Back from France: Updates, Pics and What I Read

I spent the last month in France with my family. Flying direct from Montreal (yes, this actually makes sense when you live as far north in Maine as I do), we landed in Paris, rented a car, and drove immediately to the charming village of Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux tapestry:

IMG_4014

Well “immediately” might be slightly misleading, as our GPS failed to mention that the exit we needed was closed. For over an hour, I veered mindlessly around the city in a little Renault, while the GPS kept trying to get us back to the closed exit. Fun times, but it gave me a taste of what to expect from French drivers. That saying, that in France the danger comes from behind? Is 100% true. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to look in my rearview mirror without white-knuckling the steering wheel.

We toured the beaches of Normandy, using St. Malo as a base, then visited the lovely but crowded (with French tourists) port town of La Rochelle:

IMG_1196

We spent some time in Bordeaux, a great city. One day we took a wine tour and not only learned something about wine, but got one of our best family pics of the trip, courtesy of our tour guide:

IMG_4528

We also climbed a giant sand dune, one of the most amazing natural sights I have ever encountered:

After Bordeaux, we continued south, to Cordes-sur-Ciel, a lovely fortified medieval village, set on a high hill. The main thing, though, is that it has a Museum of the Art of Sugar and Chocolate. From there, we continue south, using Caissargues as a base for exploring parts of Provence and visiting the Mediterranean Sea.

Then east to the mountains, Beaune and Chambery, in the Rhone-Alps region. Our stay in Chambery was a highlight of our trip. The hotel we had chosen was double booked so we got shunted of to a B&B in the mountains, which was… not bad:

IMG_4956

During our stay in Chambery, we visited Annecy, which was possibly the best day of the whole trip for me. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been:

IMG_4981

We toured the city on foot, lucking out that it was market day:

IMG_4993

We ate a picnic lunch in the park beside the lake ringed by mountains, rented a paddle boat, and swam and relaxed:

IMG_5059

Then back north to Amboise, a good base for exploring the Loire Valley. After that, we headed to Paris for a week where we rented an apartment very near the Luxembourg Gardens which I visited whenever I could:

IMG_1398

It was a great trip. And even though our university classes are starting Tuesday, we’re both on sabbatical so we don’t have to stress out about it. I loved the beauty, the farms, the food — both the elaborate preparations and the simple fare — the history, the art, and beaches, mountains and forests, and so many things about France. Of course, given the way we travelled, we didn’t get to really know many locals, the one exception being the B&B owner, who actually gave my older son a lesson on the Alpine horn. But any reputation the French have for being snooty towards American tourists was not borne out at all during our visit, even in the face of our dire lack of fluency in French.

I don’t like to write too much about family, because as I see it, you have two choices, neither of them appealing: (a) the mommy blog route of perfect marriage, perfect kids and the perfect home (even their divorces are perfect) or (b) the confessional route, where other people’s privacy is invaded (unless they consent, and consent is a tricky thing where kids are concerned). But, even with all of the amazing things I saw, ate, and did, what I’m thinking the most about as I return to my daily routine in Maine is our family. Partly due to temperament, and partly due to personal history, I have a tendency to think everything’s going to hell in a hand basket. I focus more on what’s wrong or could be improved than what’s working. On this trip, while there were a couple of black moments, and at least one bickering session every day between at least two of us (and usually, since we were all in the same car, hotel room, or restaurant, all four of us), what really showed was not the fault lines but the strengths of our family. I know I’m very lucky to have this time off in the summer, and to travel, but to me that was the real gift.

We were busy, and time for reading was at a premium. I solved this in part by listening to audio books. First was Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, which he of course narrated. I wasn’t interested in Lowe, but I grew up in the 80s and thought I’d give it a try. Let me tell you, I could not take the earbuds out of my ear. Not only did I become interested in Lowe, who is smart and reflective, but I was fascinated by his stories of the directors, actors, and celebrities he’s encountered. I also learned a lot about acting as a craft, or at least his approach to it. And about the vast differences between Hollywood of then and now. I think if you’re a movie fan in my age group (forties), this is a must read.

