Thursday, August 12, 2010

We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky

I've missed a couple of days. I haven't been out with the camera much lately, so there aren't many photos to choose from. On Wednesday we were up and out early, headed to Tours to do some shopping. The trip takes about an hour each way, but it's a nice drive through the Loire Valley with views of vineyards and châteaux to enjoy along the way.

Up, up and away! This balloon floated by our house last week.

Once at Tours, we headed up to Tours Nord, a sizable development north of the river near the local airport. It's a hodgepodge of residential and commercial developments built along the northern ring road. Some of it is sparkling new, some probably twenty years old or so. It looks like most of it was farmland before being developed.

At any rate, navigating the little access roads around all the parking lots in the commercial areas is not easy. There seems to be no guiding principle to the plan, no clear paths or landmarks to guide you. Reading the landscape to find your way is very difficult as you drive along negotiating traffic circles and signals. And if you end up in a residential section, the curly-cue streets filled with traffic-calming devices like speed bumps, constricted lanes, one-ways, and cul-de-sacs can drive you absolutely insane.

In a way it's worse than the Amercian version of suburban hell because the scale is much smaller. That means the streets are narrower and shorter and you're dealing with many small intersections and doing a lot of turning very quickly. And the townhouses and condos are all much closer to the streets so you don't have long views and opportunities to get your bearings.

I know that it's all a matter of familiarity. If I spent more time shopping there, I'd probably get used to the layout and not think twice about it. But we only go there once or twice a year, so it's like a new experience every time.

But we survived. And we had a very successful shopping experience. First, we stopped at Paris Store, an emporium of Asian foods and ingredients, and filled up our cart with goodies. Then it was on to a big home improvement store to check out paint prices. Not bad, but the parking lot was chock full and the lines at checkout were fifteen deep. Since we had another home store in mind, we just left. Finding the second store, called BricoDépôt (very much like Home Depot), was a challenge and we got lost in cul-de-sac city a few times.

But we made our way and were glad we did. The paint prices were better, we found what we wanted, and the checkout wasn't too bad.

Let me take this opportunity to râler (bitch and moan) about checkout lines. What I'm about to describe applies to grocery stores as well has home improvement stores. There is a choice. You can get into one of the lines with six people in front of you or you can get into one of the lines with two people in front of you. In the lines with six people, each person has a small collection of small items. One of the items will not have a price on it, or will scan at a different price than the advertised or marked price. The checker will pick up the phone and call somebody to assist, or disappear into the store searching for a solution. You're stuck for a while.

In the lines with two people, each person has two pallets of huge things: hundreds of linear meters of copper pipes and fittings, wallboards for six rooms, whole kitchens, or all of the above. One of the items will not have a price on it, or will scan at a different price than the advertised or marked price. The checker will pick up the phone and call somebody to assist, or disappear into the store searching for a solution. You're stuck for a while.

Either way, you spend more time in line waiting than you did shopping for what you needed. We picked a line with two people in it. The two people were together, a retired couple with a dog. He was on crutches, she held the leash. They had eleven three-meter lengths of copper pipe, eleven matching lengths of pipe insulation, a bucket, more pipe fittings than I've ever seen in one place, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Two carts. The checker, a young smiley guy, counted everything (twice) and scanned it all.

Their last item, a small bag of nuts and bolts, did not have a bar code or a price on it (see above). The woman volunteered to run back into the store to get the price. While she did this, the smiley checker guy printed out the itemized bill (three long sheets, in duplicate) and hubby wrote a check. Their total was over 600 euros. The woman came back and said the bag of hardware was marked €2.50. Hubby got some change out, but the checker guy smiled and handed it back to him. Just take them, he said. You bought 600 euros worth of stuff, you can have the bag on us.

Then he smiled again and took care of us. As all this was going on, he told us that his register was closing after us. We dutifully told all the customers that got into our line that we were to be the last and that they had to choose another line. There was one fewer two-person line to choose from. As always, our items scanned through perfectly and we were out of there.

Our final stop was a grocery store where we found a few things we needed and some we didn't. We got home around two p.m. and made lunch. It's nice to be back in the countryside.


  1. Choosing the wrong queue in the supermarket is a specialist skill. One I have been perfecting for years!

    Even more annoying is when, having stood for ages waiting in the queue, a new checkout opens next to you and all the people BEHIND you go there, get served before you do and you're still standing in the first queue as they leave the supermarket,smiling.


    However, a word of advice : if all the checkouts have long queues except for the one that has just one person in it - don't go there. There is usually a good reason of an olfactory kind why all the other people have left.

  2. Walt,
    I've had a stressful day at work today and so I get home and read blogs - yours made me smile, laugh and then think how did two Californian city dwellers become such country bumpkins.

  3. I don't like telling people that the line is closed behind me...

    It sounds like you'd rather be painting than brico-shopping;)

  4. It took me years to learn, but now when I shop I make sure each item has a price or barcode on it so I can get through the checkout quickly, or go through the self-checkout without an issue. Now if only everyone else would learn that lesson.

  5. "raler" - thank you for the new (to me) French word! I plan to use it.

  6. I'll be the view from that balloon is something else!

    I got in line at Target (I know I know....shhh), the other day. Two giant baskets that took forever to ring up ahead of me. And then TWO credit cards declined. So, she left. All of her stuff that we'd waited and waited to have rung up just left there. Nice.

  7. Imagine those poor russian people in the old days who had to be in line for "everything", for hours.
    It is 72 degrees in Tours as I am typing, exactly the same temperature we are going to have today in my neighborhood. We have had a cool summer so far.

  8. I am the bloke in the hardware shop who always ends up at the checkout with one of the 60 items I intend buying missing a barcode. No matter how hard I try, it's always me.

    Supermarkets, it's different. There, I am the bloke who arrives at the checkout not having seen the weighing machine carefully hidden behind a display of palm trees, who has to go back to weigh three bananas.

    Word verification is inatest. I assume as in "the most inate"

  9. All so true, but at least you had a smiley checker guy this time. Not always the case, and it does make a difference, I find.

    Aagh. Verification word "gerial". I know I'm getting old, but please. Geriatric Gal?


  10. Walt, you summed it up so well. Though a French-only wrinkle is that you get to the head of the line, at last, and somebody older or more infirm is authorized to step in in front of you with their million items.

    Jean, I recently turned to a woman who got into line behind me to warn her of the curse I carry--no matter how short the line, the fact that I enter it slows it to a crawl. She looked unconcerned and said she had the opposite karma. Lines always opened up for her. The line next to us did open up just then, and she gestured me ahead of her. I asked if she would always arrange to shop when I did.

  11. râler!
    My new favorite word!

  12. All the remarks related to the art of "queueing up in the right line" made me laugh, thanks ;-) !

    As you know, the French are said to be good at "râler", "rouspéter", "ronchonner", "grogner", "pester", "maugréer", etc., lol ! Mary


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