Saturday, June 2, 2012

Maison du bois

("House of Wood")

Basically a woodworking museum.

We visited it and watched a guy use a lathe an jigsaw. That was somewhat boring.

We also saw this large hydro-powered saw that was used from 1930-1970. A stream from the river is diverted toward this 2-story cabin, and on the first floor there is a giant switch to send the water toward or away from a paddlewheel, which drives anoter shaft via a belt, turning a cam which puses/pulls the saw up and down. The saw also auto-feeds the wood into itself as it cuts, a feature which can be switched on and off.

A pretty cool and simple machine.

Comic Sans

[If you don't know anything about fonts and don't care, just go ahead and skip reading this post.]

I'm not kidding when I say this font (Comic Sans) is everywhere. French people must really dig it or something. We used to point it out when we saw it, b/c it's a pet peeve, but now it's just getting old. I'm starting to be a little less surprised when I see it.

I know (from the absolute bare minimum i know about design) that in the US, Comic Sans is avoided at all costs. I have no time for a rant; if you want to read one just google "Comic Sans sucks." It has no shortage of haters.

I also see a lot of Papyrus and other standard decorative fonts from MS Word... being used as a body font! Today I saw Impact being used for body text; it hurt my eyes.

French is funny

...when spoken with a Texan accent. Arkansas/Alabama also works. So we do that a lot :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

WW1 memorials

Every church we go to has a WW1 memorial, sayin 1914-1918 and the names of the deceased soldiers from that town.

Some have addendums for ww2 and sometimes other wars.


Horribly backlit pic of me touching snow, about a kilometer away from Italy.

That's me in the pic, i promise.

We had a snowball fight. I nailed Julie in the head, and when I went give her an apology hug, all the girls shoved snowballs in my face and shirt.

Later we all ambushed Bernard, and I hit him in the head from long-range.

We ran barefoot through the snow and freezing water. Twas fun

Le Dîner de Cons

...the original version of Dinner for Schmucks, is much different. The only similarity is the premise. This one is more like a farce involving the events surrounding one of the dinner participants, and the dinner itself is never shown. Pretty funny.

WW2 fortresses

Passed by some WW2 fortresses on our "randonnée" today. Carla found a bullet and gave it to me, saying it was from ww2.

We didn't stop to look at them; i had to quickly run around them myself while the girls hurried off to more interesting things like flowers or whatever.

As i approached the first bunker a marmotte scared me by jumping out and running around! Then I tried to feed him as he poked his head in and out, but no dice; those are dodgy critters. Also much bigger than i exected.

Apparently this particular bunker was never used. But the Fort of Tournoux, which I did a presentation on, was used once.

I put my foot in one of these pics for scale.

Altitude pressure

If you drive/walk up a mountainside, traversing much altitude, and then open your bottle of suntan lotion, it will all squirt out all over you. Trust me, i know.


Was obliged to try génépi, the alcohol made from the local plant that only grows here and at high altitudes. Has a sharp taste, is very strong, but good overall. I wanted some sort of mixed drink w it but apparently it's usually served by itself in a brandy glass, sipped slowly.


... aka Les Boules, is very popular here. Multiple people have told me that literally all French people play it. Henri said there are 4 world champions of the game who live in the Ubaye Valley. Ill have to verify that.

This is the game where you try to throw your ball as close as possible to the reference ball. Ive only played it a few times in the US.

Yesterday we played it until it was literally too dark to see the balls. Also, they are metal and rusty so they made our hands dirty.

Konking one ball on top of another is called a 'casquette'.

Chardons, again

So those liquor chocolates are, in fact, called chardons.

And i was wrong about the bubble-formation process. Sugar bubbles don't just form; you need a mold for them. I got a pic of the mold on my camera. It's just some plaster bumps glued to a piece of wood.

Also, attached is a picture of M. Génot's chocolate display at the Maison des PR. The green bags to the right are the chardons.


