Tuesday, November 26, 2002

About a strike

The end to another letter-week has arrived, so here is my offering. My week was rather uneventful, which can be a good thing. Like if it had been eventful but only because I stepped in doggie-doo, which caused me to slip, break a bone, and while trying to get up, a car ran over my foot, so I had to go to the hospital and have surgery; then I got some hospital-induced infection (but nothing that has to do with Bifidus because that’s been flushed out of my life)…well, that wouldn’t be considered a “good” eventful week, and I’m not even sure I could think of a humorous way to tell you about it. So it would just be a painful experience for everyone. Also the doggie-doo ruined my new scarf.

I saw “About a Boy” twice, which brings my tally to five times. It was the only movie at the theater this week. I saw it on my normal movie night. Then I made a friend, and a small group of us went out for a night on the village Saturday. Wanting to be part of a small group, I went to see it again; not that I minded at all because I love this movie, and I’m one of those people that never tires of watching movies that I love. For example, I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” three times in the two weeks I was home before coming to France. The number of times I have seen “Amélie” is obscene. Some of you know what I’m saying when I talk about repeatedly going to the theater to see movies.

So the new friend I have made, Patty, is the wife of one and the mother of two. She is a member of the LDS church but hasn’t been active for some time. Her father wrote a letter asking people to visit her because she feels a little isolated being, more than likely, the only Texan in Pontcharra. I mean everyone needs someone with whom they can share a good “yeehaw”. Are you with me on this one? I went to visit her and we talked about things like the TV show, “Friends”. Her oldest, a 6 year-old named Thomas, hid from me. Her kids are very cute.

That night after meeting her, I went home and was getting settled in for my now ritualistic/addicted viewing of “Star Academy ” when Patty called to invite me to go out with her and another American, Allison. We had a good time, and each of us now has a new friend…good times! Since I didn’t watch “Star Academy”, Yolande made sure to send me a text message at 1AM that awakened me from my ugly sleep. (“Star Academy” is a reality show akin to the American, summer sensation, “American Idol”. “Star Academy” participants were chosen through auditions and live together in a chateau where they take music, dance and theater classes. The show is aired every night except Sunday. The episodes during the week show the goings-on in the chateau, while Saturday night’s show is when the “students” perform, much like they did in “American Idol”. However, the students perform with famous singers. It can be very entertaining, and it gives me something to talk about with my students.) She had to tell me the results of the show. Jérémie was voted out. YEEHAW! (Jérémie is a freakishly weird and ugly boy whose regular talking voice sounds like your normal, garden-variety frog, but when he sings, he sounds like crap. Every time he opens his mouth to sing, I just know an angel goes up in flames.)

Tuesday was a national holiday, and by “holiday”, I mean there was a strike. And by “national”, I mean that everyone was participating. Striking, as I have alluded to before, is a cultural/traditional pastime of the French. The country was frozen today as Air France and SNCF (trains, commuter trains, and other train-like things that go on rails) were on strike. France Telecom, banks, truckers (yes, truckers!), everybody! Of course, teachers couldn’t coordinate their last strike with this one, so we had to work today. But the inner-workings of the school were striking: the people that clean, les surveillants , and the people that supply the paper that the students use to roll their cigarettes. So Tuesday was chaotic. We had a lot of nervous students ready to kill for the nicotine under the fingernails of their peers and no surveillants to keep them from doing it.

I have nothing else to say, so I guess that means I’m done. In the wise words of Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourself and each other.” Have a good rest of the week.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Flora, Fauna, and under the weather

Good day, everyone! I’m trying to be on schedule this week because I know you have been sitting there at you keyboard hitting “reload” wondering when you are going to receive my next social commentary on this other land that I love. I really do try to get my letters out on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes I just don’t feel inspired.

Sunday, I spent the afternoon with the fun ladies vulgaires at the rugby match. They were in force again to root for les petits rouges et noirs. And they were armed this time with air horns. I can’t tell you what a racket that made, and I am sure that I am not the only one that noticed that the noise was made without the specified city noise hours. It was fun and always is.

Almost the whole of last week I felt like a pile of dirt. I just did not feel good, and I didn’t know why. At first I thought maybe I was doing too many crunches. Then I thought, “Okay, it’s been a couple of days since I’ve done those, and I feel worse.” So then I thought, “Well maybe it’s my lung cancer.” You know, I don’t smoke, but I saw a woman smoking the other day while walking her dog that was smoking. So I’ve contracted lung cancer from everyone else. But today, I feel much better.

