Trip to France: September, 2001

Hey all, this is a not-so-brief description of my trip to France. I picked out my favorite pictures from the trip here. The full and I do mean FULL set of pictures is available at Brad's site.

So some background. A couple of months ago, Francois invited a group of his friends to his country house in France to celebrate being done (well, *almost* done) with his PhD. Most of us who went all started at the PhD program at the same time (1995) and were either done (yay!), almost done, or about to defend. The cast of characters:
Francois' mom
James & Erika
Cindy & Jason
& me

The Airport

Thursday afternoon, Steve & I head to the airport to catch our United flight, arriving 3 hours early to mitigate the long lines we've been told to expect. All I gotta say: what lines? what security? The typical questions when we check our bags. And we can only get to the gate area with our passports plus our boarding passes. There was someone obviously getting trained on the scanning of bags as well, but it was unclear if it was anymore effective. But nothing beyond that.

So our flight leaves at 7:30pm. We got to the airport around 4:25. We were at the gate around 4:45pm. Yes, that quick. So we wander back out and find Tamara and Eric (who were checking in at Air France rather than United), and hung out with them until we split up to go to our respective gates. (Side note: so, no knives let on board planes, but they have a display of aboriginal weapons, including some nasty looking harpoons and spears in the airport? ironic.)

Long freaking flight. I love my Nomad Jukebox. :-) Got to Charles de Gaulle airport -- weird airport. They have these tubes connecting different floors of Terminal 1. Reminds me of hamster tubes. And then we go and find Tamara and Eric at the Air France place for our connecting flight to Nantes from Paris. Sit in the cafe for awhile playing hearts. Badly, I might add, since we were all complete zombies from the flight. We finally go to check in, and once again, Air France has managed to screw up our reservations. NEVER FLY AIR FRANCE. They first lost our reservation for the earlier flight, which is why we had to wait around for the later flightb. Anyway, so we're trying to check in our bags, and 'cause we have e-tickets, all we have is the confirmation number. The check-in lady is getting all frustrated, and saying, no, you don't have e-tickets. Checking, re-checking, calling people. To no avail. Turns out we have to go the Air France counter (which is *not* where you check-in your bags) and buy our tickets. Which we do, by running out (the airport got a lot more crowded while we were sitting in the cafe playing hearts), where another lady pulled us out of line to deal with us, charging us $50 more per ticket (and saying, well, you go call Air France US to deal with the different price, not us), and while Tamara was dealing with us, told us to go check in our bags. So we go *back* to the counter, where the same lady asks us for tickets / passports, which we don't have 'cause Tamara has the passports in order to *buy* the tickets. You get the idea. Sort of a comic farce, in hindsight. So we run back in order to at least get the passports.

In all of this, we really don't understand why they're hurrying us. The lady at the check-in keeps saying she's closing in 5 minutes, and hurrying us, and we just don't understand why, since we have a full 90 minutes before the flight leaves, etc. Anyway. Turns out, Tamara got confused. Paris is in fact NOT on GMT. It's an hour earlier. So it was only 30 minutes to the flight, not 90. Well then. Now *we're* getting a little stressed/freaked, and starting to freak out. Got our bags checked in, and then we face the *really* long line to go through the bag scanner to get to the gate to board the plane. No *way* we're going to make it through. But then, we get the express treatment! We get to go the front of the line and go through first. Heh! :-) Make it to the gate (final boarding call), go through, and then we sit on a FREAKING BUS for a long time at the gates. Finally get on the plane and to Nantes, where we get picked up by the Francois, James & Brad cabal of drivers.

Blind Taste Tests & 4:30am Bathroom Runs

Finally make it to Francois' country house about 22 hours after we left my house in California. Can't really see anything about the house when we get there, 'cause it's really dark. But we wait for David & Adrien to arrive (Brad goes to pick them up from the Cholet train station), and we're all sort of sitting there, completely incoherent from exhaustion, waiting to eat dinner. Although we *do* stay awake. Have dinner (a veal stew, quite tasty), and start tasting the several different bourbons (Hirsch, Woodford), whisky (some Japanese whisky, suntory according to tamara -- very smooth), and scotch (Glenmorangie and Long-something).

James: I can't tell the difference between these. They all taste like gasoline!

Francois: Have you ever *had* gasoline? 'Cause I guarantee you, these taste nothing like gasoline.

