Friday, February 28, 2014

The Argeles version of Mardi Gras

Argeles-sur-mer has its own version of New Orleans' Mardi Gras or Rio's Carnavale, as do many of the other villages around the Pyrenees. It's France's answer to Halloween in that the kids and the adults get to dress in costumes and masks and party hearty. (Not that we need much prompting to party here.)

Today was the schoolchildren's parade through the village, and I managed to poke my head out in time to watch the the Cavalcade des Ecoles procession through centreville.
video
 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Winding roads

Pyrenees mountains, southern France
Donna-Lane and I went to Andorra on a secret mission today. For now, we'll call it a "research project." Not so sure how well the secret was kept. More than once, we seemed to be followed by a mysterious helicopter. We were also held up temporarily at the French border for allegedly going too fast through the checkpoint; I think they were just confirming our whereabouts because they'd lost our cell phone signal in the mountains.
We can tell you that the 'unclassified' portion of the mission was a seemingly endless series of spectacular views.

The cloud formations were ever-changing ... from 'clorox' bleached whites to multiple shades of gray, cotton candy pink as the sun set, even 'backlit' clouds ... and everything from brilliant blue skies to soupy fog and snow that prevented us from seeing the mountains only feet away.
There were numerous villages - like Eus - which seemed to be glued to the hillside. The residents must have strong legs and lungs from always going uphill or downhill.
Near Mont-Louis, I clambered up the hill to get a closer look at this monument. Next time, we'll take photos of some of the whimsical roundabouts, such as the one with a giant sled, others with marvelous fountains or sculptures.
In the central city of Andorra, there's an ultra modern spire that can be seen for miles. Thought it was a church, but it's actually a wellness spa.
This is more my idea of refreshing - a rushing, cold mountain stream. We saw dozens of these, some slicing through the mid-winter snow, as well as waterfalls.
This lion and his bookend were guarding the entrance to an upscale store in one of the ski resort towns.
This is the entrance to the nearly 5-km long Puymorens Tunnel, built about 20 years ago, which saved us having to travel at least twice as far on very windy, snowy mountain trails.
What was the most entrancing, though, throughout the day, was the mountains. A few still snow-covered, sprinkled like confectioner's sugar, D-L remarked. Many ranging over 2000 metres (more than a mile), some as high as Pic du Canigou - 2,784 m (9,134 ft) - which we can see from the village of Argeles-sur-mer.

It was a lovely day trip, and yes, we accomplished our mission.

More on D-L's blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/02/andorra-secret-mission.html.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Red Blanket

In many respects, our red blanket is a symbol of the relationship between Donna-Lane and me.

It represents warmth, in that D-L often wraps up in the blanket while sitting on the couch, simultaneously working on writing projects, staying in touch with friends, keeping track of world events, and playing computer games. Sometimes when we're watching a DVD, I'll snuggle under the blanket with her.

It represents our playfulness. When we make the bed in the morning, the red blanket can take on many geometric shapes -- a triangle, a letter such as O or S, a question mark, a heart ...

It represents the small-village lifestyle of the twice-weekly marche where we bought it from one of the regular vendors. D-L spied the blanket one day, and we hesitated in case we came across something better. The next marche she snapped it up, lest someone else buy it and we'd have to settle for a different color that didn't match the rest of our decor. She's definitely a bird-in-the-hand type. With a strong preference for color coordination.

Red is a predominant theme in the Warren. The draperies in the master bedroom, along with the rugs on the side of the bed and a multi-shade painting. The red terry-cloth bedsheet that is much cozier than cotton. The red-and-white checked tablecloth. The red tiles that serve as hot plates. The red cloth napkins, which are washable and save trees by not using so much disposable paper. The scarf D-L bought me for Christmas. The watch I bought her for Valentine's. Her birthstone and the ruby necklace she wears always. The poinsettia the landlady gave us for the holidays. Red and navy stripes on the clic-clac in the den. Shades of red in the large den rug. The sheer red fabric backing the shelves behind my desk. One of my favorite shirts. And the new red curtains B is making for the patio doors, which will reduce our heat costs during cooler months.

Red items to be washed now go in a separate mesh bag so we don't inadvertently launder them with other colors (as we've been known to do).

