Category Archives: 2010 France

Trip to France June of 2010.

First Day … Flying

8 June


Ok, so what kind of adventures might one have on an international outing such as mine?

Harry dropped me off at the airport after driving me there and preparing me for a ten hour flight. I was carrying this game called Tripoley which is basically a big board game in a cardboard box. It’s for Eric’s mum, and I found this pristine 1960 vintage copy. So I wanted to carry that on so as to protect it. So I check two bags instead of the one I had originally planned to check so i can carry the game on. Enter the extra bag fee. C’est la vie. However, what had me nervous was that they took me from my check-in station to the end of the counter where I had to wait for someone. Why couldn’t they just tell me that I had to come to that register to pay the fee? Do I need this added stress and visions of strip searches with large hairy anally interested parties?

It’s the little hurdles that make the race interesting I am told.

So the little hateful cretin at check-in placed me in a middle seat next to this rock solid sleeper who had little sympathy for my bladder and loved his $2 cologne. And I thought he was my friend.  How does airbus expect people who are not quite as skinny as my skinny ass to sit in these seats? I spent a goodly amount of time pacing around the bathrooms.  (Shut up, you in the back.)

Let me tell you about the Frankfurt airport. It’s fucked. The plane landed but was denied a gate. I guess this is standard operating procedure for Frankfurt. We climbed down the steps and were taken by bus to a random door into the terminals. No instructions. Lousy signage. The signage really is pretty much useless unless you already know where you are going and sort of temporarily misplaced yourself. In trying to get where I needed to go I went through security twice (which should have been unnecessary being that I was connecting) and had my passport stamped thrice. Finally I found a stair well that a lady told me about. She said one level. That translated into four landed flights of stairs (8 segments of steps). One level. Then go over and take an elevator up, wait for it, one level. Then you can get to the A gates. Don’t follow the signs that say A gates. They are there to torment you. Mind you this was after 10 hours of flying. On the plus side they did, at my last pass through security, test the game for explosives. Fuck, I was thinking they were onto something. There was that moment of “great, I bought this used…”. Then again, it’s probably good that I checked both those other bags.

Getting onto the second plane was a pleasure. Window seat next to a pair of Swedish women traveling to Toulouse on business (part of their regular regimen). Only about an hour and a half I think. Love that kind of flight. The Swedish women agreed to help me find baggage so I didn’t get my passport stamped three more times.

So then several of us sit around baggage station 5 waiting with everyone else and our shit doesn’t show. People walk around looking over the empty conveyor. Still nothing.

So at this point I indulge in a perfectly reasonable panic attack. I have no luggage (except my laptop and a board game) and I’m in a foreign country where my friend is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes you just earn them.

Finally one of we forgotten finds out that those of us on an international flight had our baggage routed to baggage station 7 where customs is located–and our baggage MAY still be there. No shit, MAYBE. It was there. What was not there was a person from customs. Personne! We just walked out and into France. At least the system thinks we did something customs related.


First Day … Landing

8 June


Then I found Eric. Or he found me. Depends on who you ask. Back to his place to brush my teeth and wash my face. Then it’s off to his friend’s place for a quick beer and to grab some of his stuff. He’s just moving into a new place and we grabbed his gear from this great little country estate. We talked about raw milk and they told me about a place up the road where I could, I’m not kidding you, get the milk directly from the cow. Take that weird anti-raw milk weirdos.

After we delivered the clothes and such Eric took me to an old part of town with windy streets where we proceeded to his random interesting places and have little nips and bites. Let’s see. Some accents. I had a armognac from 1979. Super yum. I had some duck with raspberry confit at a tapas place. Oh same tapas place I tried four different cheeses from chez Betty (a local cheese producer). A goat cheese, a camambere, a brie, and cantal. All excellent and all likely from non-pasturized milk. Well that brings us to around 2 in the morning and I am spent. I don’t know what time it is as I’m typing this out (my clock says it’s 6pm still) but I’ll ty to connect in the morning and get this actually posted



Day Two

9 June 2010

02:10 Toulouse


Tom Waits is singing somewhere else in time and I am listening.  Sitting on a rooftop in Toulouse.  Feeling the slightest mist on my face.  Côtes du Marmandais in my hand.  Not a bad way to end a day.

