Friday, August 10, 2012

On Va Sortir!

Loosely translated, "we're going out!" (to have fun). It's a French version of MEETin.org, which I found by typing something along the lines of "go out with friends in Tours" into Google. I'm looking at the event schedule for this afternoon, and if I wanted I could join a game of pétanque in Rochecorbon, go for a walk in Joué-les-Tours, or join a picnic at Lac des Bretonnières or another at the Parc Honoré de Balzac (hmmm, that's actually not too far away from here ...) - many many things to do, if you have enough time, and a car. For the car-free, it is more limited, though I was able to get a ride to and from Nouzilly on Wednesday. The "to" part was a little iffy at first, since François was relying on his GPS, and it was directing us down dead-end roads and into farmhouse barnyards, until we finally made it to the parking area by the side of the pond. The event organizer planned a 10k walk, followed by a picnic and a pétanque tournament, and about 15-16 people were waiting for us. We headed off across the road, up a grassy path along a wheat field, and into the woods.

Sometimes we walked through dense scrubby forest, only to come out of the woods into a field leading through the side yard of an isolated house surrounded by fields of wheat and corn. We walked on single-lane paved roads connecting these houses, or on the grass verge between two fields, and for a while on the way back were precariously teetering on the far edges of a busy road with trucks and cars whizzing by, shouts of "voiture!" passing up and down the line.

Most of the wooded areas were second-growth (or third or more; this area has been settled for a long, long time) scrub, though with some larger trees along the roads and larger pathways, but we did walk by one grove of poplars seemingly abandoned in the middle of the forest. The woman I happened to be walking with said that there aren't as many cultivated groves around as she remembers, and that she's not sure what people use the wood for these days. French Wikipedia says poplar wood is used for cheese boxes, but when I looked up "poplar-wood cheese box" on Google, it came back with the address of a factory in China. Like many other things, perhaps what used to be local has gone global.

My new friend also told me about the mulberry trees that used to be grown here, as food for silkworms. Back in the mid-16th century, Tours was the largest producer of silk in France, famous for its Gros de Tours and employing nearly half of the people living in the area in the industry. Over the centuries the mills and plantations shut down, and now there is only one producer of silk in the area, Le Manach, but they no longer raise their own silkworms. She had visited the gardens where the mulberry trees grow back in 2007 when they were in the process of closing the facility and selling off some of the equipment.

The hike turned out to be around 15 kilometres rather than 10, and since I'd mentally used the wrong conversion factor (2.2, which is how you convert pounds to kilograms, only I'd also reversed that) I was expecting to go about three miles, or what I was used to when I'd walk to work in the mornings in Portland. As we started the third hour and the ninth mile in the now-hot sun, I began to realize that perhaps I had miscalculated. I ran out of water about half an hour before I ran out of energy, but fortunately we were back at the pond by then, and I begged water from my fellow hikers who were with me at the front of the pack, since my other bottle was locked in the car, and the rest of the group was fairly far behind.

Once we were all assembled again, the coolers and bags came out, the wine bottles were opened, fruit sliced and shared, and conversations and laughter floated on the breeze over to the side of the pond, perhaps a bit too loudly judging by the irritated glances occasionally thrown our way by the fisherman near the willow tree.

Of COURSE I had my chicken bag with me, and received many compliments on it.

I got caught up in a heated discussion about whether or not it's appropriate for there to be a law against women wearing a veil in France, and heard the argument that I've heard before in several countries, "If they're going to come live in our society, they should adapt to our society's rules." One of the examples brought up was traveling in Japan; someone pointed out that when you're living there and you go to someone's house, or to a ryokan, you have to take your shoes off at the front door and put on slippers, and that there are separate slippers to wear when you're going to the toilet, and how you get in trouble for mixing them up or for not taking your shoes off in the first place when walking on tatami. I wish I had been able to articulate what bothered me about that argument, and finally when I woke up this morning, I realized it's this: there are no laws in Japan about taking your shoes off. You're not going to be fired from your job if you wear bathroom slippers in your cubicle. But a woman can get fired here for wearing a veil at work. Of course, we also talked about women's rights and such, with a lengthy digression into the First and Second World Wars, but it still came back (for me) to the issue of laws vs. cultural norms, and where one can draw the line. Having drawn no conclusions one way or the other, we decided it was time for games.

This was my first attempt at pétanque, and I quickly found that I'm not a natural at it. The proper technique is to hold the ball cupped in the palm, with the palm facing downward, so that when the ball is tossed the fingers provide a bit of backspin. It's not so much rolling the ball as it is flinging it with intent to drop and roll forward slightly. After my preliminary tosses caused the other players to back away to a safe distance, I decided to pretend I was bowling, and had more success with that. I was quite good at hitting the cochonnet in fact, though since this often had the effect of moving it closer to one of the other team's balls, it was not particularly successful in terms of winning the match. Given that it was my first game, and my teammate's second, I think we did quite well at only losing 5 to 13. I will have to buy a set of boules of my own if I want to keep playing, though - I had to borrow someone else's set, and they were too heavy. That's my excuse, anyway.

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