Thursday, April 28, 2005

Moving alchemy

Every day the new place feels more like our home and less like someone else's. It's a really interesting process to go through. I've moved many times - as kids, we moved a lot, and as an adult I moved from apartment to apartment and from state to state multiple times. But while this is not the first house I've lived in, it's the first one I've ever chosen or bought. That makes it special in a way I wonder if any other house could ever live up to. As I've said before, first experiences are powerful.

We're slowly moving all kinds of things over there -- books, kitchen stuff, lamps, shelves, a chair or two. Tonight, though, I put together my foldit wagon and hauled over four big loads of my potted plants from the front and back yard. Now, when I look out the kitchen window in the new place, I see my little apple trees (one of which is in flower!), my hydrangea, my Graham Thomas rose waiting to be planted, my rosemary topiaries, the curry plant, the fennel babies I need to transplant, and a lot of my other favorites.

This weekend, the window boxes go up on the study and kitchen windows. Then I'll put in the geraniums behind my study and the herbs I'm going to fill the box outside the kitchen casement with. All part of the alchemy of changing a house into the place where you're going to live.

Drama Cat

I'm sorry to report that Phoenix, seen here in a sleepy moment, has suffered a broken toe.

You perhaps might not think this relatively minor injury would be the cause of much upheaval in our lives, but then you clearly do not know Phoenix.

Phoenix, the thirteen year old grump, is at heart a terrible softy, unfit for the cruel hard world. He's afraid of birds. He let his smaller sibling beat him up for almost ten years before effectively fighting back. He's prone to almost embarrassing fits of loveydoveyness. In short, he is not a tough guy.

This broken toe (back right foot) upset him to the point that he went on a 48-hour hunger strike. No food, no water, and, what's worse, no peeing. It got so bad that he had to be taken to the vet to be helped to relieve his bladder. It was as if he decided, "Well, my toe is hurting, so I might as well pack it in -- clearly my life and all that's good in it is over."

We tried all sorts of things -- placing him in litterboxes, filling a box with potting soil to simulate the great outdoors, holding him near the dripping faucet to try to get him to drink, putting water on his paws, offering him the kitty equivalent of breakfast in bed so that he didn't have to stand on his sore foot to try to get him to eat... everything.

And what worked in the end?

People tuna.

It occurred to me on the way home today that the one thing he can't resist is Starkist tuna in a can. Which also comes packed with a lot of water. If he ate it, that'd knock off both the hunger and the thirst thing all in one fell swoop.

Sure enough, his resolve to wither away and die lasted about two milliseconds after I cracked open the can.

Relieving himself in a more natural way surely cannot be far behind.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

First things

I'm somewhat superstitious, and also prone to invent little rituals. So of course, I invested our first actions in the new house with all sorts of symbolic meaning. What should the first things be that we move into the house? Not anything ordinary like toilet paper or a box of random stuff - it seemed like it needed to be carefully chosen, some little talisman of meaning that would start turning the house into ours.

You can imagine how surprised I was when Brett, rather than rolling his eyes, happily played along with this particular routine.

"I was thinking the same thing!" he said.

So we came home yesterday armed with bread, salt, and water - what we jokingly called an ancient midwestern tradition, but which actually is a much older superstition: bring bread, water, and salt into your new home before anything else to ensure happiness and prosperity in your new home. While he wasn't looking, I may have put a few grains of salt on each of the window sills and thresholds. Our friends Alan and Beth came over and we lit a small candle and ate the bread and salt and toasted with champagne around the kitchen island and turned the empty kitchen into the hearth for the first time. Felt great.

We also both went in search of meaningful objects to leave in the house overnight to start spreading their "Brett and Megan live here now" vibes. I left a small potted plant on the mantel and a pot of tulips on the door, and one of our wedding pictures in the living room.

Brett quietly hung his wedding suit in the upstairs closet and then left four of his CD binders in his office.

Married the right man, there. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Four new keys

Shortly after I posted about getting the key tomorrow, the former owners knocked on the door, having finished what seemed like four straight days of vacuuming and appearing near-delirious with exhaustion, and handed them over a bit early.

