Monday, February 25, 2013

The Man in 12E

"Americans who travel abroad for the first time
are shocked to discover that, despite all of the
progress that has been made in the last 30 years,
many foreign people still speak foreign languages."
~ Dave Barry

I've been teaching a travel class at OLLI @ UNLV on Monday mornings this semester.  If you know anything about OLLI, you know that my class is not a for-credit class but more of a class to share information and such.  I pick a country and discuss food, culture, and so on.  I started with Italy (of course), but for the last two weeks, I've covered a lot of the preparation stuff – looking for hotels, airlines, and cars, packing, passports, etc.  You get the idea.

Today I asked the class about some of their not-so-pleasant travel experiences. One gentleman was on midnight flight from Chicago to NYC and saw a meteor light up the night sky. A lady mentioned spending an overseas flight telling the kid behind her to stop kicking her seat. (He finally quit when she threatened to break his arm.)  Another one mentioned the time a woman stood in the middle of an airplane aisle and demanded that someone change seats with her so that she could sit next to her friend.  My favorite was the lady who spoke about having her suitcase blown up by the airline after a bomb scare on a flight from Burbank to Sacramento. (It's a long story.)

I, of course, had to mention the Prague robbery, the lock-out in Italy, the stalled airline flight, lost luggage, screaming kids on too many flights, and the Man in 12E  (You know of whom I speak if you've read my poem about that experience.  If you haven't, check it out here.).

At one point, someone brought up the fact that so many Americans travel to foreign countries without knowing about the culture, food, customs of that particular country.  That, in itself, is not really a bad thing although the way Americans tend to behave when confronting cultural differences is definitely not a good thing.  One episode that sticks out in my mind is the time I was in Mexico and heard a man yelling at a waiter who couldn't understand the man.

"How many times do I have to tell you?  Can't you understand basic G-D English?" he screamed. "Darn idiot."  Yikes.  Good way to help improve the American image abroad, Dude.

I always tell people that they should know about 10 phrases in any foreign language, please and thank you being two of the most important.  My list also includes hello, goodbye, police, Where is xxxxx?, How much is xxxxx, Excuse me, Do you speak English?, and Help.  I usually also know how to ask someone to speak more slowly, to tell someone to leave us alone and to tell someone I like something. It goes a long way  to make even a small effort.

At any rate, 30 days from now at almost this exact minute, we'll be taking off for London on our way to Paris. Yikes!!  I need to start learning a few more French phrases.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Popes & Avignon

                                                                 Swiss Guard at the Vatican

"All concepts of politics, of whatever kind, are about conflict..."
~ Ray Miliband

Most people, even some Catholics, have no idea that the papacy has not always resided in the Vatican.  It is, however, true.  Conflict between King of France, Philip IV and Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XI in the early 14th Century lead to the election of a Frenchman, Clement V as pope in 1305. Clement refused to move to the Vatican, and he eventually moved everything to Avignon in 1309.  The six popes who reigned after Clement were all French, and they remained in Avignon and, more importantly, under the influence of the French crown.  In 1377, Pope Gregory XI decided to move back to Rome.

Gregory passed away after arriving in Rome in 1378, and his successor, Urban VI and the cardinals of the church could not play well together.  This conflict led the French to elect another "pope." Considered antipopes, Clement VI and Benedict XIII resided in Avignon from 1378-1423, causing what is called the Western Schism of the Catholic Church.  The three antipopes (another Clement and two Benedictss) who followed Benedict XIII had no support from either the faithful or the cardinals, and they didn't reside in Avignon.

Palais des Papes, the Popes' Palace, still stands in Avignon.  It is not, by any stretch of one's imagination, small as it has more than 161,400 square feet of floor space.  (In truth, it is the largest palace in Europe.) The Church owned it until the French Revolution, and in the ensuing years, it fell into disrepair.  In the 90s, UNESCO designated the Gothic structure a World Heritage Site, and today is a major tourist attraction and host of a variety of exhibitions, congresses, meetings, and so on.

The flat we're renting in Avignon is within walking distance of the Palais. Of course, I'm no quite sure what "walking distance" means since we could walk a mile or so to get there with no problem. While i'm not that interested in history, I am very interested in historical buildings and areas, so I'm quite excited to stay near this palace for a week.  The dreamer in me likes to sit and wonder about those who walked the same paths hundreds of years before.

Given Pope Benedict's recent announcement of abdication/retirement/resignation, I'm even more interested now in the history of Avignon and the popes. I find it quite interesting that a number of the Avignon pontiffs were Benedicts. That, of course, means nothing in this case, but it's still fascinating to note that popes (or antipopes) with that name have historical significance in the Church.

I also find it amazing (and always have) that there is so much conflict and, if you will, war between men of religion or in the name of religion.  There's the saying that those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it, and I think we see that all the time. I guess power is opium no matter who has the power, man of God or some secular schmuck.

