Monday, January 31, 2011

The Bus Depot

An idea:
If the Poetry Bus blog were open to all of us as authors, we could put the weekly theme up there and the list of participants as they gather and post the schedule, and TFE wouldn't have to coordinate when he doesn't have time to coordinate. We wouldn't have to chase around to find a link to the new theme, or even just to discover if there is one - one central location for all your Poetry Bus needs.
What say you?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poetry Bus in fits and starts

This building up a poem over time has been a different sort of experience for me, and the result may be not so much a smooth and coherent patterned patchwork quilt as a cobbled-together collection or bunch of things thrown in a sack. It's been about 10 days, but maybe 10 months would be more interesting. I don't think any poem project will survive that long with me, though!
The Passage of Days.
Is it over? is the day over yet?
I'm so looking forward to falling like a sack into the armchair.
Let's go
bring on the day
six no trump and 6-Nations rugby
Throw the English to the ground!
Daydreaming out the window
I notice it's snowing
no wonder it's so cold in here.
I am ready, coffee and croissants on the sideboard
fresh pen and old notebook
the meeting may begin
It will last all day.
dish soap shampoo cereal pasta milk cat litter
Out! cats!
laundry vacuum trash out water the plants the mail
a nap?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

100 words

100 words is a meme snitched from two of my favorite blogs.
You pick a random word and write, obviously, 100 words about it.
An interesting exercise. Thinking of the words oneself, however, is not at all random, no matter how you promise to clear your mind and say the first that pops up.
Those words are always heavily laden, or deliberately frivolous.
For future topics, I solicit words from the audience, which will be kept on a list on the sidebar. To start, I flipped though the Economist and came up with:
(safer if) drenched

Friday, January 28, 2011

pass it on

Yea! here we go.
Titus the Dog got the idea from CraftyGreenPoet and then I jumped on, and I hope to pass the infection on to you.

Here it is: I promise to send something I make myself to the first 5 people who leave a comment on this post and who, in turn, promise to make the same offer on their blog. The rules are that you need to make the items personally and send them to your 5 folks within 2011.

Handmade things from me tend toward spreadable sweets and things made of yarn, but could include hairballs (I did feed the fluffy thing all year long), twisted paper clips, and, er, I have no idea. I don't suppose you'd be interested in rejected manuscripts.

So who's in?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ciao, Sole d'Italia

It's a few minutes to six, and between today and yesterday I've graded five exams. Must get to them, really.
Right now though, it's time to wrap up the workday early and get downtown for Italian class. Only, I haven't done my homework. I haven't retained one word of what we "learned" last week. The words from previous weeks are mostly gone already too.
Honestly, is there any point in going to this class?
Much as I hate to give it up, it is probably better to face reality and acknowledge that no, next week I will not have more time to study. Nor the week after that or the week after that. It's just not ever going to happen.
The other activity I took up this fall is going well. I'm playing bridge most every Wednesday and a lot of Saturdays as well. Last weekend I was invited for a Sunday afternoon social game and just last night somebody rang me up at the club to see if I'd like to be on their team for an upcoming tournament. Wow! I'm actually becoming integrated into a social group!
I'm remembering names, even. Last night we had eight people: Marcel, Christian, Ernest, Anne-Marie, Jacques, Solange, Claude, and myself. And André stopped by just as I picked up a hand with a slam in it. Saturday I might see Michele, Guy, Jean-Pierre, Michel, Didier, Chantal and Agnès, and if I do, I'll know all their names.
So that's working, marvellously, and I've discovered it's not that hard at all to push things around and make the necessary time.
But going over my Italian lessons at home on my own is a lot less fun than I hoped it would be. It requires a certain critical mass of time spent, and real concentration, before I'm constructing sentences and telling even the lamest stories on my own. Even my bilingual books, with the French version on the facing page, don't usually beat an evening watching tv. I'm tired when I finally get home, and studying a new language takes more energy that I'm willing to give.
I've decided what to do. I'll take three or four of these exams out for a beer and a bit of bashing with the red pen, then stop by the Italian club around time for the lesson to end, and take my leave. I'll keep my books around. I'll go to Italy, perhaps. And maybe next year when the beginners' class begins again I'll take a running start at it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

ABC Wednesday

B is for Blob.Blob on the chair. Blob with dinosaurs.
Holiday Blob.