We contained our excitement just long enough to let them drive away and then sauntered over for a looksee at the new place. We didn't spend very long because technically we didn't feel like it was ours yet - but we got to open cupboards and look in drawers and walk around it at our own pace.

And now that it's officially not anyone else's home, I can post a few pictures of the inside.

Living room and dining room:


Backyard:



Kitchen:


Fireplace:

Escrow guy: "What's the camera for?"

To take our picture, of course. :)




Some events should be documented.

Conversation

Conversation yesterday in the car, as we were driving to Renton to visit IKEA:

M: Where were we a week ago at this time?

B: (thinks for a while) We were at Versailles, I think.

M: Oh. (pause) I'm so glad we're in Renton instead.

B: Me too.

Tomorrow is key day!

Tomorrow after work we get the key to the new house! After that it's ours, all ours! :)

It seems like ages ago that we signed the papers - thank god we were out of the country for a couple weeks since sitting here waiting for all of that time would've been unbearable. As it is, the last four days have seemed SOOOOOO slow. We signed the closing documents on Friday, and the money gets wired in the morning, and then we're all done.

I went over today and walked around the yard with Ingrid taking notes on everything she's grown there and how to take care of it. This was fun - she's got a lot of my old favorites: a Cecil Brunner shrub rose the size of an elephant; bee balm (I'd just bought a small start in case there wasn't any because I can't live without it); three lovely wisterias, all different kinds (cut them once a week, she said, and keep them off the roof); a wonderful rustly bamboo stand (always wanted to put one of those in here); multiple different clematises -- one white, one blue, one red; ferns and hostas and heurcheras and bleeding hearts and columbines in the shady part of the yard; somewhere close to ten other roses, besides the C.Brunner; cherry trees and crabapple trees and one purple lilac to signify home...

Wow. It's like Christmas! :)

I can't wait to go over there and just spend some time. We've been over a few times but have never really been free to just sit down and soak it all in, either the yard or the house itself. Tomorrow night our friends Alan and Beth are going to come over and see the house and then go have a celebratory dinner with us at the local ale house -- but before they arrive I'm going to just walk in there and sit down on the living room floor and have a look around for real, and breathe in our new house for a few minutes.

I'm so excited!

That's more like it

I spent about eight hours today working in the yard (minus the time it took to make two trips to the local nursery.) Started at about ten this morning weeding the horsetail out of the tulip beds and mixing in manure to help have fewer of them next year.

Then, on to weeding the cutting bed in the front yard, which needed a severe cleaning-out. Took out the Fairy rose I was never very fond of and which had come down with a terrible case of black spot, and replaced it with this beautiful thing, a Glamis Castle white rose. Put in a bunch of white cosmos and two more delphinium. Weeded out a bunch of volunteer stuff I didn't want. That bed now looks great, and is simplified down to just four or so types of flowers. That's my goal for this year for the gardens in our current house: fewer types of plants, but more of those that are left.

Had to treat two of the rose bushes for aphid infestations, which I didn't like to do - I don't normally use any kinds of pesticides, but they were killing my favorite rose, the Sceptre'd Isle, and that just couldn't go on. I cut out some blackberry but have not yet followed JMBalaya's very good advice to put down poison on their roots. I can't quite bring myself to yet. I will eventually.

Then I weeded one of the front parking strips and put in a few more echinacea there, and also three senecios. Put various thing in pots. Bought the starter plants for the herb garden for the new house and one new rose to put in over there. Dug in some more nasturtiums out front.

That only leaves a few things to weed here: the porch bed (which is a mess, completely taken over by some white flowering thing I didn't plant), and the right parking strip (half a mess, half okay). Which is a lot better than before. My yard is no longer depressing me.

