Monday, February 28, 2011

French Kissing Map

210 - French Kissing Map

Over 18.000 votes have been cast in a poll to determine once and for all the answer to the burning question: Combien de bises? That’s French for ‘How many kisses’, and kissing in France is a lot more complex the French’s somewhat overstated reputation for carefree libidinosity implies.
Unlike more reserved nationalities, the French greet each other with kisses on the cheek – but the practice varies to the point where one risks l’embarras social when the kisser has another number of pecks on the cheek in mind than the kissee. Suppose, for a moment, that you intend to give three kisses and the other person turns away after two. Ah, the humilitation!
This must have happened a few times to Gilles Debunne, because earlier in 2007 he set up a website to resolve the French kissing conundrum once and for all. Debunne asked hiscompatriotes to send in how many kisses were the rule in their particular département. The number, which varies from one to four (five is too much, even for the French), shows an interesting regional variability.
  • One kiss is the preferred option in only two départements: Finistère at the western tip of Brittany and Deux-Sèvres in the Poitou-Charentes region.
  • Elsewhere in Poitou-Charentes, three kisses are preferred: in the departments of Vienne and Charente. The largest block of three-kiss-départements is located in the southeast.Trois bises are the thing to do in Ardèche, Aveyron, Cantal, Drôme, Haute Loire, Hautes Alpes, Hérault, Gard, Lozère and Vaucluse.
  • Four kisses are de rigueur in a large region in northeastern France. Apart from the isolated coastal département of Pas de Calais, this is a contiguous area, consisting of 22 départements from Normandy to the Belgian border: Ardennes, Aube, Calvados, Eure, Eure et Loire, Haute Marne, Indre, Indre et Loire, Loire et Cher, Loire Atlantique, Loiret, Maine et Loire, Manche, Marne, Mayenne, Orne, Sarthe, Seine et Marne, Seine-St-Denis, Val d’Oise, Vendée and Yonne.
  • The rest of the country is two-kisses territory, apart from the same département in northeast Paris that stood out by turning Royal red amidst a sea of Sarkozy blue in the first round of the French presidential elections earlier this year (see entry #108).
Not visualised in this map is the confusion within the départements. Apparently, the quatre bises won out only just in Pas de Calais, narrowly defeating the almost 50% who said they preferred just deux. What happens when representatives of the former group meet someone from the latter one? A faux Pas de Calais? And that’s not even taking into account the class and age distinctions that may play a role in how many kisses are required – or even whether they are expected at all. 
“If you are invited to a dinner party with people you don’t know, you’ll shake their hands when you arrive. At the end of the evening, you might kiss them but it’s probably better to hold out your hand and see what happens,” says Constance Rietzler, director of La BelleÉcole in Paris, offering courses in art and hopefully also joie de vivre, and quoted in this article in The Times on Mr Debunne’website.
The map was sent in by Romke Soldaat of the website Frogsmoke, which asks the question: “What makes France such an endearing and infuriating country at the same time?

Why are the French a people that you love one day and hate the next?”   

and there is more to the article..... and indeed a question to be answered.  

I found this  and thought it was pretty interesting as although not humiliating for me and other foreigners,   the whole kissing thing  is fascinating.  I totally agree with not risking the kiss unless the French person comes to kiss you first.   That is for the French to decide.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Animal Story #1: Hedgy

                                                                        photo reflagged from tree-hugger .com

When I had been living in France for some years  somehow the subject arose of the famous classic, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

 I had read the children's book sometime as a kid and I thought about Fox, Toad, Ratty, Mole and the other characters when living in England.   It was in England that I had finally spotted a real Badger. 

But I had never actually seen a hedgehog and I mused about this one day with my husband.  "Well you might see one here if you want to since they are all over Europe. "  Well, I vowed that I did want to.

The very next morning around five in the morning, my husband was shouting ," Mary, come here".  I thought what the *** is this?    I never get up at five.... what?    My husband was at the front door calling and there on the top of many steps leading up to our entry was a smallish hedgehog!!    

