Tuesday, February 22, 2011

La vie d’un célibataire (life without a partner)

Add to Google Reader or HomepageHow do you make a 400 sq. ft. apartment seem too big? Live there alone.

Ellen is attending L’Institut de Français (www.institutdefrancais.com) where she enrolled in a French immersion course in Villefranche sur mer. It is a one-month course that focuses on practical, oral French. L’Institut de Français is one of the premier/the premier French language school(s) in France. Villefranche sur mer is located just east of Nice – between Nice and Monaco on the Mediterranean coast. She has already completed two weeks at the Institut.

She has a beautiful view from her apartment though she doesn’t get to spend much time appreciating the view. The school opens for breakfast at 8:30 and then the students spend the next nine hours working on improving their French. With two weeks under her belt and two weeks to go, it is already obvious to me that it is having a positive impact on her ability to speak French. This past weekend, for example, Phil, Margaret and I went to visit her and when rain ruined all of our Sunday plans, Ellen worked on her homework (devoirs). We offered to help her but she wanted to get it right and to understand why, so she worked alone. (Meanwhile, Margaret, Phil and I tried to improve our French by correcting each other on subjunctive verbs, pronouns, etc. Not a day at the Carnivale in Nice nor the Lemon Festival in Menton, but we still had fun.)

I have visited Ellen on each weekend that she has been at the school. The first weekend, the Institut offered a walking tour of Villefranche sur mer. On Sunday, Ellen and I went to Nice. (The bus service between Nice and Monaco costs only one euro so it was easy and inexpensive to enjoy the city of Nice – we haven’t yet been to Monaco.)

This past weekend, we went to two villages on a tour again organized by the Institut. In St. Paul, we went to the modern art museum at which there are many Miro and Giacometti sculptures as well as many paintings. 

We saw a chapel that was designed by Matisse. The tour continued to the village of Tourettes sur Loup (towers on the Loup river) which is a medieval village located between Nice and Grasse. Tourettes sur Loup is known for its tanneries which I learned is the reason that Grasse became the center of the perfume industry. Apparently, in the early days, tanned leather was sought after but its products smelled bad. Working with people from Grasse, they found a way of adding a scent that was less offensive – thus creating the perfume industry in France.

Ellen’s apartment may have a beautiful view but it has not been updated and thus there is no wifi and the kitchen is wanting in terms of preparing foods. Ellen has a stove top with four elements and a microwave (no oven). When I arrived to make dinner, I had to change my ideas of what to prepare as I rely on casseroles and dishes that require oven time…

I am continually gratified that we chose to live in Vaison la Romaine. The Mediterranean coast is gorgeous but it is crowded with people who want to live with a view. Too many hills (and stairways up the hills!) and too many people. I like the calm and easy flow of life here. Secondly, I have been surprised at the number of people in our village who know that Ellen is away and are routing for her. It is a rare day that someone doesn’t ask how she is doing (and how I am getting along without her). It seems that they all know that she has a lot to say and they want to hear it from her – rather than through her interpreter.

Bonne chance, Ellen! (Good luck, Ellen.) We are all routing for you.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Walking in the park

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According to “France on Foot” www.franceonfoot.com, France has more than 110,000 miles of hiking trails. The same website says that there are 38,000 miles of “sentiers de grande randonnée” (long, national paths).

I first learned about the hiking trails when Tish came to visit two years ago. She had done her research on hiking in France and came ready to start walking. We picked up a few hiking guides at the Tourist information office that listed the starting point(s) distance, elevation, etc. Tish, Ellen and I had some very fun walks by picking hikes from the books. (For long-time blog readers, you may remember my text about our hike through the Dentelles: “Les Dentelles de Montmirail”, January 5, 2009.)

As a result of being introduced to the system by Tish, I have become very aware of the markings that indicate national paths or grande randonnée. Grande Randonnée 5 (GR5), for instance, goes from Amsterdam to Nice. If you are in France and see a tree or a light pole or a building with yellow or white and red horizontal stripes, you will know that you are on one of the national paths. I was reading “Follow the Yellow and Red Striped Road” by Anne (www.justanotheramericaninparis.blogspot.com) in which she talked about seeing the red and yellow stripes on posts in Paris. Local trails have single, yellow stripes designating petite randonnée (PR).

The hiking trails include urban centers as well as rural areas. I would have said frontier areas but France has been traversed and settled by so many groups, there really is no true frontier anymore. You go for a walk in an area in which you think that you must be the first person to trek down this path and you learn that the path was one that the Romans created in 400 AD or the Celts used in 700 AD.

We learned recently that there are excursions each Sunday that leave from the Vaison la Romaine Post Office parking lot where the hikes are 10 to 20 kilometers and of varying degrees of difficulty.

In addition to the “GR” and “PR” trails, we have had friends show us other promenades. (Remember MB – “Embay” – standing below one of Les Demoiselles Coiffées? Tuesday, December 1, 2009.) This year, Tish walked with us past the ‘coiffed women.’

In addition to the well-marked trails that are part of the national paths, there are shorter, more local trails. There are also the ubiquitous yellow signs that one sees in town and in the country that show directions and the number of kilometers to the named destination.

Last weekend, Jane called and asked if we wanted to join her on a little walk above the village of Piégon. We had a great time (though the Mistral wind made it feel very cold when we got to the top of the ridge). The picture below is of a carving in Piégon. 

So, the next time somebody tells me to “take a hike!” I will answer: happily! (and I will know where I am going).