Now, back to packing.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Back to garden blogging for a moment

I don't know quite what's wrong with me this year, but my yard is sort of depressing me. It's only April and it's already completely overrun and out of my control. I don't remember it being like this last year! The back garden has a blackberry bush winding through the deck and the bench, and I have to get in there and machete my way through the weeds to get it out. The front yard has some infestation of some big noxious weed in the grass, and despite the ten million seed heads I pulled out this spring, there is more horsetail than ever before, everywhere. Some lacy ferny thing is taking over the rockwall no matter how fast I pull it out. It winds through my lavender and nearly choked the thyme plant from last year. I have no idea if my new decorative oreganos can survive its snarly tendrils in their first year.

Case in point: I took this picture of my new poppies hoping to end up with something nice - and because it's cool that the one plant is producing both red and white flowers. But look -- there's a big ol' horsetail directly behind it. There are a hundred of them in the tulip beds. Only the parking strips, which got the most amendments last year, are relatively sparse in their horsetail rations.

I know the answer is to dig in bags and bags of rich nutrients and next year there will be fewer of them. But I can't quite bring myself to do it right now. It's too overwhelming.

Being gone for three weeks at the start of the season may not be the greatest idea for a gardener. At least I'm back before the tomatoes come out at Swansons. They just posted a date on their web site - May 1st. I've got it circled and will be up at dawn that morning reading to beat the rush of rabid tomato growers fighting over the good heirloom varieties.

One small plus in my yard right now - the lettuce crop I put in about a month ago is ready for harvest - I made the first cuttings yesterday. Doesn't this just look healthy and wonderful? Not to mention weed free.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I have not finished my slide shows from the trip

But Monkey and Herschel have finished their page:

http://www.gnometravels.com/herschel/index.htm

Someone call Falwell

Someone better call the reverend, because we discovered in the Louvre that this ancient Mesopotamian dude is carrying a purse.



Also, if you look closely, he's wearing a little daisy bracelet.


What gives, man?

Seperated at birth? You be the judge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Today's trip pictures

All Paris.

Sacre Coeur:


Window at Napoleon's tomb:


Statue at Pere Lachaise cemetary:

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Monday, April 18, 2005

And now the aftermath

Travel may have this in common with what I've heard friends say about childbirth -- if you retained the memory of how awful you feel immediately afterwards, you'd never do it to begin with. Yet somehow, the happy trip fog settles in shortly after the jetlag recedes and six or nine months later you find yourself shopping for airline tickets and thumbing through books on exotic destinations.

Oh lord, I hurt. I hate flying back from Europe. Somehow I'm fine going over, never a bit of jetlag going east, but coming west leaves me knocked out for three days or so, waking up at four each morning, stumbling through my afternoons in a fog.

Brett had the day off today, but I had to drag myself into the office for a couple hours today, long enough to run an interview loop for a position on my team. Let's just say it was not the best interview I ever gave. My spot on the loop was at two, and shortly before that point I found myself to be so tired that I actually threw out my gum because I was too beat to chew. Our interviewee may or may not have noticed that I was completely out of it.

So - I feel like I should blog something interesting, but I really can't -- so here are a few pictures to tide you over until I get the real slide shows put together (probably not until this weekend.)

The famous cafe cat I blogged about, who was at the table next to us at an outdoor lunch spot in Paris:



Honfleur (Normandy coast) on a rainy night:



Light and stone in Denmark:

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ok, I lied - one more

Just a footnote to myself here to say more later about how utterly much we hated Versailles, which we finally got to on Saturday afternoon, our last day. We were so fed up with it that we only spent part of an hour there, this after driving almost four hours to get there and then waiting in line for tickets for a full hour and then waiting in the bathroom line for another near hour and then getting shepherded through the ten or so rooms they had open with so many people that it was hardly possible to see anything - all of them, it seems, in Europe for no reason other than to pose and photograph their significant other in front of every piece of art, sculpture, or memorabilia they could find.

I don't understand this kind of tourist. Here's Susie in front of the Mona Lisa. Here's Susie in front of Napoleon's statue. Here's Susie. SusieSusieSusie. What is the point of all that? A picture here and there, sure. But we saw countless couples where the man, in most cases, was avidly photographing his lady friend on each and every step of the 600 million steps leading up to Mt St Michel. I'm sure it's sort of flattering, at first, but I'd have to rebel after a while if Brett started to get that way. Put down that camera or I'll hit you with this baguette.

