Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Paris France: As God is my Witness….

Lately I’ve been having some Scarlett O’Hara moments. Funny. You’d think that being in the land of revolution and fraternité I’d be channeling Marie Antoinette or Joan of Arc, but let me explain.

According to Margaret Mitchell, the amazing writer of Gone with the Wind, the Southern gentry would go on these epic trips. Many a newlywed couple would head out for their honeymoon and come home with their newborn baby. I guess that it was easy to drop in on someone when they had a houseful of slaves taking care of everything. And since the visitor’s only job was to be a gentleman or lady and think about the family fortune, why not shack up with relatives and friends for a year?

Don’t worry, we aren’t going to show up on your doorstep and stay for a year, but in this year of travel, we’ve not only managed to partake in generous hospitality (more on that later), but we’ve been fortunate to visit many friends on this trip, which doesn’t happen much in our modern American life. We’ve seen our ESI friends, Don & Nancy, Tom & Andrea, our parents, Ute & family, and now my friend Kimberly who is honeymooning in Paris with her wives. It was fantastic seeing Kimberly, Monique and Sheri and getting to catch up and take them to a couple sights around town.

We rented a couple of apartments during our three week stay, and our current landlord invited us out to lunch at a Corsican restaurant. We joined Jean-Felix, his friend Nicole, who has been our translator for this transaction, and her son Olivier for a wonderful meal of grilled salmon, ravioli and plenty of wine.

Before lunch, Nicole and Olivier took us to a fantastic market where hundreds of stalls were selling fruits vegetables, cheeses and meats.

My other Scarlett moment is really getting to see Paris. Remember Rhett would bring Scarlett back the latest in Parisian fashions as he boldly dodged the blockades in the harbors? And on their honeymoon he wined and dined Scarlett throughout the City of Lights? Well since this is my first trip to Paris, my guide/translator, Rhett, aka Andy, has taken us to the highlights of Paris.

We’ve seen the Arc de Triomphe,

strolled down the Champs Elysses, and wandered through the throngs of people at the Louvre.

We’ve also checked out the creepy catacombs,

taken a day trip to Euro-Disney, celebrated Dylan’s birthday

and the end of taking our malaria pills,

and watched the students marching against some new labor law proposal, stuff that I bet Scarlett didn’t get to do on her trip here!

In 1990 I came to Europe with an open jaw ticket, a eurail pass and $800 in my pocket. Having so little money was particularly painful in Italy, where I would press my nose on the glass at restaurants featuring menus of homemade pasta, osso bucco and many earthy delights. In Venice, there were these tiny white bread sandwiches that had the creamiest fillings, but I could only afford one or maybe two at a time. This not only explains why I dropped 10 pounds in my three months in Europe, but I swore, like Scarlett, shaking my hand at the sky, “As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again,” or in my case, I will never ever come back to Italy without enough money to eat like the Italians. It’s just too stupid and painful. So after 3 weeks in Paris we leave for Rome, with a fistful of euros earmarked for some great Italian food, and I’m not even wearing a dress resembling a curtain. Ciao and au reviour from the Continent.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Paris France: Things we’ll miss about being on the road

Will there be anything we miss about our time on the road? But of course!

10: Seeing cool animals. There’s nothing like seeing an animal in real life that you’ve only seen on TV or in books. And holding one, like a panda or koala, is really too cool.

9:Mastering the international language of Chinglish/Singlish/Franglais or any other variation of the local tongue and English. It often sounds like this: Me want to buy (point at object) how many yen/bhat/yuan/euro you take? Nihow, Konichiwa, Swadeeka, G’day, yeah I’m from the States, oh yeah AMERICA. No I didn’t vote for Bush, no Portland is not in California, Bye bye. We now know hello, goodbye and thank you in almost 20 languages.

8: Not being afraid. You would think it would feel scary in Cambodia or Egypt or China, but other than things like insane drivers, we haven’t felt as worried, afraid or stressed as we do in the U.S. From the nightly news, which talks about the weekly boogieman or random crime, to the doom and gloom from the experts expounding on NPR, we really do enjoy our bubble of ignorance that envelops us in the rest of the world.