... (marmots/groundhogs) are these little racoon-sized creatures that are everywhere in the countryside. We've seen a zillion of em. Today one saw a bird overhead and started squealing/chirping to warn his buddies. Someone has a video.

Also, i found a marmotte skull in a field. Keeping it.

Cyclists & motorcyclists

... like to ride thru the Alps, for obvious readons. Jean Chaix is a lodging specifically recommended by the french cyclotourism federation. Our first few days here there was a group of cyclists here, who we didnt really talk to. Now it's just us.

Bernard said most of the motorsyclists cone from Germany.

Les mouches

... (flies) are everywhere. At the Maison des P.R., they have a tapette-à-mouches (flyswatter), and i earned my keep as a chasseur-des-mouches; killed about 20 over 3 days.


There was an earthquake yesterdy morning, centered in Italy, but it was felt here too. Ive heard it was ~5.8 on the Richter scale. I and all the other students slept through it, but at the Maison des produits regionaux a cop showed up to talk to one of the workers, who is on some community safety committee, about it.

Cooking establishments

It is illegal to cook at a food establishment here without the standard white chef's shirt, kitchen slacks, and black shoes. Costs ~100€ altogether.

Us "stagiares" (interns) dont wear that though, that's just the actual workers.

Also: the patisserie kitchen is remarkably clean. Ive seen a few American commercial kitchens, and all of those were much dirtier. At the end of each day (11:30 am), the patisserie kitchen is cleaned. Might also have something to do w the fact that the back door opens straight onto another downtown pedestrian steet, so potential customers can see in.

Also, Henri worked at "MacDo" (thats what everyone calls McDonalds) for 6 months, and said any burger left out for 10 min after being cooked must be thrown away. Also McDonalds here is more expensive than there. I stepped into on in Paris. They have a McBaguette, which we all find hilarious, even tho im pretty sure ive heard of that before. Also: the Royal Fromage, which im pretty sure is a big mac w cheese. MacDo also has a little café at the front with little treats like macaroons and stuff.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


...cost 6€/pack (that's $8) here! Henri said he gets his in bulk in Italy, where they're much cheaper. Also in Corse, a french island in the Mediterranian, they're cheaper bc it's some kind of tax haven.

The government has the monopoly on tobacco sales; it is illegal for a private organization to sell it.

Cities of Provence

Here's what i've gathered about nearby big cities from talking to the locals:

Aix: has a university, so is good for young people

Nice: very expensive, lots of older people there, but still "Nice is nice•

Marseille: beautiful coastal city, but high crime rate

We're going to Aix this weekend.


I think that abbey/church we visited was called Laverq.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camera dump

Quick & dirty photo upload, since the internet here is very slow and I'm on someone else's computer. These images are resized; in reality they have higher resolution. They are also unedited, of course. En bref, they will look better later.


in Barcelonette, near the market:

at the centre equestre:

there's a church in this one:

Standing on a mound of rocks, but you can't see it:

les chevres in a small town which, from what I understand, was called Fromage du Chevre:

At the church next door to the abbey in the middle of nowhere:

sundials are everywhere. also, note the date of the building's construction:

At the Maison des Produits du Pays:

At the chocolaterie/patisserie:

Those liquor-filled chocolates

(Forgot their names again. Chardons??)

Helped make them today. It's very time consuming. Henri explained the process to me:

Mix sugar and liquor and heat to 162 deg Celcius. The sugar makes liquor-filled bubbles, and somehow you take them out and cool them, but they're fragile. To fortify them, brush them with corn syrup (or some corn product, he used a word i didnt know) to fortify them. Then they need 4 coats of chocolate: 1 one dark chocolate, then 3 or raspberry chocolate, an on the last one you roll them with a fork across a grating to give them "piques" (to make them spiky).

Don't use this as a recipe, though; i probably misunderstood a lot of it!

He had been working on them since 5am (till 11), making a batch of a few hundred.

They sell for 2.50€ each (!!!), and are sold in batches of 10. They have about the same diameter as a nickel or quarter.

