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Published: November 12th 2008
Place de Comedie
Where we had that first pastry soon after her arrival.
In the last two weeks, so much has happened I couldn't possibly describe it all in one entry. So, enjoy this first installment and keep your eyes peeled (if you'd like) for more to come...
As I'm sure I've mentioned before, France likes its vacation. And just because French students and teachers work their butts off to try to uphold high national education standards does not mean that they are an exception. Consequently, I am entitled to several one to two week holidays throughout the school year. My first one just ended: Toussaint (tous=all, saint=well, saint) or All Saints, which is a week and a half long. My Toussaint was more than just a week and half with no work, however; my mom flew out from the San Francisco Bay Area to visit me. I was expecting a good time, but I had no idea.
My mom's plane was scheduled to land at 2:40pm, so I canceled my last class of the day, and hopped on a bus as soon as I was free at 2pm. The bus takes me to a tram, which takes me to another tram, which takes me to another bus, which takes
The Garonne at night
The river that runs through Bordeaux and the famous Pont de Pierre
me to the Merignac Airport, just a few miles outside of Bordeaux. Once in the airport I saw that her flight was delayed and did not land until 3pm (it was about 3:15 at the time), and she wasn't in the arrivals area so I guessed she must be stuck waiting for her bags. I sat and in a line of chairs and waited.
Time passed. About 20 minutes, I'd guess. I watched parents anxiously waiting for their children, standing on tiptoe to peer through the glass customs doors and over a wall, hoping to catch a glimpse of their babies. I chuckled to myself when I realized the irony of my own situation as compared to theirs. My little mom was back there somewhere, disoriented and tired, and probably praying to the luggage gods that her had bags made it. I thought about how great it would be when she finally emerged through those double doors; the frantic expression on her face would vanish as soon as she saw me waving. She would be relieved not to have to navigate the airport alone, especially since she speaks no French. I was quite satisfied with myself for being so
Place de La Bourse
reflecting in the very nifty Mirroir d'Eau (or "mirror of water"), a fountain that is designed to reflect the city.
on top of things, ready to greet her in spite of my complicated journey via public transportation.
Some more time passed. Eventually one of the anxious mothers shrieked, "Ils sont la! Ils sont la!" ("they're here! They're here!"), and after a few minutes, a horde of 14-year-olds determined to look bored and indifferent poured out of the customs area, and reluctantly into their oh-so-embarrassing mothers' eager out-streched arms. My mom was not among them. I waited.
I checked the arrivals board again and to my horror, I realized there were two arrivals areas, A and B, and I was not in the right one. Suddenly an image of my poor mother, tired and disoriented, and completely without any real knowledge of the French language, running around with all her luggage trying to locate her inexplicably missing daughter, flooded my mind. AACK!! I power-walked to the other area, checking signs along the way, praying that she was not close to tears in frustration.
I found her near a pay phone, frazzled because she couldn't get her phone card to work, and starting to panic because she couldn't figure out how to call me. Fortunately, she was not sobbing.
So much for being the world's most considerate daughter. Oh well.
We took a cab to her hotel in central Bordeaux. After she had put her things down, we went and got a pastry and tea at a big cafe near the Grand Theatre (a big, beautiful, neo-classical opera house downtown). The plaza there is really gorgeous, and I hoped the view as well as a flaky, buttery, apricot-filled croissant would help her forget about her stress. It worked, I think.
After that I brought her to my place on the bus. That was truly bizarre. Nothing here is anything like home. I have completely different friends, a completely different routine, and completely different surroundings. After a month here in Bordeaux, I had created for myself a very separate universe, and to see her there, standing on a bus in my Bordeaux, the same bus that I take and to and from central Bordeaux practically everyday, with the Jardin Public whizzing past outside the window behind her, I felt a jolt. It was as if time and space had been shattered, as if part of another dimension was spilling into this one. I just stared for several minutes,
part of me unable to comprehend the illogical image in front of me. It took me nearly three days to get over it. Weird.
Anyway, we went to dinner later at a restaurant in the Place du Parliament, which is part of the Quartier Saint Pierre, the ancient part of Bordeaux which is known for its tasty and reasonably-priced restaurants. Here, my always-worried mother discovered that I am not, in fact, anorexic. I ate roughly 5 times as much as she did (which is not saying so very much, since I think she ate like 6 skewered shrimps on a bed of lettuce and then claimed to be full). This continued to be the trend during our entire time together, and at every meal, she was flabbergasted by the amount of food I habitually consume. What can I say, I love food!