The chair I am sitting in we picked up at Babou, I don’t know, maybe ten hours ago.  It is a set of four chairs, a table, and an umbrella.  It was metal poles, a glass disc, and a pain in the ass to get into his BMW.  We tested it all out earlier, before we went to dinner.  The umbrella goes up and down.  Mission Accomplished!

Dinner was wonderful.  We went to a little restaurant we picked mostly at random walking along Faubourg Bonnefoy, the street where Eric lives.  The proprietor and the menu were based on foods from Cap Vert.  Well the proprietor wasn’t exactly based on the food.  I had a great bit of grilled steak with exotic fruits and a sweet sauce: Bife à Casa (entrecote grillée, fruit exotique, sauce roquefort, sucrée salée—fruit was fried banana, mango, sweet potato, papaya, pineapple, and one other).

We talked with the proprietor and we agreed that sweet and sweet can be complimented.  Then we talked about heat being a compliment to sweet—mmm, the sweet heat.  He told me he didn’t use the peppers for his French audience (cream lovers!).  We talked a little about Thai food and New Orleans food.  This lead to an offer of some of his home-made pepper sauce, with which they normally accompany the dish.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  He said it was jalapeño, but it neither looked like jalapeño nor tasted like jalapeño.  It was delicious regardless.  The sweets and the heat fell into a pleasant dance which I chewed myself into cuisine oblivion.

He invited us to a little party they are having on Saturday at the restaurant, but we have different plans for that evening so we had to decline.  He is going to see about having the next one (which happens approximately monthly) before I leave.  I hope to go again and try some more food.  Maybe something off-menu.

But dinner is too late.  What about breakfast?

Brioche.  I stayed up until something ridiculous after having been awake for near 30 hours.  I was fall down tired as we wandered around St George last night, but I still managed to get a couple of items posted before calling it quits.  Woke up once and it was still dark.  Strange toilet in the dark.  Groggy.  Survived.  Woke up again and it was light.  Felt good enough to start again.  Brioche.

Eric insisted on coffee.  Apparently this is what gives him all that energy.  I confess ignorance to the source of my own.  He’s in bed now.  Has been for an hour.

Anyway, after breakfast we walked down Faubourg Bonnefoy.  He doesn’t know his neighborhood yet as he is just moving here.  But he knows what to recognize.  So we walk South and I listen to Eric talk about the street, France, and his prowess.  I’m not clear how they are related, but I feel if I just listen long enough it will all make sense.

Our furthest point of venture was a little open air spontaneous market (well, spontaneous every Tuesday).  There were charcuteries, fromageries, and all sorts of things you’d always hope to find in a ring of wagons around a dried up well.  Nice to see it.  Salivated profusely.  Profoundly even.  Bought a loaf of fouasse and tried some cookies which reminded me of cookies my grandmother used to make and which are flavored with anisette.  The fouasse was similar in ways to brioche except its a loaf and encrusted at the top with sugar crystals.

The better part of the day day was spent getting mish-mash for Eric’s apartment.  There is this business, enormous, called Babou.  I don’t know, I suppose it’s somewhat like a large Fred Meyer or large Target (sans food).  Large at any rate.  We picked up mops and buckets and trash vessels and a lot of other objet plastique.  C’est drôle.

Also, I can confirm that Ikea here is a lot like Ikea in South Center.  The bunned sausages were different.  Eric tells me that the French just don’t understand the whole hotdoggie sausage thing.  My protest is that they are not selling hotdogs.  They are selling slender chicken sausages.  They could use some work.  But we didn’t only go for sausages.  A couple of tables and some other Ikea classics.  Yeah, Consumers!

Finally we walked around a mall of some sorts (le centre commercial Roque or le grand Roque).  At one end was a store.  Again, a bit like a mammoth Fred Meyer.  Only this place has pig hind quarters.  The yogurt aisle was more like a yogurt isle.  It was twice as large as the cheese section and that was larger than the vast majority of beer sections I’ve seen.  Pig’s heaven.  Well, except for the whole dead relatives thing.