Anyways, we couldn't let the horror of Versailles be our last experience, so we backtracked to Chartres, which was phenomenal and a nice way to end things. And now we're on a layover in Copenhagen, where I'm paying a small fortune to complain on my blog. So I will end this here.

It was a great trip, but we're very glad to be on the way home.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Probably my last post from the road

Wow, has being on the road shot up my readership! For the last few weeks I've gone from 18 average reads a day to 35. Still small fry in the blogging world, but it seems to indicate that people I do not know are reading this now. Cool. :) Hello, whoever you new 17 folks are!

And see how much better I'm getting at this non-qwerty thing? I almost don't have to look down qnymore. (Hahaha, I threw that 'q' in there on purpose. Really.)


So we're now in Brittany, having left Honfleur yesterday for a trip to Mont St. Michel (borrowed pic at left, credit is due here), which was astonishing -- that first view of it from 20 kilometers away is something I'll never forget. Brett had wanted to see it since childhood, and although I didn't know about it that long ago I bought a beautiful vintage poster of it years back and have been wanting to see it myself ever since. We walked through with a million other tourists on the 'salmon-going-upstream'-like path they have circling through the part of the village you're allowed to visit -- narrow track past a gazillion cheap tourist vendors and the ever present creperies -- and took a long tour of the cathedral and cloister which was, in spite of the aggravation of getting there in such a crowd, rather empty of big groups and lovely and quite worth the toil.

We'd planned to spend half a day or so there, but didn't realize that the same salmon track that winds you into the church soon thereafter spits you back outside the city wall an hour or so later, so we amused ourselves by propping Monkey and Herschel up on the car roof with the church in the background and taking their pictures. As has often been pointed out, we have no need to have children, essentially being children ourselves.

Then we decided to strike out for Quimper, using back roads. We rented a car upon getting back from Denmark but it's a stick, meaning that poor Brett has been stuck doing all of the driving. Aside from one small collision pulling out of the rental car lot (proving correct our decision to get full insurance) and one pedestrian he almost killed in Riennes before figuring out that the traffic lights are on the SIDE of the intersection and not directly overhead, that's been fine.

But we soon realized that we had vastly misjuged how far it was from one side of Brittany to another or how much slower things are on small roads. After ninety minutes of toiling down roads with roundabouts approximately every thirty feet, we had made about two inches of progress on the map out of approximately twelve inches we needed to go. So we gave up that plan and turned around to backtrack to Rennes instead for a couple nights.

Rennes is a university town, known as a smaller but still cosmopolitan Paris. There are 40,000 university students here, nearly all of whom seemed to be partying in the street outside our hotel room last night at three a.m. (First night of school holidays, we later found out.) Still, we're glad we stopped here, because we needed to stock up on a few things you can't always find in quaint villages -- mainly English books. After almost three weeks on the road, we've read nearly everything we brought with us (we're both on our last book, leaving nothing for the flight home) and were in dire need of a bookstore (found one) and some sleep and perhaps a day without sightseeing. So here we are, thoughts of Carnac forgotten, having a much needed day of sloth that is going, so far, something like this:

  • Wake up late
  • Lounge around watching football (soccer) on TV until 10:45
  • Go find cafe creme at a bar and lament how addicted we've become to a form of coffee we have no idea how to get at home
  • Find internet place for a little blogging (now)
  • Lunch somewhere
  • A little shopping or popping into churches
  • Drink more coffee and read our new books, chosen from the Virgin Megastore's massive selection of about 200 books in English
  • Dinner
  • More lounging
  • etc

Not a bad way to spend our second-to-last full day in France, although we must sound like slackers. But it's been a long trip with many destinations, and I'm sort of glad we're not out driving four hours to slog around in a muddy field to see megaliths in the torrential downpour that has been following us for days. Carnac is still something I'd like to see, but it will have to be on a future trip. Same with the Loire and all regions south.

