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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Free Hugs Day

One year ago I wrote a short blog post on hugging people and the need to hug more (click here to read).  At that time I had never heard of Juan Mann or read articles on him.  Maybe you haven’t either…  Basically he’s just a guy that noticed a bunch of unhappiness in his world, and he’s been making a conscious effort towards change.  He started in his hometown, Sydney, Australia, where he made a big cardboard sign that had two words:


He held it up high, and waited for someone, anyone, to approach him.  He literally just hugged people.  He’s been hugging people since at least 2004, and has made his campaign and view know to the world.  Oprah even had him on the show – you know that’s big!

He did the offering, and he found out quickly how receptive and in need so many people were/are.  He just wanted to put a smile on a stranger’s face.  Here is one of his stories:

So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

The last of the last

I can’t hide it any longer--- I am now back in the States in home-sweet-home Atlanta!!!!!!  Thankfully the flight adventures coming home were non-existent compared to the chaos on the way over. (whew!) Lyon to London – just dandy, even if they saw metal in my bags, yet couldn’t locate it, let me walk through with my shoes on, and finally just said whatever and have a great flight…
I had some time to kill in the London-Heathrow airport, so I strolled through the Duty Free shops.  They were offering full-size drink samples – you should have seen the line for martinis at 8:45 in the morning (yes, I was in line…).  On the flight from London to New York, my dinner options consisted of “Butt of Chicken” or “Lamb Cottage Pie”.  I was so torn… 
Once I landed in NYC, the marvel of Customs and Immigration was before me - Customs took my chicken sandwich and grapes, wouldn’t even let me step outside the barriers to consume it, but curiously missed the ridiculously strong French cheese smell dispersing through the air from my luggage.  I guess we all have our tendencies to see (and smell) what we want to or expect?...  And apparently (and fortunately!) I don’t look or smell like cheese.

As much as I have enjoyed writing to everyone, it is time to wrap-it up; my ramblings can only continue for so long!  I've had so many magnificent days and nights this summer that I hope to never forget.    Thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to take you on this journey with me; I hope very much that you have enjoyed seeing a summer in France through my eyes.  I appreciated every letter, email and note I received – thank you all mille fois!

To end, I offer you:

A few things I learned this summer…

  • It is not advisable to buy 8 pounds of green peppers in one week at the market, particularly when they are to be consumed by only one person during that week.
  • It is difficult to eat 8 pounds of green peppers in one week and continue to like them after the first 3 days.
  • Constantly switching between American and French keyboards is a pain in the butt for the fingertips and the mind.
  • No matter how many times I use a hand-held shower head, and of course without shower curtains b/c they are not the norm in Europe, I will inevitably flood the floor… Every.  Single.  Night.
  • A flooded floor takes approximately 3 days to dry, unassisted.  Turning on the bathroom radiator and shutting the door reduces the time to only 1 day.
  • Butter is appropriate to add to anything edible.
  • “Happy hour” translates the same in all languages.
  • Drinking too much at a bar happens occasionally.  Leaving a bar at 3am is fine.  Hopping on a rented bicycle at 3am after leaving the bar is fine too. Riding on the handlebars of a bike at 3am after leaving a bar and having drank too much is… not a good idea unless you want to crash!
  • Don’t eat yogurt for breakfast.
  • Don’t rely on businesses, TV shows or newspapers to continue to operate during the summer months, especially August.  Europeans take vacation for months on end, and literally just close their doors.  I went through 3 morning talk shows and 2 newspapers in just 2.5 months!  Show is off the air, filled by home shopping channels instead, and newspapers aren’t in print for all of July, or August, or both!  Even the bar 500 feet from my apartment closed for 1.5 months. Finally I settled on watching the Berenstain Bears while eating breakfast in the morning.
  • A person can indeed survive without a cell phone or home phone for 2.5 months.  Helps to have internet access to maintain sanity, however…

I could go on and on…  some of these require no explanation whatsoever.  Others, well, it depends on how well I know you… ;)

It has been my pleasure...Jessie

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Banging down the doors

While in France, I began a (small) photo obsession doors and windows.  I know, kind of strange, right?  Well you should have seen all the variety and age - I just couldn't help it!  Some neighborhoods had lots of doors with spikes above the door, some with lots of criss-crossed metal doors, and some ornately decorated wood doors.  I just couldn't get enough.  Some I really couldn't take pictures of however, as I would be practically in the dusk/dark.