                                          photo  reflagged from oasis of sanity

Monsieur said, "Well you asked for him and I woke up to some scratching noise on the door.  Here he is..... "Hedgy" at your command, Madame!" 

 And that has remained one of the minor miracles of my life.  I had asked for him and after many years of lodging in France, he had come as beckoned.  We brought this little hedgehog into the house carefully, with gloves on,  and he curled into a ball not to reveal himself for several minutes.  He stunk to high heaven but I was amazed and thrilled.   

After that day, we had a hedgehog couple living in our garden for several years until we inherited our fearless feline, Gaston.   Ask my sister, she remembers when Hedgy wandered into the guest room when we had left our downstairs door open after dusk. 

 After this first meeting on the steps, we could see a small pile of debris and leaves in the far corner every winter while Hedgy ( my husband's naming again) and his mate hibernated at "the little yellow house".  I hope we will see them again.  I will get right on it!

                              photo reflagged from wild about Devon blog

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fiddling with the internet.

Philippes STuff 2, ( I didn't move anything)

I have just realized that some of your comments were held back for moderation.  Sorry about that.  I have no idea why except that maybe "flatulence" on one of them is considered a dirty word by google.  Sorry to Bruce, Joa and Jeanne.

 So now the comments are there as I have given them all the ok and I have put up a language translator too.   I am curious to see if it will be used.  I tested it on the  French translation since I don't know any Chinese and it is not perfect but it is pretty good .  I am interested to know if other countries log in now.  I will be able to see that on my "stats" that come with my blog.  I can see which countries log in and how many people read each post.  I can even see the kind of service provider they use.  It's fascinating.

This week is more than full of trials and I am doing my mojo on them one after the other.  Some of the items on the disfunction list of life seem trivial and some don't.  I suppose it's all how you look at it.   

I just talked to my neighbor who had all the teeth ripped out of his head ( by the dentist) because he must have a heart operation and possibility of infection had to be ruled out.  The poor guy can only drink soup and has lost five kilos already.   He could stand to lose about 10 more kilos so this is, I suppose, his silver lining.  Let's hear it for 'silver linings".  I could use a few and I'll bet you could too.

For my foreign readers the saying is in English "every cloud has a silver lining".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Art Project - Preview

I just went into town and had my wallet lifted from my purse with a big wad of money with it.

 It could have been worse but to distract myself after canceling my plastic,  I am having a look at mail I have saved.

My friend Bruce sent me this site which is google's effort for letting us have an in-depth view of some of the world's most respected art museums.   It is really fantastic.  Watch all the videos and it will give you an idea how to use the site.

 I have not even begun to explore it myself but this week was the first time in ten months that I have wanted to set foot in my studio.

 Things are percolating here and I am going to have a good long look to push myself into inspiration.

Don't fret about my wallet.  One has to move on and go directly into grateful mode.  I still have my health and my friends.

 There are professional pic pockets in town as it is Carnival this week.  I should have been more alert.  

 I am honing that skill of gratefulness which is not the human default position.  Try it.  It works most times on the small stuff of life.

Road Home: Back safe and sound

The road home was long.  Mother cat took a while to settle but we traded off driving and sang to Frank and Ella and the Beach Boys for long stretches of road.

   I can't say that the landscape was beautiful.  In fact we passed one polluted zone after another... even after passing the French border and shockingly these industrial areas shared with cultivated fields!

  And I don't for a minute think this is only a national problem.  But it really does hit home that just because your own home area is free of industrial zones, you have to know that you are served by belching factories somewhere in your home country.  Maybe Spain has a worse problem then some, I don't know but they are concentrated after Andalusia so we saw the thick of it.

Also , It was pretty evident with a steady stream of trucks carrying merchandise that this is not the answer to transporting our goods in France and Spain.  Where are the freight trains, that would seem a better solution on first glance?

We finally stopped the night after about ten hours of driving, to find a basic hotel off the road.  It was a nice clean place all new but with a boiler that would not let up and roasted us all night even after we tuned off the heat in our room.

