Tag Archives: amusements

Of bikes and bonnets

Caitlin and I just returned from a magical adventure.

The Loire Valley is littered with castles, yet in our seven months here, we had visited only one castle each (the closest one) and hadn’t even laid eyes on the Loire River. For the sake of stories and photo albums, we decided to rectify that situation by biking to the nearby village of Ponts-de-Cé. When we got there, we were devastated to discover that the Loire had disappeared. “How will they make wine?!” we cried in disbelief.

Scenic overlook of the Low-ire.

False alarm! A few meters farther, we got a real view of the Loire, which does indeed contain water.

This is the real Loire.

After snacking on bread and apples in the park, we had over an hour to twiddle our thumbs until the castle museum opened. Ponts-de-Cé itself was fairly nondescript, but Caitlin had a great idea. “This would be more fun if we pretend it’s another country,” she said. So we did.

Like France, Ponts-de-Cé was still in Easter Sunday mode—that is, closed—so our only possible option for entertainment was a tabac that sold wine for —not kidding—1€10/glass. A country where wine is as cheap as water? Yes, please.

After a glass or three, we headed to the most ridiculous(ly wonderful) museum in the world.

From outside, Pont-de-Cé’s castle doesn’t look like much. It has neither moat nor ramparts, and kind of looks chopped in half. Because theirs lacks the grandeur of so many castles so very close by, I think the good people of Ponts-de-Cé knew they needed an edge. So once upon a time, someone said, “Hey I know! Let’s fill our B-list castle with bonnets!”

Inside, therefore, now lies the Musée des coiffes et des traditions—no joke, a museum full of hundreds of white lace bonnets.

France has a thing for putting glorious creepy mannequins in museums. This one was no exception.

Room1, in which our bike trek to this foreign land was rewarded with creepy mannequins in funny hats.

Room 2, in which there are bonnets, bonnets, everywhere, yet not a one to wear.

The Ponts-de-Cése (the way I pronounce their nationality in my head, just by the way, sounds like “pond disease”) taught me an important lesson on my role as a woman. Most of the bonnets featured some motif (flowers, leaves, bells) in a set of seven, to symbolize the Seven Virtues of Women.

Work, constancy, fidelity, courage, beauty, patience, and purity. I've got courage and beauty down, so maybe it's time to focus on my constancy if I want to be the perfect woman...

Throughout the museum, we pretended we were shopping for my wedding veil.

We chose this one.

Room 3, in which there were even more creepy mannequins. I'm sure they come to life when we're not looking.

It got even better. Mindful of its castle setting, the bonnet museum invites you up the tower. On the way up the winding stairs, you pass the ominously-labeled “Room of Discipline.”

I didn't feel like reading the explanation provided, because it was more fun to guess discipline involved being made into a wig.

The “Room of Women’s Security” housed an impressive collection of dolls and some unlabeled pottery. Most of the dolls came from France, but also elsewhere in Europe, and just for fun, Guatemala.

The dolls were also wearing bonnets.

What I loved about the museum, other than its obvious ridiculous factor, is that I’ve always loved old-fashioned clothes. My mother will gladly regale you with tales of the Laura Ingalls Wilder costumes she made me for Halloween. Seriously, it’s fascinating.

I mean, can you imagine dressing your toddler in this get-up and then having to clean it after they poop?

To visit a whole museum of old-fashioned accessories—set in an ancient castle, no less? What a day!



My roommate just came home from a month-long internship on a farm in the south. She brought home a souvenir.

Julie has a little lamb.

FYI, that is not blood on his back as I worried. It’s an M for Male. It is, however, his own poo on his head because he spent 8 hours in that cardboard box in the car.

The best part is that for lack of a baby bottle, he gets fed milk from a beer bottle.


Common sense spoiler alert: he will not be shitting around—oh, pardon me, I mean sitting around—our apartment. He is going to live among the ewes on Julie’s grandparent’s farm. I really wish I could see the looks she’ll get when she takes him on the train tonight…

To défile isn’t what it sounds like.

Yesterday, Caitlin, our friend Becca, and I stumbled upon a festival of Carnaval. I was confused, not only because Angers is so rarely a festive place, but because I always thought that Carnaval was a Mardi Gras thing, and Mardi Gras 2011 took place three weeks ago.

Apparently, festivals of Carnival/Carnaval have roots in Greek tradition, when the festival of Carnaval consisted of lavish worship of Dionysus, the god of wine. Throughout most of the world, the tradition now coincides with Mardi Gras, the last day of extravagance before the solemn period of Lent. I think it’s one of the things the Catholic church took over to force Pagans to convert, you know, like how Christmas came to be celebrated in mid-winter and what is up with the Easter Bunny?

Wikipedia failed to clear up why Angers celebrates Carnaval mid-Lent. I’m glad they do, though, because the weather was gorgeous yesterday and I was in serious need of a pick-me-up in terms of my attitude about this town.

Downtown was even more packed than it usually is on Saturday afternoons. Most of the children were wearing adorable costumes. It was weird to see so many people dressed up when it’s not October!

Unfortunately, my computer had an unprecedented spasm and deleted most of my photos, but I was able to recover a few.

There were dancers and drummers in the street, and everyone got tangled together in delightful turquoise blue streamers that were blown from streamer cannons.

This portrait of Sarkozy as a liar was apparently confiscated by the police for endangering the republic or something.

After the parade, the main square downtown was a magical turquoise blue confetti ocean.