Brought our bounty back from the epic euro shopping center and did the aforementioned patio furniture test.  Eric rolled a blunt but I really just can’t stand tobacco.  The weather upon arrival was too hot for long pants or a jacket (even well into the night), but today it was scheduled to rain.  Apparently the rain here is the only thing without a good union as the rain started ahead of schedule.  Being from Seattle has its advantages.

Sometimes in Seattle we get this mist where you can walk around and very nearly forget it’s actually dampening everything.  I call it mobile humidity.  No need to wipe eyeglasses.  That was the sort of rain that greeted me eating a little nibble under the newly installed umbrella.  I pushed my chair out from under the protection and enjoyed the cooling mist dissipate the heat from the several three story trips up the winding stair.

Signing off to Reservations by Wilco.

What a life.  I wonder who is living it?

For those interested, the Côtes du Marmandais was from Château Briolet (2006) and was picked up at basically a convenience store (run by a Russian immigrant) around 23:00 for six euros.


Day the Third

9 June 2010

20:54 Toulouse


You know it’s going to be a good evening when your host interrupts your blogging to announce “life is tough in France” punctuating this remark with a plate of sliced baguette and pâté plus a glass of wine.  Yes, tough indeed.

Today was brutal but it’s repay day so I don’t mind at all.  We moved three appliances (fridge, washer, and dryer), a portable closet thing, a sectional couch/hide-a-bed, and the two tables we picked out yesterday.

Let me explain more.  We drove to the appliance warehouse and exchanged the BMW for a Mercedes van and drove back with the three appliances to the Ikea in Roque where we picked up the two tables, then moved to a different part of that mall to get his closet thingy.  After that, back to Toulouse into the downtown area where we hauled the hide-a-bed down four flights of steps, steps worn from centuries of wooden burden.  Then Eric ran to get the van where he had left it.  He stopped the van in front of the building and we took this modern couch out of that medieval door into that medieval street into our modern van and tooled away before we caused too many Toulousiannes to diminish their smiles.

Raced back toward Bonnefoy to stuff the items into a hallway in the building so that Eric could get the van back to the appliance people (who had another customer waiting).  While he was doing that I managed to get all but the four largest pieces up the two flights of stairs (or four depending on how you count them) to his apartment.  Then he and I did the last four pieces.  Exhausted, we worked on what remained: assembling, arranging, and garbaging.

Eric and all his friends seem to occupy the top floors of buildings, and I haven’t seen an elevator since we left the airport.  Don’t get me started on these tiny windy stairwells.  Great to look at, pleasant for a nice constitutional, but lousy drunk fucked in a ditch for moving.  Then again I just don’t see any fat people.  I guess I’m just lucky they are in short buildings.  Some of these have eight stories.

Off we went in search of a little lunch.  It was after two so all the major restaurants were closed due to the siesta.  We walked down Bonnefoy toward a grocery we had noticed yesterday.  Instead we spotted a nice looking boulangerie (bakery) where we had panini (baguettes with ground beef and emmental) and I had a pleasant layered apple pastry.  Having eaten we no longer felt like walking to the store, so we walked back and resumed what remained.

Finally had a shower to clean off all that nasty labor and again I feel human.

There is talk of he and I hitting the town tonight, being Thursday and all; but I think it’ll be pretty chill considering all the calories we’ve sent back into the atmosphere.

His apartment is finally looking like it’s occupied by humans and less like a Habitrail for ROUS‘s.

What a good friend I am, but how can I help it when I have such good friends myself?

Au revoir, mes amis.


Day the Third: Part Deux

10 June 2010

00:54 Toulouse


And a relaxing evening it has been.  Listening to this radio station here, the Toulouse University station, has been an interesting ride.  All over the place but true to college radio form very eclectic and clearly driven by individual passions.

For instance, a ska version of the Hazelwood/Sinatra classic Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).  But I digress…

Toulouse night like a Seattle August after a light rain.  Yes, the gods are smiling down on me.  I reward them with my fatigue.  Apparently it’s hipper than ambrosia.

