Sunday, April 29, 2018

Walking in Art

On Wednesday, we planned to take the boys to Marseille, something Tucker had requested to visit. I woke up early and scrolled through Facebook. That’s when I saw that two Facebook friends had shared the same article on a new art exhibit in Paris where art is projected onto the walls and you are in the midst of it. I wondered whether we could visit during our brief stay in Paris next week, but as I read further, I saw a comment about a similar exhibit in the South of France.
I looked it up and it was only 49 miles away. 
I asked the boys if they were willing to change plans, promising a side trip to the Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct afterward. They agreed. 
The trip to the Carrières de Lumières got a bit dicey as we wound through narrow mountain roads behind a tour bus, but we arrived at what appeared to be an old series of rooms built into a mountainside with giant blocks of stone. I later learned that carriere means quarry and this was a quarry in its day. 
We entered the cool, cave-like building, admiring the hulking bare walls, but wondering where the art was. 
We walked past people sitting on stones or standing in one spot. 
What were they looking at? I saw nothing but square stones built into tall walls. Then suddenly, the cave went black and everyone stood still. 
Music began and a riot of artwork filled the walls from strategically placed projectors.
The first show was called Flower Power. I thought it might be art with flowers, but instead it was artwork of the 70s accompanied by music from the 60s.
The edge of the rock walls stopped the painting from further projections
Imagine this on a wall stretched high above your head. And the whole cave, made up of several rooms, had different paintings, different projections. It was a little overwhelming, and sometimes dizzying. 

The 60s pop art filled the room with color.
I didn't  know many of the paintings, but recognized much of the music, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Beach Boys.
Here's a video I uploaded to Youtube so I could share it with you. Only 32 seconds long.

The creators of these exhibits looks for movement within the paintings and then create that movement.
That was more evident to me during the second exhibit, Picasso and the Spanish Masters. In one painting, two children played on a seesaw, but in this, the seesaw actually moved up and down.
If the ocean was in the picture, the waves rolled into shore.

I think that's Earl's outline in front of the painting.
A large part of the montage focused on Picasso, but I only got a few pictures that I recognized as his.
Picasso, right?
The other Spanish artists were names that I recognized but ones that I couldn't have pinpointed.
This impressionist painting of course appealed to me. 
Afterward, we agreed that we wished we'd seen the Spanish Masters exhibit first because the Flower Power one was so intense we didn't admire the Spanish masters as much as we might have if we'd seen the exhibits reversed.
After we walked blinking from the cave, we drove a fairly painless route to the Pont du Gard. Of course, the Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct built in 19 BC. It's one of those places that gives you goosebumps to think of the history. 
The sky and an arch carefully crafted by the Romans 
Earl and I had visited twice before, but the boys had never been. I knew they'd be impressed. It costs 8.50 Euros per person. The grounds along the river are spotted with people swimming in the river or lying on the banks. Underneath the aqueduct, men jumped from the rocks into the river.
The river and the city beyond the Pont du Gard
We walked along the aqueduct and we also climbed up to look at the top story of the aqueduct, but not tickets were available to walk across. Apparently, they only guide tours across the top pathway during certain times.

My boys posed briefly for a photo
I wondered why we had spent so much time in a cave when the weather outdoors was gorgeous, but we couldn't regret visiting the Carrieres de Lumieres.

We had a family photo taken by a kind woman and only miss having Grace there too. 
Then we stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the grounds with a great view of the Pont du Gard in the background.
Lunch with a view

We barely made it to lunch since they stopped serving at 2:30. The waiter agreed to let us have only a "plat" not an entree. So we ate sauteed pork in mushroom sauce, along with rice, vegetables and salad.
Don't worry about the boys missing out on Marseille though.
We went the next day and have sharp blue sky photos to prove it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Optimism Restored

