Through the North

Caen Cathedral
Caen Cathedral

From Paris, we arrived in Caen last week, a small city in Normandy. We stayed in a tiny 18th-century bed and breakfast called the Hotel St. Etienne. Out walking the streets in the evening, we found a small bar where a two-woman band was performing: guitar and cello. A local crowd cheered them on, and we snacked on peanuts and olives with our beer. Afterwards, we walked into a small, bustling restaurant, but were refused for not having a reservation. So instead, we ended up down the road a bit, where we feasted on shrimp and crab risotto; cauliflower soup with diced, smoked duck liver; steamed fish; and fillet of pork. Later on we enjoyed a slice pear pie from a patisserie. Delicious!

Caen Castle
Caen Castle

In the morning we looked for a bus to Bayeux, closer to the coast, from which we intended to visit the D-Day beaches. But our planning was a little off, and our guidebook a bit outdated. The bus we were counting on had been discontinued, and we ended up walking across town with our luggage, no taxi in sight, from the bus station to the train station. Arriving in Bayeux later than expected, we then found the hostel we’d planned on staying at was full, and spent another hour wandering the streets until we found a room. It was then near the end of the day, and we had reservations in another town the following evening, leaving us no time for the beach. This was regrettable, but we found a site celebrating another legendary battle: the Bayeux Tapestry, woven nearly a thousand years ago, commemorates the Norman invasion of England in 1066. After our viewing, we bought a bottle of champagne and whiled away an hour sitting by an old mill, its waterwheel still turning after several centuries.

The next day we were off to Dinan, leaving Normandy for Brittany. But again we had not planned well, and we ended up spending the whole day in transit. We bought tickets back to Caen, thinking it a better transit hub, and from Caen to Dinan. But it turned out the train from Caen to Dinan went back through Bayeux anyway, and it didn’t leave until 5pm, meaning we could have left our bags at the hotel, spent the day at Omaha or Juno Beach, and caught the train from Bayeux to Dinan. Instead we spent the entire afternoon in the Caen station. The one bright note was meeting a young couple from Sichuan. The boy had been living in Caen a year, and the girl was living in Burgundy. They were going to the D-Day beaches. Xianyi was pleased to have another chance to speak her native Sichuan-hua! Seems you can’t toss a pebble in France without hitting someone from Sichuan.

Bayeux Cathedral
Dinan Valley

We wanted to see the famous Mont-St Michel castle, but learned that Dinan was not the closest place to be to see that. A couple of American backpackers had obviously done more legwork than us, because they got off at the right stop as we realized we were bound for another station, with a further transfer, and that we would have no time to see Mont-St Michel. There is a little town called Dol which acts as a transit for the Dinan line. We spent an hour there, and I went looking for sandwiches, unsuccessfully. It was 5pm and the town was closing. I asked the one open bar on the block if they had sandwiches, and they said they were done. But X went back there 20 minutes later, asked the same question, and they gave her some leftover bread. So we had a little snack.

When we finally got to Dinan it was after 9pm, but no matter; it is still light these days past 10 o’clock at night. Dinan is too small for taxis, apparently, so we hauled our bags into town on foot. While looking at the map at a turnabout, a man in a car asked us something. We told him we didn’t understand, so he switched to English and asked if we needed help. We showed him the name of our hotel, which was difficult to pronounce, and he offered us a ride. His daughter was in the front seat. The man’s English was pretty good, and when we said we were from New York, he said that he was trying to get his daughter to go there to study English. At that moment, New York felt like a long way away from Dinan.

We found the hotel, after asking several locals directions, and thanked the man for his help. The place is named for the old clocktower, which it stands next to, and which we climbed to the top of the next day for a grand view of the town. There is also a Roman aqueduct, and (of course) an ancient cathedral. In fact, it seems every little town in France has a grand cathedral. One wonders at the lengths to which the old feudal lords went to build these structures, which tower over the surrounding buildings, and which could have only been constructed with massive amounts of human labor.

Dinan Valley
Dinan Valley

That afternoon we were on the trains again, our fourth consecutive day of moving, leaving Brittany now for the Loire Valley, and arriving in the city of Tours. We loaded our bags into a taxi and gave him the address of our hotel, only to have him turn and say, “We’re arrived. It’s here.” The hotel was right next to the station. After checking in (which, by the way, is such an easy process in France; they don’t even require your ID), we walked down to the main part of town, the Place Plumereau, a large plaza with shops and restaurants, where all the cool kids hang out. It was a bustling Friday night in Tours. We ate at an Irish Bar/Pizzeria, which made no sense, but which made good pizza and pasta, and served delicious, cold Belgian beer. On Saturday we slept late, finally not having a train to meet. We went looking for a wine tour, only to find that the tourist office no longer booked them, so we found a tiny café where we finally got a good cup of coffee. I have not been impressed with the French coffee. I would prefer my own brew to most of the cups I’ve had here, which tend to be overly foamy and with a cheap taste. But this place had it right, and we stayed for tartines, open-faced sandwiches: a chicken curry for Xianyi, and four-cheese for me, plus two glasses of wine.

