Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dieppe - First Sunday

My colleague Michèle invited me to go picnic at the ocean on Sunday, so I went to the marché to buy some cheese before meeting her. The marché was brilliant – I wanted to take pictures, but there were so many people jostling about I don’t think it would have worked. It’s in a big square, and there are flowers, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, and even clothing, and everyone is shouting about how delicious their merchandise is, and it’s all very French. The man at the cheese stall was very nice and gave me little pieces of cheese to taste so I could decide, and I actually liked one that had a suspicious blue streak in it! Aren’t you proud, Mom? So I got a wedge of that, then trekked to a bakery and bought my first baguette. Baguettes are 80 centimes of pure happiness, especially if you have cheese too. Then I went to the school to meet Michèle. She’d told me that a Norwegian teacher, Nils, was also coming with us, so when I saw a tall blond man wandering around near the school entrance, I approached him and asked if he was waiting for Michèle, which he was. So we chatted for a bit, and I found out that my high school has a program where Norwegian students study here for three years, so there are a few Norwegian teachers to help them out. Then Michèle arrived, about half an hour late (welcome to France!) and we piled into her little car and headed for the coast.

The drive was interesting, and made me really really happy that I don’t have to drive while I’m here – everyone seems to know to the millimeter where exactly their car is, and they even drive over the curb if necessary to squeeze past other cars. But I haven’t seen anyone hit anything yet – it must be one of those skills you’re born knowing if you’re European, like dressing well and liking wine.

The beach at Dieppe was not exactly what I was expecting, although it was quite pretty:
Yes, those are rocks, not sand. And yes, they continue all the way down to the water. And yes, they are exquisitely painful to walk on.
Nils and Michèle stripped down to their swimsuits and hopped right in the water, but it was a bit windy and I hadn’t brought a sweater, so I just hobbled down to the water and waded for a bit so I could say I’d gone in. The trek back up to my shoes was less painful because my feet were numb from the frigidity – this is the English Channel, remember. It didn’t seem to bother Michèle, who stayed in the water for a really long time, while Nils and I watched in wonder from the shore:
When she finally came out, she didn’t even look cold – I think perhaps one of her ancestors was a penguin. She’d brought pasta salad, Nils brought a roasted chicken, and we had cheese and strawberries for dessert. Afterwards, we got back into the car, I thought to go home, but Michèle had other plans. Her family is from here, so she wanted to show Nils and me all around the area. Our first stop was a little church where Georges Braque is buried.
He was a contemporary of Picasso, and he also designed the stained glass windows in the church.
It’s a very simple church, not like the Gothic craziness of the cathedral, but I liked it.
Also, there were funny carvings on the columns, the significance of which no one remembers, although the little information booklet did mention something about a sailor vomiting.
This is a view of the coastline from the church – I think it would be nice to be buried in a place like this.

Michèle’s next idea was to climb down to the seashore. We found a path that led right up to the edge of the cliffs, where there were many signs indicating that those who valued their lives should not continue on.
But our fearless leader just kept walking, and I didn’t want to be branded a coward the first day (especially as I don’t know the French for “wimp”), so I kept on as well. Happily, the path was quite easy, switchbacking down the cliff into a little valley that led to the shore. This is a view from the shore back up the valley; we came down the right side.
We walked along the shore for a while, which became sandy pretty soon, much to my delight. I took off my shoes so I could wade in the little pools left behind by the tide:
Michèle hadn’t brought her camera (she doesn’t even own a digital one, so Nils and I teased her about being a dinosaur) so she made me take this picture, with the rock and the pool in the foreground and the cliffs in the back and the pretty sky (we were lucky – it rains ALL THE TIME here, because we’re just the right distance from the ocean that we get some weird weather pattern).
Then I went closer to the cliffs – they’re mostly made of white rock, but there are horizontal bands of a darker rock that must be harder, because it isn’t worn away as much.
Here’s Normandy in a nutshell: cows and cliffs. No need for a fence when you’ve got a huge drop-off, right?
We found another little valley, this time with stairs, to climb back up and find our way back to the church. Luckily, Michèle and Nils both have a good sense of direction, because I would have been utterly lost.

After we got back to the car, which smelled of chicken and cheese and strawberries, all slightly too warm (we opened the windows very wide), we drove off to see the cathedral of Dieppe. I swear, every little town in France has its very own cathedral, complete with stained glass and flying buttresses and everything. It’s mildly ridiculous.
This one had a little tiny staircase to get to the organ, which I really liked.

Michèle had one more stop planned – the ruins of a castle, probably built to protect against a British invasion (I’ve forgotten the name and the purpose – I was tired, okay?). We weren’t allowed to go inside because rocks still fall down sometimes, so we walked around the outside of the moat.
By this point, it was getting late enough that the sun was starting to set:
So we went back to the car, where I almost fell asleep, and drove back to Rouen.

On Monday, I met Michèle to observe a few of her English classes, which was interesting. She speaks with an English accent, as do her students, so it will probably be a bit hard for them to understand me at first, but it’ll be good for them to hear a different kind of accent. She was using Calvin and Hobbes comics in one of her classes, so that was pretty neat. When I got home from the school, my Russian housemate, Olesya, was there. Her French isn’t great, but it’s the only language we have in common, so that’s what we speak. She’s got a great memory for vocabulary – if she asks me about a word once, she remembers it and uses it well, so I think she’ll improve quickly. It’s also really good for my French, since I have to figure out alternate ways to say things, without resorting to English. We went food shopping, then wandered around Rouen at night – the cathedral is just as pretty when it’s dark out:
And, finally, proof that I am actually here, and not just lifting pictures from the Internet to trick you all:
More on the Internet saga (it’s going to reach epic-poem-length before it’s through, I’m sure) and my housemates and paperwork (alongside “single” and “married” and “divorced” there was an option called “concubinage”, which caused us no end of amusement) later on!


  1. "it must be one of those skills you’re born knowing if you’re European, like dressing well and liking wine."

    Hahaha what?

    Looks like you've having a good time there. I'm jealous of all the traveling you get to do! Can you take bigger pictures? Please?

  2. Nice pictures, especially of the ruins of the chateau - I'm guessing that's the Chateau d'Arques, which was a key fortress in the feudal wars between Normandie and its neighbors, built in the early 11th c. and captured by William (not yet the Conqueror) in the 1050's... (Ah ever the teacher, sorry).
    Your apartment looks nice too, especially after you picked it up bet it no longer looks like that!

    You know I'm jealous, right? Enjoy your year, and keep us posted.

  3. Great adventures, wonderful pictures! Merci mille fois! (Or is that milles foises? It's been a long while...)

    Take pictures of your friends, too!