Sep 29, 2009

Weekend Wrap-Up

Saturday morning I went to a workshop and left Damon and Stella at home for some Daddy-daughter time. They had a blast, and Grandmere and Grandpa showed up while I was gone to join the party. Stella did not take a nap at all that day, playing non-stop until she finally crashed for good around 7:45. It was her 18 month birthday, so I guess she wanted to show us that she doesn't need baby stuff like naps anymore.

Sunday morning we went to church and afterwards Daddy headed to the spillway to kayak and Stella and I set off for the zoo. We wanted to meet the new baby orangutan. I decided to leave the stroller in the truck, thinking that my little independent woman would want to walk on her own. No dice. She had taken a nap on the way to the zoo and woke up super-clingy and unwilling to detach herself from my hip. This made for a very long afternoon at the zoo, and some interesting camera angles for the pictures. First up, we have Stella petting a rat. In the "Discovery Walk" portion of the zoo, Stella opted not to pet anything that was alive other than this rat.
She did get down long enough to rake up some dirt in the goat pen...
And pet a wooden pig...
and feed some dirt to this nice wooden cow...
She had a snack (or two) at the seal exhibit...(on my lap, of course)
Still munching....she had moved on from apples to cookies...
At Monkey Hill she fed the fake lion cubs "treats." Her mouth looks like that because she is simulating the sound of a cat eating a treat...
Another kitty and more sound effects...
Visiting the white Claude...
Stella's favorite stop was quite obviously the archaeological dig in the Mayan Jungle...feel the happy...
The last time we went to the zoo I had to hold Stella up while Jamie took a picture. This time she could reach on her own! (sob, sniffle)
On our way back from the zoo, we went to the Guillory's for playtime and a delicious pork roast that Stella ate about half of. Here she is preparing to "whee, slide!" with Sadie and Emma.
Poor Talia was left out of the big girl fun, but she won't be for long. This beautiful little lady is already walking all over the house by herself!
Emma and Sadie tried to share the joy of blankets and cuddling with Stella, but she unfortunately has not yet learned to enjoy these simple pleasures.
We had a great time with family and friends and can't wait to see what excitement our next weekend holds!

Lost Diaries 13

Did you think that we left France and fell off the face of the earth? Not so. We said “Au revoir” to Lyon an hour after Damon’s final exam, and were in London for suppertime. The story of how we accomplished this feat is something of a tale unto itself. It involved us both waking up very early, me changing train reservations, washing all our clothes, and packing our entire room, dragging 7 bags and a box of wine to the train station via taxi and sitting on the luggage like a hen on eggs until Damon met me. (One thing to note from this situation is that the luggage was so heavy the wimpy French cabbie refused to lift it and made me help out…what a jerk.) Storing the majority of the luggage during our 2 hour layover in Paris also turned out to be an adventure. Because of the London bombing, the 1st train station would not let us store our wine or computer. Both men spoke only French, so we could not explain our predicament. When we changed train stations to board the Chunnel, Damon was able to find an English speaker and explain that we were not terrorists and simply needed to store some things. Once that was out of the way, we were literally 100 pounds lighter. Unfortunately, during the wild goose chase that was baggage check, Damon accidentally left his license at the money change counter. We also had a rather disappointing money changing experience, when $100 of traveller’s checks became €60, which in turn became £55. Our money is worth less than toilet paper over here, basically. The train ride was a delight. There were English magazines and announcements, as well as a 1 hour time change and a complimentary meal. If this was our first taste of the UK – we loved it. Those of you who know how unadventurous I am with food may be surprised to learn that I consumed a potato loaf held together by scrambled eggs, as well as pistachio cake in the course of this meal. I’ve come a long way, baby. Hunger will do such things to you. By the way, you’re only in the actual tunnel for about 20 minutes. Our plan for arrival in London was to find a hotel and crash, so I consulted Rick Steves and found a tube stop that looked to have several properties close by. We set out, and I finally understood the “Mind the Gap” thing. You always hear people who have been to London saying that and they all wear obnoxious t-shirts with the slogan. If you ask them about it, they are usually snotty and tell you something like, “It’s a London thing – you wouldn’t understand.” in their best Madonna -I-think-I’m-British-and-therefore-superior-now accent. Well, I refuse to be a part of this group and therefore I am now going to unlock that little mystery for all of you commoners out there thirsting for the truth. The “tube” is just a subway, but the geniuses that built it apparently neglected to make sure all the platforms and trains lined up. This means that each time you get on or off a train there is some type of gap, whether it is a step up or down, or an actual space between the train and the platform that you must step across. Damon and I decided that the city must be paying for all the lawsuits they get from injured people with the proceeds from the obnoxious t-shirts. So there is London mystery #1 debunked for all of us.
Back to the story – after trudging through the streets with our luggage for several blocks, we happened upon the King’s Cross station, which, unbeknownst to us, was one of the bombing sites. The sorrow surrounding the place was palpable. Fliers of missing persons fluttered softly in the breeze, attached to aluminium barricades that had been erected to hide the damage. It was a touching testament to the eternal hope of humanity. The people in the fliers were obviously not coming home, but their families were still clinging to the hope that they had survived and were simply taking their time letting their loved ones know it. It was so like September 11th – a pain that just takes your breath away. I think it is your soul mourning the death of your innocence and naivety. Tragic.
We entered the station and were directed to LastMinute.com, where the overly friendly Michael helped us find a clean and reasonable room. We then hopped on the tube to the Baker Street stop, and made our way to our new home away from home. If Baker Street sounds familiar, that is probably because it looms large in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock himself is immortalized outside the station in a statue, and his silhouette decorates the station in a myriad of miniatures. Did you know that he ranks as one of the Top 10 Most Well-Known Brits in America? Most Americans think that he was an actual person rather than a fictional character, so if you thought he was real tuck that knowledge away and use it to make someone else feel dumb in the future. Elementary, my dear Watson! Damon fell ill just before his last final – a head cold- so he was so miserable by the time we finally made it to the hotel that we did not go back out. The hotel had just been redone – so new everything- shower, commode, bedding, etc. Just great.
Sunday morning, July 17 – our first full day in London started with a British breakfast. British breakfast consists of eggs, toast, beans, ketchup, and ham. I could not stomach the eggs, because of my food touching rule. I cannot eat foods that have touched, unless they are meant to be together. Eggs are NEVER meant to be with beans or ketchup, so I could not eat them because of that pollution. I ate about 7 pieces of toast, though, with strawberry jam that Grandma would have loved. After that, we set out to find a battery charger for the camcorder. In my haste to leave France, I accidentally left the camera charger in Paris in storage. We spent the morning comparison shopping on Tottenham Court Road and finally decided on one for £45. (which was ridiculous, because that is about $90) We then ate at a Pizza Hut near our hotel. London is almost as great as America. There is a Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway all within a block of our hotel. Score! We stopped back by the room and were able to grab the camera and make it to Westminster Abbey in time for the Evensong Service. Evensong is a worship service consisting mostly of music, sung by an angelic choir. After the service, Damon wondered where Poet’s Corner was – turns out we had been sitting in it. Beneath our feet were Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. Nearby was Charles Dickens. I took the opportunity to perform some of my Muppet Christmas Carol quote repertoire: “Why thank-you, Mr. Dickens!” in my Rizzo the Rat voice. It was amazing (the corner, not my impression, but it was pretty good, too, if I do say so myself). One Westminster Abbey inhabitant that I found surprising was Charles Darwin – wasn’t he an atheist? Seems odd to bury the Father of Evolution in God’s house. As we were leaving the church, who should we bump into but Sonny and Louise? You may remember that we met them by accident on top of the Eiffel Tower as well. We decided to go have a coke together. A coke turned into dinner, and we stopped in a pub where Damon ordered fish and chips, and I had nachos. Damon enjoyed the fish, which he described as “very white, but not too firm,” and the nachos were just nachos. Sonny and Louise left to meet an old friend, and we set out for the Jack the Ripper walking tour, departing from the Tower Hill tube stop. This tour was one of my London fantasies. I have a strange fascination with serial killers and Jack is one of the most notorious, after all. The tour was led by the foremost authority on the Ripper, Donald someone, who was just delightful. We visited several of the murder scenes and learned fantastic tidbits about the murders: for instance, the average East End prostitute, contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal, was in her 40’s, missing several front teeth, wore all the clothing she owned at once in layers, and was shod with woollen socks and men’s boots. Dead sexy, huh? Back then, a good time cost 3 pence, 2 pence, or a day old loaf of bread, so these women were not quite the entrepreneurial equivalents of today’s Amsterdam whores. A bed for the night cost 4 pence, so these women had to turn at least 2 tricks a day just to have a bed, forget food. Gross. Soldier’s prostitutes were known as the most disgusting and diseased. Go figure. This might be a good time to mention that the fish and chips were not being so kind to Damon. Queen Elizabeth was taking her revenge upon him, and he had to abandon the tour to find facilities. We agreed to meet at the tube stop where we started the tour, so it was our first day in London and we were separated. We reunited after Damon spent a few tense moments retracing the tour route. We tubed it back to the hotel and began looking forward to tomorrow. Visions of theatre danced in our heads…
Oh, and one thing that I forgot. We also had our first celebrity sighting yesterday. Damon saw “Stick” from the movie Elektra, and grabbed me from a souvenir shop in time to run down the street after him so I could get a peek. He was out shopping alone and carrying 2 bags of groceries and a backpack. I told Damon he was total B-list, but thanked him for his good eyes. It took us a while to figure out who the guy actually was, but Damon finally got it and I have to agree. To see more on Stick, visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000654/. By the way, he also plays the boss in My Boss’s Daughter.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Monday got off to a rather slow start, since Damon was still not feeling well. We ate an English breakfast and then went back to the room to call about theatre tickets. We were able to get tickets to Chicago, The Lion King, and Guys and Dolls. We were both really pumped about that. We stopped by the internet café first to email the moms and write the latest diary installment. That took a while. We finally set out to pick up our tickets at the various box offices. On the way, we also stopped at a drug store and got Damon some cough drops and Manexes…Kleenexes for men. They are bigger and stronger than your average Kleenex. We were able to pick up all the tickets except for the ones for the Lion King, and by that time it was about 14:30, so we grabbed some Subway and decided to hit the British Museum while we were near it. I had read in the guide book that they had a “Top 50” audio guide that took 90 minutes. I shot some video in the great hall while Damon got audio guides. Turns out the 90 minute “Top 50” is another Rick Steves myth. It was a 2 hour tour, but we got it anyway. Damon navigated, and I shot video, and we hit the last 5 exhibits right as they were closing the doors for the day. We saw some really neat things, including the Rosetta Stone, Ginger the mummy, and the man they found in the bog. Those were our favorites…the bodies. They still had hair and everything. It bothered me a little that in a thousand years my body might become a tourist attraction, but I finally got over it and just thought if I can bring someone else as much happiness as Ginger and the Bog man brought to me, it is worth allowing my dead body to be a sideshow.

