Friday, February 22, 2013

Australia Next, Perhaps?

The windows in my bedroom are steaming up from the almost-dry laundry I've just hung on the folding rack, but I can see that the clouds are starting to cover the sun, and the wind has picked up. Actually, the wind has been quite sharp all day, even in the morning's bright sunshine, and I nearly froze my toes off waiting for the rest of the On Va Sortir group to arrive for the scheduled river walk at 10am. I was there early because that's when the bus dropped me off, and I had 20 minutes to peer down the streets of the Saint-Symphorian neighborhood of Tours, just across the Loire from the downtown central area. An old section of the city, its narrow passages abut the cliffs above the river, with a few of the houses dug into the earth in the troglodyte style. Maybe next time I'll plan to be even earlier, to give me time to explore the area, or have an espresso at the café whose tables are in the sun at that time of the morning, facing the medieval spires and squat turrets of the cathedral and château on the south bank.

We walked across the suspended bridge and then turned right to head downstream for a few miles, and ended up at the Jardin Botanique on Boulevard Tonnellé. Jean and I visited there in September, but I hadn't been back since. I don't remember there being wallabies last time.

The walk went quickly, partly because we were all walking quickly to stay warm - it's hovering around freezing, and that's not counting the wind chill factor - and partly because I fell into conversation with another woman who lives here in Tours, but has only been here for two years, and who dreams of going to the United States. Many people in France do, she said, but perhaps (she said) they're all enchanted with a mythical version of the country that they only see on television and in the movies. We talked about the fact that France is the dream of many non-French people, and I offered to exchange passports if she'd like to go, since I wanted to stay. She didn't understand why Americans felt it necessary to carry guns, and pointed out that simple disagreements that might otherwise end up in a slap or even a punch in the face are now resulting in fatalities. "It's just too easy to pull a gun if you have it," she remarked. But she wants to visit Texas, that haven of guns, for the wide-open spaces and the ranges and ranches and horses and cowboys. "If there are still ranches and cowboys ..." I assured her there were, and even in my home state of Oregon. Which, frankly, I'd recommend over Texas. We ended up talking about political structures, and I tried to explain how it is that people who would like to impose their fundamental religious beliefs on everyone else manage to end up in Congress making laws that affect the entire country, and how the power is simultaneously held at state and even local levels, where people can make decisions and set up laws that would seem complete nonsense to someone in another part of the country. But when I illustrated that with the example of the Texas Board of Education trying to get creationism included in the science textbooks along with - or even replacing - evolution, she was horrified. "You mean ordinary people, like you and me, get to decide what's taught in schools? That's crazy!" A bit of the shine was coming off the Lone Star at that point, I think.

We talked about travelling, and she told me of a cousin of hers who moved to Australia, where (at least for French citizens) it appears to be fairly easy to find work. I told her I'd like to see India some day, and was eyeing a work-for-room-and-board situation on a dairy farm in Russia. "You're lucky that you speak English," she commented. "You can travel anywhere and not worry too much about the language." I wasn't so sure about that, considering the number of people I've met here in France who don't speak any English at all, but I suppose in general English is the new lingua franca. "I wish I spoke English better," she sighed. "Right now I speak English comme une vache espagnole ['like a Spanish cow,' a French expression used when someone's mangling the language]." The cows in Texas wouldn't mind, though.

A clash of cultures, but not in any negative way. Should I stay or should I go? Other places appeal, but so does another year here. Time to organize my "saint" cheese plan and e-mail the school to try and find someone to sponsor me as a student on an independent research/book project.

Time to turn the radiator up and make a cup of hot tea - it's bloody cold here today.

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