Category Archives: adventure

Making Us All Look Like Such Creatures

Lonely Robot searching for a home in Park Slope.

Last you heard from me, I was typing to keep myself awake as I waited for a car to take me to the airport. The car showed up on time, although I stepped in a snow drift up to my knees as I tried to make it to the street to get in. The ride went smoothly; there was no ice on the roads and the streets were nearly empty. However, when I got to LaGuardia at about 3:30 am it was already crowded. People were sleeping against the walls, wrapped in towels and jackets, or huddled over their luggage in the three lines. I got in the self check in line, expecting to just print off my boarding pass and drop off my bag. However, as the line slowly trudged forward and people didn’t seem to understand that they could use any of the available machines, I soon found I was in the wrong line for the 6 am Atlanta flight and was told to go to the other end of the Delta terminal. There was no line for the machines there, so I printed off my boarding pass and looked around for the baggage drop. It turned out there was no separate baggage drop line and I had to get in the line of about 80 people who were checking in or trying to get on a flight after being delayed by the snow. Every staff member was incredibly unhelpful, with no one confirming that I was actually in the right line. And it was more of a mob than a line, and it wasn’t moving at all. Finally, the Delta people started shouting out flight numbers and you had to shoot your hand up in the air. Then, they would point to you, and you could get in a special line. If you dared to get in the special line without being called, you were severely scolded. I did finally get in the special line and got a “6 am” orange tag on my bag and then waited for about half an hour for an agent. What a relief when I finally got the tag on my luggage and was able to go through security! Security had no line, because everyone was stuck checking in. I’ve never so desperately wished I had brought carry-on luggage. Anyway, my flights went smoothly and I am now in Oklahoma City. But you probably want to hear about the snow that helped cause the insanity at LaGuardia, right?

Snow blanketing Elizabeth's street in the East Village.

Saturday there was snow. Lots of snow. It started falling just as I left my apartment to meet Elizabeth and Eszter at the Brooklyn Lyceum holiday market. I took shelter in a coffee shop, where one of the barista’s pointed out that I was reading the suddenly appropriate Snow by Orhan Pamuk. It was like living the literature! The snow was blowing horizontal on the street and felt like little ice knives on our faces as we walked around Park Slope. I was tempted to buy a necklace depicting a whale capsizing a boat, but I’m resisting purchases until January.

Snow covering the normally busy Astor Place, sometime around 1 am.

The snow kept falling, and after some brief holiday shopping in SoHo we retreated to Elizabeth’s apartment in the East Village. We checked in on City Drive Live, the cameras always showing live images from Times Square and other places in New York, and saw the snow starting the pile up as the night brought the colder weather. At around 1 am, I finally decided to go back to Brooklyn and stepped out into an East Village that could have been mistaken for a street in Geneva. Most of the snow was untouched and few people were out. Above, you can see Astor Place. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it was still snowing.

Snow in the subway.

Although it may be surprising for people not from Oklahoma, I really did see a lot of snow growing up in Bartlesville. And I love snowboarding and generally think all cities and landscapes are improved in beauty with snow. However, walking to the subway that night while it was still windy and snowing was freezing and I spent the better part of the subway ride trying to dry off my scarf and scrape the ice from my gloves.

Snow outside my apartment. Yes, I live by a funeral parlor. I'm a block from the cemetery, after all.

When I got back to my neighborhood my footprints were the first to mark the snow on my apartment steps. It was still snowing when I finally fell asleep.

Floral shop near my apartment.

When I woke up, I felt some of the same excitement I used to have as a kid, eager to see the way the snow had changed my world before it was marred by cars and people. I put on as many warm clothes as I could layer and headed out to the street, where my footsteps were still the only ones on the stairs, although they had been partly filled in by the last of the snow.

Can you see the Statue of Liberty from here? It's just visible from this hill by the cemetery near my apartment.

I first headed to Green-Wood Cemetery, remembering how amazing Père Lachaise was when it snowed in Paris (I’ll forget momentarily that that story ends with me accidentally getting locked in the cemetery). Unfortunately, Green-Wood was closed, so I walked around the perimeter a little before going into Manhattan to meet Elizabeth in the East Village.

Taxi covered in snow in the East Village.

It wasn’t as dreamlike as when I’d left it the night before, but there was still plenty of snow in the East Village. I feel bad for the people who had to try to get their cars out from the snow banks created by the plows.

McSorley's in the East Village.

We decided to go exploring, and I was immediately glad I’d worn my waterproof boots as the snow at the intersections was melting into slushy, gray piles under the car tires and pedestrians.

Astor Place, not quite a blizzard anymore.

The snow didn’t stop people from coming out, although people in the East Village seemed to have two fashion approaches to it. One was to wear absolutely everything remotely warm, resulting in little ability for movement. The other was to dress like it was any other day and pretend there was no snow, resulting in wet skinny jeans.

