What is a Ch’ti?

Most Americans have never heard of “Ch’ti.”  Every Frenchman and woman knows.  Most of the French speaking moviegoing public knows.  Why?  The highest grossing French film of all time is “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis” which loosely translates to “Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis.”

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A  is someone from northeastern France,  the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in particular.  The inhabitants are French and speak French, their regional dialect is heavily influenced by the local language Picard (a Romance language closely related to French traditionally spoken by people in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy areas of France and the Walloon part of Belgium).  As a result, their pronunciation is slightly different from the rest of France and the local slang draws heavily from Picard.   These differences were played upon to great effect in the film, with several sorts of Abbott & CostelloWho’s On First” type of interactions.

Area of the picard language

Area of the picard language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Picard, “ch’ti” is local parlance for the language.  In southern France, they are referred to as “cheutimi.”  Ch’ti refers to both the language and people who hail from that part of France.  Now that you know what it is, we can move on to pronunciation.   It sounds like, well, um….

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme)

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This area is stereotyped as a remount unsophisticated, cold,  and rainy place.  It’s inhabitants had traditionally been stereotyped as: alcoholic, uneducated yokel who eats disgusting (to the French palate) food, and speaks an incomprehensible version of French (which may be an unpardonable sin in France).  The genius of the film is that it exploits these stereotypes and debunks them in such a hilarious way.

Spoiler alert – the main character ends up falling in love with the area’s friendly, unpretentious, helpful inhabitants and is able to see past the grey skies to appreciate the rich local culture.  Outsiders tend to think of other countries cultures as homogenous, when they can be incredibly diverse.   It’s a good reminder that France’s culture differs dramatically within the country.  Think about the differences between New York City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City for example.

One final thought, there’s a line in the movies that says it could be worse, you could have to go to Belgium.  Anyone that reads this blog knows my love for Belgium.  If it is better than that, it must be heavenly.

Dubai’s Malls: Where Money Can Buy Happiness, Or At Least A Walk In Air-Conditioning

Dubai is famous for its malls.  There are over 60 of them and they are immense.

While I didn’t see much in the stores themselves that surprised me and couldn’t find in New York City, the experience was amazing.  People in Dubai don’t go to the malls just to shop, they go escape the sweltering weather, socialize, eat and entertain themselves.

To lure credit cards, malls provide surreal attractions.

The Souk Madinat at the Hotel Jumeriah has artificial waterway that reminds me of The Venetian in Las Vegas.  Since it’s in Dubai, of course it’s bigger.

Go ahead. Shop like a winner.

The Dubai Mall has about 1200 stores.  There are towns a few miles from where he grew up with fewer people.  It has an Olympic-size ice-skating rink!  Hockey anyone?   If that isn’t enough to draw you in, it also has a four-story waterfall, a huge aquarium, indoor theme parks, and a fashion catwalk.   The aquarium is enormous and breath-taking with lots of fish that include stingrays and sharks.  It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest acrylic piece used in an aquarium.

The Wafi Mall has a glass pyramid, kind of like the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.

I visited the Mall of the Emirates because I had to see its indoor ski slope with real snow.  When I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe that someone would think to build an indoor ski resort.  For me, part of the fun of skiing is being outside.

Ski Dubai features five indoor ski runs, of varying altitude, incline and difficulty.  I didn’t give it a go because I figured the skiing wouldn’t be better than in Switzerland, but regret not doing it.  They rent you everything you need, parkas, boots, skis and snowboards… I’m not sure if they rent helmets, but wouldn’t doubt it.

It was fun watching kids running around, playing in the snow.  The Magic Planet, a two-story arcade, was lousy with kids fresh out of school and high on sugar.  I had to play.

Another reason I went to the Mall of the Emirates was that I’d heard you can get outstanding coffee drinks at the Armani Coffee Bar.  It did not disappoint.  My coffee drink was amazing and unlike anything I’d ever had.  It was like a super-refined latte milkshake.  The interior lights continually change colors and the Armani interior was elegant.  No surprise there.

As I was leaving, I saw something that fascinated me, a donation machine.  It allows you to give toward food, the disabled, orphans, treatment, house appliances (?), zakat, alms, constant alms and penance.  Does it mean that you can, literally, pay for your sins?

Villefranche, Oui, S’Il Vous Plaît

Villefranche-sur-Mer is carved into a hillside on a bay between Nice and Monaco.  We chose to stay in Villefranche because it is smaller and more residential than many of the towns on the water.   That’s not to say that they don’t have the tourism thing down pat.  Cruise ships regularly put down anchor in the harbor and we paid more to park our car overnight here than we did in New York City!  As cheap as I am, I didn’t care.  The views were worth it.

I loved the pastel colored houses and church.  On the left is the Baroque Eglise St-Michel church.  While it seems as though every town here has impressive, serene churches, this one had interesting objects that appeared magical with the light streaming in on them.  The statue of Christ below was carved out of olive wood by a convict.

