Thursday, July 30, 2009

Phase I of our summer holiday is nearly complete. I have exhausted every entertainment option with a two hours' drive of my home.

It's time to move on...

Phase II involves driving up to Lorraine, the home territory of JP. It's sort of the opposite of Provence, in terms of climate, beauty and touristicality. (Yes, I did make up that last word. Thank you.) But it does have the great advantage to being a stone's throw (if you're feeling like a bit of vandalism) away from Belgium, Luxembourg and also, if you have a good throwing arm, Germany. So, if you have a car, there's lots of possibilities for outings and adventures.

And we're always up for some of that!

After a week visiting with JP's family, we'll head over to Germany and see some of my family. I won't go into the whole story again (if you missed it the first time around, click the link), but we'll be staying with Mike and his family on a US military base there! Should be interesting and fun. Êxpect a full report when I get back...

That reminds me- being at my MIL's place is like going to a research station in Antarctica.
No- wait.
It's actually FAR MORE isolated than that. My MIL not only does not have a compuer chez elle, NOBODY she knows does. There's no place in the whole village where we can even check our emails. The only possibility for occasionally clutching at our cyber-lifeline is a rare trip to an internet café in a village about half an hour away. But it's very small (often completely full) and has odd opening hours.

All this to say that I will probably not post much for the next week. Once I get to Germany, I'll be back in "civilization", though, and will no doubt post a bit from the computer of Cousin Mike.

What have we been doing since we got back from the South of France?
Too much to tell, almost. We've been swimming a lot and getting out to local events. One of note was an outdoor sound and light show, written and produced by folks at the village of Reignier. It was rather bizarre and deserves it's own post, one of these days.

Yesterday, I took the kids to an amusement/water park that's just over and hour's drive from here.

After I took the above picture of the park mascot (a walibi, btw. NOT a kangaroo), Mallory went into quite a long "What's up with THAT?" diatribe about adults foisiting partially-clothed animals upon innocent children. Using Winnie the Pooh and the Walibi park mascot as examples, she pointed out (at length) that having animals (even pretend ones) wear shirts just POINTS out the fact that they don't have any pants. Ick!

If they were completely without clothing, you wouldn't think "Gee, naked animal!". It wouldn't even cross your mind, as animals usually don't wear any clothes-right? But once you start putting polo shirts on them, you are getting into murky territory, as far as Mal is concerned. Either dress them head to toe or leave them starkers, according to her. Otherwise...mega-ick! She got quite excercised about it. "Do they think kids LIKE animals with shirts and no pants? Why would they think that?" Oh dear....

Luckily the water park was nice...and very distracting. She forget her troubles in the clear blue waves. It was very, very crowded, but we didn't care. We were too HOT by then.

Here's Sev posing and looking all sultry for you :

It was pretty nice. Lots to do, such as:

Finally- another picture of Sev, who really will do ANYTHING for a laugh.
After lunch on Monday, he came out to mow the lawn in the above get-up. It was our major LOL of the day.

That's it, I guess. I'll post again when I can.
See you all then!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our trip to southern France last weekend was far less dramatic than the one we made a few years back. This time around, the only slight hiccup was that someone stole my wallet when we stopped for a break at Montelimar.
They have nougats there.
Also thieves, apparently.

But I'm not dwelling. It's bad to dwell, right? And at least "all" they got was half a checkbook (quickly cancelled by phone), 100 euros and several fidelity cards from various French supermarkets. Could have been worse, right? I'm SO glad I don't keep my credit cards in with all the other junk. They were safely still with me after the Horrible Incident, so our trip continued on without another hitch.

After hanging out at the cabanes charmantes that I showed you in my last post, we drove a few miles further south and took the kids for a swim in the Med.

Afterwards, we went for a stroll around Montpellier. It was Sunday, though, and that was bad news on the shopping front. Every shop in the whole city was CLOSED. It was the height of the tourist season and there was not a postcard or t-shirt to be had.