So I was thinking some more. “What is different today?” And I looked into my natural refrigerator (the window sill) and saw my yogurt. It’s called “Bio” and is made by Danone, which is French for Dannon. “Bio” is supposed to be good for you because it claims to balance the intestinal flora and aid in keeping people regular. First of all I don’t want to know about flora in my intestines. And second of all, I don’t want Danone to know about flora in my intestines when I don’t know about it. But what does “Bio” have that sorts out this intestinal flora? Well, it has Bifidus, which is Latin for small, angry French man. This explains so much to me. I’ve been feeling like I was being kicked in the stomach all week, and I find out that it’s because I’ve had Bifidus in my intestine. And it’s not just any Bifidus, but the package says it is Bifidus ACTIF. So I WAS actually being kicked in the intestine. You might ask, “Why is Bifidus so mad?” But if I were a small, French man, I’d be pist, too.

Monday I was sent to my room because my not feeling well was visible. Tuesday, I was dog-tired, but I felt tons better. And today, I don’t work and slept in. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m going to see if the new Bond movie is out in Grenoble. WOOHOO!

Saturday, November 16, 2002

A rude American in Paris

Last weekend I went to Paris again to play with Yolande and Nathan (Yolande’s friend who is also a BYU student here in France as an assistant). Yolande and I were getting ready to leave a Canadian restaurant when some British girls asked if they could have our table. They asked Yolande if she was Canadian, and she said that she was. They then asked if it was true that Canadians didn’t like Americans. I would have loved to hear what else those girls were going to say because what kind of question is that? That definitely isn’t one of the top 10 “I’m meeting you for the first time” questions. However, Yolande pointed to me and said, “She’s American”, and that was kind of the end of the conversation.

Yep, that was me the whole weekend…the American. But then I found out that calling myself “American” is kind of a conceited thing to do, so I don’t really know what I am anymore. You know, Canadians and Bolivians are Americans, too, but I know that I’m neither Canadian nor Bolivian. What were the founding fathers thinking when they named our country?! Well, they were founding or finding or putting into place our state of mind…that we would be a superior country; therefore, we would have cause to have such conceit and call ourselves Americans. There…I feel better.

So it was a very North American-centered weekend. We frequented, and attempted to frequent some more, this Canadian restaurant. It is Canadian in that it serves Canadian beer, has Canadian hockey stuff on the walls, has maple leaves painted everywhere, obliges you to say “eh” after everything, and serves poutine, a specialty found in Quebec. It is French fries smothered in brown gravy and cheese. And it is soooo good!

We were at this restaurant again Sunday for brunch, and this was a CANADIAN brunch because there was real maple syrup to cover all of the food. That was also very good. You know, I like my French yogurt and bread for breakfast, but that has nothing next to a good ole Canadian breakfast.

I’m realizing that most of my stories reveal a very important detail about Yolande and me. We are always eating. Almost everything interesting that happened last weekend happened around food. For example, we went to “Les Deux Magots” (pronounced /ma go/ not maggots, although saying “Les deux maggots” is pretty amusing.) for breakfast Friday morning. This is an expensive place to eat because of the history of the joint. “Les Deux Magots” is a famous hangout for artists and writers…which doesn’t make a lot of sense since artists and writers are generally poor.

Anyway, we were sitting drinking our hot chocolate, when two girls walked in and just stood at the door as if waiting to be seated. In France, you seat yourself, so we knew immediately that they were Americans. They eventually sat down right next to us. Nathan joined us after the girls had walked in and right about the time we were being served. As I was taking a bite of my expensive, but delicious, omelet, I swallowed a big puff of smoke from one of the girls who had just lit her cigarette. So I put down my fork, and said, rather loudly, “I just love tasting someone’s cigarette when I’m eating breakfast!” Nathan leaned over and said, “They speak English.” I said, “I know. We could see that the moment they walked through the door.” The rude American, or United Statian (or whatever I am), had been unleashed.

