Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trip report and Happy Thanksgiving

Unfortunately since my return my cold intensified and turned into an infection. I had to have more bed rest and am still taking antibiotics (until Thanksgiving) - but I’d like to make a post to keep in touch. I’ll use some postcards now as I have not looked at all my trip pictures yet. The above photograph is the first one I took upon arrival at the airport. I do thank you for visiting my blog and shall go and visit yours very soon.

During my illness I did read at least 6 or 7 books, some in French e.g. as Henry de Monfreid’s biography. Henry, pictured above, was a French adventurer, smuggler and watercolourist. With his boat he traveled across the Red Sea in the early 1900s and evaded many deadly close calls. He wrote 70 books and if you can find one in an old book store you will enjoy it. You can read more on him here. I also read a small book on the First World War (have another couple to read), a French book by Emile Zola titled “Le Ventre de Paris” (the belly of Paris) and some light reading such as a mystery by the New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh. That was the good part about being sick - reading. I also thought about my trip and tried to remember what I observed in Europe.

Below is a postcard of the Palace of Catalane Music in Barcelona (by Triangle Postals.)

Here are a few observations, not in order. These are just observations and do not imply that what I observed was better or worse than in the US – they are just my random observations.

1. The people in the countries I visited in Europe wore very dark clothes, mostly black with some navy or dark grey – very few brown or dark green and no vivid colours. About 90% of the women in Paris wore boots of many styles and shapes (boots are quite expensive there.) Trousers were tight and women quite slim – I saw very few overweight people in any of the countries visited. Did not see many jeans or sneakers – just some kids wore them. Also the newer generation is quite tall. There are many young men and women who now are over 6 ft tall.

2. In France the tourists were from Italy, Germany, Spain, Russia, and the Orient – I heard only one American couple (sitting on a bench in Paris eating a sandwich) and just a couple of Brits – could be the time of year. In Spain I heard one American couple on the main road. However, we did not go to many touristy spots.

Postcard of Norvins Street in Montmartre, Paris (by Artertre.)

3. Watching TV – the news included more stories about the world than we get here – the TV channels there gave local news but also news about the USA, Japan, Africa, etc. The weather info included the weather in many parts of the world. There are many game shows on Italian and Russian TVs. France TV was still talking a lot about Michael Jackson and showed old American soaps.

4. I watched television channels from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, England – there were many channels from each country – but I never found a single religious channel (Christian or otherwise.)

5. A popular reality TV show in France was “Maman Cherche l’Amour” (Mommy is Looking for Love.) I did not watch it but just saw a few clips and it looks like a divorced/widowed/single mother is looking for a partner and a few are offered to her during the show. The interesting observation I made was that when I saw the clip the mother, a white young woman, had selected a young black partner. I don’t think such a show would be popular here or would even appear on TV, but I could be wrong.

Postcard of Tunis, Tunisia (North Africa) (by Carte d’Or.)

6. In Tunisia, a Muslim country, I was surprised to see so many women without a head covering. Most of the younger women in Tunis were bare headed and wore stylish clothes and make-up. I had been there before twice in the 80s and thought that this had changed (more strict) –but it has not.

7. There were many beggars in the main street of Paris and other large cities. They usually come from Eastern Europe (Romania) and also from Colombia. They would sit on the ground - women had kids sitting with them and the men had puppies. I wonder what happens to the dogs when they get older. Puppies are so cute; I guess that is why they use them.

Postcard of a window in Provence (by Septemes-les-Vallons.)

8. A Euro cost $1.50 then (it is $1.54 today.) So everything was 50% more for us. For example 2 cups of coffee at a café, standing by the bar not even at a table, were 3 Euros each (total $9.00 for two cups.) The cheapest lunch was 15 to 20 Euros (about $30 each) in Paris. We did though eat a great couscous in Marseille in the Arab quarter for 6 Euros each.

9. My cousins live in a small town, 17 miles South of Paris. They told me that since my last visit in 2005 there have been several apartment buildings built as well as many condos and a few subdivisions. It was interesting to observe though that for a city of 15,510 people they did not built any new churches. The 13th century church is still the only one in town. By comparison, in my neighborhood near Atlanta, 5 new churches have been built during these same 4 years in addition to the several already here.

Postcard of Malta (by Perfecta Advertising Ltd.)

