Tuesday, August 31, 2010

La Rentrée

Spring is supposed to be the season for starting out. But in many ways it's in the fall that projects get started, or renewed.
The big beginning is the school year. Here it comes again. Summer fun is OVER. Now that I'm not in school, the "rentrée" as they call it here, is an even bigger pain in the butt than it used to be. So I'm starting things. The class I teach in the fall is being completely overhauled. The papers I was having the 2nd year Master students analyze were just terribly outdated. No way could they go a fourth year. Old news! New news has been searched for, and found, and packaged for them. I learned a lot myself, since I'm terrible about keeping up with the literature unless there's some deadline approaching, like a class to teach or a grant to write. I'm about half finished with the class plans.
It's also the season for new knitting projects. Over the summer I'm just not sitting down to knit in the evenings, and in the spring I'm tired of having knitted all winter. So fall means new starts, and unfinished projects come back to.
Plus the new tv season of course. But only because I'm knitting - I like something to listen to, and half-watch, while working with my hands. A new thing in tv is a group of friends has decided to gather at my house weekly to watch 24. I have it on dvd, and as soon as one friend finishes season 4 and another watches season 2, we'll start in on the new-to-me season 5. Plus pizza and beverages, 'natch! See, another start.
No need to look at the calender. I know it's true: summer is over. Yesterday I was back at work after a week off, and for the first time since late April it was not yet dawn when I had to get up in the morning. A definite sign of back to the grind. Plus, it's cold out! Put away the sandals. Time to get out the sweater collection, then the coats and scarves.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday SchoolBus

Today's Poetry Bus is driven by Karen. And in this back-to-school season - yes! - School is the ticket.

It was the place where

Teacher towered
She didn't like how you made your letters
though you understood them perfectly
so you learned to pretend you were copying
not writing something from your head.

Kids running around on the blacktop
grabbing the swings first, always
faster, stronger, noisier than you.
Kids swarming in a mass you stayed out of.

Teenagers in their cliques
You could be better than them at science and art,
and holding your breath underwater, better than most
but never at talking talking talking reading the secret code of hairstyles.

Hurrying from section to lecture hall
ten minutes between subjects, barely enough to get there
suddenly you don't know all the answers.
The books. Yes, the books had to be read, be underlined and highlighted.

Seminars weekly. Endless lab hours. Papers to write, slides to prepare.
swimming in the deep end.
one professor, just one. A committee. A roomful of faces peering.
A book to write, a copyright, a last diploma, end of the line.

But wait.
Come back to the lecture hall.
Come back and face the other way. You cannot get out.
You thought you were done, but school never ends. It just takes a break.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Poitiers, part 2

As promised, second half of the Poitiers travelogue started yesterday:

The bed is wonderfully soft and well furnished with pillows. Hard to drag myself out of it in the morning in search of coffee, pastry, and a portable lunch. I score the latter first: two peaches and a box of whole grain chocolate chip breakfast things. I like those. I might finish them on tomorrow's train. Then at last a bakery not closed for vacation, though by the quality of their pain au chocolat I wish they had been. Coffee, of course, may be had most anywhere.
On to the hike! I choose to take the GR toward the south, since it seems to get out of town quicker in that direction. I'm treated to a long, pleasant walk down a riverside parkway, modest homes across the road. A bus runs by regularly, a point that might become important by the time I return.
Then away from town, and to the countryside.
Er, almost.
What I get is a walk along paved roads through a gigantic construction site. No idea what they're building; they're just laying sewer pipes or whatever. Acres torn up, nothing recognisable emerging yet. Big enough for a whole neighborhood, though.
Finally, finally, out of suburbia and into the peaceful green. Not wild green, though they've figured out to leave riverbanks alone now: the growth prevents erosion of the banks, keeps the water cool for fish to breed, provides habitat for birds and small animals, and people like it. Just a few meters from the bank, this strip of non-development ends and the fields, pastures and orchards begin. In France you're never far from somebody's home. If you're on a hiking path, you're probably crossing somebody's extended yard.