So it's Tuesday morning, and I had an appointment with the French nationale police department.
Not really an appointment, but if you read my previous post, you know that the officer told me to come back Tuesday to make a report about my stolen wallet.
I threw my leg over my bike and coasted the couple of miles to the station. I knew this time to push on the outer door. Let it close completely before pulling on the inner door that doesn't have a handle. I felt like a regular.
I walked to the desk where the young, blue-eyed officer was no longer ensconced. Instead, a middle-aged police officer spoke to me in French and I told him about my stolen wallet. I handed over my passport and he wrote down a few before pointing to the seats and saying his one English word: "Sitting."
So I sat.
One woman sat in a chair. One man stood impatiently across the room, other than that, everyone worked there. I figured it wouldn't be a very long wait.
I pulled up a book on my phone's Kindle app and started reading, looking up occasionally as someone moved through the waiting area, stopping to exchange cheek kisses with the officer behind the counter. I tried to picture two, male American police officers sharing kisses but just couldn't get there.
I went back to my book and didn't even look up until the second time they called the name. A name that we give a hard I but they give an eee sound.
"Oh, that's me!" I stood and slid my phone into the pouch I now carry in place of my purse.
In my halting French, I explained that I wanted to make a report in case anyone found my wallet with my driver's license and other store cards, which I explained in French as "carte des fidelities" loyalty cards. Who knows if I got that right. I did say "carte de conduire" when I should have said "permis de conduire."
I had just realized yesterday when talking with my parents that without my driver's license, I wouldn't be able to pick up the rental car I had scheduled for Thursday. So I would probably need to reschedule the rental car in Earl's name, since they were very strict about only allowing the person who rented the car to drive, unless we were willing to pay an extra 10 Euros per day. And either way, I would need a driver's license, not just the copy I had.
The officer asked what was missing and I told him credit cards, driver's license and cash were the main things. He placed a call and made noises that gave me hope. When he hung up, he said that it had been turned into the "objets trouvés," found objects
When I posted about my stolen wallet, one of my young friends who spent a semester abroad commented that her wallet had turned up at the mayor's office in the" objets trouvés," so a shout out to Alyse for the head's up. I knew what the officer was talking about.
But in Aix, the "objets trouvés" is located at the municipal police office. When continued with the report after the officer said that my driver's license and credit cards were in the wallet.
He typed up the report then went over it with me and printed out three copies. We both signed all three front and back. Then he helped me see on the map where to find the municipal police station.
I bicycled there, spending five minutes trying to figure out how to lock my bike into the metal stand, because I didn't want to face the irony of having my bike stolen while in the police station, even though an officer stood outside. I figured he might just be on a break.
When I walked inside, as a man asked how he could help me, the woman sitting next to him said, "Oh, you're here about the wallet" but she said it in French and I smiled.
I gave the man my passport and he pulled out my wallet.
"Take your time looking through to feel reassured that everything is there," he said several times, but in French.
My wallet returned to its rightful owner -
And I did. My credit cards, my health insurance card, my work ID and most importantly, my driver's license.
The only thing missing was my cash. And I had cash in Euros, American dollars, and British pounds. Not much in dollars or pounds though.
The Metro tickets I'd had left over from our last trip to Paris were gone, too, but I wasn't about to complain.
The local police officer pointed to my driver's license and asked what it was. I knew now to say "permis de conduire." And his eyebrows shot up. He said he hadn't recognized it and I explained it was from the United States, the state of Ohio.
Then he went back to explaining something in French too quick for me to understand. I let him know I didn't understand and he asked when I had been at the Police Nationale. I said just before I had made my complaint.
He advised me to return there now because I had reported my ID missing and if I was stopped, the police would think I was using the stolen ID.
The male and female officer had a brief discussion about whether I needed to return or not. I pulled out the report and showed the officer that the report indicated my ID had been found. So we agreed that I didn't have to return to the other police officer.
Phew. I dodged a bit of red tape.
I tucked the wallet in the backpack I'd brought along so I could pick up breakfast at the bakery on my way home.
Riding along the tree lined street, I paused briefly in the square where my wallet had been taken. Somewhere the thief could be watching me. He might recognize me, but I would never recognize him.
But somewhere else in the city, was a man or woman who had found my wallet and turned it in so I could have some of my belongings back. The yin and yang, the good and the bad, in every city, in every country.
I would not let one person ruin my trust in humanity.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Encroaching Fear

