Friday, March 31, 2006

Products of the Jura

What, specifically, are these products? Here's a few, all of which are terrific and delicious and will make your life whole :
1. Comte cheese.
2. Wine.
3. Lumber - a good amount of oak, actually.
4. Eyeglasses - there's factories in the haut-jura.
5. Umm.... fir-tree flavored stuff. No joke - I have a bottle of fir-tree sodypop in my fridge right now.
6. Oh, honey, maybe. A bunch of people around here keep bees.
7. Walnuts.

One might also include:
8. General merrymaking

I'm pleased to report that classes are not classes due to the protests. Needless to say, though, most kids aren't showing up. I had two classes, out of four - one of them was four girls from a group of 15. Oh well, I got out early and was able to enjoy this stunning spring day.

I walked around for about 3 hours, just wandering paths and listening to my public radio programs, which I download every week. In case you're interested, I have a subscription to This American Life, Re:sound, Living on Earth, and Speaking of Faith. With the recent onslaught of bird chirpiness, I haven't been bringing my iPod on my walks, but it's fun to get caught up on my listening during walks like these.

I found myself up at Chamole, the village on top of the cliff, just east of town. There's a little platform you can walk up to get a really amazing view of, well, everything, since you're at the highest point in the immediate area. Today was very clear, so I could see Mont Blanc!

This evening, I had the pleasure of watching "The Squid and the Whale," which Jim so kindly sent to me. In addition to my favorite public radio programs and products of the Jura, I highly recommend this movie. I wouldn't strongly suggest fir-tree flavored things, though... it's a bit of an aquired taste. For cleaning supplies.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

on marche encore

Well, I just returned from an evening with the Houville boys and two other french kids - and, I have to admit, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. I was actually able to express myself to some abstract degree tonight...I was really part of the conversation, not simply answering questions about How do I like it? and Is it very different from Chicago?

Earlier today, I had a group of 3 BTS kids. We were talking about the greves (striking), walking to a meeting. One boy asked if he could speak to me in French. I said yes, and we continued. They all laughed at me then, because they said when I began speaking French, I started acting French as well -- in terms of linguistic mannerisms, anyway. I did the little puffs and frowns and shrugs, threw in "En fait" and "...quoi" as my interuptors, responded to explanations with "d'aaaaacord...ouaaaaaai...." I realize this is meaningless to people who haven't actually lived here, so, sorry. It's the same in the US though, when we know foreigners who struggle a bit with the language, but whom have assimilated our Americanisms into their vocabulary. I admit, it is entertaining.

More about les greves at the end, if you're interested in my opinion. God knows, I'm interested in my opinion, so I'm rather eager to give it.

These photos are from my walk on Monday. It was going to be my longest yet - around 12 miles. The whole day seemed teetering on the brink of rain, but it never gave in. In fact, it was warm; like, I wore a t-shirt and my arms got a bit pink warm.

I covered some new ground on this walk, going through a couple of forests and valleys. It was so gorgeous and amazingly that way that I simply don't know what I'll do with myself when I can't spend my free days walking through these green pastures. France has really spoiled me rotten.

This is in Miery, a village I've visited often. It's the most adorable, friendly, crumbly little old place.

Just look at this. Don't you just want to sit down and have a cup of coffee at this table, talk to your neighbors as they walk by?

Here's some more of those wildflowers. This is actually the first bunch. Coming soon are daffodils, then lily-of-the-valley, then bluebells.

So, I had gotten through 8 of my 12 miles. It was around 4:45 and I wasn't too excited for my extra hour and a half walk ahead of me. Thank god for small towns, because Bernard actually passed by me as I was walking through a town. He pulled over and we chatted. I mentioned that I thought I saw a few wild daffodils in the forest next to town. This is the best part: when I said that, his reaction was, "Well, shall we go fetch Pauline so we can all go pick them?" Uh, okay by me. I'm not one to turn down traipsing through a forest and plucking wild flowers.

So we did and it was super chouette! My daffodils are still a-bloom in my little yogurt glass, too.

