Saturday, January 26, 2013

When I Studied French in France

A view of  Montpellier from its Arc de Triomphe

It was just this time of year a few years ago that I found myself in Montpellier, France (right on the Mediterranean), where I'd gone to study French for six weeks in a total immersion situation.  Though I'd been through by train one July, it was my first visit to that city.  A non-English-speaking woman gave me a room in her apartment (she cooked, bless her) ... and I went off by tram to the town center to attend a language school three hours a day, five days a week with two hours of nightly homework.

A tram

Where I got off ... and then got back on the tram each day.

I'd been studying French at home, my thought being to leave New England winters and settle myself into some south-of-France situation.  You know--rent a room for a few weeks, try out the cheeses, the tartines, do some sketching, maybe (I hoped) meet some people to pal around with.  And finally learn the language!

I figured:  the-South-of-France.  Sunshine.  More warmth, for sure, than the rest of France.  But I found the climate disappointingly froid which translates, Cold!  That plus occasional bitter winds and too-frequent gloomy skies made me realize that my previous visits had been summer ones.  Well, not to be discouraged, I told myself ... though, in fact, I was a little.

I also figured:  language school, fellow students to chat with, go for an apertif after class with, maybe even join on some weekend expedition.  It didn't occur to me that being a winter student, I'd also be the only student (except for the Asian wife of a Frenchman who rushed home to relieve her baby sitter each day).  Nonetheless, I gamely ate my croque monsieur in a little bistro, checked out the historical sites, museums, shops, then got the tram back to the part of town where I was staying.

One end of the Place de la Comédie ... with the Opéra Comédie there on the left.

A café in the Place de la Comédie ... with outdoor heaters positioned here and there.

I also found my brain becoming saturated with French.  Of course, that was the whole point.  But sometimes I found there wasn't any space left for all the French I was getting and it started overflowing and not being absorbed.  I needed some English relief now and again.  French had become a palimpsest underlying everything in my mind.  The monkey-chatter that Zen talks about was now in French.  The hot mud fumaroles that burst in my mind--ploop, ploop--were now a French word or sound (like the guttural "r" which was giving me trouble).

So how did it all turn out?  I'll talk about that in my next posting and also include some photos of that Languedoc Roussillon region of which Montpellier is the main city.  For now, here are shots of Montpellier itself.

This side of the building is all a cleverly executed trompe l'oeil ...

... as is this, including the enormous window.  Only the vehicles are real.

Montpellier's Arc de Triomphe

Along the Esplanade

A veggie market at the end of the Esplanade

The other end of the Place de la Comédie

(An aside:  the capital of Vermont, Montpelier, is spelled with one "l" but the French city has two.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Santa Fe Cachet

A Canyon Road art gallery

An eatery on Marcy Street

I've just returned from an extended visit in Santa Fe.  As I wrote in some past posting, I lived there for a few years in the early '90s.  Knowing the town as I do, I like to return periodically and hit my favorite spots.  I also revel in the bright blue skies and sunshine and take joy in looking across the expansive landscape--off to the three mountain ranges that encircle the town.  Sunset brings wide swaths of vivid colors.  In summer, thunderstorms roil across the land bringing diamond-sparkling drops as soon as the sun pops out again.  In short, I find it the sort of place where I can take a deep breath (despite the reduced oxygen at its 7,500-foot elevation), put aside the East's grey days, and perk up in the light that has brought photographers and painters galore to this part of the world.  Though dotted with cottonwoods, piñon pines, and junipers, its landscape--at least compared to the East--is sparse.  One's eye can take in the entire horizon.  Then, too, there is a highly agreeable incense-like aroma to the air.  That plus the adobe-style architecture, the pinks and terra-cottas no matter where you look, and you have the ingredients for a powerful appeal.

Santa Fe, of course, has a wealth of excellent museums, all of which I enjoy revisiting.  And summertime offers the Santa Fe Opera with seats (mostly) protected from possible rain but with an open-air view to the mountains and any happenstance lightning.  I won't even begin to comment on the art galleries, there are so many, though my favorites are the Gerald Peters Gallery on Paseo de Peralta and its neighbor, the Nedra Matteucci, with beautiful gardens in back.  Simply, galleries abound for the discovering.  (The State Capitol, too, has a fine art collection.)

Outside another Canyon Road gallery
Nor will I comment on the numerous top-notch restaurants except to say that my favorites include Geronimo, Harry's Road House, and Cafe Pasqual's.  Of course, there's also Zia Diner on Guadalupe Street plus The Pink Adobe and 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar, both on Old Santa Fe Trail.  As for excellent margaritas, I like the La Posada and the La Fonda Hotel bars.