I hope there is no doubt in your mind about my opinion on smoking. I think it is disgusting, and I don’t understand why anyone does it. If someone can give me one, good, logical reason why people smoke, I will shut up forever on the subject. But I doubt one such reason exists. Smoking can’t taste good. It makes everyone smell nasty, and worse, it’s killing everyone. Seriously, when I get home from this séjour, I’m going to put together a book of my experiences, and it’s going to be called “Get your butt out of my face!” because I have at least one thing to say every week about smokers. It is one of the defining characteristics of my time here…well, that and eating.

Saturday, Yolande and I decided to go to an internet café to check our email. We walked in and waited in a senseless line to buy a ticket from a machine. I say “senseless” because how hard is it to use a machine in which you put money, push a button and get a ticket? That’s all you do! Not difficult, right? So I was in this line that WAS NOT moving because I don’t know why, so I said, kind of loud, (I am also assuming that SOMEONE in line speaks English. I’m not so egotistical to think no one in France speaks English. Were I about to say something that I really didn’t want anyone to hear, I would have whispered…for example, I would have whispered, “I have a wedgie.”) Anyway, so I said, “What is the problem here? Put your money in the machine and get your ticket.” I believe this is a reasonable thing to say when waiting in such a dumb line. However, this man in front of me, who was wearing a 49ers jacket and a Yankees cap, but who was clearly not American because no American would have clashed sports and teams so carelessly, said, “Don’t be a rude American.”

Well, that was the theme of my weekend. Here I am in the Kingdom of the Franks (not a coincidence they have that name, for the French are quite frank) and I’m being told not to be rude. Hey, I was just being frank, but since I am American, perhaps I’m not allowed to be frank…only rude. Whatever!

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Confession and repression

Well, I have a huge confession to make to you all. Although I continue to maintain the belief that I am, in fact, one of the most intelligent people in the world, I do make mistakes. I don’t like to make them, but then, who does, really? I have been particularly careful in my language learning experiences to not make embarrassing language mistakes, for example: I have never said “fesse à fesse” (buttock to buttock) when I have wanted to say “face à face” (face to face). And I have never made the “ss” in “baisser” (to lower) sound like a “z”(which makes an entirely different word that can have certain connotations). There are many other things I could use for examples. I don’t like to be embarrassed, but this week, I made a mistake. Some of you were so gracious to point it out to me, and the first person to tell me really made me blush. I thought, “What people don’t know won’t hurt them. I won’t say anything.” However, I am starting to get more emails calling me on my mistake, so I have decided to become a martyr to my humor or something. So get ready, everyone, because I’m about to tell you what I have done.

You know that picture of me squatting by that sign that says “Zona verde. No pisar.”? Well, it doesn’t mean “no peeing”, although “pisar” sure looks like the word for “peeing” in other languages. In hindsight, I see how absurd my translation is. I’m at the palace, for crying out loud. If the king of Spain wants to tell us not to pee in his yard, I’m sure he would think of a more genteel and kingly manner of doing so. “Green zone. We have WCs to the right so that you may relieve yourself.” Or “We ask that you would please not urinate on our lawn. Thank you.” You know…something like that. “Don’t pee here” just doesn’t fit.

Also, the sign is out in the open. It isn’t in some closed-in area, like the Paris Metro, for instance. “Welcome to the Paris Metro; please feel free to take care of your business anywhere along the path to your next train.” It also wasn’t an alley where no one goes except for the type of people who pee wherever they want. It was in the middle of the palace lawn where anyone could see them, unless of course, it is late at night and few people are around, like when I took my picture.

Another reason it now seems illogical that “pisar” would mean “to pee” is because why would a sign say “Green zone. Do not pee.”? I’ve watched Loony Toons. I know that when Pépé Lepu is at the zoo, there are signs on the grass that say “Non pâté de foie grass”, which means “Don’t walk on the grass”, right?

And then, I thought, well maybe the sign is so that dogs won’t pee on the grass. But I should have thought that dogs can’t read.

Hindsight is surely 20/20 because if I had just thought for more than 10 seconds about what I was about to do, I would have just said, when I sent that picture, “Here is a picture of me pretending to pee on the lawn at the palace. Teehee…isn’t that funny?!” But no…I did not that. I admit here freely, to my public, that I made a gross error. Thanks to Angenette and Ana for bringing me to this point of humility. But I will remind you that in my last weekly novel, I did say that my Spanish is going extinct. “Pisar” means “to step” or “to walk”, and “to pee” is “hacer pis”. I hope you can see where my mind is…and no, I don’t mean to say that it’s in the toilet. So now you all have something really funny to blackmail me with unless you have already deleted it, and to that, I say, “Bravo!”