After the museum, we rushed back to the hotel to get ready for the play. Damon had seen in a newspaper on the tube that the UK premiere of “The Fantastic Four” (or as they say in France, “Les Quatre Fantastiques”) was that night at 7 in Leceister Square. He has been dying to see the movie, so he was even more excited at the prospect of seeing the 4 themselves. Our show did not start until 8, and it was close to the premiere, so we decided to stop by and see what we could see. It was a really cool atmosphere, people perched in trees like Zaccheus trying to get a peek at the action, fire shooting out of the theatre marquis…really something. But then it started to rain. I took shelter under a nearby awning, but Damon was a hard core fan and stood in the rain with the camera under his shirt to try and get a peek at Jessica Alba. In the end, we both saw her and the 3 other fantastics, even though I only saw them from 300 yards. We also saw the villain who is one of the guys from Nip/Tuck. We left at 7:30 for our show.

Chicago was our first London show. We were both excited because we loved the movie and were interested to see how it would be staged. Brooke Shields was supposed to play Roxie, but she was out sick, so that was a disappointment. The show was good, but the set was very plain and the talent was not the greatest. This was a case of the movie ruining the play for us. We still enjoyed it, but I would say if Chicago visits a stage near you, save your money and get the DVD. We give it 2 stars.

After Chicago we were exhausted, so we grabbed some KFC near the hotel and crashed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tuesday morning I started feeling about like Damon. I woke up with a stuffy nose, sneezing and snotting all over the place, just like old times before my allergy shots. Lovely. I was determined that we would see sites, though, so we ate breakfast and boarded the tube for Shakespeare’s Globe. When we got to the stop, there was a bike shop there, so Damon of course had to go in and peruse the merchandise. He wants a rode bike so bad he can taste it. This may also be a good time to mention that our first 2 days in London had been HOT, but this morning since I wore shorts and a tank top, it turned freezing. After the bike shop, we made it to the Globe, in time for me to browse the museum for 30 minutes before our actor-led tour. Damon decided that he not only wanted to see the Globe, he wanted to see a play at the Globe, so he went to the box office to secure tickets. He came back in time for the tour which was short but informative. For example, since there were no fire regulations back then, they could cram as many people as possible into the theatre, and the pit for standing room often held 700-800 people. Fighting for a space was tough. There were no public restroom facilities, so during the 3 hour play if someone heard the call of nature they would very often answer it right where they were standing, rather than risk losing their spot. Now that is what I call hard up for some entertainment. This, you can imagine, caused a glorious stench to pervade the area, so people would bring oranges and eat them, then use the peeling to form a makeshift gas mask. The people rarely threw fruit at the actors, like you see in the movies, because they were so poor if they had any fruit they were going to eat it. Also, contrary to “Shakespeare in Love” the queen would never have come to the theatre, since all the theatres were located in rather dodgy areas. (Dodgy is one of our new British words…it means shady) The top floor of the theatre was frequented by prostitutes, known as the “Something Geese” (the something was a place name, but I can’t remember it). They would use the shows as a way to drum up business. To get “bitten by the geese” meant to catch one of their VD’s. They were actually condoned by the local bishop, who collected taxes from them and regulated their activity. Those guys will definitely not be up for the “Best Christian Example” Award. Anyway, Damon got us tickets for the 14:00 performance of “Pericles.” I was not really pumped, because I had planned on doing more site seeing, and Rick Steves said the plays could get boring at the Globe. Damon was trying to be a good husband, thinking that I would LOVE to see a play at the Globe, so we had a little miscommunication there. When the tour was over, we had about 2 hours to grab something to eat and be back, so we stopped in a little café where I ordered a hamburger and a hot chocolate to warm me up. As they were cooking the hamburger, I remembered about mad cow disease, and I got very nervous. I ate it anyway, though, and it was truly gross. The pattie was as big as my head, but very flat, and it did not look like beef to us. It was served on a strange bun, and the mustard was some kind of Dijon that tasted toxic to me. Damon had a chicken wrap that I don’t think was much better. So far I have suffered no ill effects, even though I am not sure what the mad cow symptoms are…