Blob on the other chair.
Happy Wednesday! More B's here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heart attack time

Two weeks ago I was wondering when the deadline for our annual Quality Control tests was coming up, so I looked it up, and discovered - omg!- it was in four days.
Ummm. I hoped the results were ready for writeup, because 4 days is not enough time to start from the beginning.
Well, yes, everything was fine. Just not filed where I expected it, which was why I hadn’t been alerted when the tests were complete. A small bug to fix.
The result for colon cancer case 2, though, went down to the wire. It was a tricky one, and used a technique that we’re not always successful with. We ran the experiment five times, in duplicate, triplicate, or more, each time. In retrospect, we had it on the third try. At the end I was confident in our result and happy with the report - single exon deletions are the hardest to be sure of.
Today, our reports have not been graded yet, but the official results of what we were supposed to find have just come out. Breast cancer case 1, check; case 2, check; case 3, check. So far so good. Colon cancer case 1, check; case 2...
Case 2...
c.994dupA? a point mutation?
Ah, no. (heart goes faster)
No, no, that’s not what we found. (heart goes faster and a bit wobbly)
How could we be so wrong?
(please stay seated)
Heywaitaminute. Take another look at the instructions for the case. Yes, I thought so: ...
"...Please perform mutation analysis in MLH1 starting by a search for large genomic deletions and duplications in MLH1. For the purpose of this scheme participants are not required to carry out full sequence analysis of all the exons of the MLH1 gene."

That was pulled off the web site two weeks ago and is slightly but importantly different than the version I printed the day we received the samples, in which the second sentence was: "Sequencing analysis failed to detect a mutation."(my bold).
So naturally we did no sequencing, which will pick up small mutations with no problem at all.
The quality control people have made an error in posting the expected results.
At least I hope so.
Otherwise it’s quite complicated, but it could happen. All sorts of very strange things happen if you just keep looking. Look at a million cases, and you’ll find plenty that are one-in-a-million.
(here's where I get excessively technical)
See, our technique relies on using a short probe unique to each exon of the gene being analyzed. We hybridize the collection of probes to the DNA of the patient, and get a quantitative answer about how many copies of that exon the patient has. Two is normal. But if the duplication of a single base just happens to land in a sensitive part of our probe, it could interfere with the hybridization and give us a false result. It could tell us there’s only one copy of the exon, when in fact there are two but one of them is no longer recognized by the probe. These probes are part of a commercialized kit and are supposedly resistant to changes at a single base, but, well...
So I’ve sent a question off to the QC people, who have not yet responded. And I’m having the lab do the sequence of the exon in question, to see if this c.994dupA is there or not. If it is, we’ll have to lodge a complaint about being instructed to look for a particular kind of mutation, the techniques for which are normally insensitive to finding the mutation in question (not just our technique, but two others commonly used should also miss this).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Poetry Bus stops here!

The theme at hand is something you like that other people don’t like. Or you’re afraid they don’t like it. Or you think they think you’re strange for liking it. Mine is below. Leave me a comment letting me know you're on board, and I'll put a list on the sidebar.
Working late.
the workday is petering out
the 8 to 4 crowd has gone home, a second wave putting on their coats
the lingering 9 to 5's are wrapping up early, eager to be out the door on a Friday and on with their lives
But am I hurrying home to family?
I'm waiting for 5 too
for those golden hours of early evening
when the phones and the arguments and the questions
have fallen silent
and I can get something done at last.
When I write a poem, it’s always all at once. I might think about it for a few days, just a ghost of an idea kicking around in the back of my mind, and I often take a note of the next P-bus assignment. Get it into the notebook. Get it into the brain differently, because writing uses a different bit than reading, because of the mechanical, drive-the-hand stage. Get those motor neurons involved. But when it comes to getting the poem onto paper or a screen, it’s always a one-shot thing. Perhaps minimal editing later, but I’m not a person to write a poem and then go back and work on it and change it around and delete half and add another chapter later. Not like an article or an essay at all.
There’s something about the mood of a poem. I can never get back to just that state of mind. If I start changing things in a new state of brain, it’ll all get changed, and there’s no point in that; it’s another poem.
So I wanted to drive the bus twice in a row in order to do something different.
For next week it's me again, and I would like poems built up over time. A couplet a day or however you want to do it, but I want the different attitudes of different days and lights and temperatures to be in there. No one-shot wonders. A collection of shots, okay. It’s more of a structure than a subject. If you’d like a subject too, write about time, change, or evolution.
Off we go!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Black & White