Sunday, I went to Grenoble to go to church. It was a good day. That night, there were three baptisms. Before the baptismal service, the missionaries had a little fireside talking about the Holy Ghost and the role of Jesus Christ in our life. It was a great meeting, and the baptismal service was really good too. There were a lot of people from the congregation there to support the new members. It felt really good to be there, and it brought back so many memories for me. I had forgotten a lot of the feelings I had had as a missionary. It was really special for me to be there…something that I needed to feel.

That night I started preparing for my classes for this week. I also spent Monday morning preparing because I don’t have class until 13:30. So I got ready, and the teachers that I would have been working with told me that they weren’t sending students because they had too many things that they needed to be doing (during their conversation time that is specifically set aside to practice English and not to do many other things that need doing). I did, however, have one class for about 30 minutes. I got really frustrated because we were doing simple drills and exercises. There were 7 students (because I get half of the class and the teacher keeps the other half). The four guys were doing everything. They were angels and the people I would have rather been dealing with. Mais NON!! The three girls weren’t doing anything. They didn’t participate AT ALL. I would ask them questions or give them a turn in the exercise, and they would say NOTHING…not even “Chais pas!”, the normal response for someone who doesn’t give a rip about anything. So I got frustrated. I talked to them while the boys were doing what they were supposed to be doing. But then the bell rang, and they all left.

I went to talk to the teacher to find out how these students normally are in class and to figure out with the teacher how to get them to participate. I told the teacher exactly what we did in class and how I tried to help them participate. She said, “Oh, that’s normal that those girls don’t participate.” Another teacher that I had talked to before about the lack of participation from a couple of her students said exactly this: “Carrie, tu rêves si tu penses que tu peux faire parler tout le monde.” (Carrie, you’re dreaming if you think you can get everyone to speak.) THEN WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?! I thought that my job was to get everyone to speak. What is the point of my being here? What is the point of breaking the classes into small groups if I’m just supposed to let the weak or lazy fall through the cracks? What is the point of taking English? What is the point of school? Okay, let’s just let a bunch of stupid people roam the earth because if they don’t want to learn, we won’t teach them. That is the biggest bunch of boloney I have ever heard. I am astounded. I can’t believe it. I need to talk to these teachers and figure out what exactly I’m supposed to do if it’s not “faire tout le monde parler”.

And another thing…I feel like some people look at me (or ignore me) and think, “You are 26 and you just graduated from college. You have nothing to say about anything. I will ignore you because you can’t have a good idea.” (I’m getting all hot and fiery now!) I feel like when I talk to some of the professors, they aren’t really listening to me. They say, “Uh-huh, mm-hmm, etc.” And then in the middle of my sentence they jump up because they have to get to a class. They don’t say, “Carrie, can we continue this when I get done in an hour?” It’s a little disconcerting. The proviseur is not good to deal with because I swear he doesn’t know which way is up. So I am going to go to Anne-Marie, the teacher I like dealing with, who always has good students, and who seems to care about what I think. Hopefully we can discuss my issues and she can share them with the others because the others have to listen to her because she is the head-honcha of the English profs. I will let you all know how this turns out. Mais j’imagine que je rêve si je pense que je changerai l’avis de tout le monde. Mais alors, dream on!

Tuesday, I only worked my two morning hours. The afternoon teacher didn’t send students because next week during class, they will be going to a conference on smoking (I’m not sure if they will be passing out free cigarette samples and fun little Camel lighters or if they will be discussing the ill effects of smoking. Who knows?! We love our cancer-sticks here.), and if she sends students this week, then next week’s group will miss me, and for some stupid French reason, that will screw everything up. Please don’t ask me…I DON’T KNOW! Remember…I’m just a 26 year old who doesn’t know a whole lot about anything. I just know what she told me. Whatever…as long as I’m getting paid…

I need another vacation! Oh, wait…I have one Monday. How lucky is that? I am leaving Thursday night to go to Paris. Aren’t you excited?! You are going to get more stories and adventures brought to you by Carrie and Yolande! It is going to be a fun weekend because we have a blast together, and Yolande’s friend Nathan will be joining us, so he will add to the fun. Maybe next week you will get a picture of me doing things in the Paris Metro. Who knows? I’M CRAZY AND UNPREDICTABLE!!!

