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November 1, 2010

Toussaint Vacation Day One: Arles

Remember how I'm only working here seven months, but I still get two months' worth of vacation in that time? I got my first chunk of vacay last week, which was well-deserved after my first two arduous days of actually teaching the students by myself.

That means I probably shouldn't complain about the fact that I opened my French bank account more than a month ago, and I still can't use my check card because I don't have the PIN code, which has probably arrived at the school but it's a national holiday and I might not be able to get my mail until school reopens on Wednesday, which might not even make a difference because I haven't been paid yet even though I was supposed to be on Oct. 26, and thus I've had to use my American debit card and I imagine it's going to be a nightmare to transfer funds back to that account so I don't overdraft after my next student loan payment. So I won't complain about that one bit.

Ahem. I plan to do a post for each city, and then aggregate them into an overview post on Truth Pirates so you can read only the parts that interest you (although it's bound to be entertaining so you should probably just read all of it). Allez-y!

My travel buddy was Kelly, who is doing the same thing I'm doing but in Paris. She and her husband are kind enough to host me in their love nest whenever I pop up to Paris, which has been alarmingly often. Kelly is really f'ing funny, super good at saying "merci" and sounding French, and teaches me a lot of useful things, like that WTF can mean "Welcome to France." She has also been instrumental in ensuring that I don't die by showing me a number of dishes than can easily be prepared in teeny tiny French kitchens.

Kelly getting blown away by Arles
The strike, as always, made traveling difficult. The French don't like to tell you what platform your train will be on until 5-10 minutes before the train is scheduled to depart. This results in huge masses of people crowded around the departures board, getting cricks in their necks from gazing up. As soon as a platform number appears, a great horde will detach from the larger mass and run there as fast as they can to ensure good luggage storage and a seat. Yes, in these dire times of strike, your ticket purchase does not necessarily guarantee you a seat on the train. Ours was stuffed to the brim, with people packed into the aisles for about an hour before things thinned out enough for them to sit down.

We were going to Arles to stay with my friend Cécile, who I had met in Portland last summer while she interned at a dance studio and worked on a paper about American cultural institutions. She was coming back from Paris the same night we were due to arrive, but had arranged for one of her friends to meet us and give us the keys. I got a flurry of texts from said friend, some of which didn't make a whole lot of sense in English ("Ok so marjo waiting you to the place du forum. She gives you the keys. You can eat to the restaurant and wait Cécile."), and some of which made absolutely no sense in French ("Marjo va o ciné moi je sortiré du sport dc jvé pa lé amené juska ché toi et veul alé o resto els oront lé clé dc el tatendron envil.").  In the end, our train from Lyon was more than an hour late, so we just waited for Cécile herself at the train station.

Roman ruins in Arles
The wind was just HOWLING when we got in, and did nothing to warm up my Frenchy friend's frigid studio apartment. She made us some bowls of ramen and then Kelly and I huddled together for warmth in Cécile's bed as we tried to get enough feeling in our toes to go to sleep. I had been feeling poorly since a rain-soaked tour of the Versailles grounds a few days earlier, and awoke completely encrusted in sick. My head was pounding and I couldn't breathe out of my nose, which was probably for the better for it prevented my two favorite allergens-- cat and cigarette-- from gaining access to my face.

We scooted out the door by 9 so Cécile could go to class and went to a café for a typical French breakfast: crossaint, baguette with butter and jam, and a hot drink of your choice. Then we mosied around the Roman ruins while trying not to get blown over by the wind. We made a stop at an antique shop, where Kelly happened upon this gem in a newspaper from 1916:

Who better to relieve constipation? Mini WWI-era soldiers!

Next stop was the Musée Réattu, home to some fine art by Réattu himself, a few Picasso drawings, a few carpets and dresses from hometown hero Christian Lacroix, and a whole lot of contemporary art I was not too fond of.  Not represented at the museum was Van Gogh, whose scenes of Arles are some of his most famous. My favorites were the photos of museum workers unpacking the Louvre's masterpieces once the war was over. I also really like this guy, who managed to embody exactly how I felt that day:

Ay wad do suff'd up
After all our forced marching in the wind, it was time for a pause that refreshes. We settled at a tapas restaurant and ask if we could see the menus. As it was 3:00, it was clearly no time for food, stupid Americans! We could have drinks, crepes, or waffles, and that was IT.  I ordered a crepe with speculoos, a gingersnap cookie cream I'd read about on one of my favorite blogs. I think I liked it... I'm pretty sure I liked it... I know I definitely enjoyed the texture... but I was incapable of tasting anything that day. Now that my sinuses have cleared I've become obsessed with finding speculoos so I can properly give it a whirl, and it has of course chosen to elude me. Welcome to France.

We made dinner for Cécile that night (which both she and Kelly assured me tasted good since I wouldn't have known a truffle from dog poo at that point), and then she took us out to a bar to meet some of her friends. Understanding French is hard. Understanding French over loud music when the speaker is turned away from you is harder. Understanding French over loud music when the speaker is turned away from you and you can't hear anyway because your head feels like it's wrapped in styrofoam is impossible. And that was my evening, in a nutshell.

This café was supposedly inspiration for one of Van Gogh's famous paintings. Cécile says it's a fake, but I'll always believe, Vinny!
The one part of the conversation I was privy to was about Kelly's and my future destination: Grenoble. One of Cécile's friends insisted we wouldn't like it because it didn't have any patrimony. Patrimony was clearly a big deal to the Arlesians, who had not only Roman ruins gracing their fair city, but they had the head of a statue that may or may not have been a likeness of Julius Cesar sitting in one of their museums.

We went to sleep prepared this time with long underwear and all the Minnesota heritage we could muster. Next up: Day Two: Arles and Dijon.

1 comment:

  1. The Julius Cesar comment made me laugh a lot.

    You need a closeup of the poop soldiers!