10 March 2008



This was an interesting day. I’m not sure if it was because we were tired or what, but going to Grenoble on Friday there was some definite tension on the train. Whatevs.

We hadn’t purchased our tickets beforehand, so the first thing we did when we got to the gare was to jump in line and stand and wait. If we had had our tickets, everything would have been fine; but because we didn’t, and because we got to the gare only ten minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, we missed the train.

Actually, we only missed it by three minutes, and probably could have run it, but we hesitated a few seconds too long and I just decided to stay where I was, instead of trying to cram myself into the sea of people heading up to platform H. And besides the fact that we had neglected to move a little bit faster that morning, the reason that we were later was because the lady at the SNCF office (train tickets) first only put us through the computer for one-way tickets. I mean, we did only ask to get to Grenoble, not to come back as well, but in the past the men and women behind the desk had always either assumed or asked that we would want to come back. It wasn’t like we had any luggage, or anything. Purses don’t count.

It was fun to watch Julia’s face as the lady asked for her money for the one-way ticket. That’s one of our dilemmas: when we say something and are understood perfectly well, but then we realize that we should have asked for something else. You ask a question, you get a nod and an answer. The person types something into their computer, and then quotes you a price. You agree, thinking, “Wow, that’s cheap.” And then you realize that it’s cheap because if you take that ticket you’re not going to be coming home. Suddenly, something more is required of you. You have to interrupt the person across the counter from you and tell them that you need something else. And then they do that sighing thing.

The French like to sigh at Americans. They like to roll their eyes at us, too. It’s a tad disconcerting every once in a while. I’d rather be outright made fun of than have someone roll their eyes at me while I’m still standing in front of them. What is up with that? Hello, I can see you! Yes, I can see you’re tired of talking to me. Get over it and give me what I want. And do it in French, pleasethankyou.

So we had to wait for about 45 minutes for the next train. Julia wasn’t too happy about that. We wandered into the bookstore and looked around for a good while, and then sat down on a bench and waited and talked. The ride over took about an hour, an hour an a half. We wandered around Grenoble (pretty. I love mountains.) and ended up at the Musée de Grenoble, supposedly one of the really amazing museums of France. Uh…sure. We actually didn’t buy tickets the first time we went in. Julia’s friend Guillaume lives in Grenoble, and he was supposed to meet us somewhere. Finally we met up with him and walked to a sandwich place in centre ville, then took our lunches to a park.

This park was phenomenal, but only because of one little girl. You know those rocking horse-type trucs (say: “trook,” means “whatchamacalit”) that look like they’re just really uncomfortable flat seats on top of a monster size metal coil? They usually look like horses, some of them are cars, I think. I always see them in parks and sit on them but they’re just not the same when your feet can touch the ground…

Anyway there was this little girl with shoulder-length white-blond hair who was sitting on one of these horse things and rocking her little heart out. Forward, backward, forward, backward: when I say rocking, I mean ROCKING. Her hair was barely keeping up with her face. And then she would let her neck muscles go loose, and her head would just be banging back and forth. I was so sure that she was going to hit her nose on the back of the head of the horse thing. But she didn’t. I just loved watching how serene she looked while she was sitting on that piece of playground.

Also my tuna sandwich was really good. It had more meat on it than I’ve ever had on any other French sandwich. Which reminds me: I read an article the other day that said that doctors believe that the French are eating too much meat. I find this hard to believe. Why not “they’re eating too much bread”? They don’t eat that much meat…so weird.

After the sandwiches by the playground we went to a café and Guillaume ordered us four cafés. This was fine, except for one tiny thing: I don’t really like coffee. And coffee in France really just means espresso in a tiny little cup. Since I wasn’t about to yell at the waiter and tell him to come back so I could have hot chocolate instead of super intense caffeine, I just sat back and let it come. A few minutes later, the mini mug of coffee was placed in front of me. I picked up the packet of sugar which comes with every hot drink, and without even looking down, poured its entire contents into my cup. This took half a second. Oh, man, that was strong coffee. I should have taken the rest of Mark’s and Julia’s and Guillaume’s sugar.