Hello! Yes, yes, it's me. Long time no Shootout.
Winter makes it easy to take b&w photos that aren't really.
Cat prints in the snowy yard. I don't know why she thawed the snow sometimes and not others.

Ok, this one I did mess with.
Have a nice shootout, everyone, and a great weekend!
The links are here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The pen

It’s ten years now I’ve had this pen.
A long time for a pen, for me. I bought it for a grand occasion: a permanent job, the one I still hold.
I love writing with fountain pens, love the glide of the way a good one writes. Love the way you can buy inks in a dozen colors, and how changing colors in the middle of a letter takes half a page or more to be just the new color. I change colors just for this effect, sometimes.
That was when I used to actually write letters and my journal by hand, before the days of blogging. I’m cheating even now. The pen is sitting next to my computer. My fingers are on the keyboard.
The pen spent a year or more (the time since I bought my netbook, light enough to travel with, and started leaving the journals blank at home) in a drawer, in the depths of a backpack. The ink would get dry and crusted in the nib between uses, and I’d have to wash it and wash it before it would work again. It was sad there in the drawer. A beautiful lapis blue pen, with gold ends. Heavy, serious. Delicious in the hand.Today it’s found a new use, which means it never travels at all any more. It lives in my office desk drawer now, and comes out to sign reports. 2185 last year. Somehow it should have something more fun to do.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

End of Nancy

Saturday morning's walk along the river took me past the Moulins de Paris plant, seen here from across the canal feeding the mill. The plant still makes a lot of noise, but none of it comes from the water-driven part over the river.

The canal now just ends here. A little water seeps over the edge, just at that iron passageway. Looking down, it's just a damp mess of debris.
A bright spot of street art under an underpass. Up close you can see this canal has flooded over the entire image, leaving bits of vegetation behind.

One of the main churches in the old part of town is a perfect candidate for my Sights Under Scaffolding album. Before cleaning (right) it looks quite dull and forbidding, but the results are quite nice.
Statues in front of it: lion with wings (common), angel with wings (normal), eagle with wings (obligatory), cow with wings (???).
From the other side. I never did find out what was up with the cow.
By 5 on Saturday I've been to the Museums (not going to the regional museum; two is my limit for one weekend), gone back across town by bus to the section of riverside I hadn't seen yet, discovered it's just as dull as the morning's stretch (less the interesting wrecks), and find myself wandering the shopping district. Anny Blatt yarns has four gorgeous balls of purple cotton-silk for half price. No idea what I'll make of it, but it's mine now.
At a bookstore I gather up four before taking stock of their weight and that of my shoulder bag, which weighs a ton with just the camera, the extra lens, my notebook, and 200 grams of yarn. Remember the luggage! Put down the books! You may have one. The biggest one, naturally.
Also acquired: two cotton tops, a silk scarf, and a necklace I'll wear for a week then forget.
For dinner, in a tiny family-run place, only five tables occupied this Saturday night but with an interesting menu and pleasant decor, I have a nice, regional meal. I learn tourte Lorraine is not the same as quiche Lorraine, but it's ok. I notice a family seated in the corner. The daughter, about 10, is absorbed by her electonic gadget. The dishes are cleared away, Mom and Dad are on their coffee, and two untouched glasses of champagne send their bubbles skyward. The couple doesn't talk. They barely look at each other, or at anything. They look like they're just marking time until they can decently leave. Why the champagne? Why order it and just leave it there?
Their coffee finished, they sip their champagne at last, not remarking on it. As if it's just some wine still hanging around on their table and they're not yet ready to go and face an evening at home. I leave before they do.
Then Sunday, not too early, is homeward. Fast train to Paris, 90 minutes. Just time for a bowl of onion soup and a beer before catching my second train. Home by 5, to three very happy cats.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the rest of Day 1, and part of Day 2