You see, Lyon is famous for "Traboules", which are like short-cuts through buildings.  These originated back in the day when Lyon was a major silk producer.  The silk makers had to transport their delicate silks all over the city, sometimes in questionable weather.  These building shortcuts, which number in the hundreds, usually are narrow with high ceilings to accomodate the silk looms, and often stretch several city blocks.  Then another one would be just across a narrow street, and you can 'traboule' the several areas of old Lyon.  The entrances to these traboules look like just a standard door, so nowadays you need a guide or a map to find them (rarely locked).  As sometimes I didn't want to be total tourist with map outstretched, I would just walk around the old city, randomly pushing on doors.  You'd think I was crazy, but I was successful about one out of every four pushes!!

More info (in english):

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Between the mountains and the sea

Imagine summer weekends alternating between humidity, mountains, cold, snow, heat, rain, desert and the beach.  That has been my last couple weekends in France … simply wonderful extremes!One week ago my buddies Avid, David and I rented a car and headed for the Mediterranean , making stops in the large port city of Marseilles and the small harbor town of Cassis.
Postcard perfect: Port de Cassis

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Tour, a Tower and lots of Crêpes


It is curious to go back to a place you haven’t been in several years, and have memories meet you at nearly every turn.  Paris holds 1 year of memories plus countless vacations, and thankfully I continue to make new bonds with every visit.  This 2.5 day weekend I was a tourist to the fullest extent, snapping oodles of pictures and buying random paraphernalia from street vendors!
One of my two American friends in Lyon went with me to Paris to meet an old coworker (from Atlanta) and his wife there, the two of which currently live in DublinIreland.  We strolled, laughed loudly, got lost, drank wine sans cups, took a boat cruise, ate lots of cheese, picnicked on boats, met weird (very weird) people, jumped fences, saved a lost 3 year old boy during the Tour (so scary), slept occasionally, got rained on, hugged, and finally had to depart. It was perfect, wonderful and memorable, and more than I anticipated.

Pictures – A quick itinerary in case you want to skip around:
*Bateaux-Mouches boat tour along the Seine river, including not uncorking (smuggled) bottles of wine until we had safely launched from the dock. Fantastic Paris views
*Eiffel Tower, Tower, Tower!…
*A bunch of random stuff.  If you’ve seen the movie Ratatouille, then you may slightly recognize the most famous bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III, which is where the rat and boy forge their friendship.  Snapped pix of a just-married husband and bride taking pix on this bridge too. (look for lots of gold, wide sidewalks and big street lamps)

*The TOUR de FRANCE!  This event was the only event on Sunday’s calendar, and we arrived there almost 5 hours before the cyclists were scheduled to ride in.  First the parade / caravan comes through about 2 hours before, then the cyclists come through to do 8 laps around the Champs-Elysées at near-mach speed.  We started off with pretty darn good seats, standing on top of a subway (aka metro) exit, but once the cyclists came through the cops quit being so watch-guard-anal and we hopped a fence and were nearly on the street.  During one lap the hundreds of them came so close that I could have stuck my arm out and clothes-lined the leaders.  Alas I suppressed my WWE thoughts and stuck to taking pictures and gasping instead…

*Finally the last group of pictures is of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  You all have been reading about my boring cathedral thoughts for weeks now, but this is “the” cathedral that I compare all the others too.  It is gorgeous inside and out.  I have never had a visit to Paris that did not include Notre Dame.  I also went there regularly when living in Paris in awe, to see the Crown of Thorns (only Good Fridays), and just soak up history.  The sheer quantities of stain glass windows throughout, as well as the massive size of the two rose windows, transport you to another place.  The exterior and its enormous flying buttresses and deceptive gargoyles give you strange architectural reflections of a time gone by.  My pictures do no justice whatsoever.

These big city pictures are a definite diversion from the French Alps that I sent last week.  Just wait until you see the mountains and Mediterranean pictures from last weekend in Marseilles and Cassis!  I hope you will enjoy the diversity, as I have immensely.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A little slice of heaven---

Bonjour à tous!

Two weeks ago my boss and her husband picked me up early one Sunday for an entire day adventure in the French Alps, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice – the biggest glacier in the world apparently), the summit of Mont Blanc, which is Europe’s highest peak, and to Lake Annecy.  The views were absolutely beyond belief.  I had to pinch myself a time or two.  What a magnificent Sunday!

