Saturday, June 26, 2010

No More Megan!

What a huge day we have had! Belting across France from Annecy to Paris took us across fairly uninteresting country, really. The odd chateau loomed in, and then out, of sight. Ancient farm house clusters at the bottom of gullies (not the top of hills, as in Sunny Oz). Past the walled royal forest at Fontainbleau and into the streets of Paris.

The TomTom took us right throug the centre. Down Avenue General le Clerc, then Avenue Denfert Rochereau, Boulevard St Michel, on to Rue Sebastopol, turn left and you're there (or thereabouts). Hotel d'Amiens is home for the Ramblers' final night in La Belle France!

Dropping the bags and the girls (Dear Jude and Ally), I continued the prior direction straight across town and on to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport. Let me tell you that I was rooly optimistic to think that I could get out there quickly. No way! Every Frenchman worth his salt was headed either home or off to the provinces for the weekend. Bumper to bumper on the motorway, with three or four metres' progress only with every forward movement. Inch by deadly inch the traffic snarled forward. Now I had no plane to catch. Time was not an issue. What WAS an issue was the gazole (diesel). Having been determined to return Megan with minimal levels of liquid energy (at least less than what was in her when we picked her up), I was not prepared for the 'running out of petrol' scenario. As we millimetred our way forward, I watched the needle head south. Wait a moment. Isn't that a petrol station approching at a VERY slow pace? YES! IGNORE IT, Megan! We can do this! And we did. At some random point in the freeway the pace lifted and we reached Terminal Three in good time. With just enough fuel to take the next person to about half way to the nearest fuel depot. We had done it, Megan and I! I said my farewells and headed for the Gare du Nord. What WILL Megan get up to next? We'll never know...

I'm writing this on the Eurostar as we hurtle towards London. I have to turn my iPhone to flight mode now in case it interferes with the navigation system.

Hoo rooster!


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Speaking French MUST be easy. Little kids as young as three years of age can do it! I can't. A lot of me wants to, but if I could it would take a lot of the fun out of travel. On first hearing a language spoken it sounds like babble. We have all 'been there'. But if you listen, especially if you know the context, some of the spoken words start to make sense.

It seems as though Parisians speak very fast and take a great deal of pleasure in doing so. Whether this is a deliberate ploy to prevent foreign access to the language is debatable, but the total effect is at least to delay acquisition of this intriguing way of communicating.

Some encounters with foreign language are most edifying. An example for me took place during a walk by the beautiful Lake Annecy yesterday. Past the boat restaurant and the fountains, over 'Lover's Bridge' (over the canal) we saw a sign advertising the rental of boats that can be propelled through the water by means of energy generated in much the same fashion as cyclists use. You know what I mean. You have seen them for rent on many an Ausralian beach or lake resort. Your kids nag you to 'have a go' in one , and you reluctantly agree, only to fond that you quite enjoy the experience. What are they called? In Australia (and in England) we call them "Peddle-Os". Here in French-speaking Annecy they are called "Pedal Eau"s - 'pedal on water'. Get it? I think the French can justifiably claim first dibs on that one, don't you?

Just a little aside on the use of language in this blog. You will notice that I have not taken any cheap shots at the French. Here are some French words ripe for punning:

piscine (English: "pool"),
bastide ("artificial village with straight streets and town square built in 12th century to keep English at bay"),
oui ("yes" - see 'piscine', above).

AT NO TIME have I lowered myself to such depths. [However, there is a Mars Bar for anyone who can cleverly form a sentence in English that cleverly includes these, and any other Franglaise words into a sensible double entendre sentence! It is not Fran Vaughan's style to enter into such depravity, so the contest is wide open. Besides, Fran is already owed two Cherry Ripes!]

Despite all the problems I have encountered with French, it remains an intriguing language and one I would very much like to master. Its rhythm makes it delightful to listen to, whoever speaks it. The skylarking boys on the skateboards, the smoking pastis drinkers in the bars, the market stall holders and the spruiking bateau renters all convey a wonderful musicality that I shall miss. Back to speaking English on Saturday after we drive back to Paris, drop off the car and hop onto the Eurostar bound for London on Saturday.

Talk later ...


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Annecy IV

Back "home" to Annecy the three friends journied. A 500+ KM trip completed in probably as many hours. Getting out of Paris to the south was problematic, as the outer ring road was littered with accident sites and the traffic growled us around till we could peel off to the south and away towards Dijon and on to Annecy. We did not stop to pick up any mustard. Ally snoozed and so did her mother. I took a power nap at a wayside stop before powering off down the highway again at 130+ kmph. What a blast! Only cost 45 euros on the tollway, but there was only one pay station, so we weren't held up for too long there.

