November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving To Our Family, Friends and Readers

They don’t do Thanksgiving here in England. But we’ll be thinking about all of our family and friends in the States enjoying turkey, stuffing (my favorite), mashed potatoes, and gravy, followed by pie and ice cream.

Mmmmm, it’s making my mouth water just to write this.

Here are some pictures from our recent travels to help keep in touch.

Posted by: Frank @ 12:35 am — Filed under: Comments (0)

November 26, 2003

Trip To Southern France

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you may be wondering why there haven’t been any entries lately.

The big reason is that we went to France for a week. Unlike the last trip, when I went alone to Italy, and therefore had lots of time to write late at night, this time all four of us went. And when you travel with a 7 month old there really isn’t time to write. And the fact that there weren’t any internet cafes nearby made it even more difficult.

We flew into Perpignan on Ryan Air after booking £1 flights. Of course it wasn’t really £1 after all the taxes and landing fees, but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than taking the train. EuroStar, which goes through the Chunnel, and then changes to TGV in Paris, would have been over £700, or more than $1200. No contest really.

We rented a cute little apartment in a small village called Rodes. The picture at the top of this entry, the one with the snow covered peaks, was taken at the top of the village. What you see is a view looking west, towards the Pyrenees, where there was fresh snow after a rainstorm in the village the night before.

The apartment turned out to be a great idea. Not only did it save us lots of money, but they had a crib and high-chair, both of which were absolute life-savers (and can be hit or miss at hotels or B&B’s).

The trip was a mixed bag. We had gone to the south-west of France (along the Mediterranean, near the Spanish border) to look for places we might want to live. But the idea of France turned out to be different than the actuality of France. If you remember my Italy wrapup from a couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember that I came back less than enthusiastic about moving to Italy. Well, the same thing happened this time, but for different reasons.

If I may be so bold as to generalize about France and the French, I’d say that it was more like the States than not (as opposed to Italy which is less like the States than more). In lots of ways it looks and feels like the States. They’ve got the same “we’re better with a chip on our shoulder” attitude that you find in the States, but with a French accent. Not that they don’t have a reason to think so. They haven’t succumbed to ugly strip malls. Their cities are prettier. The countryside is prettier, and they take care of it much better than we do. The infrastructure is in better shape than the States. And there are very few homeless people (we saw three in seven days). And yes, the bread is to die for.

But it was more than that. When I was in Italy, I never looked around and thought “hmmm, this looks familiar". But in France that happened all the time. I’d look around and think “this is weird, if it weren’t for the fact that everyone is speaking French (or the signs were in French), I’d swear I was in the Midwest somwhere.” At one point we were standing at the coffee bar at the Perpignan Airport, and there was a group of middle-aged couples going to Egypt. If I couldn’t hear them speaking French I would have sworn they were from Iowa or Kansas, or somewhere else in middle America, on their way to Mexico.

We rented a car from Alamo and put about 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) on it. We drove all around the south-west. Narbonne, Carcassonne, Limoux, Quillan, Beziers, and even up to Toulouse and Albi. The countryside was incredibly varied. Rocky and hot and dry looking (though it was cool/cold and rained quite a bit), with the Pyrenees to the west, and flat to slightly rolling hills. That changed as you went north to Carcassonne where the land smoothed out and more trees appeared. Up above Carcassonne there’s even a valley that looks like it came right out of West Virginia and the coal mining regions. The houses are different too – less well kept up, poorer, and sided with slate (which you don’t see anywhere else).

The beaches are another reason we went to this part of France, but unfortunately, they’re nothing to write home about. They’re quite rocky, and where there is sand the sand is dark and grainy. And the beach towns aren’t particularly interesting (except for Colliure), not in the way that St. Tropez and other beaches to the north are beautiful and interesting. We didn’t get down to Spain, but we heard the beaches there are quite a bit nicer, and wish we’d had more time to check them out (or get down to Barcelona).

But the place we liked the best was a town called Albi, as well as the countryside to the north and west of Albi. The town of Albi is built on the Tarn River, and from what we saw of it, it seems to have kept a lot of its charm (in much the same way that Salzburg, for example, has kept its charm). We stayed at the Mercur Hotel, on the banks of the Tarn, and it was wonderful to fall asleep to the rush of the river beneath our room. The picture above is a shot of the left bank of the Tarn River. Our hotel was at the right side of the picture, just below the arched bridge.