Saint Benoit is a wonderful village, working hard on keeping its 11th century charm working for the 21st. Its church (to Saint André) is a jewel of medieval architecture. Inside, there are vestiges of the original floor-to-ceiling paintings here and there on the walls, and where they've sketched in new artwork to replace what has been lost to time. In one of the windows - just one - a perfect statue of Christ on his throne smiles down on the last two rows of pews. Why just the last two? Were such carvings planned all around, but only this one was made? There is no explanation given. It's unusual, this Christ cut into the wall where its beveled for the window.
There's a lot of hiking possible from St Benoit. Three local trails and the two GRs, plus countless dirt roads and tracks. The blue loop seems the most interesting; 9 km along the river plus a viewpoint and a walk across the viaduc (an old railroad bridge high above the ground, crossing the river, the new railway, and a bit of the town, now maintained for pedestrians).

It is a great hike, but for one thing. I am always either on top of the bluff overlooking the river Clain, or in the dense woods along its bank.

Never do I get so much as a glimpse of the blond cliffs separating up from down, that magnificent panorama I saw from the train arriving.
Nearing Poitiers again, I follow a sign indicating an Insect Garden. It's there to direct cars, but it doesn't say how far this garden might be. I can't find it on my map, either, so after a footsore km I give it up. Back at the riverside promenade I do take the bus, which I notice makes a loop all the way around the city center. A nifty way of seeing it, with my tenderized feet protesting against the asphalt.

Halfway around, I get off anyway to walk along the riverfront again and to the Jardin des Plantes. The river views are nice, with the trailing willows and each waterside home its punt or canoe. The Garden, however, is a disappointment, all boring plantations, keep off the grass signs, and roaring lawnmowers. Blech.

Back to the hotel by 5 for a well-deserved rest. Probably 23-25 km today: not all that far, but so much of it on concrete or asphalt or cobblestones. Hard on the dogs, all that, and I didn't wear my clunky boots. Wednesday morning I take another stroll around town. It's interesting how few shops are unique. All up and down the pedestrian district, there's not one in ten that we don't have in Clermont as well. Even most of the bakeries are chains.

There's a mural I like, painted, almost tagged, on the side of a religious school (but not part of it), featuring in part a distorted basketball player. To the left is the motto "Sell Tony Parker!" In French that's a pun, because "vendre" (sell) is so close to "viva". Sell him indeed. The fascination with this egocentric jock (he fancies himself a philosopher now) has got to fade soon. Once he retires from basketball, will anybody pay attention to his philosophy?

It's interesting too how much weight my backpack has taken on, these two nights. I've changed the umbrella for a pocket paperback but surely that weighs less, not more. It seems my backpack has been secretly pigging out at the Poitevin while I was out hiking, or something. It weighs me down, so I park myself at the train station, waiting for it to be lunchtime, and after that traintime. Natalie must be ravenous. I bet Bandersnatch ate up all the catfood already.


Friday, August 27, 2010

They've got some pretty big slugs here in France. The black ones are common in the woods around my house, but I've rarely seen the spotted kind. There it is! Special for the Shootout. If you'd like to continue with me on my little trip to Poitiers, read on!