Arriving at about 7:00 pm, we went for a walk with Ally down to the lake. There was evidence of another festival or other in evidence, as tractors had obviously run back and forth across the grass in one patch. It was all churned up. We headed to a newly-constructed stage, where a band was rehearsing and checking the sound for a concert to be held in the next little while. This was a seriously good band, with every one of the band members exhibiting a quality of music generation that defied belief. Guitar riffs to die for. Vocal gymnastics from the lead singer (male) that would put Julie Andrews to shame. A bass player and a drummer who were really, really, REALLY good. Ally and Dear Jude have gone to do some serious shopping, so I have been able to sit and some quality time with you, blogging. I have set them the task of finding out the name of the band, so that I can relate it to you on their return. We are pretty sure that the Office de Tourisme will be able to tell us.

All the above re Annecy only adds to my determination to return to this place at some time in the future. You should plan to come too. There is always something going on. Just to remind you, there are the water sports, the snow sports, the cycling, the tourism and the cultural events. Annecy is one of three finalists for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Sadly for their hopes, we were in Stary Smokevic in Slovakia when they were in the midst of their bid for the Winter Olympics a few years ago. They were unsuccessful. Let's hope that it all works out for Annecy and they are not held here. It would be a shame to risk the conversion of this lovely backwater into a tourism-dominated city. But perhaps I am being a little too selfish in this wish.

To demonstrate how much Annecy means to me, I have just now added the word to my dictionary on the computer so that it does not always appear with a squiggly red line under it!

Currency valuation relativities are best learned, I now believe, via the sport known as 'shopping'. This morning, Ally and Dear Jude were hard at the computer/iPhone, looking up the value of the euro against the pound and the Australian dollar. This is education in its rawest form. I recall scouring text books and studying flat out in the bowels of the Baillieu Library in FIN211, or some other subject, and still couldn't get it. These expert shoppers and wielders of credit cards develop an innate understanding and knowledge of the loss of confidence of the euro in favour of the AUD in NO TIME FLAT! One can only stare in amazement and disbelief. [It has been determined that there is JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME in Paris next Saturday to pick up that pair of boots while ole Groombles takes the car back to the airport before we leave for London on the Eurostar.]

It's lovely and sunny outside. Last week, while we were in Paris, it teemed with rain here. You can see this in the muddy patch on the grass where the last concert was held. It wasn't there at the time of the animated film festival. [By the way, did you know that Fantastic Mr. Fox took out this year's honours?]

I had better get cracking with the lunch, so that the girls can tell me all their adventures in the shopping mall. I'll get back to you with the name of that band. I am sure it is a famous one ...

Hoo rooster!


Unanticipated Paris

We'll take free days in Paris any time, so when Ally's flight from Hong Kong was delayed by 24 hours we happily crashed in with Andy, Graz and Jessie from one clan and Liz, Tony and Cammy from the other. Eight of us in one apartment, but we fitted in remarkably well. Not too many fights. Well none, really ...

Highlights for me included a stroll up to Sacre Coeur with Andy to check out the artists plying their trade in the tourist square that everyone visits when they get to Paris (and why shouldn't they?). I would cut off both my arms to be able to paint/draw like those people. Rolf Harris: Eat your heart out! Walking is probably the best way to suck up the 'vibe' of Paris (or any city really). Life appears in miniature, from scurrying mums with little kids clutching their hands, through lounging males with suits and nowhere to go or do (How do they afford the suits?), to the ever-present beggars who sit, seemingly in vain, holding their little cups up to the passing crowd accompanied by either one/two dogs or children. The way up to Montmartre took us past poorer areas of Paris, populated by more recent immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe. The language, the sights and the smells are quite different to those experienced in the 'museum piece' that is "Paris-by-the-Seine". No less enjoyable for that, however. [We got a bit lost coming back from the hill because one of us (I think it was me, but wish it was Andy), set his (or her) phone to the wrong Rue de Faubourg. Why, oh WHY do they need TWO Rues de Faubourg in Paris?].
nother highlight was watching the procedure involved in getting a boat through the lock at the end of our street. The drop in water level in the canal is quite marked at that point. There was probably a waterfall there at some stage. Everyone knows how locks work, but the great thing about this one is the lock operator , who appears to be quite a character. He chats away to all and sundry, walking briskly between the electronic booths/stations that operate the gates. I would have thought that a single, central station would have been more appropriate (and possible), but that would have de-personalised the operation and taken all the fun out of it. The process unfolds as follows: Greet boat captain; explain paperwork; stride to operation point 1 and open booth with key from huge bunch; chat to captain while boat being secured;
stride to booth at point 2 at other end when lock filled/emptied; chat; open booth with another key from huge bunch; chat and return to start again with next boat. All this proceeds with a great deal of enthusiasm and this chap certainly appeared to enjoy his job! Who wouldn't?

Tony's friend Laurent ("Lorron") was another highlight. He told us about his acting experiences and meetings with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gerard Depardieu and Famous Others on various film sets. [Laurent would make a valuable contribution to the cast of Ricky Gervais' Extras series.] He had photos of himself in costume taken with various of these famous actors a d showed them off to us in between puffs of Camel cigarettes. [I don't know too many people who smoke any more and anyone who does, should stop]. Anyway, Laurent is a character and I was happy to meet him. We all went out to dinner and ate cassoulet (slow-cooked sausages, chicken and other meats in a slurry of white beans - a speciality of Provence and one TO DIE FOR). The restaurant was very friendly and very welcoming and we all nine had a ripper of a night.

