Friday, September 19, 2014

France Observations

Travel is adventure and discovery of things new and even after multiple trips to France, there is still something new.   

The last time we were here, we watched the confused election of the leader of the center-right party, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (union for a popular movement) or UMP, the party of the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy.  It was an entertaining election as the winning candidate was not clear for weeks--and it was never clear--period--to many. But it was amusing to watch from an outsider's perspective--an outsider who was spotty in the language but understanding enough to be entertained by it.  Each trip promises a political diversion.  This time, Nicolas Sarkozy is making a bid for the same leadership of the UMP. His return into the fray, so to speak. 

In northwestern France, it appears that all the vines have been pulled up and replaced with corn.  Corn fields are everywhere.  Whatever happened to the wine grapes?  As we head more to the south, we hope we find the vineyards of old rather than the fields of cattle feed and ethanol.  

As I may have mentioned in previous posts from the last trip, I hear more and more English--not that I hear people actually holding conversations in English, but English phrases here and there.  On the radio, I heard a woman say, "pas trop, pas too much."  Translated that is "not too much, not too much," half in French and sort of half in English.  The t.v. commercials are replete with English words and expressions--in print, on radio and on television.
Century 21!  Nothing French about that.  Taken from outside my hotel window.

In the supermarket, I see more shopping carts with bags of chips, bottles of soda, prepared meals.  Said carts are more often pushed by women who have long ago passed the lithe/obese balance--and many are accompanied by children who have seen a little too much of the inside of a candy bar wrapper.  

I see more signs that prohibit the four-legged variety of friend from entry.  That includes supermarkets, the occasional restaurant, even at a hotel.  

Who could deny entrance to these three?
From what seems like time immemorial, dogs have been welcomed in restaurants, museums, stores and anywhere else their human companions go.

Speed cameras have grown completely out of control. They are everywhere.  Small roads, highways, city streets, country lanes.  First there's the warning:  Speed cameras ahead.  Then there's the actual speed camera looking like something out of a Stephen Spielberg movie--daring you to exceed the speed limit.  And what's more surprising is that the French are obeying the speed limit and its constant changes.  I picture some bureaucrat sitting with a map and a stylus:  "Here's a long stretch, let's make it 90 kph.  But here's a little corner so let's stick 70 kph there."  It's like a game.  In the town, it suddenly changes to 50, then 30 where there's a speed bump.  A 100 kilometer trip is a lesson in vigilance.  I've become obsessive about finding the speed limit signs.  Without them, I'm lost--and edgy.

As a constant reminder, every evening, I have seen an hour-long program featuring accidents, their victims, the emergency responders, the consequences both to the victims and the perpetrators.  It's like sitting in traffic school every evening--not that I've ever been to traffic school, but I can imagine.  

But some things remain the same.  
France loves its flowers and gardens.  
In great profusion--winter or summer, the roundabouts, the flower boxes, the planters, the bouquets are artfully arranged like a beautiful artist's palette of contrast and blending that occurs in nature.   
Concarneau old city
Thank goodness for adventure.  May it never end.

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