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One one particularly cold and dreary July (YES, JULY) day I decided that I needed some sunshine (desperately)...and some wine (naturally) and some coffee (definitely) and maybe some pain au chocolat (probably).  And so I figured a trip to the south of France might be a cure to all that ailed me.  (Wouldn't you also come to that conclusion?)

As this idea was brewing in my head, I thought it might be fun to do all those things with other people.   I mean, wine is fun by yourself, but why drink alone when you can drink with others? I always say. (I do not always say this...)  So, I started thinking -- I know some girls in the South of France!! Well, I don't really *know* them, but I read their blogs, so that counts right? 

I was pretty sure, after a year or so of reading these blogs, that these girls and I would get along fabulously.  I mean let's face it -- we've all blogged about drinking (check) and food (check) -- what's not to love?  Plus! Two of the girls are from Texas (uh, bonus) and one from Australia (always good to have a hot accent from down under to spice things up.  And, honestly, Texans are really just Aussies but with summer and winter switched.)

So, I emailed them -- and the planning began:  We would meet in Avignon in August, drink, get dressed up and look super spicy, go to dinner, eat, drink some more, drink after dinner, pass out, get coffee/tea in the morning, and then head home.

I can't tell you how excited I was to escape London and have an overnight trip with a bunch of girls (which I hadn't had since December of '09 when I went to Vegas).  I missed the filthy conversations that only a bunch of girls can have -- full on x-rated, locker room chatter not inhibited by husbands, children or rotten dogs.  We were the girls version of Anthony Bourdain -- No Reservations (except, we did have reservations for our hotel and our dinner because we are planners -- we didn't suddenly turn into uncivilized men.)

So, we dubbed our little adventure "Hot Ladies Get Drunk in August, 2011" -- mainly so we could repeat it, changing out the August, 2011 part with pretty much any month of any year.  I mean, obviously, events like this require an encore performance!

After the girls and I had our dates set, I thought I might see if the Canadian wanted to head down early to the south of France with me for a little seaside romance (he did) and so we found a cute little hotel in Toulon (you can see it on the map above) and escaped the London drizzle for some surf, sand, and salty air.  Bliss. 

The train I took between Avignon and Marseille (where I met the Canadian who was flying in from London) didn't have air conditioning...and I was SO happy.  My bones finally felt warm.  I just sat in the heat, and napped and sweated, like a proper Texan should.  When I arrived in Marseille I went down to the restaurant in the hotel for dinner -- and they asked if I'd like to eat outside.  85 degrees? Hell yes, I said (en français of course).  I ordered a bottle of rosé, ate some seafood and gulped in the sunshine like alcoholic off the wagon. 

The Canadian arrived later that evening and the next day we headed for our mini beach vacation in Toulon.  We ate moules (mussels), we drank wine (rosé, since that's what Provence is known for), and drove around (note I said DROVE) the Côte d'Azur with the windows down soaking up the sun.

It was SO nice to have a car again. There are a lot of things I like about public transportation, but in all honesty, I really really miss having a car.  I never once worried about how much I could carry, or how many miles I'd have to carry it, or if I'd have to sit next to someone who'd never heard of deodorant or which lines were closed etc.  In a perfect world I'd use (efficient) public transportation most of the time, but, if I wanted to drive my car, I could.  Plus on public transportation, I can't sing along with Scritti Politti anytime I want.

On Monday morning, the Canadian dropped me at the airport train station, and I hopped on a little train to Avignon to go meet the girls...stay tuned for part two.

à la prochaine...
 
So, the Rotten One has had some very unusual (and naughty) behavior lately and frankly it was a little disconcerting...

Let me recap:
2 weeks ago, a poop upstairs near her bed (she has almost NEVER had an accident in the house in the 3 years we've had her except when she was really sick) and last weekend a poop and two pees in the house, followed by a bout of vomiting. The she started trying to eat poop outside (ewwww)

Needless to say, the Canadian and I were worried...she has never peed in the house the entire time we've had her and she never throws up.  So I made an appointment with the vet for Monday.  In the back of my mind all I could think about was that my last dog, Delilah, had died of cancer.  We were devastated when we lost her and I was terrified that something was very very wrong with the Rotten One.