James: Well, can you tell the difference between these?

Thus starting one of the themes of the weekend: the blind taste-test.

Anyway, while we're waiting for dinner, the 4 of us who just arrived are saying boy, well, we're still up, we'll go to sleep, sleep through the night, and then be over jetlag! No problem! Erika then pipes up, no way, you're not sleeping through the night. You'll be awake at 4:30 am. I promise. We're like, no way. That makes no sense! That's the equivalent of 7:30pm at home -- there's no correspondence there. We'll be fine.

Anyway. Dinner. Sleep. And guess what? Everyone does indeed wake up at 4:30 am. I got up and went around 4am. Then Tamara. Then Eric. Brad. Dan. James. There's a line at the bathroom at 4:30am -- how bizarre is that? V. funny though.

There's a river *right* *there*

Wake up. Look out the window. There's a *river* out there. Small one, sure. But I didn't realize that it was right there! It was dark when we arrived, after all. Well. There's a river there. Time to go for a run! :-) Yup, went running along the river with Steve. Past the tannery (smells ICKY!), all the way to the bridge, and past it, and then back. Damn that's peaceful. Pretty much no cars, no sounds, just the river and animals, and just very... calm. Definitely not something that's easy to find anywhere in California. At least anywhere near where we are -- there's always noise, even if it's planes flying overhead.

Come back, and go back out to the cow pasture to throw the frisbee with Dan, David, and Adrien. Yes, you heard me right, the cow pasture. To get there, we have to cross a bridge that has a locked gate, so I had to climb down the side of one of the pillars, and then get pulled back up on the other side of the gate. And then to the cow pasture. Luckily, all the cows were on one side, so we just went to the other side. But it was a very odd game of toss, since we'd be running to catch, and rather than just keeping my eye on the disc, it'd be this constant context switch: disc - ground - disc - ground - disc - ground... Why you ask? Well, to avoid the cow patties of course! I stayed pretty lucky, but Adrien definitely landed a couple of times. The disc also managed to avoid the patties until close to the end...

So I finally give up 'cause by this point, I'm starving. And I go back to the bridge. And I try to get back the same way I got across. To no avail. My legs just aren't quite long enough to make it. And I look for a way across on the rocks, but I don't see anything obvious. Luckily, Tamara and Stephen are there, so I have them fetch me with the row boat! Had to walk up back towards the house to the flat swimming area though, since it was rocky near the bridge (and below the dam).

Front of the house

Back of the house

View of the back of the house from across the river

Pig Intestines

Lunch. Francois' trying to expose us to all sorts of French cuisine, to broaden our horizons, I suppose. So this means lots of smelly (and not so smelly cheeses), and for lunch on Friday, different pates. We had the typical duck liver pate, and another that was made from "mostly pig". And the last was from pig intestines. I'll admit that I chickened out and didn't even try it. But the reactions from everyone else was quite funny -- I believe the overwhelming reaction was: "Smells like shit" and "ICK!"


Well. During lunch, James, Brad, Dan, and Francois kept talking about going in the river for a swim. And how the length of time each stayed in the river seemed proportional to body fat. At least, that was Francois's theory. So of course, after lunch, there's the challenge put to the new folks. I had to at least *try* it, right? So we all troop up, change into our suits, and troop back down. Climb down so that we're standing on the dam. Seeing who's going to jump in first. Of course, it's David & Adrien. I forget which one, but I believe one of them *squeaked* when he got in. And then of course, were like, oh no, it's great! Francois' saying, well, it's *sunny* today, surely the thermocline is at least 3 inches deep today... ;-) So one by one, we gradually jump in. All I gotta say is: F*!@#&ING COLD. BRRRRR. Oh. My. God. But I did get in. Swim around a bit. And got back out *very* quickly. I did get back in a second time just so I could get a picture of me in the river though.