In the bookstores I keep an eye out for pretty books of Nancy and the Lorraine region, but there's nothing I really like. They have endless books on the Nancy School of art and all its history, but I'm not so interested in art history. I want to go see it, but not take it home in a book. On the wall would be fine too.
So no photo book of Nancy in all the seasons and corners I won't get to. My own photos will have to do, and I don't find myself taking a lot of pictures. Maybe it's the dark season and the lack of green. Maybe it's the emptiness of the grand Place Stanislas, lined with gilded fantasies but cold and pointless, the monumental fountains in the corners just grotesque.
After a rest at the hotel and another delightful soak, it's off to a small pizzeria for a light dinner. Italian twice in a row while I'm discovering the Lorraine? No, no; they serve flammenkuche as well. A sort of Alsacian version of pizza, with a thin crust topped with cream, onions and bacon bits as a base, then add cheese, potatos, ham, salmon, whatever on top of that (though not tomatos. that would be pizza). If the crust is done properly and not soggy, it's a real treat.
Clearer today than yesterday, so I take a long stroll down the river, to see what becomes of it outside of the city. After a couple of miles I don't really get out of the city, and it's just a straight course with severe banks and nothing in particular. Just as managed and boring as a canal. Maybe if I'd gone the other way...
Around 11 it clouds over again. I find the much-touted Cours Léopold, but if there's one thing the French are really bad at, it's these long "parks" made of gravel, with a couple spots of forbidden lawn and rows of plane trees "trimmed" to within an inch of their lives. Any self-respecting tree should just die from the humiliation of submitting to this butchery.

Hey, what is this??
Along a disused section of railway, the most fabulous graffiti. Wilder than the Trains of Culoz. Here's a little tour.

Then I went on, and discovered that this is the back yard of an art school, the front of which looks like this: Ah, so that explains that.
After an indifferent but local lunch, it's on to the Museum of the Nancy School. Tucked away in a fantastic turn of the century house on what is now a quite ordinary street, I had to go back up the block because I passed it the first time. One of those frenchy, secret places, where on the street there's just a wall - everything of interest is hidden away from view.
Though the glassworks, woodworking, metal sculpting, and painting of the early 20th century are remarkable and a pleasure (as long as you stay away from the overdose of pastels), whole roomfuls of furniture together becomes too much. The huge commodes are fabulous in their details, but they're too imposing, the dining sets too look-at-me insistent. They're not in fact something I want in my house. I'm cured of that late high-school, early college fantasy.
Paul Nicolas, master glassman, was one of the later arrivals at the N-school. His diploma is on display, and an error in his name is crossed out in pencil: Emile replaced with Paul. Must have been a shock to receive this distinguished parchment, so beautifully and officially engraved, and have to correct your name. Personally, I'm accustomed to be amputated of an H, but Emile for Paul!
When I was in Marrakech last, visiting the Majorelle gardens was one of the highlights of the city, an island of calm, gently flowing streams, and lush vegetation. Majorelle too was of the N-school, and you can see how the perpetual spring-summer of this art works well farther south. Here in the north it's more dreaming.
The whole Art Nouveau movement was something of an idyll. It's perpetually pleasant. The colors are soft. I realize that, while I like prettiness, I also want more, and other periods are just as interesting.
Looking at my own photos of Nancy - aside from the birds on the river and the fresh graffiti - I spent by far the most time on the half-abandoned industrial sites along the river, and on the old flour mill and its broken windows. I think I was inspired for that by Bridget Callahan's gorgeous work in abandoned sections of New Jersey.
Because of the annoying way Blogger adds photos to the top of the post, I'll break here and show you those in the next post. Perhaps tomorrow.

