21 September 2017

Summer in Sète

Summer in Sète - it's sunny, warm, busy, and long!

It seems to kick off in March (OK, that's Spring, but it already seems like Summer!)) with festivals centered on regional food (see my earlier post about the sea urchin festival). April takes over with MusicaSète, then the markets get busier and add little events, and the museums put on a show in May. The "beach bus" (#9) starts it's run at the beginning of May, making it even easier to play in the sand! By the time June comes around, the Summer music calender is pretty much set - you can look all the way through the end of August at non-stop, back-to-back music festivals!
Théâtre de la Mer, concert venue

High Summer is bookended by two huge festivals: the last weekend of June starts the week-long Fête de la Saint Pierre, full of processions, carnival rides, boats, flowers, and fireworks; the last weekend of August ends the similarly long and exciting Fête de la Saint Louis, mainly noted for its water jousting, but also full of parades, award ceremonies, food, and fireworks!

This two-month period also marks the bus schedule changes - more bus lines run on Sundays, and the most commonly used bus lines run later (just past midnight, instead of past 8pm). Of course, you can pretty much throw the schedule out the window then, since the buses are so crowded (and most passengers are buying their ticket right there, asking for directions or help with the stamp machine, and lugging a lot of suitcases and beach accessories) that they are simply unable to keep to any timeline.

September sees a gradual slow-down of the crowds, and an attendant return to a more reliable bus. Temperatures this year are a bit cooler than normal, with highs around 22°C / 72°F - perfect hiking weather (here and here), and even very nice for a dip in the Mediterranean! And, the festivals are a little shorter, usually only a weekend instead of a full week. This is when we have our Heritage Days (museums and monuments are open and free), and our Association Days (a faire where booths are manned by town groups giving information about what they do, and how to join). Typically seen as a month where we return to normal, September is also full of strikes and protests. So, while we're busy planning out our activities for the year ahead, we also have to be aware of when there will be no bus, train, school, etc.

October arrives, and, like a light switch, Summer ends! The temporary beach restaurants are folded up, the beach bus is put into storage until the next Summer comes, and festivals become more and more about wine and harvests.

Summer in Sète is almost over! And I can't wait to see what Fall and Winter are like!

18 September 2017

Hiking Bédarieux

Yesterday, I joined a group of hikers and tackled the hills around Bédarieux - and I have the blisters to prove it!

I can't say enough about how wonderful these folks are! During the hike, people would easily drop in and out of conversations; when we got to the picnic grounds, the two groups were as excited to see each other as kids coming back from the Summer; at lunch, we all passed plates and glasses to be filled, the air was full of jokes and happy conversations. Quite a few people traded off watching for stragglers (it was a huge group of more than 25 people). Many people happily explained various French phrases to me, and several offered ideas, names, and help in finding more practice venues. When we got back to Sète (quite a bit later than expected), I had probably missed the last bus home; no problem! They dropped me at my apartment - it was just a different route to their home :-)

It was a perfect day for it - cool, partly cloudy, but no rain or strong winds

We mainly walked along vineyards, on dirt roads; sometimes they were more like dry streambeds, and other times main roads where we had to watch for cars

There were ripe figs, blackberries, and (something like?) blueberries

One of my new words for the day: une capitelle, a "cabin" made from stacked stone, used by shepherds in bad weather

Our leader, counting his sheep after lunch ;-)

More words of the day:
We had 5 in our car, and passed a hitchhiker - we couldn't pick him up because our car was "plein comme un oeuf" (full like an egg)
During lunch, we got to "faire un canard" (to make a duck) - that is, to pour alcohol (like brandy) over a sugar cube, then eat it
Lunch ended with a cup of coffee; my neighbor downed hers all at one go; she "fait cul sec!"
When we were on a busy road, and a car came, we walked "en file indienne" (in a line like Indians, or single file). This is a uniquely French term, based on their love of old westerns!

And of course, I became reacquainted with all the "don't be worried" expressions: ne vous faites pas de souci, n'inquiétez pas, pas de problème !

I also "got" a couple of new words that didn't last! One is another name for the giant electricity-generating windmills - it's based on the Greek word for wings, so something like "ailette" (fin or blade) but more complicated... Another is a different word for a water bottle (it could be "flottant"), that sounds a lot like what could also be water-wings - but in French, those are called bracelets for swimming, nothing like "floaties" :-\

See more photos here.

How we got there (10 cars full of people!)

Bédarieux Randonnée, 17 septembre 2017, Sète Escapade
Animateur GÉRARD ; R1, 11 km (6.6 miles)

14 September 2017

Justificatif de Domicile

In France, being able to prove where you live is extremely important. Everyone wants this proof, called Justificatif de Domicile, from the préfecture to CPAM, to your bank, and so on. It is as important (if not more important) than your ID! It is usually a utility bill or rent receipt that is in your name and shows your address (and just so you know, a cell phone bill won't work, but a fixed line bill will).

So, what do you do if you don't have any of these? Say you are staying with friends or relatives, or renting a place that includes utilities; there is a solution! You have your host write a letter of attestation d'hébergement* (stating that you live at his address), and provide his ID copy and utility bill. Sounds easy (and it is), but of course, it has to be in French, and it's formal (Ack! By the way, most correspondence in France is formal).

*Here's a handy form to use (note that it's for a man hosting a woman; change the verb forms for a different situation). We got this originally from a French consulate site, but of course, I can't find it now!

[relative's name and address]
                       [préfecture address]
                       À [relative's city, date]

Objet : Attestation d'hébergement

Madame, Monsieur,

Je soussigné [relative's name], né le [birth date] à [birth city, country] et demeurant au [current address] atteste sur l'honneur que [your name] née le [birth date] à [birth city, country] est actuellement hébergée dans mon domicile situé à [address].

Vous trouverez ci-joint les copies de nos pièces d'identité respectives ainsi qu'un justificatif de domicile de mon habitation datant de moins de six mois.

Veuillez agréer Madame, Monsieur, l'expression de mes salutations distinguées.


[relative's signature]