Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A few days in Normandy

I looked up from unpacking my suitcase to see my roommate Andrea standing in the doorway of my room. Turns out she was off to the beach in Normandy for the weekend. Would I like to go? It’s been a cold and rainy summer in Paris, so the possibility of a weekend on a sunny French beach was intriguing, to say the least. And so it was I found myself two days later on a train traveling north through the French countryside in pursuit of one warm-weather memory to carry me through the depths of winter.

As the train traveled north, the gray of Paris gave way to the sunny brightness of summer. Sun at last. Seemed an age since I’d seen it. I met up with Andrea and her friend Gregory, a Greek musician in a gypsy orchestra, at Eu. Faced with a day that was sheer perfection, what else was there to do but head to the beach for a picnic?

Lying on a beach in Normandy can be a strange experience. No matter how idyllic the weather, or how blue the sea, it’s impossible not to imagine what it must have been like for the thousands of troops that fought and died landing here over 60 years ago. Even at beaches that didn’t see landings on D-Day, the ghosts of World War II are almost palpable - incredible that their presence stays so fresh all these years later. It’s a sensation I hadn’t experienced before while living in France, the sense of history making its presence known with a capital H. Then again, this is the first time I’ve visited a place where the loss of life was so massive and so recent.

The beauty of the setting makes the sensation even eerier. And Normandy is beautiful. Sheer cliffs, called falaises, rise dramatically from the shore. Vibrant blue water dominates the horizon. Rolling green hills peel off into the countryside. Seagulls make that seagully noise.

Other then haunted beaches, the Norman coast boasts a network of trails called the Chemin Vert that link up the various towns. Once upon a time, it was a railway, but the railway fell into disuse and the local municipality turned it into a series of walking paths. Andrea is a great fan of randonée, which is the French word for traipsing through the countryside. So the next day, we set off on a branch of the trail to see what we could find.

To my absolute delight, wild blackberry bushes line pretty much the whole path. For me, that was definitely the main attraction. I’m an inveterate wildcrafter and gathering blackberries is one of my favorite pastoral activities. Other than that, the walking is mostly through a tight green corridor of trees, enlivened by a rare view of countryside here and there. Pretty and worth doing if you have the time, but not one of the more dramatic trails I’ve been on. Several hours later, sporting very blue hands and a very full bag of wild blackberries, we stumbled off the trail onto a beach to meet up with Gregory who’d elected to stay behind and swim.

A few more hours on the beach, and we headed off to a perfect little restaurant in Le Treport. While the area is known for mussels, in my opinion it’s the sea snails and the oysters that really dominate, requiring only a hint of lemon to make you want to thank whatever god you believe in that you were born with taste buds. It’s weekends like this that make endless weeks of gray rainy summers all worthwhile.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Process Enacted: by Jordan C Greenhalgh

This is something I sent out to everyone a while ago. However, it's so incredible, I wanted to preserve it here. Can't believe this guy did this for his student film. 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You take the high road, and... oh sod it. (Edinburgh festival)

Sunday August 12th:

The fact that I am still vertical is due to a highly complex interaction of one can of red bull, one very strong b complex, a ginseng tablet and about four cups of very lethal espresso, but as I sit here waiting for the last and final show of my night to begin - a vaudeville cabaret act that lasts until bar close at 5am, I feel myself fading fast. Me awake on three hours of sleep is precarious at best, me still awake at this point is nothing short of an herbolgy-induced miracle.

The festival is brilliant, by the way. Mental, insane, overwhelming and overloading, but absolutely brilliant. It's been a good day, but an odd one. The day began with my almost missing my flight despite leaving two hours early (and, sadly, I am betting few among you will be surprised by this), a flight that concluded with a pasty-faced not-quite-teenager being rather vocally sick in the front of the plane just before doors opened - apparently the quick drop into Edinburgh was a bit too much for what looked at best a fragile constitution. And since then it's all been a bit of a blur.