10. Another observation: in the various countries we visited, including Malta, the country flags were only flown on administrative buildings. We even had a hard time finding the post office in both Malta and Italy because they did not have flags. There were no flags on people houses.

11. I did look but never saw a “God Save Italy” sign or bumper sticker (I guess it would be translated as il Dio conserva l'Italia) or God Save France (could be translated as Que Dieu Sauve la France) or God Save Spain (maybe Dios ahorra España) as we commonly see "God Save America" in the US. I never saw any car in these countries with a flag on its bumper or windshield. Now I am not saying that European countries are not patriotic or that America is too nationalistic – these are just neutral observations which I find interesting.

Postcard of Sicily, Italy (by Cartoleria Nigri Carmen.)

12. During lunches and dinners aboard ship I enjoyed listening to our dinner companions discussing various subjects. Many if not most of them had traveled to the US and enjoyed their visit very much but they could not believe the debates in the US on healthcare policy. It was unreal to them. An article had come out from the US Census Bureau saying that over 46 million Americans were without health coverage. The fact that the lack of health insurance had caused 45,000 preventable deaths in the US last year made a very negative impression at the lunch table. I remember a retired couple from Belgium at lunch saying that it was monstrous for the US in 2008 to have let 17,000 children as well as over 2,000 veterans die due to lack of health care (they said that this was more than 5 times the number of victims from 9/11.) They could not understand why people were not demonstrating in the streets en masse against this. There was a strike in Italy that day and another one in France when we came back – I observed that the European people are not bashful to demonstrate for what they think is their right. The lunching couple told me that it was a disgrace to be so uncaring of the weak and worrying so much about taxes, but I did not want or could not give a satisfying explanation to them. Then when it was reported on Italian News that the American Medical Association said that 50% of children in the US depend on food stamps to eat they were outraged. Changing the subject to travel was a nice respite.

Postcard of of Boccadasse Cove in Genoa, Italy (by Edizioni Marconi)

13. The Italians are, as a rule, very vocal and they voices are quite high. On board the ship most were Italians, and it made for a very, let’s say “dynamic” group. Children up to 17 years old could accompany their parents free of charge, so there was a large number of children and many young couples. In comparison, in the US, cruises tend to have more mature people. About 90% of the families had only one child, usually quite young and the children were not very loud. I rarely heard one scream or talk loud during meals or have the parent talk to them loud like they do here (as if the children are hard of hearing.) Again, these are just observations.

14. The news on TV talked a lot more about the environment, climate change than in the US. Also I read local reports saying that the number one problem was overpopulation rather than climate change (here overpopulation is rarely mentioned.)

15. The latest fashion in Paris is to wear a very long scarf, circled around the neck and hanging almost to your knees (for both men and women.) The “in” color is purple – mostly in the plum shades. I did buy a scarf in this color, but it is not long enough. It was only 14 Euros. Here it is below

16. While riding trains we passed by many cemeteries. All the tombs were covered with fresh flowers, mostly yellow or dark red chrysanthemums. It seems that in early November everybody goes to place flowers on their family graves. Florists offer hundreds of chrysanthemum varieties for that purpose.

17. I observed more people walking in the streets than around here. Also the cars tended to be much smaller. There are few SUVs in cities and even less outside metro areas.

18. One final observation: when people found out that we came from America they were very interested and friendly. We never found a cold reception from French people or from those of other European countries or Asia (we spoke with people from New Zealand and Hong Kong too) and since I can speak French and Italian, they were always interested to find out about where we live and our life here.

These are the few observations I made during the trip. I’ll try to write future posts on the towns visited. But for now I’d like to end this post wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Here is a vintage postcard for this occasion.


""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde !!!! Merci de publier ce post que je vais regarder tranquillement. Rétablis-toi bien et reprends des forces avant l'action de grâce. !!!! A bientôt !!! ***

DJan said...

I am so sorry to hear that you got so sick, VB. But since it did cause you to write these observations, I am happy that there is some "up" side to your illness. I'd like to comment on some of your points:

1. Whenever I travel out of the country I rarely see such overweight people as we have here, not just in Europe but in Asia as well.

3. I also noticed in my travels that the Americans are so much less educated about the world outside our borders. I especially noticed this last April while in Macedonia. People were more concerned about the climate there than I have ever seen here.

