Thursday, October 17, 2013

... and another five weeks...

Family came to visit.

Shapes and Light

It started in early September when Jude's son came for two weeks.  We showed him around town as a "warm up" for spending three weeks with one of my brothers and my father.

My wife and I figured the best way to see Paris was... slowly...  Here is what we tried out on Daniel.
  • Day One - Ride the Red Bus.  Arriving guests would be jet-lagged the first several days and have their minds missing on the first.  So sitting down and doing nothing but enjoying le soleil and seeing a few sights seemd the best way to start.
  • Day Two - Notre Dame.  If you need spiritual aid, this is the place to come have the gods hear your prayers.  Besides, I have a great little speech that describes the Alchemist's Way as depicted in stone on the Portal of Judgement.
  • Day Three - Louvre.  If it's hard getting tired enough to sleep  behind the jet-lag, a long day in the most massive museum on Planet Earth should just about finish a person off.
  • Day Four - Coqulet Sunday!  Tiny little pre-roasted birds of paradise for lunch, followed by a nice walk about our favorite park and an afternoon nap in the shade.
  • Day Five - ...

Sagrada Familia ~ Gaudi

... and so it went.  Versailles, l'Orangerie, another Louvre visit, wandering around, eating and many many other things filled Daniel's visit.  We hoped he'd head home happy and tired from the long list of fun things we did together.

Part Deux started just a few days later with the arrival of my father and brother.  Who scheduled this, anyway?  Well, all we could do is run our pre-defined script and hope for the best.

My father is in his late seventies.  My mother died a few years ago and my father has worked to put his life together.  It's a very good thing that my Number Three Brother of mine lives twenty minutes away from Our Father.  He needed a lot of support and help from his sons.

Our Father has never flown, never been off the North American continent, and lives in a quiet little town along the coast.  Visiting Europe with it's vast monuments, big crowds, and noisy cities might hit him from just too many directions.  Which is why we organized Our Father's trip to include flying my Number Two Brother along.

Light in Barcelona

My brother worked as a fire fighter for many years, is recently retired, and was the perfect person to have travel with Our Father.  My brother's para-medic skills in working through complex situations might come in handy.

In the end, the Paris side of the trip went very well.  Everyone had arrived in good shape.  The weather had improved over Jude's son's trip (where it was cold and wet here).  It was so beautiful, in fact, that we were able to sit at outdoor cafe tables all across l'isle de France to take our afternoon repasts.  The birds sang in the surrounding trees and the food was delicious.  We saw a great many things and shared many fabulous experiences.  It was fun to get caught up again and to reconnect with an important part of our family.

After eleven days here, we TGV'd to Spain for another ten days of Fun in the Sun.  Starting with Barcelona for five days, with a quick AVE to Madrid where we capped off our time together.

Light in Barcelona

For me, comparing Spain to France proved to be rather interesting.  Here is what I found.

Bad -
  • Spain is a LOT louder than Paris.  The traffic is loud.  The people speak loudly.  The restaurant kitchens are loud.  The street sweepers are loud.  Paris is MUCH quieter than Barcelona or Madrid.
  • At breakfast one morning in our Barcelona hotel,I asked for an expresso in English and French.  I got what I wanted, but while I waited, the woman behind the counter told another employee in Spanish that she "speaks Spanish, and that she does not speak chinchas."  She had no idea that I could understand her perfectly clearly.  So... I was speaking "insect" to her...  I've never been insulted like this in France.  Not once.  Even though I probably deserved such a response on numerous occasions.
  • In Madrid, our first taxi driver was very upset.  Not at us, but at something else.  It made for a very unpleasant trip from the train station to our hotel.  My Brother could not get him to change his attitude, even with conversing in Spanish.
  • Also in Madrid, our "special" rate at the Westin could not be honored.  A family member had tried to arrange something that could not work the way they thought.  We were left hunting for a cheaper hotel, which cost us a day of sightseeing.  I really hate trying to fix things at the last minute.  Particularly after all the most favorable rates and best hotels are taken and booked.
  • Lastly in Madrid, the city is old, falling down, and filled with vast crowds of tourists in certain areas.  I now understand why Rick Steves said (diplomatically) that Madrid is trying to make itself into a people friendly city.  Rick Steves also said that Madrid's food was better than Barcelona's.  It isn't.  It has a LONG way to go in terms of livability and a few more improvements in their food, in my not so humble opinion.
Light in Barcelona
Good -
  • First, I must say that it was a Great Boon to have had my brother along.  He speaks beautiful Spanish.  I am convinced it was his language skills that "greased the skids" of our experience.  He worked his magic and we had wonderful experiences nearly everywhere we went.
  • Barcelona a fabulous city for incredible food.  We LOVED eating there.  Everywhere we went, the food was fresh, well prepared, and not too expensive.  The wines were consistently outstanding.  I feel only Florence surpasses Barcelona in flavorful foods and wonderful dining in small, out of the way places.
  • Barcelona is the "must see" city for architecture.  The Modernista building are incredible and well worth the price of admission to tour.
  • Barcelona's citizens are warm, open hearted, and wonderful to talk to.  They joke around and laugh a lot.  This city reminded me of the Italians we spoke with in Florence (which remains my High Water mark for warmth and open hearted-ness).
  • Madrid has the finest museum of European painters I have ever visited.  Simply incredible.  The Prado and Reina Sophia are "must see."  I particularly liked the Prado's vast collections of the very best works by the very best artists.  The Louvre comes a distant second, in this regard.
Light in Barcelona

What summed Spain up for me is this: We were out for a walk around Barcelona one evening when I heard a four cylinder motorcycle running through heavy traffic at nearly full chat.  The Man Was Moving!  While I've watched as someone pulled a wheelie down one of the quai's here in Paris along the right bank, I've never seen someone this determined running this hard through a big city like this.  No.  Not ever.  Not even I, when living in Los Angeles, ever rode my bike this hard.  If only that motorcycle flying through Barcelona had been a large displacement Ducati running with open pipes, it would have made for a Perfect Heaven.  I could have pass away right there a Perfectly Happy Man.

The experience helped me feel that Spaniards laugh loudly, live hard, and participate in life with strong determinations.

The first thing Jude and I noticed upon landing back on French soil was just how quiet and disciplined everyone is here.  The traffic is quieter than in Spain.  The people talk much more softly.  The pace of life is, well, to our way of thinking, better suited to us.

While we were very happy to have visited with family for as long as we did, we were equally happy to be home again.  I can't believe we have already set down such deep roots.

Light in Barcelona

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