Sunday, July 15, 2007

Photos from France

The first three photos show me amongst my favorite things: food and shoes, in my favorite place: France. We went to a different marche in different towns every day or two to stock up on provisions (i.e., food and shoes). The produce was fresh, beautiful and mouth-watering delicious. We managed to get there right at the end of strawberry season, and I'm not talking about the big tasteless ones we have here, but the little sweet ones they have in France. Not as easy to dip into the dark French chocolate, but worth the effort. We were also smack dab in the middle of Cavaillon melon season. We bought and ate two melons every day. The photo at upper left shows the spice stand. Note the huge pile of lavender. I'm standing in front of a basket of herbs de Provence. They also sell bread, cheese, sausages, clothes, fabric, tablecloths, towels, jewelry and temporary tattoos at the marche. As for the shoes (next photo down), are they cute or what? I couldn't resist for only 20 euros.
Which reminds me: the cost of living in France seems to be more or less the same as in Los Angeles. The food at the marche is about the same, the food in restaurants is about the same, and the food in the supermarket is way less. Gas prices were somewhere between $4 and $5/gallon (sort of difficult to calculate, since it's sold in euros/liter), but the gas mileage on the cars is way better. We rented a Volkswagen Touran SUV with a diesel engine and got something like 35 miles/gallon. As for the cost of healthcare in France, I suggest you see "Sicko."

Below is a photo of us standing on the banks of the Rhone River. In the background is the city of Avignon. Lucky for us, they have built a new bridge across the river (to the right of us; you can't see it) since the Pont St. Benezet bridge (to the left of us; you can't see it) of nursery-rhyme fame ("Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse ...") was flooded and partially destroyed in 1668. In Avignon we toured the Palais des Papes as well as the Pont St. Benezet. Manny liked it because he's Catholic, Paul liked it because it's historic, I liked it because it's France, Ashton liked it because he likes everything, and Nicky sat on a bench waiting for us.

Here we are at a picnic winetasting and Provencal lunch in the vineyards of Sablet, hosted by the Autrans, the owners of Domaine de Piaugier and our not-so-petite gite. We tasted many of their EXCELLENT wines. The French have no concept of a legal drinking age ... and the most that could go wrong would be someone getting tipsy and tripping over a grapevine ... so all the boys joined us. The "lunch" lasted until dinnertime. The photo on the left is Sophie and her husband. He works in the vineyards and makes the wine. She manages the business and sells the wine. And, oh, yes, we are expecting our case to arrive in San Francisco in about 45 days, by way of the Panama Canal. Homeland Security wouldn't let us bring any back on the plane. They even confiscated our sunblock in Chicago, after we had already traveled with it from Marseille to Madrid and Madrid to Chicago. Gotta fight those terrorists.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bag Lady

Did you know that grocery stores in France do not provide you with bags to pack your groceries? You have to take your own. We found this out the first time we went to Leclerc in Vaison La Romaine. The checker rang up the items and just left them for us at the end of the checkstand. The kids and I just stood there, amazed .... waiting for no one to pack our groceries. We finally figured out that this is the norm there. I was like, "Do you guys see the irony in this?" because I am the only one at Ralph's in La Crescenta every Sunday who brings in my own bags to recycle. In fact, Ralph's gives me 5 cents/bag, and that's one of the ways I saved up enough money to even go to France. I don't know the exact reasoning behind this French tradition, but obviously it's better for the environment. When I went to Target today to buy Nicky some pillows for college and the checker was trying to shove each individual pillow -- already in plastic wrap -- into a plastic bag, it was apparent to me how wasteful we Americans are without even thinking. Vive la France!