Sunday morning at 9:30 and I'm alone in the apartment in Aix en Provence. I'm hungry, and I'd like to venture out to a boulangerie for a croissant, maybe a baguette for later in the day, but I only have a 50 Euro note, and I'm afraid.
I'm not a timid person. I'm not even the kind of person who would be accused of clutching her purse to her chest or wearing it across her chest like a bandolier. I've always had the theory that if you're afraid, you'll bring people who prey on fear to you.
So why this sudden need to double lock the doors and put down the window shutters?
Yesterday, in the market, my wallet was taken from my purse.
Or as I tried to tell the Aix en Provence police over the phone:
"Mon portefeuille a été volé au marché."
Earl and I walked down to the market around 11:15. We'd gone to the grocery store early to stock up on heavy things, like milk and wine, for when the boys arrive. We needed some fresh produce, like a melon, strawberries, tomatoes.
Me, at a more naive time, thinking that nothing could ruin my security.
We stopped at the vendor where we'd purchased some very good melons. I pulled my wallet out and found a 10 Euro to pay, sliding the change back into the change compartment.
I slipped the wallet back into my purse and the magnet clicked that held the front flap closed. I kept the flap facing outward, away from my body so it was easier to reach into and take out when I needed it. My phone and my passport were also in my purse because I had no pockets. I generally put my iPhone in my pocket so I can take frequent photos on our walks.
The very market where my
wallet was first targeted. 

As we were still standing at the market, putting our produce into our cloth bag, I felt my purse move away from my hip, and I turned to check it. I flipped open the black leather flap and checked that my wallet was still there.
Someone must have jostled me, I thought.
Then Earl and I continued our walk through the market, toward the Rotonde, debating whether we would stop at the Fromagier. We'd had some good cheese from him, but he didn't offer recommendations like other fromagiers did.
Earl was holding my left hand. My purse hung from my right side and again I felt my purse lift off my hip. I turned immediately and my wallet was gone. A pale blue wallet that Earl had given me for Christmas one year.
In it were two credit cards, one debit card and about 90 Euros, along with my driver's license, my insurance card and various other loyalty cards, plus about 8 tickets for the Paris Metro.
"And someone just took my wallet!" I exclaimed, turning and staring at the people around me. It had to be someone I had just looked at, yet I had no way of knowing.
The loss of the wallet was a pain. We hurried home and cancelled credit cards. Cancelling mine meant Earl's was cancelled, too. Plus, Earl was headed to Paris today to meet the boys and only had 35 Euros on him.
Luckily, we found out that his debit card would still work so we could get cash out.
So we did.
After I called the police station, they said I had to come down to make a report. I don't expect to get anything back, but I'm hoping the thief may have taken out the cash and thrown away the wallet so I could get my driver's license and other belonging back. If I don't report it, the police won't know where to return. (Is it overly optimistic of me to picture someone finding my wallet and turning it into the police? It's what I would do, what I have done.)
We walked to the police station, about a 25 minute walk, and after figuring out how to get in. Wait for the man behind the desk to push the button. Push the door open. Close it. Wait for the man behind the desk to push another button. Unable to figure out how to open the second door because there isn't a handle yet you're supposed to pull it and wait until someone inside runs over and opens the door for us. 
Then the young officer with piercing blue eyes tells us we might have to wait hours to make a report because so few officers are in the office on a Saturday. The man wore a bulletproof vest with his blood type, A pos, printed in the center of his chest.
He asked how long we would be here and when we said all year, he suggested we should come back on Tuesday. Monday is too busy with people reporting all the things that happened over the weekend, but Tuesday at 8 a.m. would be no waiting.
We agreed and walked back home.
We've taken care of the important things, and I've looked at the bright side that I still have my passport and my phone, but I can't shake that nagging feeling that I'm not safe.
All these years, all these visits, nothing like this has happened to me in France.
Maybe I got too comfortable, too lax because I was beginning to feel like a local, but the pickpocket knew I wasn't a local.
In Paris a few years ago, a gypsy tried to pull a scam on me with a brass ring he found, but I never felt in danger. I gave him 5 Euro basically to go away, but it didn't spook me, like this has.
Even in the U.S., I haven't been a victim of a crime. Even the word crime seems silly. It wasn't violent, just a momentary lifting of the flap of my purse and so much disappeared.
The thought of going out alone with my 50 Euros is too unnerving. Maybe this afternoon I'll do it though, walking with my purse across my chest, held closely to me, a day late, and 80 Euros short.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fountains Galore