I got very snap-happy and took a ton of pictures of the Alps.  I took pictures from the car on the way there, a ton while sitting at a great café while we all drank wine to warm ourselves up (it was freezing up there, like 38°F),  while hanging out of the mountain train that took us up, while hiking in the Alps, more from the car on our way to Annecy, then beautiful sunset pictures near our outdoor dinner sitting on Lake  Annecy!  (WHEW!)  Some might look duplicative, but you understand I’m sure!  Link below---

I have rented a car for 2 of my friends and me to drive to Marseilles tonight/this weekend.  I am scared for the other drivers on the road when this American gets behind the wheel… ha!  Here I come French soap, Mediterranean, French Riviera and fish, fish, fish!  I’ve heard you can buy freshly made soap in 40kg bars??  At least I’ll be clean.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Random thoughts from France

Lyon has two rivers that run through it, the Saone and the Rhone.  They have recently converted the riverside of the Rhone from driving roads to strictly pedestrian, biking and barge dining.  Particularly on these quays of the Rhone river, I often like to go for a run or stroll.  Absolute spectacular views and tranquility.  To stay healthy I like typically like to run, row and lift weights; however the French like to apply “creams” to maintain or lose weight.  The looks and scrutiny I get when running give me the impression that they (the French, that is) think I am completely off my rocker.  The other day I got caught in a rainstorm during my run home.  This was no little shower my friends, this was a downright raining-cats-and-dogs storm.  I looked like a drenched French Poodle when I finally got home, curly hair gone mad.  Everyone I ran by on the street, timidly tucked under store canopies and staring at me, thought I had equally gone mad.  Running? And in the rain???  I couldn’t have shouted “Foreigner!” loud enough!

Lyon is sandwiched between two fashion capitals of the world, Paris and Milan, but you’d never know it based on some of the very interesting styles.  I have seen some zany fashion choices in the worst sense (or maybe I am just completely out-of-style –– very good chance).  Women are fond of putting on pants and shirt (great!), then just throw on a dress on top of that and sometimes a big belt.  Men, well you need to envision pants that are way too short, way too tight and pulled up entirely too high. Voila, now you’ve got the idea.  Business meetings?  Men should don a nice pinstripe suit, then add and a plaid shirt or polka-dot tie.  Or both.  I am confused every day, but figure that I must give the population the same baffling sentiments regarding my manner of dress!

Another note on that dressing thing…  If you are a French man that likes to exercise, apparently you only have two choices for shorts: super short or spandex (thankfully not combined!).  I thought mainly rowers and cyclists wear contraire!  The French men seem to have an overwhelming preference for the latter, spandex, whether it be for jogging, stretching, weightlifting, cycling, anything!  Very different.

For out of town business trips we frequently take the train.  I see a lot of cows in the countryside, and they are all the same.  Big white bodies with black hineys.  I have decided that these cows must be the dairy cows, as this country consumes an enormous amount of cheese, yogurts and cream desserts.  I have taken to this quotidian just fine... yum.

I went to Paris last weekend to see the end of the Tour de France and all the beauty of the City of Lights and Love.  Beautiful as always, and I was met with so many memories in many locations from when I lived there.  I took so many pictures that I completely filled up my camera memory card!  I’m working on sifting for you all!  The Tour may have been tainted by many testosterone-filled cyclists and media report this year, but it still held grand allure for the city and tourists.  Seeing those cyclists zoom by at 40+ mph was amazing!

Not much time left in France – the clock is ticking…  If you have any special France souvenir requests, the time is NOW!  The wine is great, and if you request a bottle I will happily buy it!  However please note, wine is *heavy* to carry back and I am *always thirsty*.  :)

Cheers and hugs to all!  Send over requests or forever eat stale bread!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lions, cider and jazz, oh my!

Two weeks ago two friends and I took a day-trip to Vienne , France for their wildly popular annual Jazz Fest.  Left early and came back after midnight , with lots of outdoor jazz concerts, picnics, sangria and old Roman remnants.  We walked out of the train station right into the middle of the city and saw the strangest sights.  Just in front of us was a fully mature male lion (in cage) and two men dressed in circus costumes walking a zebra and a donkey. Insane!  I walked right up to the lion and was so close I could smell his breath.  His eyes were striking and had the zebra and donkey in sight the entire time, occasionally darting if the horses moved.  He definitely wanted to snack on those four-leggeds, but gave the humans zero interest.  I’ve never been so close to a lion without separating glass, however as I was just as close to see his enormous canine teeth, the names “Siegfried” and “Roy” popped in my head and I backed up.  Pictures taken, astonishing animal, done.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A British-French-American 4th of July

