Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding Home in France

As I step into the boulangerie, the baker flashes me a smile of recognition. There aren't many other Americans waltzing in every morning and mangling the pronunciation of everything in sight.

With my baguette under my arm and a pastry in hand, I stuff the change into my pocket and walk down the street to the farmer’s market.

Moving to Grenoble wasn’t a conscious decision. One day passed and then another and suddenly seven months have swept past me and I'm still here, slinging a basket over my arm and parading from shop to shop in preparation for dinner.

 I brush the flaky bits of pastry from my jacket and swallow the last bite of my chausson aux pommes before pulling out my shopping list.

 Tomates, courgettes, champignons. I load them all into my basket.

The cashier, engulfed in a Gore-Tex jacket, stamps her feet to keep warm as she weighs my stack of misshapen tomatoes.

C'est tout?

Directing my gaze to the rounds of cheese behind her I purchase 200 grams of comté because it's easy to say.

Later as I’m slicing tomatoes and dancing to Serge Gainsbourg, my friends burst into the kitchen, twirling around and theatrically singing along. I smile.

My France is not the Eiffel Tower or the walls of Avignon. It’s the baker grinning as I mispronounce yet another French word, my friends rifling through my cupboards to find the wine glasses, 200 grams of my favorite cheese carefully wrapped in paper. A litany of small beautiful moments that create a familiar space: home. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Breakfast!

The U.S. 

The UK 

Italy. What? 

Just kidding 

France. For Real. 



Palestine (if you're me...) 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

France: Awkward Bike Moment #6,702

Today while walking through downtown Montpellier, British guy and I watched a woman roll past us on her bike. As she made her way effortlessly across the tram tracks, British guy turned to me with a smirk on his face.

"Look, she didn't fall over." 

Glaring at him, I tried to suppress a smile. 

He was referencing an experience I'd had last summer. I'd just purchased my new-to-me road bike, and I was still getting the hang of, well, riding it. 

I'd hopped on the train with my road bike in Geneva to meet British guy for a weekend of cycling in the mountains around Grenoble. He met me at the station and then we jumped on our bikes to ride back to his apartment. 

Wearing a light summer dress and flimsy sandals, getting on my bike was anything but an elegant affair. With one hand on my dress and my knees clamped together to try and keep the fabric from sliding up, I did my best to keep up with British guy who was whizzing through traffic like some sort of crazed video game character. Crash Bandicoot comes to mind.

Darting around cars and slipping neatly into the small pockets in the mid-day traffic, I was just barely managing to keep up with British guy. And then we started crossing the tram lines. With narrow grooves just wide enough to snag the tire of a road bike, they're a potential hazard for the novice cyclist. 

We cross our first set of tram tracks. No problem.

Second set of tram tracks. No problem. 

British guy turns to me at a traffic light. "You're doing well going over the tram tracks. Sometimes beginners have a difficult time and get their tires stuck in the tracks." 

This hadn't even occurred to me. 

Tram Tracks aka The culprit. 

Third set of tram tracks going through Victor Hugo square. I turn my bike to ride over the tracks and the next thing I know I'm heading straight for the pavement, headfirst and with no time to stick out my arm to brace myself. I can already hear the collective gasp of everyone around me. 

Hitting the ground with a resounding thwack I don't even have time to register what has happened before I'm bounding to my feet and trying to assure everyone in broken French that I'm perfectly alright...I think. Adrenaline is surging through my veins and as British guy wheels his bike around to see what all the commotion is about, all I feel is sheer humiliation. 

I pull my dress down, checking the girls to see that they're still restrained behind the flimsy fabric, and wipe dirt smudges off my face. My hands are covered in grease and all I succeed in doing is smearing grease across my face and dress. My attempts at being sexy are completely and utterly thwarted. I look a mess, am burning red from the shame, and I have a mild concussion to boot. 


British guy helps me drag my bike to the sidewalk. He looks concerned and then amused when he realizes that I'm fine. He helps me to pop the chain back in place and suggests that we walk to a café.

I sit down and British guy follows with a glass of water for me and a coffee for him. I look at him sheepishly.

"I can't believe I fell off my bike in front of the whole town."

British guy grins. "I can." 

Friday, January 21, 2011

No really, I do love skiing

I know I gripe a lot about learning how to ski and how awkward, degrading, and embarrassing it is when you spend the better part of the day on your ass with about 80 little kids zigzagging around you as you lie in an awkward position halfway down the slope.

And to tell you the truth, if my skiing experiences consisted solely of resort experiences, I might actually be serious about my griping.

But I'm not. Because my love of backcountry skiing makes it worthwhile.

Yes, I sometimes cry and/or hyperventilate halfway up an icy slope because I'm so afraid I'm going to tumble to my death or--at the very least--an uncomfortable landing.

Yes, I fall often. (I did a front flip the other day. It was impressive.)

Yes, I snowplow down just about everything.

And yes, I had to put my ski crampons on the other day when there was literally no ice around for miles.

But it doesn't matter.

When I slap my skins on my skis in the morning as the sun begins to make its way above the peaks looming above our little chateau, I'm filled with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, knowing that the day will probably be full of all sorts of useful lessons.

 Like this one:

How to do a front flip on skis: 

1. Gain a little bit of speed.
2. Go over a small bump that you were not anticipating.

3. Lean forward suddenly as small bump knocks you off balance.
4. Dig the front of your skis straight into the snow
5. Lurch headfirst into the snow

6. Do a somersault
7. Lie in the snow and wonder why you do this to yourself.
8. Imagine what your more sensible friends are doing. Probably drinking hot chocolate, eating popcorn, and watching Iron Chef on the Food Network.