Today was interesting for me to witness. In the morning, classes resumed as normal. Mid-morning there was held a meeting for all of the students. A few student representatives talked, presenting pro-striking and contre-striking. Everyone went to their next class and had a vote: 1) Do you want to ask the government to rescind the new contract? and 2) Do you want to continue the strike, which will include a blockade of the school?
All 8 of the students in my class voted yes to both. I talked to a group of BTS kids afterwards and they were pissed -- they don't have the same contract in the catering industry and, more importantly, they're doing last-minute preparations in their classes for their big final exams. If the school is blockaded (a real word?), they're screwed.
This is my main contention with the whole situation here in Poligny. I was rather impressed with how democratically the school handeled the entire situation; however, I don't think the students should have the right to bar anyone from attending their classes. If the problem was caused by the school, then by all means, protest that specific institution. This, of course, is related to the government, not the school, so I don't see any reason why classes should be prevented. It seems more and more like the [younger] students are working the situation just to get out of class a few days. Frankly, it pisses me off to think that a students would be denied access to his/her education in nearly any situation, so this does not seem like an appropriate action to take.

Of course, nobody asked me my opinion on the matter. Well, a few did, but my french isn't exactly at the "pontification" level yet...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


A few people have written to me about the strikes in France. I don't know what sort of press it's getting in the US, so I'll just briefly explain...
France has a system of work contracts for nearly all people. The current contract is immediate -- that is, right when a person is hired, be it their first job or fifth, they are immediately protected. They cannot be fired (without reason, without the employer going through prescribed steps, etc) as it would be a breach of contract. If a person's contract is broken -- specifically, if they are fired for what they consider to be a bad reason -- they can actually file a lawsuit against the employer.
The new contract states that there is no protection for people under the age of 26, during the first two years of work.

Now, this is hard for me to entirely understand, as we simply have a different system in the US. I don't know many people who are simply fired with no notice, although I do know it happens. Similarly, we have an understanding of the 'entry-level position' which we (both the employer and employee) assume will be appropriate for a 2 - 3 year time frame, after which the employee will look for a better job, etc. Of course, this is only my experience in the professional world, but I do think it's a common one. To me, the French seem to have a mentality of "Well, this is how we've always done it!" -- which is both good (lots of parades with people dressed up in medieval garb, along with any number of wonderful and charming traditions) and negative.

When I've talked to teachers here, they seem indignant that the government would stoop so low. They assure me that employers will exploit young workers, hiring them for three or four months, then throwing them out for a new person. Why this would happen is not explained... but they insist that it will happen. When discussing this situation with one teacher, I explained my point of view, explaining that our contract-less system seems to have worked out a mutually-beneficial understanding -- thus, my uncomprehension over the distress of the French.
"Yes, but...we're more socially advanced in France," she said.
"Excuse me?"
"Well, that's just the theory. We are advanced in the way we want to assure security for all of our people."

Well, everyone except the immigrants.... Arg. Just thinking about this conversation has gotten me worked up -- I'm certainly not a defender of the social protection in America, as I think it could be far better; however, these people are simply turning a blind eye to their own, similar deficiencies.

Hmpf. So, where was I? Oh, they've been striking. It seems silly to me that things have gotten so violent and destructive, but the French really do like a good romp with the poilce in the name of a righteous cause. I thought we were going to miss out on all the action, but lo and behold! Today as I was walking to school, I heard a rythmic banging that grew louder and louder as I approached the lycee.

There they were - my very own students barricading the school! They were beating on garbage cans and shouting protest songs.

I spoke to a few teachers outside, since classes are obviously cancelled, and their attitude surprised me.
"They're only out here because they don't want to be in class."
"They are concerned because they're lazy, and if they don't have contracts, they'll surely be fired."
"There's far worse things that happen in France every day, and these kids couldn't care less. This is just for fun."

It's an interesting situation all around. Will it make a difference?... well, nothing happened after all of the riots in the suburbs last fall, so I'm curious to see if this will do anything.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ring a ding

Spring is really, really nice. It's even better when it's an actual season, as opposed to a two-week thaw between winter and summer.

