the people and the materials around you.

that is the key for ice climbing. trust.

esc15back on paved roads. the sun is long gone and you’re about to head back to the gite for some dinner. and then straight to bed because you are crevée.

one down, two to go.

esc16day two. in switzerland. here you are at la bleu. the second frozen waterfall.

esc17today, you are more à l’aise. at ease.

you’re still terrified.

of heights. of slipping. of falling. of tumbling. of dropping 40 euro ice screws. of breaking bones. of dying. of cracking open your head. of being eaten alive by bears. of freezing to death. of avalanches. of being hit on the head with ice chunks. of cracking a hole in the ice and taking a cold shower. of sliding down. etc.

but just less terrified than the day before.

esc18the others go first because you’re most definitely the slowest. so you spend a lot of time looking up at the fesses of your friends.

esc19and loving every moment of being absolutely lost in nature with nobody but you and your fellow climbers.

esc20you finish the climb in the dark. under the stars. gripping onto the backpack of someone in front of you because you lack the équilibre that everybody else has for the steep descent.

esc21ah. here you are definitely à l’aise. 100%. this is your thing. eating and drinking!

esc22hot drinks / dishes with tons of melted cheese / admiring armand charlet

and you are morte again, so it’s straight to bed.

esc24day three. it’s snowing.

esc27this time you’re in italy.

esc25in the village of lillaz.

esc26the cars are parked and everybody gets ready.

esc29frozen waterfall number three. here you are. there’s only one direction: up!

esc30the first team leaves. then the second. then the third. finally, you.

the terror you felt yesterday and the day before is still there. but most definitely much smaller.

and the camera is left behind. because you are here to climb. not to make photos.

but just imagine a grand paradise. massiccio del gran paradiso. le massif du grand paradis.

imagine nature untouched. some of the most beautiful paysages you’ve seen. blankets of white. pale blues. ponds. waterfalls. icicles.

sometimes the most marvelous things can be captured only one way: by memory.

06 February 2011

bouillie de sarrasin

bdsis that fudge? is that beef? is that foie gras? is that chocolate?

no.

it is a bouillie de sarrasin. (from either normandy or brittany.)

after 3 years of being in love with france, you’ve finally found the one thing that you don’t love.

which is not bad, considering that you like everything else.

but this, a mix of buckwheat flour and milk, then sautéed in butter and dusted with sugar… just doesn’t cut it for you.

more importantly, thanks to this discovery, the night was filled with lots of laughs, some amazing faces being made, and a new point of reference for future inside jokes.

01 February 2011

hopla!

stras00 in france, when something happens extremely quickly. when time flies. when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time.

they say either, c’est speed! or c’est rapide!

no “oh it was a really quick weekend”

just simply, c’etait speed! c’etait rapide!

and that’s the perfect way to describe your weekend in alsace. two weeks ago.

it was rapide. as there is a subtle difference between rapide and speed, rapide being less intensive than speed.

stras01you start with breakfast, as usual. tea. butter. bread. homemade mint jam. a chinois (a brioche rolled with pastry cream and chocolate). and honey. from alsace, of course.

stras02a brisk walk around strasbourg. note the material of the cathedral: grès des vosges – sandstone from the vosges mountains.

stras03you feed the ducks with your friend.

stras05and you make a new friend, the otter. la loutre.

stras06and then you leave. goodbye strasbourg.

stras07and hello les vosges.

the mountains. the countryside. the best.

stras08here, the roads are unpaved.

here, the nearest neighbor is five kilometers away.

here, you really learn about the alsatian culture.

stras09the vosges is a department in france in the lorraine region.

but part of the vosges mountain range dips into alsace region.

and there’s also a place des vosges in paris.

confusing? then you’ve got hautes vosges and the grand ballon.

and haut-rhin. bas-rhin. then you accidently start mixing in the rhône. and then you throw in the alps since you’ve got the rhône.

and then you stop. it’s too confusing. french geography without maps or visual aids is not your thing!

stras10a dog not in a city is a happy dog.

same thing as a girl from a city of six million who is now in the mountains of france with a population of…  five.

stras11remember the cathedral? the grès des vosges? here it makes a comeback in the form of a kitchen sink in a house heated by wood. a belle maison, you gawk.

stras12you breathe.

stras13and you wait.

stras14for this.

stras15le coucher du soleil.

stras16words.

stras17aren’t.

stras18necessary.

stras19back inside, your enthusiasm to learn is matched by an enthusiasm to share. and so the feast begins.

“have you tried cancoillote yet? it’s not from alsace but it’s good.”

“no.”

goûte!”

and you never say no.

stras22“who wants soup?”

and before anybody has a chance to respond, containers of frozen mushrooms suddenly appear.

mushrooms. from the mountains. picked and frozen in the summer and defrosted in the winter for a soup. a soup of nothing but champignons, cream, milk, and spices. a soup that made you wish you lived in les montagnes as well.

stras20repeat. but with blueberries. wild ones frozen and defrosted for a quick blueberry tart.

stras20agrès d'alsace – not sandstone this time, but traditional pottery from alsace. betschdorf is the name of the town drilled into your head.

if you understood (and remember) correctly – the walls of the carafe are thick and heavy so the water retains it’s temperature.

stras23if. you are ever lucky enough to be offered magret de canard fumé.

aka smoked duck breast.

don’t think.

eat it. eat it. eat it. eat it.

and hope that the person never stops slicing pieces for you.

it’s that good.

stras24before you are à table and can finally eat the mushroom soup and blueberry tart, you hop outside to watch the the sun hand off the sky to the moon.

stras25a salad is quickly brought together.

stras26and it’s time to eat.

note the green stem of the wine glasses.

if you ever see a wine glass like that, know that those glasses are only for white wines from alsace.

anything else is a catastrophe. a wine from bordeaux? no. a wine from burgundy? no. a wine not from france? don’t even think about it.

but that rule is broken. accidently. but that’s a secret, okay?

stras27you taste a fromage de tête. which is not a cheese, but a pâté instead.

wikipedia explains it better.

stras28on mange à la bonne franquette is the phrase you learn. it’s how you eat when you aren’t expecting guests. you bring out everything that’s edible in the fridge, pile it on the table, and eat. no planning. no prepping. no fuss. just getting together and eating.

stras29one last look at the sky. with stars embedded in your memory but impossible to capture with a lens.

stars30the next morning, you have one last walk around strasbourg.

stras31your favorite time to explore a city is early when everyone is still sleeping. even the sun.

stras32except you. and the lights. 

stras33suddenly, your weekend is over. but not before tasting some madeleines from your favorite salon de thé in strasbourg.

stras34 goodbye alsace.

stras35hello paris. a nice walk, a missed train, and some french poetry. goodbye paris. hello evreux. where you head straight to bed.