Part 1
That sense of queasyness as the train to Paris slid silently away from the quay and north to the capitol. Almost lost my balance and I'm not doing anything but sitting here writing.
So starts another bacation. This end of summer I found myself pretty much caught up, room for a breather before the term starts and my calender becomes full of appointments. I have a week, but decide to take just three days away, and the rest around home, hiking and picking blackberries and digging in the garden.
What the sign says as we pull out of the station, right on time.
It's raining for this first day, though only slightly, and it stops by the time we make Vichy. When I descend from the train at St Germain des Fossés, the town is damp and half-closed.
I was here once before, years ago, on a weekend excursion, just going to see. I was hoping St Germain would be a little more lively this time around (it not being a Sunday in February), but with vacation season on it's even more shut than before.
I would like two things here, a cup of coffee, and a sandwich to eat on the next train. With nearly two hours layover, I have plenty of time to find them, and to take a stroll around. Just one of the bakeries is open - they can't all be closed at once - for a classic ham & cheese on a baguette. For my coffee I'd aimed to go back to the bar-café at the top of the hill, the last one on the right before you get to the church, where I was so warmly greeted by the french & english owners for lunch on my previous visit.
The sign is off the door and the windows are papered over. Closed for some time now, from the look of the yellowed and crumbling paper. I wonder what became of Fréderique and her husband. Back to Manchester?
St Germain and the thousands of towns like it are not the place to go to make a fortune. Nobody here does much better than eke out a modest living, just enough to keep the car running and the lights on. So I have my coffee in a little bar farther down the street. A place that looks like they'd like to close up and move home again, but this is home. It's not the same place I had coffee last time, which I saw on passing was still open but just as dingy and 70's orange & brown as before. Depressing place, that one. Not that this is much better. Not that any place I've found so far has been much better, except for the lamented Fréderique's, and that was mostly in the atmosphere of hope and good cheer emitted by my hosts. This one is marginally better than the 70's one. The yellow paint around the windows is peeling and the chairs and tables could use changing, but it's better. The coffee is alright. Unfortunately, the law against smoking indoors doesn't seem to have penetrated this far into small-town France.
Often, I go indoors to escape the smoke, as most people flock to the sidewalk tables because they can light up there. Here I flee the indoor air.
Back at the station, some interesting photos. Pigeons walking around on top of the translucent roof, an elderly passenger worried about finding car number 3, a station cat scampering hurriedly into the weeds, then lying down there defiantly. The quay fills up with passengers waiting for my train, yet another way of getting to Moulins. It's odd there isn't more business built up around the station. St Germain is a transfer point for a lot of people, coming and going to Paris, Lyon, Clermont, Tours, Bordeaux, from any number of towns in central France. Yet there's not a tobacconist or newsagent or bar or in fact anything up here at the station. There was a bar and restaurant, sadly closed now, taunting us with its signage. People with just half an hour don't make the trek to town, close as it is. People with luggage don't with any amount of time.

Finally, my train. We see Moulins...
...Saint Pierre des Corps
where I get off before it moves on to Tours.
Saint Peter of the Bodies?
Hmm, this could be an interesting place, this St Pierre's.
Only, it's raining again. Just a bit, but enough to dampen my enthousiasm for hiking to town. I have less than an hour, and it does seem to be a ways. Coffee at the St P of the Bodies' train station is execrable*. Don't have it.

The approach to Tours is long and slow and it looks like good, good hiking out there.
After checking in at my hotel, which seems quite nice though it is awfully hot up there on the top floor, I go out in the persistent dregs of the rain. Poitiers is a nice, smell city. Maybe the size of Clermont, it's hard to tell exactly.
The center, built up in a bend of the Clain river, has nots of nerrow streets that protect it from an excess of traffic (everybody knows the streets are miniscule and there's no point driving there). There are green spaces along the river, and just strolling around I come across signage for the GR655. That's one of the Grande Randonnée trails that make it possible to walk from one end of the country to the other. I could have walked here from Clermont if I only had an extra week and sufficient maps. I take a look at the GR655's itinerary on a map in a bookstore. With the GRs being always well indicated, I figure tomorrow I'll just follow it on down the river, lunch and the camera in my bag.
The architectural marvels of Poitiers are mostly ecclesiastical in nature. In fact, a lot of stuff seems to have happened here in the 11th and 12th centuries. Four old and fabulous churches in a row, and I didn't even see all of the older city. I only went inside the first one - that's how fast I get saturated - but it was beautiful. The walls were still painted, at least evrything beyond the altar. The saint's remains were in the crypt, and people were going down there to see her. What I liked best were the colorful carved angels watching over the altar.
Since my umbrella was dying - it announced this by losing its handle and then refusing to keep it in anything but an upright, in-use, position - I started to look for a new one. But I seemed to be in the wrong part of town for sort of cheap umbrella-selling shops I hoped to find. Anywhere tourists congregate, you're sure to find umbrellas for sale. Except in Poitiers.
The weather people say it isn't supposed to be wet tomorrow. But without my anti-rain charm, what chance does this have of being true?
A shower and a bit of rest, and it's down my street to a place I saw advertising stuffed rabbit thigh with rosemary and thyme and home-made pasta. I thought I had seen crème brulée on the menu too, but that must have been their rival across the street. Happily, they do have melted chocolate cake instead.
Every bit, from the melon&mint soup teaser, through the 3-salmon first course, the exquisite rabbit with its al dente fettucini, to the I can't possibly finish this rich chocolate dessert but somehow I do, was superb.
And that was just a nice, cozy little place down a quiet street. A couple of kids running around, not terribly expensive (though more than I usually spend), the owner friendly and happy to chat but not intrusive. Exactly the sort of place you hope to luck into when travelling. The Poitevin, a block past where rue Carnot changes names. The Poitevin: that's like naming a restaurant in San Diego the San Diegan. All to the very end, that is, when with my coffee they serve a surprise plate of sweets, and one is a citrus purée. A very nice mouthful, but completely in conflict with the coffee. The hotel isn't very well insulated, but thankfully the children down the hall go to sleep early. I leave the window open beyond teh drawn sheers and the sounds of the trains coming and going and freights just passing through continues throughout the night, just comfortably audible.

