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December 18, 2001
Five months: disorientation (Gail)

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The house in Crest (two weeks ago)

Just when I start getting complacent about this world trip something will happen to push me back into the wonder of it all. The spider in Rarotonga, the swing bridge in New Zealand, the camels in Australia, the bricks in China, the lizard in Mauritius and the entire safari in Tanzania really made me realize that I'm not in Cupertino anymore.

Daily life here in Crest has become very comfortable. We receive mail, packages, phone calls, email and even visitors. Our newspapers are in English and as we don't have television there is almost no French at home. This leads to a false sense of "home". This feeling disappears immediately once we step outside. No one speaks English. The signs are all in French, the radio is all in French (however the piped in music in the supermarkets is often in English). My interaction with clerks is limited, however it never fails that when I do try to pay something goes wrong. In Bourg-en-Bresse I tried to pay for a few things with my credit card. In the US there never seems to be a minimum but here there is and I hadn't met it. The clerk said something, I had no idea what and then she sat there. Luckily our friend Jean-Charles was with me and he was able to rescue me with cash. Luckily everywhere I go I have three people with me who can translate with some level of fluency.

When we left Geneva for this house we were told to try shopping at the weekend farmers market. We were told that we must try the fresh chickens. Naturally I asked if they would be cleaned and plucked and was told, cleaned, plucked but not beheaded. As we have not found the fresh killed chickens at the market we have been buying chicken parts from the supermarket, neatly wrapped in plastic. On a whim I decided to give a whole chicken a try. It looked innocent enough, just like a Whole Foods type chicken and this made me very happy and very comfortable. Imagine my surprise (along with the shriek) when I unwrapped the chicken and its head, which had been hidden twisted under the body, lolled onto the counter, looking at me with dead beady little chicken eyes. Russell came to my rescue once again and while I stood across the kitchen, he chopped off the head and threw it away for me. I explained the shriek as it wasn't so much the head as the surprise of it. I really believed that until we got to the chicken festival this past weekend and I had a very hard time with the chicken heads. I declined to buy one because I didn't want to carry it out head lolling, beady eyes glaring at me. I thought I was braver than that but, surprise, I don't like dead chicken heads. What do people do with them anyway?

Driving has been an adventure in itself. We have been taking day and weekend trips since we arrived here. As usual I drive while Russell navigates. This is the usual arrangement but there have been times when we have attempted the opposite way. I have come to realize that the maps and the roads do not match. Even Russell gets turned around going down the wrong road. He is getting to be more understanding of my inability to find the road number on the map itself. The signage is fairly good and must make sense to someone born here but it baffles me. At each roundabout there are more signs pointing you in more directions than you ever need. The signs for the local roads are little bitty things that sit on top of these huge sign posts that have as many as a dozen arrows pointing the way to go. The road numbers are just about large enough to read but they are color-coded. It helps to know what color goes with what type of road. As we drive past we are trying to read the signs, not cut people off or run into anyone. We have had to go 'round about more than once on a number of different occasions in order to figure out our exit.

On the way back home after a day trip, the road signs back to Crest took us through a town. We very carefully followed all Crest signs, down the narrow streets and through the parking lot down to the construction zone where they ended. The road was not marked with a route number, we couldn't find it on the map, so we took our best guess from there and did finally make it back home. If that isn't enough the people here drive very aggressively and are not patient with being behind anyone. We can be going well over the speed limit and someone will still come right up behind us looking for a place to pass.

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Europe's "Smart Car" is designed to go (and park) where normal cars can't

When we decided to go to Lyon for the festival we were advised that the people in Lyon drive like maniacs. We thought it really couldn't be much worse than anywhere else. Well we were wrong. It is amazing. We were held up in city street traffic at least twice by people who just stopped their car to get out to unload or load things. The woman in front of us would get out of her car to demand of the stopped person what was going on. She seemed aggressive and we decided it was good to be behind her as she got the traffic moving again. A few blocks later, still behind her, we were stopped again. She got out, walked a short distance up the street then returned to her car. We assumed that the traffic would now move and the fact that she was putting on her coat did not cause alarm. When she shut her car door, locked it and walked away we were alarmed. Here we are in the middle of the street, sitting behind a car with no driver. Of course the traffic started to move again. Luckily she returned rather quickly and we got moving once again. Add to this the very narrow streets and you have complete craziness. At least the steering wheel is on the left of the car.

As for the toilets here, well they aren't the worst we've used but perhaps the most bizarre. We have used toilets that need a combination to unlock it (at Hamburger Quick you need the day's combination from your receipt), pay toilets and toilets with an attendant (what kind of job is that?). There are toilets that are somewhat communal in that the wash up area is there for men and women to share. We have used the type where there is a common washroom and separate toilets for men and women, common toilets for use by anyone, or just a urinal and a stall. The urinals can be semi private or not private at all. Sometimes timing is everything.

The boys are doing well with all of this. They take everything in stride. Cameron is still going through books faster than we can buy them. He is starting to exhibit a pre-teenage attitude, not too terrible yet but it's starting. He is still sweet and lovable. Joss is using up our paper supply quickly as he creates new things for his store. He has begun to show a new maturity and responsiveness to following directions. It's not consistent but at least it's a start.

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Joss getting ready for Christmas, with a wreath he made out of plastic bags

As we prepare to leave this house for Christmas in Paris and New Year in Bonn it feels a lot like getting ready for our world trip. We are packing, cleaning, deciding what to take, what to leave behind. We are leaving home again.

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The house in Crest, now (what a difference two weeks makes!)


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