Dan, James, Francois, & Brad preparing to swim the day before

James in shock from the cold

Myself, David, Adrien, Dan, & Francois after swimming

Pasta & Caramel

Dinner on Friday night was homemade pasta & creme caramel. Francois really wanted to make the creme caramel to show what creme caramel *should* taste like (we had had some pre-packaged stuff that's sort of like the jello pudding cups that you get in the grocery store the night before). So Francois makes caramel, and is making the custard, when David joins, and really wants to learn how to make creme caramel. Francois explains the process (no stirring with utensils -- the only stirring allowed is by shaking the pot), and finally decides, well, hmmm, the best way is to have you make some. So David makes some caramel. :-) But, we have extra caramel. What to do, what to do... Let's make caramel spirals! Francois had this fru-fru cookbook that showed how to make caramel spirals, and had to try it for himself. So we're trying to make these spirals using a steel. The first try, we end up with lots of little drops of caramel on the steel. It's too hot. We try again, with the caramel a little cooler, and end up with a little nest on top of the steel, 'cause we can't quite get the twisting action. Well, after several mis-steps, and discussions of the spatial locations of the steel and properties of the caramel (yes, we're all engineers! tensile strength and spatial perception of where the steel has to be given where the caramel is coming from, etc.), turns out that you need to get the caramel pretty cool, and then sort of pull the caramel around the steel. And then you get these really cool spirals! So we had a couple of those as well as a caramel nest.

The other big part of dinner on Friday was making the pasta. Eric made the dough, but we then had to roll it out. And of course, discussion ensued about what rolling out the dough does. For those who are curious, as you successively roll the dough (or in this case, put it through the pasta machine), it starts getting smoother and smoother, and the reason is that you're, I believe, aligning the molecules or some such. And something about glutens in the flour. So we're rolling out the pasta. And this is definitely a team effort. You've got David working the crank of the pasta, and Tamara and Eric feeding the dough into the machine (gotta feed it right otherwise it wrinkles!), plus various helpers helping to hold the dough as it comes out of the machine, since it gets *really* long... Definitely good team work! And cracks about the cranker being replaced by a machine.

And just to prove that we're scientists, everyone was entranced after the creme caramel by the glass pans, that still had the caramel cracked on it. You could see the hardened caramel cracking (thermal cracks) as you watched it, and the other cool thing is that if you held the pans at the right angle, with the light reflecting properly, you could see the Newton's rings (I think that's what it's called). We were all entranced by this.

David triumphantly holding up a successful caramel spiral

Caramel nest & spirals

Team work! Making pasta

Adrien showing off the finished pasta

Newton's rings in the caramel

The Sign Game

After dinner, a bunch of folks start playing the sign game. The game, as explained by David & Adrien, doesn't really involve talking. Except for bursts of laughter at stopping points. The way it works is that everyone has a sign. And this is a physical sign, like the Mike Myers putting your finger at your mouth, or a chicken flapping your wings, or crossing your eyes, or something. And then there's a virtual token, which you're passing around. You "send" the token by making someone's sign, and "receive" it by making your own sign. Then there's someone in the middle who's trying to figure out who has the token. One of the funniest moments of the weekend came during the explanation of this game, because Cindy wasn't understanding the game. And James finally broke down and gave the "CS" interpretation of thhe game:

Ok Cindy. There's this packet. And in order to send it, you need to encrypt it using someone else's key, and then you decrypt it using your own key. And the person in the middle is trying to get the unencrypted version of the packet.

And of course there's the crack that I should always be in the middle, given that my thesis was all about sniffing packets...

I didn't actually play, though. But I did watch. Man that's a funny game. You've got Adrien, who's quite adept at talking and surreptitiously making signs and embedding them in his gesticulation while talking to the person in the middle. You've got Tamara, who tries to put on this look of complete innocence. Who me? With the token? No no no, I don't have it. I even got into the spirit, making some signs to confuse the person in the middle. You've got the confusion of who exactly *has* the token. The game stopped a couple of times, trying to figure out who indeed had it. If anyone. Or, as was more often the case, if several people thought they had it. And a couple of times, the person in the middle would finish their initial count to 10, and immediately know who had it, since the scenario would be something like: James would receive the token just as Erika finish counting, and Erika would catch the movement out of the corner of her eye, and say, James, do *you* have the token? heh.

Anyway, people started trickling to bed, and I ended up staying up late chatting with Tamara and David, before finally getting to bed around 2:30am.

Note: the bathroom run that night was around 6am rather than 4:30am.

The Market

So I get up Sat morning around 10 or something. Go down, have breakfast. Now, Francois knows that I want to go to the market. At some point it was: "Diane, I promise that when I go to the market, you'll be in the car!" Yes, I can be a bit... repetitive. Anyway, I'm trying to figure out if I have time to go for a run before the market.

me: Francois, so I was thinking of going for a run. Do I have to go before we go to the market?

