Friday, September 08, 2006

if you prick a raw paw, next time beware

First post from France!

This may also inaugurate a series of more blow-by-blow event recap entries that pop up from time to time. I’ll try to avoid them for the most part, but sometimes there are just fun stories. Traveling and arrival stories are fun. And I haven’t slept much in the last three days, so this could be especially fun …

The travel times for this trip were not so terrible. That was compensated by the fact that I had to take three planes. Really, the whole process wasn’t bad; it just took a long time, and broke up sleeping times in a peculiar manner. The trip was Memphis–Charlotte–Frankfurt–Marseille. The leg one might be concerned about for length is naturally Charlotte–Frankfurt, but it took less than eight nours. Problem was, it was an overnight flight, so after watching two movies I only had two hours to sleep. Before that flight I had four and a half hours in the Charlotte airport, which is quite friendly. After it I had five hours in the Frankfurt airport, which is less friendly in atmosphere but had lots of nice people in it. I ate breakfast at McDonald’s—the first time I remember eating anything at that restaurant since I can’t remember when, and it was because they were the only ones serving breakfast. It was a pretty good egg sandwich, though. It beat my expectations, much as The Da Vinci Code had on the flight.

The Hubbards’ apartment was quite easy to find from the bus station, after I caught a shuttle from the airport to the Marseille centre-ville. After I arrived and took a shower, Dr. Hubbard, Sarah, and I went out for a walk around town. We passed by the fresh foods market, which in all honesty beats out the Ithaca Farmers’ Market in some aspects. Mostly just because here everyone is interested in fresh, good food, rather than just the hippie-types back in the States.

I was very excited to see prickly pear fruits (a.k.a. barbary figs, les figues de Barbarie). Before this afternoon, I hadn’t seen them, much less tasted them, outside of Morocco. So I bought a few and we brought them back to the apartment for everyone to try. One website I found (while trying to confirm their name) described the taste as “like watered-down watermelon”, which is close enough. The seeds are tightly packed, as in a guava, however, and you just eat the meat with the seeds. (I so hope guavas make an appearance at some point. I enjoyed having them in India again. The fact that I ate them skin and all freaked out those in the group who hadn’t traveled in developing countries, and were convinced I would make myself deathly ill.)

If you ever get a chance to try prickly pears, heed the following: Warning! These fruits got their name for a reason! Yes, they look innocent enough, but this is the fruit of a cactus! They learned from their maker. See, you peel the outside skin and fibrous layer off, then eat the insides, as described above. And you won’t see them, but DOZENS OF TINY NEEDLES WILL EMBED THEMSELVES INTO YOUR HANDS while you’re peeling the fruit. You still won’t see them. You’ll just feel them, and you won’t be able to get them out. Before, when I had prickly pears in Morocco, the vendor kindly peeled each one and handed the edible portion to me to eat in blissful ignorance of the danger involved in handling these succulent treats.

(Now, you see, I’m definitely exaggerating, to an extent I don’t normally. There were a small number of needles stuck in my hand, and they were mildly annoying for a while, but it’s really no big deal. But like I said, I haven’t slept much, and isn’t the story more fun this way? I haven’t got to do any shouting on previous entries, either. Hooray for sleep-deprivation! I’ll be crashing soon.)

For dinner, we joined friends Pascal and Florence. We sat about and with the meal sampled various bottles of wine, pastis, and liquor. (I was introduced to both pear liquor and another drink made from génépy, a kind of mountain flower.) We talked about math, politics, health, wine, graduate studies, biking, apartments, and who can recall what else. In short, it was a very nice opening dinner to greet Sarah and me to Marseille.

I’m excited about the next year. This is going to be a great place to live.

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