On the way back to the theatre, we passed the Clink…the original prison that lent its name to all others. I was dying to go inside, but Damon was nervous about having time to rent seat cushions and a blanket, so we split up. I took the camera and explored the Clink, and he went to the theatre. The Clink was a big letdown. Rick Steves was right when he said that it was a series of rooms filled with paper mache gore but little information. I did not film hardly anything. The neatest thing that they had was an iron boot that was used as a torture device. They would put your foot in the boot, pack wood chips around it, then fill it with water or oil. That way the wood chips would swell and crush your foot. Then they would light a fire under the boot and boil the stuff inside, so that your foot would fall off and leave you with a bloody stump that would soon catch various diseases inside the filthy Clink. Good stuff, huh?

I made it back to the theatre in time to use the WC and browse the gift shop before we settled in for “Pericles.” The play defied all of our expectations and cemented our opinion that Rick Steves is an idiot. It was three hours long, but there was not a boring minute. The actors were great, the story was exciting, and they did lots of rope tricks, where they would climb ropes, swing from them, and do somersaults and flips. It was wonderful. We agreed that it was our favorite non-musical play ever and we were glad we decided to attend. The atmosphere was great as well. The Globe is open air and the seats are just wooden benches, so it had a very casual and fun vibe. We give it 4 stars.

After the play, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for The Lion King. We had just enough time, and again stopped by a pharmacy to get medicine (for me this time). When we got to the theatre and were directed to our seats, they were great. We were right in the center and on the first tier above the floor. About 5 minutes before the performance, some people came who were supposed to be in the same seats. After some confusion, and asking the ushers again, they told us they were wrong, we were supposed to be downstairs. So we rushed downstairs to sit down, were directed to the wrong seats AGAIN, and Damon basically had to almost knock down a girl usher who was not going to let us back out to get to our seats. They had given us bad info too many times, though, and we were determined to be sitting for the first song. We made it and they turned out to be the best seats that we have ever had in the history of our theatre going. We were in the center, 7 rows back from the stage on the floor. The first song was a parade of all the animals coming in to “The Circle of Life” and Damon could have touched the elephant. The costumes and staging were great, but the story was obviously a bit of a snoozer, since we already knew what happened. We give it 3 stars.

We were again exhausted after the performance, so we grabbed some Burger King and soon were back in the room for a nice rest. More later!

Wednesday, July 20
I guess now is later. I am writing this final installment from the comfort of my kitchen in LaPlace. I took notes on everything that happened for the rest of the trip, but typing the diary each day was taking too long, so we decided that I would work from notes for the final chapter. Here goes….

Wednesday…We started the morning at the British Library. We sprung for the audio guides and headed for their “Treasures” room, which houses all kinds of neat stuff like the Magna Carta, an original Gutenberg Bible, and first editions of Billy Shakespeare’s plays. Really enjoyed that. We were attending a matinee performance of Guys and Dolls that day, so after the library, we headed over to the Picadilly Theatre area and grabbed lunch at a pub across the street from the theatre. We both had some pasta, which was alright, but nothing to write home about. Our seats for Guys and Dolls were the most expensive seats that we had for any London show, but they were also the worst. We were on the very back row of the first tier of seats, and there was another tier above us, which hung down so far it partially obstructed our view of the stage. I was devastated, since I have been waiting practically my whole life to see Ewan McGregor. He was playing Sky Masterson in the production (the Marlon Brando role) and was the main attraction as far as I was concerned. There were some other famous people in the show too, but they paled in comparison to the dreamboat that is Ewan McGregor. In spite of the cruddy seats, the show was WONDERFUL. Hands down the best show that we saw in London. We give it 5 stars, and this is really something since the scale only goes up to 4. On the way out of the theatre there was a group of girls waiting at the stage door for Ewan’s autograph, and Damon asked me if I wanted to go over and join them. I refused, because when I meet Ewan, I want it to be on equal footing. I refuse to be a faceless member of the autograph mob. I will wait until he is on my turf. We did spot his henchmen, though, or I guess you could call them bodyguards, and they were very burly black men.

After deciding against stalking Ewan for his autograph, we set out for another highly anticipated stop, Harrod’s of London. Harrod’s is THE department store of London. It is on the level of Neiman Marcus in our country, but really has something of a very expensive Walmart vibe to it also, because they sell everything you can possibly think of that a person could spend money on. I am talking horse saddles to raw meat. It was about 8 stories high, and each floor had more on it than the last one. The man who owns the store is Egyptian, so he has a little King Tut motif going on in the store, and his son was also the one that was engaged to Princess Diana and got killed in the car wreck with her. I think she was planning on making him the Aristotle Onasis to her Jackie Kennedy. They had a big memorial set up to honor Dodie and Diana, and it included the glass they had drank wine from the night they died and also the blinding engagement ring that he had bought for her. They had preserved the wine glass a little too authentically, and the fact that they did not wash it before putting it inside glass was apparent by the disgusting mold growing in the glass. The ring was also one of the gaudiest things I have ever seen. When people get too rich I think their sense of fashion just hibernates. It was terrible. Oh, another thing of note to mention was that while we were on the way to Harrod’s, we walked past a hotel where some kind of secret service security operation was going on. There were two creepy guys in suits in a van monitoring everything and wearing earpieces and they were sending signals to this other guy in a suit who was trying to blend in to the street scene. I just knew they were guarding someone famous, but we had no idea who. My theory is that it was Goldie Hawn or Kate Hudson, or maybe both, because they were in London that night for a movie premiere, we found out later. So I am going to go ahead and claim that I saw Goldie’s henchmen too.

Thursday, July 21

We got up this morning and packed our bags. We ate breakfast and stored the bags downstairs so we could go catch some more sites and film a few things for all the people back home. Before we could do any siteseeing, though, we had to find a way out of London and into Ireland, so we hopped on the tube and rode to Marlyebone Station, which was a train station as well as a tube stop. They did not have the info we needed, so we tubed it over to Victoria Station, and then to King’s Cross to check on plane tickets as well. We finally ended up back at Baker Street booking an online flight, which we found to be our cheapest travel option. Since we were flying EasyJet, which is a notoriously low priced European airline, they flew out of an airport far away from town, so we had to book a bus ticket to get us to the airport as well. We debated for a few minutes whether we should grab our luggage, hop the tube to the bus stop and eat there, or eat first and then get the luggage, but I had some postcards to mail and we were both famished, so we decided to eat first. I ordered our KFC while Damon ran across the street to buy some stamps. While he was in the post office, the people working there told him that they had just heard a rumor that there were more terrorist attacks going on. All the cell phones were down, and they thought that had something to do with it. Damon came back to the restaurant with the stamps, and I stamped postcards while he told me what he had heard. The dad of a family sitting next to us tried to use his cell phone and appeared to have problems, so Damon asked him if it worked and filled them in on what the post office people had said. The phone was not working, but came back up in a few minutes, and the man received a news alert to his phone that there had been more attempted tube and bus bombings, and it was suspected that there were chemical weapons utilized this time. You can imagine that we grew very nervous from this news. We finished eating, and raced to the hotel to get our luggage and get out of town. We watched a few minutes of Sky News in the lobby, which is like British CNN, and it confirmed our worst fears. London was under attack again and we were right in the middle of it. One of the tube stations that had been hit was one tube stop away from us. We tried to have the hotel call a cab for us, but none were available, so we dragged our luggage into the street and started walking in the direction of the train station. Damon said if we could not find a cab, we might have to walk the whole way, which would have been quite a hike. We passed a bus stop and a bus was there that was going to the station that we needed to go to, so we decided that might be our only chance to make it to the station in time to catch our plane and got on board. We were both very nervous during this bus ride, since a bus had been attacked. I prayed a lot. We arrived at Victoria Station in time to get on our National Express bus for the airport and flew out of London and into Cork, Ireland, safe and sound. God really had our angels working overtime.