Tomorrow we start back towards Paris, spending most of the day around Versailles, then make our way at nightfall to the Paris-CDG airport Hyatt Regency, where we'll crash for a night before our flight home.

It's been a great trip but we're both ready to come home -- and I'm looking forward to being able to process and post some pictures. ;)

The legend of Herschel and Monkey...

...is spreading; Herschel pictures now appear on a Web site other than my own.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcm/8999250/in/set-223086/

And here's us in Copenhagen:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcm/8998103/in/set-223084/

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Honfleur

**Before I begin, let me warn you that I could not find a QWERTY keyboqrd todqy qnd this thing is driving me nuts, so I'm going to mqke q lot of mistakes qnd probqbly quit in frustration halfway through.

We're in Honfleur, which you can see a bit of here -- beautiful seaside town in Normandy, very quiet and quaint. This is a good plqce for us to have landed for q few days; we're beat, and Brett has gotten sick and is spending the day under blankets in bed. I feel for him, having been sick the last time I was in Frqnce. Nothing worse thqn being sick when you're on the road.

**For the rest of this post, please assume any strqy 'q's are the letter A. I can't make the mental shift.

Anyways, our Copenhagen visit was amazing -- thanks to our wonderful hosts, whose language and survivql skills we relied on as if they were the grownups and we were kids. I'll post more about that part of the trip, with pictures, when we get home, but I wanted to say thank you to Michael and Susan (and Malcolm)! We had so much fun with you guys!

Ok, the keyboqrd is winning - more to say but it isn't going to hqppen todqy.

I meqn todAy.

Arg.

Friday, April 08, 2005

We're in Denmark

Short post because I'm very tired, but wow, is Denmark fantastic and strange. It's interesting to travel to somewhere that you know nothing about and have very few preconceived notions about, because it's fresh in a way that somewhere you've studied and read about just isn't. Everything here has this incredible sense of discovery. It's beautiful and slow (very few cars, a million bicycles) and we're seeing a little bit of the rhythm of local life. It's strange because it's so foreign to me, and because the language is a mystery. I can't understand half the things Mike or Susan say, even when they repeat them several times; there are sounds in there that I can't convert to letters in my head. Everyone speaks English, though, so it's not truly bewildering, but I like the sense of displacement it gives me to find the language incomprehensible. It's the opposite of my overpreparation for Paris, with my language CDs and my guidebooks and my study. It's fun.

There's also nothing like your first view of a place -- it touches you and sticks in your mind in a way that no later trip will ever overshadow, even if you come to know and love a place intimately. And it's even better when you see a new place with the help of friends-who-are-now-locals -- Michael and Susan are gracious hosts, thanking us for coming up to see them when in fact it's them who are putting us up and schlepping us around from place to place. The reality is that this is a much welcome break, after being active in a bustling city for a full week, to relax at home with people you know, eat home-cooked food, and watch a little TV with a three-year-old. (Malcolm, their son, is obsessed with The Incredibles.)

On our arrival on Thursday night, we were met at the airport by Mike, and then hopped on the train with everyone else who was commuting home that night. We immediately were hit by how crisp and cold and colorful it is here -- it's still wintery, no leaves or flowers yet, and every house seemingly painted bright red or yellow or blue, with terra cotta roof tiles. Crocuses are just coming up. As we walked home from the station that first night, the stars were just coming out and there were candles in people's windows and the whole world seemed glowing and ghostly; it was such a powerful sense of being a long, long way from home.

Today we hiked around Copenhagen with Mike, took the harbor tour to see the Little Mermaid statue, took about a hundred pictures, and met Susan and Malcolm for dinner at a nice restaurant where we had Danish delicacies. Tomorrow, we're taking a train to somewhere in Sweden, to see a castle or a walled village or something like that - another place I can't pronounce well enough to even guess at the location of, and which I'm perfectly content to be surprised by.

