Getting High in Reunion

Since arriving in Réunion, my goal has been to see the Island from above. But I didn’t want to see this green gem from a plane, I wanted to see her in free fall and under my own parachute! I have been a licensed skydiver for over three years now and before I left the U.S. I discovered there is a skydiving club called Paraclub de Bourbon at Pierrefond Airport in St. Pierre. So I brought my parachute and other skydiving equipment with me on the long flights from San Francisco to St Denis.

However when I first arrived I was disappointed to learn the club was closed for a few weeks due to aircraft maintenance. Then when I returned when it was opened again, it was too windy or too cloudy. It took over two months before I finally had the chance to skydive in Réunion. By this time I was itching to get in the sky and get my adrenaline fix as skydiving is my addiction of choice.  Finally one beautiful December morning I drove to Pierrefond very early in the morning. The weather was good and the prop of the plane was turning, so I put on my gear and took a seat in the Pilatus Porter.  

From the plane I was able to see into Cilaos, past St Pierre to the south and Etang Salé to the north. It was a beautiful view! When we reached 13,000 ft (or about 4,000 m) I jumped out of the plane with my boyfriend.  Finally I got to make a skydive over Réunion!  We held hands and did some flips above the island before it was time to separate and pull our parachutes.  I was able to take in the beauty of the island in free fall and then under my own parachute, which I landed safely onto the small landing area next to the hangar at the airport. 

Finally, I got high in Réunion and it was amazing!  

Vocabulary

free fall – chute libre
however – par contre
due to – à cause de
windy – venteux
itching to – impatient de

hold hands – se tenir les mains
take in – apprecier

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Where Do I Come From?

I have a small problem. 

I’m a little confused about what I should be answering when people ask me where I’m from. 

Well ok. I know that I’m from the US. But after I say that I’m from the US, the next questions is always « Which part of the US? » And that’s where I run into some trouble.

So…Where do you come from? What does that question actually mean? Does it mean « Where were you born? » « Where were you living before you came to Reunion? » « Where do you call home? » 

You see, when I first came to Reunion, I was only supposed to be here for 7 months with a work contract as an English assistant in school. Back then, I was living in Dallas, Texas, and had been living in Texas for 5 years. My life, my college, my friends, my job… were all in Texas, and I planned on returning to live in Texas after my 7 months in Reunion. I LOVED my life in Texas. So naturally, when I first arrived in Reunion, my response to the question « Where do you come from? » was Texas! I had literally just come from there!  

Except..I never made it back to Texas. Nope, life had a few twists and turns in store…and now, my life and time in Texas seem a little like a distant memory…   

On the other hand, I was born in Michigan, and I lived in Michigan for the first 18 years of my life, until I joined the Army and started traveling the world. My childhood memories are of snowy Michigan winters, chasing chipmunks and deer in the forest, and raking up colorful leaves every fall. My family still lives there, and when I go back to the US to visit, that’s where I go.   

At some point, it stopped feeling normal to say that I come from Texas…since I won’t be going back anymore. And even though I was born in Michigan, it’s been so long since I’ve lived there that I have no idea where anything is, the roads and shops aren’t familiar, and my childhood friends are long gone.   

Half of my heart is still in Texas. My heritage and my family remain in Michigan. And me…I’m on the other side of the world living on a volcano in the middle of an ocean. 

So, where do I come from? I don’t know. What do you think?

Vocabulary

To run into – rencontrer
Actually – en fait
Back then – à l’époque
College – la fac
Nope – non

On the other hand – d’un autre côté
To travel – Voyager
Childhood – enfance
Winter – hiver
Chipmunk – écureuil 

Deer – cerf
To rake up – ratisser
Fall – Automne
At some point – à un moment
Since (because) – puisque

Childhood friend – ami d’enfance
Long gone – parti depuis longtemps
To remain – rester

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How to get Hypothermia on a Tropical Island

Maybe this is not one of your life-long goals, but if you would like to know how to get hypothermia on a tropical island, then I’m your man. I’ve even done it twice. Now, it’s not easy. You have to be dedicated to the task, and not everyone manages it. In fact, this year there were 1600 people who entered this competition in Hellbourg on October 22nd, and only 5 of us managed to be in a state of hypothermia by the time we reached La Pleine des Merles. The other 1595 people had to continue, utterly disappointed by their failure.