We fed our coffee addiction and had breakfast at a café on the docks.  People were readying their boats for a sailing competition that weekend and seeing fisherman returning with their catch provided great entertainment.  After gorging on fish the night before, we learned that the Mediterranean is almost fished out and most of the fish served in restaurants is imported from the Atlantic.  Many of the towns on the Côte d’Azur started as fishing villages.  Today, tourism is the number one industry, but Villefranche is still has a few people who still earn a living fishing.

Villefranche has been a port since Roman times and is strategically important because it could be used as a base from which to attack the port of Nice.  After the fall of the Roman empire, residents fled and built the hill towns that dot the mountains behind the water.  In the 13th century, the Duke of Provence wanted to defend the port from Saracen Turks and strengthen their hold on the coastline.  To get them to move, he made living there tax-free.  Gotta love tax-free.  The Duke of Savoy constructed the fort to defend the port and bay in the 16th century.

The vaulted Rue Obscure (dark street) provided shelter from bombardment.  Rue Obscure is a passage way under the harbor front houses dating from 1260.

Narrow, steep lanes climb up from the harbor.  They were blissfully quiet and relatively deserted until the cruise ship started ferrying passengers ashore.

We decided to pull the plug and head out to the Grand Cornishe.  Before we left, we stopped to check out this church.  Villefranche is known for the Chapelle St.-Pierre in which Jean Cocteau (a famous French artist, poet and filmmaker) painted lavish frescos with heavy black lines and pastel colors.

Oops, I almost forgot.  In Villefranche, we found a new use for a bidet.  It came in really handy to clean the mud off of his Dunks.

Saluhall

We like to eat and who doesn’t love drooling over food while on vacation.  As a result, we’ve been to some famous food halls (London’s Harrod’s, Boston’s Faneuil Hall, New York’s Fulton Fish Market, Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel).   Saluhallen, is a historic indoor food market in the heart of Stockholm’s old Ostermalm neighborhood.  Saluhall has around 17 small businesses, most have been run by the same family for generations. Here are some of the things we liked about it:

  • It is located in a magnificent building that dates from 1888.   The exterior is neo-gothic.  It looks a bit like a medieval castle and it’s iron framework give allow it the inside to have a high ceiling and enormous windows.
  • The stallholders are very nice and happy to share their extensive knowledge and experience.  They are a wealth of information about the food, how to cook it, etc.

  • The incredible displays of wonderful food are a treat for the eyes.
  • It is a market for locals.  They seem to want both nice quality Swedish food and more exotic foods from other countries.  Therefore, it has a nice variety of foods.

  • It is a great place to grab a wonderful, but reasonably priced bite.
  • Great people watching.
  • Something about it seems to put people in a good mood.  It has a warm, cheery atmosphere.  Maybe it’s the moose heads…

Don’t take our word for it, Bon Appétit Magazine named it the world’s seventh best food market.

We stopped there for coffee and smoked salmon smørrobrød (an open face sandwich).  I would probably have chosen something less smelly if I had known that I would be speaking with royalty.   Never mind, it was so good that I stand by my choice.

Touring The Palais des Nations, The United Nations In Geneva

You know it’s the UN because if you squint, you can see the UN flag on top

We recently had some visitors in town (yippee).  They were the perfect excuse to tour the United Nations in Geneva, the Palais des Nations.  Guides update visitors on the current activities of the United Nations, tell its history and answer loads of questions.

The United Nations in New York hosts the legislative body.  Geneva host tons of meetings.  I’m guessing it may be easier for diplomats and delegates from certain countries to get into Switzerland than in the US.  They have hundreds of meeting rooms to host over 2700 meetings they host every year.  Many of them look like the one above.   All proceedings are translated into the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) using state of the art 70’s technology like this.

Miquel Barcelò massive sculptural installation decorates the domed ceiling of the Chamber XX of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Although it was controversial for its $23 million price tag footed by Spain, everyone seemed to think it looked pretty sweet.  I wanted it for our apartment.

The Assembly Hall, the largest room in the Palais des Nations.  You can watch it on TV.  You are probably still more familiar with the large hall at the United Nations in New York from television and movies.

The Council Chamber, formerly housed the League of Nations and has stunning murals by José Maria Sert.  Many important negotiations have taken place in this room.  This room was home to the League of Nations and has hosted many tense negotiations.  It has two separate entrances so antagonistic negotiants can enter and leave at the same time.  They can also move the furniture around into a “V” formation (the tables in the other rooms are bolted into the floors) so that necociants don’t have to look at each other.

Go figure. Patek Philippe is the official clock of the UN in Geneva.

The gift shop is really cool and worth a visit.  I bought a board game about Switzerland in French and English!  You can also purchase and mail post cards from there (they will go out with the official UN stamp).

Gifts presented by various countries to the United Nations Office at Geneva are on display.  They are pretty sweet.  Germany gave this Günther Uecker picture made from nails.