This is what travel is all about - discovery, mystery, and things that you can't possibly be prepared for. You just dive in and go.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Last morning in Paris

One last post from Paris. We've checked out of our hotel and then taken a quick jaunt to the top of the Eiffel Tower (no lines in the mornings!), and are now sitting around the lobby reading the Guardian and waiting until it's time to go to the airport. We're on our way up to Copenhagen to see Michael and Susan, friends from Seattle, for the weekend, then back to France on Sunday for seven more days in the countryside.

A few notes from the last week:
  • They make the best coffee here that I've ever had. I could happily spend most of my afternoons doing nothing but sitting in a cafe drinking cafe creme and be happy with my trip. Yesterday, museumed out after seeing Invalides and Musee Rodin that morning, I left Brett to enjoy the Musee D'Orsay (I'd seen it previously, on my last trip) and went and lolled around in Cafe Buonaparte, overlooking the church and square of St. Germain, and drank the world's finest hot chocolate (chocolat chaud) while finishing a book I'd been reading off and on for days. Every time I looked up something interesting was going on in the square, and true to form the waiters were content to let me stay at their table for the entire day if I wanted to, all for the purchase of one cup of hot beverage. Heaven.
  • It's quite funny how well the dogs (and cats) are treated here. Everyone has a dog, and they take them literally everywhere -- into the restaurants, into the chocolate shops, into the hotels. We even sat down for lunch next to a Parisian woman who had a full-grown cat sitting on the seat next to her, inside a large woven purse. Now that's treating your pets as first class citizens. Whatever excesses we go to with our four cats, feeding them pricey snacks whenever they request it and giving them their run of the house, it's nothing compared to the French.
  • It's so green here! Maybe it's just the season, but it seems like every corner is bursting with a florist who has potted herbs, cypresses, boxwoods, and beautiful hydrangeas for sale. Innumerable apartments have carefully clipped little boxwoods, perfect spheres or cones, outside each window, lining the street. The trees are carefully pomaded, and each shrub, it seems, is carefully shaped. We wandered into one of the city's more famous flower markets by accident the first day, and the beautiful block-long displays of lemon trees and flowering shrubs and houseplants and birdhouses made me want to live here. It was so beautiful that I went back several days later to take a few pictures.
  • Speaking of pictures, my husband took Monkey and Herschel to the top of the Eiffel Tower this morning and carefully photographed them both looking out at the city and posing for the camera. This was, however, their only public exposure to the city. Luckily, people seemed to find it very cute. "For our nephews," I explained, even though that's not really true. None of our nephews really uses the computer much or is likely to see our blog. But what the citizens of the world don't know won't hurt them, in this case.

Ok, time for me to give Brett a turn at the keyboard. More soon!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

In a catholic country

Shortly after we got to France, the Pope began drawing his last breaths, and two days later he passed away. The only English language television we get is CNN, which has been running long marathons of nothing but papal coverage, so we took part in the vigil leading up to his death and have been watching the reaction not only of the television commentors but also of the people of France.

My understanding, flawed as it may be, of France is that while the people here love their Catholicism, they are not especially devout in observing it. However, because of recent events, the cathedrals have been packed with worshippers, some of them seemingly prostrate with grief. We sat through a mass at Notre Dame the night before the Pope passed away where young and old came to pray for his soul - all we understood of the sermon was that they kept mentioning "pape" and "vingt sept ans" and "morte", but the focus was clear. The next day, we saw the faithful at Sacre Coeur literally prostrate with grief, kneeling in front of large white-and-gold banners of his face. We wrote in the books they had their for people to express their wishes and rememberances of the holy father. There was a veritable river of candles left around them, with hardly room to walk.

While neither of us is Catholic, we're both secretly fascinated with the Catholic church and particularly with the machinations of the Vatican and the way they choose their Popes, so this has been a unique time to be glued to CNN and in a culture where a cathedral square is still one of the most essential hearts of the city. We're watching closely everything that's happening, and taking part in it a little bit.

My friend Sid and I attended a papal mass in Rome in 2000. While neither of us subscribe to that faith, we both felt moved in a strange way by his presence; the overwhelming sensation we got watching him was of a deeply good (and at that time very sick) man. I'm not completely naive about the harm that some of his policies have done in the world, but I think he meant to do good, which is a somewhat rare thing among world leaders of such power. Unfashionable as it may be to say so, I was sorry to see him go.

