Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The New Passport

My new passport arrived in this morning's mail exactly one week from the day I sent in my application. I love it when the system works like it's supposed to! So...I'm good for another ten years. The pages in this new passport are quite pretty. Each one has a different background design. I've boosted the contrast in the photos, so you can see the images betters. This will give me something interesting to look at while I'm waiting in those long security lines at the airport. Do you think people will think I'm weird for 'reading' my passport??

Monday, January 27, 2014

Resurgence

I live in a land of river valleys separated by high cliffs and limestone plateaus. Those plateaus are dotted with caves and underground caverns, potholes large and small (called gouffres and igues) and rivers that disappear into the ground only to re-surface many kilometers away in places like this...our local resurgence. It's along the road to Cajarc about a mile from my house. That rushing water you see is part of an underground river that surfaces here through an underground cavern. It flows along a field and empties into the Lot River 100 meters away. Underwater rescue teams from fire departments all over France come here to do their underwater rescue training. I've seen groups from as far away as Paris in their scuba gear getting ready to dive. Recreational divers from all over Europe come here as well. When the water rushes like this, it's a bit dangerous. In fact, a Swedish man died here last summer when he got caught up in the underwater cavern on submerged tree branches and rocks as he dove..
The real reason I'm showing you the resurgence, though, is to draw your attention to its beautiful deep blue water. It's even more turquoise than the photo shows. Now look at the photo above that I took just minutes later of the Lot River where that beautiful blue water is going. Quite a difference, eh? We've had days of rain, and the river is running muddy brown. What's spewing out from its limestone filter, however, is clear and blue. Interesting!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Le Baux-de-Provence

Le Baux-de-Provence
October 2013
I didn't visit the ancient village and fortress/chateau of Le Baux-de-Provence when I was in Provence last October. I drove by it and actually parked less than a kilometer away to visit the Carrieres de Lumineres. But it was almost noon when the show in the old bauxite mine was over, and I could tell by the cars lining the road that the village would be packed with tourists. Le Baux is one of the 'most beautiful villages in France' and is a popular tourist attraction. Habitation on this rocky outcrop has been traced back to 6000 B.C. The Counts of Baux made this their stronghold from which they attempted to rule all of Provence. Interestingly, the Baux family traces its ancestry back to Balthazar, one of the three wise men who visited the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

Le Baux-de-Provence
April 2007

I visited Le Baux briefly some years ago with friends. We lingered over lunch in St. Remy-de-Provence, unfortunately arrived at Le Baux in mid-afternoon. It was hot, and the village was teeming with tourists. We stayed long enough to know it would be worthwhile to return...early in the morning on a cooler day! I will definitely make a visit the next time I travel to this part of Provence.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Passport Renewal

It's hard to believe that my passport is 10 years old, but the expiration date...May 2014...tells me it is. We've had a lot of fun together, this passport and I, but it's time to trade it in on a new model. As always, there are a few extra hoops for an ex-pat to jump through. American passport photos are required to be a different size than the normal French identity photo, so a trip to a photographer was necessary. You can apply for renewal by mail, but have to purchase a certain type of French 'money order' and also an overnight delivery envelope for mailing (to the tune of almost €25!) I guess in reality all this is costing me less than actually travelling to Paris for an Embassy visit. But it's certainly not as much fun!

So, I put it all in the mail yesterday with fingers crossed that I've done everything correctly. It's kind of a 'naked' feeling, this being without a passport. I have a copy, of course, and my French carte de sejour. but it doesn't feel quite the same. Do I really exist as an American citizen without my trusty passport? Don't know the answer to that, but I will feel better when the new one arrives and is safely tucked away.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Living as an ex-pat in France has given me an interesting perspective on America. I love my country of birth, but living away from governmental and media 'spin' on news and culture has changed how I perceive American life. Reading and viewing French and European news sources have given me a less 'America-centric' perspective on world events, issues and crises. Answering my friends' questions about how the U.S. government works and explaining American popular culture has made me dig deep. How do you explain states rights to people who have no concept exactly what a state is? Huge food portions, 24/7 shopping options, and unlimited access to guns all mystify people here. Distance and life away have made me question a lot of things.

But that same distance has also made me cherish some of the really good things about America. It's made me appreciate those men and women who have called Americans to a higher standard, to live in peace and justice with all people. Today, my country honors such a man. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I share with you a creative interpretation of part of his "I Have a Dream" speech. Fifty years later, we still have a long way to go to make Dr. King's dream a reality for those people who continue to be marginalized by our society...black Americans, Latinos, Asian and other immigrants, the poor, our LGBT brothers and sisters...but I have hope that Americans and all the people of the world will be re-inspired by Dr. King's words and make his dream their dream.

"I Have A Dream" from SALT Project on Vimeo.

I found this video in an 'On Being' newsletter. You can access it here. 'On Being' is an NPR broadcast hosted by Krista Tippett that discusses important ideas, religion, and ethics of our time. I have to admit that NPR is one of the very few things about living in the United States that I miss! Not quite the same listening to it on my computer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Numbers: 434

Little Train House
Cadrieu France
Since living in France, I've begun to collect images of recurring themes. Crosses, for example. They are partout (everywhere) here, and I have a folder full of cross photos. I also collect photo images of Mary, Mother of God. I've posted a few of those in the past. And you will remember several Sunday posts labelled Color. Today I introduce another recurring theme in my image collection: Numbers. Here's the number that started it all...the house number on my Little Train House!