Poetry Bus for January

I have missed the bus again. Awwwww! But I was on vacaaaation.
And I'm not even finished blogging about that, but here's my bussy contribution with the themes for the next two weeks.
When I write a poem, it’s always all at once. I might think about it for a few days, just a ghost of an idea kicking around in the back of my mind, and I often take a note of the next P-bus assignment. Get it into the notebook. Get it into the brain differently, because writing uses a different bit than reading, because of the mechanical, drive-the-hand stage. But when it comes to getting the poem onto paper or a screen, it’s always a one-shot thing. Perhaps minimal editing later, but I’m not a person to write a poem and then go back and work on it and change it around and delete half and add another chapter later. Not like an article or an essay at all.
There’s something about the mood of a poem. I can never get back to just that state of mind. If I start changing things in a new state of brain, it’ll all get changed, and there’s no point in that; it’s another poem.
So I wanted to drive the bus twice in a row in order to do something different. This is not the assignment for Jan 24! It is for the 31st: I want poems built up over time. A couplet a day or however you want to do it, but I want the different attitudes of different days and lights and temperatures to be in there. No one-shot wonders. A collection of shots, okay. It’s more of a structure than a subject. If you’d like a subject too, write about time, change, or evolution.
For the 24th, let’s hear about something you like that other people don’t like. Or you’re afraid they don’t like it. Or you think they think you’re strange for liking it.
Get on the Bus, y'all!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Photos of Nancy, part 1

First thing seen, right out of the train station, this sculpture. It's all hearts!
A typical residential street from the early 20th century.

Birds swarming on the river.

One of the old industrial backyards along the waterfront.

The not-yet renovated boating center.
Mugging for treats.
Some fancy bird houses.
The market square, where all the vendors seem to be selling clothes that are black.
Stanislaus Plaza, a World Heritage site these days.
One of the old city gates. This is actually up one level - there's a road that goes right under that little door.

; And a decoration on one of the important buildings, now the regional history museum.
More tomorrow!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nancy, day 1

Arriving in Nancy, it's begun to rain. Not pouring, but enough to make a look around on foot with all my stuff for a place to stay just Out. Fortunately, Nancy is one of those modern cities with a tramway going right through all the most important bits of town. Including the train station (Clermont, get a clue!), of course. A 24hour pass will be just the ticket for me.
Alas, it is so crowded and foggy on the tram that I can't see much of anything at all aside from the elbows and faces next to me. We pass a couple of small hotels that I can look into on the return trip, all take-your-chances places. I'm more in the mood for boring but reliable, rather than Mom & Pop but gross and/or noisy.
This end of the tram is at the University Hospital complex, and lo & behold, what is there across the street but one - two - three mid-range chain hotels. The first is booked up tonight, but the second has nonsmoking space for me. Forget the third.
After dropping off my stuff and using the bathroom (at last! don't even think of using train toilets unless you're seriously ill) it's off to see just a bit of Nancy. By now it's 5, still raining on & off, and getting dark. It is also the first week of the winter sale season. So. A bit of browsing is in order. Nothing too radical: I've got to haul my luggage from train to train and across Paris and Clermont with my own two hands. In fact, I end up getting nothing, but it's fun to try stuff on.
My room has a treat for me: a bathtub. Not much interested in going out on the town tonight, I spend instead an eternity in blissful bathing. My house in Aubière has only a shower, so I can only relax in a hot bath when travelling. And most of these cheaper hotels I stay in prefer to maximize profits by keeping the rooms and bathrooms as small as possible. Not so this particular Ibis. Not only am I bathing, but I can walk around without smacking anything with my knees. And my bathroom is grand. Not huge, just normal. But so much bigger than at the house!
So I laze about in the tub. I can sit and rub the callouses on my feet (a trick in the shower). I can lie back with my head on a towel and feel the air bubbles on my back tickle their way to freedom. I can scrunch down until my ears are under water, and listen. The world of sound is so peaceful in the bath. Just the sound of my own breathing, hear from the inside, and my pulse going back and forth in my ears.
In the morning it's off to discover Nancy. There's a river, and some canals. Shopping. Big official buildings, and Art Nouveau. Nancy is home to one of the major schools of Art Nouveau, and remains a center for painting, so the art museums are of interest, both the Museum of Fine Arts on the grand Place Stanislaus, and the Museum of the Nancy School, on bus route 123 or somesuch.
This morning it isn't raining, so I decide to check out the waterfront first. A very pleasant stroll is available along both banks of the Meurthe, where space is given in case of flooding. Good move, since it floods all the time. Some of these other cities on rivers, where they've shoehorned it into one concrete channel, you have to wonder what they were thinking.
There are swans and geese and cormorants and coots ("waterchickens" here). Joggers and old men reading newspapers and parents with toddlers. A rower in a 1-man shell is pursued by two men in a motorboat, who shout advice. Another rower goes peacefully up and down the river, unharassed. The only downside is the sad accumulation of trash in the reeds along the banks.
In spots of urban renewal, apartment blocks with huge river-view terrasses are going up. In other spots a river-industrial life is fading away. No longer a significant way of transport or power (and why? renewable power is so popular these days!), factories with docks or mills stand vacant or nearly so. Once the largest flour mill in the country, the Moulin de Paris straddles a canal, five stories of broken windows. Getting closer reveals a thrumming noise from the buildings farthest from the water, however, showing the mill is not dead, just not river-driven. The 21st century activity fits into a fifth of its former space.
Wandering back to the Place Stanislaus, with its grand gilded gates, it's far past noon and time for lunch. I end up having Italian, in spite of being in the heart of Lorraine, but it's what looked best at the moment. My favorite cuisine, Italian...
The Museum of Fine Arts is full of students. People of 15 to 25 line the steps, are scattered around the floor, require stepping over, with their sketch tablets on their knees, working away. Groups of children are being led around and lectured. A young man enthousiastically explains to 20 of them how Picasso is not in fact breaking the rules of perspective with his double portrait, but is taking them to new heights.
Whatever Picasso did or didn't to the rules, I just think his work is ugly. Move on.
Leaving the Fine Arts, I discover I missed the whole Art Nouveau section. It's in the basement! I just thought there wasn't any Nouveau aside from a few paintings, simply because there's a whole museum dedicated to the period elsewhere in town. Well. I'll see that tomorrow.
After all that walking about, only seated for lunch - I didn't get to sit at all in the museum, all available surfaces being occupied with France's artsy youth - and passing in front of the n-ieme hairdresser's, I decide to sit for a haircut. At last. I've been meaning to get a cut for a month now. The stylist barely understands my accented french (I hardly ever have that problem any more) and is alarmed that I want my bangs out of my eyes (and in fact short enough to not be in my eyes next week, either), but I am the customer. I am foreign and I am queen. I have a scissors at home, if need be.
Really, it's a nice cut. I'm very pleased.
Photos with the next post - it's time for dinner!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nancy: getting there

