Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Logbook: Une Tres Bonne Semaine

Unetresbonnesemaine1It has been a very good week on The Voyage. Most important, my strategy of “immersion” and daily French lessons has really paid off. In two short weeks I have learned basic greetings and courtesies, the days, weeks and months, how to ask for things, how to say thank you, how to apologize and say I don’t understand plus quite a bit more. I am certainly very far from “fluent” but I feel I can “function” and that is all I need for now. Frankly, I’ve learned about as much French in two weeks as I learned Spanish in six months. A little bit goes a long way on The Voyage. My confidence and comfort level are up and my culture shock is down, so chalk one up in the win column for successful experiments! Besides that, I have really enjoyed my time in and around Les Plantiers. The local folks have consistently been warm and embracing, continuing to help me with my French and enthusiastically acknowledging my daily improvement. Our “conversations” are clearly idiotic, but they are conducted in earnest and in good humor. I hope I have been able to convey my appreciation.

The rest of my time here has been equally rewarding. I have driven almost a thousand kilometers around the area, utilizing just about every little road to its full advantage and making a point of stopping for at least a few minutes in most of the charming little towns. The scenery is lovely and I also make a point of stopping at most viewpoints to take it all in. I really like this area and would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about visiting. So far, my experience of France and the French is vastly different from what I had been told by many to expect -- Yet another powerful reminder that you have to go find out for yourself. My days this past week have had a kind of “routine” to them, so I’m not going to do a day-by-day recap. Instead, I want to share just a few experiences and aspects that are noteworthy.

One, of course, is that it is election time in France. I have been unable to figure out much about how the system works around here, but the contest is clearly pretty heated. It seems that on one hand is a guy who is hailed as “conservative” but who many people are afraid is more of a fascist. On the other hand is a woman. I have been unable to ascertain much about her except that some people think she is great. My own opinion is that she is pretty hot and ought to be elected on that basis alone. I can’t understand much -- if any -- of the debates that seem to be on TV 24/7, but I can read the viewing audiences I see well enough to know that the election is going to be significant. I guess my point is that I’m here in the middle of an election I don’t understand -- and don’t really care about besides the “hot chick” factor -- yet it is still informative about the people.

A second experience is that Tuesday, May 1st was a holiday here. Some kind of “Labor Day” as far as I could tell. Everything, and I mean everything, was closed. I probably should have gotten a clue from the daily closing of businesses for at least two hours in the middle of the day for lunch that “commerce” is not “king” around here. Food, wine and time off are king. So, it doesn’t surprise me upon reflection that every store, restaurant and cafe was closed on the holiday. It was, however, kind of eerie. I come from a land where “holiday” equals “sale day” -- France is a land where “holiday” means “no sale day.” Keep that in mind if you’re ever here on a holiday.

Unetresbonnesemaine2Another experience has to do with livestock in the road. For the first week or so, I drove the roads virtually unimpeded by automotive traffic, let alone anything of the 4-hoof variety. Then, just the other day it seemed like the road was blocked at virtually every turn by some flock or other. Not just the tiny mountain roads mind you, but even the major roads. Mostly there were sheep, but there were also goats in good numbers and quite a few cows. Besides the obviously commonplace nature of this occurrence as depicted by the behavior of other drivers, I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before: Dogs are used with sheep but not with goats. The dogs stay pretty busy keeping the sheep organized, but the goats seem to follow the shepherd in good order of their own free will. I know from personal experience that sheep are stupid, so I am inclined to draw the conclusion that they are dumber than goats and thus require more “guidance” in the form of dogs. On the other hand, how dumb must a goat be to willingly follow a shepherd down a paved road when there is so much tasty greenery available for leisurely foraging all around. Curious minds want to know!

Anyway, I hope I have given you a sense of what my week has been like. As I wrote at the top of this entry, it has been a very good week and I am in really good shape because of it. This weekend I will check out of my lovely little gite and say au revoir to Les Plantiers and my many friends here. I will be heading off on a ten-day road trip, driving west then north with the D-Day beaches or Normandy as my next significant way point. I’ve got my maps, I’ve got my trusty little car and I’ve got my French. As always, I’ve also got my Mac and my pack! All is well on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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