Tuesday night, I decided to go to dinner in the cantine here. When I got down there, I found out that the Spanish assistant, who usually stays in Grenoble with friends, was going to stay the night here. So I had another person staying on my floor! It was fun having someone else here. I could always go down and watch television with the students, but I don’t really have envie to hang out with them; you know what I mean? She is considering living at the school, and if she does, I think that staying here won’t be so bad. I’m going to wait for two weeks to see what she decides to do. She can help me practice my Spanish, too, so that I don’t make other embarrassing mistakes like that one…you know.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Just a thought

This morning, Sunday, I was thinking about something, and my thoughts stayed with me throughout the entire day, so I thought I would share them with you. This is your proof that I can be serious sometimes, so save this or copy it or something because this doesn’t happen very often.

A lot of you know that my best friend died while I was a missionary. It was a very hard time for me, but it was even more difficult when I returned from my mission and she really wasn’t there. I rarely dwell on the sorrow of the whole situation, but this morning, I was dreaming about her. We talked and we hugged and it felt good and real. I was mad when my alarm clock ended our conversation. I had so much to tell her about.

So I was sad this morning because I really missed her badly for the first time in a long while. I was getting ready for the day and I was also getting upset and mad. I thought for a brief second, “I wish I could just forget about her.” Then I thought about how absurd that thought was because knowing her has contributed to who I am today.

My thought is this: forgetting anything is forgetting why we are who we are. When we forget experiences of our life, we forget where we come from, we forget where we are going, we forget goals, we forget dreams, we forget a lot of things, and that is sad. We need to strive to remember because remembering is our motivation to live life the way we have planned it according to every experience we have had.

So I invite you all to take a few minutes today or sometime this week to think about who you are and remember the experiences that have molded you. It can be very refreshing and fulfilling.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

The trains in Spain stay mainly in the plain

Two weeks without a letter from me! I don’t know how you handled it, but I hope everything is better now. You see, two Wednesdays ago I was on my way to Spain, so I wasn’t able to write. And I just got back to Pontcharra Thursday. I brought back all kinds of things like headaches and fatigue. But my traveling companion, Yolande, has things a little rougher than I do. Instead of going home to rest for a few days before school starts again, she’s going to England until EARLY Monday morning when she will show up to class and teach. More power to her. I’d be taking a sick day…’cept we can’t really. [UPDATE: Yolande only spent two days in London because it is expensive, it was raining, she was tired, and the friend she was with is apparently a princess who didn’t want to get wet. So she will not be so dead. Yeah, most of you could give a rip about her updates!]

I think there are only two really noteworthy things that happened the week before I went to Spain. 1) French people don’t understand why I will not have a glass of wine or champagne. I went out to dinner with the English professors from my school to celebrate birthdays that had happened during the month, mine being among them. Of course, they ordered a bottle of wine to go with dinner, and I politely declined. That was easy, but at the end of the meal, they ordered champagne to celebrate, and this time I was not going to get out of it. “But it’s customary.” “Carrie, it’s tradition! On your birthday, you have champagne. Even if it’s just a little bit.” “Okay, just a little sip to taste.” So champagne was poured into my glass, just a sip, and after everyone chinked glasses together, I nonchalantly set mine down. However, I do honor the occasion. Two pastimes I won’t participate in…drinking wine and slowly, deeply taking in a GOOD cigarette.

2) That same weekend, I went to a rugby match here in Pontcharra. That was fun, and it was right here in the home village. There were a lot of people who descended from their smoke-filled huts to root for “les petits rouges et noirs”. I didn’t think it possible, but the loudest fans were a group of women. These ladies were crazy, so I joined myself with them, but I was a bench lower so I couldn’t taste the refreshing flavor of their cigarettes. I was getting a pretty good vocabulary lesson, too, until the daughter of one of the ladies said, “Maman, ne sois pas vulgaire!” (Mom, don’t be vulgar!) Class dismissed. Les petits rouges et noirs won!

So Wednesday (11 days ago) was travel day. I started my nearly 18 hour train ride that afternoon. I love taking the TGV. I would prefer to fly, of course, but the train is cheaper. I need to tell you all this now: Do not take a Spanish train EVER unless you really have to. DO not deal with Spanish people EVER when you have to get somewhere. They run on SPT (Spanish People Time). Their minute is equivalent to about 12 minutes of NPT (Normal People Time). (Yolande, you do the conversion if you want CPT. I don’t know exactly what that is.) So if you need to do something that should only take 5 minutes, be prepared to spend an hour. And their trains are ghetto, too. Just avoid them at all cost. If you need to get around, rent a car. Those people were easier to deal with, but they still run on SPT.

