Friday, March 1, 2019

The Weather

Remember how people were commenting and complaining that we had practically no sun in Paris in January? By January 11, the headlines were announcing that, so far, there had been less than a minute a day of sunshine. It remained pretty dismal all the way to the end of the month. That doesn't mean it was exceptionally rainy. In fact, according to the Montsouris meteorology center, there was 2% less rain than normal and 43% less sunshine. Temperatures were about normal. The Paris-Montsouris website is quite a resource.
Back to the sunshine. In January, only 35.5 hours of sunshine. We were depressed. Now, look at February. Glorious sunshine and incredibly cloudless, blue skies. Temperatures so far above average that it seemed like late Spring, already, with a high of 20°C (68.7°F). Almost 161 hours of sunshine, 103% more than normal! I had a cold in February and it was very nice to lie on my bed with the sun streaming in as I recovered. I imagine our gas consumption for heating was down, which would be a nice side effect. With all that sunshine comes a downside, of course. We haven't had enough rain and there have been peaks of pollution in the major cities that set off measures to reduce certain vehicle traffic.
Are we back to normal on this first day of March? Well, it started raining, just a bit, yesterday. This morning, we had a little more rain. The sky is gray. However, this is not a March coming in like a lion. On the radio and TV, there is a little speculation starting, as usual, with forecasts of drought, bad fruit crops if we get another late freeze, as we did last year. Poor crops are predicted, in any case, leading to higher prices at the market. The trees are budding in our yard. If they start to bloom and a freeze does come, then yes, we will not have any plums, like last year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Spring is on the way

It's only the light that tells us that Spring is coming. It's getting light earlier and staying light later. I can get up and it's already light out and when I come home from an afternoon in Paris, it's still light out.
I haven't been knitting on the machines since before Christmas. Every day, I want to and then start doing something else. I have been hand knitting a pair of socks, though. They are almost done. I want to figure out the circular skirt I started back in October. Each time I start it, I have to stop because I won't have enough yarn if I keep going. It's going to have to be just a bit flared, not absolutely circular. And I want to make a sweater for S.
Last Friday, I went to Bordeaux for the day, for the funeral of my friend, Lucy. She was an inspiration. She mentored me through the Overseas Americans Week and so much more. I miss her. As much as the ceremony at the crematorium was emotional and sad, the afternoon at the apartment was a party in her honor with friends from AARO, FAWCO, DA, and Bordeaux, and her family. We sent her off with applause once again.
I hadn't been in Bordeaux in more than 20 years! It's changed. It's clean. There are tram lines all over. The sky was blue and the temperature very mild. I can imagine living there. Chr. and I took a taxi from the train station to the crematorium but we hitched a ride back to the city. The lovely woman who took us actually gave us a tour of the city before dropping us off at the Place de la Bourse at the entrance to Lucy's street. It was very kind of her to do that.
I could tell I was coming down with a cold that morning. Just the very beginning -- that scratchiness at the back of my throat. Since I'd been babysitting C. on Tuesday, I didn't have to think hard about how I caught a cold. It's running its course: Saturday, runny; Sunday, stuffy; Monday less stuffy as it descended; today, in my lungs with a good cough. I'm well enough to go into Paris.
First there's a meeting with the VP Advocacy to discuss the position papers for the upcoming OAW. At Lucy's, the president of FAWCO asked me to serve as liaison between AARO and FAWCO for that.
Following that, there's another memorial -- not for Lucy, but for Lisa, who died suddenly a week ago. She was only 58!
And that's that!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Christmas in Florida - 2 (and it's already February!)