So, no tourist goodies for my friends and family back in the USA- sorry...
But it was pretty:

After lunch in an outdoor creperie, where we were "serenaded" by an accordeonist and his accomplice who apparently know only three songs and have no qualms about playing them over and over and over again until someone pays them to STOP, we visited the botanic garden in the center of town. It was commissioned by Henri IV and is the oldest one in France.

It was a great trip, despite the wallet-loss aspect. I hope to go back down there and spend more time one day. But we had to be back by Monday night, as JP had lots of work to get done. We're planning to leave again on the 31st to travel up north (in France and into Germany!), so he needed to get things in order before then.
Me? I'm teaching English, taking the kids to the pool, seeing friends, and generally having a good time.

I love summer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Last weekend, JP, Sev, the twins and I took off for a short camping trip in the South of France. We were visiting friends there and a frequent topic of conversation was our last trip there seven years ago. On that occasion, our hostess had been obliged to come pick me up at the police station. As it was both the first and last time she had ever been obliged to do that for one of her guests, it was pretty memorable for her. And I have to say that every detail has remained in my mind, as well….

The police officers at the station were all very kind, but not sure what to do for me. I obviously needed to phone someone that could help me track down the location of JP’s anthropologist pal’s summer place that I knew had to be somewhere very nearby. But I couldn’t come up with the full name of a single person who could help me.
I sat in an orange plastic chair and mentally went through the list of other anthropologists I knew of. There was Phillipe...Something in Belgium? And wasn’t there a Jean-Phillipe Something? It was all going nowhere at a snail’s pace.

Valentine was patient and sensible, as always. She politely accepted an Orangina from one of the officers and looked around the place as she drank it, possibly wondering if we were both going to end up living long-term in the Castries Municipal Police Station.

Finally, the Orangina Officer came back and brought me over to a computer. We both sat down in front of it. He was all ready to look up a name and number for me on his nifty on-line phone directory. But I had nothing to give him, unless I had a sudden, amazing inspiration.
And it just so happens that I did.
«Jean-Marc Olivier de Bardan*!» I practically shouted.
«Where does he live?» he asked as he started to type.
«Um...Bardan?» I replied. I could have added «Duh!», but resisted. A last name with a «de» stuck in the middle of it doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got a French nobleman on your hands, but chances are good. And the French in general tend not to move around much. So, it’s pretty likely that when someone’s name states that he is «of» a certain village, it means that the family has been there running things for the last thousand years or so and have no intention of moving any time soon.

Of course, being a famous anthropologist specialized in West Africa, maybe JM would be in Niger or Mali, or some such exotic locale. But there was small chance of that- though I only knew of the man through JP, I'd heard that he was not in the best of health. My only real worries were that either he’d be a.) too ill to come to the phone , b.)suspicious that it was some kind of bizarre prank and refuse to talk to me, or (the worst case scenario): c.) not in possession of the information I desperately needed.

I stewed over all this as the O.O. quickly found the number and handed me the phone.
To say that the man was surprised to hear from me is an understatement. But he was very, very kind and, amazingly, had all the phone numbers I needed- a cell number for JC and a direct number for «Les Cabanes» ! (I later found out that the hamlet of Bardan is just 20kms from the place I was trying to find.)

I immediately made another call and got F on the line- she’s a very bright and sensible woman with the soothing demeanor of the child psychologist that she is. She told me that yes, my DH was there with our other children. They’d arrived ages ago, but he was completely unconcerned - sure that I’d be turning up any time. She’d thought that his attitude seemed a little…casual, but had decided that if he wasn’t worried, no one else should be.

I couldn’t decide whether to be mad at him, or to be touched by his confidence in my amazing (to him, anyway) ability to manage in adverse circumstances.

F. immediately took things in hand and within 20 minutes she'd arrived to guide us to her place. We stood for a bit out in the parking lot, listening to her marvel over the idea that I had thought to go to the police for help. According to her (and all the other French folk back at Les Cabanes) it's really something that would never occur to a French person. And maybe they're right not to think of it... just because the police helped a lost FrancoAmerican oddball does not guarantee that they'd have been equally patient with a "real" French person in similar straits. Hard to say, really. But they were awfully nice to me, even coming outside with us to make sure we were in good hands and to wave goodbye. A nice bunch, really.