I also listened to Stephen King’s The Stand, although when we ditched the car in Paris, I switched to the Kindle edition. I can highly recommend the audio version, but at 48 hours, you have to be committed. Readers might recognize the narrator from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, which he also narrates. He’s fantastic. On that note, despite reading yet another blog post championing this series, I remain stuck half way through Shards of Honor. I know, I have to hang my head in shame. Maybe I’ll try again this weekend…

Anyway, I really enjoyed The Stand, a book I’ve been meaning to read since junior high. I actually went online as soon as I got home to watch (on You Tube, with Greek subtitles) the 1994 miniseries starring Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald, which was mostly terrible. And now I’m hunting for the Marvel graphic novel adaptation. I guess you could say I’m a little obsessed at the moment.

Finally, I listened to Frederica, my first Heyer, narrated beautifully by Clifford Norgate. Because I came to Heyer after reading Austen, and so many contemporary Regency romances, Frederica evoked a strong feeling of familiarity. It felt like backwards reading through time. As a romance fan, it was fun to think about what parts of Heyer are still with us in the historical romance subgenre. What I loved most about this book is the same thing I love most about Jane Austen, which is her keen attention to the subtleties of human emotion, how it feels, what it means, how it is expressed or hidden, and its relationship to action.

On the Kindle, I read Divergent by Veronica Roth, which I had bought for my 13 year old, but which he passed on in favor of recent huge YA hits The Fault in Our Stars, Code Name Verity, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, all of which he loved, although the last one led to interesting conversations about drugs and alcohol, that I was perhaps not entirely ready to have, being half drunk most of the day on delicious French wine not helping the situation.

As a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy (not just the first book, all of them), I was disappointed in Divergent. The world building was either absent or nonsensical. The idea of organizing a human society along the lines of one dominant virtue just doesn’t accord with anything I know about human moral psychology. It made no sense to me psychologically, ethically, or politically. Even as a flimsy tissue on which to rest a typical YA of the post-apocalytic/girl-power/teen romance variety, it didn’t hold up. I did finish it, though, so I guess it does have that “page-turner” quality, I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about.

In my continuing attempt not to be a snob about the new new thing in genre fiction, New Adult, I half read/half skimmed Lexi Ryan’s Unbreak Me. This one was typical of the NA I have read (but not, I realize representative of every NA book out there): someone is “damaged” and self-destructive, there is a lot of running away and angry half-sex, etc. But this one had two things I couldn’t get over: (1) the h/h had met a year prior, in the same small town where the main action takes place, when she was bleeding from her vagina on a beach having a miscarriage and he brought her to the ER. As a reader, I couldn’t believe they didn’t remember each other the minute they laid eyes on each other, or at least after they had been spending a few weeks together. I don’t think meeting a girl who is clutching her bloody vagina on a beach is a thing you forget. (2) Every adult male in this book is in love or lust with the heroine. Here NA is borrowing the worst of tropes from UF. It became so ridiculous that as I was reading, I was making one of those XtraNormal videos with her character, naked, covered in blood, with deranged hair, robotically repeating, “You don’t understand. I am broken, I am damaged, I am beyond repair.” over and over as suitor after suitor obliviously declares his love (sadly, or luckily, depending on your faith in my ability to make a video, XtraNormal is gone).

I also drank the Sarah MacLean kool-aid. I knew people liked her books but I refused to read anything with titles like Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake and Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, but read and enjoy them I did, especially the second one.

I’m sort of beta-reading a forthcoming academic book which interrogates the epistemology of the term “romance novel”, and also reading Anna Goldsworthy’s Unfinished Business: Sex Freedom and Misogyny, for an upcoming guest post.

Finally, I managed to get my old blog, Read React Review up and running here on WP.com. My self-hosting expired, I didn’t want to pay hosting fees for an abandoned blog, and I couldn’t figure out how to move it, so for the last several months it’s been offline. Right now it looks terrible, and half the images are gone, but it’s searchable and I think everything is there, including comments (almost 12,000! Ah, the old days of blogging…). For the past year, my family told me — begged me, actually — not to start any new blogs and just wait for the urge to go back to RRR. I kept pooh-poohing them. Then, last night I was sitting with my husband, looking at RRR and I mused, “You know, I should just move the 18 Hypeless Romantic posts over to RRR to keep it all together.” I’m pretty sure he wanted to strangle me, but thankfully, he resisted and I am here today to write this way too long post.