7: Our togetherness. This is a big one. I think we will miss how comfortable we are together on a daily basis, all day, every day. I know some people say they would kill their spouse and kids if they were with them as much as we have been together, and we have wanted to kill each other many times, but there is a sense of togetherness that we have developed that we just can’t recreate in our normal life. There is also the sense of togetherness in a worldly way. While on the trip we’ve really felt part of the human race, and boundaries of nationalism have melted away. It’s like we’ve been having a huge comparative-culture class, and as we traipse across borders we’re seeing where China influences the rest of the world, where America does, and where borders mean everything and nothing. We’ve seen that everyone eats, albeit from different parts of the food chain, everyone spends a lot of time shopping, and we will miss those daily reminders that others in the world are just as complicated and just as shallow as we are.

6: Being awed. The US may have the Grand Canyon and the Lincoln Memorial, but staring at the Potala Palace, walking on the Great Wall of China, and clinging for your life on a spastic camel in front of the Giza Pyramids really can take your breath away, and we’ll miss those huge moments.

5: Being surprised. Once you reach a certain age, there is really very little that surprises you. Oh, perhaps the odd gift, or the occasional strange action may cause a moment’s pause. But entering a whole new country where men who dress in robes and turbans (who’ve you have been told to fear), extend to you the upmost kindness, or where Dylan looks out the car window and calmly states that an elephant is walking by, or where the quality and value of your life is measured not by how busy you are but by how open your calendar is (New Zealand, and to a lesser extent Australia) really start challenging your notions of what is possible. We’ll miss those small moments.

4: Cheap prices. At the expense of keeping the world economy in the status quo, where the poor stay poor and the rich drop their dollars like soiled kleenex, we will miss being able to get a massage for US$6 in China, a five star hotel for $100 in Malaysia, a plate of pad Thai in Thailand for 40 cents and a custom made suit for $50 in many places in the world.

3: Some amazing food. There’s nothing like getting the bread fresh from the boulangerie, or the pineapple fresh of the field in Asia, or the sushi fresh off the dock as it is in Japan. Or the spring rolls fresh from the wok in Vietnam, or the pad Thai from a vendor who’s just created it in front of your eyes. Yum!

2: Shopping! I don’t like to shop in the US because things are always so impersonal and sterile. But shopping in other places is fun. You’re either in a hut, or an outside market, or a tiny store, and the stuff to buy is really incredibly different. Then comes the haggling, conversations, and the thrill when you score something at a great price. Or the feeling that you’ve been duped, but what the hell, it’s a huge income for them, and a good story for us.

1: Walking into a new country. We soar (Abu Dhabi, UAE) or plod (Saigon, Vietnam) through immigration and passport control and exit the building into another country. The first moments of happiness, giddiness and adventure are coursing through our veins as we see India, Cambodia, Germany, or Japan for the first time and we know we are seriously hooked. We may not take another epic and long trip like this, but the high we get from seeing a new place ensures that we will be traveling again, and soon.

Paris France: The things we miss about home

I was talking to my friend Rhonda the other day, and was whining and whinging about what I missed. Instead of chastising me like she should have, she said "I was wondering what you missed about home." We both thought it might make a good blog entry, so Rhonda, here you go:

10-Taco Bell. Not that it’s that great, but there are no Taco Bells in the rest of the world, and sometimes a 7-layer burrito can really hit the spot.

9-Iced tea and eggs benedict at Milos. Ice in any drink is missed, but the wonderful iced tea at Milos City Café, which I would suck down by the gallons, is sorely missed, as are the eggs benedict, let alone the concept of a truly non-smoking environment. We’re thinking that given the amount of second hand smoke we’re exposed to, we’ll start Dylan on a pack of Marlboros a day when we return in order to reduce her withdrawl symptoms!