Street musicians, performances, people shoving flyers in your face, stiltwalkers, fire jugglers, comedians, actors and bagpipes, bagpipes, bagpipes all the livelong day.

No idea what date this was, was all a blur at this point:

I am staring down at a rather large plate that is, by my rough estimate, 80% full of mounded meat products. However, viewed in purely nutritional terms, the breakfast in front of me weighs in at 95% protein, the only non-protein sources being a tiny corner of hash brown (deep fried) and a tiny bit of pita (also deep fried). Looking at this plate, it's easy to understand why the Scottish are the girthy Europeans, no boney bobble-headed men here. You can also see why, with this much protein raging through their systems, they felt the need to invent games that involve tossing a 50 lb stone as far as you can, or seeing who can chuck a tree trunk the farthest. Not to mention the other common passtimes of drinking until someone pukes or at least falls off their chairs. If it were not for these diversions, I am convinced the Scottish would have lain waste to the rest of the world long ago, leaving only piles of cigarette ash, crumpled lager cans and plates of untouched vegetables in their protein-fueled testosterone-overloaded wake.

Yesterday was a blur of conversations with dead 20th century writers, brilliant music, more brilliant music, even more brilliant music and a late night pub crawl with some heretical Christians (don't even ask). If you haven't heard the Luminescent Orchestrii, Orchestra del Sol or Mikelangelo and the black sea gentlemen, you should correct this shocking cultural oversight immediately. Today was a brilliantly odd play by a small Australian theater company, involving mole people, machines fueled by cow blood that drill to the center of the earth and a homicidal butcher with a spelling problem. I'm swearing off the booze today in the hopes that I can get myself together enough to get out to the countryside for a bit tomorrow. Tonight's Amanda Palmer's solo show though, so no promises.

Sunday, August 19

My room stares accusingly at me in a state of obvious neglect. A half-open suitcase lies in a state of complete dishevelment in the middle of the floor. I’ve had three hours sleep in the past thirty-six, most of which occurred on the flight home or upon arrival at maison, douce maison. (Apparently, this is the magic number that allows rooms to stare sullenly at you. I hate it when inanimate objects give you guilt trips.)

Yesterday evening started off innocently enough. I trudged through the ever-present Scottish rain to a performance of Sweeney Todd then met up with Mikel from Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen for alcoholic libations. Mikel is a truly lovely human being, deserving of fame, fortune and whatever else his Baltic heart desires. He possesses a laugh that carries clear across a room, and quite possibly through five-foot-thick stone walls. He is, besides the count from Sesame Street, the only person I can think of who laughs with an accent. The type of person who always draws an audience, the table became a revolving cast of characters, which segued into a pub crawl which segued into my realizing I was not going to get any sleep before my 6am flight home. By one in the morning, I was in a performer’s bar talking to some guy who was in some show performed entirely in old Scottish and another who was in something Norwegian. It’s an odd thing being a in a bar entirely made up of actors and musicians and musical actors. Everyone talks, but no one listens. When they lose the floor to one of their companions, they just stand sullenly about, rehearsing for the chance to speak their next line. This is why I never date actors. They are certainly fun to drink with however.

Dawn found me trudging through the rain listening to my suitcase bouncing along the broken cobblestones, dreaming of curling up with a good book and finally getting some rest.

Things I have learned while in Scotland:

If you can forget that it’s made from sheep entrails, haggis is actually quite good.

There are more types of animal-based fats and cholesterol than one would ever have believed possible. Scottish cuisine uses all of them, often all in the same dish.

Surprisingly enough considering this, the Scottish are considered the least healthy Europeans.

It is impossible to walk around Edinburgh without feeling at least once like an extra in a Harry Potter movie.

It is impossible to walk in the hills around Edinburgh without feeling like an extra in Braveheart.

If you give in to this and yell, “they may take our lives, but they will never take our freeeeeeeeedom” at the top of your lungs, you will get a 20 minute lecture on the similarity of Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent to various bits of animal excrement. Or you may just get pelted with a 50lb stone.