24 03 2007

First, here are some photos.

The library in the primary school.s5000542.JPG  s5000543.JPG

The play yard in the primary school.s5000556.JPG

The principal’s office, primary schools5000552.JPG

Biology class, high school.s5000609.JPG

Music room, high school. (guest conductor, me)s5000615.JPG

 I saw two schools for about two hours each.  (ecole primaire and a lycee) Some things seemed common to both. I don’t know if the commonalities are nationwide, though, but I will tell you what I saw and you can think about the things you know, but this is one thing I am not going to generalise about..I am just going to let you know what I saw.

Are we clear on that?

OK. Schools in France are not exactly like schools in Adelaide, or possibly even in Australia. There are some diferences between the two.

The day is longer

There is a long lunch hour

The teachers in the ecole primaire do not do yard duty; they have paid non-teaching staff to do that.

Chalk and talk seems to be the main way of disseminating information.

The computer set up in the ecole primaire in Vichy is light years behind the computer setup at Bellevue Heights PS, SA. 12 computers of mixed descent running one cartoon building program compared to 40  modern 60 Gig machines off a server running everything from easy graphics to music notation. There is no comparison.

There is no play equipment used in the yard at lunch times. Kids talk, run, scream, play chasey, etc.

I saw no swings, no climbing frames, no balls, only some painted-on hopscotch lines in the primary, and nothing at all in the lycee at Vichy. I felt very sorry for the students.

There seems to be a feeling that if the child does not want to learn, too bad, though there is a  lot of testing done to establish benchmarks, and at tertiary level there is great concern about children who can’t read well. Yet the year 2/3 class I observed had a small number of non-working boys who did absolutely nothing in their maths lesson, and nothing was done about them. And, sorry everybody, but that simply wouldn’t wash in SA. We’d be on at them and we’d get them working.

The French tertiary staff turned up their noses at our education system, sniffing at the idea of sport in schools. Guess what? You need to come over here and get to know us. We might be able to teach you something.

The comments box is below, fire away…..


The paradise of dissent

23 03 2007

We were very lucky to see a bit of real life protest and street marching; something the French do very well, especially on a fine weekend in Lyons. I heard about one demonstration (Manifestation) in Paris but didn’t get to see it, though if you have a photo to send I will put it up here.

The manifestation I saw in Lyons was a large and well organised protest about an autoroute that was about to demolish part of a town. At about 2 pm on a nice dry Saturday afternoon, as  the population was shopping at the soldes, a group of bright green drummers s5000685.JPGs5000686.JPGappeared on the main shopping road and started up. Behind them came wave after wave of people with very nicely made protest signs. s5000690.JPG

I’d gone in all inconspicuous in my day glo orange jacket and black tracky daks,s5001214.JPG so they figured, when I pulled out the ubiquitous camera, that I was a reporter, and they were glad to be noticed and photographed..s5000687.JPG

The general population took the manifestation in its stride, crossing the road or not as it suited, and many stopped to watch; the drummers were excellent. I don’t know how many folk were in the march, a few thousand maybe; Lyons was packed that day and all I can say is the whole thing took about 15 minutes.

 As I was leaving I saw a man sitting in the road refusing to get up, doing his own personal protest about something that was unclear to the rest of us. He had a policeman or two in attendance, plus a friend, who gave him sips from a water bottle. He didn’t like me taking a photo of him, but as I yelled back, ‘If you do it in public the public will notice,’ so here he is for posterity.s5000698.JPG

And that’s it for the famous French strikes and manifestations.

(The autoroutes, by the way, are excellent; well constructed toll roads that enable one to scoot along at 130k and cover ground fast. You pay as you leave, which is clever, and there are snack bars at frequent intervals as well as little picnic sites every now and again.)

Nom d’un chien

22 03 2007

Just so you you know, that phrase means something like “my goodness!’

Which is what a lot of people say when they see how dogs are treated in France..rather like children. Elegantly dressed ladies will crouch down to pat a dog. s5000423.JPG

Dogs sit in restaurants, s5000644.JPGvisit pubs,

hang around the St Nectaire cheese caves, s5000461.JPG

have special doggy toilets in the parks,


and seem to be permanently in good moods and very sociable. I only saw one dog fight and that was between three of them; as they were small they were quickly dragged apart.

Dogs have friends, who come to visit. They are polite, and well organised. They do not beg for food from the tables. It is a far cry from many of the ignored, yet spoilt,  yappy little monsters we tend to raise. Food for thought.


23 02 2007

The French castles are superb. There is a ton of information about them on the net, so I will just put in about 20 pictures of the various ones we saw.

We went to Amboise… here are some pix…

The castle is on the top of a hill with the town nestled underneath. There are great views out to the river.


The last shot is a bit of a coup for me; I asked the nice security guard if they could play one note of the harpsichord-shaped  musical instrument sitting in the music room, as I could then tell if it was a harpsichord, spinet or piano; the guard said, “you can do it” and let me sit at it and play it!! Made me sit nicely too, and took 3 photos. It wasn’t very good; it was a piano, but like a lot of old pianos it was there as furniture, and the middle notes were dead, while the bass still functioned somewhat, but it hadn’t been tuned in a century and needed a good restringing and refelting and even rehammering!! (Did you know I’m a music teacher by the way??) However, according to the nice guard, who was pleased to see someone taking an interest in the esoterics, this very piano had been played by Chopin. Or at least it  was the same brand as the one he learnt on. However, it was a real thrill and I hope the poor guard doesn’t get the sack for this.


This is apparently the second most visited castle in France. We arrived early in the morning just as the fog was lifting but if you go in for moody romantic shots this is the place.

Here’s the link..there is a bit of a virtual tour on it, and a lot of detail.