Catching up with Jess and Cammy were also higlights for me. We don't see
much of them in Australia and offspring of friends change quite rapidly in interests and size in those intervening years. It is fascinating to see what sorts of adults they are becoming. These two are no exception and they should keep up the good work. Cammy promised me he would give up smoking soon.

Every moment is a highlight in Paris, but they are too many to be relating here. The Ramblers hopped up early on Tuesday and drove to the airport to pick up Ally. In the carpark our car documentation was checked by a plain clothes police officer straight out of one those Jean-Paul Belmodo movies referred to above and his off-sider who was learning the ropes (Laurent could have played him 'on his ear'. "Any proplems?", I asked. "Non", replied the captain, "c'est OK". As they left us to our Ally-collecting, I heard (at least I THINK I heard) the off-sider ask his boss whether the people they had dealt (ie The Ramblers) with were, in fact, French ...

Back to Annecy then. A big drive, but to a place we know that Ally will enjoy.

See youse!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Somme Valley

The Rambling Roses split today! Only for the day, but we went separate ways. Dear Jude took off with Liz, Graz and Tony. Andy, Jess (daughter of Graz and Andy, living in Sweden while completing a Master's degree in landscape garden design) and I took off for the Somme valley. Can't say much about the shoppers' day, but we three 'Sommers' experienced the whole range of emotions available to we humans. Well, almost.

Here was a day of contrast on a wide scale. While I was keen to visit the grave of my grandfather's older brother, Andy took the opportunity to visit the spot where his grandfather had earned the Victoria Cross. Here's where the contrasts began.

James Henry Rose had barely finished his indentures as a bootmaker's apprentice when he enlisted in the Australian Fifth Battallion and headed overseas. This appears to be an odd thing to do, given that his paternal grandparents were both German (in fact, they had immigrated from Prussia in the early 1850s). His maternal grandparents had immigrated from England. "Jim" had been in France for only a few weeks when he was wounded in the upper body ("thorax") and taken to the British treatment at Puchevillers. He died a few days later of infection from his wounds and was buried in a cemetery to the west of the town. He wad 20 years of age.

Charles Stewart on the other hand, Andy's grandfather, survived the war. He was awarded the Military Cross for leading a group of men up a hill into the firing line of a machine gun post. Not once, but five times! Successfully. The citation for his actions can be read in the official record.

Here we can see two quite differing first-hand experiences of World War One. Private James H Rose, who dies only weeks after arriving at the front, and Lieutenant Charles Stewart who performs extraordinary acts of leadership and survives. The day was one of extreme emotion. I cannot remember having been more moved by the sadness associated with seeing the grave of a relative who had died at such a young age. Jess found Jim's headstone in the first row of them, among the line of soldiers who had died on 20 August 1916. We took a few photos and then I lifted away the blue flowers growing in front of the headstone. The inscription reads:
"In loving memory of our dear son and brother (Jim) Loved by all". If tgat doesn't reduce a person to tears nothing will. And it did.

It has to be said that the cemetery is maintained in an immaculate state. The lawns appeared to have been mown regularly and often. A graet variety of flowers have been planted in front of the headstones and not weed can be seen. The cemetery consists of 25-30 rows of bright white headstones of identical dimensions except for one, which is inexplicably larger. There are about 1,000 graves here, enclosed by a low brick wall. It is located to the west of the town of Puchevillers and sits on it's own, completely surrounded by wheat an cereal crops. It is truly beautiful. We spent quite a time here, wandering around and reading the inscriptions on the stones. There was also a visitor's book that I signed. Someone had left a typed copy of a last letter sent from a British soldier who had died in 1918 to his father. Impossible not to feel the inordinate sadness associated with this tragedy.

We then made for a village near St. Quentin, where Charles Stewart made his amazing contribution to the Allied cause. Whereas Jim Rose had little opportunity to make a hge impact given his brief time at the Front, Charles made a huge impact by taking the initistive to storm a number of machine gun posts, successfully capturing them. We walked I'm the wood ("copse") where the German gun battery that pounded the village stood. We parked the car at the top of the former railway cutting that provided the shelter fir Charkes and his men to run at, and wipe out the machine gun posts. [Andy had copies of documents sent by his father that described these actions.].

After walking around the copse and talking to the lady who owned the former mill where a second German gun emplacement had operated, the three oc us headed 'home' to Paris. The car was quiet for a relatively long time. We were soon back on the motorway, however, battling the Parisienne weekend holiday-makers as they scotched back into ghe city at 130+ kmph. It had been an emotional day, but also quite an uplifting one as well.

Ally emailed to say that her flight from Hong Kong had been delayed by 3 hours. Somehow that didn't appear to be much of a tragedy. I am sure she will make her way to meet up with us tomorrow and the three of us will then be barrelling down the highway for another week in Annecy. Stay tuned, and I'll tell you about that later

So long, it's been good to know you.


Graeme Charles Rose