Of course, "red is the color of my true love's hair," though not quite the shade of the blanket and not necessarily my love's true color. And the one 'secret' between us - I've never been allowed to watch the process by which the redhead is perpetuated. I'm told it's not pretty.

The red blanket cost us 10 euros, but it's a priceless reminder of many pleasant aspects of our life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fear of ...

The Cowardly Lion had wiccaphobia: fear of witches.

We're almost all aware of the term claustrophobia - the fear of confined spaces. And arachnophobia - fear of spiders. Some even know the term xenophobia - fear of strangers or foreigners.

I have long had an aversion to bugs - entomophobia. Cannot stand crawly bugs like ants (myrmecophobia) and cockroaches (katsaridaphobia), and definitely don't like flying bugs such as wasps (spheksophobia). My current bane is moths (mottephobia). As a consequence, I have become a world-class bug killer, and once I've swatted one or two of the pesky critters their friends tend to get the message and leave me alone.

Until I got together with Donna-Lane, I had lachanophobia - fear of vegetables - but now eat them every day. However, I still have a bit of an aversion to mushrooms (mycophobia), unless they're finely chopped up. 

I also have an "abnormal dislike for politicians," politicophobia, though it's probably more accurately tyrannophobia, fear of tyrants, which many politicians have become as money has taken over their judgment.

Many people have atychiphobia - fear of failure. When you get to my age, you may suffer from gerascophobia - fear of growing old.

I feel genuinely sorry for people who have bibliophobia - fear of books. They miss the pure joy of reading.
 
And for anyone with allodoxaphobia - fear of opinions - because, as you know, I am not afraid to express mine.
 

A few of my friends in Texas have chionophobia - fear of snow.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of phobias. A few of my favorites:

Omphalophobia - fear of belly buttons.
Lutraphobia - fear of otters.  (I have a friend whose call sign is 'Otter' - wonder what the term is for fear of flying upside down, which is what he does for a living.)
Arachibutyrophobia - fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.

And there are the number-phobics:
Paraskavedekatriaphobia - fear of Friday the 13th. 

Or what may be the longest spelling of a phobia: 
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia - fear of the number 666.
Which could be a problem for someone with sesquipedalophobia - fear of long words.

Then there's the all-encompassing panophobia - fear of everything. Or even phobophobia - fear of phobias.
What triggered this blog theme was finding a magazine in the freezer.

You read that right. 

I was scrounging for something to eat, opened the freezer door, and discovered a magazine in cold storage. On the counter was a package of ham. I figured D-L had meant the ham for the freezer and the magazine for the counter.

Not necessarily.

She intentionally put the magazine in the freezer.

You read that right.

Why? Ophidiophobia - fear of snakes. You see, the magazine had a photo of a snake, and D-L was hiding it from her sight by stashing the magazine in with the ice cubes and ice cream.

I have now 'slain' the snake - ripped the offending page of the magazine into tiny shreds (AND put it outside the door in the recycle bin).

Some other time I'll tell you about her pediophobia.

BTW, she's aware that I'm writing this blog, so she's writing her own pre-emptive spin at:
http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/02/dreams-and-nightmares.html.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Disorderly orderliness

The marche is picking up. More people, more stands. (This photo is from last summer - did not have a camera with me today.)

I love the order and the ebb and flow of the twice-weekly open market, staged on two of the main streets in the centre of the village. It's a combination of local merchants like the green grocer Chez Elisabeth (on the right side of the photo), the vin cave on the opposite corner, and a few others who move some of their wares to tables outside their shops ... one or two such as the rotisserie chicken vendor next to La Noisette who rents ground-floor space for storage and cooking but opens the wide door into an awning only on marche days ... Barbara's English-language used book store ... Miloud's art studio ... and the majority of vendors who bring their locally-grown food or flea-market bargains for one or both days.

The spaces on the street are allocated by a village committee, and many of the vendors are moved around to different spaces so the foot-traffic allocation will be fair and equalized over time. 

But there are a few vendors in the same spaces each time, and you can readily see why it makes sense to do so. A couple of the transit chicken and meat purveyors, for example, drive in small trucks - the side of the truck opens into an awning, much like a state fair or the construction site food wagons I used to see at lunchtime in Texas. The trucks of the Argeles marche are always on the end of the line, allowing easy access to the nearest in and out street or alleyway. Where there are steps to be negotiated, the vendor wares are more lightweight, such as the scarf guy. Fruit and veggie vendors tend to be at ground level and must carry their goods in boxes from the nearest parking location.