.  However, we had a memorable meal at a truck stop cafe around the corner which was a high point in the day.

I was moved by the number of tired drivers who looked like decent family types who downed there basic supper of  cooked frozen vegetables,  inexpensive cuts of meat and their ice creams while watching a tele in the corner talking about pollution.  These poor guys had been driving for hours through said pollution, as had we.  It did give a sense of helplessness when one was so tired.  

However, Jeanne and I don't have the trucker's life so we were quite cheerful and pleased with our piece of fish and flan for dessert and wine included for 10 euros.   Tomorrow we will be safely home, before nightfall.

 And finally I got to go 130 kilometers and hour which is the speed limit here on the highway.  I must say it seemed like 80 mph which is more what I have been accustomed to in America.  Funny how easy it is to adapt.  It was a great adventure.  Thanks Philippe.  Thanks Jeanne.

                               That's Jeanne looking back at me at our truck stop diner.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saint's Procession , Sunday night

Last night after the party we were urged to make our way down into a nearby village to witness the ceremony taking place there.  I have been reading an old Mary Stewart novel that perfectly describes what must have taken place for centuries and is what we saw Sunday night,

" the saint is brought out of the church where he lies the year round in a dim shrine all smoky with taper-light, and is carried throughout the streets in his golden palanquin." 

 In this case it was the image of two saints which were carried in a procession. 

 I don't know the significance of the saints or their names or for that matter the name of the village but I felt that this was a time honored rite that we were privileged to witness.  The saints no doubt are patron saint's of this particular village.

On procession days a crowd from the village lines the streets to greet the saints.  

From the upper balconies are tossed sweets and peanuts in their shells.  The children scramble to 
fill their pockets.

          All the able young men and women of the parish are pressed into service to carry the palanquins.

Several bands composed of players of all ages intone the serious music that accompanies the procession.

        The elders accompany with lighted tapers as the procession winds throughout the village.

             And juxtaposed to this religious rite is a cacophonous carnival with rides, bumper cars....

     screaming machinery ,gambling booths and game stands..... 

  After eight hours of party, all this was a bit surreal... but hey...... always ready to experience life with  all its permutations.
And then after the procession we wound our way home to the highway and Marbella.... a bit knackered and ready to retire....another sensational day in Spain.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Last Day in Marbella

    Up early to capture the sunrise with Bessie who pounces on my bed as if she knows something is up today, our last day.

We are going to have a day of packing for our trip and getting ready to drive home with the cats in their boxes tomorrow.   On our last day I am determined to have churros for breakfast.  I headed for all the regular cafe's yesterday and they were all closed.  Finally at 11:00 Jeanne texts me today to say that my breakfast corner has opened and I head over for my last breakfast in Marbella.


 Jeanne is off to the gym and I am off to a leisure day and some shopping at the tail end of the sales.   I have made an appointment for the dentist to get my teeth cleaned later for  only 48 euros.  In America the price would be over 100 dollars, I am fairly sure.  In France it would be about 70 euros with my Lebanese dentist with his state-of-the-art office, less from some others French dentists perhaps.  The quality of cleaning in France is not always up to my standards.  I heard once from a French dentist that we Americans are obsessed with our teeth.  That may be so as I feel teeth are pretty important.

While looking for Scotch tape, I open three drawers  in the apartment and can't resist taking photos of what I found there.  I did not touch a thing but I love this found composition.

Philippe's stuff 1

By the way, the hygienist was one of the most professional I have ever come across and I will hope to go there again in the future for further work.  

Tomorrow we hit the road after packing up four months of living for Jeanne, one week for me.  A demain.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spanish Birthday Party: Day Six

I have not mentioned that I think the Spanish people are a warm and welcoming population and to test my hypothesis we have been invited to a Birthday party today, Sunday, by the owner of our apartment in Marbella who is an old and valued friend of Jeanne.