It did it’s trick, though. After the café, we were all a little bit happier. We walked to Grenoble’s gondola and rode it up the mountain, which put us into even better moods. I think we were up on the mountain at least an hour, if not more. It was just gorgeous; even though it was really cloudy and we couldn’t see a lot of the peaks which were further away. I loved it. We even climbed around the fortress thing and ended up on a little outcropping away from the rest of the people up there. Fantastic.

Yes, we did sing “The Sound of Music.” And Julia started singing the Little Mermaid, for some reason. I think mostly because it made Mark cringe and try to escape. There’s just something about singing on top of a mountain…

When we left the mountain we walked back to the Musée de Grenoble. It was pretty good. It was huge, and actually I think I didn’t get to see the entirety. You know how they turn museums into these monster labyrinths? Yeah…I must have missed a turn, because later Julia was exclaiming about a Matisse, and I was like, “What Matisse?” Dang. I would have liked to see Matisse.

From the museum we couldn’t quite decide if we were going to be hungry or not on the train ride back to Lyon, so we walked into a Petite C just to see if anything struck our interest. While there I almost broke a wine bottle, that at least is worth telling. I was holding a bag of something in my right hand, and Mark was handing me this bottle, and I totally thought I had it. Nope. Didn’t have it. Not even close. The bottle slipped out of my fingers.

I watched it head to the ground and I would have sqeezed my eyes shut, except I was ready to jump out of the way of a wave of red wine. That’s kinda hard to do if you don’t know where to jump. The bottle hit the ground with quite a lovely little !KLINK! and, as we were standing in the aisle four feet away from the caisse (say “kess”; cashier), all the French people in the store turned around to look at us. The cashier let out an audible sigh and shook her head with wide eyes. I’ll bet they thought we were drunk or something. Who else drops a wine bottle?

After the KLINK, the bottle bounced and I caught it with my toes.

Yeah, I bet you weren’t expecting that, huh? It was magnificent. I was just so afraid that if it dropped to the ground again, it would fall on the neck of the bottle, and not on the base, like it had the first time. So yeah. We got to the train on time, but it was a few seconds after the rest of the universe, so it was impossible to find three seats near one another. After one pass through the car I turned around to make another, just to see, and somewhere along the way Julia decided to sit down without my even knowing. Mark noticed, though, which is good. We stopped near the back of one car and decided to just sit down. I found a seat near the middle, he got one behind me.

Two seconds later Mark was yelling at me; a French guy next to him had offered to move so that we could sit next to one another. I think that was the nicest thing a stranger Frenchie has ever done. He even suggested it himself, crazy.

Back in Lyon nerves were tense again and we kebabed it, at the “cheaper” place. Cheaper, ha.


I discovered on this day that it really is impossible for me to sleep in. I tried, I really did. It just didn’t happen. I think we had gone to bed around 11 or 12, and of course I was bright eyed and ready for the day at 8 in the morning. I left Julia and Mark asleep in the room and walked down to breakfast.

I love it when auberges include breakfast in their price. I love it when an auberge considers breakfast to be granola, baguette, and confiture and chocolate and coffee and tea. Wonderful people, the French. The only problem is, now I miss granola. And cashews. What I wouldn’t give for a big bag of cashews, not a little three inch shrink-wrapped cube for 4 euros…But the breakfast there was perfect. Although, my jaw isn’t used to eating so much granola, so it was generally a little tired after each breakfast, haha. What a price to pay!

I went back up to the room and took a shower, and literally right as I was stepping back out of the bathroom (another fantastic thing: having the shower and sink in the room. I can deal with walking down the hall to pee. It’s just having the shower right there that’s amazing), Julia walked out the door. She was gone for about an hour. I read and looked out the window and waited for my hair to dry.

Mark woke up and showered, and then Julia came back. He asked her if it was cold outside, and she glanced up from her guide book and said, “I don’t know. Open the window yourself.” Uh…ok. Slam? Julia left again, and Mark and I stood in the room for a while, trying to decide what we had done…and then we took the metro to Croix Rousse, another hill of Lyon. It gave an awesome view of the city, the only catch was that you had to walk up stairs to gain said view. And there was not a lack of stairs, lemme tell ya. Ooh boy. Lots of stairs. It’s like, they were designing the hill, and putting the buildings up and all, and the most fit guys were looking at it, thinking, “Something’s missing. What’s it missing? Stairs! Lots of stairs!”