Francois: No problem. I promise that you'll be there when I go!

me: ok, I'll go change.

I go change, as does Steve. I come back down, start stretching, doing all the neccessary prep before going for a run.

Francois: Are you going to go for a run now?? But we're leaving for the market in 10 minutes!

Diane: But you said...


So I change back, and we all troop to the market. It's a pretty standard open-air market, with the farmers. The cool sights: the skewered bunnies (they were skinned, and I didn't even know they were bunnies until told), the horse meat, lots of cheese, bread shops, the live chickens, quail, pheasants, etc. Duck eggs. The fractal broccoli. Francois' mom could tell that we were entranced by the fractal broccoli, so she bought some and we had it for lunch! :-) The wine. There were bottles of wine with pictures of girls in bikinis on them. And the token bottle with beefcake instead... ;-)

Perhaps the funniest moment was when David goes to the bread stand to ask the girl behind the counter what the big ring of bread is (brioche). And flirting, of course. And Francois goes up, theoretically to help in case she didn't speak English, but we all laughed 'cause it was like he was going to stop David from hitting on her. Playing the Daddy role, paying for some brioche.

Inside the market

No set of pictures is complete without a picture of Diane spazzing!

Francois playing the dad, paying for the brioche and admonishing David from flirting with the cute bakery girl. ;-)

Cindy, having vanquished the brioche, holds up the spoils triumphantly

The fractal broccoli

Hey Cow

On the way back from the market, David's telling us about this game they played on the bus in Texas in college. You divide the bus into two teams, one for the right side and one for the left. And then whenever the bus passes a cow pasture, that side of the bus opens its window and yells "Hey, Cow!" If the cows turn and look, that side gets a point!

Anyway, this is the French countryside. And there are indeed cow pastures. So, we decide to play. It's Francois driving his mom's nice sedate Peugeot, Dan in the front seat, and Steve, myself, and David in the back. We see a cow pasture coming up, open the window, and Dan, David and I yell Hey Cow! And this cow turns, looks, and gives us the most reproachful look. And Francois in the front seat, with his most aggrieved look that says, I don't know these people. Wy are they in my car? Did they *really* just yell at a cow???

I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.


Well, after the market, I went for a run with Dan "Track Boy" Russell and Steve. I swear, we were going a minute per mile faster than our previous runs. Jesus. And it was obvious that Dan's used to going faster. Let's just say that he was running, and the jumping to reach for the trees in sheer boredom from going so slow. *sigh*

Yummy lamb and white beans for dinner, and then after dinner, we decide to play Mafia. The way Mafia works is that you have a moderator who knows who everyone is, and an assassin, a commadant, and then everyone else is a townsperson. Every round, the assassin gets to kill someone, the commadant gets to ask whether someone is the assassin, and the townspeople decide whether to kill someone that they think is the assassin. And this goes until either the assassin is dead or there aren't enough townspeople to kill the assassin anymore.

Let's just say that the first round set the stage. With Francois protesting that the townspeople killing people wasn't very fair and had we ever heard of due process? So we decided to "jail" people instead, even though they were effectively dead. And he talked so much that *he* got "jailed", but he kept talking, muttering something about due process. We countered with, well the French did invent the guillotine, and whether he would prefer to be guillotined instead... Anyway. From that round forward, the first person killed by the assassin was Francois, until he finally got irritated and stomped up to bed. :-)

The Pig

Bright and early, 8am, Francois put on his chef's jacket and woke us all up to start prepping the pig. Wake up! Time to prepare the pig! Set up the fire (Brad with his Boy Scout skills was in charge of that). Steve and I went to go fetch the pig from the cellar (they have a cellar! I carried a pig!) And then we had to put the pig on the spit. Which involved determining which way the spit went (do we start at the ass or the pig?) Which devolved into a discussion about fetal development -- the ass gets developed before the mouth. Well, the alimentary canal, technically.

Spitting the pig involves splitting the hind legs apart (imagine a gynecologists' stirrups), threading the spit into the pig's ass, lifting the pig up a bit so that the spit doesn't get caught on the spine, threading it through the pig's body, prying the mouth open, and then putting the spit through the mouth.