The city where we're staying, Aix en Provence, is filled with fountains. It has its roots as a Roman spa town, so that's probably why it is filled with water bubbling out of pipes.
As I chugged up the street toward the end of my morning run one day recently, I noticed the delightful water dancing in the sunlight.
In spite of the joy it brings me each day when I run past it, this fountain doesn't make the map. 
That's when I decided that we would follow the town map to find all the fountains they list as sights worth seeing. The local map only lists 12 fountains, and apparently there are hundreds. As we made our way around town, about 10,000 steps, following the map, we learned that some of our favorite fountains aren't listed, but I thought I'd share with you the 12 fountains suggested by the tourism office.
Number 1 of course is the fountain at "La Rotonde" that's a roundabout at the end of the Cours Mirabeau, a famous street in Aix.
Earl ventured across the road to the construction barriers to pose with this fountain.
Aix is undergoing a lot of construction right now, so the whole fountain is surrounded by barriers and equipment.
We moved up the street to number 2, "Fontaine Des 9 Canons" which is the oldest on the Cours Mirabeau, built in 1691 for nearby nuns to use.

The nun's fountain. 
Even though it isn't known as the mossy fountain, it has begun to be encapsulated by moss, probably because the water is warm.
The third fountain on the street is known as "Mossy" and has always been covered in moss. It brings in water from a hot spring and was built in 1734.
This fountain is famous for its warm water and its moss. 
At the end of the street is the Fontaine du Roi René built in 1819. Let me tell you, this statue shows a much more handsome King René than the painting I found online. Maybe it just wasn't a very good
artist. I think, although he was never King of France, he made sure that Provence would join France after his death. In the statue he's holding some muscat grapes that are grown in Provence.
Earl sitting at the king's feet
The next fountain, in the square where the mayor's office and the clock tower are located, is encased in plastic so apparently is under construction. Earl made me pose with it anyway.
Me examining what might be behind those wrappings.
Down the next side street, we followed the map to "Fontaine Amado" which is named after the artist Jean Amado, but the fountain was only built in 1977. We did discover a lot of new restaurants down this road, but when we went back today for lunch, we learned that a lot of tours send their clients this way for lunch. We weren't impressed with the food unfortunately.

Earl stands manfully at the edge of the fountain. Okay, from this angle it doesn't look much different than the mossy fountain
The next fountain was built into a wall, and we walked around the square a couple of times trying to make sure we took a picture of the correct one at Place de l'archeveche (archbishop).
We almost missed this fountain
We had passed and photographed the eighth fountain many times while traversing the town. It apparently is in the style of squares in Paris and is called Fontaine d'Albertas. A lot of school girls had settled on the steps to eat their lunch as we wandered up. And by this time, I was getting a bit peckish  myself.
Me perched on the edge of the fountain. Good thing part of the railing had fallen off.
"How many fountains do we have to go?" I asked. "Want to stop and eat?"
Earl encouraged me to keep going so we went to Fontaine des 3 Ormeaux. When I searched for the word ormeaux, the translation said "abalone." But that makes no sense.

Earl and the empty fountain
 In the history of Aix, it says the square is known for its shady plane trees and used to have a vegetation market, so maybe ormeaux is connected to the trees and the plants. The fountain was dry, but the square was shady, as promised in the brochure. It was built in the 17th century.
Then we had to traverse to the other side of town to find the next fountain, "Fontaine des 4 dauphins." Okay, the name and the fountain for this one made sense to me.
Dolphins, of course.
It seems quite an upscale square.
There were two more fountains to find and they were far.
"We don't really have to find those do we?" I asked Earl, who had joined in with the whole treasure hunt idea and wasn't ready to give up. But keep in mind that I had already run five miles that morning.
If I had looked at the explanation on the map, I would have known what we were looking for, but I only looked at the dots on the map and went traipsing toward the bus depot.
One of the main ideas of this fountain hunt was to see new parts of Aix and to rely solely on a paper  map. Too often when end up using GPS on our phones so our map-reading skills have suffered.
And it was on this grumpy and hot stage of the journey that we had a few spats about which direction to go.
We cut through an unfamiliar street that had some enormous book covers stacked up like books for the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Oversized books -- not for coffee tables
We walked up the steps of an apartment building and turned expecting the fountain to be there. We heard the sounds from the walkway, but, nope. We retraced our steps and then read the description on the map. Wall of water.
The wall of water "fountain"
We were walking parallel to it. The water ran down the overpass and then was pumped to the top again for another furious race down the concrete.
Earl posing with the wall of water in the background.
On the opposite side of the wall of water, was the wall of plants. 22,000 plants on this wall.
22000 plants growing on a wall
Truthfully, on the day of our search, I was too tired to walk down the hill and get a picture of the wall of plants, but I got one a few days later on a run. I rationalized that we had actually found all the fountains we were looking for, because why would a concrete overpass with plants be considered a fountain.
Look, I was whipped.
Finally, we went for lunch to help rejuvenate  me for any further fountain hunting that might come my way.
But I was disappointed that some of my favorite fountains weren't included, especially this one:

What's not to love about this wild boar spurting water? 