I took the Rotten One to the vet's office on Monday and he said "it could be anything" so he drew blood to run a battery of tests and asked if I would come back Wednesday for the results and also would I bring a urine sample?

Yesterday (Wednesday morning) the Canadian tried to get a urine sample but she refused to pee, instead chasing Spy Kitteh around backyardI tried again a couple of hours later, and she just sat down and looked at me -- clearly intending to make this difficult.

Finally I headed out to take her to the vets office, hoping she'd pee along the way.  Well she did -- and as I leaned over to get the pee, my sunglasses fell off and broke. Awesome.  Then as I'm collecting the pee, she whirled around to poop -- and then I'm juggling the pee, trying to pick up the poop while she's wrapping her leash around my leg AND my sunglasses are in pieces. 

 Just as I take a couple of steps to try and throw her poop in the garbage, this woman is blocks the way, and is on her cell phone, not paying attention while her dog is lunging and snarling at Rotten -- which makes the Rotten One lunge back (remember how I'm holding a urine sample and a bag of fresh poo?)  I'm trying NOT to spill the urine sample or smash poop into my clothes AND I'm trying to control my dog --- which was becoming increasingly difficult because this woman wouldn't get out of the way or control her own dog.  So, I did what any normal American would do -- I screamed at her "Get off your f*#&ing phone you b%*ch and pay attention!!!!"  I think there *may* have other swear words in there, but honestly, I was at the end of my rope.

I know, I know, it wasn't nice, but honestly, it drives me nuts when people just mindlessly chatter away when their dog/child/hedgehog/husband is misbehaving and wreaking havoc. 

Anyway, I finally get the poop thrown away, the Rotten One under control and make it to the vet's office.  He goes over the blood work with me (everything is perfect) he checks the urine sample (no issues) and tells me "Your dog is in perfect health...it could just behavioral..."

So, the diagnosis? Rotten.  And you wonder why I call her the Rotten One.
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I have been recovering from a week down in the south of France...and honestly, there might not be any Rosé left in the entire region of Provence (due, of course, to my drinking it all) and there are stories about this (naturally), but they will be for another day since I have some deadlines for actual stuff in my academic life...it's annoying when work intercedes with talking about getting drunk.  I find I don't like that...

Nevertheless, here are a few updates:
1) We made it through the riots and all seems quite calm these days...

2) I am settling in ok, save for the Sunday blues.  If you're from an 80's divorce in America, you probably have experienced the Sunday blues. 

Sunday is the day when your court order mandated you return to the primary custodial parent...good times...and because most of my friends have parents who divorced in the 80s, they know exactly what I mean. Sundays have always been notoriously difficult for me and I think it's a little bit of PTSD from my every other weekend visits and switching back and forth because some judge thought that was a good idea.  (I could write a book on this...)

Sundays in Austin were bad -- Sundays here are awful.  I find myself horribly homesick, uncomfortable and feeling as if I want to end this expat experience immediately.  It took me awhile to actually identify that this was a Sunday thing, and that it was amplified by being in a foreign country.  Being able to 'name the emotion' (can you tell I've been to therapy before?) has helped me to get through it. 

Most of the rest of the time, I'm generally in a good place, feeling more comfortable with my surroundings and adjusting to life over here.

3) I am making friends!!!  If I had not had this blog (which I created only because I was moving to London), I would never have found some of the wonderful people I've met here in London and in France.  I am trying to make friends with locals, but, I have to say, it is rather difficult.  Being used to the incredible friendliness of southerners in the States, I'm struggling with the aloofness of the Brits.  Unfailingly polite, but not ready to invite you home and welcome you into their lives, the English are lovely but difficult to befriend without a significant other or a network (such as a job or school) to provide a way of mingling with the locals.  So, as it turns out, most of my friends are expats with blogs.  My friend Melizza (here's her blog) and I have been toodling around London, drinking tea, visiting museums and having a grand time...more on all of this later in addition to a girls night in Avignon....(so many stories...)

