Archive for June, 2007

enjoying France

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Todd is spending a lot of his time here sitting outside on the deck chair, lounging, drinking a glass of wine or a beer, and just admiring the view. Maybe that’s what Bill and I need to be doing a little more of…. and maybe we need to be doing a little less of stressing over everything else.

Ferme le lundi

Monday, June 18th, 2007

                It turns out that Monday isn’t the best day to go downtown to go shopping. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that when I decided that going shopping downtown would be today’s “tour” for Todd (who’s here from the U.S. Visiting).

                We got to Grenoble and my first hint of trouble was when the parking garage had plenty of spaces. I thought, well, I’ve never made it down here so early in the morning.. that must be why… but store after store we walked past was closed.

                Finally as we were about to give up, we spotted our tourism salvation: le petit train. It’s a little “train” (think parking lot tram at Disneyland) that drives around Grenoble as a recording tells you all about the interesting things you are pausing in front of. So we hopped on, paid our 6 euros each and even got a hand-held audio guide in English. The French audio guide plays through the entire tram… and it’s so loud that it drowns out the English one. That’s even with the thing turned up real loud and pressed against your ear. I finally decided that it wasn’t worth going deaf and settled for a mix of French and English. Most spots I at least got the idea of what was being said. What I realized the most is that I need to find some sort of book in English about Grenoble so I can learn more about it… it seems fascinating.

                For lunch, we went to a place on pizza row. (One bank of the Isere River is lined with pizza restaurants. Legend is that they were opened by the Italians who’d moved here to work in the renowned Grenoble glove making factories, put out of work by cheap glove making in China.) It was right under the bubbles, so I could watch them move up and down their little cable as I enjoyed my pizza and wine. Wine at lunch is really a pretty good idea! It made us forget all about the closed shops.

sad, sad, sad

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

                    Today I am sad. Unbearably sad. Can’t stop crying sad. I hate to even say this, but I’m sad because Todd is here.

                Todd is Bill’s best friend, and a friend of mine, too. He arrived yesterday from the United States. We’ve been looking forward to his visit for weeks. I get to spend a few days playing tour-guide then he and Bill will head off to Paris.

                So why am I so sad?

                Because company seems to remind me of what is missing here. Not just Pop Tarts and Miracle Whip. Friends. I     know people. I am trying to make friends. But it isn’t easy. Too much has changed all at once… sometimes it’s like I’m not even sure who I am anymore. But I’m fairly sure I’m not quite the right fit for the group of conservative Peorians (or are they Peoriaites?) who make up most of the other ISE families here.

                Bill reminded me it takes time. But I wonder if it takes something else, something I just don’t have.

Let’s Make it Work!

Monday, June 4th, 2007

            Ok, the repair man found the house. I guess practicing giving directions to the house was a good idea; I need to do that more often.

                I led him downstairs to the cave and to the water heater. He was completely unphased by the pile of things around it, so I guess that made no difference. He actually used the stuff to stand on to reach the top of the heater.

                    Then he asked me if I had blah blah blah. He did speak slowly but I was still more lost than not. I swear he kept saying something about 80. But maybe he was saying 40 because he used the can of WD-40 we found in the garage. Then he asked if I have anything to clean my oven. Clean my oven? He obviously thinks I am good at that sort of thing. I showed him my meager stash of cleaning products and he took some window cleaner and de-greasing stuff for pots and pans. It was like playing Let’s Make a Deal. I’ll fix your water heater if you have a green pen in your purse! Do you want to see what is behind porte numero deux? If I were a repair man, I’d carry those things with me. Of course, I’m a housewife and I don’t have oven cleaner.

                    After some scrubbing, he shut the heater, washed his hands and said “ok.” He told me he will order a new part that he can put on next time. Like we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other. Oh, goodie.

                    I guess now we just have to wait and see if it works.

I freakin’ give up

Monday, June 4th, 2007

The service guy just called me to ask for directions to my house. I guess no one owns a map anymore.

                    I tried. In French.

                    I’ll never have hot water again. As Kaitlyn would say, that makes me sad.

je SUIS madame Radeline!

Monday, June 4th, 2007

So the woman at the relocation agency called me back this morning about the water heater… to tell me she is in Paris today and cannot help me. Call the office and talk to the other woman there.