«Les Cabanes» did turn out to be a hard place to get to, for the first-timer, anyway. You have to turn off the small highway, onto an even smaller one. From there, you turn off onto one of many dirt tracks leading off into the garrigue. As you drive along, the trail gets worse and worse. Thorny shrubs scratch the sides of your car and rocks threaten to eviscerate it from underneath. It feels a lot like the bush back in burkina.

Then suddenly, the thick underbrush is gone and you’re in a huge, lovely meadow with an old stone wall charmingly marking the right edge. This is the meadow where, seven years later, after a much easier voyage, we pitched out tents last weekend:

On the northwest edge of the meadow is a stand of trees with little Hobbit-houses peeking out from between them. These are the famous cabanes that a small group of friends built themselves out of a bit of wood and salvaged elements (doors, windows, etc), back in the late 70's/early 80's. :

This is the one belonging to our friends JC and F:
As you can see, it's all very weird and charming, with strangely shaped windows and oddly sloping roofs. Very un-Provençal, really.

The interiors tend towards the very cute and cozy, in a thrift shop kind of way. And I mean that in the best possible sense, as I am a huge thrift shop fan:

That's all I've got time for today.

Tomorrow, expect a bit more text and lots more pictures of our latest trip to Provence!

(* All names changed to protect the anthropological or the innocent or something like that...)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I became a French citizen in 1996. Luckily, I was able to keep my US citizenship because, although I try to fit in around here, all of my laboriously acquired «French-ness» is grafted onto a whole lot of «American-ness».
And so it was that, as I drove up and down the D610 highway vainly searching for «Les Cabanes» as night fell, that a lightning bolt of a thought flashed through my tired brain: Ask a policeman for help! 

I’d heard this phrase probably thousands of times from my mom when I was a child growing up in Nebraska. (No cracks along the lines of «How could anyone get lost in Nebraska?», please. I assure you that a Football Saturday or an afternoon at the State Fair involves population density above 8.9 per km2).
If you get lost, you’re supposed to look for a uniformed officer of the law and ask to be returned safely to the bosom of your loving family - that’s the rule back in Nebraska and I didn’t see why it couldn’t work in the South of France.

I did a u-turn and headed back towards Castries -the village with the very distracting 17th century aqueduct. I’d already driven through the place several times by this point and on the last trip through had noticed a low, oddly-shaped building marked «Police Municipal».
I pulled up to the closed gate blocking the entrance and Valentine looked over at me with eyes that said «This sure doesn‘t seem like Vacation Paradise to me».

«We’re going to go into the station and talk to the nice police officers. They’ll help us find Papa and the other kids! » I said brightly. Or they’ll think I’m completely mad and send me on my way to wander the side roads of Provence for the rest of my life, I silently added.

While I felt that US police were probably aware of their part of the informal agreement outlined previously, I wasn’t so sure about their French counterparts. Maybe no one had ever told them that they were supposed to be the saviors of lost and confused travelers…

It didn’t seem very promising at first, that's for sure. The whole place was enclosed by a high fence and the gate firmly closed. Not very welcoming. Through the intercom box, I had to use my best and politest French to convince them to let me in. I was careful not to slip into the familiar «tu» form and even made the «liaisons» - something lots of French people don’t do, even though they’re supposed to. In short, I did my best to demonstrate, in just a few short sentences, that I was the «nice» kind of foreigner- the kind who has painstakingly studied the (rather pain-in-the-rear) French language and not done too badly at it.

In the end, I think they opened the gate because they were bored and thought «This is really odd. Could be a fun story to tell around the espresso machine at break-time.»

So, they let in the crazy, but well-spoken, American woman and her 9 year old daughter.

To their credit, they were a nice bunch -a bit mystified as to what they could really do for me, but willing to give it a shot. Of course, not one of the nice officers had ever heard of «Les Cabanes» and they had no clue how to help me find it...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The first time I went to Provence, I got lost.
I got very, very lost.