So I really love Spain. I could live there. It’s beautiful, and the people rock, except for the above-noted reason, and only 50% of them smoke instead of the 99% that smoke here in France. People say that Parisians need to drive less to avoid pollution, but I have another idea that, of course, they haven’t thought of…Anyway, Madrid is a great city. It’s clean. There’s a Dunkin Donuts. And people eat dinner at 10 PM. I think I can handle this. Yolande and I have a friend from BYU, Ladis, who lives in Madrid, so we stayed with his family. The first day in Spain, we walked around Madrid, saw a museum, ate a donut, and took pictures. I will send some once I get them developed. It was a tiring day, and I think we made use of anything that was there to sit on. We saw 70-somethings trucking around like they were 10 year olds, but not Yolande and me. No! We were slugging around like…well…like slugs. Later that night we met Ladis, his brother and sister-in-law at 10:00 to go to dinner. It was a good day.

The next morning we got up bright and early because Yolande is on crack and thought getting on the road early was a good idea. We picked up a rental car and drove to Córdoba. The funny thing about this place is that we were lost THE ENTIRE TIME. We thought we knew where we were, but we didn’t. We walked for HOURS and HOURS because we were confused. We were going everywhere according to what we THOUGHT our landmark was, but WE WERE WRONG!! It took us an hour and a half to figure out where we parked because WE WERE WRONG!! You know what? I can’t even discuss this anymore. I get so tired thinking about it. We seriously walked all over the city.

We visited the Mezquitas, which is a former Catholic cathedral, which had been a mosque, which was originally a Catholic basilica. Construction started in the 700s, and all expansion and stuff ended in the 17th century. It is a very large building with great architectural details. Dead people are buried beneath the floor. There is a grove of orange trees in the courtyard. And there are gypsies waiting outside to give you a gypsy blessing and a gypsy pick-pocketing or pocket-picking (tomayto – tomahto). But at least you get a sprig of something that smells good (Our pockets, fortunately, were not picked.) They told me that I will have three babies and that I will find my husband this year. I hope it’s not in that order because if I have three babies in one year, those will be 3 babies with a dead mama because I will die of craziness.

That night we went to a Flamenco show, which was exciting because all of the stories I had read that were set in Spain tell about the dancing. “Carmen” is one of my favorite stories, and the opera is superb. This show was amazing. These dancers were awesome. They can move and shake with the best. My favorite part was when this one girl was dancing, and she kept shouting out a word, but I have no idea what that word was. At one point, I started laughing to myself, and I turned to Yolande and said, “It sounds like she keeps saying ‘bubble’. It makes me laugh thinking that that’s what she’s saying.” So every time she said “bubble” I just chuckled. Bubble! I don’t know what else to say. It was well worth my money.

The next morning we tried to die while going to Granada. We had tickets for the Alhambra at 10:30, again because Yolande is on crack. We thought it would take a little over an hour to get there, but we didn’t know that we would be taking a 2-lane, winding road. The Alhambra was an Arab fortress, and it is humongous. It takes more than a day to see everything. We spent the whole day there, and we went through quickly. We still didn’t see everything. We had little phone, headset thingies that gave us a guided tour. I had a special treat because the guy I was listening to was really dramatic. I was in awe at all of the carving that covered EVERY wall, floor and ceiling. How long did building this fortress and then decorating it take? One can see that everything used to be painted in rich colors. I wonder what it would look like if the colors were still there.

The Alhambra is also the feline equivalent of the backwoods of Arkansas. There are about 47,000 cats that live in this fortress, and they are all related to each other. All of the females are having kittens and kittens are having kittens. They mate like rabbits! And at one point, Yolande and I were in this part of the fortress that wasn’t near a café or restaurant, so the cats were very skinny. I felt bad for them because I wanted to know how they ate. Then we went to a restaurant a little later and found out. The cats own this restaurant and this part of the fortress. It’s like the kitty mafia. They probably came up with the “Menu voyageur”, which gives you a lot of food, just so the voyageurs would throw them what didn’t get eaten. I looked at these cats, and they live in the big, fat lap of Luxury because they are getting fed steak, bread, flan, cream, french fries…and they were huge cats. Fat! The Marlon Brandos of the cat world...they used to be cute when they were younger, now they are just fat and scruffy.