Of course, I’m talking about my attempt to complete this year’s Mascareignes. A little backstory. 2006, my first attempt at the semi-raid: the doctors stopped me in Deux Bras. Hypoglycaemia. 2008’s effort involved a fractured sternum. In 2009 the doctors stopped me with hypothermia in Deux Bras….again! And this year, rebelotte as you say in French, with another hypothermia. It wasn’t very cold, but it was raining quite hard and my poncho was about as effective as a paper bag, and when I reached the first checkpoint I noticed both hands had turned yellow. ‘That can’t be good, I thought.’ And then the full body-shakes arrived, and my temperature plummeted to 34 degrees. The lovely docs stripped me, wrapped me up in gold shiny survival blankets and asked ‘Did you drink enough?’ Yes, I replied. ‘Have you eaten something?’ Yes, I replied. ‘Did you sleep last night?’ Ah. Apparently, lack of sleep can bring on hypothermia. It took 2 hours to get my temperature back up to 36 degrees.

Anyway, the real adventure began there. I was in the middle of a forest at 1900m, about 10km from a main road. How was I supposed to get home to St Paul wearing nothing but a pair of trainers and a shiny gold blanket, worn like some kind of glam-rock Roman toga? Together with another hypothermia champion called Catherine, we trudged upwards to the closest track, which was the Col des Boeufs car park. A cheery smile welcomed us at the little shop there, as the owner shouted ‘Losers aren’t welcome!’ Which was nice. But with the wind and rain I was too tired to get annoyed. But that changed quite quickly. Catherine ordered a coffee and a packet of fags (bizarrely enough) and I just said ‘listen, I just want a cup of hot water please, I’ve got hypothermia.’ The man handed me a cup of water, looked me in the eye and said, ‘that’ll be €1.80 please.’ Excuse me? ‘Well, a tea is €2.00, so without the tea bag that’s €1.80.’ And, as we say in English, unbef*ckinglievable.

La Mascareignes? Never again, I said to myself as we trudged down to Grand Ilet. But the next day, when friends asked me if I would try again, I said ‘Of course! See you next year!’

Vocabulary

twice – deux fois
manage to – réussir à
utterly – totalement
failure – echec
effective – efficace

body-shakes – vibrations du corps
plummeted – chuté
stripped – deshabillé
to wrap up – emballer
blanket – couverture

to trudge – marcher péniblement
annoyed – enervé
fags – clopes
unbef*ckinglievable – IN-CROY-ABLE!

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Christmas. What’s not to Love?

Usually, in English when we say “What’s not to love?” about something, or someone, we mean that they cause us only positive feelings.  The implied answer is “nothing”.  For example, you could say of George Clooney, “He’s glamorous, handsome, supports good causes and he’s stinking rich, what’s not to love?”  However, in this advent season, if I seriously pose the question about Christmas, I come up with rather a long list of things not to love.

First of all, there’s the creeping sense of stress.  This begins in early November when you spot the first chocolate Santa in the supermarket, and builds gradually as you hear people on the tube boasting that they did all their Christmas  shopping on-line in April and now “only need to get a few bits”.   It mounts to a level of utter panic by 22nd December when all you’ve managed to buy is one incense candle and a box of liqueur chocolates,  which you’ll probably eat yourself.

Then there are the crowds.  As I work in Regent Street, which is just off Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping venue, by the second week in December it is no longer possible to reach the tube station without queuing to walk.  There are even pedestrian marshals with loud speakers yelling commands at the shoppers in order to keep them from falling under a bus.   This is not festive.  This is a dystopian nightmare.

It becomes completely impossible to go and meet a friend for a quiet drink in a local bar or cafe because they are all packed with gangs of people on their “work do” – which is the obligatory office Christmas event.  They wear plastic antlers on their heads and they are all drunk by 6.30 in the evening.  Then, you have to go to your own “work do” when the challenge is to try and avoid all the colleagues you don’t like in case you end up telling them so.  And of course, the same thing applies to the ones you do like, so it’s best not to talk to anyone.

In pre-Christmas UK, if you want to do anything practical at all, such as find a new apartment, or sell a car, or get the hall painted, or speak to someone in any company or government office, you can forget it.  “Oh sorry, love, not before Christmas” they’ll say.   All business is officially suspended from early December until the New Year.