I left off just before arriving in Winter Park for a brief visit with our cousins. For the children, it was the first time they met! They are fourth cousins! My grandmother and Rog's grandmother were sisters. Our fathers were 1st cousins. We were 2nd cousins. Our children are 3rd cousins. Their children are 4th cousins. Better than cousinhood, though, is their age difference. Seven years ago, a girl on their side and a boy on ours. Five years ago, a boy on their side and a girl on ours. The kids hit it off immediately. No language problems; they simply played. S was a bit apprehensive about not being able to speak English enough to play and I assured him it wouldn't matter and it didn't.
I got to spend a little time with G, Rog's wife whom I love as if she were my sister.
That evening, we had a big family dinner (G's other children and grandchildren were visiting that week, too.). The next morning we walked around the Rollins campus. Then, before the others joined us in downtown Winter Park, we got to see a parade. It was a small parade, just two college bands, West Virginia and Syracuse, in town for a competition. We had a very nice lunch and then, when the others joined us, the children played a bit in the park. G and I sat on a bench and let the others go off for a walk together. It was nice to just relax. Later, a little pool time and off to G's house for dinner. On Saturday, we spent the morning at the Winter Park farmer's market before heading westward towards Clearwater.
Clearwater is home -- to the Phillies, of course, but this was too early for Spring training. It is also home to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Rescue Center. It's claim to fame is the dolphin, Winter, who has been fitted with a prosthetic tail. However, the center is much more than just this dolphin. It rescues dolphins, turtles, otters and other marine life from the accidents caused by passing boats, mostly, but also from being orphaned or sick. It's a research and education center and well worth the visit.

When we left Clearwater to go down to Fort Meyers and Sanibel, we stopped at the Manatee Viewing Center at the Tampa Electric plant at Apollo Beach. Those humps you see in the photo are a herd of manatee. You can never see a whole manatee out of the water. They don't jump as dolphins do, so sometimes you see a head, sometimes a tail, but most often just the backs. The manatee are vegetarian, so the fish are not bothered by them and there are plenty of fish around. Where there are fish, there are birds, lots of birds, mostly pelicans. Again, this is well worth visiting.

The kids spent a day on the beach at Sanibel and I spent a day on my own, just relaxing. Oh, we visited the Naples Gardens with a lovely display of Frabel's glass works -- not to be confused with Chiuly, after which we headed eastward towards Homestead. We followed the Tamiami Trail, where we saw a couple of very big alligators -- or crocodiles -- we didn't get close enough to examine their snouts. S spotted a flamingo and I spotted an eagle. There were plenty of herons, egrets, and other birds. If the Everglades park had been open, maybe we would have tried to go, but because of the government shutdown, we did not. In fact, we got to Homestead a bit late and wanted to get up early the next day for the drive to Key West.
It's a long drive down to Key West and we stopped along the way, but arrived at the Southwinds in time for lunch. It was too early to check in, but we were allowed to park the car, so we went across the street and picked up some lunch to eat on one of the tables near the swimming pool. This motel used to be the Southwind (singular) and this is where we used to stay when I was little. There's the original motel and the one that used to be next to it has been incorporated into it, so it takes up half the block. The other half of the block is the Best Western Hibiscus, which used to be just the Hibiscus. It is unrecognizable. Across the street is the Blue Marlin, exactly as it was. Because the Southwinds bought the next door property, they transformed the old office into a bar that stays open until 2 a.m. They put our family in the room next to the bar. Well, not me, I was streetside in one of the original Southwind rooms. But putting a family of four, two of them little kids, next to a bar was not a good idea. Between the bar noise and the cocks crowing at around 4, they got next to no sleep.
 We walked around Key West. There's a free shuttle bus to take you from one end of the island to the other, so we took a bus over -- got off at Dey St. and stopped for a moment at 614. I even knocked hoping Suzie DePoo's daughter might be there, but there was no one in. We watched the catch of the day being prepared and the pelicans waiting not too patiently for the scraps to be thrown to them. There were plenty of tarpons milling around, too. And a manatee! In the port, eating seaweed. And some small sharks. We walked back to the motel along Duval and that's when we finally checked in to the motel. There are three pools to choose from -- the little ones were happy. We hopped back on a shuttle to return to the port for dinner.
On the drive up to Miami Beach, we stopped on Key Largo for a glass bottom boat ride, which all enjoyed. We had dinner at the Havana 1957 on Lincoln Road -- excellent and we had enough left-overs for dinner the next evening in our suite! The only downside was the noise, even though we were outside and not near the loudspeakers. We could not hold any kind of conversation. L and G went for a walk and I stayed in with the kids. The next day, after a long visit to the Frost Science Museum they went to the beach, while I went for a walk in the neighborhood.
We ended our trip with a drive through around the Wynwood walls, the murals that are so well known around the world. A long picnic in a park with a playground and plenty of shade trees. Last minute shopping. Back to Fort Lauderdale for the flight home -- delayed 4 hours.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Christmas in Florida - I