Instant classic.

Défile in French, by the way, means parade.

Adorable things my students have said to me

I have yet to say anything here about the job that occupies me a whopping 10 hours per week,  so today I thought I’d start with some of the adorable things my students have said to me. As we all know, kids say the darndest things. This is especially true when they’re trying to learn a second language.

Italics indicate that something was said in French.

Girl (too little to be one of my students, and therefore especially curious about who I was): Do you speak English?
Me: Yes, I speak English. That’s why I’m here. I’m the English teacher.
Little girl: Oh. Can you talk normally, too?

Me, beginning class as I always do: How are you today?
Girl 1: How do you say you’re thirsty?
Me: I’m thirsty.
Girl 1: I’m thirsty and so-so.
Girl 2: How do you say you’re hungry?
Me: I’m hungry.
Girl 2: I’m hungry and happy.

One of my favorite moments doesn’t quite translate. Several of my girls like to chat with me during recess. I thought that one of them, Yasmin, spoke Arabic at home (a handful of my students come from Arab immigrant families), but I wasn’t sure until she mentioned something about it to her friend. I said, in Arabic, “Oh, you speak Arabic?” She was mystified. I don’t think it had ever occurred to her that a white woman from Amreeka could possibly speak Arabic, too. I told her that it was just one of several magical powers that I possess.

I also find it amusing that my students have asked repeatedly where I live. I found it a bit odd at first. Children are naturally curious, of course, but considering they don’t know street names or neighborhoods, why do they care? Oh right! They don’t understand that I live in France. This begs the question: did they think I teleport here just in time for class or something?

Saving the best for last, however:
5th grade boy, upon learning that my last name was Smith: ARE YOU THE DAUGHTER OF WILL SMITH?!

Damnsterdam! (Cont’d.)

I ended up, as I often do, with too few classic tourist pictures and too many pictures of things I liked and/or found amusing. I figured I should share.

Things that Amused Me in Amsterdam

Babies for rent? (Actually kind of a good idea. Get a baby, give it back when it poops.)

Absinthe delivered by bike? Only in Amsterdam...

This place was ridiculous! A fast food joint that's essentially a long row of vending machines. You put your change in the window corresponding to the item you desire. (I realized that part of why I found it funny was that I thought it was called "FEED" until I realize it was "FEBO.")

I was mesmerized that you can buy your contact lenses over the counter!

Among all the other cobblestones in the Red Light District...

'nuff said.

This was a salon where you can stick your foot in a bowl full of fish. I suppose it's a secret to eternal youth or something.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Damnsterdam! Day 4

Day 4
Brought to You by My Parents and Western Union

Day 4 could have been an unfortunate misadventure, considering the potentially dire money situation that began when my bank card wouldn’t work the night before. I’m extremely lucky that my parents didn’t mind bailing me out. I picked up a Western Union transfer and went immediately to the restaurant I’d visited the night before to settle my outstanding bill.

I worried I would be a thing of “OMG You Won’t Believe This Annoying Tourist” legend, but I ended up having to instruct the server on duty to check the cash drawer for my train ticket. Point: At least the servers hadn’t sat around talking about how pathetic I was. Counterpoint: The 13€70 ($18.55) I owed was clearly no big deal for the restaurant, so they should have just earned good karma by giving me the meal for free.

With that bill settled, it was time to think about lunch. My dad visited Amsterdam in his youth and when I had told him I was going, he didn’t seem concerned about my safety or sobriety; he just wanted me to try the herring. (Really, Dad? You visited Amsterdam and all you have to say about it is, “The pickled herring was delicious”?!)

So I did. If the authenticity of a local food can be measured by the number of actual locals who eat it, I chose my herring shop well. The menu was not printed in English and the other customers were Dutch, not tourists.

Dutchy Dutchness.

Unlike this lady, I did not deep throat my herring. The sandwich was fine but it didn't live up to my dad's hype.

There was a still a strong wind that made it unpleasant to be outdoors and I had heard great reviews of the van Gogh Museum, so I decided to suck it up and spend the admission price to check it out.

The museum was interesting and I did learn a lot about van Gogh—for instance, how did I not know that he painted this picture?—but 14€ was a hefty admission fee for a mere hour and a half of fun.

If you visit Amsterdam, dear readers, I suppose I would recommend the van Gogh museum if you’re not concerned about your budget—but if you have some euros to spare, might I suggest visiting the Dutch supermarket?

Foreign supermarkets are magical wonderlands of curiosities and excitement, and I bought myself some incredible edible souvenirs: a jar of fantastic peanut butter, signature Dutch waffle cookies, a bag of Kettle Chips (they n’existent pas in France), and—omgomgomgomg—a jar of crunchy Speculoos butter.

My favorite, however, was the sheer abundance of sprinkles. I was mesmerized. This entire rack is devoted to sprinkles.

Finally, upon another one of Nic’s fabulous suggestions, I headed back to the Red Light District for the best thing I saw in Amsterdam: The Prostitution Information Center.

I have to go stick a check in the mail, but after that I promise to tell you all about the PIC. (I’ve already written it; just have to spellcheck before I post.)

A new kind of finger sandwich

Want to know something weird about the French language? It does not have a word for knuckle!

The real problem, other than having to use too many words to describe that part of your body, is that you can’t threaten to give someone a knuckle sandwich. “Finger sandwich” just doesn’t have the right ring. No pun intended.