Except that we forgot to put the spikes and spreader bars on. So we un-spit the pig, put those on, and re-spit the pig. And then tie its feet to the spreader bars, and spike the pig (there's a great picture of me impaling the pig!) The spikes really do serve a purpose -- they're extra protection so that the pig stays on the spit.

And then we put the pig over the fire. Turning slowly. I got to make a mayonnaise for deviled eggs after the pig was cooking. Mayonnaise is cool -- it's an emulsion of egg yolks and oil. Emulsions are just cool. Essentially, you interlock the molecules of the two substances into such small quantities that they don't separate (unlike suspensions, which do separate). (Added sidenote from Tamara: "i'm surprised you didn't have several paragraphs about the wonders of emulsions, instead restricting yourself to a mere two sentences. is there a picture of you making the mayo? if so, you need to add it with this caption: 'diane: emulsions! emulsions! emulsions!'"

While we were waiting for the pig to cook, a bunch of us went for a run. Steve, Jason, and I break off and run ahead, and we start passing these people lined up at the side of the road. With cameras. We don't really know why, until a couple of minutes later, we start getting passed by these guys in bright yellow jerseys on bikes. Apparently, we're in the middle of a race. And it's a weird race -- there are multiple people and multiple bikes on a team (well, I assume a team, since they were labelled with the smae number!), but more people than bikes. And randomly, people would get off their bike, put it on the side of the road, and start running. And different people (on the same team, i think) would run up, and get on the bike, and start biking. It was all very odd.

The day before, people playing cards, ignoring the poor dead pig

Morning of: before we start manhandling the pig

You mean I have to *touch* the pig?? No way. Uh uh.

Dan trying to pry the mouth of the pig open. Where's the apple?

The spitted pig

Oh yeah. Diane impaling the pig.

Francois industriously basting the inside of the pig's ear.

Well. The pig's ready. But the fire isn't.

Let the pig roasting begin!

And this is how you baste the pig...

Ok. Pig basting is getting boring.

In a break from pig basting, James tries the "Hey Cow!" game.

Flying pig! I promise, we're almost done with the pig pictures.

Is the pig done yet???

Nope, not yet

Yay! Pig done! Time to eat!


Bye bye pig...

Ugh. Now we need to clean up after our mess...

The Tour

Well, between the champagne and the loads of food including roast pig for lunch, needless to say, after lunch, I fell prey to PPT (post-prandial torpidity for those not in the know). You know how your brain slowly turns to molasses, and you hear things, but it takes longer and longer to process what you hear, and so the time between what you hear and what you say in response becomes longer and longer? Well, that happened to me. To the point where I stopped responding. Yes, I fell asleep on the couch. Ah well. Woke up just in time for Francois' tour of his place.

We started by taking the garbage out to the road. Across the road was a cow pasture, and James was determined to also play Hey Cow. So he started yelling at the cows. Francois suggested that since they were French cows, "Hey la vache" might be more effective...

It was great tromping around. His house is almost as old as the U.S. It used to be an old mill. Just seeing the land, how it's both the same and different. The things that are still there that showed how people used to live, like the cisterns for collecting rainwater before the pipe to the central water main was put in. The walls with the really old stones (and trying to repair them in such a way as to repair them, but keep the aesthetic look). There's just such a sense of history there.

Anyway, we tromped all around, up to the wall, down again, out to the red door, across the bridge to the cow pasture (climbing down the pillar again -- watching brad and james literally hand cindy up using the belt loops on her jeans!), through the cow pasture, where we were stalked by menacing cows (they looked menacing to me!), and not one of us hey, cow'd a cow when it was so close to us, I'd like to point out. Wandered through the trees next the cow pasture, where Francois pointed out some hollow oak trees. Apparently, they used to harvest the small branches to give to the bakers for the fires that they baked bread over. But the way that they harvested the branches led to bulbous, hollow trees. Just more ways to amaze us in the way they used to do things.

Oh yes, a funny story. Francois is telling us about what stores are open on Sundays. And he mentions that bars near the churches are in fact open on Sundays. The tradition is that men go to the beginning of the sermon, and then hop out to the bar for a drink, and then come back to catch the end of the sermon. Restaurants are also open, and smaller rather than larger stores. Francois quote: "I know it's complicated, but remember, we're French!"