Clean-up, after the marche shuts down about Noon, is also in incredibly efficient. Within an hour or so, you would not know the market was there. No trash on the street, no boxes. All as efficiently moved out as it was moved in.

The best thing for us is that the marche is right at the end of our street. We grab a sack, stroll for a few minutes, chat with people we know (or strangers), and come home with plenty of goodies to eat, or the occasional clothing item or bouquet of fresh flowers.

Monday, February 3, 2014

One and a Book?

I think the French may have invented three-hour lunches. During the middle of the day, almost all of the shops - the bakery, the butcher, the green grocers, etc. - close down. Which is nice because they get to spend time with their families. This is not a 24/7 all-about-convenience society; it's far more pragmatic. The shops are open early in the morning, so people can buy what they need for lunch, and they re-open by mid-afternoon so you can get what you need for dinner and the next day's breakfast. If you don't stock up on a lot of things, and we don't, most of what you eat is quite fresh (and healthier).

There can be a downside, like today when I slept in after a long night of writing and not-so-Super Bowl watching, and didn't pick up anything for lunch. And what little provisions I have are not necessarily what I want to eat.

That's when the cafes come in handy. Because they are open during midday.

When D-L was on her own, before I showed up in her very pleasant life, she would regularly go to La Noisette or La Bartavelle, where the hostess might inquire, "One and a Book?" because Donna-Lane is rarely without reading material. (Now it might be more appropriately, "One and a Kindle?")

So, lacking anything in the Warren that I want to eat, I'm going to find something to read - maybe Love and War in the Pyrenees, an account of this area during WWII - then find a quiet corner table with good light.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quiet streets

For a little village, Argeles-sur-mer has many moods. In July and August, it's tourist mood when ASM transforms into the "camping capital" of Europe and the population swells by 100,000 - all of whom seem to descend on southern France's biggest beach while renting RVs or bungalows by the week or month. During Christmas and Easter, it's holiday mood and plenty of parties when we're likely to see some friends from the UK who have permanent homes here and use them whenever they get a few days' break from work. During "shoulder season," June and September, there are some vacationers, but only enough to liven up the twice-weekly marche without choking the pedestrian-only streets of centreville.

In winter, especially midday on a Sunday, ASM seems almost a ghost town. There are very few residents in residence, and because the shops are closed most of the day, almost no one walking the streets.

With D-L in Geneva for a few days, I went for a walk to take an exercise break from writing. I was about the only ghost on the streets. The weather website claimed 12 degrees centigrade, but the wind made it feel much colder. So I walked rather briskly, thinking of maybe turning on the bed warmer on D-L's side of the bed and crawling under the covers to read for a bit (at 5 in the afternoon). And, as I thought about it more, thinking about buying another bed warmer for my side.

Only saw three others on my quickened pace down the steps to la poste, up the street to the river, still flowing steadily from recent rains (sorry, California friends), then back up the slight hill that is Rue de la Republique. On the other bank of the river, there was a dog owner ghost throwing sticks to a couple of canine ghosts.

There are times when I appreciate solitude mood.  Put on some easy listening music mood and do some research. Experiment cooking my own chicken noodle soup mood. Finish reading a book on Kindle mood (though a bit predictable, and the writer was too enamored of his own technical knowledge - more than the reader needed).

But I like the other times during the year too. The social mood of meeting new people and hearing their life adventures and opinions over a cup of hot tea and a chocolate biscuit. The walk to the beach in 15 minutes mood - because we can - and I wouldn't live in any of the other towns around, lovely as they are, since they all require hopping in the car to get to the plage. The time to plant some flowers mood by which our street is annually voted the prettiest in the village. The it's warm enough and not a tramantane wind so we can sit outside at La Noisette for lunch mood and watch the people go by.

And yes, I'm writing this in bed - on D-L's side with the bed warmer on.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bathroom wars update

Okay, D-L has one-upped me again. Nice touch. But I now have an entire week to stage a come-back while she's away. ;)

To read the backstory, click on her blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/01/bathroom-wars.html