When we arrived in Cork the first exciting thing was that we got new stamps on our passports, and they were green. We tried to rent a car, but they were very expensive, Damon had no license, and they only had stick shifts available, which I cannot drive, especially when the shifter is on the wrong side and they expect you to drive down the wrong side of the road. We rode a bus into town and got the last room at a Jury’s Inn near the bus station. We were starving, so we went out to an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal and delightful conversation with two of the most sparkling personalities that we know: each other.

Friday, July 22

We rose early and hopped a bus to Waterford. I grabbed breakfast for us at a nearby grocery store, muffins that were the most delicious of my life and ironically named “Cuisine de France.” After all the nasty French food I had endured, here was finally a decent culinary offering from the French, and it was not even available in their country. Go figure.

2009 UPDATE: Apparently, July 22nd is where I quit writing the Lost Diaries. I do still have my notes from the U.K., though, and I will tell the rest of the story in one final post, coming soon, I promise. Oh, and if you had a little bit of deja vu during this post, it is because Lost Diary #12 was actually an excerpt from this. I am not really sure how that happened. Sorry!

Sep 28, 2009

French bread is YUMMY!

Stella loves French bread... Elmo likes it, too...

Sep 25, 2009

Gymnastics Class

Okay, so it is obvious from this video that Mary Lou Retton Stella is not, but if you are willing to endure 10 plus minutes of footage, you will get a feel for what Mommy and Me Gymnastics is really like. While Mommy does not actually perform any gymnastics, she still gets plenty of exercise, most of which comes from chasing down her aspiring gymnast. Enjoy!

Sep 20, 2009

Whee! Slide!

We spent Sunday afternoon at the park... Riding the striped horsey...
Cheese-face on the see-saw...
Gotta swing, swing!!!!

A True Cajun

Stella has a new favorite toy. You see, last Friday night we went out to eat with the family at Boutin's in Baton Rouge. Boutin's is a fun restaurant, with delicious Cajun cuisine, live music, and a dance floor. Stella had a blast eating her butter-free grilled chicken breast and making eyes at the old men in the band. The restaurant had various novelty items for sale, but after offering Stella every individual item in the gift shop, she did not seem to want anything. That is, until her Grandmere took her back inside and she began to whine and point behind the counter at a row of small alligator heads. I am talking stuffed, but not as in "stuffed animals." Anyway, Stella did indeed want an alligator head of her own, so her grandparents were only too willing to oblige. Now, I am horrified at having to even look at the thing, much less touch it, but Stella is so enamored with it that she wants to hold it while she eats her meals. Gross! I guess this proves that she is 100% Cajun. Only in South Louisiana would dead animal heads be considered appropriate playthings for children. Here she is helping Claude take a bite of leftover toast... Gimme a kiss!
A face only a mother could love....and Stella....

Our Future Olympian

Stella began taking gymnastics a couple of weeks ago. She is attending "Mommy and Me" classes at a gym in Metairie. The class is open to kids age 18 months and up, so we fudged a little on her age so that we would not miss out on the first few weeks of the fall session. (Just wait until she is old enough for little league....I'm sure we'll be forging a birth certificate then.) Here are a few shots of Stella in action... She loves to slide and always says, "Whee! Slide!"
She is a natural at the balance beam...
The class has not been without its challenges. Stella does not really understand the concept of jumping yet. She says, "Bounce!" and her upper body jumps, but her feet don't. She also does not always wish to follow the class agenda, preferring to plan her own routine. But most importantly, doesn't she look precious in that pink leotard?

Lost Diaries 12

Monday, July 18, 2005
London, England

Monday got off to a rather slow start, since Damon was still not feeling well. We ate an English breakfast and then went back to the room to call about theatre tickets. We were able to get tickets to Chicago, The Lion King, and Guys and Dolls. We were both really pumped about that. We stopped by the internet café first to email the moms and write the latest diary installment. That took a while. We finally set out to pick up our tickets at the various box offices. On the way, we also stopped at a drug store and got Damon some cough drops and Manexes…Kleenexes for men. They are bigger and stronger than your average Kleenex. We were able to pick up all the tickets except for the ones for the Lion King, and by that time it was about 14:30, so we grabbed some Subway and decided to hit the British Museum while we were near it. I had read in the guide book that they had a “Top 50” audio guide that took 90 minutes. I shot some video in the great hall while Damon got audio guides. Turns out the 90 minute “Top 50” is another Rick Steves myth. It was a 2 hour tour, but we got it anyway. Damon navigated, and I shot video, and we hit the last 5 exhibits right as they were closing the doors for the day. We saw some really neat things, including the Rosetta Stone, Ginger the mummy, and the man they found in the bog. Those were our favorites…the bodies. They still had hair and everything.

After the museum, we rushed back to the hotel to get ready for the play. Damon had seen in a newspaper on the tube that the UK premiere of The Fantastic Four (or as they say in France, Les Quatre Fantastiques) was that night at 7 in Leceister Square. He had been dying to see the movie, so he was even more excited at the prospect of seeing the 4 themselves. Our show did not start until 8, and it was close to the premiere, so we decided to stop by and see what we could see. It was a really cool atmosphere, people perched in trees like Zaccheus trying to get a peek at the action, fire shooting out of the theatre marquis…really something. But then it started to rain. I took shelter under a nearby awning, but Damon was a hardcore fan and stood in the rain with the camera under his shirt to try and get a peek at Jessica Alba. In the end, we both saw her and the 3 other fantastics, even though I only saw them from 300 yards. We left at 7:30 for our show.

Chicago was our first London show. We were both excited because we loved the movie and were interested to see how it would be staged. Brooke Shields was supposed to play Roxie, but she was out sick, so that was a disappointment. The show was good, but the set was very plain and the talent was not the greatest. This was a case of the movie ruining the play for us. We still enjoyed it, but I would say if Chicago visits a stage near you, save your money and get the DVD. We give it 2 stars.

