mmmm. salty.

We stopped in the ancient city of Aigues-Mortes and went to the salt extraction site. They get salt from the sea water in a lengthy process that basically allows the water to settle in different ponds.  Pretty enviro-friendly process actually -the tides and waves move the water in – then over the next few months the sun and the wind evaporate the water, then gravity moves the salty water along to the next pond.

Quite impressive also to drive past mountains of salt

apparently as the water gets saltier – it also gets pinker – on account of the same bacteria that shrimp eat that turn them pink – which in turn flamingos eat and turn them pink.

I know exactly what you’re thinking – and it’s what I couldn’t stop thinking….If I ate enough flamingos would I also change color?  Only one way to find out I figure.

We walked all around the perimeter of the city on top of the ancient walls.  It was actually quite a walk. Especially for little legs. Well especially if one has little legs attached to bodies that have to go to the bathroom – twice – during the walk – and there is only one bathroom back at the start (cough cough Aaron Ball cough cough)

Like most towns down south – it has Roman roots – but the city was really built up by Saint Louis in 1240 when he realized that he’d really like his kingdom to have access to the Mediterranean.

in front of the Tour de Constance

The walls were built up later by Philippe the Bold and then by Philippe the Fair. (note: I really need a title like that.  Perhaps “George the Well-Fed”)

The town is also famous in that it was used as a prison during the religious wars that took place after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which had allowed protestantism. Since it was then illegal to not be catholic, they rounded up the Huguenots who refused to convert -and imprisoned them – many in the Tour de Constance – and some of them for decades.

So there you go – and update on our trip last month and a brief refresher on 17th century history…now that’s why you keep coming back here.

Let’s back up a bit.

 OK so lets be honest – we’re a bit  lot behind on posting here lately.  I guess the more you have to do – the less time you have to write about it.
Quick recap: Heather & Aaron & their girls were here for a bit over a month.  We travelled down south with them – one our favorite places ever.

On the way down we stopped in at a market in Nyons, an area known for its olives
and lavender
and wine


like kids in a candy store

nice part of the world if you ask me.

Our destination was Pézenas – a fantastic town with a very active artisan community, a great market on saturdays, wine festivals, lots of good food – and my aunt and uncle who always spoil us with wine, lots of good food, and pointers on the best markets.  

We all stayed down there for a week. The weather was great -and I really enjoyed taking some time off from writing my first year paper.  (which I turned in the draft of on Sunday night – thank you very much)

We went to the beach a few times, visited some wineries, drove around, strolled through the town -and just took it all in.

La Vie en Noir

{PART OF THE MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago… yeah…that’s on me.}

{{{This is a post I apparently wrote in 2011, while living in France. Not sure if it was intentional, but I never published it to the blog. So here it is. Despite really wanting to edit it now, I left it exactly as I found it, except for one typo’d sentence that was really unclear. I decided to let my 2011 self speak for himself.}}}}}

So I’ve had two people comment that from the sounds of this blog – all is rosy in La France.  It’s probably true that I have at some level not sounded off about what bothers me more about living here. That probably comes from just by being an ex-pat in a foreign country you tend to bump into lots of others here as a non-native.  And if there is one thing that seems to come easy in that situation is all too often a rather scathing,  often unending, critique of the French, their culture, the way they drive, their bureaucracy, the schools etc. etc.

I have made a very conscious effort since arriving here to try to disallow myself from falling into that trap for two reasons:

  1. the French didn’t invite me here – I chose to come
  2. the French didn’t ask for my input – it’s their country

There are I think a number of mitigating factors that make living in France quite enjoyable.

One – we’ve lived here before – so we kind of knew what we were in for with some things.  We knew what to be prepared for, remembered what kinds of things tended to be annoying last time – and set our expectations accordingly.

The second factor is that while France is a very foreign place compared to Edmonton – it’s not the kind of place where I stick out like a sore thumb as I would in South-East Asia, or in Africa.  If you were to see me walking down the street – I would (at least I think) look no more out of place than I do back home. Perhaps a bit above average height – but that’s about it. We could be from here – and it’s not until people actually hear us speaking that they know we’re not from here. And even then – there are lots of expats etc living in the Grenoble area – so it’s not likely we’re the first people that someone has run into that does not have French as their first language.  There are lots of North African Arabs in the city, the Universities attract a lot of African and Asian students – so I imagine me being here is nothing like a tall white dude walking around downtown Kampala.