I had no GPS (still don’t) and this was before cell phones were popular (popular with me, anyway) and it turns out that the South of France is a big, big place.

JP and I had taken off from my MIL’s home near the Belgian border in two tiny, rented cars. He had the twins and Sev with him, while I had Tya and most of the baggage. The idea was that we’d stay together on the road and I’d follow JP to the small vacation cabin of his friends, just outside Montpellier , near a tiny village whose name I could never remember (this latter fact becomes important later in the story).

It all went well until we turned off the autoroute and hit the smaller side roads. To be perfectly fair, I don’t know if it was JP or me that lost the plot. While he does tend to have that whole completely oblivious, absent-minded-professor thing going, I can get distracted by my enthusiasm for a new landscape. And this was definitely new and fascinating.

The first thing to notice was that nearly all the vegetation is a silvery, pale green color or dark, dark green. And the grass wasn't green at all. Not in summer, anyway.
Welcome to the Garrigue: a sort of scrub land full of wild lavender, thyme, rosemary, jasmine, sage, fennel. Just opening the car window smells like a trip to a well-stocked kitchen/perfume shop.

Next, you notice that the houses and buildings all look alike. In a nice way. In fact, they all look rather like they were built by a moderately wealthy Roman family back in about 130 BC. They’re invariably pale rectangles topped by a shallow roof of peach colored tiles. The roof alone tells you that you’re Somewhere Else. In the Haute Savoie, where we live now, the roofs have to be steeply sloped, so that you and your family aren’t crushed in a tragic incident when the beams of your house collapse due to the weight of the winter’s snow. And the wooden sides of the charming chalets here are stained a dark brown-nearly black, in order to soak up all the sunlight they can. Not pretty, really, but it works.
In Provence, however, they’ve got more sun than they know what to do with.

There were also amazing medieval ruins to gawk at. In the distance, I saw the huge arches of an aquaduct rising up over the trees. What archaeologist could resist?

So, I didn’t resist.
And then, all of a sudden, there were several cars in front of mine, but not one of them was JP’s little silver Renault.
I drove on for a bit, trying to figure out where to go. JP was nowhere along the road, waiting for me to catch up. He was long gone. He’d probably been happily listening to a fascinating program on Radio France Culture and hadn’t even noticed he’d left me and Tya behind.

I had no map, no directions and a phone number for JP’s friend’s appartment in Montpellier- where there was no one because they were all at the extremely isolated vacation cabin in the Garrigue, waiting for us.
I stopped in a village and asked around at a few local businesses…but no one had ever heard of «Les Cabanes», which was pretty predictable. It’s not even the name of a hamlet- it’s just what the friends (JC and F) call the little group of cabins that they built out in the middle of nowhere about 30 years ago. Most people don’t even know they are there.

It was getting late. The cicadas were creaking loudly from their comfortable (to them, anyway) beds high in the olive trees and stone pines.

But us? Poor little Tya and I had no bed and no way to find one, unless I got very creative…

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We're leaving for the south of France tomorrow. By the the evening, we'll be pitching our tents in the lovely hills outside of Montpellier, enjoying lavender, cicadas, pastis, olive trees and people with cute accents.
Lucky, lucky, lucky us!
I don't think, however, we will be enjoying a WiFi connection. So, I probably won't be able to post on my blog until we get back.
So, I'll be back on Tuesday, with lots to tell, no doubt.
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Taciturn-ish Tuesday

Never a dull moment.
Yesterday, I took the kids to Amphion Les Bains to swim in Lake Geneva. The beach where we like to go is just below the bank of fluffy clouds in the center of the photo.

It's a nice place:

Today is the 14th of July- the French national holiday.

It marks the date of the storming of the Bastille

We're having a little party here today in honor of the event- a decidedly non-revolutionary, non-violent barbecue for about 15 people.