After Chicago we were exhausted, so we grabbed some KFC near the hotel and crashed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tuesday morning I started feeling about like Damon. I woke up with a stuffy nose, sneezing and snotting all over the place, just like old times before my allergy shots. Lovely. I was determined that we would see sites, though, so we ate breakfast and boarded the tube for Shakespeare’s Globe. When we got to the stop, there was a bike shop there, so Damon of course had to go in and peruse the merchandise. He wants a rode bike so bad he can taste it. This may also be a good time to mention that our first 2 days in London had been HOT, but this morning since I wore shorts and a tank top, it turned freezing. After the bike shop, we made it to the Globe, in time for me to browse the museum for 30 minutes before our actor-led tour. Damon decided that he not only wanted to see the Globe, he wanted to see a play at the Globe, so he went to the box office to secure tickets. He came back in time for the tour which was short but informative. For example, since there were no fire regulations back then, they could cram as many people as possible into the theatre, and the pit for standing room often held 700-800 people. Fighting for a space was tough. There were no public restroom facilities, so during the 3 hour play if someone heard the call of nature they would very often answer it right where they were standing, rather than risk losing their spot. Now that is what I call hard up for some entertainment. This, you can imagine, caused a glorious stench to pervade the area, so people would bring oranges and eat them, then use the peeling to form a makeshift gas mask. The people rarely threw fruit at the actors, like you see in the movies, because they were so poor if they had any fruit they were going to eat it. Also, contrary to Shakespeare in Love the queen would never have come to the theatre, since all the theatres were located in rather dodgy areas. (Dodgy is one of our new British words…it means shady) The top floor of the theatre was frequented by prostitutes, known as the “Something Geese” (the something was a place name, but I can’t remember it). They would use the shows as a way to drum up business. To get “bitten by the geese” meant to catch one of their VD’s. They were actually condoned by the local bishop, who collected taxes from them and regulated their activity. Those guys will definitely not be up for the “Best Christian Example” Award. Anyway, Damon got us tickets for the 14:00 performance of Pericles. I was not really pumped, because I had planned on doing more site seeing, and Rick Steves said the plays could get boring at the Globe. Damon was trying to be a good husband, thinking that I would LOVE to see a play at the Globe, so we had a little miscommunication there. When the tour was over, we had about 2 hours to grab something to eat and be back, so we stopped in a little café where I ordered a hamburger and a hot chocolate to warm me up. As they were cooking the hamburger, I remembered about mad cow disease, and I got very nervous. I ate it anyway, though, and it was truly gross. The pattie was as big as my head, but very flat, and it did not look like beef to us. It was served on a strange bun, and the mustard was some kind of Dijon that tasted toxic to me. Damon had a chicken wrap that I don’t think was much better. So far I have suffered no ill effects, even though I am not sure what the mad cow symptoms are…

On the way back to the theatre, we passed the Clink…the original prison that lent its name to all others. I was dying to go inside, but Damon was nervous about renting seat cushions and a blanket, so we split up. I took the camera and explored the Clink, and he went to the theatre. The Clink was a big letdown. Rick Steves was right when he said that it was a series of rooms filled with paper mache gore but little information. I did not film much of anything. The neatest thing that they had was an iron boot that was used as a torture device. They would put your foot in the boot, pack wood chips around it, then fill it with water or oil. That way the wood chips would swell and crush your foot. Then they would light a fire under the boot and boil the stuff inside, so that your foot would fall off and leave you with a bloody stump that would soon catch various diseases inside the filthy Clink. Good stuff, huh?

I made it back to the theatre in time to use the WC and browse the gift shop before we settled in for Pericles. The play defied all of our expectations and cemented our opinion that Rick Steves is an idiot. It was three hours long, but there was not a boring minute. The actors were great, the story was exciting, and they did lots of rope tricks, where they would climb ropes, swing from them, and do somersaults and flips. It was wonderful. We agreed that it was our favorite non-musical play ever and we were glad we decided to attend. The atmosphere was great as well. The Globe is open air and the seats are just wooden benches, so it had a very casual and fun vibe. We give it 4 stars.

After the play, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for The Lion King. We had just enough time, and again stopped by a pharmacy to get medicine for me this time. When we got to the theatre and were directed to our seats, they were great. We were right in the center and on the first tier above the floor. About 5 minutes before the performance, some people came who were supposed to be in the same seats. After some confusion, and asking the ushers again, they told us they were wrong, we were supposed to be downstairs. So we rushed downstairs to sit down, were directed to the wrong seats AGAIN, and Damon basically had to almost knock down a girl usher who was not going to let us back out to get to our seats. They had given us bad info too many times, though, and we were determined to be sitting for the first song. We made it and it turned out to be the best seats that we have ever had in the history of our theatre going. We were in the center, 7 rows back from the stage on the floor. The first song was a parade of all the animals coming in to “The Circle of Life” and Damon could have touched the elephant. The costumes and staging were great, but the story was obviously a bit of a snoozer, since we already knew what happened. We give it 3 stars.

We were again exhausted after the performance, so we grabbed some Burger King and soon were back in the room for a nice rest. More later!

Sep 15, 2009

Our Backyard Duck Preserve

If Uncle Ryan needs any advice on duck calling, Stella knows all the tricks.

Sep 13, 2009

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

Our big plans for weekend fun got rained out. Instead of hitting the zoo or the children's museum like we had planned, we ended up grabbing some early take-out at the Donut Hole before rushing home to wait for the DirecTV guys who did not show up until 11! When they were finished we headed into town for some shopping. Our last stop was Esplanade Mall where they have an indoor inflatable playground where I had planned to let Stella have some fun. Unfortunately, they were closed for a private party. In what was truly one of my more desperate acts, I decided to let Stella try the bungee jumper in the middle of the mall. She seemed like she wanted to do it and I was hoping it would help her learn how to jump for her gymnastics class. (That is her one weakness...her upper body jumps, but her legs don't!) Anyway, we waited in line FOREVER and when it was finally our turn Stella was very content until they actually lifted her in the harness and her feet could not touch the trampoline anymore. Then she was decidedly discontent. Here is Stella rocking the Britney Spears look during her happy time in the harness. Following church today, we attended our first wedding shower as mother and daughter. It was for Lindsay Griffith, bride-elect of the fabulous David Peterson. Here is Stella complimenting the bride on her lovely attire...(she's so thoughtful that way!)
Here are Molly and Stella helping Tristyn unpack her toy bag...
The big three reunited: Tristyn, Molly, and Stella...queen bees of the church nursery...
Stella decided she needed to get in on the gift action...
And finally, having a snack with Mr. Tommy...he's very good with little girls, even though his little girls are big girls now!

Lost Diaries 11

Beaches and Bulls:
Running in the Steps of Hemingway, well, sort of

Thursday, July 7, 2005

It was finally here. The weekend we had been waiting for all summer. When we first began planning this crazy trip, Damon’s main goal, and at times obsession, had been to run with the bulls at Pamplona. Upperclassmen had regaled him with tales of their own “runnings,” and one even had a prominent posterior scar that he offered to share, an offer which Damon respectfully declined. When we had first asked about reservations at the train station weeks ago, the French worker told Damon it “was not possible” to take a train to Pamplona. Maybe not for her, but Damon found a route, and tackled the reservations desk again with a plan and a dream. So Thursday, around 21:00, we left Lyon on a train bound for Paris. It was our latest train out of Lyon so far, and gave us an opportunity to fill up on jambalaya before we left. With full bellies and one backpack we set out. In Paris we had to change not only trains, but train stations as well. It was walking distance, so we trudged through the chilly Parisian night, keeping our fingers crossed that this couchette experience would be better than the last one. When we arrived at the train, our tickets were checked before boarding. This was a first, and we were not sure if it was a response to the terror attacks in London, or if they just did not want to disturb you on a sleeper train. We found our car and Damon was delighted. The reservations were for first class couchettes, which meant four to a room and made for much more spacious bunks. I was not as thrilled, as the bunks were musty and of questionable cleanliness. The hairs of former passengers were clinging to the brown upholstery, and my bunk had a mystery stain. I was glad the CSI people were not there with their blue light to tell me what it was. The atmosphere of the train was very much a party. Except for the crew, I think we may have been the oldest people on board. Apparently many of our fellow travelers had already been hitting the bottle that night to gear up for the festival. As people filed past our bunks, we crossed our fingers and held our noses. I almost passed out when a girl with long and very well-developed dread locks poked her nose in our room as if it may be her assignment. She had the pungent aroma of youthful rebellion against things like capitalism and soap. I let out a sigh of relief when she moved on. After an agonizing wait, the train finally took off, and we discovered that we were to be the sole inhabitants of our couchette. What joy! We located our “sheets,” a term which I use loosely in this case, and settled in for what turned out to be a long and lovely night’s sleep. Of course, there were the occasional disturbances, like drunken young people banging into our door as they wandered aimlessly through the train, loudly giggling and speaking very slurred French, but overall it was a peaceful night in our cabin.

