Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Best Books I've Read in France

Well its January and theres not much going on, so I have been doing a lot of reading. Really the whole time I've been in France I've been doing a lot of reading. Frankly its been wonderful to be in a mood to read again. My whole life I've been a voracious reader (I think it must be inherited!) and always had to be reading something. That was until last year when I somehow was never in the mood to read or never had time. I think part of it was that after working long hours in a kitchen I was usually too exhausted to read much at night. But whatever the reasons I'm glad to be back in the groove of my reading addiction.

Being here in France my options have been somewhat limited to the books Matt and I brought with us and the English section at the local library. Matt and I both brought some of our favorites that we could see reading again (Into Thin Air, Sometimes a Great Notion) and new books we hadn't read before. The selection at the local library has been quirky to say the least, but I've encountered some enjoyable books that I don't think I would have ever picked up before.

Here's some of the Books I've enjoyed most in the past 6 months:

1. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Maybe this book was made more poignant by the fact that I am actually living in France but I think reading about the Nazi invasion and occupation of France from the point of view of someone that was actually going through it would have been interesting at any time. This book was written by Nemirovsky in 1940-1942 while she was experiencing the same events that she was writing about in her fictional novel. She intended the book to be a 5 part masterpiece that chronicled the invasion of France, occupation,war and eventually peace. Even while she was writing it she had no idea what her fate or the fate of her fictional characters would be. She was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 and the 2 completed parts of her novel was not discovered by her daughters until a few years ago. Really a fascinating read.

2. The World According to Garp by John Irving

I've always enjoyed John Irving. He has an odd quirky sense of humor and makes characters who are truly unforgettable. The World According to Garp is about T.S. Garp, a writer, and his family. You never really know where this books going to go and it almost always makes you laugh. Definetly the best humorous novel I've read in quite some time.

3. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
This is one of the best books I've ever read. It doesn't hurt that it was written in and about Oregon, a place I love. I love this book not only for its story about a independent family of loggers living on the Oregon coast and for its vivid imagery of wet and wild Oregon, but for its unique narrative style. Kesey uses a narrative style that is hard to get used to but traps you in its beauty. Throughout the entire novel he abruptly changes narrators 3 or 4 times within a page or a paragraph without much indication of who is speaking. It sound difficult but just makes this story of a standoff both between Hank Stamper and the town of Waconda over a timber strike and Hank Stamper and his own family all the more interesting. I've read it twice this year and just want to keep reading it again and again. ( I believe its a far better novel than Kesey's most well known work One Flew Over the Kuckoo's Nest, which I incidentally also read while here. I enjoyed it also, but its style and content is completely different from Sometimes a Great Notion)

4. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
I don't think I will ever get tired of reading this book. John Krakauers account of the doomed 1996 expedition to Everest is such addictive reading. I think it was one of the first books that ever kept me up late into the night reading. Something about Everest is just mesmerizing...in its beauty and in the great risk that people take to climb it.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

I've always been kind of biased against Stephen King. I don't like horror and have assumed I would dislike most of his books. Matt however really likes Stephen King and clued me into the fact that he also writes fantasy and interesting fiction that isn't always scary. The Stand is an epic 1000+ page novel about a superflu which wipes out 99% of the world population. The survivors of that flu and the battle for the fate of society that will exist in the new United States. Really a gripping and fascinating book. A little overly long with an ending that could have happened 100 pages earlier, but great characters and an interesting story.

6. Emma by Jane Austen

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen and while no Jane Austen book will ever be more loved by me than Pride and Prejudice, I did thoroughly enjoy Emma. Emma is conniving and self interested and plays games with peoples emotions but becomes a better person by the end of the book. Like most of Jane Austens novels Emma is all about marriage, and the social role of women in the 19th century England. The 1990's movie Clueless was based on Emma and it was fun to read the novel and note the comparisons.

7. The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer
I hadn't even heard of Nadine Gordimer when I stumbled upon this novel at the Privas Library. It was an interesting read about a young white woman growing up on a mine in South Africa in the 1950's. The story focuses on her growing awareness of race and her role in the world. This is Gordimers first novel, and she later went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature and write extensively about South Africa.

8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I first picked up this novel years ago and couldn't get past the first 50 pages. There was something about the magical reaslism and all the hundreds of names that all sound the same that I just couldn't get. This time I really enjoyed reading the novel, which chronicles 100 years in the life of the Buendia family. It involves love, war, everyday life, and lots of magic. Not like any book I've ever read

I've read many more books while here, both those 8 are the ones that really stick out. Hopefully I'll keep reading more great books the rest of the year. Suggestions are appreciated!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Belle of the Ball-Annecy

The final stop on our New Years Travels was to the beautiful and charming French city of Annecy. Annecy has a very picturesque and quaint old town. The town features a series of canals, filled with swans and in the summer lined with flowers. We had to do without the flowers... but instead were treated with beautiful and majestic snow capped mountains. Annecy is definitely a must-see if you are in eastern France or the Alps.

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Annecy's downtown was so pretty that it was hard to stop taking pictures!

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We left the downtown area for a bit and hiked up to a castle above the city. After looking at the castle, we looked down upon Annecy's rooftops.

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After getting our fill of downtown we went down to the lake to try to get some pictures of the mountains. The first afternoon it was fairly overcast, but the lake was still beautiful.

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The next morning the sky opened up quite a bit and we were able to get some better shots of the mountains and the lake.

