Monday, May 31, 2010

Viva la Quatchi!

We are alive!

Sadly France's weird keyboards and lack of wireless are inhibiting my ability to upload photos / blog about our adventures. Even more sadly lots of rain has kept Quatchi inside his protective sack aside from a train ride and a hostel stay or two.

I took him out for his first night on the town in Nantes, but he is so big he takes up most of my bag. There is hardly room for the guidebook and camera. I wish I had my brother's pocket size Quatchi....

Hopefully I will find wireless and can upload some photos sometime soon!! Paris's countless monuments, Rennes' half-timbered houses, St. Malo's walled city, Cancale's oyster market, and Mont St Michel have all been awesome so far!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A tout a l'heure!!!

Quatchi and I are all packed and ready to go! I am very excited to discover my inner francophile. I have tried to master the essential tourist phrases via the BBC Steps program, but I have only gotten far enough to learn that I have no hope of actually speaking French. Nevertheless, I am excited to manger du fromage (eat some cheese).

As of this moment, our itinerary is as follows: two days in Paris, then a train to Brittany to explore Mont St Michel, St. Malo, Cancale, and Nantes; then down to Bordeaux; then over to Marseille; if we have time (and euros) left, we might catch some rays on the Riviera. I had wanted to go to Normandy, but I have not been able to arrange for a hostel and I don't want to get caught in a tiny town with nowhere to stay!

Our wayfaring will be put on pause when we meet up with grad school people in Avignon for the river short-course on June 7, which will last until June 12. Then we will head toward the Alps for the 'field camp' until June 19. 

We will resume our travels meandering back towards Paris with stops in either Lyon, Beaune, or Dijon. We fly home to reunite with the missing third of our trio on June 23.

Quatchi in his protective sack.

Quatchi not so sure about this anymore....
 Help - can't breathe...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I can haz 1/2 Masters degree?

I just submitted my last assignment: a 20-page paper for 'Hydrology for Planners,' describing gravel augmentation in the Napa River watershed. One year down, one to go... and then another because I was admitted to the dual Master of City Planning program... sounds like too many degrees!

Now Quatchi and I need to practice our French and plan this trip!!! Seeing as how Quatchi is Canadian, where French is an official language, he should be able to teach me a thing or two.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!!

John presents a crazy cake!

Shannon can't believe how crazy it is!

Birthday wishes

And now it's almost like you were there!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

24601, or how I empathize with Jean Valjean

So, I have been reading the unabridged 'Les Miserables' since December. Having seen the play and memorized the soundtrack as a kid, I thought I knew the story pretty well, but the amount of detailed history and social commentary that Victor Hugo put into his 1400 pages is astounding. I am amazed that anyone ever thought to condense it down into a musical because Jean Valjean, Cosette, and Javert seem to only occupy a fraction of the story.

Last weekend, I watched the movie version on youtube, the one that came out in 1998, starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Clare Danes as Cosette, Uma Thurman as Fontine, and Geoffrey Rush as Javert. I thought it was really weird that beyond the actors not being French, they spoke with pseudo-British accents, except for when they pronounced French names. It was really distracting. Furthermore, it was filmed in the Czech Republic. And Marius and Cosette's relationship is ridiculous - Clare Danes sobs, 'Even though I have only known him for three weeks, I love him and I want you to drag him through the sewers and then go to jail for him, Papa!' (see above), to which Liam Neeson says, 'Okay.' I haven't gotten to that part in the book yet, but I hear Hugo's description of the sewers of Paris is outstanding.

Today I feel like I can relate to Jean Valjean, not because I dragged my daughter's boyfriend of three weeks through the sewers, but because I went to court for a minor offense and although I have not been punished with nineteen years of hard labor, I have been forced to pay $360 for accidentally taking the wrong exit on the Bay Bridge. Somehow that doesn't have the same ring to it as "They chained me and left me for dead / Just for stealing a mouthful of bread!!!!"

Officer Rapp, who cited me, showed up to hearing with a Javert-like sense of justice. He glared at me while testifying that because my license indicates that I have lived in San Francisco, I should be familiar with the Bay Bridge. This seemed like very faulty logic to me. I very rarely drove to east bay when I lived in San Francisco and certainly never had a reason to take the commuter lane. Until his testimony, I did not even know it was a commuter lane. On the Golden Gate Bridge, over which I commuted for two years, there is no special commuter lane where you can be ticketed for incredible amounts of money; during non-commuting time, they become normal toll lanes. Unless I had worked in East Bay there is no reason why I should have known that the Bay Bridge is different and even now while living in East Bay I rarely drive over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. As a Masters candidate in urban and environmental planning, I feel it is my obligation to take BART.

Although I have not been sentenced to break rocks for the better part of my youth, I feel abused. Can you imagine if everyone who accidentally took the wrong exit on a highway was fined $450?? I just got my passport back yesterday from sending it to get extra pages. Unlike Jean Valjean, my passport is not now yellow. I probably won't be treated like an outcast. I probably won't  violate my parole by stealing a coin from a chimney-sweep since I am not on parole. And Officer Rapp probably won't pursue me to the ends of the earth to put me in jail. So life could be worse, but it still sucked.