sábado, 30 de abril de 2011

Le Havre

Claude Monet is from the ugliest town in France. Though born in Paris in 1840, he soon moved to Le Havre at the age of 5 because of his father’s new job. Le Havre was founded in the 16th century- a typically beautiful French town. The country side is filled with reedy marshes and the Seine’s pleasant tributaries. Everything changed on the 7th of September, 1944, when over 90% of the city center was destroyed in the war. Over 5,000 families lost their homes. Anxious to remedy the situation, the French government hired August Perrete, a well-known architect, to design and implement the construction of a new city. In a matter of months, the city was rebuilt and Le Havre’s citizens again had homes. Unfortunately, the city folk remained unhappy. The town had been rebuilt using very utilitarian designs, favoring materials such as concrete. Many criticized the developments as dull, boring and ugly. Only until four years ago, when the city was nominated and accepted as a UNESCO world heritage site, did the criticisms quiet a little. I have taken many photos of the city- decide for yourself what you think!

What the Duchess of Berry and YiaYia have in Common

The Duchess of Berry was quite an eccentric woman. Famed in all the north of France for hemming her dresses one inch higher than her female peers in order to display her fine ankles, she was racy, brash and irreverent. Social norms were of no interest to her. Or, rather, breaking social norms was of great interest to her. She was the first noble person to take a swim in the ocean off the western coast. One day the duchess pulled on rubber boots and a baggy bathing suit, gathered her top-hat clad courts men, and paraded off into the salty sea. French culture was forever changed. This was, apparently, the beginning of sea side resorts, and the impetus for snooty Parisians to invest in thatched-roof summer cottages. People thought she was crazy, but the Duchess of Barry changed French culture with a pair of goulashes and an independent spirit.

River Baroness

Our trip on the River Baroness was 7 days long, with 87 other passengers (most of them the false teeth, fanny pack and khaki visor-wearing variety) and 33 staff members. We traveled up and down the Seine river, which trickles northwest to southeast through France. Beginning in Paris, we traveled up to the historical beaches at Normandy, visited adorable thatched roof cottages in tiny villages, saw Monet's birthplace and final resting place, marveled at seaside cliffs, and ate ourselves silly. The internet aboard the ship was not very good so I decided to post blog entries after the trip ended. Here are a couple of entries I wrote, most of them out of order. Photos should be posted soon. A plus tard!

quinta-feira, 21 de abril de 2011

Blast Off!

As I nurse coffee on a Thursday night, Chemistry book propped open and Facebook chiming in the background, my father answers the phone. They are at the airport, reading magazines. YiaYia says she is “super-duper.” She is filled with excitement and “ready to dance.” This is old news; YiaYia is always ready to dance whether it be impromptu jitter-bug lessons on Christmas eve or the waltz at her son's 60th birthday, her feet were born to swing. She closes by wishing me good luck on my exams, and with about a thousand “Bye, now, bye dear, love you, bye now, bye dear” 's, passes the phone to my mom.

After my Chemistry and Biology finals, I will meet them in Paris on Sunday, bedraggled but ready to waltz all over town.

The Sheared Ape

“A kiss from the sheared ape!” squeals YiaYia, fluffing her recently cut hair as she opens the apartment door for Mom and I. Outside falls soggy snow, reminding us that spring can come and go as she damn well pleases in Ann Arbor. But inside YiaYia's apartment, decorated with photos of grandchildren, wooden African statues and Grecian worry beads, it is warm and inviting. YiaYia has just returned from her annual 6-month snow-bird in Florida, her skin more brown and leathery than ever. Normally she hides out in Florida until June when the bad weather finally passes, but this year is special. This year she came back early to realize a dream of touring France, a country she has long admired and a language that she briefly taught as a young woman. My parents (her son and his wife, my Mom) and myself (grand-daughter number 4) will accompany her. “Come in, come in- Can I offer you some coffee?” She asks.

My YiaYia is 90 1/2 years old. That half-a-year shout-out may seem silly to some, but after the recent death of her brother and sister-in-law, six months is a small miracle. It should be universally acceptable for those over 80 to count half-years again. These moments I share with her are precious. Time feels like a blanket of past and present folded warmly together, and I am trying to snuggle up as much as I can into their inviting overlaps.

YiaYia gingerly strokes her head, the grey-white hair falling flat and formless over her crown. Her shoulder sockets creak, and I can tell that simply brushing the hair off her forehead pains her. “I know it looks bad,” she says of her shapeless new 'do, “but this old bag can't even brush her hair anymore.” YiaYia seems smaller to me, though her smile and laugh widen with age along with her “hammer toe.” Now her laugh grows slow and steady, a train engine gaining momentum in deep chugs. Mom and I declare that she looks just fine. YiaYia could be toothless and bald and still emanate beauty and light.

We help her pick clothes for our upcoming trip to France. YiaYia is ecstatic and having a difficult time focusing. As we sort through her clothes she occasionally stops, drops whatever was in her hands, and pumps a fist while hooting “France!” in loud, staccato bursts. Two classy pantsuits and some scarves are placed neatly in the “pack” pile, while a green dress with passport and handbag prints is gently discouraged by Mom and I. It seems too tacky to wear in the city of style. However, after chatting with my dear friend, Cailley, about the trip and my grandmothers fashion sense, Cailley helps me realize that when you tour France at 90 you should wear whatever the hell you want. This trip is not about my mother and myself. This trip is about a little old spitfire of a woman speaking a language that she treasures, tasting the countryside where her brother sweated under a heavy uniform, and walking with as many pastries in her hand as she can hold. Life is short and the opportunity to sport a green dress with passports on it doesn't mosey on by every time the rooster crows. I will call YiaYia in the morning and tell her the dress is a winner.

Watch out France. Here comes the sheared ape.