Ok, no, it wasn’t that bad. It’s just that they were tiny stairs. It took maybe six or seven minutes to walk up the hill. What was awesome was that it was almost stormy that day, but the storm clouds were moving away from us. They were actually just above Fourvière Hill, which was off to my right, and moving away. The layers of white and gray and black were fantastic.

Then we went to the Parc de la Tête d’or (Gold Head Park- the front gate is gilded). Why? Because there’s a zoo inside, dur. So cool. The park is hugenormous. Yes, I just created a word. Hugenormous. Because it’s true. It has a lake/pond with an island, a zoo, the park itself, a rose garden, and who knows what else. I should have tried harder to figure out how many acres (or hectares, that’s what they use) it is. Cause it was monstrous, and it took a while to walk through, even just to find the other entrance.

We left the park and headed to the theater (after much debating as to what we really wanted to do…I hate being so indecisive. I think I’m going to decide to just make decisions, no matter how dumb they are. Everyone else can follow or not) to see about times for Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. I hope you’ve at least heard about this movie. The French love it. When Asterix came out, it broke all French film records. All of them, no contest. Asterix is France, pretty much. Then Bienvenu came out, and broke all of Asterix’s records, times ten.

It’s been a week and theaters in Rennes are still full even if you’re standing in line 40 minutes before the show. It’s crazy. We had seen publicités for the film on TV, in the theater…it was everywhere. The basic plot is that there’s this guy who is a manager for the post office, and he applies for a transfer on the Côte d’Azur. But because he wasn’t sure if they would pay attention to his application or not, he applies twice, once as himself, and once as a handicapped guy in a wheelchair. When upper management finds out, they do transfer him, but to Nord Pas-de-Calais. This is equal, I guess, to someone applying for a transfer to Hawaii but getting sent to Wyoming.

He goes, without his family, into a sort of two-year exile. Nord Pas-de-Calais (say “nor pahd kah leh” haha I know don’t you just love missing letter sounds?) has a reputation for being, meteorologically-wise, really really really difficult. Then comes the comedy. The people up there have an accent. The preview for the movie shows Philippe first driving into the city, Beurgues. He hits one of his employees, Antoine, who’s played by a hilarious French stand up comedian, Dany Boon. Antoine goes flying, and rolls off the car hood to the ground. Philippe jumps out of the car and tries to help him, and of course keeps asking him if he’s hurt anywhere. Antoine responds, “No, no, I’m fine, sure, it’s ok, I’m fine.”

The problem is that Antoine speaks in Ch’tis, a sort of dialect/accent. So for Philippe, it sounds more like he said, “Nah, nah, mfeen, sh’ok, mfeen.” Or something along those lines. Philippe looks at him and asks again about how he feels, and Antoine repeats exactly what he had said before, this time while nodding. “Are you sure?” Philippe asks, “You’re not hurt?” “Sure I’m sure.” “Because you…you have a very particular way of speaking.” “Particular? Oh, cause I speak Ch’tis? Oh, it’s nothing.”

Haha…and close the bunny trail parentheses…so Mark and I really wanted to see this movie. We texted Julia and asked if she wanted to meet us, she didn’t. So we got to the theater and stood in line, and we hadn’t been there five minutes before we heard an announcement that the next showing was full. The next showing was in twenty minutes. Ten minutes later, we were of course still standing in line (the French have no freaking idea how to queue- haha that’s what a Brit said the other day. And it’s so true…), and another announcement came up. The next two showings were full.

When we finally got up to the counter it was Mark’s turn to be assertive so I handed him my money (it’s easier to just do everything at once, we’ve discovered. French people roll their eyes at you if you split things up like normal people. And also, it takes a million years for movie theater minions to do their thing.) and he stepped up to the glass.

A few things went wrong.

One, the lady wasn’t listening to us.

Two, Mark forgot which time he wanted and then forgot to stick with military time.

Three, we didn’t just set our student cards on the glass from the get-go.

Four, Mark didn’t stop her the first time she said that we owed her too much money.

He had gone up and asked for two student tickets to see Bienvenue at 21h50. The problems really started when the lady asked him to repeat himself. We ended up paying full price (9,50), not student prices (6,80), for the time slot of 20h35. I don’t really know how that last part happened…It was horrible. Another thing was that I could see the screen with the price on it, but Mark couldn’t, so I knew immediately that the she had just given us normal prices, but when I tried to show Mark, he couldn’t look because he was in the middle of trying to work out things with the movie chick.