We split up for Christmas. I went to Florida with L, G, and their two kids, while Paul and the rest of the French family went to the U.K. to spend the holiday with C, G, and their kids.
First a short report on their trip. They've all sworn never go by car again. It's usually a 5-6 hour trip, half from Nogent to Calais, the channel tunnel, and the other half from Folkestone to Northampton. There's always a delay as we approach the Dartford tunnel east of London and then slow traffic on the M25, before it gets even slower on the M1. But this last trip was interminable on the U.K. side -- both coming and going! Otherwise, it was too short, not enough play time with the kids, nor post-Christmas shopping time.
Christmas day, on a jungle trail on the way to Cocoa Beach
I decided to go to Florida -- a nostalgic road trip. With two little ones, a road trip is not an easy endeavor. They're too big to fall asleep as soon as you hit the road; they are just the right age to fight about who gets to sit where. About who gets to sit next to Maman or Grandma. About whose arm is a millimeter on "MY" side of the armrest - which was a full center seat wide. The fight over Maman was so constant, I got to sit in the front most of the trip, which is a shame, because for G, it was a trip of discovery.
(I think it so strange that all my in-law children are "G": C and G, E and G, L and G!)
We flew on Norwegian from Paris CDG to Fort Lauderdale (FLL). I didn't buy the tickets, but I know that the round trip, for a Christmas vacation, was quite reasonable. I still like CDG 1. There's not as much walking to find where to check in. In fact, for Norwegian, if you come by RER, you come out of the RER station at the lowest level, the boutique level, of the terminal, which is where Norwegian check in is. The boarding procedure is not as well-organized as Southwest's, but since we have assigned seats, that's not really a worry. In France, boarding, even when announced by zone, is a mob scene. Norwegian is a low-cost outfit, so you do pay for checked baggage and the carry-on limit is 10kg. And they may not be around for very long. Our tickets were already booked when this article came out in October. 
The plane was a comfortable Boeing 787. Packed full, but still comfortable. We had assigned seats, but not all together, because they don't allow pre-check-in seat selection. We were split 3 and 2 with just a little squabbling about who got to sit where. We had our own picnics. We ate the first before going through security at the airport and the second on the plane. The meals they were selling during the flight were not appealing and very expensive, so it was a good call by L and G to have picnics. They did come around with water, juices, and coffee. The movie selection was fine. 
On arrival, I zipped through immigration, thanks to an app I had previously uploaded. I did not realize that it meant I'd be separated from the others. As it turned out, I was able to collect the checked baggage and have it all waiting when the others came through. The next step was getting the car. There's a bus pick-up at the OTHER extremity of the airport. There's a centralized, off-site car-rental garage, as in San Diego. The only way to get there is by bus and EVERYONE rents a car on arrival in Florida. We managed to get on the third bus that came by once we got to the line. The bus is packed to the limit, then unpacked when you get to the car rental center. After that, it was a breeze to take the car and head up to the hotel Lantana.
Before going to bed, we just barely managed to get seated at the Old Key Lime House, which used to be, before the 2005 hurricane destroyed it, the Old Crabpot, for Christmas eve dinner. Just like old times! C slept on L's shoulder from the car, through the meal, and back to the car! We were the last to be allowed in the restaurant, had a very nice meal, and were the last to leave. Back to the hotel and to bed. 
3460 So. Ocean Blvd.
Christmas morning, we crossed over to the island and started northward. The motel, the Hawaiian is now a construction site for a new hi-rise. We stopped at 3460, for old times sake and continued up A1A, where Trump was not in residence, so there was no difficulty driving up the coast. We meandered, took a couple of "jungle trails" and got to Cocoa Beach in time for some play on the beach. L had found the South Beach Inn,