The lions at the New York Public Library were blinded by snow.

We took the train up to the New York Public Library and saw the snow covering the regal lions.

Snow in Bryant Park.

Then we went around to Bryant Park, where the snow had made the temporary holiday village and decorations even more charming.

Christmas tree in Bryant Park.

The Christmas tree in Bryant Park also had some snow on its branches and it was ringed by people getting their photos taken, probably for next year’s Christmas cards. The ice skating rink was also packed and people were building miniature snowmen around the park.

Atlas shrugged beneath the weight of winter.

We then walked up 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Center, which was just as insane as any other holiday day. We even got to witness a woman meandering in front of a bus, to which the NYPD traffic director said: “Ma’am!!! There’s a bus behind you! You almost got hit by a bus! OH MY GOD!!”

Horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

We took a break and got a coffee inside and then walked to Central Park. It seemed like everyone, whether tourist or New Yorker, was there building snowmen, sledding, or marveling at the snowy trees as if they were in Narnia.

Snowman in Central Park, wearing a fancy leaf crown.

If I had worn waterproof gloves, I would have built a snowman myself, but we just admired other people’s work. Some of the snowmen had jackets and pipes, and this one had a lovely hat made of leaves.

Snow in Central Park.

Surprisingly, I only saw one person fall on the ice, and surprisingly it wasn’t me. I guess I’m somewhat balanced, but I’m also terribly accident prone. We also saw some people unwisely thinking of walking on the ice over the above pond. Luckily, they changed their mind.

Mouse on the snow in Central Park.

There was a little mouse scampering over the snow, probably looking for somewhere to hide, that was being stalked by a horde of photographers. Look, I think I found some of those photographs on flickr. It isn’t the celebrities that get the most paparazzi in New York, it’s the rare wildlife. I hope this mouse survived his day in the spotlight. As you can see if you look at other people’s pictures, people actually picked the mouse up. Probably the same people who would freak the hell out if they saw the same mouse in their kitchen.

Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.

Our last stop in Central Park was Bethesda Terrace, where the angel on the fountain was surrounded by snow and people. I especially liked the St. Bernard dog that you can see in this picture, who was probably having the best day of his year. How did that poor dog make it through August? Well, he had no brandy around his neck so we decided to head back to the East Village.

Saxophone player in Central Park.

On the way out of the park, we heard this saxophone player adding improv to some holiday songs and just down the path there was a choir. I imagine they make a lot more money when people have the holiday spirit spurred in their hearts by the snow. After the park, we had soup and apple cider at Elizabeth’s apartment and then I went home, stayed up all night, and got the car to the airport. You know what happens after that. The end of the story is I didn’t go to sleep until Monday night.

Vienne

Church Chairs in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne.

Church Chairs in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne.

In preparation for my May Rome adventure, and because it is only a 50 minute train ride, I went to Vienne this Wednesday with Australian assistant Jacinta. Like my current French hometown Valence, Vienne is on banks of the Rhône River in the Rhône-Alpes region. Vienne gets most of its tourism for its Roman monuments, which were built after Vienne became a Roman colony in 47 BC. There weren’t many other tourists on the rather rainy day we picked to visit, leaving some of the sites eerily empty.

Someone had carved out the faces on these at the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne. A lot of the statues and carvings had been decapitated.

Someone had carved out the faces on these at the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne. A lot of the statues and carvings had been decapitated.

The city has a very handy self-guided walking tour that goes through town, starting at the tourism office. There were yellow arrows painted all over the ground with bronze tree markers leading the way. There were even designated stopping areas to gaze on a particular building from the appropriate angle. We did veer off the path a few times, but overall it was a great way to see the city without getting lost. We first walked past some ruins from the Roman town that had been incorporated into an ugly shopping center and then went by the Eglise Saint-Pierre. It’s more of a museum than a church now, but is significant as being one of the oldest medieval churches standing in the country. Our path then took us to the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice, a stunning Flamboyant Gothic church.

Abandoned glove in the Cathedrale that may or may not have been used to press down those five broken piano keys.

Abandoned glove in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne that may or may not have been used to press down those five broken piano keys.

The Cathédrale Saint-Maurice was completely empty and a little bit creepy. Most of the statues and even some of the carvings on the walls had been decapitated or had their faces dug out. I assume this happened during the French Revolution, but I couldn’t find any information. There were also odd things sitting around, like this dusty glove on a broken piano. Bizarre as some of it was, I enjoyed the unsettling vibe the church gave off. I know it’s awful to say, but after seeing so many Gothic cathedrals in France they all start to run together. But I don’t think I’ll forget the faceless Saints and angels of the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice.

Temple dAuguste et de Livie.

Temple d'Auguste et de Livie.