We have absolutely no plans for this weekend, a fact which delights me. It is pouring rain as I type this, and I’m surrounded by my four pets, two of whom I missed terribly while we were away. I plan to do a lot of reading, some getting-the-kids-ready-for-school stuff, and maybe some blogging. Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have something to look forward to.

33 thoughts on “Back from France: Updates, Pics and What I Read

  1. *happy sigh*

    Oh what a wonderful, long, informative, lovely post!

    Welcome back, enjoy your free weekend–and, has to be said, lovely family you have there πŸ˜€

  2. This all sounds fantastic! (well, except for a few of the reading experiences). My much-less-glamorous vacation was in a rented Midwestern beach house with my parents and sister, and my sister pointed out how being in a neutral space seemed to reduce some of the family tensions. We get along fairly well–and there was still some squabbling–but she was right that being in one place that was not “owned” by any of us did seem to make for an extra relaxing, enjoyable time.

    I am spending my last few days of summer driving 5 hours to a soccer tournament in the outer exurbs. I know you understand what this means. BUT. We are not allowed to stay in the same hotel as the team, so it is a largely kid-free weekend. In the middle of nowhere with 7am carpools to the pitch. (My husband is telling me to pretend it’s Paris).

    I’m back to some teaching after a year of doing administrative/governance projects, and I’m looking forward to it. Hope your sabbatical is similarly renewing!

    And blog wherever you want, just please keep doing it when you can.

    1. I agree with you on the neutral ground. Sometimes we meet DH’s New York family in Boston and those vacations always go well.

      How odd that they put the parents and team in different hotels. Enjoy! Never heard of that, but then again, my son is still the age when we room in with him. Soccer season started for him yesterday, but fall soccer is mostly club and school so we won’t have any long distances for a while.

      Good luck being back in the classroom!

  3. I completely agree with your assessment of France as long as I avoid Paris. Every venture into Paris is a frustrating disaster for me, I will take two extra flghts to avoid CDG at this point! I envy your good week there but console myself that it is possible. Now I want to go back to Lyon.

    1. We had a mostly good experience in Paris, but it’s August and it’s hot and we took the metro everywhere so after a while I was so done with the bad smells, the crush, the stairs, the damn tickets. If I go back to France, it will be the coast or the mountains. Or Lyon, which we sadly skipped.

  4. What a lovely vacation. We finally went to France two years ago and spent a few days on the Normandy coast, then 8 days in Paris. Your photos have definitely made me want to go back. I don’t really want to spend any more time in Paris, but I would love to spend 2 or 3 weeks in the rest of the country. Unfortunately, the hubs is not as keen, so it might be awhile before we make it back there. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I highly recommend getting in to the country. One thing that surprised us was the number of small farms, and small agricultural-type operations of all kinds. It made for beautiful drives, even on the highways. Of course, paying 30 euro tolls for a 45 minute highway stretch about killed us (forgot to budget for that), but in the end it was wortt it to see so much of the country.

  5. Your pictures are gorgeous! I especially love the B&B in the mountain – stunning! I need to spend more time in France – I’ve only ever been to Paris, and while that certainly didn’t disappoint I know there’s plenty more to explore.

    I’ve not read Veronica Roth’s series, but I know just what you mean about the premise not holding up psychologically, ethically, or politically. As much as I’m a fan of dystopia, I mainly love it as a mechanism to explore who we are and where the world might be going, and so the ones where that doesn’t happen are hard for me to get into.

    1. Re: dystopia, yes exactly. If you can’t buy the premise, then it’s too much like a bunch of depressed adolescents running around in an unusually violent high school without walls.

      What I loved about Paris was the little touches to make everything look nice. The wrought iron balconies, always with flowers, the monuments everywhere, the corner restaurants with their pretty tables on the sidewalk, the little 24/7 stores with beautifully arranged vegetable carts out front. To have that eye for how something looks rather than just how it functions struck me as very French.

  6. Love the pictures and recaps. And your reflection of the family and the French. This past summer, we visited hubby in Korea, toured China, and moved from Hawaii to Maryland. As tempting as it may be to hop over to Europe (now that it is easier), I want to just stay put for a while!

  7. Sounds like a great vacation! I’ve also found the French to be much more polite than American stereotypes paint them to be. People are really just people no matter where you go…

  8. That all sounds incredibly lovely, scenery and food. (Cheese!)

    FREDERICA was one of the first Heyers I read, but I’ve now forgotten most of it. I must have liked it since I went on to read more….