                        The other woman said to me “so, I guess you want me to call someone out to fix the heater?” No, I just thought you’d be interested to know it wasn’t working. Yes, I want you to call someone out to fix it. Then she called me back… “are you out of oil?” Alright, I admit I really didn’t put it together that the oil tank in the cave (basement) powers the water heater. But Bill did and he said last night that the oil is low but not out. So at least I could answer her question. Oh, well then, she’d have to call the service people back.

                        That was at about 11:30. Then, of course, I heard nothing because it was lunch time. No one is going to call you back about anything at lunch time. I’m all for eating lunch, but I cannot get used to the idea that nothing can be accomplished for two or three hours every day. How about if Pierre goes to lunch at 11:30, then Anne at 12:30, then Marie at 1:30!

                        Anyway, at 2:30 I get a call not from the relocation woman but from the service company. And I don’t know why we bother to learn how to say “Pouvez vous parler plus lentement, sil vous plait?” (can you speak more slowly, please?) Because she slowed down for one sentence then sped back up. And then she started getting snitty with me. Ok, look, I know I am in your country and should speak your language and I am doing my best but speaking quickly on the phone is really not helpful. She kept asking me if she’d spoken to me this morning. Yes, and I completely forgot how to speak French during my two hour lunch. Then she tried to convince me that there must be another Madame Radeline… because that is who she spoke to. I don’t care what name she was given this morning, it wasn’t me but it was me now.

                    I think that someone is coming out between 3 and 4 to fix the heater. Or at least look at it. I hope they don’t tell me I’m out of oil.

this is not ok

Monday, June 4th, 2007

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! That was how I knew my bath was ready this morning. The water in the shower was so cold, I microwaved a bowl of water and took that into the shower and bathed with that. Like a modern Laura Ingels Wilder. Or like a bowl of instant oatmeal.

cold shower, anyone?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

                It’s always something.

                    We came home this evening from our wonderful weekend in Chamonix. And after dinner when I went to give Kaitlyn her bath, the water was lukewarm at best. Bill noticed the same problem doing the dishes.

                    The hot water heater isn’t working. It was working Friday. The guys pouring the patio and sidewalk and driveway and basement moved stuff around and piled it around the water heater. We don’t know if that has anything to do with the sudden lack of hot water, but it seems like an odd coincidence.

                    Whatever the cause, after I take a cold shower in the morning I get to try to explain to these guys tomorrow that the heater isn’t working and to please not pour the basement until we can get someone out to look at the heater. And I get to call someone to call a repair man. Then I get to clear my schedule and sit at the house until that can be taken care of. And, naturally, I have plans. All week.

Mothers Day

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Today is La Fete de la Mere. Mothers Day in France. This year, Bill had two chances to remember Mother’s Day… the American one and this one. He forgot both. About half way through the day he said “hey, we went to Chamonix for Mother’s Day!” I wondered if he’d ever realize he could use that.

                        I was just thrilled to be in a place with stores open on Sunday. You can only go to so many garden stores, especially when you don’t garden. Those are the only stores open around us on Sundays. Naturally, I didn’t want to let on about my retail excitement. So I played it cool. Ok, I stopped and bought Kaitlyn a pair of shoes just minutes after leaving the hotel. But I didn’t even propose dividing up so I could shop until after we did the tourist stop of the day.

                        Defying death is a hard act to follow… so today we went for the “no dangling in the air” sightseeing options. Well, mostly.

                        We rode the train to the Mer de Glace – which translates to the “sea of ice.” It’s a giant glacier that winds its way through the mountains by Mont Blanc. The train ride up to it is pretty steep, but provides some great views down onto the town.

                        Each year, an ice cave is carved at the end of the glacier. (I’d have said “they carve the cave” but I have no idea who “they” would be.) It has to be re-done each year because the glacier moves so far each year. We didn’t get to go in. The sign just said it would be closed “until further notice” while “safety” work is done to it. The lower platform where we could see down onto the end of the glacier we of course had to get to in yet another telepherique (tiny gondola hanging from a cable) And what we could see sure looked like an awful lot of work is yet to be done. There is still no way to get to the entrance, if there even is an entrance. There were several openings into the ice, but we couldn’t tell if they were from previous years. One opening looked like some ice and rocks collapsed in front of it; Bill thinks that is this year’s cave. Kaitlyn was more interested in the gift shop than in the glacier.

                        After lunch, Bill and Kaitlyn returned to the summer luge, while I did a little shopping. It turned out to be very little, because we may have finished lunch but the shopkeepers hadn’t. A lot of the stores were closed for lunch. (Most closed for a good three hours!) Still, I managed to pick up a couple of souvenirs and a gift. Not too shabby.

