Friday, September 4, 2009

what I learned on my summer vacation

Jan: By now you are all heartily sick of hearing about my summer in Aix-En-Provence France, the fresh markets, great food, inexpensive wines. Enough already. But you haven't heard....

WHAT I LEARNED ON MY SUMMER VACATION (told in broad strokes with sweeping generalizations.)

1.The French are actually very frugal people. Women may buy expensive clothes, but not a lot of them. They never wear sweat pants, go without makeup, or look even remotely dowdy. But they seem to think nothing of wearing the same outfit two days in a row.

2.The French Women Don’t Get Fat concept is a myth. Yes. They don’t get fat, but it’s nothing magical. It’s not the smaller serving sizes at restaurants or the heavy smoking that is still popular (this was my daughter’s speculation) My American friends who live in Aix all the time laughed at this notion. “They simply don’t eat anything. Total deprivation. If you look at French women closely on the street, the expressions on their faces are tortured. They look miserable." (okay, maybe not true for all of them, but after she said it, I did start to notice...)

3. Contrary to popular belief, the French do not make fun of you when you try to speak French. They are grateful you are trying. And a French friend of mine told me that they think it's really cute when we constantly mix up the feminine and masculine. Apparently that happens to even the mostly fluent. The French do, however, make fun of the Belgians and French Canadians for their accents. But that’s because those people actually think they can speak French.

4. The French really do say VOILA. And they say it all the time. For almost everything.

5. They also really do say Oo-la-la. But not quite as much.
So now that I've mercilessly exploited my month in Aix for every last inch of blog content, it's your turn. What did you learn on your summer vacation?


  1. We took a weekend on the Oregon coast. I learned that the coast is stunning, that baby squirrels are tiny, and that GPS systems are the salvation of the directionally challenged.

  2. I learned that we should always treasure our loved ones. I planned a few days visit with favorite (and last-remaining) aunt and uncle in California, who I never get to see enough because we live on the opposite coast. We arrived to learn that she was on chemo, and then enjoyed some lovely quiet time sitting on her bed and visting. She passed away a couple of weeks ago at 81.


  3. Edith,
    I'm sorry about your aunt, but glad you got time with her before she went. This is reminding me to make sure to go to NJ and visit my own favorite aunt.

    Sheila, I'm with you on GPS systems. I wish I had one attached to my wrist at all times.


  4. In Paris we learned that even the most comfortable walking shoes didn't make much difference. And we only saw one tattoo shop during our entire visit.

    In Cape Cod we learned there is really nothing to do when it rains. Really rains.

  5. I learned that it's not a personal defeat to stop hiking when it's over 100 degrees, it's common sense. (That was a revelation for me.) I learned tourists can be charming even if they do walk too slowly and bump into things. I learned the best French food is in Manhattan.

    And I learned that those cheap red, white and blue plaid plastic shopping bags are all over the world...from the lower east side to Dubai to Paris. How scary is that? Who does their distribution and can they work on my next book?

  6. On the French frugality - in college I had a French professor who wore THE SAME SUIT every single day that she taught us. It was dark blue and fairly dowdy. She couldn't have been more than 30 years old. It was a women's school, and we noticed. She was boring, boring, boring, as Eloise would say.

  7. Hi Karen,
    I did spot more tattoos than I would have thought in southern France, but it was crowded with tourists, so maybe they weren't French.

    Ro, I have not seen one of those bags, but now I'm on the lookout!


  8. I learned how to eat my way through Boston (again -- recurrency training). After a year of being too ill to eat much of anything, I did a *lot* of eating for the 10 days I was there in July. Davios and The Grotto back-to-back on the same day, with dessert at both places!


  9. Continuing to fight the disgusting- slimy-earwigs-hiding-in-the-dahlias battle.

    I've learned it's better to do this outside than on the kitchen counter.

  10. I haven't had a vacation, but I'm planning for Australia in 2 weeks. Yeah!

    Another observation about the French is that they know how to enjoy life--they are always sitting in a square with a glass of wine or a coffee. They wander around the market selecting fresh food for the evening meal. Shops close for every darned saint's day. They take long lunches and make their dinners in restaurants last for four hours.

    We shove foods down our throats and rush, rush rush. Maybe I should go and live in France for a while...

  11. So true Rhys....

    Susannah, sounds like heaven. I don't know the Grotto, but Davios is terrific.

    Hank, good luck with those earwigs. I think its the bugs that make me detest gardening, no matter how hard I try to like it. (and think I would somehow be a better person if I did.)

  12. In the spring we were in Athens, Greece. To be absolutely honest, after my tour of Turkey in the fall, some of the ancient stuff in Athens was disappointing. We lived in an apartment just around the corner from the Acropolis. And, what city in Greece doesn't have an acropolis? Oh yes, the Parthenon was quite spectacular and my engineering eye caught the laser targets they were using to restore the "Porch of the Ladies", but that's my point. In Turkey, all the artifacts were original and well kept. In Greece, much was under restoration. The Archeological Museum in Athens was absolutely stunning. In counterpoint the Ancient Museum in Ankara, Turkey with older artifacts and was stunning as well. Two completely different museums showing different time periods. I can't tell you the awe I felt to see original art just as it was conceived and created, both in Athens and Ankara. The sense I got of these civilizations was amazing. Their technical expertise stunning.

    We flew from Athens to the island of Rhodos so we could ferry to Marmaris, Turkey on this trip. In direct comparison, the ruins at Pamukkale by Denizli were all pretty much original. So, I could see a 2500 year old sarcophagus just as it was. No restoration. The lack of any restoration created a natural authencicity that I truly loved.

    By the way, we stayed in Istanbul overnight before we flew back this trip. It was cool having been there in the fall and knowing where everything was in the Sultanahmet area. It didn't feel so foreign to me. We knew the street names and could get around quickly with what little Turkish we knew.

    Not quite a summer trip, but after that trip I didn't feel a need to go anywhere else!!!

    Jan -

    My daughter leaves for Beauvais this Wed. She will be teaching English there but living in Paris! BTW rents are high in Paris even the outlying areas. Reminds me of lower Manhattan.

  13. Just thinking--It would be fun to be able to say oooh la la.

    You'd have to do it with kind of a..flair...

  14. I'd say you're no slouch in the flair department.

  15. I say ooh-la-la all the time (however, without flair, I'm sure). And ever since a colleague wrote me an email, in all seriousness, ending with "Viola!" I can only say "Viola!" instead of "Voilá!"

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  17. Edith, you made my day. I'm still laughing.

    See? That's what I mean. You just can't fake it.

  18. I learned that it's important and wonderful to keep in touch with -- and treasure -- longtime friends even if they live over 500 miles away and that when you see them even after a few years' absence, if you can pick up where you left off, you know they are/were true friends.

  19. As I head out the door for a 5 day cruise with hubby, I think I'll once again learn why separate bathrooms are the salvation of any marriage. But since I knew that, I'll be looking at life without all the immediate connections. Going no-Internet, no cell-phone. There's a glorious world of nature out there.

    (Plus the fun of people watching. Book fodder!)

  20. I learned that my vacation was much too short! And now I want to go spend a month in France (actually, I'd like to send a month anywhere!)

  21. Pat,
    I agree, there is something special about connectin gwith old friends.

    But I actually think vacations bring out the best in complete strangers, too.

    Terry, have a great cruise! And Judy i hope you get your month in France!

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