Hopped on rocks to a small island in the middle of the river. Apparently the key to rock jumping is to not stop. Well, once, I stopped. But Steve was following so close to me, I windmilled my arms until I finally bent over in half and caught myself with my arms on the next rock. Almost fell in, but not quite! James kept almost falling in -- going for the almost reachable rocks, onto some not-so-stable rocks, etc.

Finally, we got back to the other side of the river (jumping rocks -- I just hadn't managed to find the path previously). While we were on the dam, Francois and Brad toyed with pushing James in. James finally just jumped in! Glutton for punishment, I supposed. While James was getting dried off, Francois showed us how to raise/lower the dam. Amazing. Simple wooden wheel with gear to raise/lower the dam to regulate how much water flows through the shunt.

After all that, we climbed up to this granite cliff overlooking the river. *Great* view. :-)

Let the tour begin...

James is *still* trying to play Hey Cow!

Diane & Jason join James

James giving Erika a leg up to look inside the hollow tree.

A great look up the river from Francois' house

Rock jumping to the island

Picture of the house from the island up the river.

Francois showing us how the dam works.

The river as it normally is.

The river after Francois has had the dam open for awhile.

View from the top of the granite cliff.

Stories at Dinner

Dinner, unsurprisingly, consisted of more pig. But Sunday dinner was the dinner of stories. I can't do justice to the stories, but they were Brad's story of how he fell off a cliff, involving naked chicks and an army helicoptor (that's his teaser, not mine!), and James' story of jumping off a river boat in New Orleans and getting arrested, and his commentary on the at least the New Orleans police department.

Chopping down a Tree

Monday, we decide to help Francois around the house by chopping down a tree. Tree chopping has been another hot topic, since Brad, the Boy Scout, said that he knows how to chop down a tree with an axe. This seemed to really excite Francois who was promising to buy an axe just to see this feat. So after lunch (yet more pig braised in butter, onion, wine and creme fraice -- yum!), we all troop out to the afore-mentioned bridge, where there's a tree that's blocking the flow of the river and redirecting water to hit the bracing wall and eroding the wall. Not good.

Francois consults with his mom on exactly what she wants done, and she apparently still wants the tree there. Just not all of it. We're to clean up what was started the day before (by friends of his aunt) and then chop off some of the big branches at the bottom of the tree so that they don't interfere with the water flow.

We start with clean-up. This entails getting the larger branches that have already been cut off the tree, using shears to cut off the smaller branches, putting the big branch through the chain saw in order to make into firewood-sized logs, and using the shears or machetes or band saw to cut the smaller stripped branches into kindling-sized pieces.

Tamara: Chain saw! Chain saw! Chain saw!!

So Francois is teaching Tamara to use the chain saw. Brad, James, Eric, and Dan are going wild with the machete. As James said, "There's something strangely liberating about this. Usually, my work requires me to think a lot. Here, I get the directive: go chop a tree. So I go chop." :-) After awhile, there's not much more we non-chain saw users can do, and the tree's still sitting there. So Brad, James, and Dan start hacking at the tree with the machetes and band saw. Quite successfully.

So the tree is on the same level as the river and rocks, while the rest of us are on the shore which is about 5 feet higher on top of the restraining wall. What happens is that they chop a branch off, Brad ties a rope to the branch, which I then (attempt) to haul up. Well, I'm not neccessarily the strongest person, you'll note. So I tried hauling up the branches, but they're pretty heavy. One time, Brad was walking with the branch, and lifting it every now and then (which was pretty much the only time the branch made progress toward shore), and whenever he let go, I couldn't keep the same amount of pressure, so the branch would drop into the water, splashing Brad. Amusing, but Brad would get his revenge later... The one problem with pulling the branches up is that it basically, at some point, involves me embracing a wet tree. Usually with spiders crawling on it. Ick!!

In the meantime, Tamara and Francois are still chopping the branches into logs. At one point, Francois comes over, and asks, "What are you doing?" Brad and James explain that they were cutting the branches off, without the chain saw, and doing quite well. Which they were. Francois looked a bit disappointed (I think he wanted to be on the river chopping down a tree as well, and didn't want to miss out on the fun), but was like, ok.

Anyway, at some point, we got all the "small" branches off, and only had a couple of monster branches left (monster means that the diameter of the branch was over a foot). Which we tried to do, but finally gave up and waited for Francois to come with the chain saw. At this point, James starts climbing the tree. That looks like fun, so I join him. Which involves me starting below James, and as James is climbing, he's shaking off all this dust, bark, and spiders (ick!) down onto me. I really don't like creepy-crawlies...