We went ghetto-style for an hour and took naps on the benches out in one of the gardens. All we needed was some newspaper covering us to complete the picture.

That night we decided to go down south and stay on the coast. The town we went to was ghetto, so Yolande said, “Let’s just go to Tarifa.” Tarifa is about 2 hours away from where we were and not a long way away from where we both knew we’d end up the next day… Morocco. So we found a hotel and went to bed. The next day we went to find out how much it costs to take the boat to Morocco. Since it doesn’t cost so much, we went. We got to the port and bought tickets for the 12:30 boat. Our watches said it was noon, so we thought, “Oh we will just make the boat.” So we go through passport control and go to board, but we didn’t know that we had to trade our tickets for boarding cards. We had to go all the way back to where we had been, and there was no one in the office where we had to exchange them. A girl finally lollygags over and changes them and then tells us to wait to the side until it’s time to board. And we’re all, “Hello, it IS time to board.” She just tells us to wait. Time passes and passes some more. And I’m standing there griping about how some people are STU – PID. So we decide to go get food, because that’s what you do when you’re mad. And we go back and stand in line, and I’m still yakking about how things are so unorganized. It is 1:15 at this point. And some Americans are laughing at me, and finally they say, “You do know that the time changed last night, don’t you?” Oh…huh…well, uh, no I did not get the memo.

So we went to Tanger, which is Moroccan for “trashcan”. I saw a guy take out a cigarette (a cultural phenomenon of the Eastern Hemisphere) and just throw the box to the ground. A lot of people just drop stuff on the ground. We got a guide for 10 euros and an education in some stuff Moroccan. We learned about the neighborhoods; they all have a neighborhood oven because there aren’t ovens in the houses. The women take their bread dough to the oven dude, he bakes it, and they pay him for the service. There is a well or fountain because there is no running water. There is a mosque. And there are two more things, but I can’t think of what those are right now. The guide took us to a store where rugs are sold. It was crepuscule, so he left us there while he went to the mosque to pray. The guy working the store, Abdel, took us upstairs to show us some rugs. He taught us the significance of some of the patterns, and he showed us the difference in qualities. He gave us some Moroccan whiskey, which is fresh spearmint tea, and it was so good. We bought some things, but not a rug because I don’t have that kind of dirham. We then went to a store where spices are sold, and we were given a presentation on the different spices and their medicinal purposes. It was all very interesting. The people were so nice, and when we got out of our taxi, a vendor walked up to Yolande and got her attention by calling her “soul sister”. It still provides us a good chuckle.

We got back to Spain at midnight and started our drive to Madrid. It was a crazy thing to do, but we didn’t have money to pay for a late charge on the car. So we bought a liter of coke each, chips, peanuts and other crappy food to help us stay awake. Yolande rocked to her Celine Dion while I really rocked to something worth rocking to. The freeways in Spain are really nice and are always concerned with the safety of the people on the road. The speed limit was 120 km/h, and at some places on the freeway if you are exceeding the limit, a huge, bright, red sign all of the sudden comes on, scares the ‘h’ out of you, and reminds you that the limit is 120. I’m not sure where the safety is in that since it almost scared us off the road. Man, they can’t be doing that to us in the middle of the night…thinking some UFOs were coming down to grab us. It was not cool! We got back with time to turn our car in by 9:00. So we were dead that day. We tried to go out and do stuff, but our bodies finally conquered us around 2 PM. The next 24 hours were spent with Ladis and his family. They were so nice. [Yolande, you are never going to believe whom I saw in the metro an hour after you left for the airport. Robert! Robert! That idiot was just standing there in the metro IN MADRID. I wanted to pop him upside his big, fat head, but I decided I should play nice since the whole business with him isn’t really mine, but I did envision smacking him really hard.]

It was a fun, educational, non-stop, never-sleep trip. Spanish men are hot! My Spanish is going the way of the dinosaurs, so I need to take a class or something, or just spend a few months in Spain. But it is still good enough to understand what is going on and to figure out where I’m going, and to tell incompetent people where they can take their three euros they tried to make me pay to change my tickets because THEIR train was late.

Whew, I’m going to bed now.