At any rate, too bad the Church no longer owns the palace in Avignon. Benedict might have enjoyed spending a little downtime in Provence. A little wine. A little dance. A little lavender fra-grance.  ;-)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sur le pont d'Avignon

"It is the most beautiful place in my kingdom"
~ King Louis XIV (looking back on Avignon from the bridge)

I made a bit of a mistake when I wrote the last post and said that this next one would be about finding a place in Paris. I meant to write "Avignon," but I think I had Paris on my mind. Oops.

At any rate, when I was trying to decide what to do after Paris but on the way to Italy, I decided that we would go to Provence since we have talked about it for some time.  When I think of Provence, I always envision fields of lavender, charming villages and farms, and great bread.  I wanted a place that was not too big, not too small, on the French rail line, and, of course, had good places to stay.

Enter Avignon.  Occupying the left bank of the Rhone River, Avignon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the few French cities that have preserved the ramparts, historic city center, and many buildings – including the Palais des Papes (The Palace of the Popes).  The city has a university and holds art festivals, the most well-known being The Festival of Avignon. And while it is not a village, its population is under 100,000.

At first I decided that we'd spend three days or so in Avignon, and I wrote a number of people who own and rent out flats there.  I found a number of nice places and was about to book one when I stumbled upon a homeaway ad for a studio close to Palais des Papes in the historic center. It had fantastic reviews, was priced reasonably, and looked very stylish, so I wrote to the owners.  Within a few hours, they returned my email, answered my questions, and, to make a long story short,  we were booked there for an entire week. 

Over the past few months, I've written to Amaury (and Gilles) a number of times, and they've always responded quickly. They've sent me information on the area, on transportation in the area, and just little notes. I feel like I know them already and can't wait to meet them in person which, by the way, will be as soon as we arrive in Avignon as Amaury will pick us up at the train station.  

Amaury apologized to me for his English recently. "HA!" I told him. "You speak great English. I know about 20 word in French."  He promised to help me learn a few more. 

Tre bien. (Side note:  As you probably guessed, the photo above is of the studio in Avignon.  You can see the rest of it by clicking here.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

What About Riley?

"Mrs. Campbell once attempted to smuggle 
her pet Pekingese through customs by tucking
him inside the upper part of her cape.
'Everything was going splendidly,' she later
remarked, ' until my bosom barked.'"
~ Beatrice Stella Campbell

"What are you going to do with Riley?"  If one person has asked me that question when they learn about our trip to Italy this spring, about a zillion have asked me it.  My friends, it seems, are worried about the Little Dude.

Truthfully, the biggest stress I've faced in planning this trip is what to do with the little munchkin. He and I thought it would fun – and appropriate – if he accompanied us since we're going to be gone so long. How, he wondered, could we survive without his charming presence, and didn't we want to take a side trip to Wales to research *his* ancestry? I thought it was great (except maybe for the Wales part), but the other half of the Big Dudes in this family didn't.

Originally, we thought we'd take Riley to stay with Jason in Florida. Our son is very much like his mother and loves dogs, and Riles loves Jason and Bean. However, once I started considering four-day trips to Florida to bookend our adventure, I decided it might be just a little too much.

A few friends suggested we fly Riles to Florida, but he nixed that saying he was *not* going to ride in cargo, caged like some animal.  I did try to figure out a way I could take him in the cabin with me if I flew him there and back, but the little sausage butt weighs a little too much.  Could I use him as a service animal?  Mike says he'd have to be better behaved. Could I sneak him under my cape?  Barking would be the least of my problems.

Kennel him?  Nope.  Two months in a kennel was not going to happen. Same thing with leaving him alone and having someone come and let him out every day.  The Little Dude is too social and needs companions around.

Luckily, everyone loves Riley, and we had many friends volunteer to host him. We faced almost the same situation, though, because most of them live elsewhere. One of the friends who volunteered to take him, though, lives a few blocks from us, has a Schnauzer, had a Welsh Terrier, knows terriers, and is as crazy about dogs as I am. I was relieved and happy to know he'd be okay even if he wasn't home. . . although he was not wild about not being able to take all of his beds (FIVE), toys (too many to count), and the lizard in the backyard (blech) with him.

Plans do change, however, and the little guy will be staying home after all. Next month, a good friend of ours is moving to Las Vegas to start a job, and while she acclimates to both the job and city, she'll be staying with us until she finds a place to rent. Riles is thrilled because Mary spoils him . . . and he'll have access to all of his beds, toys, and Larry the Lizard.

And while I'm happy that Mary will be in the house and take care of Riley, I'm more glad that my friend is moving here.  That is the most important thing.

Next: Finding a place in Paris. . . .