I should be able to upload the rest of the photos tomorrow, for the rest of the story. For more Shootout participants, click here!

*Is that a word in English? If it isn't, it should be. They use it a lot in French, derived, as you can guess, from excrement...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Poetry Bus gets up early.

This week's Poetry Bus came with several destinations chosen by Chicorreal. I'm a bit early, but tomorrow I'm on the road! One last bit of vacation adventure before the term starts. I picked First Thoughts on waking in the morning.


Stop it Natalie
Stop it.
You cannot scratch through the window
Stop it.
I hate you
It isn't time yet
Is it really time?
Ten minutes more
Stop it Natalie
Oh alright fine!
That would be a weekday, working morning of course.
The next one makes a tour of the early morning thoughts all around the household.

First thoughts

Lemme eat! Lemme eat!
Lemme out! Lemme out!
is it morning?
I'll get up later.
Another beautiful day!
I can hardly wait for a new adventure
Getta moveon, Lazybones, the sun is up!
It is not
we're sleepin here.
It is too up
well, it's almost up
It's light out. A little.
Lemme in! Lemme in!
Lemme eat! Lemme eat!
Ah, there's the coffee.
with many thanks to Bandersnatch, Natalie, Sienne, Maurice, and the Laboratory Rats.
To catch the Poetry Bus, click here.
To find out what happened when the dinosaurs tried to eat Bandersnatch, click here.

Friday Shootout Answers

Yes! The last picture was of my cat, Bandersnatch.
The other three were all of the same thing, the church in Aubière. I can't believe I forgot to transfer the photo to my computer - sorry, but the memory card is at home in the camera. There's a tiny window on the front, then around the main door a series of ribbed arches, and the carved wood is the door.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Whatzit

Our My Town Shootout this Friday is Whatzit. The three photos above all come from the same feature right in the middle of my town. What is it? Full picture on Sunday...

I'm sure you'll all get this one!
For more Shootouts, click here.
Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Down the street.

This past weekend I took a walk around the neighborhood, just to see what's there in the empty space between the freeway access road and a couple of streets nearby. It's like a hole on the map there. My whole area, it seems, used to be composed of large suburban lots or small farms, most of which have been cut up to put two or more houses where there used to be one. My own house is one of the few remaining that retains a really deep yard - most of the others on my street have put a second house in the back so that neither one has much of a yard.
I'm thinking seriously of finding a house to buy. Although I've always said I wouldn't buy the one I live in even were it for sale (because of the major work that needs to be done on it), I've come to realize it is just the sort of place I want: Lots of yard, just two bedrooms, walking distance to the town center, public transportation.
So I wandered around to see if anything like that was on the market, and ended up in this lost triangle of Aubière. There were a couple of vegetable gardens. One was meticulously cared for, and might have belonged to one of the vendors at the Market on Sundays. Farther down the dirt road, another was overgrown but you could still see where the rows were, and a little flag at the end of each one. Looking around in the trees, I noticed they were apples. Still giving fruit, though nobody was beating a path through the weeds to harvest them. Abandoned fruit trees are the saddest landscape. There were two old cabins, gone to ruin, and by the abandoned plot people had thrown junk like this old washer.
Follow another of the dirt roads there, and it rises to this abandoned vineyard, one with a great view. Auvergne is not a great wine-making region, though there are vineyards here and there (even one right in the center of town).
It too was still putting out fruit.
Along the road was the real find of the day: blackberries! At the bottom of this road there was a house and a yardful of junk and three yapping dogs, and at the top, beyond the vineyard, there was a well-kept field and cabin, so I wasn't sure that somebody didn't have claim to the berries already.
I went back later with a plastic box and collected a few anyway. Just a few. I didn't take any that weren't ripe yet.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Poetry Bus to Fantasyland

