July 2010

Three weeks with the unicorn has flown by…I’ve settled pretty easily into rural French life.  This has been made easier by the fact that Franz seems to survive mostly on tea, cheese, and dark chocolate.  He is, however, quite adamant about never eating the same thing twice for lunch and finding ways to use the massive quantities of fruit his garden is producing.  Yesterday we had raspberry and apricot tart (home made bien sur and in trying to find the circonflex accent to put over the u I have just made this entire post italicized and cant figure out how to change it back.  Good god, so much for trying to accuracy in my French.  Let this be a lesson to myself.) and today, since it is raining, we are making peach compote.
The crazy Frenchman Jose left about a week ago, thank goodness, but not before leaving both Maria and Franz detailed letters under their doors about how they could improve themselves by using such and such methods of psychotheraphy.  Oh and they got stickers too.  I didn’t get a letter, either because he hates Americans (Franz told me that when I cut off one of Jose’s speeches to go watch the World Cup final with Maria he spent the next hour complaining about American youths…I just… yeah young Americans are really disrupting world culture with their CRAZED LOVE OF SOCCER.  Oh wait.) or has decided that I am mentally sound.  Either way, I’m offended.
Maria stayed for an extra few days though, which was nice.  We visited Rouen, where they have a really freaky massive effing cross in the spot where the British bruleed Joan of Arc.  And a museum of iron work, which was actually pretty cool.  Old locks and keys are fascinating, and no I’m not being facetious.  After Maria left, Franz and I visited Honfleur, which is a very pretty and very touristy town by the sea and has some of the most terrifyingly kitschy art galleries I’ve ever seen. 
Sidenote:  I had an ice cream cone in Honfleur.  Salted caramel and marron glace.  It will haunt my dreams.
We also drive around to look at antiques and old Manor houses.  I’ve been getting all these lessons in 17th and 18th century French decorative arts from my unicorn.
 Speaking of unicorns, Franz doesn’t know it, but he cracks me up: 
1.  Like most unicorns, instead of walking, Franz either skips or prances.   He also holds his hands out at a 45 degree angle from his wrists, palms to the ground.
2.  He doesn’t drink alchohol because the fumes hurt him if it’s too strong (spirits), or he thinks it just tastes like rancid juice (wine). 
3.  He wears only black in the country and only white in cities. 
4.  He wants a garden with only white flowers.  There’s a bed of the most beautiful poppies with red and orange and pink flowers and one of my jobs is to pick all the colors out leaving only the white.  I put them in a vase every day and leave them on the kitchen table while we eat lunch, but Franz makes me take them toomy room at night because the reds are “too violent” and will disrupt his sleep if I don’t firmly enclose them in my own chambers.  Seriously.
5.  When he was a jazz singer he used to paint his face like a cross between a cast member of Cats and cracked-out mime.
6.  He is firmly convinced that he has a perfect “upper class” British accent when he speaks English.  However, he also loves to mimic “vulgar” British accents like cockney, and also believes he does this perfectly.  I do not have the heart to inform him otherwise.
7.  The other day, he interrupted his sentence declaring that he didn’t like men who were too “pouffy,” to tell me that he couldn’t possibly help me open the jam jar I was struggling with because his wrists were too delicate.
He’s great.  Oh, and he wears short shorts.  Beh oui, he’s French after all.  
Paris in a couple days, where I get to see my old friend Simon!  And then, in what will possibly be the most dangerous segment of my journey, I head to Budapest with distant acquaintances Chaney and Mo. 

I am no longer alone with the unicorn.  Two other WWOOFers have joined us in our crumbling farmhouse: Jose, a 60 year old Parisian, and Maria, an Italian in her late 30s.  WWOOFers do tend to be in their 20s, but hey.  Maria is very nice.  We’ve been biking the 6km to the sea in order to find a place to watch the World Cup games as Franz doesn’t own a TV and the town we’re in–if you can call it that–has only one bar, and it closes at 8.  Which makes tons of sense. It’s a great little ride though, through the fields of wheat and red poppies, cows, wild roses, those farmhouses with the thatched roofs, etc.  And the sleepy little seaside town we head to also has only one bar/restaurant with a TV, but the owners are football fans and during the two games of the semi-finals the place has been full of either German or Dutch tourists.  The first game, I walked in while Maria was locking up the bikes and the owner asked me, increduously, “Are you Dutch, then?  You are very tan.”

“Non monsieur, en fait je suis americaine.”

“You can’t be American.  You are here to watch the match and you speak French.  You are Dutch–or perhaps, South American.”

…ok…that makes perfect sense.  Guess I’m rooting for Holland in the finals. 