We are going out into the country where he and his partner  have bought a house with an almost 360 degree view of the sea and mountains for what we would pay for a good single apartment in Nice.  There is 20 percent unemployment in Spain and the crisis has hit the housing market rather hard.  If you have cash you can pick up amazing bargains now.

 The house we visit is almost spherical,  perched on a cliff with splendid views and is full of oddly shaped but spacious rooms .  The owners have made it cozy and practical and have added lots of garden features great for parties.

We are early but after our first drink we watch the making of the sangria punch by a fabulous woman lawyer who I heard is also a great cook.   She was there with her husband and teenage son ( not pictured).

Olayee, olayee, olayee.... they all chant as they stir it round and round and add more sugar, champagne and fruit.

Philippe, who is French, passes the sangria to all and at last he enjoys a glass  himself.  This is Miguel's sister who was in charge of so much of the good food that arrived.

  Everyone brought something and there was a big array of dishes. THis party was all ages and a variety of social classes ( students, doctors, lawyers, pump salesman, tour guide etc) and mellow.  After Sangria there were other ways of getting high....  including a big cauldron of gin and tonics after lunch.

 In Spain, the law allows that you can carry enough marijuana for your own use which seems to render it less of a big deal and more relaxed but most everybody preferred alcohol at this fete.

    These were the youngest guests at the party, a 12 and 13 year old brother and sister, that I "talked to" all afternoon.  We managed to communicate without much language.

                                                         Some idea of the view they enjoy every day.

                                            Family portrait except for Dad who was there too somewhere.

                                                           Miguel and sis.

                                         I love taking pictures of Jeanne.  You can see why.

                             My kids and I  spent lots of time on the swing mostly together but I was welcomed and spoke to everyone (  20 + people and we received two more to come stay and for another party.... which sadly we had to refuse as we would be leaving Spain soon.  We had a really good time, amazing as my Spanish is zilch.

                                            Philippe takes a time out from playing host.

                There were three birthdays being celebrated and we sang in three languages....

    This is Miguel Picasso, the birthday boy, partner of Philippe, who is a well known disc jockey in Marbella and surrounds.

  Thank you Miguel and Philippe .  We had a grand time.  You really know how to party.

I'm glad your little fluffball mutt returned to the house after walking us all the way to our car down the hill.    Until next time. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ronda: Day five

Situated in the far northwest of Malaga province, sits Ronda on an outcrop of rock in a sort of basin surrounded by mountain ranges.   It is here we are headed for today.

Ronda is one of the oldest towns in Spain and claims prehistoric beginnings.  There is a cave with prehistoric art, the cave of the Pileta (which I don't believe is open to the public) and other prehistoric finds.

  One of the most striking aspects of the town and its surroundings is its muslim heritage which has influence many of the practices and traditions of the area.   The Catholic Kings in 1485 conquered the town and added it's two most significant monuments:  the bullring and the New Bridge.   

We found Ronda after about an hour's drive from Marbella,  somewhat isolated and surrounded by rolling headlands and a beautiful landscape.  After leaving our car we set out for the New Bridge and old town passing by some pristine buildings with the Moorish influenced architecture.

            And here is the amazing expanse that awaits the visitor in the center near the old town of Ronda.

A new boardwalk skirts the view

   And here is the outside of the Plaza De Toros of Ronda which we visited first after a quick tapas lunch.

 I was surprised that my friend, a vegetarian, had for some time followed the Corrida for it's possibilities of beauty and fluidity.... when the bull and bull fighter come together to create a drama of sorts.

 When I voiced my objections to the killing of the bull and the way of doing it she gently pointed out to me the difference between the life of a toro for the bullring and the average steer that we cultivate for meat.

 The first is treated like a king until the last 15 minutes of it's life....the steer on the other hand lives a life of misery, separated from it's mother,   fed indigestible food,  never allowed to graze, bloated with hormones and anti-biotics and finally transported miles to its slaughter.