Monday, April 16, 2018

My First Doctor Appointment in France

I successfully visited the doctor in France, but truthfully, even now, I have no idea how to get into her building.
The doctor's office is located on the Cours Mirabeau. Tres chic!
I didn't go early because articles I read talked about doctors always being late because they spend one-on-one time with patients in France, so I walked up to the outer gates at 4:28 for a 4:30 appointment. That's when I realized that I had no idea how to get into the outer gates.
I could read on the name plate that she was in building B, in the RDC (rez de chausseé), but I looked at the code and wondered what to enter.
I had called her that morning on her phone number, which was also listed.
I assailed a woman walking past, "Madame!" And I asked her in French what code to push. As we started to examine her placard on the wall, another woman entered a code and pushed open the gate!
Voilà! I could enter. I scurried after her while waving thank you to the woman who had started to help me.
I passed through a courtyard to the buildings numbered 50 and turned toward the door on the right, building C, so I kept going and turned to the left, building B.
At the next door I hesitated again. How to open the locked door.
A panel on the wall told me to scan up or down until I found the doctor. I did and entered the 4-digit code for her, but then what? Was there a "validate" or "enter" button. I waited too long and had to scroll through the names again, Press the number then press the bell symbol, which looked totally different than the bell symbol in the instructions.
Okay! I heard the door click and pressed into the building. A door to the right had my doctor's name on it, so I pushed on the door, which was luckily open and went to the Salle d'Attente, the waiting room. No one else was in there. I had also read that I should greet anyone in the waiting room, so I dodged that bullet.
In just a few minutes, a woman dressed in a white blouse and white pants stuck her head into the waiting room and nodded at me. I assumed that meant I should follow her, so I did.
She told me to be seated and she sat across a desk from me, entering information into the computer. But I had read enough blogs about visiting the doctor in France to know that this was actually the doctor, not a medical insurance clerk or a nurse.
I wasn't there that long, probably 15 minutes, and I didn't have to get undressed or really even examined other than having  my blood pressure taken.
That's why I went to see her. In the U.S., I take a pill, or half a pill, but my doctor, when she convinced me to take it, assured me it was only a "water pill." In France, they went straight with "diuretic.
The doctor at the immigration office said my blood pressure was too high. A technician at the pharmacy took it and said it was fine. I figured I'd better consult a doctor.
She agreed that it was too high, but France doesn't carry the diuretic my doctor had prescribed. Then she proceeded to tell me why taking a diuretic is only masking the high blood pressure symptom but not fixing it.
She suggested another prescription, and I nodded. She also advised me that I needed to buy a blood pressure machine to keep track of it. I nodded again. I had one in the U.S., but have no idea where it ended up.
We used to keep it in the armrest between the two chairs in the living room. Who knows if it is still there when Spencer sits down in his living room.
The doctor spoke in French the whole time, sometimes very quickly. I hope I understood everything she said.
She gave me a prescription and I carried it to the pharmacy across the street where they filled it for 5 Euros, giving me a receipt so I can send it in to my insurance carrier.
Then they sold me a blood pressure machine for 45 Euros. Guess I really should have held onto that old one.
Afterward, I felt pretty blah. I know high blood pressure runs in my family, but I bicycled 14 miles yesterday and ran 5 miles this morning. I don't think I should have to be on any medication.
But I'll swallow a new pill tomorrow, and maybe try to increase my wine consumption and café sitting to see if it brings that blood pressure down on its own.
The Plane trees along the Cours Mirabeau are finally sprouting pale green leaves. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bicycles and Sunshine