                        On the drive home, Bill and I agreed we both were charmed by Chamonix. Now we need to check out Zurmatt to see how it stacks up.

lucky to be alive

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

It is only by the grace of God that I am alive to tell the tale of our day in Chamonix.

                        Surprisingly, we got an early start and decided to go straight to the Aiguille du Midi. Despite the clouds, the sign there said visibility at Mont Blanc was good… so we went.

                        The Aiguille du Midi has to be about the last thing anyone would expect me to ride. I get scared riding the bubbles in Grenoble. On this thing, you stuff into a gondola (the sign said it holds 76; we’re glad ours wasn’t) and, hanging on two cables, you climb to the tip of a rock needle 12,600 feet up. On the way up, I had to keep reminding myself not to lock my knees. The last thing I needed was to pass out. And I decided that one of the things I like least about gondola rides is not merely the rocking you do passing over the support poles. It’s the way everyone inside goes “whoooooa!”

                        Getting all the way to the top is a two gondola event. Bill was afraid I would chicken out at the first stop. Maybe it’s to make sure no one does, but there is nothing to do there. Not even a place to buy postcards. But the first part was ok, so I kept on going. Really, I decided once we were at the top that it wasn’t so bad after all.

                        The top was above the clouds and the view was unbelievable. But the gondola didn’t quite take us to the tippy top. We rode a cramped elevator up to an observation platform. The first observation: it was cold. Really cold. We had on our ski jackets over winter clothes, mittens, hats and boots. But the wind way up there was way bitter. It was so cold that Kaitlyn, who is never cold, complained and refused to stay. I had just enough time while we waited for the elevator to rush over to a sign identifying Mont Blanc. I did not ride that crazy ride to not even figure out which peak was the peak.

                        At the lower, although far from low, level, Bill found another observation deck that was slightly more protected from the wind. Kaitlyn was ok there, playing in the snow. But it wasn’t long before the wind found that corner and whipped up that snow into a white swirl. In the pictures it looks like snow is pouring down around us, despite the blue sky. We were all pretty soaked. The next stop: someplace warm.

                        On our way to the snack bar we made our next, important observation. At that altitude, the air is thin. When we sat down, I realized I was actually slightly dizzy.

                        It must have been that lightheadedness that allowed me to agree to ride the next cable car… to Italy. Ok, it simply sounds cool to say “oh, yea, today I rode a lift from France to Italy.” This one cost us another 50 Euros, but while we were on it I realized they could have charged virtually anything for the spectacular ride.

                        On this one, you take a four person “telecabine” over the glacier. The ride takes 40 minutes, is 3 miles long, and doesn’t have any of those pesky pylons to go over. (whoooooa!) Either it is so smooth or you are so oxygen deprived, you don’t even realize when you are climbing up. And there are a couple of steep climbs. Once, to go through a “tunnel” of sorts at about the half-way point. The second time you pass by a “suspended pylon.” That sounds better than what it is: a cable stretched between two peaks.

                        At the stopping point, there’s nothing more than an observation area where you can look down into Italy, a bar and a small gift shop. I’m not sure if we ever actually crossed over into Italy. The dotted line marking the border must have been covered in snow.

                        On the ride back across the glacier, we saw some crazy people putting up tents. I assume to camp. I guess they figured the “no camping allowed” signs didn’t mean them. Or maybe it’s ok to camp on a glacier in Italy. Closer to Mont Blanc there were a few groups of hikers. And I nearly forgot that on the gondola ride up at the start we spotted a skier trying to make his way down the sheer face of the mountain.

                        I looked around and told Bill… I have to bring my brother here. It is amazing.

                        On the first gondola ride back down to Chamonix, Kaitlyn begged Bill to hold her. He gave me the camera and picked her up. We got separated in the crowd getting on. When we got off I saw that she had actually fallen asleep on his shoulder! Bill wasn’t sure he wanted to crowd onto the gondola waiting to go the rest of the way down, but I saw a sign saying it was a 30 minute wait for the next one so we got on. All the spots lining the windows were taken, which meant I had nothing to cling to. When they saw Kaitlyn sleeping, some German men offered Bill their spots by a railing that ran through the middle of the car. He turned them down.