9. Notice birds singing in the forest nearby.
10. Stare up at the sky and the mountains surrounding you.
11. Take a deep breath and feel grateful you're out there.

Sorry for the poor photo quality.
Forgot my camera cable so can't download any photos till I get home.
 Had to use my iPhone....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Skiing Tips: How to use a Tire-Fesse or a "Pull The Butt"

Tire-Fesse. "Pull The Butt." This is what the French unabashedly call the unruly contraption they use to drag themselves up their pristine mountain slopes. Comprised of a pole attached to a cable with a circular disk at the other end, it is often a source of painfully embarrassing wipe-outs for the uninitiated.

I'm not sure if the Tire-Fesse or Téléski is in universal practice or if the Europeans have invented it for the sole purpose of creating yet one more way for novice skiers to make a spectacle of themselves, but the principle behind it is relatively simple.

I think the reasoning went something like this: Given that novice skiers have so much fun sliding down the slope on their backsides, it is assumed that they will have an equivalent amount of fun being dragged up the slope on their frontside. In front of the entire resort. Et voilà! The Tire-Fesse.

However with some practice and a few useful tips, the art of getting on and off a Tire-Fesse can go from elusive to manageable within a few short degrading and utterly embarrassing wipe-outs.

Take heart, take notes, and hit the slopes with these handy tips!

How to use a Tire-Fesse

1. First, be sure to miss the entrance gate by about 2 feet so that you are forced to awkwardly sidestep with your skis while everyone behind you waits. Alternatively you can shuffle forward while wobbling unsteadily as your skis slip out from underneath you with every step.

2. Next, leave your poles dangling from your wrists until right before you're about to reach out and grab the Tire-Fesse. Then scramble to get the straps over your wrists and both poles in one hand while some five-year old with spiderman goggles and a runny nose keeps scraping forward on top of your skis.

3. Now, with your ski poles in one hand, grab the pole of the Tire-Fesse with the other hand. Attempt to remove it from its slot, wedge the disk between your legs, and bring your skis together in the 15 seconds it takes for the whole contraption to jolt forward, dragging you with it.

4. As you jolt forward unexpectedly, catch your skis on the snow, lose balance and let go of the Tire-Fesse pole with one hand in an attempt to grab your ski poles that you've just dropped. The disk will then pop out from between your knees. Hang onto it while it drags you up the slope. Let go after about 20 feet and then attempt to reclaim your skis, poles, and dignity while the French ski station employees laugh uncontrollably.

5. Ski back down to the entrance of the Tire-Fesse. Repeat steps 1-4.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The View From Alpe d'Huez

These photos are actually from last November just after the first snow. There's more snow now, and I'll post those pictures soon! I've been meaning to post this batch for weeks, but between bouncing around France, Italy, the UK, and California... I just haven't gotten around to it till now. I arrived back in France on Friday night, and the first place British guy and I headed to was Alpe d'Huez. We went for a short ski on Saturday, and as I stood looking out over these beautiful mountains all I could think about was sharing that moment with everyone I know.

So now you can see why I have a love/hate relationship with this place. When I'm trying to cycle up, it's my arch nemesis....but when I'm standing out and looking over the expanse of these mountains, I'm absolutely in love.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas in Bethlehem

The bells of the nativity church echo across the valley, summoning the crowds thronging Bethlehem’s sleepless streets. With security guards and fences to keep the multitudes of worshippers in check, it looks more like a scene from a New York nightclub than a midnight Christmas mass.

Huddling in line together, old women clutch rosaries to their chests murmuring prayers to the night sky, children sleep in haphazard positions in their parents' arms, and tourists buzz excitedly, their cameras creating a flurry of flashing lights.

 Stepping into the cavernous hall of the church I take my place among the rows of visitors pressing against the walls as they crane their necks to view a series of religious rites meticulously passed down from one devout generation to the next.

Incense permeates the air, and a man behind me hums softly. Standing in a drafty church thronged by the devout and the curious, my heart warms to the elaborate celebration of such a simple message. Peace.

An Italian nun presses my hand and wishes me a Buon Natale. I return her wish before ducking back outside. The crowds circling the perimeter of the church have increased, and guards with assault rifles carelessly slung over their shoulders eye their flock wearily. 

The lights from a nearby Israeli settlement flicker and Jerusalem’s silhouette can be seen rising above the separation barrier. Just beyond the small towns flanking Bethlehem, the desert hills are bathed in moonlight and exuding the borrowed peace of a Christmas Eve.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A new year. A new journal.

I'm not big into New Year's resolution. Belonging to the carpe diem camp (Thanks Dead Poet's Society), I tend to believe change should be embraced any day of the year. 

But I did buy a new journal to commemorate the new year. The journal of the last year being a valuable but endless chronicle of the confusion of an uncertain fate, I felt it was time for a new one. 

And while the uncertainty of my life's plan remains, it no longer walks hand in hand with anxiety. 

As a daily reminder that my life should be bold and my passion should not be hid behind my fear of failure, I selected a bright, red journal. 

And yeah, it's a Moleskin. I have a weakness for them...

Red for bold, new dreams. For fearlessness and courage. For a willingness to expect good and to let natural passion and vigor infuse my daily life.

Red, to love with a purity and intensity that knows no fear or trepidation.

Red, for I can and I will.

Red, to never rely on the love or approval of another to provide self-worth or a validation of my identity.

Red. A promise to live the life I've imagined. 

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. -Henry David Thoreau 

Happy New Year everyone! Hope it's a good one!

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