8-NPR. Even the music at the start of All Things Considered, and having an alternative to CNN. And we miss Jon Stewart and Bill Maher too.

7-Bed Bath & Beyond. This is weird--usually I hate this place--but the idea of driving up to a store, parking right in front and going in where it’s big and well-lit and there’s so much stuff for sale that is totally useless is truly a first world luxury.

6-The library. I usually check out piles and piles of books at the library, saving myself the cost of buying them, while reading things I wouldn’t usually read. But since it’s kind of hard to check out a book Tuesday when you’re out of the country on Friday, we’re limited to what we can find in the rare English-language bookstore.

5-Powells, Barnes & Noble and Borders: Huge bookstores with tons of books in ENGLISH!! Americans may or may not be reading a lot, but they buy a lot of books and the abundance of books and bookstore in our country is enough to make us swell with pride.

4-Seeing just-released movies. We’re huge movie goers, probably because the one thing we can’t do with Dylan is see certain movies, and so that is what we do on our "date nights." So we tend to read about and keep in our mind movies we want to see. But everywhere else in the world doesn’t get American movies as quickly as they come out in the US. For example, Capote opens in Paris next week, so seeing it in a timely manner is out of the question.

3-No Tina. Not having a babysitter, whether it be Tina, Sandy or a friend inviting Dylan over, is sorely missed because then we can’t go see Capote, have an uninterrupted conversation, make out or…..

2-Our own bed (actually our own home). It’s hard being in constantly different beds all the time and we miss having a home base to ground us. I think this has taken us by surprise, because ditching the bed, the home and all that was anchoring us was the most fun part of the start of the adventure.

And number 1!!!!- Our friends and family. You know who you are. We miss you and wish you were here with us. Okay, maybe not all at once, but you get the point. Looking forward to a joyful reunion.

Paris France: Bon Anniversaire à moi, or how we ended up in Paris in March

Dylan turned and said to us with utmost seriousness, "I want to go somewhere with good desserts for my birthday." This was when we were either in Vietnam or Cambodia, when she started worrying about the prospects of getting a birthday cake on our round-the-world journey, and we were open to suggestions. Until we left Thailand, we didn’t have a concrete plan of where we would be after Egypt.

So we asked ourselves, where are there good desserts? Don’t like tiramisu, so Italy was out. Weren’t sure a candle would stick into a piece of baklava, so Greece lost the battle. England….yeah right. Hey, isn’t France known for French pastries, chocolate-filled croissants, fruit-topped tarts and chocolate? Oh yeah baby, here was our destination writ large.

There was just one thing we weren’t prepared for: the cold. I’m not a big fan of the weather station on cable, and just learned about Weather Underground, and so we weren’t aware of the fact that Europe in March--especially Paris--is, well, winter. I had always had visions of Paris in March being spring, the buds on the trees, the sun shining down on the markets and Parisians gaily skipping around the never ending piles of dog doo. But other than the dog doo, it’s not the Paris I expected. It’s rain rain rain, with cold, freezing snowy temperatures and a lot of folks in black overcoats. The apartment we are staying in has huge ventilation holes in the bathroom, which let in the cold air, so our butts literally freeze on the toilet seat! The hot water tank is the size of a tea kettle, and construction starts at 8:00 every morning across the hall and across the street. We’re starting to feel more like Victor Hugo characters here and less like Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in An American in Paris.

But given that this is Paris and the French are forgiven for eating all the time and never getting fat, for hoarding some of the greatest art in the world in their museums, and for having the luck not only to bury Jim Morrison in a super cool cemetery, but to also have the catacombs, we can’t hold the weather against them and whatever comes our way shouldn’t dampen our spirits, even though it is drenching our clothes.

We’ve climbed the steps to the Sacre Coeur and gazed out at the city view, which was only marred by a pigeon crapping in my hair.

We’ve walked through the amazing Musée d’Orsay where the cool converted train station rivals the art on the walls for one’s attention.