                        I don’t know how far up (or down) we were when it happened. The gondola stopped cold. Ever wonder what happens when a gondola goes from 35 kilometers an hour (nearly 22 mph) to zero in one second? The whole freakin’ thing swings back and forth and back and forth. The “whooooa!” was overwhelming and not helpful. The only good thing I can say is that since we got on late we were smack in the middle where the swaying was probably the least pronounced. I was terrified. There is no other word for it. I grabbed Bill’s arm as best I could. The German man next to me reached out and held my arm to try to make me feel better. I guess. Bill had words of reassurance like “If we were going to plunge to the ground, we already would have.” I wasn’t the only one who was scared. A woman who had a look of displeasure when we bumped over the pylons now had a look of fear as she clung to her boyfriend.

                        I don’t know how long the gondola hung there. We finally started back down at one kilometer an hour (Bill was watching the operator and his controls) but we did not go far before we stopped again. And swung back and forth again. The German man grabbed my arm again. And this time Bill offered up the comforting thought “worst case, we have to rappel down.” I couldn’t breathe. I started to cry. I thought things like “at least Kaitlyn is sleeping and won’t be scared when we plunge to our deaths.” or “if I’d known I was going to die today, I’d have stayed at a luxury hotel last night.” Honest, those are the things that ran through my mind.

                        After some beeping and crackled talk on the 2 way radio, the operator started the slow ride down again. And we stopped again. And swayed again. This time we were so close to the station, it was simply torture. The people in the back of the car opened the windows and waved their hats outside, whooping. I did not appreciate their ability to make light of the situation. I did appreciate the German man continuing to hold my arm.

                        Finally, the operator crept the gondola the rest of the way into the station. When the doors opened, the car was still swinging back and forth. No one cared; we wanted off that damn thing. So, like a ride at a bad fun house, we jumped from the moving gondola onto the platform. The other scared woman grabbed onto me for support as she lept out. I didn’t get to thank the German man before he was lost in the crowd.

                        Back on firm ground, we were surprised to see our gondola leave the station to make the trip back up… crammed full of passengers. I was angry to see it make the trip non-stop.

                        We don’t know why the thing stopped. We probably never will. The operator never offered an explanation, not that he probably had one.

                        Kaitlyn woke up when we got outside and was ready for lunch. I was ready for a drink. After contemplating a shot, I went with a beer. Bill and I shared a fondue. Up until today, my fromage fear kept me from trying it. But since we’d defied death, who could stay afraid of a little cheese? It was very good. Still, I didn’t ask what was in it.

                        When we arrived last night, Kaitlyn picked up a brochure in the hotel lobby about a summer luge. Turns out, she thought that was where the gondola was taking us. (explains why she seemed so pissed off when we got to the top and there was no luge in sight) So after lunch, that was where we went.

                        The summer luge works like this: You ride a regular chairlift up and ride a sled down a cement luge path. Or track. Whatever you’d call it. Seemed easy enough. But about half way up the lift, Bill and I realized we had no idea how to get off. With skies on, you (in theory) stand up and glide down away from the chair. With no snow… what do you do? Bill’s theory was you just run. Now, I’d defied death earlier, I didn’t want to become the victim of a chairlift mishap. Fortunately, the operator at the top watches and slows down the lift so you can get off.. and run.

                        There are two luge paths down. A green (slow) run and a blue (fast) one. Naturally, I chose the green. Naturally, Kaitlyn chose the blue. So she rode with Bill. I hadn’t gotten far down my green path before I was sorry. I quickly caught up with a little girl who was putsing along. Bill said they waited so long for me at the bottom, he thought I’d flipped out over the side.

                        Kaitlyn loved it. She and Bill went three more times. I only sat out once, and that was to take pictures. Kaitlyn did ride down one time with me. That was great fun because she laughs and squeals and tries to push the controller on the sled to go faster.

                    Most of the other things the little park had were for kids 7 or older. That made Kaitlyn mad. Really mad. One thing she could do was the trampoline. Her second time on, Bill put enough coins in the machine for her to jump for 15 straight minutes. And she did.

                        We wandered through town back to the hotel to change shoes (boots got hot after a while). Bill had a headache so he laid down. So I laid down. And somehow I got Kaitlyn to lay down. It must have been around 8:00 when her mimi hit me in the head… she was out cold. So was Bill. Soon, so was I. Bill woke up around 11 and woke me up asking if we were skipping dinner. Uh, yea. So he went back to bed. I sat up to write, and here I am. But I am getting tired again. Defying death is exhausting.