Yikes! It's starting to RAIN now and I'm getting worried...
but I'll just have to hope for the best and wish a

Bon 14 Juillet à Tous!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I guess I could have saved these photos for a 'Taciturn Tuesday', but I felt like posting them today and nattering on endlessly about them. We had such a great time yesterday, I want to share it!

Saturday morning, the kids dressed up in their garb (it's always 'garb', never 'costumes' ) and we headed off for yet another pseudo-historical festival. This one wasn't really a Ren Faire. It was a bunch of French and Swiss SCA-types that decided to plant their tents near a beautiful lake and enjoy the weekend. It was open to the public, so we got gussied up and went to visit.

As you can see, we've had some changes in our garb. I went to the thrift shop last week with the girls and we made some amazing, dirt-cheap finds! We found a perfect skirt and a bodice for Mallory. She already had a great shirt that was a hand-me-down from a neighbor. All she needed was the darling cap that I'd sewn up for Valentine years ago. With those few elements we managed a great, simple medieval look.

The thrift shop is also were I found the shirt Valentine's friend is wearing and Valentine's fancy bodice. The latter was a really lucky find and she adores it.

The people at the camp were very friendly and the kids got lots of compliments on their clothes. Tourists asked them to pose for pictures.

Princess Alexa was especially in demand:

The location of the camp was lovely- right on the shores of Lake Annecy:


We had a picnic and then went off to yet another fun activity- a visit to the Menthon Saint Bernard Castle. It was on the opposite side of the lake from Saint Jorioz, but the drive was lovely and only took about half and hour.

The castle is still owned by the Counts of Menthon. The family lives in two of the towers. the third (the Lake Tower) is open to the public. It completely furnished and is amazing. Sadly, they don't allow photos inside. I would have loved to show you pics of the 13th century kitchen and the library full of 12,000 ancient books.

The guided tour was fun. It consisted of costumed actors playing the parts of the family and servants, each character explaining some aspect of castle life and the history of each room. (My kids had nicer 'garb' than the actors, though!)

This is the small interior courtyard:

Again, the kids featured in the photos of many tourists. It's true that they blended right in with the decor of the place. Most people asked politely, though some just snapped away without saying a word.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Burkina Faso has been on my mind a lot lately, as you may have guessed from my last post. It's not only the rain that keeps it constantly on my mental radar. There's also the fact that JP is still there, nearly at the end of a one month research stint.
And Aisha just called a couple of nights ago, to see if I'd "forgotten" about her.

The answer to that question was "no", of course. When JP left France he had one duffle bag almost completely full of little gifts and letters for Yvonne, Aisha and other people I'll certainly never forget.

Knowing people there seems to be the only way to get any real news of the country, that's for certain. There's little to be had online, anyway. If you google for some news of the place today, for example, you'll find out that the president of Burkina just named a new army Chief of Staff.

It's very hard to find anything about the news I got last night from JP: There were riots yesterday in the marketplace in the center of the capital city. You only find an article about this if you search with both the words 'Ouagadougou' and 'marché'- so basically, you have to already know the news in order to find out any news- if you see what I mean. And you have to speak French, of course.

As for the news I heard last night- here's what I know: The Rood-Woko market (where I bought most of our household odds and ends when we arrived in Ouaga) caught on fire and was badly damaged in May of 2003. It was an ugly thing- Sankara's graceless modern replacement for the old colonial-era structure. But at least the new cement box was huge and provided shade and shelter for many, many small merchants. Built in 1989 to hold about 2000 traders, by the time we arrived in the country (1999) there were about 5500 present.

It was chaotic and overcrowded and noisy. It smelled like dust, rotten fruit, Oro brand insect spray, blood, spices and a million other things.
The lower level was the basics: cheap polyester clothes from Asia, pagnes, shoes, hair supplies (it was the go-to place for wigs and extensions). And just after the wigs was the meat market, buzzing with big black flies and full of huge, scary machetes -my least favorite place.
Upstairs you could find the touristy arts and crafts and fancier fabrics. In the southwest corner of that level was my favorite place: the bead merchant stands with baskets and buckets full of nothing but brightly-colored beads of every kind.