A short distance from the cathedral was the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie, a Roman temple originally dedicated to the cult of Augustus. It managed to survive over two thousand years of history by being transformed in a Christian church and then a temple of reason during the French Revolution. It was later a museum and a library and today seems to be used as a centerpiece for the square that was built up around it. I was disappointed there was no way to walk through it, but it was still spectacular to come around a corner and suddenly see such a well-preserved Roman temple.

Spiky-teethed characters on the side of L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas.

Spiky-teethed characters on the side of L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas.

We circled L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas and walked across the river to an archaeological site where there are excavated remains of the Roman civilization. You had to pay to actually get in, but we were able to see a lot from the fence. After that we had fougasses for lunch. They’re a specialty of the south of France and are basically soft bread with a filling inside. Kind of like a sophisticated hot pocket, except bigger and with better ingredients.

A crying statue in the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet.

A crying statue in the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet.

We next went by the Roman theater and then up the hill behind it to the the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet. It was a bit of a steep climb, but the view of the valley and the city was worth it. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain, but I’d brought an umbrella from my broken umbrella collection so we stayed relatively dry. It’s so windy in Valence that I’ve given up on buying new umbrellas because I know they’ll just get turned inside out. I should be used to high winds after living in Oklahoma for most of my life, but I still haven’t mastered the art of umbrellas in stormy weather.

The last part of our walk took us past more Roman ruins and we continued south to the Pyramide du Cirque Romain, which is the only thing remaining from the Roman circus. There is a legend that it is the tomb of Pontius Pilate, but that’s never been confirmed. Today it’s at the center of a traffic circle, around the corner from a kebab shop with a miniature Pyramide outside.

I’m going to Marseille tomorrow! The weather looks rainy, but at least I’m avoiding the apocalyptic snow that seems to be charging through Oklahoma. Be safe people back home!

Château de Crussol

Chateau de Beauregard. This gate looked like it went to a secret garden, but turned out to be the grave of M. Charles Beauregard.

Château de Beauregard. This gate looked like it went to a secret garden, but turned out to be the grave of M. Charles Beauregard.

After several months spent living in Valence, I finally went up to the castle ruins on the cliff overlooking town. The weather was perfect for a hike, so me and Lauren went across the river to Guilherand-Granges in the Ardèche. On our way up the road, we explored the Château de Beauregard, seen above. It seemed empty, although internet research tells me you can rent rooms and host events in it. In the picture above, there’s a rusty gate and behind it was a garden full of bushes. I thought it would be a charming little English garden, but hidden by the raised bushes was a slab of concrete with a cross on it. The carved words on it were almost worn off, yet I could make out the name Charles. I feel like “The Hidden Grave of M. Charles Beauregard” would make an excellent title for a short story. Although it also sounds like if Edgar Allan Poe wrote a Hardy Boys book.

Valence, seen from the Chateau de Crussol.

Valence, seen from the Château de Crussol.

I remember once when I was growing up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and was on the top of the Price Tower, where there is a view of the whole downtown. I was shocked at how small it was, that there was farmland just after the baseball stadium. It was a bit of the same with Valence. The view from the Château de Crussol made it seem so small, and the centre ville where I spend most of my time was even smaller. Beyond it was farmland and in the distance snow peaked mountains.

Ruins of the Chateau de Crussol.

Ruins of the Château de Crussol.

The Château de Crussol is the remains of what was once a 13th century castle. After the Crussol family married into a family with a better castle, they moved away from the limestone structure and it was abandoned. However, there was more devastation for the poor castle to come, as it was set on fire during the Guerre des Religions and there was later a mining explosion in the quarry underneath it. It was even struck by lightning about 50 years ago. But it seems to be having a bit more luck these days and it was getting some of its stone walls fixed while we were there.

Remains of walls over looking the valley.

Remains of walls over looking the valley.

We spent some time wandering around the ruins and climbing on the large rocks overlooking the valley. Don’t worry, I didn’t get too close to the edge. Apparently there is a trail that goes from the castle to Soyons, where there are caves, so we might do that soon.

Me and Australian assistant Jacinta went to see Pitié, a really really really weird play. There was a lot of cathartic dancing and screaming and people taking their clothes on and off. I think it was the story of Christ, but there was so much going on that I’m not sure. I think the music was by Bach.

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last night at Penny Kennys, the only Irish pub in town. It’s pretty crazy that I was in New York City for St. Patrick’s last year and France this year. Where will I be next year? There was a good crowd, probably the biggest I’m seen for a nonstriking even in Valence. Speaking of which, there is yet another strike tomorrow, so I’m off of work. But everything will be closed, so I’m not quite sure what I’ll do. You might see more strike pictures here. I have a trip to Aix-en-Provence planned for this Saturday which I’m looking forward to.