She went to bed early-ish while I took the tram to my friend Jill's place (Her apartment is insane! She rents a room from a wealthy middle-aged guy with an odd decorating style, but the place is magnificent: vaulted ceilings, crown molding, big rooms, a huge terrace overlooking the city, and a couple smaller balconies. That's
Cathedrale St Andre
Remember how I saw a gothic cathedral during my first week here? This is the inside.
right, I said "a couple". Multiple balconies. Also a dried leopard skin "rug" (if you can call a leopard-shaped wafer of brittle fur a rug), a giant taxidermied lobster, a dead tarantula in a glass case in the dining room, some kind of large bone masquerading as an ottoman, and several dozen models of sailboats. Weird, but I'd tolerate it if I could live there. And she gets two rooms to herself. TWO. And the guy is never home, it seems. What a deal. But I digress). She seemed a bit apprehensive about me taking the tram by myself at night, but fortunately she was good enough to assume I knew what I was doing. Which I do. The tram never seems to contain anything more menacing than drunk university students singing something painfully out of key.
The next day we had a picnic at the Jardin Public, an enormous park filled with trees exploding with bright autumn leaves, ponds, bridges, grassy clearings glowing greenly in the October sun, and some really noisy ducks. We munched on sandwiches and nectarine and pear tarts from a bakery nearby, and washed it down with that delicious bottle of rose from La
Gatte winery (see previous blog entry). The park was full of other people picnicking and enjoying the amazing weather, including a small group of students juggling and a guy playing some oh-so-French music on an accordion. Magnifique!
Meghan made dinner. Originally I was going to make dinner, but Meghan looooves cooking and she also happens to be extremely good at it, so I wasn't really complaining. And, as I suspected it would be, it was so good. White fish sauteed in butter, lime, and Italian parsley with fresh green beans (purchased for the organic produce market that morning!) and potatoes. MMMmmmMMMMmm... just thinking about it is literaly making my mouth water. Lizzy's mom was in town too, so dinner was full of lively conversation, excellent food, and an awesome bottle of wine that I had splurged on the weekend before on our trip to Saint Emillion (I just realized I never wrote about it... oops. It's a medieval villiage surrounded by vineyards a bit east of here, on the other side of the river). Altogether very French, I'd say. We even had a cheese course. Mmm. Food.
The next day we went to Saint Emillion (for me it
The French name for the riverfront here. I think it means literally "the docks"
was the second time). It was another gorgeous day. We took the train, marking the first of many train trips we would take during the next two weeks. The station at Saint Emillion is about a mile out of town, so we hiked up a quiet country road flanked on either side by rows and rows of grapevines, their purple, orange, and yellow leaves standing out against the grassy fields beyond them. It had been raining lately so you can imagine how happy I was that my mom arrived just in time to see the Bordeaux countryside at it's most beautiful, bathed in sunlight.
We had lunch at a big cafe in the middle of the village. I had a cheesy, mushroomy, eggily delicious galette (think crepe with savory filling, or see my Evil Food Entry) and she had a salad that would have filled me up for about 15 minutes (I think I ended up eating part of that too), and we both had a glass of white wine (remember, wine with lunch is totally normal here). Then I introduced her to the magic that is the canele (again, see The Evil Food Entry). I don't think she
found them quite so magical as I do, though.
Saint Emillion is medieval. The streets and cobbled, steep, and narrow; definitely not designed for cars (and the people who walked them on a daily basis must have had pretty strong glutes!). It's painfully quaint and picturesque, dotted with cheerfully crumbling ruins, and covered in mottled tile rooftops, all surrounded by impossibly gorgeous countryside. It also happens to be extremely touristy; I couldn't decide if the very traditionally French-sounding music being piped into every stone and archway-laden street was hokey or charming. I think I eventually settled on charming.
We took a dorky little motorized "train" around the surrounding vineyards and to a winery to get a tour and taste some wine. A very enthusiastic, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-esque British voice described each sight to us as we passed. Yeah, it was really cheese-arific, but the cheese factor was overshadowed by the sheer beauty of the spectacular views surrounding us on all sides. The winery we saw was small but historically interesting and the tour was in Franglais* (more of the Fran- and less of the -glais, unfortunately for my mom). The wine we tasted was decent,
but waaay out of my price range.
After strolling around the little town for a bit, we headed back to the train station. We had dinner at another restaurant in the Place du Parliament and went to bed early to prepare ourselves for our next adventure, set to start with a 1pm train ticket the Paris the next day. Stay tuned...
*Franglais is a fun word for a mixture of French ("Francais") and English ("Anglais").
And with that, I bid you goodnight. I'd also like to say this:
WAHOOO!!! BARACK OBAMA IS OUR NEW PRESIDENT ELECT AND I CAN FINALLY EXHALE!! HALLELUJAH!!
And because I know my readers come from both parties, I will end the gloating there. For now.
Love/miss you guys,
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