Getting through the market was not for the faint-hearted. You had to duck under beams, squeeze up crumbling cement stairs nearly completely blocked by the goods of traders who'd set up their shops ON the steps and then hop over the many jerry-rigged electrical lines hanging like 220 volt spiderwebs everywhere.

Crazy as the place was, it was the center of life for thousands of people. This in mind, I had thought the Burkinabé government would make a heoric effort to get the place running again quickly. But the clean-up and repair dragged on for years. It was only just re-opened in March 2009.

And, unfortunately, things haven't been going very well. It's badly organised, the merchants claim, and inaccessible. Business is slow. It's nothing like the dynamic and lively place it used to be.

One real sore point is the presence of a great number of machine-gun toting police officers. This , in fact, was the cause of Thursday's riots. They chased a young man through the marketplace and he died while trying to escape them. The people in the market reacted by burning some of the officers' motorcycles.
There's other news, too. For the last months the crime rate in our old neighborhood has been steadily rising. The robbery at our house last year was just one of many more to come. And now purse/backpack snatchings have become a huge problem, as well.
Good news? There's not so much. Even the climate has gone funny. Out in the Winye villages, where JP does his research, the rains have come late and people are worried for their crops. The people are blaming the Earth Priests, who carried out the proper sacrifices, but too late in the year. They were disorganised and the ceremonies didn't take place at the right time. They admit that the lack of rain is their fault-how could they do otherwise. They're very sorry, but the damage is done...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Burkina Faso, life stops when it rains. The clouds gather, the drops start and suddenly the roads are empty of all bikes and mopeds. Off to the edges of the nearly empty streets, you see everyone huddled under whatever shelter they can find.
Maybe you see a few pedestrians, really desperate to get where they're going- nearly all of them slogging through the mud wearing a garbage bag as a poncho, or a small plastic bag as a hat.

The rain is noisy. It falls hard, pounding down on metal roofs and the hard-packed ground.
But other than that, everything is strangely quiet.
All the normal noises of the neighborhood are gone. The deafening hammering of the metal-smith's workshop down the street completely stops. The voices of the dozens of the children that play in the street just outside your front gate have vanished. The tailor's shop courtyard nearby, usually full of whirling pedal sewing machines and chatting, joking, arguing appprentices is silent.

It may rain for a few minutes.. or a few hours, but while it does, time stops. Nothing gets done, nobody goes anywhere. And that makes sense. The rains are usually hard and blinding, making it impossible to safely travel. Even in a car, visibility can be reduced to nearly nothing.
And most of life's daily activities in Burkina are carried out outdoors. Places like mechanics' garages, tailors' shops and carpenters' workshops might have a small shack or some kind of shelter, but certainly not enough covered space for everyone to work out of the rain.
Even in homes, not much can be done. A kitchen , for most Burkinabé people, is simply a corner outside with a fire and a branch or rock to sit on. No tables, no countertops, no cupboards, no roof.

Everyone rushes to shelter- maybe first pausing to get all the drying laundry and other vulnerable items gathered up and out of the wet. At our house, our guardians Salif and Rasmane would run to grab the patio furniture and pile it up next to the house, well under the terrace roof and out of the reach of the driving rain that would sometimes seem to fall nearly sideways.
People do what they have to do, then wait for it to pass.

And it always does.

It stops suddenly, like someone turing off a fire hose. Then the big West African sun pops out and everything seems to dry out in an instant. Cooking pots go back outside, the laundry is re-hung on walls and across shrubs, commuters get back on their bikes and mopeds and the smith's apprentices start hammering away again. The chairs are once more nicely arranged on the patio. And everything goes on like usual until tomorrow, when it will rain again.
The rain here in France is so...strange. It's hard for me to get used to gray and drizzly skies for days on end. I feel like everything should just stop. But it can't. This is Europe. If everyone stopped moving the minute rain fell, doom and disaster would result. At least, I guess so...

