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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
We toured the city on foot, lucking out that it was market day:
We ate a picnic lunch in the park beside the lake ringed by mountains, rented a paddle boat, and swam and relaxed:
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:
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.