4) The weather is down in the 50s at night. In August. This makes me nervous because right now in Texas, its an average of 105.  What am I going to do in the winter - I can barely handle the summer?!?!? 

5) I have such an awesome giveaway in September...seriously, I can't handle how good it is.  Oh -- you want a hint?  Well, it's from someone on 'My Favorite Things' -- have fun guessing!!!
 
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If you're somewhere else in the world, you might not have any idea about the rioting that occurred last night in London.  Normally my posts are relatively light-hearted and happy, but, when you're an expat sometimes you are privy to being in the middle of local problems.  I wouldn't dare compare how the city handled this to 'what we would have done' back in the States as we have our own issues (uhhh, downgraded by S&P anyone?) but it was certainly interesting to see how the city of London handled rioting and chaos as it swept across the town.  So, here's my perspective, which, could very well be flawed since I'm certainly an outsider but, nevertheless it's valid since I do live here....so here goes.

The Ph.D. on which I'm working studies developing countries (International Development), and, during the course of that study, you spend a great deal of time examining conflict, how it arises, how it subsides, the root causes etc.  Conflict in many developing countries is rampant as instability is always an undercurrent and tensions between factions are often high.

Sometimes it arises due to xenophobia, other times due to power balances, often it involves natural resources and almost always it is due to one group feeling disenfranchised by another infused with some measure of corruption. Further to that, in most conflict/riots/uprisings - those who take to the streets are the unemployed youth, generally between 15 and 25.

Taking that perspective and extrapolating it to London, it was not surprising to me that something like this occurred here.  In any large, multicultural city where racism exists*, where there are pockets of youths in gangs with no viable employment, and tensions are prevalent, there is always a significant chance that large scale violence could occur. (Hello, Rodney King riots in Los Angeles...) 

All it takes is a tipping point, and for the riots in London, it was the shooting of Mark Duggan three days ago by the police in Tottenham, a neighborhood in the north of London known for its high unemployment rate (said to be the highest in London and 8th highest in the UK), significant gang activity and substantial ethnic diversity.  Further, riots against the police occurred in Tottenham in the mid-80s, fueling the animosity for law enforcement that contributed to the recent chaos.
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For more photos, head over here.

So, given all of the aforementioned background, here are my observations about all of this:

1) Knowing that rioting in London can, and will occur, (since it did in Tottenham in 1985 and given what I just explained about the components that contribute to conflict), why was there not a riot plan, complete with escalation response?  For example, if looting begins to occur, X is how we will respond.  If shops are set on fire, Y is how we will respond.  Preparedness is the key to reaction in scenarios such as these and it seemed as though the police were hopelessly under-prepared for such an event.  And if I'm wrong in assuming there wasn't a riot plan (entirely the case since I'm not privy to the government goings on....), it at least appeared on the surface that this was a 'make it up as you go along scenario', not a well-coordinated response.

2) Water cannons anyone?  I was absolutely appalled at the Home Secretary's response to the use of water cannons (which, BY THE WAY, they've used on the Irish...) " “I don’t think anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain because we have a different attitude to the culture of policing here. We police by consent and it depends on that trust between the police and the public.”

You know what the public expect of the police?  Maintenance of law and order. We TRUST the police to do their jobs.  You know what's not maintaining law and order? Police standing on the sidelines watching people loot because they were either too afraid of using force (due to the recent criticism from the student riots) or not backed up by enough power to actually stop the looting/rioting because all they had were batons and shields.  Honestly folks, that's like taking a knife to a gun fight.  Here's an article in the Telegraph discussing the police response for a more local perspective.

Please don't take this as a criticism of individual officers putting themselves out there, in harm's way, trying to do what they can. I'm not saying that.  What I am saying is that they were not given the resources or power to respond appropriately to the situation.  I am sure these men and women did the best they could with what they had but were hindered by the municipality and lack of resources.

All that said, apparently there aren't any water cannons in England anyways, they're all over in Northern Ireland. So much for that 'different attitude' to the culture of policing.