This week's Poetry Bus topic was chosen by Enchanted Oak, and apparently I was completely distracted because I got the theme utterly wrong. Our mission was to write something based on one or both of the old photographs she posted. Somehow I thought the mission was to revisit a childhood story. No idea where that came from. I seem to be standing at a bus station with a ticket for a ferry.
click on the picture to follow the wormhole to the story. (Not even a poem! Did somebody put something in my lunch?)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Paths and Roads

This week's FSO theme is Paths and Roads, chosen by Lena.
This is the road I live on. First house on the left there. It's a pretty quiet street, though some people 'forget' it's one-way now and drive up a ways the wrong way to avoid going all the way around just to face the right direction. The sidewalk is a joke, as they often are in France. Every 100 feet or so you have to go around a pole. If you have a stroller or a wheeled grocery sack, just walk in the bike lane. Unless there's somebody parked in it, then you can walk in the street.
The way from my house to the big shopping center follows the Artière, a little stream often piped underground. There's a path along one of the longer exposed sections, and it's a pleasant walk down to the hardware store, and the medium-sized box stores, and the big supermarket.

On the way back home, if I'm not too burdened with prizes and catfood, I'll take the parallel path on the other side of the road. This one goes along all the vegetable gardens that belong to people living in the town where there are no yards, and then past the football pitch by the secondary school.
This is one of my favorite paths, one that goes around the far side of the Puy de Dôme (my local hiking mountain). You can see that an awful lot of people have walked this way! Sometimes I imagine Barry along this path, with Lindsay bounding ahead.
For more Shootouts, click here!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mixed eating

I’ve lived in France so long now I’ve stopped telling those stories about the clash of cultures and what you don’t know might really embarrass you. I guess I don’t really have those stories happening to me any more. A sign of progress? Of acclimatization? It’s a little sad to pass that stage, actually: it made for such great blogfodder.

The same thing is happening to a couple of my friends, though. Let me tell you about it.
Laisheng is a grad student from the countryside in China, just finishing up the year he’s spending in our lab, learning the ropes of how to find mutations in breast cancer genes. In the 10 months so far, he’s learned to speak a little French, and his English has improved tremendously. His table manners too.

Laisheng is excruciatingly polite, but there are blind spots. If you’ve never thought of something as rude, it just isn’t. It’s just normal to bring your plate of food very close to your mouth to eat. Or, if the plate is big like they are at the cafeteria, you just lower your head to it. And it’s just normal to suck your food off the end of your chopsticks/fork/spoon instead of putting the utensil in your mouth. Knives are for the kitchen - if it’s on the table it’s either bite-sized already or meant to be picked up with your fingers.
So you might imagine, if you’re a Western European, how disturbing it could be to sit across from Laisheng at lunchtime. We did deal with this, I hope in a sufficiently tactful way, and now not only does Laisheng eat fairly quietly and sitting upright, but he even differentiates salad from meat & potatos from dessert, rather than mixing them all together.

I had a group over for dinner back in June, and it was his turn to cook for us. A whole new experience in cultural mealtime differences. First off, he brought a friend over to do the cooking, since on his own he doesn’t go much past rice. We’re happy to meet new people, but we thought she’d be sitting down with us and we’d get to know her and all. No, no, she was just there to cook! Her boyfriend was picking her up at 8 sharp, but we didn’t realize that until 8.

The Chinese way, you eat the plates as they’re prepared, nice and hot. The French way, nobody dares touch a fork until everybody is seated and served. So there were the first plates, cooling, and we wondering when our chef might come out to the garden and partake with us and possibly be introduced. It took some doing to get her and Laisheng to come out and spend a few minutes with the guests gathered hungrily around the table, explaining that we just don’t feel right eating without them. We compromised on starting the meal together and allowing Jen to go back inside to finish cooking the remaining dished while her beau honked for her in the street. If only I had a bigger kitchen we could have arranged for most everything to be ready at once instead of in stages. If only the couple had just joined us.

