Friday, July 14

Happy Bastille Day!

Today is Bastille Day in France! It's the French holiday that corresponds with our Independence Day. French flags abound around.


We went on a technical and cultural visit. Bright and early we went to Latecoere. They are a company that makes airplane parts. Not the little things, but fuselage sections and airplane doors and half from their business comes from Airbus. If you played that Monty Python clip from a couple of posts down, you probably realized that Airbus isn't really like that rather Latecoere is. We had an hour of presentations, the first one was written in English and spoken in French. Both parts of the second were in French. It seems like the French do the opposite of everything that makes a good powerpoint. Good powerpoints are simple with small phrases that are grammaratically parallel and don't have giant charts or excessive copy. For some reason, every French company likes to present (on a single slide) the following information: all of the locations, how many employees they have in those locations, and what each place does, in addition to who runs them. They must like the bureaucracy.

After an hour of periodically nodding, they released us into the factory. It was much smaller than what the map in the slideshow looked like. In some parts, they were working on part of the cabin. In other parts, they were building the rear part of private jets. It was pretty interesting.

We then got on the bus again. There were a lot of sunflower fields. I fell asleep shortly after taking a picture of a sunflower field. In fact, I fell asleep everytime we got on the bus. All I know is that we were going west into the French region of Gascony.

We then had an extremely fancy lunch in a castle. Gascony is where fois gras, fattened duck liver, originated. The theme of the meal was duck. I didn't have any fois gras, although they served us some. I heard that it was slimey.

After the 2.5 hour lunch, we then went ot the Cistercian abbey of Flaran. It's pretty amazing to think about how old things are here in Europe. According to the tour guide, monks had been living here for more than 500 years before the French Revolution which happened in the 1790's. The monks had lived strict lives. They could only talk in a certain room and they prayed many times a day, even at 3 am. They used a water drip clock to keep track of time since they didn't have a light bulb to read the sundial in the middle of the night. I like their chuch. It was very plain on the inside. In fact, there was nothing; just the stone used to build it and small windows with plain glass. To me, that's how a church should be, although the cathedrals like Notre Dame are art and I'm glad they built them, because helping people to lead better lives is more important than building a pretty building.

We made it back to Toulouse and then I had bread and cheese for dinner. I like how the French eat: big, long lunch and a small dinner. I haven't looked at my schedule for next year in a while, but I think I'll try to continue eating that way. I'm not sure how it'll work though. Opposite of the U.S., in France, they'd probably sooner sell baby-in-a-can than bread and cheese that come sliced. Bread is so cheap here, ranging from .5 to 2 euros for a loaf. Most wine goes for .80 to about 10 euros here. Ah, France.

After dinner we headed down to the Capitole on rumors of a concert. A stage was set up and music was being played. There were about 5 singer/dancers singing/dancing with a band. I thought it was a little strange that they were doing American music on Bastille Day eve. They did a long string of songs (in English!), the quintessential American pop music hits including: Pretty Woman, the Grease songs which transitioned into Happy Days, then some love songs and some other stuff I can't remember right now, including the song from Moulin Rouge, which I thought was weird because some parts of it are in French. They then did a bit of a costume change and did some 80's movie theme songs, then some superhero movie songs ending with Ghostbusters! If it had been in the U.S., it would have been rather cheesey, but it was cool in France. I wonder if they know exactly what they were singing in most of the songs? After a longer break, they changed genres to latin type dance music, the whole time being MC'ed by a guy who looked like the French Jay Leno.


Today we went back to Carcasonne to watch the Tour de France. The race is three weeks long and in July. Today they were going about 200 km from the mountains in Spain to Carcasonne. We left here at noon and arrived by one, execting the riders to make it to town by about 4 or 5. Upon exiting the train station, we knew not where the race went through the city. We walked the first block, past a festival and found that the road had barriers on both sides. From the markings, we could tell that the end was to the right, about half a kilometer.

The path of the race went through the town like the letter 'U'. It went counterclockwise with the the train station at the bottom center and the finish line at the top right. We walked up and around. I had brought my flag with me so I wore it. We had lunch and then went to find a spot. We settled on the inside of the last turn, about 300 meters before the finish line. As time went by, it became exponentially more crowded. Walking around, I saw two Union Jacks, three Austrailian flags (one about 10 yards away), both a Scottish and an English flag, a Norway flag, and a contingent of Danes. As far as I could tell, I was the only one with an American flag. I felt bad about showing it because it is the biggest of the French holidays today, but, oh well, it's the Tour de France.

Me in my free hat. Yes, my head is huge so it wouldn't fit. No, it's not a purse, it's the CNES bag, besides it's European.

le Finish Line

Starting about 90 minutes before the riders came through, they closed off the points at which people could cross the course. Then it was like a strange parade, all the floats were different vehicles from all the advertisers. They gave out tons of free stuff, thrown at me were hats, small beach balls, and candy, among other things. When the Haribo people came by, I waved the flag hoping that they seen an American and then try to injure him by pelting him from a moving car with candy. It didn't work. Eventually, after about an hour of burning my feet because I wore flip flops, it got cloudy. Also the parade thinned out, as the riders approached.

It started to sprinkle. Finally, the tv cameramen attended to their cameras and three helicopters appeared in the sky. Two or three riders came by then it was about 5 minutes before the pack came through. Yesterday, an American won the segment so he was wearing the yellow jersey. I saw him stuck in the pack. Traditionally, the French try extra hard on Bastille Day, but it wasn't a French victory today.

We then ran over to the stage where they handed out the awards. We followed the crowd and ended up jumping a fence into the press area in front of it. It then downpoured as we headed back to the train station to leave.

I won't be posting until Monday because we're leaving in a couple of hours to go to Nice on Saturday and then Monaco on Sunday.

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