On Sunday Tours was dead. All the shops and nearly all the restaurants were closed. But we found solace in a public park, where we narrowly missed a brass band performance but saw the players in their formal wear breaking down the stage. An inflatable slide and a merry-go-round were entertaining children, and there were ducks and swans in the pond. The duck would wander onto the land to be fed breadcrumbs by the people, but several unleashed dogs occasionally forced them to flee back into the pond. There was also a group of ducklings swimming around. The sun came out and it was peaceful.

Monday morning we left early for Beaune, in Burgundy, where we were resolved to tour a vineyard…


Looks great even under renovation

Our trip started with a 3-hour delay sitting on the runway. You know when you fall asleep on a plane and wake up later, only to find out that you haven’t taken off yet? It was one of those. I traded some barbs with the guy sitting next to me about the captain’s announcements. He got on the mic every so often to tell us it would be another 15 minutes, or another half hour, to the point that we came to dread hearing his voice. We had a few good laughs at the captain’s expense. Only after we got to Paris did I see my neighbor pull out a US Army-issued backpack, with a Special Forces patch on it. I didn’t have the nerve to ask what kind of places those credentials had taken him lately. But we wished each other well and said goodbye.

X and I didn’t want to take a taxi into the city, fearing the price, and so hopped on a train to downtown Paris. We exited at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, and saw that magnificent building upon exiting to the street. What a site! We took a few pictures, but didn’t wander around too much with our luggage. It took a while to find a taxi, but eventually we did, arrived at the hotel, checked in, and promptly fell asleep for a nap.

We woke around 5pm and headed to the first site on our list, the Eiffel Tower. Navigating our way through the crowds and the touts selling keychains, we found the line to the elevator, where some Englishmen informed us they’d waited a half hour to get to the entrance. But the line at the stairs was nonexistent, so we decided to climb! It’s really not that bad. We walked up to the first level and had a beer, taking lots of pictures of the city. It was after six, but the light was as strong as if it were noon. We walked up to the second level to see more. The views were amazing!

Having had enough, we descended to the ground and took some more pictures, then took the subway to a random neighborhood: St. Germain. We had no reason to go there other than that I had once heard a band by that name, and it sounded good enough. We walked around until we found a suitable restaurant, then had a delicious dinner of steak (for me) and duck confit (for Xianyi). Just lovely. We were amazed to see that it remained light until about 10pm, a welcome surprise.

The following day was for the Louvre. We overslept and arrived there just before noon. After taking a few pictures next to I.M. Pei’s pyramid (yay China!) we went inside to find the Mona Lisa (of course). The French have been collecting art here for 500 years and yet somehow this one painting dominates the place. The people flock to it. There are signs everywhere that forbid flash photography, but it seems the staff have given up trying to stop people; the cameras pop and flash as if it was a Brad Pitt sighting. So now we’ve seen the Mona Lisa (La Joconde); I must say, it was underwhelming. In fact, the whole museum was mostly a bore. I enjoyed some of the sculptures – Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave – but walking through the halls and halls of old paintings of Bible scenes was just boring. There was nothing to grab me.

Sunday we took another tack and went to the Pompidou Center. We saw an exhibit called Dreamlands, which dealt with the modern urban landscape. It showcased earlier exhibits from World’s Fairs and amusement parks, particularly those that tried to imagine the future of the city. Coney Island’s DreamLand played a major role, as did Las Vegas. There were images of the many pavilions around the world which have miniature Eiffel Towers, Empire State Buildings, and Pyramids for park-goers to wander about and photograph themselves in front of. The exhibit was meant to question the value of authenticity. It had particular resonance for me on this trip, as Xianyi and I are sure to end up with lots of pictures of ourselves in front of landmarks – exactly the same pictures that visitors to these amusement parks could end up with. In the other galleries, we beheld the typical trappings of modern art: cubes and triangles carefully arranged on the floor, a black canvas with a single vertical white stripe (“looks like half a ping-pong table”), a movie of a woman in a kitchen naming the tools she uses for cooking. Xianyi and I were both unimpressed with the lot. She said something to the effect of “anyone could have made this”, and I thought back to a recent discussion of the NYC Junta, where we posed these and other questions.