We arrived in Irun, which apparently is just over the French/Spanish border, around 9 the next morning. We could tell we were in Spain because: 1)the signs were in a new language that we did not speak, 2)the bathrooms were free, and 3)the water in the bathrooms was potable. We gleefully took advantage of the absence of a “no tooth washing” sign and brushed the morning breath away. When we inquired at the reservation desk about some Spanish trains that we needed to reserve, we were again pleasantly surprised. We could cancel a ticket that we already had, get a 16 euro refund, and buy intercity train tickets for about 3 euros total to get to the same destination. Using this blessing, we were in San Sebastian for 11, and had a Pizza Hut breakfast. Large with real pepperonis, pan crust literally dripping with grease. Ahhh. The taste of home.

It was beginning to rain, so we taxied our way to the hotel. Damon told me to watch carefully so that we could walk back later, but it soon became apparent that our hotel was way too far away from the train station to walk. Plus it was halfway up a mountain from the beach. When Damon booked it at the last minute on Expedia, they advertised a location 300 meters from the beach. Maybe they meant kilometers, because it was a long hike. I am also sad to report that the rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain, contrary to popular belief, and it is also a good time to note that the portion of Spain that we visited does not even consider itself Spain. The area is Basque, and they are somewhat considered terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on whose side you are on, who want to be declared independent of Spanish rule. As we were checking in, I perused the local tourism brochures, and found a snazzy looking one offering guided tours of the running of the bulls. While I watched Dawson’s Creek in Spanish and enjoyed how Katie Holmes talks out of the side of her mouth, Damon called the tour company to ask questions. The tour was exceedingly expensive, but offered us an opportunity to stay in our hotel room until 5 the next morning, be driven to the running, view it from a private balcony, get a tour of the old town area, attend the bullfight, and be back to the train station on time to get back to Paris Sunday morning. We were sold. Our original plan had been to sleep in the hotel room all day and take a 23:00 train to Pamplona, arriving at 1 in the morning and wandering around all night until the running the next morning. This plan was not a good one, because after you stay up practically all night and run, you are stuck at the festival until the train out at 8 that night. Damon booked the tour and we gleefully set out to explore San Sebastian, since we were no longer obligated to nap the day away, and the rain had stopped.

We took in the beach first, and since the weather was so overcast, we kept trudging on after taking a little video. The person from the tour company had told Damon to buy his running gear in San Sebastian, so that was the main goal of our walking tour of the city. The official running of the bulls uniform consists of a white shirt, white pants, red bandanna about the neck, and red sash around the waist. We had been told that the items were plentiful and cheap in Pamplona, but we were in San Sebastian, an hour away, and they were decidedly harder to come by. Especially since we did not speak Spanish and had to resort to using hand signals for running and the word “toro” to ask where we could make the purchase. Another thing working against us was the tradition of siesta. All the shops were closed for 2 hours in the afternoon for everyone to take naps. Businesses could never get away with that in America, but I will explore that topic another time. We finally gave up on Damon’s outfit and grabbed me a white skirt and shirt from a Pimkie, which I guess is like Rave or something in the US. By that time siesta was over, so we were eventually able to stumble across an open shop where we felt ripped off, but bought the shirt and pants anyway. Our tour company was supposed to provide our bandannas, and we figured Damon could get a sash once we got there.

By this time we were starving, so we looked around for a cheap eating option that we thought we could ingest, and found a diner that featured VH1 and hamburgers. We ordered two and enjoyed the sounds of Phil Collins when he was in some band. I tell you, Europeans LOVE Phil Collins. The hamburgers were alright, but there were sadly no fries to be had. We set out again to find the train station and cancel some reservations that we would not be using since we were taking the tour. Of course, this is the busiest day of the year at the San Sebastian train station, so we ended up having to take a number and wait a while for service. The numbering system was totally confusing, consisting of three Spanish options, so we took one of each and figured we would go to the first one that came open. The first one that came open was manned by a bald Spanish gentleman who obviously hates his job and all travelers. He yelled at us that this was the wrong number, and he would not help us. Damon tried to ask him which was the right number, but he was not having it, so he yelled at us some more until we sat back down in frustration and waited for our next turn. When it came, we were helped by a nice lady at the information desk who was very courteous and calm and helped a lot, even though she spoke little English and could not make any of the necessary changes. She put notes on the tickets in Spanish about what we wanted to do, and we waited for our third attempt. Turns out Smiley, Employee of the Month, drew our name for a second time. This time he had to help us, because it was the right number, and it was very clear what we wanted. After we got the tickets straight and were refunded some more cash, Damon told the man he did not have to be rude to us before, and Smiley took that opportunity to decide that he did not speak English. Damon told him he spoke perfect English before, and walked off. It was all a very dramatic, Pourciau-esque exchange. I was mortified.

By this time we were amazed at how many miles we had walked in the search for the uniform, so we hopped a bus and rode it back to the beach. The whole day had been overcast and chilly, with the sun teasing us occasionally but never poking through completely. The beach was full of people all day, though, so we took off our shoes and enjoyed a stroll. Some kids were boogie boarding, and one guy was even trying to surf, although the waves were much too small for that, so we enjoyed watching them a while before climbing the mountain back to our hotel. We set the alarm and got in bed early since Saturday would be a long day. We fell asleep watching Tour de France highlights in Spanish.

