To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story.
--Barbara Kingsolover, The Poisonwood Bible

Friday, January 11, 2013

Joyeux Noel!

Back in March when we first got to Senegal, we received the following message from our dear friend Aurelien:  
Also, I have a proposition for you. I don't know what your plans are and I know it's a bit far ahead, but if you're not coming home for Christmas and if you have a few days off, you're cordially invited to come practice your French with my family in the South of France  
How do you say no to that?  Answer: you don't.  So December 23rd we boarded a plane to France, feeling giddy at the thought of experiencing a cold, delicious Christmas with all of the comforts of the Western world, and nervous to discover what the Western world would feel like after almost 10 months in West Africa.

The shock at how nice everything was hit the moment we stepped onto our plane to Brussels.  This continued through the airports in Brussels and Lyon, and into Aurelien's childhood home.  We were exclaiming about the ease and comfort of everything.  You don't think to take for granted having a toilet you can sit on and that flushes, but let me tell you, it is niiiiiiiice.  I was really surprised, however, at how fast things like that felt normal for me again.  I did have one afternoon when we were walking through the most expensive shopping district of Paris that I felt really overwhelmed and saddened by the immense disparities that exist in this world, and hopeless at how to reconcile them in my own life.  Mostly, though, I was able to enjoy this reprieve from the stress and anxiety I had been feeling about work projects, from the heat, and from the constant observations of my neighbors at site.  It was a very needed vacation, and we were so grateful to have wonderful friends to experience it with. 

Pat first met Aurelien at The University of Montana when he was assigned as Aurelien's Peer Assistant.  They got along great, and I first met him when he, Pat, and Matt took a road trip to visit me in Tacoma.  The next year when I studied in Western France, I stayed with Aurelien a lot when passing through Paris, and then he came to visit us when we were living in Berlin.  He was a groomsman in our wedding, which is when we first met Florence, his lovely girlfriend who also hosted us on this dream vacation.  Both of their families made us feel quite at home during their amazing holiday meals and took care of us in ways that Peace Corps volunteers just need to be taken care of on vacation.  (Quote from Simone, Aurelien's mom: "They had so much African dust embedded in their clothes, I was so happy to do their laundry!"

All in all, this vacation was a wonderful combination of amazing foods (at least six six-course meals), beautiful natural and historic sites, reunions with old friends, and good old rest (it's amazing how well you sleep in a cool dark room with a comfortable bed).  The following photos are an attempt to capture how great it was.

Lyon's town hall...fancy right?
View into little streets in Lyon's medieval section
Giant Roman amphitheater in Viennes, a historic Roman city near Lyon.

Aurelien looking quite classy at our first wine-tasting stop.
Listening to the wine ferment.
Ponies at a Christmas market in Annecy, a beautiful little town at the foot of the French Alps.
Florence and I on a bridge over one of Annecy's canals.

The Alps!  So wonderful to breathe mountain air!
Our first stop on our trip South was Avignon, the home of the popes in the 1300s.
We headed to the Mediterranean port town of Cassis to hike along the famous Calonque peninsular cliffs.  Gorgeous!

Gordes, a beautiful Provencal village built into a mountain.  Maybe my favorite new place visited on the trip.
Pat started reading Game of Thrones on this trip, which I think is why he wanted us to do a picture imitating invaders of an ancient village?

View of Provence with its lavender fields, vineyards and olive trees.
Aurlien's sister and brother and law threw a great New Years Eve party.  We picked up a few traditions that we want to bring back to out.
Notre Dame.  The last time Pat and I were in Paris together was right after we graduated high school.

Right after we took this picture, we got to speak Wolof with a Senegalese immigrant who was selling Eiffel Tower key chains.

Rennes, the city where I studied for a semester in 2007.  So fun to go back among the half-timbered houses and , even if it was for just a day.

My lovely French host family!  So wonderful to see them again and for Pat to meet them!
Le Mont St. Michel

American Cemetery at the Normandy Beaches.
Omaha Beach, the site of the American D-Day Invasion in Normandy
Cafe de la Paix back in Paris...Peace Corps is called Corps de la Paix in French, so a photo seemed appropriate on our last day as we prepared to head back to Senegal.
 So those were the sights.  We basically traversed France from North to South.  But here are the tastes, which are a big deal for people whose principal diet consists of rice and leaf sauce:

Brussels is not a bad airport to have a layover in.  We actually had two layovers since our flight from Brussels to Lyon had to turn around and go back due to engine problems.  Our first taste of non-Senegalese beer was Belgian...not bad.

When we arrived in France, it was Christmas Eve, so we dove right into the fancy cuisine.  The next photos will take you through courses from several of our amazing meals.

You have to start with something pretty and fancy like fish eggs on toast.  And every course is carefully paired with a different wine.
Oysters at Florence's cousins house as a starter course.
Foie first course of a holiday meal is complete without it.
My pictures of the main courses didn't turn out great, but know that they were excellent and that we really needed this digestif.  Somehow, ice cream in brandy really does make you feel less full.
Of course, no French meal is complete without a cheese course.  In Senegal, no refrigeration=no good cheese.  My family actually doesn't know what cheese is.

And, of course, dessert.  The classic Bouche de Noel.
 Our delicious eating did not end after Christmas.
Quennelle, a traditional dish from Lyon, eaten at a cutesy Bouchon Lyonnais

My last name in Senegal is Tigana, so I freaked out about this wine.  It was really good, too!

On my "List of Things to Do Before I Die" that was written on an airplane vomit bag on the way back from our trip to France when I was 18, one of the entries is "Eat Bouillabaisse", which is a specialty of Marseilles.  At most places, Bouillabaisse was ridiculously expensive, and at one place had to be ordered 48 hours in advance.  One restaurant had a fish stew that was prepared exactly the same as Bouillabaisse, there are just different fish.  It was thus less touristy and more affordable--and still delicious.  I'm counting it.

I'm not even embarassed to say that on our last night in Paris, we ate Tex-Mex.  It was delicious.  While the French cuisine we ate was amazing, no vacation is complete without a little taste from home.


  1. I actually did a report on Le Mont St. Michel when I was in the 5th grade....I forgot all about it until just now :) Looks like you had an amazing trip :)

  2. So awesome to see all you are doing, and the awesome people you have continued to grow into since I knew you

  3. What a wonderful trip! I so glad your Christmas vacation was soooo amazing, just like you! Love you bunches!