We visited several real estates agents (or immobilieres as they’re called). There was quite a bit in our price range, but really nothing with enough bedrooms as we’d want. We did go out to look at one property, just on the outskirts of Cordes-sur-ciel. Very beautiful countryside, similar in many ways to Sonoma Valley in California, but with incredible 12th and 13th century walled cities, and no urban sprawl.

Well that’s enough for one entry. I’ll try and followup with more details tomorrow.

Bon nuit.

Posted by: Frank @ 11:25 pm — Filed under: Comments (0)

November 16, 2003

Our Very Own Christopher Robins

Sebastian hasn’t been sleeping well. We think it’s because he isn’t eating enough to stay asleep all night, but as he’s only seven months old, and can’t say anything more than “uhhh, unhhh, daaaa, daaaa, maaaa, baaaa” we’re not quite sure.

For the past several weeks he has refused to let us feed him, insisting – quite adamantly I might add – that he is the only one who can place food items in his mouth. Given that he doesn’t yet have complete control over his hands and fingers this can make for interesting meal times. I’ve calculated that about half goes in his mouth, half over his shoulder, half in his bib, and half on the floor. Now those of you schooled in maths (that would be math for you Yanks) will probably point out that half + half + half + half adds up to more than one. But that’s the way it is at feeding time, one is never quite sure what percentage is where. Which leads to our bewilderment about whether he’s getting enough to eat at dinner time.

But I didn’t start out to write this entry to winge about Sebastian’s eating habits. No, I wanted to report that for the first time ever, he fell asleep in my arms.

Up at the crack of 6:00 AM, Sebastian has one speed, full-steam ahead. He bounces, and moves, wriggles and grizzles, bangs and crawls and pulls himself up, with no interest in staying in bed until 8:00 AM (which is when his parents would really like to be woken up).

Last night he was up twice to be fed, once at 11, and then again at 3, and Rachel being the wonderful mother that she is, did the feedings. So at 6:30, still bleary eyed, I got up and took Sebastian downstairs for breakfast where we had banana, toast, and grapes, accompanied by lots and lots of wriggling.

We’re on the way to France, and staying at Chris and Roz’s, and at nine o’clock I found myself in Roz’s office cleaning up some of the things that have been bothering her about her computer, while Sebastian was jumping up and down in my arms. Typing one-handed I started softly humming Silent Night. And for the first time ever I felt him relax in my arms. Then I felt his head drop onto my shoulder. And his whole body became limp. And then I knew that he was finally in the land of Nod.

I took him upstairs and put him on a mattress on the floor (no crib here I’m afraid), and covered him with a duvet. And as I looked down at him I was struck by how little and helpless and lovely he is. Nothing like the robust little person that he usually presents himself as.

As I left the room, Nathaniel was in the hallway, rubbing sleepy dust from his eyes. He had on his red and white checked flannel pajamas, and was holding Winnie the Pooh by one paw. He asked if he could have breakfast, and I said “of course". At that he turned and walked downstairs, dragging Winnie by one arm, bump, bump, bump, down the stairs.

As I watched him, I knew just where A.A.Milne had gotten his stories from. For here was our very own Christopher Robin, just barely four years old. Showing us in these quiet, tender moments, how precious life is.

And as we get ready to head to France on Sunday morning, I realize it doesn’t really matter where we end up living. As long as Rachel and the boys are safe and warm. And our friends and family know they can come visit anytime. And that we love them all very very much.

Posted by: Frank @ 1:10 am — Filed under: Comments (0)

November 15, 2003

Did I Really Go Surfing In November?

Last week our friend Dave Adair called us from the Eden Project. “Frankie” he said. “Can we stop by and see you?” “Would you like to stay overnight?” I asked. “Yes". “Good, we’ll make up the bed.”

And that’s how it happened that Dave and Bryoney got me to go surfing last week.

Dave is one of our very good friends from San Francisco, and has been in England for the past five or six weeks. He had come to England to do a two week walking/meditation retreat, and had stayed on with his friend Bryoney. They have been traveling around England and Scotland, and had just come back from a quick trip to Portugal where they had stayed, quite unfortunately it turns out, in a hotel that catered exclusively to Brits (which meant that it served thing like eggs and chips for breakfast, as opposed to anything remotely resembling Portuguese food).