We’ve also caught part of a vespers mass in Notre Dame, complete with the sound of angels singing and smell of incense burning,

and climbed the tiny steps of St. Chapelle, where the stained glass covers all of the walls and makes you think glass has never looked finer.

And we rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower on my birthday, since I figured that I wanted to be somewhere memorable as I commenced the last year of my 30’s.

But the question still remains: has Dylan found a suitable dessert for her birthday, which is just ten days after mine? She’s sampled tarte citron, dined on chocolate croissants, and discovered much to her delight that France has the world’s finest chocolates, so she has plenty of choices. But she has discovered the one reason to give up her US residency and live in France forever, and it comes in the form of a chocolate macaroon. Crispy, yet chewy, densely chocolatey but not bitter, and a slight nutty flavor sum up this Parisian treat. They are so good they’ve inspired Dylan to find the best one in Paris. We follow her, envying her incredible metabolism, and together enter willingly into a chocolate oblivion.

Yet another Ruby footnote: We just found out about the bombing in Varanasi India. It seems a tragedy and of course saddens us, but we’re a bit creeped out. Our friend Ruby, the one who warned me about rivers in Thailand, was really insistent that we not go to India, or that we stay as short a time as possible, she sensed something really scary coming our way. No, we wouldn’t die, she said, but we would be shaken up considerably and would hold each other a lot tighter.

I casually flipped through the date book that we are using to make our plans, and on March 6th we had originally written down that we would be in Varanasi India! Now, what we write down is usually 80% on target, give or take a couple days for when we will actually be there. If Ruby had not been so insistent and stopped my hemming and hawing (we really wanted to see just Agra and Varanasi!), we could have very well been in India as we had planned, since originally we didn’t have tickets for departure until March 10th.

Lest you find me totally wacko, and worry that I’m the only one who listens to a psychic, there is a wonderful book called A Fortuneteller Told Me, by Tiziano Terzani . He is a reporter who was told in 1975 by an astrologer that he would die in an airplane accident in 1990. Since his work required him to constantly travel, he took every means of conveyance but planes for a whole year. The result is an incredible tale of what happens when you give up your western habits and let the journey take you.

From Paris, au revoir and gros bises.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bickenbach Germany: Say Affenscheisse!

February was quite a month. At the start we were in 35 degree C (95 deg F) weather, practically on the equator and diving into Asia once again. After a few stops--Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India, United Arab Emirates (4 hours), Egypt and now Germany--we are in the land of schnitzel und wurst, the autobahn and 0 degrees (32 deg F) mit snow!

While in Germany I’ve been fortunate to re-connect with my friend Ute who stayed with my family as an exchange student in 1983.

Ute came with 20 other students from Berlin to Columbia Falls Montana, which are as different as two places in the western world can be. Seven years later, in 1990 (about two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall), I visited Ute and her family and spent a fantastic three weeks in Berlin. Just last week, I dropped Ute an e-mail saying we would be in the country, and she invited us to stay with her. She is living in Bickenbach, about half an hour south of Frankfurt, with her four kids (Felix, Antonia, Constantine and Alexandra).

We’ve gone to see a couple of impressive castles, walked along the snowy streets of Heidelberg, have savored award-wining bread and lots of meat (it’s a carnivore’s dream), and caught up with each other’s lives.

It seems that once we get older, when the kid(s), spouse, parents, and job make demands on our time, the only way we can have time to reconnect with old friends is for one of us to show up on the other’s doorstep. If we can camp out in their home, and follow them around for a few days, catching conversation when we can, among the hours spent cooking, wiping noses and driving kids around town we not only get to remember what we loved about our old friends, but get mentally grounded in the process. If nothing else, when life seems especially crazy, you can do as the Germans do when they smile for the camera and say it’s all affenscheisse (ten points if you know what that means)!

We just got to France before posting this entry, and we’re staying in an apartment in Paris for the next three weeks. If you have any suggestions about things to do, see or eat, feel free to email us, post a comment on the blog, or call us on our mobile phone at +33-676063752 (we’re 9 hours later than US pacific time).