The tiny restaurant on the little street that goes along the north side of Gare de l'Est, not the big one place on the corner or the one next to it, but the one down the block half lost in the industrial zone, does couscous on Thursdays. Could be interesting, but I really wanted the onion soup. You hardly ever see onion soup on the menu in my part of France. I don't see why; we've plenty of onions, and cold weather begging for a rustic warm-up. Simple eateries in Paris are the best bet for onion soup that I've found.
So I ordered the soup, and the table on eight colleagues next to me all had the couscous. What a layout. Platter after platter: huge bowls of pale yellow couscous, platters of sausages and chicken and mutton chunks piled high, swimming bowls of vegetables in sauce. There was a flurry of passing around, some taking extra merguez, some passing on the mutton, and calls of Maurice! to bring carafes of wine. More wine.
It definitely looked good. I don't have work lunches like that. It looked like the crowd knew exactly what they were coming for, like it was a Thursday Thing.
My small bowl of soup was served molten hot and smelling heavenly, with a side of bread and a knife and fork. For my steak & fries to follow. No spoon?
Um, a spoon?
No matter; it was so full of onions and chunk of bread topped with melted cheese that there wasn't much liquid soup there, and that was all very well taken care of with bits of sourdough bread. A delight.
Which is how I spent 90 minutes waiting for my train to Nancy.
Other passengers didn't have so much time for lunch before our 2:12 departure, and the train car was filled with the sound and odor of a hundred bag lunches. Like the deep fried nuggets and stinky sauce of the guy sitting next to me. Not nearly as appetizing as the table a comfortable distance away at the restaurant!
After the smells die down, the journey becomes more ordinary. The old man in the row ahead dismantles the plastic trash container between his seat and the next, perhaps looking for more space for his copious lunch trash. The next quarter hour is filled with the plasticky noises of his trying to get the thing back together.
As we glide through the northeastern suburbs of Paris, the bright graffiti along the right of way is a welcome relief to the drab sky, drab winter landscape, dull depressed projects. I know a lot of people are against graffiti, but along the tracks it doesn't get erased quickly, and the artists have time to really get into it.
First stop: Champagne Ardennes.
Middle of nowhere! Even the smallest of stops on the lines around Clermont have towns (villages at least), but this is a park & ride amid potato fields. Two minutes later we come to the "Champagne" part, with acres and acres of vineyards on the hillsides, crisscrossed by dirt roads and decorated with dozens of small white vans or trucks. Working the vines even in January.
Mostly the train runs through a long ditch, and we don't get to see the countryside at all. Just as quickly as it came upon us, the wine country is gone, leaving a wide, flat land of industrial crops and dull, low sky.
Meuse: another stop with nothing but a parking lot. Bus to Verdun waiting in the yard. Hilltops with thick forest, bottomlands empty, waiting sodden for spring.
This train is air conditioned. I wish I hadn't packed my sweater in my backpack, but it was so warm in Clermont and Paris that for a time I regretted bringing it at all. Such are the vestimentary trials of travel in winter.
*more later!*