We went from there to meet a cousin of Xianyi’s friend, a Chinese girl who has been living in Paris for five years. She and her boyfriend met us for a drink and then we took a walk around the Louvre area, including Napoleon’s palace (now the Museum of the Army), and walked all the way from there to the Champs Elysses. They had to get home after that, but they recommended a nice restaurant for dinner. Another great meal!

Monday took us back to Notre Dame, where we had a proper look inside. Although I’ve given up Catholicism, I do still feel the pull of a proper cathedral. I was disturbed to see that even here they have stopped trying to cease tourists taking pictures. Does no one have any respect left for a holy site? Cameras were snapping away, flashes disturbing the tranquil darkness of the interior. I couldn’t help but have a smug satisfaction that none of these pictures would be any good. Guess what, people: when you take a snapshot with flash inside a long, dark corridor, that picture is not going to come out. Just try to enjoy it. I lit a candle, left some coins for the poor, and abandoned the barbarians to their desecration.

From there, we walked and walked, around the Island St Louis, onto the Rue des Archives on the Right Bank, and over to the Picasso Museum, which I was really excited to visit (finally, some decent art!), but it was closed for renovation until 2012! We went back to the hotel and took a nap, then went out for Japanese and walked the streets of our neighborhood until midnight.

Tuesday we tried to secure a UK visa for her. It turns out my company may want me in London at the end of this trip, and since Da Hai is living there, it would have been great to take her with me. But alas, there is not enough time to fulfill the long list of demands that is required of 3rd-world citizens. Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork. The bastards. So we gave that idea up and ended up at the train station five hours early for our departure to Caen in Normandy. That has given me time to write this, although I won’t be able to post it until I find a wifi connection…

See our pictures from Paris

Off to Paris

eiffel tower
Photo via anirudhkoul on flickr

Today is the day! We leave this afternoon for Paris.

X has planned out a very ambitious journey around France. We will be there for 3 weeks, how awesome is that!

The rough outline is Paris > Normandy > Brittany > Loire Valley > Burgundy > Lyon/Rhone Valley > Provence > Paris. Whew!

I plan to be posting about our travels here, so stay tuned for updates. 🙂

Paris France, by Gertrude Stein

In France whenever anybody writes anything and wants anybody to know what it is like they read it out loud. If it is in English it is natural to pass the manuscript to them and let them read it but if it is in french it is natural to read it out loud.

French is a spoken language English really is not.

Considering how universal the English language has become around the globe I’d say Gertrude Stein didn’t have it exactly right, but I still get what she might mean. Either way, France, here we come…


With the sun setting early now that daylight savings time has ended, I’m reflecting on my recent trip to Italy.

I was lucky to receive an invitation from my good friend Andreas. He is an aspiring professional golfer, and had reserved a space in the qualifying tournament for the European Tour. Stage One was a series of 4-round tournaments, and ours took place in a little town called Bogogno, near Milan. Andreas offered to pay my airfare and hotel for the week in exchange for caddying for him during the tournament. How could I say no? Continue reading Milano

Wedding in Thailand

What a week!

I have been meaning to write about our trip to Thailand since we got back a week ago, but just couldn’t find the will to sit down and get it all out there. I guess maybe I just wanted to bask in it a little longer before trying to sum it all up.

If I had to describe the whole experience in a word, it would be laughter. Put 50 old friends back together for 3 days and nights partying in celebration of a joyous event, and what you get is barrels and barrels of belly-laughs. Smiles plastered on for days. Aching stomach muscles and streaming tears.

We left on a Friday night and after 30 hours, 3 plane rides and a 90-minute taxi it was lunchtime on Sunday and we were on a blissful slice of beach called Khao Lak. Jarrett and Candice were there to greet us, and after we checked in we got changed and walked to a little family-run restaurant next door, where we could sit and look out at the endless sea while eating fish caught that day, slow-grilled in banana leaves and served with sweet and hot sauces for dipping delight.

After lunch we went down to the beach and went swimming in the warm, blue water. It felt like diving into a giant bath – a sauna. We laid in the sand and felt the warm sun on our faces. Later the sky darkened and he heard thunder, but were safely ensconced in our cabana by the time the storm rolled through.

The rains came once each day, but rather than dreading them, we welcomed their arrival. They offered a respite from the action, and some pretty spectacular lightning and thunder. But they never lasted long, and the evenings were free and clear for revelry.

It was a bit of a downer when we realized the rains were going to arrive at the time they’d planned the wedding ceremony – sunset. But Chris, Coley and Dan came up with an ingenious idea – they brought sand up from the beach, along with kelp and shells, and created a little circle of love for the happy couple to stand in while reciting their vows. And lucky me, I got to be the third pair of feet in that circle.

For my friends Jarrett and Candice had decided to bestow upon me quite an honor: they wanted me to marry them.