8. It was a long time ago that I was in Paris, but even then (in the early 1990s) coffee was incredibly expensive, like $4/cup, but it was also the best coffee I have ever had!

10 & 11. We Americans seem to work to drum up nationalistic fervor, while it just exists in other countries. Jingoism has increased in the US since 9/11.

12. Few people in the US realize how isolated and skewed in our sensibilities we are. Did you know most Americans don't even have a passport? They think we are "normal" and the rest of the world is "backward." Can you believe it?

14. Overpopulation is the whole problem but it is so driven by the religious right wing here that we liberals are afraid to mention it for fear it will fuel their extremists.

15. I just knit a scarf in purple merino wool/silk blend, but I see now that I stopped way too soon!

17. I also noticed that there were only a very few SUVs in Macedonia, China, Vietnam, or Russia. And when you did see them, they didn't have just one person in them!

18. Perhaps part of your friendly reception is that you speak the language. If you don't, I found the French people in Paris to be very snooty. I was the quintessential "ugly American" to them!

And to you, VB, I also wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving, without antibiotics! Blessings, too. --DJan

Vagabonde said...

Nancy - Merci pour ton gentil mot.

DJan – thanks for your comments – I appreciate your input very much. On your no. 18 about people in Paris having been nice to me maybe because I speak the language – well, I don’t know for sure. With my husband we talked English but it is true that I can speak French. Also, I think that many people in Paris are snooty as you say, but to everyone and to the French included, just like some people are in New York or any other large city. But in their defense - when you say you were the ugly American - unless you told them you came from the USA, most French people when they hear English spoken think you come from the UK. I myself could not tell on the ship when one person spoke with a New Zealand accent – I thought they were from Ireland, and when I heard a Scott I thought he was a Swede speaking English. You see English is spoken so widely that unless one knows where you are from, they usually cannot tell. For example when someone speaks French here, how can one tell for sure if they are French, or maybe from Canada, or from Belgium or Switzerland? I am not trying to apologize for the snooty Paris people but I just have to say that my husband, who does not speak a word of it, never had a problem even when I was not with him. I hope you will go back to France again, maybe to the Riviera next time; the people in Marseille for example were super friendly to us.

TorAa said...

I really enjoyed reading this interesting and your viewpoints.

I happened to have visited France - even worked there - and only once have had lanuage problems. My first visit back in 1964.

Vicki Lane said...

So sorry you're still not recovered -- but I'm surely enjoying your postcards and observations!

On the few occasions I've traveled abroad, I've observed most of the same things. And, I have to say, been embarrassed at the behavior of some American tourists and their insular attitudes.

I look forward to more of your observations!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marguerite said...

Bonjour, Vagabonde! Fabulous post and observations! Enjoyed all of it very much. I cannot wait to hear and see more. Sorry you've been ill, I will keep you in my thoughts. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, cher!

Elaine said...

Sorry to hear your recovery has been prolonged and glad you're on the upswing now. I enjoyed the postcards and observations and look forward to seeing your photos. I love the Thanksgiving postcard. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

claude said...

J'espère que tu vas beaucoup mieux maintenant, Tu as attrapé la gripe A ou quoi ! Soigne toit bien.
Dis moi tu as fait un merveilleux voyage. Les pays sont différents et les gens aussi, Il faut bien se distinguer des autres, sinon à quoi cela servirait de vouloir aller voir ailleurs.
Concernant le couverture de santé aux US, il est vrai que dans un pays comme celui-ci, j'ai toujours trouvé bizarre qu'il n'y ait pas de sécurité sociale. J'(espè-re que Barack va résussir à instaurer cela en Amérique.
Je pense à toi Vagabonde.Je suis très lente, mais ça vient.
Bises !

Fennie said...

So sorry to hear you've been ill Vagabonde and thanks so much for visiting my blog. As usual what I find on your blogs is very much more interesting, I am afraid, than what I write about. As a lover of Europe I found your observations fascinating because you, as an outsider, notice more than we do. But then, speaking French and Italian you are also not really an outsider. The reactions you get when someone speaks your language are quite different to those of someone who is, in language terms, a stranger. But this really was a very interesting post. Thank you for these insights.

claude said...