We ordered a pizza-like deliciousness.  Came in cardboard boxes.  It’s called La flammekueche (à la maison) and the delivery joint is called Flam-Flam.

A flammekueche (literally flame cake) or tarte flambée (recipe) is a kind of baked flat bread with sauce, cheese, and other toppings.  Where pizza would use a tomato based sauce, the flammekueche uses a crème fraîche based sauce.  We ordered a Gratinée (oignons, lardons (basically cubed bacon), fromage râpé emmental) and (Eric’s choice) a Tex-Mex (oignons, pommes de terre (potatoes), viande hachée (could be anything), épices tex-mex (hard to imagine), fromage râpé, maîs (maize), poivrons (bell peppers)).

…or this Portuguese (?) version of Sixteen Tons.  Digression is my middle name.  Seriously.  You can look at my birth certificate.

What I appreciate the most about la flammekueche is that they call it la flammekueche and not a Look-at-our-fancy-dead-rat pizza.  Things can use that construct and not be pizza and somehow still be delicious.  The problem is there are no pizza laws and so you can make anything you want and call it a pizza.  Cowards!  At least rent a pair.

Well, true to form Eric has passed out on the newly installed couch (shoes on) mumbling his last sentence: “We’re gonna show those fuckers tomorrow what Seattle is made of”.  Where does he get all this energy?

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the wine.  We drank a two Euro twenty bottle of Corbières Rouge.  Table wine (vin du table) but excellent and easily drinkable.  Where are my $3 bottles of red in Seattle?


For Four

02:12 Toulouse

11 June 2010


Spent most of the morning listening to this radio station here.  The French love their hippityhoppity music, but someone needs to teach them what a playlist is supposed to be.  It’s really hard to find out what is currently playing.  You can get some useful information from their twitter posts.  The problems are that a) it’s not perfect and b) I had to a lot of research even to get that far…  Regardless, great music most of the time.

Heard an excellent version of Sunny, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be able to figure out which one it is.

Eric.  What a man.  The confidence of Zeus and the stamina of a wilted lily.  Again he slumbers on the couch unable to defend himself against the slings and arrows of his closest friends, with his shoes on.  “But we are nice people.”  I’m quoting him.

So, what a night.  I don’t even know where to begin.  Let me tell you first that I was on the verge of tears at moments for reasons I wasn’t able to parse.  But let’s talk about food.  The whine can come later.

I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  If quality exists, something in me insists that things should towards that ideal, whatever lies at the pinnacle of the quality path defined by that thing.  I don’t know; maybe it’s that competition is alive and well in France.

Julien has been making his own spiced rum (rhum) for some time now.  He gets rum from the store and spices it himself.  We had several different concoctions.  Now, Seattlites, this is perfectly legal even under our drakonian laws.  You take commercial rum and add whateverthefuck you want.  We had one that was peppers, black pepper, and cinammon.  Spicey.  Best with a bit of ice.

I don’t even know what I’m listening to…

Oh, this is starting far too deep into the night.  Day is one life; night is the other life.  Of course we had to run around doing more of that domestic bullshit.  That’s how life works.  Every time you have plans life puts a cactus up your ass and you have to dig out all the thorns.  Crap.  That’s brutal.

Anyway, so Ikea, Babou, Go Sport, quisaisqua, and back to the homestead.  Left-over flam-flam.  Fuck, it’s excellent after a day of running around in the blazing sunchine.

Back to the pad to assemble a bunch of mass consumer crap and make the pod maximus glorious.  Fill in the details at your will.

I’m sure there was some sort of preamble.  I know I snagged a pair of Eric’s shoes.  We are the same size and I traveled light.  We were going to a fancy joint.  No table clothes mind you.  But they did have nice glass topped tables and a lot of chrome aesthetic.  Et les femmes.

Les femmes… I realized earlier that I am standing in a country where all the girls surrounding me speak French.  And they each kiss me on each cheek like I was a child about to fall into sleep.  I am ready to rest.  Let me fall.