Yes, I noticed that it has been more than a week and a half since I posted. As Mark Zuckerberg has said numerous times when testifying before Congress, "Sorry."
Even now, I'm not feeling especially inspired to write a blog post, but I'll fill you in a bit on our life.
We've had some temperamental weather here in Aix en Provence. All the cushions for the outdoor furniture are stacked up behind metal chairs to keep them from blowing away in the high winds. And we've seen our first thunderstorm plus a lot of steady rain.
The bad weather has been beneficial to me as I have been working steadily to jump through all the necessary hoops to begin a new online teaching job. Lots of quizzes, studying and mock classes, which I'm hopefully at the end of. Waiting on a background check.
We aren't spending more money than I had anticipated in France, but I'm making less money. I didn't get any classes to teach for the one college where I work, but I have gotten one class every semester at the other. Still, some unexpected bills mean I need to find a way to earn more, thus the latest online job, which will hopefully make up the difference.
But, a lack of money didn't keep us from one of the objects we consider a necessity while living in France.
We made a foray to Burgundy, France, about a 4-hour drive, to buy new bikes.
You may be wondering, don't they sell bikes in Aix en Provence? And, I'm sure they do. But we wanted nice bikes at a low price.
Long ago, when Earl and I took a bike tour of Provence, we rented hybrid bikes from a company called Bourgogne Randonnees. They delivered bikes to us in Avignon and picked them up at the end of our trip in Aix en Provence. The bikes were topnotch.

So Earl contacted the bike shop, and they had two used bikes that were just our size. Mine, of course, was much smaller than Earl's. They offered them for 200 Euros each. The Gitanes bikes are 27-speed with shifters on the handlebars. They're so simple, even I can figure them out.
We left Aix around 7 a.m. after a thunderstorm-filled night, driving on the wet roads. Getting out of Aix was the hardest part, but then we took the freeway almost the whole ride, and our credit card can vouch for that since we had a 24-Euro toll on the first leg and a 12-Euro toll on the second leg.
The amazing thing, as we left the sunny south of France and its rain clouds behind was that we actually found glorious sunshine in Beaune, France, a town in Burgundy.
We worried we wouldn't get to the bike shop before lunch, and if we didn't arrive before noon, the shop would be closed until 2 or 2:30 for lunch. We pulled up around 11:30 a.m. and the two owners, Cedric and Florian pulled out the bikes they had set aside for us.
Look how much taller Earl's bike seat is than mine!
They let us try the bikes during lunch hour, so we rode along a path around the ancient walls of the city before  bumping over some cobblestones and locking up the bikes. We needed lunch too.
Ouch, those cobblestones on the bike tires, but oh the blue sky.
We ate outside, even though the owners thought it too chilly, but the sun warmed us and we ended up taking off our coats while we ate. 
We took a selfie in front of this fountain.

Here's the square with the fountain. 
Earl had a velouté soup, that's a cream soup with lots of vegetables, then a chicken burger, which is basically a chicken sandwich. I had a salad with ham and tartine of vegetables(vegetables cooked in a foil packet). There was zucchini, eggplant, radish, and not sure what that yellow round thing was. Plus a baked potato with a sauce. Yes, that probably cancelled out the benefits of all those vegetables.
Oh, did I forget the bread with cheese on it? That's part of a salad too, right?
We walked around Beaune some after lunch then rode the bikes a few miles. Earl was impressed with the bikes. He had feared they would be in worse shape since they had been rentals. But the tires had good tread on them. The gears all changed smoothly and the mechanics of the bike appeared to be great. We gladly paid them for the bikes and two helmets.

Happily rolling the bike to the car
Once we removed the front tires, we were able to fit the bikes in the hatchback of the car and drove four hours back to Aix.
Unfortunately, we left behind the clear skies as we headed south.
The South of France is supposed to be the sunny part. 
But for nearly an hour, a rainbow shone in the sky, sometimes pale, sometimes intense as if leading us back to our current home in Aix en Provence.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Unamazing Race for a Visa

The man at the corner tabac turned the pages of a notebook before he looked up at our anxious faces.
"I don't have enough," he said.
Our hearts dropped to our stomachs. We were counting on the tabac by the immigration office having the tax stamps we needed to get Earl's visa. His appointment started in less than an hour, and his temporary visa expired today.
Would this mistake cost us our "Amazing Race" to spend a year in France?

Today was the day that Earl had his appointment with the French immigration office. It should have been no problem. I went through it two weeks ago. We knew what to do.
One thing that tripped us up at my appointment was buying tax stamps. Our friend told us to go to any tabac (that's just a tobacco store that also sells coffee and lottery tickets and various other items) and buy the stamps. For my appointment, we went to a tabac in Aix en Provence, but the woman gave us a paper with an electronic stamp printed on it.
When we gave the immigration office woman the paper with the electronic stamps, she sadly shook her head. We needed physical stamps. So Earl ran to the tabac on the corner near the immigration office in Marseille and purchased the 250 Euros worth of stamps allowing me to complete my Visa.