My house is one in a series built along the railroad track in the late 1800s. A railroad employee lived in each one and was responsible for maintaining the 'level crossing' where the tracks crossed a road. (in French, a  passage niveau abbreviated 'PN') They are numbered consecutively. Cadrieu has two train houses...mine (434) and my friends, Helen and Eddy's (433). Some day I'm going to drive the tracks to their end and see just how high the numbers go!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pomegranates

I've been thinking a lot about fruit lately. These thoughts go along with my word for 2014: RIPENING. Logical connection, I'd say. Initially, I was thinking of berries. I'm a berry-girl who would rather eat berries than any other kind of fruit....strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries...all make me salivate. But the fruit that has dominated my thoughts and which I've chosen to represent my word this year is the pomegranate. Somehow it just feels right. I sent pomegranate-themed new year's cards earlier this month. I've been reading about the symbology of pomegranates. I bought one at last Saturday's market to taste..

So, what have I learned from my reading?  Pomegranates, which originated in Iran, are now primarily cultivated in the Middle East and along the Mediterranean. They were introduced by the Spanish to California in the 1700s and are now produced there and in Arizona. Being a Californian native, I guess I already knew that last part. Their name derives from the Latin for 'seeded apple.' They have graced heraldic coats of arms and have had their name attached to a weapon of warfare...hand grenades. Their symbol is found in several of the world's religions...Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. And they were also important symbols in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and China representing fertility, sweetness, and  prosperity. In ancient Egypt, however, the pomegranate was considered the fruit of the dead as its juices looked like running blood. Who knew??

And what has opening my own pomegranate taught me about RIPENING? One thing is that I don't always know what is ripe! My pomegranate was a little pale and wimpy-looking inside. But the seeds were sweet and tasty. So, I guess the message is you have to just put things out there and test them to see if they're ripe and ready to go. Outward appearances can be deceiving. Don't be afraid to try. And keep at it until you get it right! I'll definitely buy another with my new-found knowledge of discerning ripeness. I'll keep you posted on my pomegranate progress.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Haircut, Please!

Shop sign in Villefranche
I desperately need a haircut! Tomorrow morning, 9 AM....yay!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Before--During--After

Place Notre Dame
Now
Place Notre Dame in the heart of medieval Villefranche de Rouergue is lined with beautiful old buildings and arcades.
Pedestrian and vehicle arcades line the Place
 It's the home of the Saint Martial Hospital built in 1348-49 during the Black Plague. It serves as the parvis for Collegiale Notre Dame church constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Doors of the Notre Dame church opening onto Place Notre Dame

Before
This large open space also hosts the weekly market drawing hundreds of local shoppers as well as tourists year 'round.
Thursday morning is market day in Villefranche
And the Place has been a place of confusion, construction, chaos and complaints.What...you say you don't see it? Let's back the story up just a bit...

A committee decided that this big open space would be perfect for a fountain and secured the funding to build it...over 300,000 euros, in fact. Ground was broken in early April this year with the promise that all the construction would be completed by the time the hordes of summer tourists arrived.

During
This is what the Place looked like throughout the summer...
Photo courtesy of La Depeche
After
People were not happy...not the market vendors whose stalls were pushed into the tiny ruelles of the medieval town, not the local shoppers, and certainly not the tourists. The Place was a mess all summer. Our story has a happy ending, though. The work was completed in late November, and the fountain was inaugurated in style...
Photo courtesy La Depeche
Photo courtesy Aquaprism
You see...all the fountain workings are embedded within the cobblestone paving. When not in use, they disappear, leaving a flat, usable surface

Clever, huh?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Creche

The Adoration of the Magi
I had a doctor's appointment in Villefranche this morning. I'd hoped to visit the Chapelle des Penitents Noir (Chapel of the Black Penitents) afterwards since it's about a half dozen steps from the doctor's office. Unfortunately, it was locked up tight. So I decided that as long as I was in the medieval part of town, I'd wander down to the church and its large square. I'll share a story about it in a later blog post, but today I wanted to show you the beautiful creche that is still in place inside. You know...before Christmas becomes too distant a memory!

Village boy playing a pipe
The Holy Family and Visitors

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Word 2014: Ripening

Grapes
Cabrerets France
Each new year I choose a word to serve as a theme for the upcoming 12 months. The process is intuitive, more art than science. The word actually chooses me. Last January it seemed no word wanted me when voila! effloresce claimed me for 2013. It means 'to burst into bloom,' and I feel as if parts of my life did just that this past year.

This year no sooner had I begun the word search when 'RIPENING' swept me off my feet. Of course, all those places in my life that bloomed last year are now beginning the ripening process. Much like this bunch of grapes some parts of my life feel already full and ripe; others are still becoming, still RIPENING. That's how life should be...always in the process of RIPENING, of getting fuller and lusher and sweeter.

Watch me as I ripen in 2014!