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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Voila! Back in town

We came back from our trip several days ago but I caught a bad cold which developed on the flight back home. Since then I have been staying in bed with a miserable head cold, sore throat, teary eyes and am today just starting to feel better. My head is not clear enough though to write a decent post so I’ll just refer to my post of October 30, Across the Seas to tell you which cities were on the postcards shown in it. Some of you guessed quite well.

All in all we had very good weather. We flew to Paris and took a train to go 27 kms south to stay with my cousins for a couple of days. We went back to Paris and stayed there two more days. We then took a fast train to Marseille and boarded the ship which stopped in the cities shown on the postcards above. When we came back from Marseille we stayed with my cousins again then finished the trip with two more days in Paris. By coincidence we were in Paris on 11 November and that morning could hear the music from our hotel window announcing the start of the celebration for Armistice Day (which is the holiday commemorating the end of World War I.) We walked up the two blocks to the Arc de Triomphe plaza where this was taking place and could see both the French and German flags flying side by side in the wind. In a future post I’ll show the photos taken during this historical event – it was the first time Germany was invited to participate in this celebration.

Back at home we were surprised to see that our azalea bush in front of our kitchen window, which never bloomed in the Fall before, had two small flowers waiting for us. I’ll post them here to thank all my blogging friends who came and visited my blog while I was away.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gone... So Gone…

Above is a painting by Belgian artist Alfred Stevens (1828-1906) suitably named “On a Stroll.”

We are still away on our little trip. Before I left I read the short poem below and it gave me the idea for this post.

Gone... so gone...

Please excuse if I don't respond.
Far... so far. I can't b reached in a plane or car.
High... so high. Forgive me if there was no goodbyes.
Don't kno if ill b away 4 long
But right now I'm daydreaming
And I'm gone... so gone...
– Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is a young poet from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I did find a vintage postcard of Baton Rouge and here it is below –

From this little trip there should be new landscapes with plenty of photographs and ideas for future posts. This voyage may even include a walk in the autumn woods as in the vintage postcard below –

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
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