While Maria and I get along quite well in our struggling French, Jose…well…Jose asked me what I thought the meaning of life was on the second day I knew him, and then tried to trap me into admitting that eating animals was immoral.  I told him that I didn’t care about his opinions on philosophy and that they’d have to pry the bacon from my cold, dead fingers before I became a self-righteous vegetarian.  (My French is improving.) In retrospect, that was a little rude, but Maria and I had been on a (mercifully) short drive with him to check out the beach and GOOD GOD.  I think he might have touched the steering wheel only when we were in danger of hitting something and instead used his hands to gesticulate as he TURNED TO FACE ME IN THE BACK SEAT while telling some damn fool story about his readings in psychotheraphy.

…Jose has actually just interrupted me.  He has given me a gift.  It is a sticker.  It reads:

L’être humain n’existe que dans sa relation à l’autre. 

Translation: Human beings don’t exist except for their relationships to one another.  Loosely, anyway.  He is so strange.  What the hell is this supposed to mean?  Where did he get this?  WHY DOES HE CARRY SUCH STICKERS ON HIS PERSON?

Mealtimes are always fun because they consist of me, Maria, and Franz all trying to head Jose off before he begins one of his 3 hour lectures on sh*t he’s learned in life.  Speaking of meals, I have some work to do before dinner so I’m going to get on that.  Imagine: Franz is letting me wrestle a 5M high, 100M long massively overgrown hedge back into a straight line, with an ancient and razor sharp pair of shears!  I realized yesterday that flip flops were not the optimal footwear for such an assignment.

Let the betting on when I lose a limb or finger begin.

So after back and forthing a bit between France and the UK (and being detained AGAIN in an airport.  Ask me about these.  They’re becoming a disturbing habit.) I’m all fixed up in rural Normandy.  For those of you who don’t know, this is the WWOOFing segment of my trip where I trade physical labor for room and board.  I am staying with a potter named Franz whose creativity focuses on Renaissance ceramics.  He has a massive, beautiful garden, a thing for only white flowers, and a very large farm house, of which about half is inhabitable.  Franz speaks lovely, clear French, gesticulates like a true Romance language speaker, is way too in touch with his emotions, and instead of eyebrows, he has a litle tuft of red-gold hair that juts out between his eyes.  I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s the personification of a baby unicorn.

He’s very sweet.

The place is amazing though.  It’s such a bizarre mix of beauty and ruin.   For example, the stones and red brick that pave the kitchen are broken in places, with the dirt coming through, but every piece of furniture within is a lovingly tended antique.  There is no working toilet, but the room with the shower in it is filled with alabaster statues and vases.  My room looks out into both gardens, has crumbing and faded robin’s egg blue walls, a little white table, and an upright piano that does not play but has incredibly intricate woodwork.  It’s fascinating.

I have to go pick blackcurrants now. 

Also: I have a French cellphone now, courtesy of my fantastic Uncle Marc, so if you want to call me (and you should want to call me, cause I miss all ten people that read this blog) email me.  I’ve retained enough sensibility not to post phone numbers on the internet.

Best Barge in France, possibly Europe

I’m in London now, squatting at Alix’s apartment.  I’ve been here since last Friday, when I came back to hang out with Alix and my friend Jimmy who was in town from NY for the weekend.  Great to see them both, and I’m having a great time being pachanko with Alix.  I never get enough of her, seeing as she lives here, and not in NY.  She’s disgustingly smart, and doing her PhD at Cambridge as a Gates Scholar.  Anyway, today we drank fizzy elderflower juice in an orchard!

Last week I spent on my Uncle Marc’s barge.  I didn’t realize it, but I was a little tired after being on the move for over 2 months and not having to pack up my stuff for 5 days was quite the relief.  Also, some of you might not think it possible, but my godfather is even more of a foodie than I am, and since my Aunt Mary doesn’t drink, the two of us were going through our fair share of wine.  Nothing like a crisp white to temper the heat as you while away the time in the Loire.  Life is hard.  We had some truly amazing meals too.  Uncle Marc and I went to check out a market place in a nearby town and had the set menu at a place in the town square.  So for a little over 11 euros, we had: ham and melon (and not just any melon.  Those little sugar-sweet intense tiny ones the French love so dearly…I don’t even like melon that much and I was maybe a little too into them.) and perfectly cooked juicy veal escalopes in a cream sauce with mashed potatoes that probably had more butter inside them that even I want to think about.  Then there was cheese.  And of course, this being France, we just got handed a tray of about 8 cheeses with plates and more bread and just took what we wanted.  Was there dessert after that?  Cherry clafouti.  Oh, and a carafe of wine.  That too.  For 11 Euros.

I am not coming home.

The barge is lovely too.  It’s cozy, and filled with all these beautiful little antiques Uncle Marc has found in sales all over the place.  He’s got a neat collection of coffee machines too, and he gave me one!  (Mary made him put some of them in the garage, since he has ten of them.)  I hope I don’t break it.  It has these beautiful delicate glass globes and makes the coffee in this intricate way that involves hot water and a flame underneath the globes…I’m excited to use it.

Tomorrow is my last day in London, and then I am off to Yvetot, Normandy, where I will be working for this guy.

IT”S NOT THAT CREEPY. Ok, maybe a little, but hey, I dig the Renaissance.