The idea cropped up about six months ago, I think, and at first I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t a totally hare-brained scheme. I assumed it was Jarrett’s idea, we having been close so long and him being my best man in China – so I reached out to Candice to make sure she was cool with this, because I know weddings are really about the brides. It’s her day. So I was really happy and humbled when she said they had decided this together.

Reverend Rind
Reverend Rind

The plan was vague for a while, but it was always assumed I would have something to say. For six months, I gave this nearly no thought whatsoever. I am a procrastinator by nature, and the weight of importance attached to significant events tends to make me procrastinate more. Also, every time I started to think about what to say, I would think about being back in boarding school with Jarrett – which I knew that no one wanted to hear about at a wedding. Plus I was always using a “best man” speech as my reference, and I had to keep reminding myself that the basis should probably be something closer to a sermon – or what have you.

Anyway, it turns out the day of the wedding I have written absolutely nothing. But I did do some preparatory work the night before. Candice’s grandmother was the oldest family member at the ceremony, and being the grandmother of the bride puts you in the role of matriarch. I had never met this woman, but I knew that she had hosted Jarrett and Candice at her home in Shanghai. I engaged her in conversation during the dinner party for fifteen minutes or so, introducing myself and complimenting Candice, and asking her opinion of Jarrett. When she said she really liked him, I knew I was golden for the speech. This woman speaks only Chinese, so I was also feeling very confident in my language abilities, like “I still got it!” But she was very kind.

The next day we did a run-through of the ceremony in the afternoon, on the beach, before it started raining, and then I took an hour back in my room to put some thoughts on paper. In the interest of preserving the historical record, here is what, to the best of my memory, I wrote:

Welcome to Thailand! And welcome to the wedding of Candice Lin and Jarrett Wrisley. We are all gathered here today to bear witness to the consummation of a love that has grown, through fits and starts, over the last five years.

There is perhaps no greater testament to the characters of these two individuals than the fact that so many friends and family traveled so far to be with them here, on their special day. Our friends Candice and Jarrett only had to ask, and we would not have missed it for the world.

Of all the guests here today, I would like to single one out in particular. Candice’s grandmother has hosted the young couple many times at her home in Shanghai, and she has had the opportunity to get to know the man courting her granddaughter. Last night she told me she was happy with Candice’s choice, because “Jarrett is a good man.” When you have grandma’s seal of approval, you must be doing something right.

Jarrett’s own grandparents are surely watching today’s ceremony from their own special seats, and I know that they would be proud to see their grandson and the beautiful, intelligent young woman he has chosen to be his wife.

The Lins and the Wrisleys have all expressed to me how happy they are to see this union, to know that these two wonderful families will be forever joined.

That wasn’t exactly how it went, though, because I got nervous at a few points and forgot my lines. The second time I blanked, I had to consult my notes because I just couldn’t remember my own name! I was lucky to have a very friendly crowd.

There were two poems read by Natalie and Michael, and then we did the vows, which was easier since I just had to read what they’d written out, remembering to project and enunciate. And they had some laughs built in there, which was nice.

I proclaimed them husband and wife “by the power vested in me by … my two good friends!” Cheering, kissing, smiling and weeping. It was truly, truly sweet and beautiful.

Rindy Marries Candice and Jarrett

Seneca Lake

Seneca Sunrise
Seneca Sunrise

Our trip to Seneca Lake was so much fun I really didn’t want to leave at all. I woke up at 6am on the first day to take this picture of the sunrise. The fact that we were still experiencing jet lag was a major factor in getting the shot.

Uncle Bob, Will B, Mom and I got in a round at Seneca Lake Country Club, and I was reminded how much I love that course. You always start the day thinking you’re going to break 80 and then struggle to break 90. (Bob and I tied for the low round at 89).

Seneca Lake Country Club
Seneca Lake Country Club

Swimming in the lake was made all the more fun by lots of active swimmers and even a huge black lab, Hobart, who likes to “save” swimmers by attempting to drown them in the water.


Back in the USA

It’s good to be back.

We breezed through immigration two weeks ago and life is good. I would post some pictures of us coming through the gates and Xianyi getting fingerprinted, but snapping is completely forbidden by Homeland Security.

Then we went up to the Lake for a few days, which was awesome. We hung out with Uncle Bob, who is an ardent reader of these pages, and who was a gracious and very fun host:

Uncle Bob
Uncle Bob

Special thanks to Katie, who owns the house at Seneca Lake with Jody. Without these two Kellow girls holding on to it, Busia and Pop Pop’s house on the Lake would have been long gone. Good job, girls!

So, finally, I’m back to writing on the blog. There’s so much more to say, but it will have to wait a few more days…