I'll be very interested in seeing who is chosen as his successor.

Hello from the road

Hello from Rue Saint Germain in Paris! It's day six (I think) of our seven day stay in Paris and it seems like day two - how does time go by so slow when you're working and so fast when you're on vacation?

We're having a very mellow trip so far. Brett, not the world's largest fan of cities, has pronounced Paris "better than Rome" in that we seem decidedly less likely to get hit by a car here than we did in Rome, and there aren't what he refers to as those "fricking flying lawnmowers everywhere" (Vespas). But I think he actually likes it here for a lot more reasons than that. It's hard not to like Paris; it's both beautiful and vibrant, exciting and calm, energetic and relaxed. It feels, cliche that it is, very very civilized.

Who made up this stuff about Parisians not being friendly to Americans? We've seen none of that. Everyone, without exception, has been lovely and helpful and polite. The waiters have been the best - what obvious (and well-deserved) pride they take in the occupation here. We've had nothing but exquisite meals, anywhere from a randomly chosen street cafe that blew us away with the true meaning of what it is to cook a chicken to the beautiful omelette eaten at a smokey cafe in the Marais to the full-fledged French food orgy we had at at Bofinger, Paris's oldest bistro. Salespeople, people at the next tables at meals, everyone has been pleasant. We couldn't think of any examples of rudeness we'd experienced, although we've seen occcasional tourists pouring rudeness onto the French.

Back to waiters for a second. Bofinger's was especially fun and where we got the full sense of the meaning of good French service - upon our arrival, a cadre of waiters seated us under their beautiful glass dome and attended to our every need as if we were royalty. I know there must have been a ranking among them, but it was invisible to me; all I know is that the three of them operated in almost balletic grace -- one of them seated us and took our orders, one of them brought us things, and another of them took things away, all while freshening our drinks at the slightest sign of need. This, I could get used to.

The last time I was here, it was for just a few days at the end of a long trip to Italy, and I had no French language skills at all, having chosen to spend my trip preparation for that time learning Italian. This time, I'm a bit more prepared, and it helps. A surprising amount of people I've queried do not seem to speak English - 75% of the sales clerks at Samaritaine, also known as shopping nirvana, a few of the waitresses we've encountered in cafes, etc. We're getting by pretty well on what we know. I slip now and then and say 'buon giorno' instead of 'bonjour' (Italian still seems to be more firmly in my brain than French or Spanish), but people seem to get the gist. I can read enough to understand at an elementary level most museum signs and plaques. We can ask questions and occasionally use full sentences. C'est bon.

It's also interesting to note that the whole stereotype of French people always answering you in English when you try to address them in French does not seem to be true - 90% of the time, we say something in what must be abominable French and the addressee responds by encouragingly rattling off a bewildering amount of things we do not understand. Then we get to say our longest sentence - "Pardon, je ne comprenez pas le Francais." (Pardon my spelling. I did not bother to learn that at any point prior to the trip.)

We've been somewhat touristy, visiting the Eiffel Tower the first night, Notre Dame and Sacre Couer, and of course the Louvre (which I loved; apologies to my travel partners in 2002 to whom I rather insufferably went on about how art should be in churches, like the do it in Italy, and not in museums - I was obviously suffering heat stroke) and the Musee's Dali and Picasso. Later today we're going to visit the Rodin Museum and D'Orsay (impressionists).

But mainly, we're just wandering around, window shopping, spending long hours in cafes drinking coffee or pastis and watching an endlessly fascinating variety of people go by, visiting bookstores, and having astonishing food experiences at every meal. It's very relaxing. I could sit in a cafe for half a day and have a wonderful time, then cap it off with a walk home along the Seine. I wish we could stay here for weeks.

Thursday morning we're off to Copenhagen for the weekend to visit Michael and Susan, friends of ours from Seattle who moved to Denmark recently, then back to France for seven more days of wandering around Brittany and the Loire Valley.

More soon.

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