Then there was the serving issue. Naturally, we set the dishes out family-style, which we’re not strangers to. Each free to choose how much to eat of what. The Chinese way, you take food off the main dish with the same chopsticks you’re eating with. The French way, there’s a spoon for serving and never shall it touch a diner’s lips. I don’t really mind the Chinese way, because if you are indeed using chopsticks (which we weren’t), you pretty much touch only the morsel you’re taking, leaving the rest untouched. Some of my French guests, however, can’t stomach the idea of eating from a dish somebody else’s fork has been in.
So that was all explained rapidly, and new serving spoons were brought out and everything was fine. More wine all around!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rhubarb massacre, part 2

The rhubarb is getting its comeuppance tonight. For a plant that disappears entirely for the winter season, it certainly did spring up monstrous this year. See, look! And this is after a first round of hacking, in June, when fully half its rosy stalks were distributed to grateful, rhubarb-eating friends. There were even two gargantuan stalks covered in seeds. One has been cut down already.
The weapon.... The debris...
Ready for pie...


Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday apple cart

The poetry bus is driven this week by Jeanne Iris, who suggested many things, among them a seasonal impression.
I'm not sure my efforts are quite ripe yet. This might be two poems mixed up still.


In spring the blossoms covered the tree
like a wedding gown
sweet pink at the heart of the petals
petals that danced in the air
gently falling to the ground

The apples were tiny
I waited
the apples were the size of peas
hard and green
I waited
the size of grapes, of kumkwats, of limes
The apricots came and went.
I waited on the apples

The sun of August caresses the fruit
lightens the green to a pleasant yellow
Streaks of red appear, and it's time
it's Appletime!
Sweet, but not too sweet
firm, cracking under my teeth like a denture commercial

I have a new way of eating apples,
special for apples from the garden

If I have time I'll come back to this and try to tweak it into shape.
In the meantime, the Bus is off and running. Catch it here!
Just for fun I tried option #1 as well:

The Fairy

I saw a magical being
Right there! Right in Bakersfield
Right in plain sight.
I knew the stories were true I just knew it
And here was proof at last
Something to keep Derek shut up
When he tries to tell that fairies aren’t for real
And Santa is just Mom & Dad
I went closer, fearing that my approach would make the ephemeral creature disappear
But it stayed.
I saw then how still it was
And how silent
And grey
Like a statue of a fairy
One that had an evil spell cast upon it
Turned to stone right there in Bakersfield
Then it moved!
And suddenly I saw through it
To the other side
A woman’s face caked with makeup
A spraypainted hat, cardboard wings
The other side
Is my side.

I stood dumbfounded in truth.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


My cat Natalie is pretty nonchalant about catfoodtime in the evenings. I've been seeing why this week, as I've been out in the garden gathering plums or raking the lawn. Every single day this week I've seen her catch a mouse.
Natalie can eat a good-sized mouse in about 40 seconds flat.
This afternoon, she chased one into the camilla bush by the apricot tree, where it was able to hide in the unmown patch of grass. Sienne was there watching the excitement, but not doing anything. Natalie kept at it, not being a cat to let a mouse get away, and it ran for a larger patch of long weeds. Sienne just happened to be in the way, and happily snapped up the prize.
I am certain that Natalie is extremely possessive of mice that she has caught, but she didn't appear to begrudge Sienne this one. Sienne was the one to actually catch it, after all. There are other mice in the yard.
That's Sienne relaxing, while Natalie searches for catsnax.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Smells

It seems strange to have the FSO theme twice in a row, but it was just happenstance. I just happened to be doing the Member Voice with Doreen when the news of Barry’s passing came. I’m not hogging the themes, really! Anybody would have thought of that; I just happened to say it first.