As we prepared for Earl's appointment, I leaned toward waiting until we arrived in Marseille at the immigration office. We knew the tabac had the stamps, it was right on the corner, and we didn't risk getting the wrong thing.
We stopped at one tabac here in Aix en Provence to ask, but they didn't have the stamps. "Let's just wait,"I convinced Earl.
After waking up in the blackness of the early morning, we left the apartment at 6 walking down the darkened Cours Mirabeau as vendors began to set up their booths, emptying large white vans and unfolding tables.
We caught the 6:30 bus to Marseille, arriving at 7 before we descended to the Metro and exited on the street of the immigration office. The route was familiar. We didn't hurry. All we had to do was buy the stamps, and we had all the other papers in order.
When the man in the tabac told us he didn't have enough stamps, I asked him where else we could go. He pointed to the left and said take the third street to the left.
We scurried down a street, stopping at a couple of other tabac shops. The people behind the counter generally gave us strange looks as I asked for "les timbres des taxes." I didn't know what else to call them, but they all shook their heads and sent us on our way.
Of course, they suggested places in French, and I was in a tizzy, unable to understand what they said or to take the time to ask for clarification.
One woman suggested something that sounded like "ampoules" and motioned down the street. I searched the buildings for a sign that might say "ampoules" which I later found out means bulbs, so it wasn't the correct thing.
After about five tabacs, following the map on Earl's phone, I suggested he go back to the immigration office for his appointment. He would need to have a chest xray, meet with the nurse and the doctor before he would need the stamps. I would arrive at immigration before he needed the stamps - I promised him.
He gave me a kiss and the 250 Euros to buy the stamps. He also handed me his phone since it is the one with French service. I could use it for directions.
The last tabac we had asked at pointed down the street and said "vingt-deux." Twenty-two? I wondered. But the phone was directing me toward another tabac so I decided to follow that.
I walked about three blocks in the opposite direction before I turned back, heading toward the direction the woman had pointed. That's when I saw a sign for the City of Marseille Prado office.
Maybe someone in city government would be able to help me.
The building with the sign said the office had been moved down the street, so I hurried to the new office, which was closed until 8:30. Next door was a hotel, so, just like on The Amazing Race, I decided to consult with the hotel concierge.
The man buzzed me into the building and told me he spoke English. What a relief! I explained what I was looking for and he looked me in the eye and said, "Ma'am, I am a hotel."
If I hadn't been so desperate, I would have laughed.
"I know you're a hotel. I thought you might know where I can look."
He read the letter that explained what I needed. "It says you can buy it online," he said.
"The woman at the immigration office wouldn't accept an electronic stamp," I explained. "We need actual, physical stamps."
He went on a brief tangent, suggesting that we deal with someone else in the office, but I just wanted to find the right kind of stamps so Earl could get his visa.
"When I need stamps, I go to the tabac to the right of the white church in the old port," he said.