The whole castle is built over the river on its own integrated bridge and is gorgeous. In the grounds there is also a play maze where you can’t run very fast, or get really lost, so it is fun to try. There’s a big kitchen garden out the back, plus, of course, a museum. I didn’t do a lot of vista shots as it was quite gloomy, so you’ll see the quirkier ones here. The link leads to some real glamourpuss stuff!!


Our visit to Chombard had better lighting. This castle is a monument to add ons..the roof itself has overtones of Islamic towers surrounded by gingerbread. The famous double staircase is there; if you get onto the wrong ramp you are half a staircase out of phase with the rest of the group. You have to go to the next exit and re-enter. And no, I can’t put it any better than that.

chombard1  chombard2   chombard3   chombard4

After this we went to the gentleman’s country retreat of Cheverny

which is famous for its striped aspect. It is quite small but makes up for it with an apparent ban on undecorated surfaces. If it wasn’t gilded it was appliqued, frosted, patinated, or , if the money had been getting low, just varnished. You couldn’t see the walls for the decor. It was my favorite castle, though, and I liked visiting the hunting dogs and prowling the grounds. It was January, and the first spring flowers were coming in…hadn’t been much snow. The earthworms in the lawns had been going great guns, though, and all I can say is that worm poo, after you have gotten a couple of footfulls of it, smells as bad as any other kind!

cheverny1  cheverny2  cheverny3  cheverny5

Introduction and rationale..and how to steal this content.

16 02 2007

Introduction and rationale..and how to steal this content.

Food and drinks in France.

13 02 2007

What do the French eat? Large lunches, for sure..and we believe they eat small dinners but at the restaurants we went to that was not the case. We heard rumors about coffee and a croissant for breakfast, but we were so busy noshing through the cereals, fruit, and eggs..and the world’s most lovely yogurt.. served by our 4 star hotels, that we didn’t really notice...



Here is a rather good cappuccino I had in a creperie in Vichy for only 3E. In hotel lobbies they charge 5E, which is interesting as never in Oz have I had a $10 coffee, not even at the Hilton ($4 if you want to compare.) Travel may broaden the mind but it slims the wallet too.

There was a coffee machine in the Vichy laundromat

coffee machine vichy

 and people would come in just to get coffee 1E, it was cheaper than the pubs. Coffee/cappuccino from machines was between 80c and 2E, and was pretty good. In the student caff we got tiny cups of strong black stuff that had no milk and would have made good spark plug cleaner. (IMHO!)

Cappucino/cafe au lait (the smaller pubs don’t know about cappucinos yet…) was 2E in a small pub in Lyons, 4E in Paris restaurants. It’s cheaper to make your own in your room with a little boiler. Not all hotels have tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms.

Water (tap) was served with every meal and wine was everywhere. Kir was the fashionable aperitif..white wine with blackberry juice, I was told. I saw no Australian wine anywhere, even in a Paris bottle shop (OK, I only looked in one!) Even cheap wine was not cheap. (26E a bottle from Cotes de Rhone, the low end of the white scale)

STUDENT FOOD  (a la caff)

Student food is an experience all its own, especially to those used to un petit sandwich at lunch for years.  Being at CAVILAM ( the Vichy language center) and having realised that a 20E meal just blew $50, we learnt quickly to tuck into the prepaid college fare. And what fare. Some of the stuff was….er…interesting.

This is carrot day, where we got not one but two serves of them…cooked differently, of course..grated, or boiled.

Carrot day

Here is French pasta. Definitely the land of cheese.


Now, I know we usually translate ‘meat pie’ into ‘pate au croute’, but this pate au croute is NOT a meat pie. Back to the dictionary… 


The college very kindly put on food tastings so we got to know our way around the typical fare of the Auvergne region;


shoshannah and the cheese  

 the marvellously fattening rillettes..pork shreds in pork fat, oh yummy..


wine, salads,

and, for some reason, Smiths Crisps, which go over well in France.

smiths crisps

Here we see Edouard, a kindly ‘animateur’ which means ‘organiser’. We sang him a song later’s in ‘songs’ (when I put it up)

gentil animateur 

The whiteboard shows the actual food served.


 Wine barrels do get empty, eventually… 

last call

And here are just a few more pics…


Frogs’ legs..only 10E at Le Lutece. How many froggies died to serve that one up? Yes, they do taste like chicken. In fact chicken wings would make a pretty good substitute.

frogs legs

A cheap pizza at Pat a Pain. This is an el cheapo fast food chain where for 5E you get a hot choc or can of drink, and paper plates with your pizza piece. Ah, we aren’t blowing the budget tonight!


In Vichy there was a fabulous Moroccan place that served huge amounts of lamb and rice, all cooked in a special steamer, for 20E, and the experience was worth it just for the look of the place…(It’s up by the railway station if you want to look around)

lamb and riceMOROCCAN PLACEs5000499.JPG


If you are a vegan and you don’t eat cheese or fish, take along some lentils or similar or you may starve to death. Attitudes varied differently. At one lunch, our vegans were served green beans…one plateful. That was it. At a restaurant just up from the Moulin Rouge (‘Le Restaurant’ in fact) the proprietor tried to serve our ladies fish, watched as they recoiled in horror, and then promised them extra potato to make it up. Then she ran out before she could give them any more. 

 I am sure there are some vegan-compatible places in Paris, but we didn’t find them on that trip. At a resto near Bourges (?) they did get lucky, and had a wonderful melange of beans, asparagus, potato, etc, which gave them great happiness.

Now that is all I am going to put up for food. Of course there is more!! If you want a specific shot ask me (use ‘comments’) If other folk drop by this site and see that request, they may be able to supply a pic, so make sure your e is accurate. (but put in some bracketed guff or you will be spammed to death)

My food shots cover; resto fare, interiors of restos, all fairly standard stuff.