Geronimo for fabulous food and service

Gerald Peters Gallery

My margarita as my companion and I sat near the fire in the La Posada Hotel bar

As well, I take pleasure in returning to favorite shops and scouting out new ones.
  • Project Tibet on Canyon Road is run by the Tibetan community and offers clothing, carpets, and Himalayan jewelry.
Entrance to Project Tibet
  • Keshi on Don Gaspar offers a remarkable variety of tiny hand-made Zuni fetishes (bears, mountain lions, frogs, eagles, etc.) plus silver jewelry.
  • Garcia Street Books and Downtown Subscription are next door to each other on Garcia Street.  The one is a small, independent bookseller with a beguiling selection.  The other has coffee, pastry, a wealth of newspapers and magazines, plus sunny spots out in the patio where you can sit and read.
  • The Ark on Romero Street is the New Age queen of book stores with CDs, tarot cards, window crystals, pendulums, incense, and, of course, books on whatever spirituality suits you.
  • Travel Bug on Paseo de Peralta is filled with maps of seemingly every country, travel gizmos, plus tables where you can drink coffee, check out the maps, and plan your next trip.
  • Tutto is newly located on Galisteo--a small inviting shop with a plethora of fabulous buttons and fine yarns.
  • Kakawa on Paseo de Peralta offers Meso-American organic chocolate.  You can stay for a cup of hot chocolate or come away with an amazingly delicious brownie or individual chocolate candies.
  •  The Tea House on Canyon Road, at the end of gallery row, offers a good place to sit and enjoy a cuppa after exploring the galleries.  When I checked, the green tea of the month was Pomegranate Dragonfruit and the black tea was Margaret's Hope Darjeeling.  There's a nice fire for cold days and a patio for warm.
  • Tesuque Glassworks and Shidoni Bronze Foundry out of town, on Bishop's Lodge Road, offer a glass-works where you can watch the glass-blowers and peruse their gift shop ... then roam through a wide variety of sculptures on display in the adjacent grassy field, once an apple orchard.
  • Guadalupe's Fun Rubber Stamps, recently moved to Don Gaspar Street, has the biggest selection of rubber stamps I've come across--all great fun.
  • The Chile Shop on Water Street features anything from chile-design pot holders to chile lights to string around your kitchen window at holiday time.
  •  Todos Santos, in Sena Plaza Courtyard on East Palace Avenue, is a tiny shop filled with confections including quite unique milagro (lucky charm) chocolates covered in edible gold- and silver-leaf.

Just some of the buttons at Tutto
Kakawa Chocolate House

Other than every other person in Santa Fe being an artist, every other person is said to be in the healing arts.  The range is titillating.  Santa Fe Soul, out Rodeo Road, offers the ancient technique of ear candling, the old Taoist practice of toe reading (to determine chakra strength), and acupuncture.  You can have a doctor of Oriental Medicine draw and radiate your blood with ultraviolet light in a process called Photoluminiscence, said to promote the healing of a number of ailments.  You can have a private consultation with a shaman .... your tarot cards explained .... the iris of your eyes read ... or your Akashic Records opened.  Elsewhere, you can get a colonic or a lymph-drainage massage.

And, of course, 10,000 Waves on up in the hills is a first-class spa with everything from hot tubs to herbal wraps (mine was ginger, hibiscus flowers, and motherwort), exfoliations, and Japanese-style bodywork.  Other in-town spas offer chocolate-chile rubs with steam-towel wraps, blue corn scrubs, and chocolate mole detoxes.

At Tomasita's on Guadalupe Street you can eat enchiladas with green or red chile ... or you can ask for the Christmas selection which means a little of both.  If you're in town awhile, you can take community seminars on Plutarch or the sonnet at St. John's College--a branch of the Annapolis institution concentrating in the Great Books.  Or you can park in the St. John's lot and hike up the mountain behind the college instead.

Supper at Tomasita's.  Here are warm sopapillas, complete with honey butter
Posole, enchilada, and refried beans ... yum!
And I'll tell you what else you can do.  You can go hear the Santa Fe Pro Musica give a Baroque Christmas concert at the Loretto Chapel on selected December evenings.  There, the pure tones of Vivaldi, Purcell, and Corelli soar to the ceiling.  God, it's fabulous.

Santa Fe is a beguiling spot.  It's too deserty to be called nurturing.  But it offers pizzazz and it seems to clear out the grumblies so that when you leave, you feel somehow cleaner.