This used to be the bottom of the sea, I've been told time and time again.

On sunday, I joined the Houvilles and another family (I can't remember their last name, so I always call them Patrick's family) at Herrison, a local park. Well, park isn't really the best term. This is down in the lake region of the Jura (slightly south east of here) where far more of the land is undeveloped. There's no vines in this area, as the elevation is higher, so it's all dairy and lumber.

Herrison is a large system of waterfalls which have carved gorgeous ravines and caves along the way. It's big and, it's a park? You can pick a description for yourself.

We had a picnic lunch before our walk.

Patrick's little girls, I was happy to see, also like to sit quietly with fiddly crafts.

Then we were on our way.

Let me say that these pictures do not do justice to the sheer gloriousness of the day. It was bright, clear, and warm - I just wore a t-shirt. Being a sunday and one of the first beautiful days of spring, there were a good number of other visitors there. It wasn't instrusive, though - if anything, there was a nice feeling of sharing a pilgrimage to celebrate the beginning of the year.

The entire path was a series of large waterfalls, then a flat walk by the stream. Waterfall, stream. It was probably 2 or 3 miles long in total.

Do I even need to point out that this first waterfall is freaking enormous? Goodness. It was.

Then we went back to the Houvilles, where I watched a BBC show about King Cobras, then we had a nice little vegetable curry for dinner and a '99 Cote du Jura. There was a pretty sunset, too -- at 7 o'clock! I don't know what not to like about Spring.

Monday, March 27, 2006



This is actually my *second* favorite little treat here in France. My favorite favorite is a nice thick slice of flan - here, they make it as a thicker custard baked in a crust (either pate sucre or pate sable). The reason it edged out a nice, big, glossy, chocolate macaron is becuase macarons are a bit to sweet to be eaten in bulk. Flan, on the other hand, seems to be made just for that.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

If you lived here...

This is where you'd go to school:

These are the roads you would drive on:

This is where you'd go to church:

And where you would live (were you also rich):

This would be your history:

This is what you'd see on a foggy morning:

This is where you'd...uh...go skeet shooting:

This would be your path back home:

Friday, March 24, 2006


Yes, two posts. I'm accumulating a glut of pictures again, since the last few weeks have been so nice. I still can't believe it, but it's actually spring here. No joke.

First, here's the little crocheted curtain. So cute I could puke.

Last saturday, I went to the Houville's for dinner to celebrate Pascal and Joaquin's birthdays. Before going there, Pascal and I took a little drive on the plateau. He took me to a tiny lake, only locally known. As a matter of fact, it's not even marked on my otherwise-perfect hiking map of the area. The only way to find it is to follow the two hand-lettered signs saying "Lac ->".

It is a beautiful little place - it reminded me of Pickeral lake, for anyone who is familiar with the Ann Arbor area. Now that place is the best. It's totally hidden, and you can only get there in a car, and with somebody who already knows how to get there. Incidentally, it's also mentioned on Sufjan Steven's first album, "Greetings from Michigan."

We saw some ducks there that I've never seen before. That was actually rather exciting for me!

Then, to a beautiful tiny church, nestled in some forgotten town.

Apparently, they were having a contest for Creepiest Grave in the cemetary. These two were tied as of last saturday:

country roads

It's been a while since I've done my all-day walks. On monday, the weather was nice enough and I thought it would be good to enjoy it while I could (good thing I did, as it's been drizzling all week)

This walk was around 8 - 9 miles. That's a solid five hours of walking. I went up the cliff so I could walk on the plateau. The towns and villages around here, while small, are all connected with a small highway and don't feel very isolated. Up on the plateau, it's completely different. The villages are tiny, accessible via one-lane roads. The land stretches out all around. It's rather remote.
This is one of the reasons I like it here most. During my whole day, I saw a half dozen cars and the same number of tractors. Other than that, it was me and the birds. And a humongous hare which I scared up alongside the road. There's a very strong sense of freedom in this isolation.

On the way back through the forest, I noticed that the dampest, mossiest areas are now carpeted with little white flowers. It's so damn pretty.