samedi 25 septembre 2010

Saturday Guessing Game

Guess what we spent our Saturday doing?

Getting the car towed.

Not sure yet what's up... but hoping the French lemon laws are user-friendly.

And while we we're asking difficult questions, see if you know what Josh's favorite color is:

You wouldn't know it's green, would you?

vendredi 24 septembre 2010

Castle Weekend

Last weekend, a friend from our university days stopped by Aix on a trip around Europe. Her request? To see a castle.

I'd seen signs for "Chateau de la Barben" and it seemed like the most castle-y castle around. Most of the "chateaux" in our region are either grand country houses or primitive-looking ruins. But this one had a good combination of medieval fortification outside and luxury living inside.

The gardens aren't open to visitors, but we could peer down into them as we climbed up to the gates. Since it was le jour du patrimoine, a special holiday celebrating historical sites, there was classical music floating down from speakers set up in the castle courtyard. In the area for tourists to picnic, we ran into a few people that seemed to be visiting from another time instead of another place.
It turned out that the castle was peopled by historical re-enacters for the day. But instead of taking their jobs too seriously, they were all just enjoying the castle like we were. It seemed like a few of the women had just used the day as a playdate, and lounged around the lady of the castle's private salon while their kids played with dolls, ribbons, and puppies.

The kids seemed to be enjoying themselves too--not least because they were given ice cream at the castle's snack shop.

Pretty dresses, an enchanted castle, and an ice cream cone? Sign me up.

Downstairs in the castle kitchen, two women in kirtles and bodices were whipping up a medieval feast in the castle's giant old fireplace/stove/oven.

They had to pause shoving cloves of garlic into one of the largest sides of meat I've ever seen and stirring vegetables in pans set among the coals to wipe their hands off on their voluminous aprons and answer the castle's phone. Chateau de la Barben is in business as a bed and breakfast and this weekend, overnight guests were sharing a feast with the re-enacters.

Hopefully they weren't sharing a bathroom, too.

We finished up the afternoon with a stroll around the castle grounds. The castle is in a tiny swath of deciduous forest (most of what we've got here is scruffy pine groves) and it was lovely to walk around and listen to the birds chirp and the stream gurgle.

And it was the first time we've visited an attraction formerly inaccessible to us due to lack of vehicle! Now that we're car owners we can get to these lesser known, out-of-the-way gems. Well, most of the time. The next day when we went to drive to a coastal town so our friend could see the Mediterranean, the car was dead. After a new battery (and a lot of scrambling around to find out who we know that has jumper cables), we're vehiculé ("vehicled") once more. Just in time for this weekend's destination: a new apartment! Yup, the bugs have won, and we're getting out of here. I'll show pictures once we've signed the lease. This new place seems pretty sweet and I don't want to jinx it. Stay tuned!

lundi 6 septembre 2010

Blame Teddy

I'm up studying for an as-yet-unscheduled exam that is supposed to happen some time this week or last week. Thanks, French university system, I LOVE studying for exams without knowing when they'll take place.

ANYWAY, I hate to admit it, but I was doing some research on Wikipedia, and I came across this old campaign poster. I noticed something: apparently in 1906, pollution was a GOOD thing. Check out the factories in the upper right-hand corner.

Incidentally, I used to think Teddy Roosevelt was awesome, probably from a visit to his home, Sagamore Hill, when I was a kid, as well as a lifelong appreciation of impressive moustaches. After studying history from a hispanophone perspective, I would say that I have rather strong feelings to the contrary. Not only did he shoot lots of cool wild animals, but Good ol' Teddy caused a lot of problems for the rest of the western hemisphere in the name of making money for the US. AND some of those problems spawned the literary movement I'm supposed to be studying right now. Thanks, Teddy. If it weren't for you, a bunch of animals in Africa might not be endangered, and I could be watching season 5 of The Office right now instead of hitting the books. Or Wikipedia. Whatever.

jeudi 2 septembre 2010

Laguna Matata

We're car owners! This morning we purchased our first "grown-up car," aka the first car that our parents didn't help us pick out. Which means our brothers helped. We spent hours on the phone with Josh's brother, who is an amateur mechanic and gave us a crash course in car buying, and my brother, who is luckily addicted to Top Gear and has an encyclopedic knowledge of European car models. They both gave seals of approvals to our very glamorous...station wagon.

We feel pretty good about ourselves--making a major first-time purchase is pretty scary for non-risk-takers like us anyway, and we did it all in a foreign country where we were just learning words like disque (break pad) and break (station wagon). Hopefully our new Renault Laguna will live up to my brother's enthusiastic recommendation. After all the stresses we've had with other major decisions here (our disastrously bug-infested apartment, for example) we're expecting something to go wrong with our car...but trying not to worry about it. Laguna matata! And one major worry WAS lifted away by this car purchase: I don't have to learn to drive stick! I think we found the only automatic car for sale in Provence. For the first time since touching down in Europe, I can drive myself somewhere! I feel like a person again.

So, how did we celebrate finally having a car after 2 years of taking buses to the grocery store and not going to the beach that's only 30 minutes away because you need your own vehicle to get there? Well, in the best way we knew how: by accidentally putting gas in the diesel car our friend lent us to go pick up our new "Renaultcerous." So, we spent the afternoon making calls from the side of the road, trying to find a tow truck (remorqueur) and a garage that would do the procedure to flush the gas out of the little violet Clio's system. Beach trips, grocery store runs, and being everyone's airport taxi will have to wait until tomorrow. But hey, laguna matata--no worries!