But let’s try and be positive.  There must be something to love about a London Christmas?  Well, there’s the outdoor skating rinks that appear in squares and courtyards of historic buildings.  They are really atmospheric, and you can whizz round on your skates in a magical setting, then fall over and go for a cup of mulled wine.  and then there’s the  perfume ads on the television.  All the women in them – supermodels or film actresses – behave as if they are totally insane, flinging open doors to scream at their lovers, throwing cascades of diamonds off balconies, or twirling around on snowy mountaintops in a ball gown, laughing hysterically.  Christmas has obviously driven them crazy, and I’m really not surprised.

Vocabulary

Handsome – beau
Stinking rich – plein aux as
Advent  – l’avènement
Come up with – fabriquer
Creeping sense – sentiment croissant 

The tube  – le metro å Londres
To boast – vanter
Few bits – deux ou trois trucs
Crowd – foule
Just off – juste à côté de 

Marshals –  les comissaires
Festive – de fete
Work do – soirée d’entreprise
Antlers  – les ramures
Skating rink  – une patinoire 

Whizz – aller à toute vitesse
Mulled wine – vin chaud
Ad – pub
To fling – jeter
Ball gown – robe de bal

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Christmas in Australia

Whilst a lot of people from mainland France find spending Christmas in Reunion to be a little strange, coming from Australia I find it completely normal to celebrate Christmas and New Year under the burning sun. There are however a few differences between the way the French and the Aussies go about Christmas festivities.

Starting with the 24th of December which in Australia is a little less formal than it is in France. Most people try and finish work early but the evening is not necessarily spent with the family. Quite often we catch up with friends and go out for a drink or two. Carols By Candlelight, which is an outside concert where people sit on blankets, light candles and join together to sing Christmas Carols, is a major event of the silly season. The one in Melbourne is rather spectacular and generally televised live across Australia on the 24th December. Then before going to bed, kids usually leave out cookies and a glass of milk to keep Santa happy.

Our big celebration takes place the following day, on the 25th.  The number of drinks that were had the previous evening generally determines what time things get going on Christmas Day, unless of course children are involved, then parents are usually jumped on rather early and beckoned to the tree to open the presents that Santa left.

Australia is an extremely multicultural country and with this, our traditions are often derived from a mixture of other countries. There is thus no set ‘way’ to do Christmas in Australia, rather a charming mix of traditions depending on your particular family. In my family for example the first cork is usually popped around 11am, and friends call in for a quick drink before lunch. Lunch in Australia is the main Christmas meal. Meats such as turkey, chicken, pork and lamb are served with hot vegetables and other side dishes. Seafood is also very popular as an entrée or even a main course. Dessert is often a Pavlova coated with cream, strawberries and passionfruit or it can be a traditional English pudding with warm custard. Mince Pies, lollies and Christmas bonbons often decorate the table. Christmas lunch can often be a barbecue in the backyard or a picnic on a beach. As Christmas coincides with the Summer Holidays, quite often families will celebrate Christmas away from home.

The afternoon is usually spent relaxing and feeling quite lethargic after such a huge lunch. The evening meal is generally leftovers from lunch (of which there are usually enough to last a couple of days) or we may go to our in-laws for dinner, visit friends or have friends over for a light meal.

The weather is variable at this time of year, it can be between 20 to 40 to 50 degrees depending on where in Australia you are.

The 26th of December (Boxing Day) is also a public holiday in Australia, this is one thing I really miss in France. Lucky my partner is from La Moselle so when we go back to mainland France, this traditions is also applied. In Australia, traditionally it was the day when servants received gifts from their superiors or employers known as a “Christmas Box”. Today throughout Australia, popular activities on this day include digesting the meal from the previous day (in other words, relaxing), going to the beach, braving the first day of Christmas Sales, watching the Melbourne cricket test match or the stunning start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race or just catching up with friends… for a drink.

Vocabulary

Blaring – brûlant
Aussie – un/e australien/ne
Festivities – les fêtes
Catch up with – aller voir / retrouver
Warm – chaud   

Silly season – période de Noel / Nouvel An
Santa – Père Noël
Get going – démarrer
To beckon – appeler
Cork – bouchon   

Call in – passer
Turkey – dinde
Lamb – agneau
Side dishes – accompagnement
Pavlova – gâteau australien   

Custard – crème anglaise
Backyard – une cour arrière
Huge – énorme
Parents-in-law – beaux-parents
Partner – mon ami/e   

Servants – domestiques
In other words – autrement dit
To brave – affronter
Sales – les Soldes

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