My version of the Our Lady Liberty à la 1664

For the 4th of July two of my American friends and I got together to celebrate, but we naturally got started on the 3rd to welcome in the 4th.  Met by the Rhône river to have a few drinks quayside and enjoy the view.  I brought a bottle of pink wine and the French-version of a Dixie plastic cup.  In other words that means my cup was super small and I got nearly 6 glasses out of one bottle of wine.  I was drinking ‘pink’ wine, as it was so inexpensive that I didn’t feel like it could actually merit the Rosé title.  We drank, walked to a convenience store for some more aperitifs, then to one of the folks apartments before heading out for the night to a British pub.  We wanted to celebrate American first for our national holiday first, so we made s’mores in the microwave and took pictures with the good ol’ red white and blue. Our s’mores were somewhat Franco-American however and made with tea cookie/crackers instead of graham crackers, as those don’t exist in France.  Marshmallows are not the easiest thing to come by either, but the chocolate is ridiculously plentiful and in a bounty of varieties.  Perhaps we got heavy-handed with the chocolate… but I don’t think that’s possible.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Headless Angels and their Kings

Nearly four weeks ago I arrived in France (after the plane merriment!) on a Saturday night to much jetlag.  On Monday morning I was picked up at 5:30 am to start my workday (11:30 PM Atlanta time!) to catch a train to a frozen food factory in the north of France.  In all of three hours I traversed more than half the length of France via the TGV (the high speed trains at 200 - 350 mph – faster speeds than some commercial air flights!!) to arrive in the Champagne region.  Champagne can ONLY come from this region – *everything* else is just "sparkling wine".  French people try to trick you all the time on this haughty detail, but don’t fall for their cunning ways.  Worked for three days in a microbiology lab with a bunch of frozen vegetables, salmonella, listeria, and heavily accented French people – kind of like talking to an aging onion farmer with bad teeth from southern Georgia.
One of many angels sans heads
The champagne region has a “Tourist Route” that takes you all over the region's countryside, passing by miles and miles of champagne grape vines, all the big champagne houses (Moet & Chandon (Dom), Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot (Cristal), etc…), and about a million small champagne houses.  The entire region is a cask to underground cellars of champagne barrels and bottles.  Seriously, nearly the entire region!  (I took the Taitinger tour a few years ago – the cellars go on forever!!).

Had the opportunity to go for a couple runs in the city and be a tourist, picture-snapping at every street corner!  So, pictures---

Reims Cathedral – As mentioned before, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  This one is not much different, except that it is in the middle of cleaning and the clean and dirty differences are disgustingly impressive.  HOWEVER, this cathedral has a few interesting details… Every single king of France was crowned in this Cathedral!  The exterior also has remnants of some interesting details … Check out what some soldiers of the French Revolution did to many angels surrounding the entry doors…  Beheaded and Behanded, kind of like Marie-Antoinette.  

There are also a few pix of a big angel that is missing a wing and an arm.  She is the “Famous Reims Angel” that has been written about in tons of French stories and tales.  I have no idea why she is so famous, but she been written about for hundreds of years now apparently.  Research, anyone?

The last picture is Basilica Saint-Quentin, which like most 900+ year old buildings, is under renovation and cleaning.  It is big, old, dirty and bland (reference Georgia onion farmer again).  The Basilica in Lyon (Fourviere – last set of pix) is seriously spectacular; this gives you an interesting comparison.  It only warranted one picture (from my hotel room), and could have been skipped if I hadn’t been bored one afternoon.
Headless angel

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tomatoes and baguettes

Cheers from Lyon!

I haven’t told anyone lately that I am a building floor lift nor that I sleep with dirty blankets, but I did tell someone that I lived in Paris in 1917.  Not exactly correct, but who’s counting + or – 80 years.  She looked at me like I was from another world.

I am starting to develop French habits here already, like going to Sunday outdoors farmer’s markets that are found every couple of blocks. Today I bought 4.5 pounds of peaches for 1.50 euros.  No, I have no idea how I am going to eat that many peaches, but they were irresistible!  Last weekend I bought more zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, tomatoes and onions than any one family can eat in one week, let alone just me …all for less than 5 euros.  I’ve made ratatouille three times this week—Mom, please send recipes!!!!

A very small smpling of what I see every morning…and what has me running every night - oh! 
Finally I am catching upa to the technology world, and have improved communication lines – yeah!  My computer and I have rented anAtlanta number – 404.496.5516 –  If I am online I can answer, and if not you can leave a message (I am EST +6 hours).  Call, have a chat in France, leave a message, all is brilliant!  I’ll tell you about my baguette obsession and attempt to try all the bakeries in Lyon.

