Cornbread & Butterbeans, Turkish Rugs & Pepper Spray

^ You may be wondering why this post is entitled as such.  For a visual explanation (and plug for my friend Erika’s video blog about her stay in Rodez, France), take a moment and watch the following clip starting at minute 5:15.

Seriously, cornbread is amazing.  Do yourself a favor and listen to the Carolina Chocolate Drops for a minute or two and see if you can restrain yourself from nodding your head to the banjo and spoons…

The weekend was a refreshing taste of home (read: Madison), mostly in that Erika and I went salsa dancing, spent hours in a tea house, and were generally silly in our regular fashion.  Travel-buddy Rick bonded with Erika’s roommate and fellow Kentuckian, Laura Beth, who was actually the inspiration for the spectacularly delicious meal of buffalo chicken wings with bleu cheese sauce with the side of cornbread.  We were both sad to go, but had to continue on our way back to Germany.

The chilly weather (45°F) followed us north to Clermont-Ferrand, where we had found Clément, a very accommodating last-minute CS host who happened to be one of the city’s CS ambassadors.  Rick and I had originally wanted to drive straight to Saint-Etienne to visit an acquaintance of his, but the trouble with relatively small towns is that not as many people drive between them, naturally.  It turned out to be a comfortable, relaxing night filled with tea time and talks of Turkish rug dealing tactics, as our host had worked in Istanbul for a few months doing just that.  Selling a carpet is a science: cleverly crafted small talk helps the dealer categorize you so he can most efficiently sell you a rug.  If you are American, according to Clément, the dealer automatically assumes you have money coming out of your ears and will likely charge you a higher price (just as you are unlikely to buy it at a price you deem ‘cheap’, coming from your cultural standpoint).  Timing is also important; reveal that you’re only visiting for a few days and you’ll be hit with hard and fast selling tactics.  Say you’ll be staying for a week or two and the dealer will encourage you to think about your purchase and come back a second time.  Clément’s advice for Rick and for me was to speak German amongst ourselves and English with the dealer, so perhaps if we get the chance to venture eastward, I’ll be able to test his theories.  The whole conversation was made more interesting due to the fact that it 1) made me think back on my Aflac sales internship and 2) was conducted entirely in French.

Rick and I left Clermont-Ferrand early the next morning with our next covoiturage driver, a young student.  She drove us to Saint-Etienne, where we met up with another Kentuckian, Cayce (pronounced Casey), who let us stay overnight in her dorm room while we planned our next leg of the trip.  At this point the travel was beginning to wear on us, with the unpleasant weather and relative lack of covoiturage opportunities, but we were able to figure out a way from Lyon back up north to Metz, our next and final French destination.

Apparently when two Kentuckians get together some cosmic rule dictates that fried food must be involved, so Rick and Cayce made fried chicken with sweet potato fries (and a salad) for dinner that night.  “Dessert” turned out to be a nice light dusting of pepper spray, as Rick got curious about a small black tube on Cayce’s key chain.  He failed to notice the label “Spitfire” on the other side, pressed a button, and by a stroke of luck, escaped spraying himself directly in the eye.  The dorm room was a prickly-cough-inducing zone for the next twenty minutes (I was in the shower at the time, but escaped to the dorm room of yet another two Kentuckians who lived down the hall).  I’m still not sure why Cayce had pepper spray in the first place…I often feel safer in European cities than I did/do in American ones…

Without trains due to the tendency of the French to strike whenever possible, and no prearranged ride from Saint-Etienne to our next covoiturage rendezvous in Lyon, Rick and I resorted to hitchhiking the next morning.  We trekked over to a roundabout leading to the highway, held up our two “Lyon” “SVP” (s’il vous plaît) signs and smiled.  Fifty minutes later, after being offered a ride halfway by a businessman and being warned by a cute old French grandmother to not get in a car “with just anyone” because she had a petite fille just like moi, a woman named Isabelle picked us up just in the nick of time.  We got to Lyon with time to spare, had espressos, did a bit of grocery shopping, and met our next driver.

The following ride was comfy yet squished, as I was sandwiched between an older Algerian gentleman and Rick, with our French driver and a Syrian cellist (with the cello on his lap) in the front.  Four and a half hours later we had escaped the dreary weather and were in Metz, whose accompanying stories shall have to wait until the next blogpost…