I think the other thing to me that makes a lot of the issues more tolerable – is that in a lot of ways the things that can be annoying – are often just massive pendulum swings of things that I find annoying about North American culture.

Here: the customer hardy seems right  – but back home I find “the customer is ALWAYS right” to breed a fake sense of appreciation by store clerks, lots of entitlement by customers, and a generally synthetic exchange between the two.

Here you seem to have to wait in line, all the time, for a long time, for no apparent reason – it is really maddening.  However, this causes me to think about how everything back home MUST be done as soon as possible, in the least amount of time, in the fastest possible manner – no matter what.

Yes- the bureaucracy here is astounding, the time delay and paperwork required to get anything done (we still don’t have our French health coverage etc – which we started applying for last September) is at times beyond what can be imagined. However, I have yet to meet a French person who does not share that frustration.

So yes, there are a  number of things that I find difficult about living here – but in all honesty a lot of it is not living here specifically – but being outside of my comfort zone, being in a foreign place, living someplace where things do not come naturally, my reflexes and instincts more often fail, and the obvious answer to me usually does not apply.

What a difference a decade makes

The last time we moved to Grenoble it was August 1999.  We had been been married just over three years, no kids.  We could easily pack up most of what we owned, put in in storage in our parents basement, take the rest in a few suitcases, stop renting the apartment we were in, and go.  We found a cheap apartment in the city where I could walk to school. We were planning on being here about 12 months or so.

This time we have 3 kids going in to school – one starting school for the first time here. We had a house and cars to get rid of. We had to sell a lot of stuff, just to get down to having a storage shed left.  We had to rent out our house. We had to base where we lived more on where the kids would go to school than anything.  We plan on being here for 4 years or so.
The other HUGE change is the way technology affects your ability to stay connected over long distances.
Last time we had a phone at our apartment and expensive long distance calls to Canada. Very expensive. We probably called home a few times a year. We had dial-up internet at home.   In order to get music we would buy a few cd’s when ever we were back in Canada and physically bring them here.  In order to get shows from North America we became part of a rather large and organized international television smuggling ring.  Friends of ours had some contacts back in California who would tape shows onto VHS cassettes, then they would either be mailed over – or more often, saved up and brought over en-masse when someone was back in the US. Then there was a systematic passing of the tapes around a small and organized ex-pat community.  Occasionally one of the tapes would go missing and and we would be left in the lurch – not knowing what happened on the season finale of Alias!
 Email was our primary form of communication with people back in Canada.  In order to show what we were up to – we could attach a few pictures that we took on our 1 MegaPixel digital camera.
This time we have a package at our house that gives us (for €39 a month) broadband internet, tons of digital tv stations and unlimited phone calls to all over France and North America.  We can buy our music the exact same way we did back home – online.  We can watch streaming TV, post essentially unlimited photos, videos and whatever else on this blog and other places.  We can use skype to have free video calls anywhere in the world. I can use Google Translate to make a (usually) incredibly accurate instant and free translation of any document, webpage, or text of any kind.  Facebook & Twitter allow us to keep up with friends dispersed all over the globe.
Yes, we had these things back in Canada – but somehow the power of them to give some sense of being less disconnected did not really occur to me until we were living here.
I’m not sure what the point is.
 I guess: “living in the future is pretty cool”  
Well, that and “No, it does not make it feel like we’re still back in Canada – which is at the same time unfortunate and fantastic”

Doesn’t even know how to speak well.

Living in a place where the language used is not your own mother tongue, you start to get some sense of appreciation for what it is like to not be able to communicate  as efficiently or effectively as you would like.

I was sitting somewhere and someone was struggling to make clear what they wanted to say.  I found that I was – at some subconscious level – passing some kind of judgment on their ability/knowledge on what was being discussed.  I very quickly realized that they must feel the same way I do when trying to make myself understood in French.  It is a very frustrating feeling to have thoughts that you have formed, that you want to communicate to others – but there is awkward transformation of my ideas into the too-limited number of words that I have mastery of at my disposal. It feels like trying to poor clear water through an unreasonably messy filter  that allows only partial thoughts through, often with sludgy grammar, and unwanted extra bits – while all too often the clarity of what I had started with seems partially or completely lost.