Welcome to our 2009!
We Found (then lost) Our MOJO
These series of events happened near the middle of the year, but I have to get them out of the way first, so this wrap-up ends on a positive note! Here’s what went down. I, in a mental fit probably brought on by my ongoing mid-life crisis (see motorcycle below), decided we needed a dog sometime in April. Shoko had her doubts (mostly about my sanity) but went along with the idea, and we proceeded to search out the local SPA. What we ended up choosing was this.
Why? Oh, the irony! This dog was virtually the only one not barking at us. Little did we know that this was probably just a sign of his psychotic nature. We probably should have guessed something was up when we tried to take him home on the bike trailer (bad decision probably for any dog). Mojo repeatedly made suicide leaps to escape, forcing me to bungy him into the thing. By the time we got him home, hours later, we were all worn out from the stress, but hopeful that what the lying or totally ignorant SPA volunteer told us as we were leaving -‘he is just excited to be outside’ – was true. I wish it had been that simple.
He was a shaggy mess when we liberated him, but once we got him plucked and cleaned up he was pretty cute, if a little weird in his sleeping style.
But Mojo had a dark side. In the apartment he was manageable, but once we got him outside he went nuts, pulling, marking, leaping at shadows. He wasn’t making us any friends, that’s for sure. We tried everything in the book to get him to act like a civilized dog, but it was fruitless. Thinking it might be something hormonal, we had him fixed. He didn’t like that much.
But who would? Still, it was the right thing to do, if for no other reason, Mojo couldn’t procreate!
In the end, after 2 months of stress on all sides, I brought him to a pro. The guy was all ‘oh, he just needs to take a pee, that’s why he’s acting up’ at the beginning. By the end of our 2 hours, Mr. Casteneda was sweating and chain smoking, saying over and over again, ‘il est dur, il est dur…’ He said that Mojo had probably been taken away from his mother too young and had never been properly socialized (one large problem was that he attacked every dog he saw), and that he could work on him but could promise much.
I was sold. The next day I packed him up on the trailer and took him back to the SPA. Nearly no look of surprise on their faces, to MY surprise. Then I found out (we had suspected this) that he had been adopted once already before us, and presumably the previous owners couldn’t handle him either. It was a tiny bit sad leaving him there, but he didn’t appear to mind at all, so that helped. And to fill up the whole in my life I bought a motorcycle!
Tour de France
If you know me even a little, you know I like most things ‘bicycle’. And if you know anything about cycling, you know that the biggest thing ‘bicycle’ occurs where I live – The Tour de France. 2009 was a special year because Lance Armstrong (7 time winner, cancer survivor, and guy sort of around my age) made a comeback after 4 years off the bike. It was also special because the Tour started in the south (Monaco) and even had a stage (team time trial) in Montpellier, where we live. I won’t repeat what I’ve already done, so here are the links to the blog articles I wrote on the 4 stages we saw live this year.
And a few pictures that never made it to print…
Get Your Motor Runnin’…
After Mojo went back to the SPA to torture somebody else, I felt strangely liberated (was this how mom felt when I finally left home…?), and while Shoko was safely thousands of kilometers away in Japan, I bought a motorcycle. This is it – a Honda TransAlp 650.
This is one spontaneous purchase that has paid dividends, since we immediately extended our ‘range’ by hundreds of kilometers. The train system is pretty good in France, but it certainly doesn’t reach everywhere. Wheels are essential if you really want to explore your neighborhood. Following are some shots from a few trips we did this year.
The pilgrim’s cathedral in Le Puy en Velay.
Near the perfectly-preserved village of Conques.
Detail of the tympanum on the abbey church of Conques.
The abbey and village from across the valley.
A bonus that came with the motorcycle was being able to get to the mountains and start hiking again. This is near the equally lovely village of St. Guilhem le Desert about an hour from Montpellier.
And a little further afield in the Pyrenees.
The picture above gave me the inspiration for this next section: living in France, the pros and cons. Why? Because included in the backpacks of our French friends above were numerous bottles of wine, cheese and sausages! So hiking style goes on the ‘pro’ list.
Pro – I can join a demonstration and be nearly sure I won’t be tear gassed (see 2005 Wrap-up).
Pro– you’re never far from something really, really old and interesting.
Pro – I am allowed to kiss other women.
Cons – No place is perfect, and there are some irritating aspects about France. I just don’t have any pictures of them!
1. Those demonstrations? They are often carried out by the people who operate our trains…another good reason to have wheels!