Out in front of the building (at the Nations TPG public transit stop) is the famous Broken Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset.  The chair’s fourth leg is broken off, leaving shards of jagged wood, yet it doesn’t tip.  The damaged leg symbolizes the suffering of land mine victims.    I run by there often.  Between the chair, the fountain and the demonstrators that are usually around, it’s always interesting.

The Golem

When we were in Prague’s Jewish Quarter, we saw the Old-New Synagogue.  I got very excited and started yammering on about the Golem of Prague. Someone asked, “wasn’t he in Lord of the Rings?”
Nope, that’s Gollum, although Tolkien may have been making an allusion to the Golem (which becomes dangerous and makes bad decisions when it gets a soul). I realized not everyone knows about the Golem, so here it goes.
The Golem is a character in Jewish folklore that is artificially created and endowed with life.  Huh?  In other words, it is an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter.  Say what?
You know how Frosty the Snowman came to life one day.  It’s like that.
In the late 16th century, to protect Prague’s Jews from anti-semitic attacks, Rabbi Loew of Prague created The Golem.  He took clay from the banks of the Valta River, fashioned a man from it and said incantations to bring it to life.  Initially, the Golem was a big help, kind of like your own personal robot.
Unfortunately, the Golem could only follow orders.  This led to some strange outcomes as he would continue doing what he’d been asked to do until he was told to stop.  You can see how this could become problematic.  Eventually, the Golem ran amok and had to be deactivated.
The Golem has appeared in a vast array of works including: the Simpsons (Bart finds the Golem), Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavailer and Clay (a great read) and in various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  It even served as inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which she started writing in Switzerland, not far from where we live).   The above statue of the Golem, looking astonishingly like Darth Vader.
 

A Giant Spider Traveling The World

When I visited Geneva on my apartment hunting trip, I spent an afternoon in Bern, Switzerland. In front of the parliment building, there was a fantastic statute of a giant spider. When we moved to Geneva a month later, the sculpture had moved here!  It made me curious and I wanted to learn more.
The spider gets around; it is better traveled than us. The statute first appeared as part of an exhibition as part of the Tate Modern in London (below).
Since then, it has vacationed in fantastic spots all over the world. Temporary locations include:

Permanent locations of bronze cast replicas include:

Maman has been well received in each place and has become very popular.* It’s easy to see why.  The sculpture photographs well, children love to play around its legs and it’s a hit with art connoisseurs.

 
It was made by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Before passing away in 2010 at age 98, she was the world’s highest paid living female artist. The sculpture is called “Maman“. The spider’s sac contains 26 marble eggs.  You can see them looking up from underneath the spider.
It’s called “Maman” and is an homage to her mother who worked as a restorer of tapestries in Paris (get it, spiders weave webs, her mom rewove tapestries).
She made a giant spider statue for her mother, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she had daddy issues. When she was a child, she learned that her tyrannical, sadistic, father was having a long-term affair with her live-in nanny!  Insert Freud jokes here.  She spent her career exorcising these demons.  Much of her work dealt with revenge, feminism, women’s roles and power.
She saw spiders as clever, protective, life-giving and useful.  Others see it/them as both frightening and/or threatening.
*Maman has its own Facebook page with its picture in different locations.
 

Crazy Things We Saw On The Way To Madrid’s Airport at 8:00 A.M.

Last weekend, we went to Madrid and had a great time.  We weren’t the only ones.   Sunday morning, we took the subway to the airport and saw some crazy things on the way there.  Sorry.  I didn’t whip out my camera, you will have to take my word for it.  Here are the highlights:

  • Carnage in the street from the previous night (recyclable gal ores and grosser things that don’t need to be detailed)
  • Couples making out (clearly wrapping up the previous evening)
  • Groups of guys headed home together (from their state, it wasn’t surprising they were alone)
  • A guy (with his fly unbuttoned) doing the head roll for ten minutes before falling asleep on the old lady next to him.  He woke up at the airport (without luggage) and followed everyone up the escalator.  At the top it dawned on him where he was and he went back down.

Judging from the smell in the air, the receptionist’s squity eyes and his snacks when we checked out of our hostel, we should have known we would be entertained being out at that hour.

 

 

Padlocks of Love – “Luccheti d’Amore”

When we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, we walked across the Brygge Broen, a bicycle and pedestrain only bridge.  When I saw these locks, I had to stop and look. I’d read a story about padlocks from the Pont de l’Archevêché on the Seine in Paris. They disappeared in the middle of the night after the city of Paris said they were concerned about their effects on their architectural heritage. People were upset over their disappearance and the locks “magically” reappeared.
Although this custom has allegedly been around since before WWI, it has become much more widespread. An Italian book that was made into a movie Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) was released in 2006 featured the “Luccheti d’Amore”. In Italy, the movie became like Twilight in the U.S. increasing the padlock’s popularity. As the locations for and numbers of padlocks have risen, their notariety has grown. They are now widespread and getting media attention. Some are even listed in travel guides.

Other places where this occurrs include:

Some people decorate or write on theirs.  50 years!  Everyone should be so lucky.I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.