But when all he got back from a 20euro bill was one coin, Mark stopped and asked, hadn’t he asked for student tickets? And what does the lady say? “Oh, but sir, you need to specify that from the beginning.” She didn’t believe us when we said that we had. Oh well. We got out of line and looked at our watches. It was 18h05. We had a little more than two hours total, but we needed to be back at the theater at 20h00, just so that we would be on time enough not to get screwed again.

This was the part when I was just ridiculously happy that I tend not to let things get to me. Learn the lesson and move on, is my theory. You can’t go back and change it, and the person will never remember you, so why be angry? Mark doesn’t operate on the same theory. He was angered. Not just angry. Angered. Mostly at himself. I need to learn how to better handle angry people. Usually I just laugh at them. Then I try to reason with them, and that never works. I never know what kind of person they are, whether they’ll react to sympathy or matching anger or presents or just silence. I think I tried all of them.

I mean, I was frustrated too. I hate it when I say something with so much surety, and then said surety is just dashed to the ground with one “quoi” and a tilt of the head. It’s having to repeat myself when I lose it. The same thing happened to Mark, and he fumed all the way to the corner, where we decided that when in anger, do something you’re familiar with. In this case that meant walking over Hôtel de Ville and getting kebabs from the good place. Kinda sad, I know, but they’re cheap and yummy in my tummy.

The movie was hilarious. I actually want to see it again. I went into it thinking that I wasn’t going to understand anything. The last French film I saw in the theater, Asterix, was so incredibly hard to understand, I’d had to operate just on what I saw. It was confusing. I mean, I can only understand cultural jokes up to a point. That’s why I was so happy during Ch’tis, when there were only about three times when the rest of the theater was rolling with laughter and I wasn’t. Otherwise, I laughed a lot. It was so funny, oh man, and afterward I could even remember a couple one-liners! That just made it fantastic!

When we got back to the auberge after the movie we got our keys (each time you left you were supposed to leave your keys at the desk, and then you had to ask for them again when you came back. It let them keep track of who was there, and kept you from just giving your keys to whoever) and found Julia. The thing is, I didn’t want to lose my key, and Julia was sitting at a table in the dining room area, so I stuck it in my back pocket. Bad idea. You see, the keys were…dumb.

They operated on the same idea of a key card. They were a little smaller than a playing card, and the thickness of two credit cards. Half of the card was solid khaki plastic, and the other half was punched with holes. You would slide the card into the slot in your door, push it in the entire way, the holes would line up with whatever was in the door, et voilà, it unlocked. But the key the guy gave me was almost broken. The holes on the upper half of the card acted as a sort of perforation line. So when I had the key in my pocket and then I sat around and all, it snapped. Oops…

The next morning when we checked out I handed my broken baby to the guy behind the desk. He took one look at it and looked up at me and sighed. He said a few words to his manager and then turned back to me. “I’m going to have to ask you to pay for this.”

“But…even if it was mostly broken when you gave it to me?” I asked.

“Oh. Well…ok. Here you go.” He handed me my hostel ID card and let me go. Julia and Mark and I walked outside and Mark sighed.

“If only I were allowed to use your sort of negotiation. I could get so many free things.” Apparently my “sort of negotiation” is to act innocent. I say I was innocent from the get-go. No acting involved.

We got home at 13h25 Sunday afternoon. I ran into Jessica, who had been in Vienne with a friend, at the bus stop. We rode up to St. Grégoire together, and then I walked home. It was a weird feeling. It had been so fantastic to be on vacation, but I really felt like I was coming home, like for a vacation from vacation. Strange. I had to ring the bell because my mère had left the key in the other side, making it impossible for me to unlock the door from the outside. She let me in and asked how everything had been and I said it had been fantastic and I guess something about the way I had said it had showed her that I was tired, because then she said that she would let me rest a little and I could tell them about everything later.

I laughed a little because I didn’t feel like I was tired, but I went to my room anyway and put my stuff down and turned on the computer to start typing out my blog (on Word, of course, since I still don’t have wifi back). Twenty minutes later I was completely unconscious on my bed. I guess I was tired. That was a week ago, and I just finished the blog.

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