Breakfast of champions

Speculoos (gingery spread)
Apricot jam
Topped with honey

And a banana

And a bowl of hot chocolate

Math Major in France

Everyone is surprised/impressed upon hearing that i'm a math major with a physics minor. All the students who have done this program before have been french/business/communication/etc majors.

A guy at the patisserie said im gonna be like the guy in Rentrer Vers l'Avenir. Took me a few seconds to figure out what he was saying and that he was talking about Back to the Future!

Even the American girls were surprised to gear that the credit im getting for 2 classes this summer is meaningless toward my degree. Some of them are doing it (at least partially) for the course credit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


2 of the girls were sick today. One is better now, one is on beaucoup medicament, making her drowsy and unable to work at the internships :(

Food at Jean Chaix

They feed us well here; an entrée, a "plat" (main course(s)), fromage, and (at dinner) dessert. Then coffee, which i'm developping a taste for. Just tiny cups, though.

All drink cups here are small; about half the size of American glasses.

For breakfast, it's mostly bread ("du pain") with optional apricot jam, honey, and butter.

Apricots and honey (miel) are both real popular here, i've found. There is a 'miellerie' (honey maker) nearby somewhere, w bees and all. But even in Paris, breakfasts were served with honey.

Maison des produits régionaux,

or "house of regional products," is where we spent our afternoon, since the chocolaterie kitchen was closed. There was some giftbasket-arranging to be done, but the girls took to that, and us guys mainly chatted w the workers.

We learned SO many words im not even gonna try to list them.

Abercrombie is apparently "cool" for people of any age to wear over there, according to the guy we talked to.

We taught them lots of things about the US ("ÉU" en français). They asked us about Obama, why Americans don't vote, about difft American climates (im getting better at mentally converting b/t farenheit and celcius, and all units in general). We mostly talked about language differences.


...has no french equivalent. We've asked 3 people.

Some people do call "shotgun," saying it in English (?).

"Laissez les bons temps rouler" not a phrase people use or have even heard of over here. We Louisianians were all very surprised; a room full of people who had never heard of this phrase!


The french symbal for number is N with a 'degrees' symbol after it; confused me at first; i thought it meant North.

Maybe the English symbol "no." comes from this, derived from "numero". Maybe

American pop music...

Plays on the radio here.

Somebody that i used to know,
Call me maybe,

Travail à la chocolaterie/pâtisserie.

Taylor and i worked at the chocolate/pastry shop this morning. There are 5-6 people who work there making gourmet treats, which are all super delicious! We made macarons first (i wondered how they were made when we tried them in Paris; they're hamburger-looking cream-filled cookie things). They are basically two wafers of sugar an butter, with some vanilla/butter cream in the middle. That was the vanilla; they also have chicolate, raspberry, an lemon. The shop in Paris had way more complex macarons.

Taylor decorated chocolates with (actual!) silver/gold flake.

I made (mostly by watching) patisserie cream from a recepie. "Jaunes" (yellows) apparently means the yellow part of the egg, although one of them was orange instead of yellow. They laughed when I asked, "Ce jaune est orange, est-ce que c'est une problème, ou non?"

Benoît Génot, the owner and namesake of the shop, decorated a block of chocolate for a wedding, and we tried a ?chandier? (forgot the word), which is a chocolate ball filled with liquor. We had the raspberry liqueur ones, but they also make some with génépy liqueur (~85% alc [?]), which comes from a plant that only grows at high altitudes and in this region. Taylor didn't understand the part where Henri asked us if we are okay with alcohol, so he was very surprised by the liquor inside.

The kitchen workers have the afternoons free, the "vendeuse" (lady selling stuff in the front) woks all day, and I think benoît does too. One of the workers, Nicolai, is 16 years old, and left school at age 15. Another, Ceril, is our age, and Henri is ~30, with a mohawk.

It's a 10 min walk back to Jean Chaix, the ski lodge where we're staying.

Barcelonette, an the Ubaye Valley in general, is a ski town in the winter, but I haven't yet seen any ski lifts/runs.