 I am still considering the ramifications of this but it was so very interesting to then visit the museum and witness the history, lore , props and pageantry surrounding the bull fight.  It somehow reminded me of Opera, which by the way,  my friend studied for many years.  

                            Youngsters pass before the bullring practicing their craft.

     Seeing the stadium and pens still and silent did nothing to diminish my imagination of what the day of a fight must be like with the thrill, dread and excitement and the teasing of all the senses.

 I think I could watch an actual bull- fight were the beast saved at the end and not killed as takes place in Nimes and Arles, France, apparently.

     So many Almond trees in bloom and Spring has come to the valley.  We are many feet above.  Oh, to have my father's 3D camera!

This then is the famous Puente Neuve, the real symbol of the city.  Its interior was a prison and enemies were hurled from the bridge at one time.  The river is very far from the top in a steep gorge.

Crossing the new bridge to the old town, one was struck by how clean the city is and how well maintained.  This buggy is , of course, for tourists.

Well, this is one of the few monuments that we visited in a town with well over 30 listed sites.   This is called the Castle of Rey Moro or a moorish king's palace but it is a deceptive name as no king of any kind ever lived here. 

 The house was built in the 1700's and is more significant for it's hanging gardens and it's water mine.

There was no access to the interior of this ruin (which I understand will be made into a hotel soon)  but the gardens laid out byJean Claude Nicolas Forestier were characterized by lots of running water,  a fish pond and Islamic motifs.  

The most impressive aspect of this visit though is the strangely named Water mine.

   The water mine is a true moorish structure likely done by the moorish king Abomelic.  It consists of a series of interconnecting stairways and chambers starting at the top of the cliff face and winding down to the Guadalevin River.

 In the day, the mine not only provided water for the whole city but was strategic  in helping the city withstand an extended attack from the outside.   The key to a successful siege of the city was to cut off the water supply.

During the time of the reconquest, when the Catholic Monarchs were trying to take the Iberian peninsula back from the Moors, Ronda was frequently under siege.  The steep cliffs around the city ruled out taking the city by force, the only way was to cut off the water supply.

 This did happen in 1485 when the Marquis of Cadiz successfully attacked the fortress at the bottom of the water mine and gave the citizens the choice of surrender or die.  They chose surrender.

  The water mine was restored in 1911 but Slaves built the original mine and 400  slaves daily carried the goat-skin bags full of water 300 plus or minus feet up and down the stairs!    Jeanne and I decided to do about 20 steps in the slime and dark before we beat a retreat!  Got the picture.

Jeanne and Blossom time.  

 A very good day....we finished off the tour by admiring the peacocks in their cage and trying to get the male to show us his plumage in full array.  He never succumbed but we were truly pleased with Ronda anyway.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Marbella, Day four

Lazy day up early and played with the cats and had a lie in after our long day on the road.

 As much as we loved the Alhambra in all its subtle magnificence,  we have decided Seville and Cordoba will have to wait for another time.

 I decided to take some pictures from the terrace of our apt to give you an idea of Marbella.  I do get the feeling that more than half of these apartments are holiday homes because there are not a lot of people in town, the best time to come.  

This is from the West side terrace looking back at the mountains.

                                             Same view angled down to roof below.

Jeanne is going to do her laps in the pool but now that I have been a guest one day they want 28 euros for another visit.  I decide to spend the day doing what people do on vacation....

    which is sit in the park...

Watch the pigeons bathe in the fountain....

     Walk along the sea.....

    Admire the wide marble walkways.....

     Keep the elephant company from a sunny spot.....

    And pet Bessie....the magnificent Maine Coon and her mom, Maddie.

Tonight we dine at our favorite bar where the waitresses bring by plates of tempting tapas .  There is  succulent cod with red sauce or cod with beranaise sauce,  croquettes with cheese, artichoke hearts with sauce, creamed spinach on toast  in fact all of them are served on slices of good bread.  There are  meats if you wish.   Tapas vary from 1.50 to 2 euros .  You can have two good glasses of  red wine and four tapas for under 10 euros.  My idea of a fun evening meal.