Where was I?  Oh, the tapas place with the awnings.  Right.  We had several bottles of the same wine there.  It was a Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil from the Loire valley (Domaine du Grollay).  It was very dark (fonce), but it was was soft and crisp and so very fruity.  We drank four bottles between five people and then a fifth bottle between seven.  (Eric and I, Cedric and Celine, Florent, and finally Julien and Maëlys.)  It was a vivid night.

But the food.  We started off pretty light.  A plate of sliced aged sausages—a trio of stuffed intestinal yumyums—and a bit of some sort of port encased sausage, grilled.

(In fact: Assiette de charcuterie espagnole (Lomo, Salsicha, Chorizo) and Petites Saucisses de Magret de canard (duck).  Also there was Rillettes de Saumon (Salmon) Fumé.)

The conversation was challenging.  I followed along like a puppy following a morsel.  Ma vocabulaire est très miniscule.

When I studied French at Seattle Central, I was under the impression that studying a language could help me in my pursuit of poetry.  I can’t say why I thought this.  But as I studied French I recognized that there was a shift in my writing.  I have always thought to associate it with the discovery of a new and viable sentence structuring technique.  What a fucked up theory.  Just a random dart throw really.  It turned out to work, so I can’t complain.

Yet there is an interesting compliment here.  My skills as a poet assisted me in speaking with these folks who don’t know what it’s like to try to talk to me.  Don’t pity them; they clearly had the advantage.

Damn it.  I was talking about the food.  I was asked to select a new item from the menu.  I perused said menu (carte).  I found a dish with duck hearts.  I shook my head to clear my eyes.  Yes, duck hearts.  This region is famous for duck.

Brochettes de Coeur de Canard (skewered grilled duck hearts).

What choice did I have?  I ask you, what could I do?  They came with big salt crystals falling from their surfaces.  Surely that can’t be even sort of bad.

Ces ete le paradis.  Je pleure.

It is possible that I will encounter something in the next month that will change my opinion on this, but those duck hearts were certainly the hight of my trip thus far.  I can’t say how many I ate after the first, but I can say that I have been transformed.

There were also more of the both sausage plates and some calamari.  Someone also ordered Assiette de Couteaux (a thin, rectangular shell fish so named because they look like a small knife); in English we call these razor clams.  They were merely delicious.

You remember I told you about getting the couch?  That couch came from Julien and Maëlys who live exactly across the street from the tapas joint (L’Annexe).  Or at least exactly across when you can’t quite walk in a strait line.  Back up all those stairs knowing I didn’t have to carry anything back down with me.  That was a bit of pleasure in and of itself.

Turns out that Julien makes his own spiced rum.  I rather already talked about the spiced rum, but there was other stuff once he saw I was interested.  Out came  a calvados (apple brandy approximately).  Delightful.  Then a wonderfully soft Scotch.  Oh, and prunes macerated in armagnac.

All good people have to go to bed.  And these were all good people.  I perhaps am not.  Eric and I tooled back toward chez il and found an excellent parking space.  Almost right across the street.  We walked back down to this little almost convenience shop who stays open past eleven and picked up another bottle of Corbières Rouge.  We talked with the Chechnyan who runs the place.  He is a pleasure as always.

Back at chez Eric we had a sip of wine and discussed the lighting for the thousandth time (really challenging lighting with these low fucking ceilings).  And Eric, wait for it, passed out on the couch sporting his fanciest shoes to date.  I charged passing strangers to rub his thighs.  He’ll feel so violated.

This leaves me on the roof deck, sipping wine, listening to this crazy radio station, and telling anyone who will listen that I’m alive and doing well.

I should also say that Eric—after years of being tormented by friends on multiple continents—has finally learned not to pass out with his shoes on.  He has solved this little problem by taking his shoes off as he enters his home, Buddha style as he might say.  Regardless, please forgive me this minor indulgence in my story telling.

Oh, and to my newest friends: I look forward to your Seattle visits.


Today Is Five

11 June 2010

21:43 Toulouse


Slept in late.  Fond memories of wine and friends and duck hearts kept me from leaving slumber too rapidly.  I spent some time adding details I had overlooked in my last post.  As a matter of fact I am going to add some more in a minute, but let’s talk about today.