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And no trip to Annecy would be complete without a couple pictures of swans. This one swam up just as the morning sunlight started hitting the lake

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And that is all she wrote. Finally the end of our vacation pictures. The last day of our vacation only involved sitting on trains, in train stations or gross bus stations so I didn't take any pictures! This was our last major trip before I'll be going home on February 20th. Matt has vacation time around then, so we are planning on going to Paris for 3 days before I fly out. There are several sites including Chartes Cathedral and Versaille that I have to make sure I see before leaving France. I feel fortunate for all the interesting and beautiful places I've seen so far and I'm looking forward to seeing Paris again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Montreux Switzerland....Vacation Part III

Well another January day of torrential rains in Privas, and another day of pictures. These are pictures from our second day in Switzerland. We took a day trip to Montreux, a little city on the eastern side of Lake Geneva. It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and we were happy to finally be able to see the Alps.

One of the major sights in Montreux is this statue of Freddie Mercury of Queen who apparently spent a lot of time there the last few years of his life.

We took a walk along the waterfront of the lake and enjoyed seeing the mountains, the sailboats, and all the rich people. Montreux seems like it is probably a retreat for the rich and famous in the summer, but was pretty quiet in winter.

We walked about a mile down the lake to the Chateau de Chillon which is a castle sitting out over Lake Geneva.

We were very happy to see the sun during a week that was extremely cold. Next up the best stop on our trip. Annecy!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mountain Adventures Part II: Geneva Switzerland

Today in Privas we are having torrential downpours. Apparently it has been raining on and off ever since we left on New Years Eve. So it is a perfect day to stay inside and post some pictures.

The second part of our New Years Travels were to Geneva Switzerland. Geneva is located right across the French border and was a two hour train ride from Grenoble. The train ride gave us a great chance to see the snow covered mountains, endless vineyards and canyons and lakes between Grenoble and Geneva. We got into Geneva around 3 p.m. on New Years Day.

Most of these pictures are from our second day in Geneva as we spent the entire first afternoon trying to find an ATM and a place to eat dinner! Note to anyone going to Geneva in the future, change money and bring it with you. ATM's are next to impossible to find in Geneva. The one in the train station would only give us 100 Franc notes (not very useful) and every ATM we passed on the street belonged to a private bank that required their bank card to enter. Another note... in our entire time in Switzerland we found it impossible to find a regular grocery store... all that we could find was little corner convenience stores. Weird.

On the whole I enjoyed Geneva, but wasn't super impressed with it. Our time their was very cold, overcast and many of the things I wanted to do were either way too expensive (museums with $12 entrance fees per person) or closed for the holidays (The UN center on Jan 3rd). We were actually very surprised that many businesses and attractions were closed long after Jan 1st.

However, there were some memorable attractions. Our first stop was to the flower clock which lies near the waterfront of Lake Geneva. It was impressive and I was happy to see planted with winter plants. Both in France and Switzerland there is this odd obsession with continuing to plant flowers (usually pansies) even though the cold weather cannot support them. You constantly see government workers replanting pansies over and over as the old ones die from the frost.

As you can see from the close-ups it was really really cold out. Through our entire day we did lots of walking and its always nice to see what random sights you can find in a city. I really enjoyed seeing all the Swiss flags, the pointy rooftops and this pretty archway.

We walked through old town Geneva in search of St. Pierre Cathedral. This is a Protestant Cathedral (and thus much less ornate than the many Catholic cathedrals we have seen in France). It was interesting because Geneva was the center of the reformation and there were monuments and exhibits relating to the reformation.

The waterfront of Lake Geneva was quite pretty and we walked along the lake every morning trying to get pictures of the sunrise over the mountains. Sadly it was too overcast every day to really see the Alps. But I did get a few nice boat pictures.

So those are most of my Geneva pictures. Next up our day trip to Montreaux Switzerland... a very pretty little lakeside town.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mountain Travels Part I : Grenoble

Well I haven't blogged much lately because I've been so busy entertaining friends and traveling. It's been a fun couple of weeks. First my friends Reed and Regina visited Matt and I in Privas for 3 days. We had a good time taking them to the sites in Privas and Coux, going on walks, making great meals and playing board games. It was really nice to have friends visit us here.

Then on New Years Eve all four of us traveled to Grenoble to spend the day/night. We were very lucky with the weather and were able to see the mountains all around Grenoble. On New Years Day Matt and I traveled to Geneva Switzerland, followed by short trips to Montreaux Switzerland, and Annecy France. It was a nice week away. I took nearly 300 pictures and have so many I want to share, that I'll probably split the pictures up into several blogs, one for each location.

I hope everyone had a nice New Years!

Here are pictures of our New Years Eve Day in Grenoble.

This is a view from our nice little hotel located in downtown Grenoble. From this vantage point we got to watch a caravan of drunken French teenagers drive down the street waving champagne bottles out their windows, do Chinese firedrills, party on top of their cars and drive down the street backwards. It was funny only because we were above their cars and not on the street! Definitely one of the most entertaining new years sites I've ever seen.

We wandered around downtown a bit and found this beautiful church. Matt was happy to see the church. During the whole summer he lived in Grenoble he had never found it open.

We rode the telepherique up to the Bastille, which is an old prison and fortifications high above the city of Grenoble. Matt used to climb up to the Bastille a lot during his time in Grenoble so was a very good tour guide. The sky was absolutely gorgeous when we got to the top and we had amazing views of the 3 mountain ranges that surround Grenoble.

On our way down the mountain we stopped in a series of caves that peered out onto the city. The caves led down into staircases built into the mountain. We then proceeded down the mountain and the views of the city just kept getting more and more beautiful.

When we were down from the mountain we were lucky to catch a bit of alpen glow on the mountains as the sun was setting. Quite a pretty scene in a beautiful city.

I enjoyed Grenoble a great deal and really understand why Matt loves this city so much.