L's shot of the South
Beach Inn, beach side
no pool, direct access on the beach, with a two-bedroom, one bathroom, kitchen suite that looked like it had its last renovation back in the 60s. Christmas Day -- the manager was taking the rest of the day off, so he'd left the keys in the letter box outside the office. He wasn't far away; when I needed to get sheets for the living room futon, he was able to leave them off in the room while we were at the beach. It was great -- really. Friendly -- other guests were sitting in the lounge chairs by the dune and it was easy to strike up a conversation. The wifi code was laid back, cool.  It's a shame is was just a one-night stay.
Unfortunately, nothing was open for dinner. The only Chinese restaurant we found, and of course, was open, was fully booked and we ended up in a closed shopping center except for the Chinese take-away. Really -- what are tourists to do? Even Ron-Jon's was open on Christmas day, though, and I found the sandals that E. wanted. 
We got up early -- no problem, considering our jetlag -- to watch a magnificent sunrise on the ocean and went to IHOP for breakfast before continuing up the coast. We stopped for a beach break at New Smyrna Beach on our way to Saint Augustine. We didn't visit Kennedy Space Center, but we drove up to the old entrance to the parking lot, where we could see the launch rockets. As we crossed inlets and the intracoastal waterway, S was particularly attentive to the boats, the yachts. 
It's winter, so even though we were pretty far south, the sun sets early. We did get to St. Augustine early enough to walk around a bit before the sun set. Due to the government shutdown, the fort was closed, but we could, and did, walk around the exterior. Someone was flying a drone over the fort and we watched the drone for a little while. Then, we headed for the town for dinner. It was teeming with tourists and tourist shops. Most of the restaurants were not able to take us for dinner until we found an Irish pub, where they sat us at a tall table outside. I had a crunchy BLT. I don't remember how many slices of bacon there were -- more than usual. It was good. And key lime pie -- real key lime pie.
This platform rocking chair in the lighthouse
living room remindedme of the one we have
that my mother bought at an auction about
60 years ago.
There's a lighthouse at St. Augustine, with a keeper's house. When you see what they started with in 1980, it's incredible. The house is perfectly restored. The upstairs is devoted to the shrimping industry that was so important to the town. The main floor has been partially furnished as it was when the keeper and his family lived there. There are documents from the early 20th century. Downstairs, there is a marine archeology exhibit. All very interesting. I had plenty of time to visit because I did not go up into the lighthouse with the others. There was a bit of a jungle walk, a playground, a boat building area, and the old WWII era Coast Guard buildings. 
We were still early birds at this stage of the trip, so after a stop at a super market, we were already in Palatka for a picnic lunch on the St. Johns river. Palatka was a major port. Big boats could make it up the river from Jacksonville and smaller boats from upriver could transfer their cargo there. After our picnic on the waterfront, we took a walk on the main street. You could tell it was once a major town. There's a courthouse. There are big storefronts. It's dead. There was a beauty salon that was open and that was it. There are mural paintings - maybe an effort to draw in the tourists. It's sad. You can tell that there are still farms with cattle and horses and there are some orange orchard that we passed on the way, but no signs of people. There is a bright spot, the Saint Johns River Center, which is an educational venue for school children. It's well organized, introducing the children to the local ecology. We spent a long moment, there.
From Palatka, it was easy to follow route 17 down to Winter Park.
More to come in part II.