3) The lack of comprehension of the gravity of the situation early on, was, in my opinion, a direct contribution to the spread of the rioting.  When the riots began in Tottenham, it appears that the government just dismissed it as 'the dodgy end acting up again'.  The Mayor didn't come home, the Prime Minister stayed in Tuscany until day 3 of the riots.  No one took it seriously and no one thought it would spread.  Had London properly quelled the rioting in Tottenham and put the full force of the law into ensuring that it was well understood that taking to the streets and looting was going to be punished severely, it's likely that the riots would not have spread.  Obviously, we can't know that for certain, but that has been my experience in the past when observing rising conflicts.

4) The question of martial law is an interesting one, and I tweeted last night that it might be an appropriate response.  One person on Twitter asked me if I even knew what it was (uh, yes, I have studied conflicts and conflict response, not to mention living in New Orleans which had martial law invoked (technically a state of emergency that brought into force martial law) because the police could not handle the aftermath of Katrina. In the Katrina situation, there was a LOT of police corruption which resulted in martial as well as many other mitigating factors, but still, it's happened and I DO, in fact, understand it. Thank you very much.) 

The reason I talked about it on Twitter was because I felt that the police were very disempowered.  They didn't have the appropriate tools to quell the rioting or looting, the chaos was spreading across the city AND to other cities (Birmingham and Liverpool) -- everything was escalating.  When the municipal law enforcement isn't empowered, AND the conflict is escalating, that usually indicates it's time to escalate the response as well. 

Sure, I recognize that martial law is an extreme response -- the suspension of a constitution should not be taken lightly.  On the other hand, if the police cannot handle the conflict, is there an alternative?  I'm not necessarily saying martial law should have been invoked last night, but what if it needed to be?

In asking around, my understanding is that the Queen is who has the power to make the call on martial law. If this is in fact the case (I couldn't find it on google...), then it seems a bit archaic to have an aging monarch, with little pulse on the day to day lives of the ordinary citizen, be in charge of constitutional suspension and the invocation of martial law.  So, if the riots were to continue for weeks on end, is it the reality that the Queen makes the final call?  Honestly, this needs to be a wake up call for London.  London, as a large international city, a financial powerhouse, and host of the 2012 Olympics, needs to start truly preparing for the worst that could happen, and hope that it never does.

On a lighter note, here's how we settle this nonsense in Texas (tongue in cheek of course) courtesy of the great Willie Nelson...
*I have noted a great deal of racism in this city, from comments made by people to op-ed pieces I've read in the news.
 
The next morning the Canadian and I decided we needed some beach time...I'm not sure what it is about surf, sand and salty air, but it almost doesn't feel like vacation to me unless I've seen/walked on a beach. Since we *were* on an island, I was pretty sure there had to be a beach somewhere near Dublin.

Sure enough, thanks to Google and Tripadvisor we found a little suburban beach town conveniently on the DART route (uhhh, thats DUBLIN Area Rapid Transit -- not DALLAS, just in case you Texans were confused) called Howth (the o sounds like goat, not house). 

We made our way onto the DART and saw this sign:
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Don't cheat the DART
In London it's a £30 fine if you ride the tube/overground without a valid ticket...looks like they might take it slightly more seriously in Dublin prosecuting to the tune of 435 to 900 Euros.  Needless to say, we paid for our ticket.

When we arrived in Howth, we both needed to use the restroom/toilet and as we exited the DART station we saw a sign for toilets.  Perfect.  But sometimes when you're traveling in one country you make assumptions based on other travels to other places. For example, often in continental Europe one has to pay for toilets, which we extrapolated to some toilets outside the station in Howth.  And so we put our money in the only thing we could see that accepted money:  
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Not for toilets
We read that sign, and just assumed it was for the toilets. But, when we put in our 50 cent coin, it started a 15 minute timer....and we couldn't figure out why it would time you for the toilets when there was a line. The Canadian and I kept puzzling over this dilemma until we looked up -- and realized it was a space heater.  Folks, this just goes to show you that even with 3.5 university degrees between two people, that only means you can read a book -- it clearly is not an indicator of any kind of intelligence.

Anyhoo...awkward moment over...