We were miles from the old port but I nodded my head. "Could you call and ask them?"
"I don't have the number there, ma'am," he said.
Now, if I were pushy, like the contestants on The Amazing Race, I would have offered to look up the numbers if he would just do the French speaking, but I didn't.
 "Do you think the city office next door will know?" I asked him.
"Have them write it down then come back to me and I'll explain it," he said.
I waited for the office to open and got in the building second, in front of another couple who were distracted by a phone call. There were no numbers to pull from the ticket machine, but I stood, shifting from foot to foot.
The man in front of me was there for his passport and he got called to a worker right away. The other workers didn't seem to eager to start their day. They compared papers and plugged in printers, exchanging cheek kisses as they greeted one another.
Finally, a woman called out for the next person.
She looked at me like I was crazy too. She said a word that I didn't understand.
"Will you write it down?" I asked.
"Impots" is what she wrote, followed by "Bar Tabac." Yes, I knew about the tabac already.
I ran back to the concierge.
"Of course, des impots," he said.
"Where is it?" I demanded.
Down the street, turn right past the tabac, past a restaurant called Bozen, and there was the office. The office said "Centre de Finance Publique." I marched up the walkway and saw a notice on the door that they did not have "timbres fiscaux." Damn. That's what I needed. The man inside the door waiting to direct people to lines looked at me. I entered and asked where I could find "timbres fiscaux."
"Vingt-deux," he said pointing to the right.
"Vingt-deux?" I repeated. And he nodded.
So I raced back out to the street. I just needed to go to number 22 on this busy four-lane street. I looked at the first building on my right -- number 179! Oh, no.
The numbers aren't the way they are in the U.S. where one block might be the 100s and the next block would be the 200s. Nope. One block was the 170s, and the next one was the 160s.
I don't know how far I walked before I finally reached 24, which seemed like a much better bet than 22, which was a clothing shop. Number 24 had a big entrance with several buildings inside with other numbers on them. I hesitated and perused the map before I let out a decidedly French sound like a raspberry. The woman beside me laughed, equally perplexed by the maze of numbers and buildings.
I asked in the next building, but that was a phone company. The concierge at building 24 was missing. I couldn't wait. I had to hurry.
Maybe I misunderstood the man. Maybe he said "cent vingt-deux" 122. I walked back to 122 but it was a doctor's office.
I pulled out Earl's phone and searched for "tabac" near "vieux port" the old port. Several popped up and I called one, maybe not the one beside the white church, but in that general vicinity.
I sputtered my way through a French phone conversation. Yes, they had the stamps. He would check to see how many. Yes, no problem, but blah, blah, blah.
"What?" I asked. "I didn't understand."
He repeated and I gathered that I needed cash, no credit cards.
"I'm coming," I called into the phone, or maybe I said "I'm coming back," who knows because it was in French.
Now, I needed to find a taxi. Enough with walking. I'd already covered more than 8000 steps and it wasn't even 9 a.m.
I saw a man striding up the street with a folder under his arm and I called, "Do you know where I can find a taxi?" He kept walking but then stopped and turned around, realizing I was talking to him. My mistake was not saying, "Bonjour, Monsieur," before I addressed him.
I told him where I wanted to go and he started to tell me where to go, then suggested I just come along with him since he was headed that way. "But  you could take the Metro," he said, "or even walk there, it is only 20 minutes or so."
I wanted to scream that I'd been pacing the streets for nearly two hours, but I refrained and walked toward the metro or the taxi that awaited up the street.
"Can you make it from here?" he asked as we came upon the Metro entrance. I thanked him and headed down to the subway. Just a few stops later and I emerged into Marseille's old port area. A gorgeous port with sparkling water and lots of good restaurants when one has the time to be a tourist.

I typed in the address of the tabac in Earl's phone, but it kept saying a 13 minute walk. 
I entered another tabac. The man did not have enough stamps for 250. 
Desperately, I finally flagged down a taxi. 
"Take me to 4 rue de la Republique," I said. 
He turned the corner and drove about 20 feet. "It's right here," he said.
And just like on The Amazing Race, I said, "Wait for me!"
I jumped out of the taxi and ran into the shop. "I'm here for the stamps," I said.
He opened his notebook and said, "I don't have enough."
Ok. I wanted to call it quits. Earl could leave the country. I was not up to this task or tax. 
I stood aside but didn't leave as the clerk waited on the next man in line. I didn't understand how he could have told me on the phone he had enough, but now he didn't. 
"I can sell you what I have, " he said. "90"
So I bought it. One tiny stamp worth 90 Euro. I tucked it in my wallet and ran for the taxi. I was taking a calculated risk that the tabac next to the immigration office still had the 160 stamps it had earlier in the day. 
The taxi driver wove through the crowded streets, and 16.20 Euros later, pulled up outside the tabac. 
"I'll get out here," I said paying him and grabbing my bag. I ran into the tabac. "I need 160 timbres fiscaux."
The woman counted them out and took my money. My task was completed. 11, 435 steps, about six miles, and I had victoriously gathered the necessary stamps for Earl's visa. 
I walked to the immigration office and climbed the stairs, settling into the waiting room before Earl came out of the medical exam. I tried to look relaxed, like it hadn't been a big deal for me to chase down those stamps, but my feet are telling a different story. 
And,  yeah, I understand a little better now why all of those contestants are praying, "Oh, please, Lord, let me find it."


Living Under a Vaccine Passport

Tuesday morning, Earl and I drove to the city of Castelnaudary.  Beautiful flowers fly above the streets We parked in the lot across from th...