Tuesday, July 26, 2011


First and foremost I acknowledge that as of today, Keith and I have been married eight years! Yikes. Where did the time go and what have we been up to you ask? Well over the past month we have been doing some more exploring in Marseille and Provence, and the job hunt for me is over. I now have two part time jobs. To fit with the title of this blog both jobs were acquired by me simply emailing institutions out of the blue, instead of responding to specific adds. I know this is not unusual, but in the teaching profession which is so structured in Canada this is a bit of a strange way of a getting a job.

Now that the update is over we can get on to the other curiosities I have been encountering lately. The first has to do with the weather. It has been windy for the past week and a half now, and when I say windy I mean gusts up to 90 km/h. So the mistral has chased away all of our nice weather and I have been wearing jeans. Just when I thought I was getting used to the heat, I have to deal with temperatures in the low twenties. It better smarten up, so that I can get some more quality beach time in soon.

With regards to the weather curiosities have continually been popping up the form of summer fashion. Unlike in the winter, when everyone in Marseille seems to wear blacks, greys and taupe, colours are now part of everyone’s wardrobe. This includes wearing brightly coloured bras and sometimes underwear that can purposefully be seen through shirts and dresses. Women must buy specific bras with coloured straps which are meant to be shown by shirts that sit off the shoulder. I know being a high school teacher you wouldn’t expect me to be shocked at this, but when it is perfectly acceptable for women over fifty to wear these types of outfits at the office I am can’t help chuckling at how uptight we are in North America about these things.  I must be fair and say that the fashion police here would be arresting equal numbers of men. Since summer has arrived, shirts have become optional for men of all shapes and sizes. One of the most common sights are groups of teenage boys riding their bikes down the street in their bathing suits, no shirt, no helmet, just a towel around their necks.

The highlight/lowlight of summer fashion observations was on the bus a couple of weeks ago. The perpetrator was a large woman who was dressed for the over 30 degree weather and showing a considerable amount of cleavage. After finishing a loud phone call, she decided to use her exposed cleavage as a shelf to store her mobile on. This was one of those situation where you really didn’t want to look, but how could you not!

The photos below demonstrate how many people in the ancient buildings of Marseille move. You will notice that it is perfectly acceptable to block off the street for the day to let the movers do their work. 

The other local curiosity we have been embracing is the game of petanque. A couple weekends ago, the park near our house hosted the World Championships (they are always in Marseille by the way). The event was chaotic. Imagine a big family picnic with everyone playing bacchii and that is basically what this was. There were over four thousand teams. Each was assigned a general area where they played, but really one team could be playing right next to another and the crowds were continually walking in and out of the games. Unlike in Canada where there would be concerns about heavy steal balls causing injury as they are being rolled and thrown ten metres, there were no boards, partitions, or divisions. In addition to this, it is humorous to see someone at a World Championship smoking as they play.

Measuring while the crowd loudly voices its opinion.

Even the children look like old men when they are playing.

Probably the funniest thing about the petanque World Championships was that there was a prize for everyone. Yes, every team got a certain amount of pastis (the local drink of Marseille) and then if the team made it through for rounds of play, they started on the cash prizes. Needless to say with single elimination, many teams were walking around with cups full of pastis by mid-afternoon of the first day of play.

To enable enough playing surface for all of the teams in the tournament, every path and paved section of the park was covered with a fine gravel to enable. This was promptly cleaned up two weaks ago and then new gravel was brought in for this weekend for another tournament. The tournament this weekend was for the Game Provencial. This is the ancestor of petanque and could be considered more athletic, but don’t worry many competitors were still smoking throughout. The differences include the playing surface which is extended from 6-10 m to 15-20. The players must throw balanced on one foot and if he/she is trying to remove a ball he/she can take three approaching steps or leaps, but must throw the ball before he/she hits the ground on his/her third step. For this tournament they actually had hay bales set up to stop the balls from careening into other players and onlookers.

Our mission continues as well to discover local curiosities.  This past weekend we went to the Panier district of Marseille. It is the oldest area of the city and really does have its own ambiance. In fact, walking around in this neighbourhood felt like we had left Marseille completely. We wondered the streets, went to an exposition on orientalism paintings in Europe, visited one of the oldest churches in the city and visited the former Roman docks.

These large jars were where various products were stored after arriving in Marsillia.

The other weekend we rented a car and did some touring around Provence. Our trip included a stop in Roussillon. This hilltop village is built from local stone and painted with the natural occurring ochre which is bright bright red. Below I have included some of the park you can walk through to see the Ochre cliffs.  The ochre is everywhere and stained our sandals and feet into looking like we got really bad fake tans. More on our past explorations in Provence to come soon.

Monday, July 4, 2011


So as promised a quick review of my trip to England about a month ago. I had a splendid time and I’m so lucky to have a belle-soeur  to travel with. The highlight of the trip was, as you see above, visiting Pemberley. Okay, it’s really called Lyme Park, but it was magnificent and totally fit being cast as Pemberley in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. The inside, was equally amazing with an immense library overlooking the park, but sadly photographs weren’t allowed.

Our visit to Pemberley was simply by chance. We randomly decided to head into the Peak District and it was only once we were there that we discovered our dream destination was just an hour away. We stayed at a lovely hotel which provided a relaxing contrast to our busy days snooping about Manor Houses.

Yes this was our hotel!

Some of the other houses we visited included. Erdigg in Wales, note the sign in Welsh and English, and it included an interesting tour of the “downstairs” servant’s quarters, as well as the usual decorative and opulent “upstairs” rooms.

In some cases, the house was eclipsed by the gardens that surround it. This was the case with Tatton Park and Packwood House below. It is completely understandable why the rich built these homes as retreats and hunting lodges. The natural beauty of these places was a welcome contrast from my own city life, and I can only imagine that they would be a welcome oasis when one lives most of one’s  life in a fourteenth or fifteenth century dirty metropolis.

The garden’s of Packwood House made me think that at any minute a white rabbit with a pocket watch would be popping it’s head around a corner.

History was all around us, but some of the history which intrigued me most and has been a point of interest for some time was that surrounding the reformation in England. We saw an example of a Catholic Bible from the time of Elizabeth the first at Lyme Park. It would have been hidden away somewhere in the house but included annotations about how much the family hated the local protestant minister. At Baddersly Clinton (below) we also saw the reconstruction of the hidden chapel that the household used for worship and three priest holes which would have hid Jesuit priests from the local Sheriff who would periodically search households suspected of Catholicism. It is difficult to imagine keeping one’s faith so secret and it is interesting to think about the political significance these prominent houses played, which remained Catholic at heart, but Protestant in everyday life.

Elise finding her intials. Is it a secret code.

The hidden chapel.

I also had a grand time meeting Elise’s English mates and I was able to sit in on one of her classes. Stevenage is quiet suburban place, but it was an excellent jumping off point for some local sights. These included Hatfield House, Cambridge and of course London. All in all a wonderful and much needed week of English and relaxation. If only I could travel all of the time! (sigh)


Fun at the Cambridge Market

The grave of Robert Cecil, spy master to Elizabeth I, at Hatfield House.

Hatfield House