Gros bises!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Grapes or oranges for breakfast?

My first weekend market haul... all for about $5!
 It is cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a quart of orange juice.  Naturally yesterday morning when I went to buy breakfast at the supermarket and pick up a baguette at the bakery, I bought a bottle of wine.  Grapes and oranges – both fruits, after all.  Ok fine, so I bought a quart of orange juice too (for 1.69 euros) and a bottle of red (for 1.29 euros).  I drank the OJ in the morning and the wine at night, a nice compromise.

As with all languages, if you change one little letter, or add an accent were there isn’t one, your entire statement changes.  Today I told my building manager that, from my issued linens, my blanket was dirty, but instead said, “My blanket is salty; I’ll need a different one.”  I found a gym today and got some info/prices.  I told the sales guy that, for my occupation in France , I was an intern, but instead said “I am a building floor lift.”  How special.

French countryside at 200+ mph
France has a version of American Idol; they call it American Dreamz (yes, that’s a “z”).  Everyone sings American songs.  I can understand most of their english, but this guy just sang “Tainted Love” and I had no idea what language he was screaming.  The judges just told him he was absolutely fantastic.  There are some confused people over here.

My first 3 work days were spent via the TGV (200+ mph) train to the north of France in a microbiology lab.  Today I went on a 7 hour walk around the city, and my legs are telling me they’ve had enough.  Took lots of pictures though, and saw the most amazing Basilica ever.

Here is where I live!! (Click me!)
Takes you to exactly where I live - very cool!  Zoom out to see where Lyon is in France (SE, by the way!).

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Departure and Arrival (x 3)

Apparently I needed to pay back some of this good karma I’ve been getting lately.

Last Friday afternoon I showed up at the airport earlier than needed, not realizing that I only needed 1 hour pre-check-in for my first flight to JFK.  My flight boards on-time, everything is off to a good start.  I watch lots of people board, and this flight seems to have more kids on it than any other flight I have ever been on in my life.  Uh oh.  Well a 2.5 hour flight to New York turns out to be 4.25 hours of screaming kids instead, as we entered holding patterns and sat on the runway for-ev-er.  Oops, and now lookie there, my connecting flight to London has just departed.  I get rebooked to London (with another connecting to Lyon ), and am on the only other flight to Lyon that day, which is 7 hours later than my original.  (Did I mention my boss-to-be is picking me up at the airport at Lyon , and I have no way to get in touch with her to alert the change in plans???)

London flight (British Airways) delayed only 1.25 hours, we board and get pushed back from the gate.  We got pushed a whole 10 feet or so.  Then a few more feet.  After nearly 2 hours on the runway we shot up in the sky – yeah!  We landed in London , late obviously, so we had no gate to park our beast of an airplane.  By the way, this was the *biggest* airplane I have ever seen; it was a double-decker!!!!!  The wings were sooo long, two engines hanging off each wing, and way more tires/wheels than most semi-trailors.  After we landed I went upstairs on the double-decker beast; I had to know what they had going on.  The British and their double-decker buses and planes, I swear.  Turns out I wish I was up there… first-class beds!  (SEE attached couple of pix.)

While sitting on JFK runway for what seemed like forever, I on-demanded “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”  Now that is a great movie; I can’t believe it has taken me so many years to finally see it.  For the first 2/3 of the movie, I struggled to figure out whether Butch or the Kid was Paul Newman or Robert Redford.  I changed my mind over and over, then finally put my mind where I know best – food!  I started picturing all those bottles and jars of salad dressing and organic salsa that I have purchased--- Newman’s Own!  Paul Newman has a sketch of himself on his product; his vanity helped me in my movie knowledge!  I liked Butch – Paul played him well. :)  And Sundance wasn’t so bad either… ;)

Well friends, 28 hours of delayed and rebooked flights later, and I am finally looking at a bed.  That’s all she wrote—

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Across the Atlantic

Hi friends and family!
As many of you know, I am making my way back to France for a few months!  I accepted a summer internship with Europrobe ( ) in LYON, FRANCE, departing this Friday, June 1st and returning August 11th.
I don't know all the details quite yet, but I do know a few things:
My title is Business Biologist (to the United States region)
I am required to conform to the French 35-hour work week.
I have a studio apartment in the center of the city.
My joint welcomes all guests!!! -->Go ahead, trade in those frequent flyer miles!
I am getting paid a very nominal sum, which will all be allocated to paying rent and drinking wine.
I will miss you all lots!

Love and cheers!