Also while we're waiting, we're daring each other to go fetch the branches that are further in the river. I'm at a distinct disadvantage, with the shortest legs of the bunch. Jumping to rocks in the middle of the river, and trying to maintain our balance long enough to bend over and fetch the branch. I did miss a rock on my way back and got my foot quite wet. Although that wasn't so much a leg length problem as a rock being wet and therefore slippery problem.

Finally, Francois gets Tamara to let go of the chain saw long enough so that he can come down and cut the monster branches off. That boy knows how to use a chain saw! Very impressive to see him braced, as the chain saw progressively cuts through the tree. While he was cutting, I swear I could feel creepy-crawlies just creeping their way through my hair. Ick. Dan said he couldn't see anything, but I dunno... Let's just say that I took a shower as soon as I could after we were done.

Anyway, we finish cutting down the tree, and have to take all the cut wood back to the house on the tractor. Another lasting image: Farmer Francois, wearing his safety goggles and work gloves driving the tractor back to the house. The tractor is basically a motor with a hitch to attach the trailer (which has a seat attached), and in order to turn it, Francois has to lean way out to keep his hands on the tractor handles.

Unloading wood and creating a woodpile is another art. The key is to form an assembly line unloading wood so that no one has to move their feet, and you just pass the wood along. Then, creating the wood pile involves putting wood at the bottom perpendicular to the way the rest of the wood will be in order to create a level stacking surface (or even tilted up), and then stacking the wood as evenly as possible.

Dinner that night consisted of risotto and pig (of course) and chocolate mousse. I made the risotto, and there was a lot. Let's just say that both Francois and I watched with trepidation as I added more and more liquid to cook the rice, hoping that the pot was indeed big enough to hold all of the cooked risotto. It was. Barely.

Francois driving the tractor out to the tree, the rest of us trooping along behind, ready to put in a good day's work.

The tree before we started.

The tree after we were done.

Tamara: Chain saw! Chain saw! Chain saw!

Tamara after playing with the chain saw all day. Sawdust anyone?

Brad, James, & Dan attacking the tree with band saws and machetes.

Diane, Steve, Francois, Dan, & James trying to pull a tree branch up.

James, Diane, Dan, & Brad in the much smaller tree.

Farmer Francois driving the tractor back with all the logs we created.


Well, that was pretty much the end of our trip. Tuesday morning, we woke up bright and early to head to the airport to go back to Paris. At this point, Air France dicked us over one more time -- they cancelled our flight, and put us on a much later flight. We finally gave up, cancelled our flight reservations, and took the TGV instead.

Got to Paris, wandered around the Montparnasse metro station for awhile looking for the Metro entrance (lots of long corridors!), and finally got to the Chatelet stop with the hotel. Stood in the metro station for awhile trying to figure out which exit we wanted, got out, and looked on the map again to try to figure out where the hotel was. Well, we looked, but we should have just looked up and around, 'cause the hotel was literally right behind us. *Sigh* Too dependent on technology rather than basic sight.

Great location for the hotel though -- we could see the Pompidou center from our window!

Walked to Ste. Chapelle, then to Notre Dame (almost getting run over by a motorcycle -- Eric crossed, so I crossed, oblivious to the motorcycle speeding my way. I think he literally missed me by inches!), where we climbed up to go see the gargoyles and bell tower. Great pictures of Tamara and I trying to imitate the gargoyles. I think it's pretty much anatomically impossible to hunch over as much as they were hunched over... Although we tried. Tamara was even sticking her tongue out to imitate them, practically licking her shirt to imitate the postures... Saw the WWII memorial at the tip of the island, walked back to the hotel, dropped Dan off at the RER station, napped, had dinner, walked around, and left the next morning to come back to the US...

End Game

Well, that was my trip. Probably in way too much detail. All in all, even though we almost never even left Francois' house, it was one of the best vacations I've had in a long time. Very relaxing. Also, eye-opening. Just to see a completely different lifestyle, culture. A chance to let go, get some perspective on the rest of my life. Think about other issues, like the importance of making an impact and how to make an impact, the wide difference between our educations and what we take for granted versus other people. All of that. Hope you enjoyed reading this...