Saturday, July 10, 2005

What happened to Friday? You know I never count a night spent on a train. Anyway, Saturday dawned bright and early at 4:10. The hotel had been reasonably clean, but the hot water took 10 minutes to heat up, so that was a little inconvenient. I cleansed myself thoroughly, knowing that this would be my last bath for 2 days. I dressed in my white garb while Damon showered, and then packed our meager belongings into the backpack. You may recall that we only brought one backpack this weekend. We usually bring two, but knew that we might not be able to store our bags, so we opted for one. It was full when we left, and we bought new clothes for the festival, so now it was positively bursting. We were downstairs checking out at 5:10, when Javier pulled up in a van to pick us up. An older couple from Colorado and a California girl about our age were already inside, so we hopped in the back. It was still dark, so we could not see much of the scenery as we rode towards Pamplona, but what we could see was beautiful. When we had woken up on the train we were chugging along the northern coast of Spain and I was sorry that it had been a night train and we were not able to enjoy it more. There were some spectacular views. The terrain we saw from the van was mountainous, but consisted of small, tree covered mountains. Once in Pamplona, I became even more thankful that we had deviated from our original plan. The streets were littered with the remnants of one of the biggest parties on earth: bodies of people sleeping on the grass amidst broken beer bottles and puddles of urine. It felt like the streets of New Orleans at Mardi Gras, except everyone was wearing “white” (or what I’m sure began as white) and red, instead of gold, green, and purple. Javier dropped us off and went to park the van. The older couple had balcony reservations with a different company, so they set off alone and Javier came back to take us to our balcony. Winding our way through the streets we witnessed too many things to describe in this diary, but let’s just say that drunk people do the darnedest things, and Pamplona needs more port-o-potties. While we wound our way through the crowd, Javier gave Damon rules and regulations for running, such as: “Do not touch the bulls or men with green sticks will hit you,” and “If you fall, cover your head and ball up.” He showed Damon how to come to the balcony after the running. I kissed Damon goodbye, told him I loved him and be careful, and he set off. California and I climbed the stairs to a second floor apartment. A family lives there, and they rent their balcony to the company that we booked the tour through. A breakfast of baked goods and hot chocolate was there, and it was the best hot chocolate I have ever had. It was thick and creamy, and almost tasted like chocolate pie filling before it hardens. We alternated between munching on breakfast bread and filming out of the windows while Javier explained what we were watching. At 7 the streets are teaming with drunken college kids and broken glass and trash from the night before. Around that time, street sweeping trucks start to make the rounds with armies of people with brooms and containers to collect the filth, as well as trucks with sanitation workers with high pressure water hoses. They clean the streets relentlessly, even though it does not appear to be doing much good at first. At the same time, others are erecting fences in the street in pre-made slots in the cobblestone, and even painting plywood at the turn. Our apartment was right at the big turn where you always see the bulls sliding and crashing, so it was a prime location. Next came the police, and they began to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to say, or in this case, those sober enough to run from the rest of the drunks in the street. They contained the runners behind a barricade of policemen, and forced the rest, sometimes physically, outside of the fences to watch. There are 2 layers of fencing in the streets by that time. The first is to make the street more narrow for the bulls to run through, there is an empty space behind it for the paramedics, and then the spectators are behind the second fence. People were climbing onto balconies and rooftops to watch the running, and when the balcony owners opened their shutters, they would evict the squatters very quickly. I got a lot of good footage of the police arguing with kids in the streets. In all the commotion, Damon had gotten my attention from below the window. He had managed to find a newspaper and roll it up (that is also part of the uniform) and had bought a sash off of some Spanish guy for 10 euros. He literally bought it off of the guy, who was wearing it but needed more beer money for breakfast, apparently. Finally about 10 minutes before 8, the streets were spotless (but wet) and the police moved aside to allow the runners to begin. Now, the bulls are not released until 8, so most of the 10,000 people in the street simply jog for a few blocks and then bail out the sides of the fence after they actually start to think about the prospect of a bull chasing them in such an inebriated state. This mass exodus through the side fences is what makes the event even more dangerous for those actually crazy enough to run. At 8 a.m. a rocket went off, and that signaled that the corral was open. A second rocket moments later meant that the bulls had cleared the “safe” area, which is simply the beginning of the run where people are not allowed. After the rockets went off, the jogging in the street below got a lot more frantic, even though there were still no bulls in sight. A few seconds later the bulls came charging down the street and around the corner, and I can tell you that there was even a rush of adrenaline to be had from watching it on a balcony. It was over within seconds, and they instantly replayed it on TV, along with a highlight reel of the worst gorings. Since I did not see Damon on this reel, I assumed he was okay, and spent my time filming some people outside the balcony who were not okay. One that we could see had been gored in the derriere, and another was on TV because his shirt got caught on the bull’s horn and he basically got dragged and trampled. He was outside our apartment getting medical aid from the EMT’s, so I got some shots of him. The family recorded the running, so we watched it again, and replayed the highlights. The apartment owner’s nephew had gone down to the street to see the bulls run by, but when they passed, one of them turned and came towards him, so he was not planning to run but ended up having to run for his life.

After what seemed like forever, there was a buzz at the door, and I heard Damon’s voice coming through the intercom. I filmed him as he came back in, and he was really excited and still in one piece. Since you know that he is okay, I will relate his bull running story as he told it me. Don’t be afraid, because as crazy as he is, he is still alive. He started behind the police barricade, and when the 10 ‘til joggers began, he trotted with them for a while. While he was doing this, he decided there were no bulls coming, so he slowed down to wait. This is when he spotted Hayden, Slattery, and LeProto, three buddies from law school. They began to run together, and quickly outpaced Hayden, who was the slowest of the three. About this time they were approaching the 3/4 mark of the 800 meter run, and here came the bulls. Unfortunately, Slattery chose this opportune time to fall down, tripping LeProto, and causing Damon to take evasive maneuvers to avoid tripping himself. As the bulls bore down on them, LeProto and Slattery tried to get up, and Damon ran for his life right in front of the horns. His actual first words to me upon his arrival back at the apartment were, “Slattery almost got killed, and I got drilled by a bull.” Sure enough, it is hard to be in front of the horns for long without coming into contact with them, and the bull’s head hit Damon on the left side of his back, with the horn scraping along the right side. It knocked him down, but also out of the way. He was able to jump back up and run into the arena. This was the scariest part for him, since this was the smallest opening that you run through. Fortunately, no bulls came while he was there. Once in the arena, he reunited with his friends, and affection ran rampant. Something about near death experiences makes men want to hug and tell each other their true feelings. Enough mushy stuff, once they are in the arena, the big thing to do is lay down and let a bull jump over you, but Damon decided he had had enough foolishness for one day and he needed to come back and let me know he was alive, so he climbed out of the arena and came back to the apartment.

Once Damon was back and I filmed his battle scars, he watched the replay, told us his story, and ate some breakfast. The lady who owned the apartment was so impressed with his bravery that she gave him the video tape of the running along with a souvenir guide for the day. We decided it would be a good time to do the old town tour, so we set out for that. The streets were calming down, and all the people who had been up all night were falling asleep anywhere and everywhere, so things were pretty peaceful. Javier showed us the corral where they keep the bulls, and explained to us that the running of the bulls started because the arena for the bullfights was too small to keep the bulls there. Since they had no cow trailer, some local guys decided that they would dress in white with red sashes, and use their getup to lure the bulls from the corral to the arena. It was a small thing when it started, with about 12-15 crazies doing the job of one Sundowner the hard way. Then Ernest Hemingway came, and since he wrote of his own running experience in The Sun Also Rises, it has become a right of passage for men all over the world, and now attracts about 15,000 people daily to the festival. The television announcer said that the number of people running on Saturday was the most that he had ever seen in his 35 years of announcing the event. Javier told us about the song that the runners sing to Saint Fermin, a black saint, who they petition to protect them during the running. The festival started off as a religious one with some type of procession between churches, but as the running got bigger, the religious people got increasingly aggravated by the lack of respect from the crowds, and eventually moved their portion of the festival to another time of the year. From the corral we walked the route of the running, and Javier pointed out items of interest along the way, like a digital clock that counts down between San Fermin festivals. Once we made it to the arena, Javier left us on our own for the day and told us where to meet him later. He had given us a tip that photographers took pictures of the running and sold them in a local square, so we made our way there first. Sure enough, the whole Slattery/LeProto/Pourciau incident was captured, and we bought 5 pictures that do an excellent job of illustrating the story. From the pictures we discovered that Slattery and LeProto fell down, and bulls basically passed on each side of them, one of which went on to gore Damon. The pics are great and will definitely be on display in LaPlace soon. We bought some souvenirs, wandered around with California, and took her to the van when it was time for her to leave. Javier was taking her to the train station early, so we were able to stash our purchases in the van and enjoy the rest of the day. The bull fight was not until 18:30 that night, so we spent most of the day walking around and enjoying street performers. They had the standard big city stuff, like the copper cowboy, and the silver cowboy, plus some other things like bands, people who make bird noises with their mouths, and a drunk on a chair making fun of the street performers, who was actually the most entertaining one. Another fun thing was the street bands. All day long, even before the running, marching bands wind their way around town playing festive songs and leading groups of dancing festival goers. It was really neat. We also enjoyed walking around seeing all the sleeping people, and what cruel things their friends were doing to them, like tying balloons onto their clothing, or jumping over them. At one point we walked by two couples sleeping in very passionate embraces, and I pointed them out and we were about to film the display, until Damon realized that it was Slattery and LeProto, and two chicks that they picked up somewhere between 8 and noon. Later, we were watching a drunk man perform wildly with a street band, and when we zoomed in with the camera, it was LeProto. That footage should be good for blackmail one day, if he ever grows up.