I took a "rain day" yesterday. I had decided that the rain wouldn't stop because it wasn't getting the respect it deserved. Maybe a moment of silence and stillness was all it wanted from us?
I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do any laundry. In fact, I didn't do anything terribly useful except for cook a couple of meals. I played games with the kids, read a novel, surfed the internet and watched tv on my computer. It was, in fact, a great day.
It did not, however, stop the rain.

So, today I'm back to rainy days, Euro-style. It's nearly noon and still pouring rain, but I've already been to the dump with a load of bad junk, the recycling center with my good junk, the public treasury to pay the water bill, the store to buy cat litter, etc. I guess that's how they do it here. But I miss the strange peacefullness of the Burkina rain...

Monday, July 06, 2009

We were all very excited about our outing on Sunday. We'd been seeing posters touting the opening of the newly restored 13th century castle at Faucigny and the Ren Faire they'd be having there over the weekend.
We were a teensy bit disappointed when we realised that by "restored", they'd meant "slathering some concrete over the crumbling walls". Not that it wasn't a good idea- left a few more decades, the whole site would have disappeared to nearly nothing. But it was all bit less than we'd hoped for.
And the Ren Faire turned out to be really tiny.
On the other hand, it was a nice day for a walk and the ruins were situated high on a hilltop with a great view.

Here are the only remains of the lower gate down in the village:

As you can see, there's not much left of the original walls of the towers.

I was so busy getting pics of the kids, I never got a good one of the ruins from down below. Sorry.

On the other hand, I enjoy pictures of my kids way more than I enjoy pictures of rocks. Even really old rocks. So it all works out...


We left after only a couple of hours, as it started to rain.
A bit later, when I looked out my bedroom window back home, I saw this:
It was far more lovely than the photo shows and stretched all the way across our valley in a perfect semicircle. I've never seen one so flawless.
When I ran out to the balcony to get a better look, I saw that it was actually a double rainbow. It looks kind of faint in the pic, but we could see it really, really well.

Mallory said we should go to see the end of it. Sadly, it seemed to start and stop right in the middle of the forest.

Actually, there are a few lucky people who have managed to find and photograph rainbow ends. Kind of cool - but no pot of gold.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Fourth of July/US Independance Day holiday was always kind of a big deal in Ouaga. We were always invited to the US Ambassador's house for a pot-luck picnic.

It doesn't seem to be the same here in France. The US Ambassador in Paris didn't invite me to his party, for some reason.

Despite being left out by the big-shots, we managed to make our own fun.

Severin, being the Man of Da House these days, was in charge of the grill:

A bit later, a few of Valentine's friends arrived for a slightly early birthday celebration. The big day is really on Monday, but Saturday seemed like a better day for a party.

I made her a cake, of course:

The guests are still here, playing a board game...It's 10pm and I'm not exactly sure how long this is going to last...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

On Monday, my English students surprised me with a book of drawings that they'd all made for me. I have to admit that it made me a bit teary-eyed. It was all so darn cute.

The little boy who made this one is one of those kids that generally hates school and can't sit still. But he likes to learn English...with me!
This is the only one that included a portrayal of me. I love my Barbie doll waist and the rocking manga-style boots! I'm not sure why the students are so teeny, though.

This was from my top student (not counting my girls, of course).
He went to SO much trouble, printing out a pic of the White House at home. And check out all the English phrases! He's only eight!! Smart kid!

The twins each contributed, as well.
Alexa made me this:

Yes, she knows how many stars and stripes there should be. She's citing artistic license.
I like how she gave my home state a mega shout-out.

And Mallory made this:
This place is SO where I am going on vacation this year: A reading-lamp equipped canoe floating under a grove of book-bearing boaobab trees.
The books are are carefully inscribed with tiny titles.
They include: "The Hobbit", "Bad and Good" , "Hard Life"
and my personal faves-"Happy Life, Happy Wife" and
"Good Mom Hard to Find".
Also, if you zoom in, you will see that my boat has a handy little tray
that holds a can of Dr. Pepper.
Mal made me a custom-designed paradise!