We'd read on Tripadvisor that there were lovely cliffs one could walk along and so we figured, why not?  Nothing like a cliff walk to appreciate a gorgeous Irish morning.  And it was, truly, breathtaking
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My favorite -- I'm going to have this blown up onto a canvas and hang it in my bedroom.
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Emerald Isle
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This guy was jogging. You can't see how steep this is or how close to the edge we were, but let's just say I wouldn't jog it.
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Steps straight up the cliff
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Looking up the side of the hill
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After all that cliff walking we were thirsty and decided we needed a bottle of grape juice...
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And then we scarfed down some fresh off the coast of Ireland seafood (and there are no pictures of the food AGAIN because I was too busy shoveling it in my piehole AGAIN!)

But, I did manage to get a photo of my half eaten and incredibly divine bread and butter pudding
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*slurp*
After the meal we decided we needed our requisite "I'm on vacation" walk along the beach...
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Fortunately the tide was out so there was actually a beach to walk on
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The Canadian testing the waters to see if we could swim in it if we wanted to. (Notice the GORGEOUS blue skies?!? And his cute butt)
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Someone drew a snowman...sandman?
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These little piles were everywhere on the beach. I've decided they are jellyfish poop.
After our brisk stroll, we decided to head back to Dublin and get a pint at Mulligans -- an old pub where Sara's grandparents used to drink back in the day -- and it was nice to hear some local voices and not all of the tourists around! Plus, the Canadian was on a mission to drink Dublin out of Guinness, so you know, we had to make sure he went to different establishments on his quest.

We left Mulligans that evening and went over to our hotel bar which, apparently, has won several awards for best bar in Dublin.  I mean really, one shouldn't just take the critics word for it -- one should definitely test the drinks to see if it really IS the best bar!
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I had a Mojo-jito and the Canadian had a Sazerac
We stumbled back to our room and were considering sleep when I decided I needed a chocolate chip cookie...so my sweet and adorable Canadian, went and found me milk and cookies. My hero.
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The wrap-up?  We LOVED Dublin.  Loved it.  Loved the people, the scenery, the bars, the busking -- everything. I am pretty sure a full on trip to Ireland is in order in the future!!
 
Once we had pried ourselves out of the hotel room (promising ourselves that life did exist outside the Presidential Suite) we headed out for -- well, honestly, you should know by now what the Canadian and I ALWAYS head for: booze and food. (Haven't you read this blog before?)

Along the way we encountered this -- the Dublin Zombie walk. The Canadian and I were somewhat perplexed to arrive in Dublin at the same time as 3,000 zombies but they seemed merry enough (in spite of their white faces with blood all over them) and I later learned it *was* for charity. I do like charitable zombies.
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After leaving the zombies we continued on our path to food and booze.

Being the uber-prepared woman that I am, I had, earlier in the week, contacted my favorite former-Dublin resident Sara Louise and asked for a list of "where to eat and drink in Dublin".  With my list in hand we headed for our first stop - the Stags Head (a Sara recommendation). The incredible weather in Ireland coupled with a few drinks at the Stags Head and we were just a little bit giddy as we headed for dinner.  We wound up eating some traditional Irish food at a touristy but delicious restaurant called the Quays (here's their menu) and stuffed ourselves full of Boxty cake, Irish Salmon and Dublin coddle.  I don't have any pictures because I was too busy shoveling food in my mouth to hold the camera at the same time.  You understand the dilemma...
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Stags Head. If you're going to Dublin anytime soon, we apologize for the shortage of Guinness.
After dinner we wandered a bit around the Temple Bar area, mingling with other tourists, enjoying the buskers and the fading sunshine.  I loved hearing the Irish accents (I've decided I like people who pronounce their 'r's - or rhotics) and what I especially loved was how much Dublin reminded me of Austin.  A city that's navigable, friendly, easy to get around, music playing, great people...pretty fabulous!

We finally headed back to the hotel and crawled into bed -- drunk, happy and dreaming of tiny little men with pots of gold and rainbows...(uh, not really but that seemed like an appropriately Irish thing to say...)

Dublin Part 4 coming soon!!

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