2. Dog shit.
3. Dog shit on the bottom of my shoe.
Something strange has happened since we moved here last year. I’m usually planning my next trip while on the one I’m on, but since we are in a place where I would have come to travel from wherever I might be living, I find myself more or less content to stay close to home. But, having said that, there are places outside France to visit (Yes French friends, there really are…) and for our Big Trip last summer we went through 4 of them – Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein. Since this was a cycling trip, like the Tour de France above, it’s all in the blog already. If you care to click a few times, here are the pages.
Oh my, that is a lot of clicking! For those of you too busy with your own lives to read about ours, here is a super-abbreviated version.
Yes I agree. This shot sort of came out of nowhere. You see, the reason we chose Germany to start our trip in was that our good friends Thilo and Maya were getting hitched there. It was a magical wedding at a castle in the Bavarian countryside. The day was filled with drinking, dancing and something no wedding should be without…whip sawing.
From Germany we drove back to France and broke out the bikes in Strasbourg. This is the Rhone-Rhine canal just outside the city.
Then it was back into Germany…
…Austria (long enough to eat an apple and go back into Switzerland)
Liechtenstein (long enough to ride through the entire country – an hour or two)…
Back into Switzerland one more time…
And then into France and back home. Here’s a map of the whole ride.
But really, you should check out the blog. It’s much more entertaining 😉
9 years in Japan and 2 more in Singapore and a total of 3 family members visited us. 1 year in France and we’re ahead already! I’m not complaining…just saying.
First up were Lois and Gary, on their first Grand Tour of Europe together. After a week on a cruise and another soaking up the sun in Italy, they hopped on several trains and somehow made it to Montpellier. Here they are either looking extremely happy or totally petrified, just off the train in Montpellier.
On a little road trip, picnicking near St Guilhem le Desert.
Hamming it up a little ways up the road.
Then, near the end of the day, on the Roman Via Domitia. Notice Gary at the right. Is he:
a) Trying to impress us by patting his head and rubbing his stomach simultaneously?
b) Getting a headache contemplating how the Romans built this thing?
c) Saying “can we go home now?” to his wife in sign language?
I don’t know the answer, but it was getting late in the day…
As soon as we got Lois and Gary safely on their TGV to Paris, we were off to Barcelona for our next ‘visit’. Mom and Tom were on a mighty 20-day cruise and the closest port of call was 330 km away in Spain. Shoko and I hopped (okay…crawled) on the motorcycle at 5am for the 5 hour ride to the capital of Catalonia. We arrived without a minute to spare, riding right up onto the base of the Columbus Monument, which Mom was circling slowing, keeping watch.
After parking the bike we went to the ship, where they’d arranged for us to be allowed on for a visit.
I have never ever contemplated taking a cruise, but after seeing the buffet they got every single day I may reconsider! Here is Mom and Tom walking up La Ramblas.
And as soon as it started it was all over. They set sail that night for Africa and the end of their cruise. For the relatives and friends who haven’t visited yet, don’t waste time. We have no idea how long the French will tolerate our presence here.
Shoko finished up with her French course at the university here this June and promptly applied to the School of Fine Arts (up the road in Nimes) for night classes. She was accepted, and spends two days a week painting naked students…and others, apparently desperate to make a euro or two. She hopes to start there full time (or somewhere else) next year or the year after. All depends on the dreaded French language, and her mastery over it.
Me, well I joined a gym, but I guess I’m not learning much there. I continue to take French lessons from Magali, now officially the most patient language teacher in France! It’s coming along…better than Japanese ever did at least.
We are sort of taking this France experiment one year at a time, mainly because that’s all the French are giving us in terms of residence permits. We both see more possibilities here than in either Japan or Singapore, and I just can’t stomach the idea of choosing either snow or rain when it comes to Canada. So, for the time being we will see what we can make of Europe.
We are looking forward to watching the Vancouver Olympics in French, like we did the summer ones in China. At least the Winter Olympics don’t have handball – one of the only sports the French excel at, and therefore televise it much more than is really necessary. I just hope they aren’t good in curling!
Le Tour will come again next summer, so for 3 weeks in July I will be either glued to my computer or chasing down the peleton on our Honda.
Our Big Trip next year is being constructed as I write this, so too soon to give it away. It is looking to be going east though.
We have no plans on adopting any animals in 2010.
Hope you all had a wonderful 2009, and we wish you the very best in the coming year.
Gerry and Shoko