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ABC Wednesday

ABC Wednesday has gotten all the way to Z again.
Makes me think of Zebra Thursdays, way back when.
So here's a few from the ZT archive:

yep, that's the mysterious Urbanis subterraneous subspecies.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The holidays continue

What arrived at my desk yesterday, but a long-anticipated package from my parents? Yea! A beautiful purple scarf that I'm going to start wearing right away.
And what's this? Individual catfoods! Bandersnatch and Sienne and Natalie were so excited to have each their own. No Sharing. Well, except that Bandersnatch is the fastest eater in the world and as soon as she's finished with her own bowl she starts working on the others. So I had to put her outside for a little digestive pause.
Not only that, but what was in my home mailbox but a notice of a package waiting for me at the post office. Yea! I wonder who it's from. I wonder when I will be able to go get it. Although I pass by the post office twice daily, in the morning it's not open yet and at night it's already closed. Normally I'd just wait for Saturday but I'm off for adventure Thursday morning, not back until Sunday. Because of this absence, today and tomorrow are extra-loaded, but I think I will just be late tomorrow. Packages at the post office are too fun to wait!
Now I just hope that the others I have sent out find their way at last to their destinations.
Scarf to Canada, check.
Wind-up toys to Scotland, check.
Jam to South Carolina, check.
Items to Illinois, not yet checked.
Items to Arkansas, not yet checked. Hey! you post office guys said 8 to 10 days: it's been 25. And the scarf to Canada was sent two weeks later than the others! See, you can do it in 10 days.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ten things I love about France

1. Like blogfellow Catherine H said, the wine is cheap enough to bathe in. And it’s good.
2. Serious, serious chocolate.
3. Fresh food at the farmers market. Not cheaper, but far better quality than at the supermarket, and more of what you spend goes to the producers. At least I think so; there are certainly fewer middlemen. And there’s a market somewhere in town every single day of the week.
4. 5 weeks vacation (8 if you add all the holidays and time off in recompense for working 39 hours a week instead of 35) that you’re expected to take.
5. Trains!
6. From here, it’s just a few hours drive to Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. A bit farther to Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, but they’re still right next door. Or you can take the train there, to spend some of that vacation time. In California you’ve got to go for hours just to get out of the state.
7. Rugby. I adore rugby and my town has a good team with affordable tickets. Allez l’ASM!
8. Raw stuff. Raw-milk cheese, carpaccio, smoked salmon, tartare - delicious, all of it.
9. People travel, a lot, and they don’t have that frequent American attitude that other countries or cultures are not worth bothering about. They participate in the global village instead of trying to dictate how it should be.
10. Galette des Rois. Three Kings cake for the Epiphany, available from mid-December to the end of January. A delight of flaky pastry and frangipane, often served with cider or champagne. I wish they made it all year!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The last one.