Merci de ton gentil et long commentaire, Vagabonde.
Ma première carte postale pour toi est partie hier.
J'espère que tu vas bien la recevoir car je ne l'ai pas mise sous enveloppe. Je me suis organisée afin de pouvoir t'en envoyer de partout où j'irai.
ton adresse et des timbres dans mon sac à main. Bises !

claude said...

Au fait, j'ai oublié de te dire que j'ai corrigé mon erreur.

Unseen India Tours said...

Sad to hear bout your illness !! But looks that you had a fine time at travel !! The description is nice and good !! Thanks..Unseen Rajasthan

Linda said...

I have just read ALL your posts, over several days and wanted to say how very much I have enjoyed the time. The postcards are so lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your wonderful collection. Your viewpoints are well constructed and I hope that as you travel or recount previous travels, we can see how truly isolated our country has become from the reality of the world.
Colds are treacherous beasts, aren't they! Feel better soon.

Lucy said...

Our favourite pastime when we travel is people watching and visiting. We chat up our waitress', the guy that pumps the gas (if you can find a full service) and basically anybody who will talk to us. The world is getting smaller, but we still have our own cultures and unique traits.

tunisian said...

salut,merci pour votre passage sur mon blog je suis vraiment très content de parler avec une personne qui a visité mon pays.
j'ai lu une partie de votre article et ce qui m'a touché c'est la photo ainsi que la description de la femme j'aimerais bien parler avec vous plus pour voir votre point vue,
Bonne soirée et à bientôt

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

I hope you're well now Vagabonde :) Thanks so much for diligently seeing all my recent posts and commenting. You're just outstanding :)

Roads of Japan

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Hello Vagabonde ! ***

Je te remercie pour ton passage sur mon blog, ça m'a fait très plaisir !!!!

*** GROS BISOUS et bonne journée !!!! ***

Ruth said...

I want to come back and read this whole post slowly, but I had to stop by and say hi, just saw you at my sister Ginnie's blog. It is her daughter Amy who recommended the restaurant in Atlanta I told you about, that was then flooded. Remember?

I'll be back. Things are a little crazy at my place today . . .

Ruth said...

That was a very nice way to start your trip reminiscence. You are a good observer, both here and there in those many places.

The postcards are gorgeous. I have a collection, something I love to pick up everywhere and then use as bookmarks.

I often wonder why we don't demonstrate in the streets as other countries' citizens do. We should, but it just isn't the norm, the way it is almost a necessity if there is some injustice in other places.

One thing occurred to me in several of your observations. I have not read the other comments, and maybe someone else mentioned it. You live in the South, and as observant as you are, maybe you thought of that too. I believe you might see more God Save This Country bumper stickers there than we see in Michigan, for instance. More new churches, and a few other things.

But the health debate, like so many things here, is just exasperating. People freak out so much about "socialism" and unfortunately it keeps this country from doing what is right. I'm pretty tired of it. Many of us would love to live in Europe. But maybe we can achingly, gradually nudge this country in that direction. Either that or it may just keep getting worse.

I look forward to seeing your pictures of your trip one day.

PeterParis said...

I have a feeling that you have really felt things in the "right" way! A lot of good observations!

One little remark; there are some religious channels on French TV (different religions), all of course depending on how many and which channels you have subscribed to.

I think that we in Europe today feel that Church and different religious beliefs should be separated from state affairs and we therefore have even difficulties to understand that this mixture still very much appears in the US. E.g.the presidential declarations "on the bible" seem a bit surprising in a country where so many beliefs (or non-beliefs) are exisiting.

... and yes, of course, the health and other social care is something that today seems so obvious to us... Let's see what comes out at last.

One of the good things with travelling is that we learn to understand each other ... and maybe also to learn from each other?

Lifecruiser Travel Blog said...

Very interesting observations indeed! Yes, US is a bit different than Europe on all those points you mention, we've noticed it too, especially when we were in the US once.

Have you been in any of the Nordic countries? Then you'd probably noticed that not many of us are religious any more and that is the explanation why there isn't any new churches built I think. The younger generations don't believe in the European countries any longer.

I've been to France twice: Paris in 2004 - were hubby did propose to me - and last August together with TorAa & RennyBA and their lovely wifes, to visit another blogger friend: Claudie. Both times I was pleased that so many French people now can speak English :-)

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