We’ve known that Dave has been on the same continent as us, and he had kept threatening to stop by, but it was still a bit of a surprise – a very pleasant surprise – to see him at our door step. As we traded stories over drinks I was struck by both how close and how far our former life in San Francisco seems. We have lots of friends in common – Lauren, Whitney and Hayley and Jason and Carol, Laurie and Doug, Michael and Teresa – and the image that I kept seeing while we talked was of sitting in Laurie and Doug’s living room last year at their annual Christmas/Chanukah party, surrounded by food and drink, music, talking and laughter. (Do we miss them all? You bet!)

The next morning I took Nathaniel with me to Wadebridge where we both had haircuts, while Dave and Bryoney walked the cliffs to Polzeath. When I got home Dave was on the phone and wanted to know if Rachel and I wanted to go surfing with them. I looked outside and saw what looked like sunshine so I said “Ohhhh-kayyyy” in a tentative voice.

After dropping Nathaniel off at school I headed to Polzeath, where I found Dave and Bryoney bundled up in the sun waiting for me. There was one surf shop open, and we rented a wet suit, boots, and a boogie board for £5.50 apiece. We put the suits on in the changing rooms, and walked out onto the beach.

The tides in Cornwall can rise and fall 15 to 20 feet or more, and as much of the north Cornwall coast is quite shallow, this means the tide can go way out at low tide. We had to walk more than a quarter of a mile before we hit the water, which was a chilly 52 degrees, but quite bearable in our wet suits. There were only two other crazies in the water with us, and we soon found out why. The surf turned out not to be very good as the waves were small and mixed, and after an hour I had had only had three or four good rides.

But by that time it was time for me to get out to pick up Nathaniel from school. So I left Dave and Bryoney in the water, and walked back across the sand to change in the car. I met Rachel, with Sebastian fast asleep on her back, walking towards me on the sand. The three of us went to pick up Nathaniel at school and bring him back to the beach so we could pick up Dave and Bryoney, who had decided to stay in the water another hour. After changing behind beach towels, Nathaniel joined them for the walk back home along the cliff, while Rachel and I went home to put on the kettle, and figure out what to make for dinner.

I was surprised how nice being in the water had been. Sure it’s November, but the sun was out, and the sky was blue, and as we waited for Dave and Bryoney to change I had looked seriously at the used wet suits that were for sale.

Who knows, maybe I’m becoming a little tetched in the head too.

Posted by: Frank @ 11:01 am — Filed under: Comments (1)

November 6, 2003

The Brits Are A Bit Nuts When It Comes To The Beach

Last week was what they call “half-term” week, or school holiday time. This has a dramatic impact on lots of things here in Cornwall, including traffic on the roads, and people in the shops. But what you notice most is the impact it has on the number of people at the beach.

The weather during half-term wasn’t that great, in fact it was downright awful a lot of the time. But did that stop the Brits from using the beaches? Nooooooo.

One day I ran to Pentire Point when it was blowing a steady 30 knots, with a light rain and very heavy seas. As I crossed the beach at Polzeath I expected it to be empty. But what did I see instead? A packed parking lot, and two hundred or more people in wet suits. Though through my glasses streaked with rain it looked more like a convention of harbor seals hanging out after the herring run.

The two photos on this entry are of Polzeath beach. The first photo shows it in the sunshine (that’s Pentire Point on the right side of the picture). The second photo is the same beach on a rainy day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me when I was running, because this photo was taken after the half-termers had left and there weren’t all that many people in the water or cars in the parking lot (the cars are off to the left).

If this had been anywhere in the States – East coast, West coast, any coast for that matter – the beach would have been empty, and people would have been standing around in their down parkas commenting on the one fool out in the water. But that’s not what happens here. Rain, cold, gray, you name it, doesn’t matter, the Brits are going to the beach.

What I think we’ve got here is a whole country that’s a bit tetched in the head when it comes to the beach.

And I mean that in the absolute nicest possible way.

Posted by: Frank @ 2:21 am — Filed under: Comments (1)