Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Sights...

The Duchess Anne castle has finally reopened after nearly a year of construction. Ever since I have been in Nantes, the Castle, which sits in the center of town, has been covered with blue tarps, freshly dug mud, and yellow hatted construction workers. It is quite an interesting building - roughly oval with high brown stone walls and approximately five towers. From the far side of the moat, you can make out many bleach-white spires peaking out from above the ramparts. Every time I past it, I wondered what the inside looked like. While my extended family was visiting I finally got the chance to see for myself. The huge inner courtyard is surprisingly bare with six or seven buildings flanking the walls. Each building looked as though it belongs to a separate century - there is every era of Gothic you can imagine making for a quilted blanket of towers, spires, stone, arches, etc. The most interesting part is that the ramparts still exist and you are able to climb up and walk around the entire castle, looking out on the many different views of downtown Nantes. (The Duchess Anne castle is famous because it is the location where the houses of France and British royalty were united).

...and (unfortunate) smells of France.

Many Americans have a stereotype about French people. Okay, there are many types of stereotypes; however, one I am often asked about is body odor. Sure, at the schools I work at, I often want to hand the occasional pubescent student a stick of Sure, but overall the population smells fine. Actually, I should say this is true of the younger generations. The older members of society tend to offend the nose more than most. It falls into two categories: unwashed or over perfumed. Generally I can handle offending body odor well, but when there is an unwashed gentleman next to you at a buss stop who reeks of cheep tobacco it can turn your stomach. Perfume was created here and they do amazing eau de toilettes, but there are many who over do it. Many more than you would find in the states. These I can stand perfectly well with barely a flinch to cross my face I switch to mouth breathing and carry on with my day. Nevertheless, when both types of odors melt into one, the result is toxic. Toxic is not an overstatement. Yesterday an elderly woman, well dressed, slowly boarded the bus. She selected the seat in front of mine and gingerly sat down. Within seconds I began to get a whiff of some undefinable smell... Was the bus leaking gas? Was there engine trouble? Slowly I began to realize where the smell originated from, the woman in front of me. After a few stops, I found myself doing the unthinkable: holding my hand over my nose. Each time I breathed with my nose, the smell would go straight to my stomach and make me wish I had gone easier on the roast beef at lunch. Then, after a few minutes of breathing through my mouth, my throat began to sting. Seriously, sting. I couldn't take it any more and my hand went casually to my nose. I felt horrible! I began to notice soon after that I was not the only one with a hand at my face. Everyone seemed to suddenly have a very runny, itchy, or cold nose. Remarkably, every time the door would open the entire bus would take a huge fresh breath of clean, non-toxic air. There was a decided inward moan as the doors closed and the bus would continue. In the end I got off the bus a stop before my own and walked, enjoying every lung full of air.

Friday, March 02, 2007

February 21st - The day Heather became legal!!!

At one thirty, a comfortable 15 minutes early, I arrived at the massive neoclassical building of the Nantes' Prefecture. Waving my appointment conformation paper, I was directed a machine where I took a number - 47. In the familiar waiting room (this was my third time waiting in this particular room) I wondered why I was given a rendez-vous if I still had to take a number. A few minutes later the middle-aged, brightly lipsticked lady at the desk asked if anyone had a certain paper which she then held up. One look at the paper on my lap confirmed that I did. For the first time I was able to bi-pass the long lines and I relished those dirty looks with every fiber of my being (as I had given people the same look many times before). The desk she directed me to was staffed by a good-looking, thirty-something man with a freshly shaved head. Some weird spasm contorted his face when I walked up - was that a smile? I had never seen one of those in the Prefecture before. After handing in my documents he began to ask the lipsticked lady some questions. He was new! That was why he smiled, he was too new to be jaded! He verified my documents and handed me my EU ID card. I have never seen anything so ascetically perfect in my entire life, with its intricate pink and green design backing my picture and strong black lettering. At that moment I felt like laughing, but I restrained myself long enough to smile broadly, ask "C'est tout?," and respond to the handsome man's reserved tip-of-the-head with an entirely too ecstatic "COOL!" As I left, giggles started escaping my throat. They weren't even stopped by my graceless tumble down the stone steps. I must have looked the picture: laughing while laying sprawled on my back, half on the steps and half on the sidewalk, laughing as I struggled to get upright clutching my sprained thumb, and laughing as I narrowly avoided an incident with an irate Vespa driver. I was never so happy! I will NEVER have to stand in the Nantes prefecture again!