Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Catching Up

We had a delightful long weekend, journeying to the Loire Valley and back. The Fourth of July party we attended (at which we were the only Americans) was a treat, as was our entire visit. We saw a highlight of the sights, including chateaux, scenery and vineyards and much enjoyed just about everything about the adventure.

A few random observations:

France is a gorgeous country. It’s about the size of Texas, and the variety of the landscape from the road is remarkable. I cannot think of a single place you could take a drive of this distance in the US and see this much variety in the landscape: mountains, seaside, plains, agricultural regions (many) with different products, housing styles, climate, etc. Noticeable features: France is a hugely rural country, something we’ve also noticed particularly taking train journeys here. The bucolic beauty is punctuated every now and then with huge power transmission lines that are noticeably ugly when so much care is taken in so many other ways with appearance. There’s a lot of power generation going on: nuclear plants, windmills, etc: we saw it. The strip malls, when they exist are astonishingly vulgar and also contrast sharply with other beautiful features. Today’s NYT talks about the head start France has on spending stimulus money, much evidence of which we saw on our trip. Many of the chateaux had lots of work going on, including replacing stones by specialized masons who travel from project to project.

We continue to encounter tremendous friendliness when our American-ness becomes apparent, and every French person with whom we conversed over the weekend wanted to talk about President Obama. We visited a vineyard Michael remembered was in the region and made a wine he’d bought last year in the US; the vigneron examined us in detail about the President. The level of awareness and interest in American politics was impressive.

Michael is more voluble in French, and more social to boot. Of course, the friends with whom we stayed are warm and welcoming people, so that probably played into his overall chattiness. He probably talked more this weekend than he has in the preceding several weeks.

WHERE have all the editors gone? On the car trip there, we tried several audio books and were simply stunned by the shoddiness of the writing. One of the Dan Brown books we tried was un-listenable, it was so poorly written. An otherwise quite interesting book, Stroke of Insight, was marred by its repetitions, grammatical problems, etc. I vented about this to Jovanna (a copy editor by trade) and she remarked that many publishers seem to be caving to authors who claim that being ungrammatical is a “feature” of their self-expression. This is not a step forward. On the way back, we listed to a delightfully literate book recommended by our friends. What a relief and pleasure that was.

Talking about the course under design with our friends helped to solidify several ideas, and this week’s goal includes finishing a set of lesson plans and the syllabus. Then, the big test, to see if my brain will still produce words.

Later, I’ll write more about the contrasts that are so visible in terms of this year and last. It’s provided an interesting year-ago-and-now-snapshot. We’re still thinking about some of the implications. It’s good to be back at home base. Off to hang the laundry on the line.

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