Smell my town. Go ahead; smell it!
I thought of this one right after the Sounds theme, which also asked everyone to depart from the usual visual thing (but it is a Photo shootout!) and explore a different sense. Mark quite naturally said Touch! Touchy touch! So I grabbed Smell, sweeping Taste up in the batch because they so often go together, and now I’ve let Taste go. Been done! And will be done again in some form. Do not feel sad for Taste; it will be served.
Among the quite recent smells of my town are those generated in that perpetually changing place: the Centre Jean Perrin, where I work. Last week we were treated to fresh, hot asphalt. Mmm Mm! Get a whiff of that, and keep it all day. The odor has tapered off, and now we have proper parking on part of the lot. Just part of it. Since we cannot ever just be closed, stuff like this has to be done in stages.
In the woods on the weekend (if I can walk there from here, they must count as being in town) there were lots of smells. Fresh cut pines where they’ve been logging were stacked high, their ends still bright. Love that smell. I didn’t take any photos of that part of the woods, sorry. One section was clear-cut earlier in the summer, which I think is an awful thing to do. The sections I hiked past this time had just been thinned. They took one tree in ten or so, scattered around. The decimated field looks a lot better than the cleared field, but I wonder where the replacement saplings are. They’ve been thinning this area for a few years already: it’s curious they’ve not put in new trees for the crop 10 - 20 years from now.
In the afternoon a different familiar scent crept up on me: that of rain in the air. Yep, here it comes! Time to hurry home. That story is here.
My yard is full of scents too. In the front there are roses. It annoys me that the neighbors park in front all the time, in both spots, so letting the roses go and hang their spiny branches out over the parking spot, is my petty revenge. They have a driveway!The back yard is full of competing scents. The lavender was full of bees, but I didn’t get a single good portrait. The rosemary, thyme, and (what is that other one?) are doing their best to get as bushy.
My tomatos are just turning, at long last. Love how a good tomato smells! Soon it will be time to gather some up and make sauce for the whole winter.
Four of the plum trees are going full tilt just now. I’ve been thinning out their fruit for weeks, but there’s still a huge crop and it’s beginning to fall onto the ground. Every day this week I’ve taken a sack of the small yellow ones (top container), and/or the wild ones (bottom container) to the lab, and so far they have all disappeared into my colleagues. But even they will get full. I’m encouraging the formation of tarts and preserves, but still the dropped plums accumulate on the ground and in just a few days it will begin to smell like fermenting fruit out back.The apples have been dropping fruit for weeks, too, though only one of the trees has any that are ripe (god, I love apples that are barely ripe!). With apples being larger, they’re easier to clear up and into the compost bin. I’m about to start drying apple slices for the winter and soon will be giving apples away by the sackful as well. I should know somebody with peaches to trade.
So there you are. For more Shootout fun, click here!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blueberry season

The weekend was a full one. Saturday I went out with my friend Stéphanie to pick blueberries on the Puy de Dôme. When I was there the Sunday before it looked like a good year for them, but Steph and I were at pains to fill a single one of the smaller receptacles. Even after two hours of stooping and searching and changing hillsides. The ones we found were perfect - big (well, for wild blueberries! Think a quarter inch across) and juicy and bursting with flavor. (Yes, I know it’s disappointing to use such a cliché, but they really were. Pick them too hard and they would just explode like little fruitbombs all over your fingers.)
Sunday I was determined to get in a good long hike, though everybody warned me there were storms in the weather forecast. I never did catch the news to find out what time the storms were scheduled to arrive, but it would surely be late afternoon. For heat-driven summer storms, that’s usually the deal. So if I got going early I’d be home by then.
Early is a relative thing on a summer Sunday morning. Being Sunday, of course, it’s not very early at all. But then, being summer, it’s light out, mitigating the lateness of earliness on a Sunday. Plus the natural aptitude for early rising that depends on who you are.

Let me give you some actual numbers and you can decide what early is to you. Out of bed by 8:30. Respectable. Out the door for the 9:04 bus, but then the connecting bus had just left and I decided to wait instead of beating up my feet on asphalt. Started on the walking part at 10:10.
My route was up to the foot of the mountain by the most direct route, about 9 miles. Around it on the trail through the woods and up over the blueberry-ground shoulder, about 4 miles. Home again for a total of 22 miles of hiking unless I went the longer alternate route to avoid backtracking, though that would depend on the weather. I had a sandwich, a bottle of water, and some m&ms, plus the camera and a small ziplock just in case I saw berries and it wasn’t raining. And yes, a collapsable anti-rain device.
The way up was glorious. When I stopped for lunch it was one of those perfect summer days, not too hot, just a few clouds for decoration.

Emerging from the woods into the potential berrying grounds, there was still sunshine in front of me (east), but behind me things were starting to look different. But hey, I’m from San Diego. I don’t believe in rain. Doesn’t matter what the forecast says; doesn’t matter what the sky looks like; if it isn’t raining, it isn’t raining.

So I hung around for quite a while, rummaging around in likely spots for blueberries that other hikers had missed. Found a few. Not many. And then it started to rain.
Not a lot. The sky was kind to me. We didn’t have a really drenching downpour until evening. But I was glad to have my umbrella with me, and I made my best time ever on the way down. The combined berries from the three trips even made enough for jam.