    I couldn’t get into DIVERGENT, either. Or any of the similar “humanity is sorted into X categories and the heroine doesn’t fit” YA novels that seemed to take over the genre for a while. Will consider the movie if it gets good reviews.

    I hope the Bujold does not continue to be a chore! I feel like it gets best after they get off the frontier planet.

  9. I’m amazed at the extent of France which you visited! For us UK people, France seems very large and we find the distances daunting; I suppose that for you this isn’t so.

    I’ve love that audio version of Frederica. It’s one of my favourites, and if you liked it I recommend The Grand Sophy.

    Hope you have a good sabbatical.

    1. We kept any daily drives under three hours, but that was when I listened to my audiobooks, so I looked forward to them. We also stayed two or more nights each place so I never had two straight days of driving. Finally, we live in a very large rural state, and I’m used to it!

      Thanks for the rec. I have an Audible credit I was wondering how to spend!

      1. You know you’re really into audiobooks when you not only look forward to long drives but start manufacturing them… I also listen when I’m doing mundane housework.

  10. Oh the worldbuilding in Divergent drove me batty. The books were fun enough to read, but the world didn’t make any sense or hang together in any way. Bah.

    Also, yes to Sarah MacLean. I don’t know why her book titles are like that–it’s like she doesn’t want people to enjoy her books!–but they’re actually pretty good.

    1. Yeah, there was some kind of compelling story there in Divergent but it was buried under a lot of absurdity. I’ve heard the next book is better…

  11. Are you reading Bujold? Because I wasn’t totally sold on her until I tried her on audio. (When I first read Cordelia’s Honor I skimmed bits, but I loved listening to it). The Vorkosigan books are all narrated by Grover Gardner and he’s terrific.

  12. Your French vacation pictures look lovely. I haven’t been there in years and would love to get back. And I’m happy that RR&R is back up — I really loved some of the posts there and the discussions that followed.

    Happy to hear you like Frederica and I do hope that you (finally) enjoy Bujold. I enjoy her books so much and she’s now an auto-buy for me, but thinking back on it, I remember the first time I read Shards of Honor I found the beginning section draggy. But the story definitely picks up in the second half and there is a lovely epilogue / coda at the end of the novel.

    Enjoy your sabbatical!

  13. Welcome back Jessica!

    Thanks for the post about your trip and the pictures are lovely.

    One question: where do you keep getting stuck at with Shards of Honor? I have tried twice with no success yet but I plan to finish it one day. I think the novel starts off great but then after a couple of chapters, the pace/momentum/interest dies off for me. No clue on why.

    Thanks for the tip on the Rob Lowe book as I grew up in the 80’s too with the “brat pack” and all the 80’s craziness.

    1. Thanks Keishon. I miss you on twitter but glad you are still blogging.

      As for the Bujold, they’re kind of wandering around the planet trying to get somewhere. Upthread someone suggested it gets better when they get off the planet, so I will read at least until that point.

  14. Hi Jessica,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! Thanks so much for sharing.. gorgeous photos and fabulous narration was. I would love to go back to France someday and explore the countryside and smaller cities like you did this summer. When we did our whirlwind Europe tour, we were just in Paris five days before moving on to other countries. It was too fast to really savor the experience, I think. Leave it to a stranger to capture the best family portrait, right? I can’t believe how grown up the boys look all of a sudden! It’s way too fast.. Also, a Museum of the Art of Sugar and Chocolate?! Yum! I mean Wow! πŸ˜‰

    I love your comments on the family aspects of your trip. We’re a pretty harmonious pod when we travel, but I think that’s largely because I put a lot of effort into being the peacemaker/diplomat. It’s the Libra in me, I can’t help it. But if I’M the one complaining or having the meltdown (yes, it happens) then everyone goes down with me and we’re a mess. LOL.

    I’m so impressed that you were able to read so much on this trip. I usually have good intentions but we are always out and about all day and part of the night that I just drop into bed at the end. Well, you’ve convinced me to add The Stand to my tbr list and drop Divergent. I know so many book bloggers who rave about The Stand. I’m making it a must read now.

    Good luck getting RRR back up to speed (I always love your posts) and enjoy your sabbatical. Is it for the full academic year?

Comments are closed.