We went out for one more appliance (a dish washer ) which hadn’t arrived with the others, and we went to Florent’s place to get Eric’s bed.  Brought those back here and moved them up, put them together, and had a bit of wine and cheese to celebrate.

We drank the last of our bottle of Corbières Rouge from last night.  With that we had a couple of cheese and baguette.  The first cheese was a Cantal (a region); it is a subtle mountain cheese from happy cows which goes really well with cherry jelly.  The second cheese was a Camembert (from Normandy).  A fine strong ladle made cheese also from very happy cows.

After finishing this fine repast, we did our various computer duties and broke out a bottle of Fronton (Carte Noire Fronton 2006).   Earthy and similar to certain Pinot Noirs.

Being Friday we’ll likely go out for dinner around ten this evening.


Five Is Cinq

12 June 2010

01:34 Toulouse


It’s funny.  We sit here all night drinking wine and talking about the things two old friends talk about, and this is a conversation experience whatever we could have on Mars.  It is a mere accident of history that we are sitting in this particular Toulousianne apartment drinking this particular wine and eating this particular cheese.

Time is not important when you are living in time.  Space is not important when you are living in space.  As the Taoists would say, it is not in the sides or bed of the cart where you find usefulness; it is in the empty space within where usefulness resides.

It seems so easy to be at peace.  I am baffled why I this is not the default state.  It was a quiet evening in the end.  Eric has been moving all week and is rightly tired.  I wasn’t all that motivated to insist we ‘do something’ on a Friday night knowing how stressful it is for me to be in a crowd.

We finished the Fronton, devoured a baguette and a half, and exhausted our two cheeses.

Eric is the master marketer.  He laughed and reminded me that our superb feast was costing us all of about six dollars.  About eight if we add in both bottles (though we haven’t finished the Fronton).

My friend Nadia tells me this is her definition of bon viveur (usually now bon vivant) and I have to concur.  One need neither overindulge nor squander resources in order to live the good life.  It is as though the good life were auto-limited by simplicity.

My poor ally is once again crashed askew on the couch.  I love the man, but he can fall asleep on a subway platform at rush hour.  I don’t know how many times we drew on his face for having passed out after a night of partying.  Turns out they did this tough-love on this side of the Atlantic as well.  Oh, the things that have been drawn on his face…

What makes this lights-out for Eric so particularly priceless is that we spent the better part of the afternoon getting his bed and putting it together.  “Finally, I am going to sleep in my fucking bed, Jim”.  Not!

I’ll be laughing for days.

Let me fill you in a little more on the day.  We went to the appliance place to get the now arrived dish washer.  Funny place.  You order your appliances on-line and they are shipped to this little lay-station (warehouse?).  You can arrange to borrow their van (the previously mentioned Mercedes) to bring your stuff around.  Eric borrowed it with some extra time bargained in so that he could get other things.  Today it was the bed from Florent’s place (where Eric used to live).

Eric’s bed is a reflection of, at least in part, his new interest in Buddhism.  It is a very low flung futon with tatami mats (which smell wonderful by the way).  It completely disassembles so it was easy enough to transport.  The rolling and schlepping of the mattress was the toughest part.

This morning, what I saw of it, was hot and sunny; but in the afternoon it stormed a bit.  We managed to miss the storming during the periods when we were actually in danger of getting wet.  Mostly it rained as we drove between the warehouse and Florent’s and then from Florent’s back to Eric’s.

I left the skylight open and had to soak up a bunch of water after bringing all the stuff up from the main floor hallway.  These things happen.  Leave sunny, a bit of a storm, and an ass load of water to soak out of your carpet before you put socks and and regret it.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a thousand details.  My apologies.

I’m getting tired myself.  While Eric was napping I watched the season finale for My Name Is Earl season two and the first two episodes of season three (which I haven’t watched yet).  Love the Earl.  Great stuff.

Can’t get over this radio station though.  I’ll be streaming that when I get back home.  There was an American DJ this afternoon.  I just can’t imagine a French DJ (speaking French) on the air regularly in Seattle.  Fascinating.

Ok.  Keep safe, kids.  I’ll be writing more soon.