Having nowhere to go and relax made for a very long day. We bought more souvenirs, drank an obligatory sangria, and finally made our way to the arena for the bullfight. The bullfight was beautiful and full of pageantry, but also very unfair and cruel for the bull. The bull enters the arena with 6 matadors with pink capes. They taunt him for a while and tire him down. If he gets too close to them, they run cowardly into protective seats built into the sides of the arena. Next come out two men on horses, with long spears and body armor surrounding their steeds. The bull proceeds to butt the horses (who are blindfolded) while the men on horseback plunge their spears deep into the bull’s back, causing profuse bleeding and encouraging the bull not to butt the horse again. Next, three of the matadors take sticks about 2 feet long with hooks on the end and stick them into the bull’s back. Now that the bull is covered in blood, weak with the loss of it, and has 6 hooks hanging out of his back, the lone matador with the red cape enters the arena. He uses some type of sword to extend the cape and wears the bull (who continues to gush blood) down. After a few minutes of this, when the bull is really in bad shape, the matador casually walks to the side of the arena and changes swords, to a real sword. He then uses his cape to make the bull take one final charge, and takes that opportunity to plunge his sword into the bull’s back, usually up to the hilt. The bull usually stumbles around for a minute, and then collapses. Another matador plunges a short knife into the bull’s head behind his horns, and a couple of men secure a leather strap around the horns, attach it to three horses, and pull the body out of the arena before the matador takes a victory lap and the whole process starts over with another bull. Last night the fight featured 6 bulls, so the bull responsible for Damon’s scratch is no more. I think that sometimes they do not slaughter so many, but this was the biggest night of the festival, so the fight was bigger than usual. After the bullfight was over, we rushed back to the rendezvous point and met the older couple. Unfortunately, the tour company was 30 minutes late picking us up because of traffic, so by the time they arrived, there was a bit of a rush to get us to the train station on time. The tour guide asked if it was okay with the couple if they went to the train station first so that we would not be late, and dropped them off about 30 minutes later. The driver was driving pretty fast on curvy, mountainous roads, and the wife was scared, so the man told them in Spanish that they would not agree to that, and to drop them off first. This made the man have to drive even faster (170 kilometers an hour….I don’t want to know what that is in miles), so I spent a lot of time in the back praying and holding on for dear life. Colorado people. Good grief. In spite of their inconsiderate act, we made it to the train station on time and alive. The tour guide told us that this was actually a very historical train station, since Hitler met the dictator of Spain there during World War II to discuss Spain joining the Nazis. When we got on board the “night train” in first class, there were no couchettes, but instead, upright chairs that did not even recline. Welcome back to France. We had not had time to eat dinner, so we planned to hit the dining car in a big way, but it was not open at all on the night train, so we gathered all our euro change and enjoyed a vending machine meal. Our main course was chicken chips. Chicken chips are potato chips that, much like most other things in life, taste like chicken, therefore the name: chicken chips. They are all the rage here, and I think Damon’s friend Clarence likes them so much he’s shipping a case home. After the main course we enjoyed some fromage crudités, or the French version of Cheetos. The cheese is white, so you don’t get the infamous Cheeto fingers, but they were not very tasty. We followed that with some sweet crackers, and a Kit-Kat before settling down for the night. We laid across two rows of chairs and slept the night away in the fetal position. By 6 we were back in Paris and decided that rather than spending the day in Paris as we originally planned, we would catch the first train back to Lyon and be in our apartment bed by 11. We met a nice couple from South Carolina on the train. They were over for a State Farm Convention in London and the man is now doing a bike tour in France, which is another dream of Damon’s, so we talked to them all the way back to Lyon. They will be at the tour start on Tuesday when we go, so maybe we will see them again. When we got off the train I forgot Damon’s contacts, so that bummed me out, but he has more so it is not the end of the world. We grabbed some breakfast at McDonald’s (France can even manage to ruin an Egg McMuffin, in case you were wondering) and crashed and burned at the apartment around 10:30.

Sep 10, 2009

What We've Been Up to Lately

There were two directions that this post could go. After typing the title, I thought that I could sum things up by posting only one word: "WORK." But upon further inspection, I realized that we have managed to squeeze in some fun recently, we just haven't had time to blog about it, so here goes.

First up, Stella and Daddy following their normal morning routine of watching Elmo in bed on the laptop while Mommy gets ready. Double chin twins...
Grandmere and Stella breaking the "no battery powered riding toys" rule for the second time in less than a month...
Stella telling Grandpa, "No! You cannot have a bite!"
Grandma Tonie and Stella enjoying the comics...
In Dubberly Mommy's standards for her personal appearance are a little more relaxed...
Daddy and Stella participating in her favorite pastime at Grandpa's house: visiting the cows.
Thinking about running away to join the herd...
Stella promising me that she will be "right back."
Feeding Zonaida treats...
One is never enough. More, please!
We even sneaked some to the neighbors' dogs. (This is what happens when you're not home, Em!)
We visited a cool park while we were in Minden. While at the park, Stella had a moment of panic when she realized that her daddy was actually stuck in the slide...
Of course, we went to the playground only for Stella's enjoyment. We're sacrificial like that...
Ummmm, could you stop playing and help me slide again?
Ready.....set.....go!
Wheeee!
Snack time at the pool on Labor Day, our last pool trip of the summer....
It had been a few weeks since we had been to the pool, and Stella had gotten really brave, which resulted in her dunking her head a few times, but it did not seem to phase her at all.
Moving on from the joys of summer...tonight Stella got to experience one of the joys of fall: her first football game. You can tell that she was totally engrossed in the action on the field and not distracted at all by the other kids in the stands.
In other news, Stella has been cutting her eye teeth recently. The two on top are already peeking through, so we now have 14 teeth. The bottom ones aren't far behind! She has also been expanding her diet. One of her new favorites is rotini noodles in red sauce which she affectionately calls "Noo's." We have big plans for weekend fun, so tune back in soon to hear more about that!