With this Cat of the Month published, it’s the end of the line. Caught up with the present time. In February, there will be no Cat of the Month. I just don’t have any more.
The Frumious Bandersnatch. Aka Bandercat, aka Kittybit, aka The Blob.
She’s so black!
She’s so fluffy! She doesn’t make noise, she sleeps peacefully at the foot of the bed, she doesn’t get into stuff.
Bandersnatch does rush for the catfood, elbowing all rivals out of the way. Even for milk, which she doesn’t particularly like. Normally Bandersnatch is a sweetheart who would never raise a paw, but get between her and the food bowls: watch out.
Although a frequent guest star on Pink Rabbit Abroad, where two ravenous dinosaurs dream of devouring the Mountain of Steak, there aren’t many stories about Bandersnatch. She’s just so passive. Such a blob.

And there you have it, folks, 25 Cats of the Month.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


January 1 started out damp and heavy. The thick grey blanket would snow on us were it only a few degrees colder. On the 9:10 bus to the train station, everybody is still sleeping. Not a cat out. Not a car on the roads. The town has started the year asleep, and will stay that way the whole day. Boring!

I spent some time online Thursday, figuring where I could get to and back today, and realized I've been to almost all those places. Every stop on the line going west. Every stop on the line east to Lyon, every stop on the line north to Paris, I've stopped at. On the line south to Aurillac, there seems to be one or two opportunities still before having to stay overnight.
Brioude it is. I even have a choice of 4 or 6 hours to wander around. On arriving, I thought ...No!!! I've been here already!! I know this road, this station, the long park, that hotel. I must have changed trains here once, with an hour to kill, because I really have been here before. But the hotel I must be confusing with some other town on the Allier where I spent the night before going on to Langeac, because the center of town is not a place I've been before.

Town, or country first? Country. Ending the day in town I'll be less anxious about making my train home. So I just set off. I don't have a map, and there is absolutely no place open to sell me one, not the least newsagents, so I take a good look at the posted map of town, see that the river is south, and head that way. Go straight until I get to a stream, turn left, and it should be straight ahead.

On the way, there are plenty of old, run-down things to see. This used to be an abattoire open for public use. Not many people slaughter their own animals anymore, so it's been closed for some time. There are signs the township has plans for the site, but it's hard to tell if work has been started and abandoned, or just never started.

A detail.

An old farm. There were some nice ones down the road, and some even more wrecked than this. Everything was sad in the grey silence. I liked the colorful barrels, and approaching, it seemed that people were living there, perhaps looking out at me from the cracks, thinking what the hell is this tourist doing, taking pictures of their life.
Sometimes I wonder that too.
I just find old wrecked stuff to be beautiful. Weathered wood and rusted equipment. Ghosts.

I never do find the river, only piddling streams and some ditches full of water. Seems I turned left a little too much, and went parallel to the river instead of towards it. The clouds were so thick there was no telling by the sun, but they thin out just when I get back to town.
This is the main church, a basilica, that's been here since the 11th century in some form or another. The local saint, Julian, dates from the 4th century.

In the courtyard outside, there are clear signs of major rearrangments. There used to be a thick wall about 10 yards from the building, going around it, keeping it in. These graves used to be inside that protective perimeter.

Inside, about 10% of the original painting is still visible. The cathedrals I've been in where this decoration has been preserved are stunning. The church goes from a cold, stony, echoing, stern and forbidding place, to a place of awe where you just don't notice the temperature and the echos.
About half is done in geometric designs, and the other half recounts the bible and the lives of saints (just as the carved capitals and stained glass windows do - every person there is a particular person doing a particular thing, and you didn't have to be literate to know the liturgy).

Outside again, the day had quite cleared up.

In the old center there's a lot of restoration work going on, and a lot that's finished. This half-timbered house declares to be the original structure from the middle ages. The ones next door may just have a fresh coat of plaster over an old structure, or may have been entirely redone. People who live in these town homes often have gardens 10 or 20 minutes walk away.
Nothing is open. Nothing. I would like to sit down and have a coffee, but no luck. Not even next to the station is there a bar open.
I still have an hour before my train, so I wander off in a new direction. The map shows bits of river over this way, too. This road parallels the train tracks, and the SNCF has all sorts of depots for a kilometer or two. One yard is full of stuff all very clearly numbered. I wonder if that means they're going to put something back together. I hope they have good instructions.

Past that, more farmland. More tree portraits.
Then a random, faded sign. For those who are lost: it's that way.
And now I've seen Brioude.