So I just finished an all-day French exam, level B1, which is lower intermediate level. To become a citizen, I have to pass this thing. I figure these are my options. Photo 1, I passed. We can all relax. Photo 2, didn’t pass, misery. Photo 3, that’s me when it sinks in that I have to do the whole thing all over again. I’ll find out which applies in a couple of months.

For anyone in the same boat, the school giving the exam is Langue Onze. The hotel is Hotel Croix Baragnon: very basic but cheap, clean, well managed and just across from the school. I can recommend both of them.

I’m in Toulouse, for the first time in maybe a decade. With lockdown, many tests were canceled and trying to get one in Paris, well, forget it. So here I am, staying in the original city center, which is now pretty upscale. In general, Toulouse seems to have gentrified since I was here.

This neighborhood is full of antique stores and, as you can see, some interesting food: French if you must, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, take your pick. Within a 10-minute walk are more independently owned shops of all kinds, some incredible parks and gorgeous apartment buildings of all ages. They have trees here, big, old trees, with grass around them. Grass, not grates: take that, Paris. They haven’t done infill projects, so the apartment buildings still have big, leafy green gardens. In short, I like it here. I want to buy the storefront below and do something with it, I don’t even know what, don’t even care.

It’s getting hot. Chances are I’ll be happy to be back home, near La Rochelle, which is much more temperate. But to help ease the tension while I await my exam results, I’ll sip my new tipple, a bottle of armagnac from the ultimate Toulousain mancave, Domaine de Lastours.

Update: Cue the swans or the ducks, whatever they were. My results arrived: 94 out of 100. I should have done so well in school. There is plenty of that armagnac left, by the way. Come on by: we’ll celebrate.

My Guide to Iguaçu

It seemed a shame to get so close to Iguaçu without actually going there, so we went. It’s fabulous, better than any photo or video. However, there are a few things we could have done to improve the experience. If I were to return, this is what I would do.

  1. I would book a room at the hotel inside the park, next to the falls. If you do that you can spend your free time enjoying the falls rather than hitting the bar a little early or, well, doing a blog post.
  2. Skip the cheesy dinner show. It’s a hoot, fine for what it is, but it’s pretty far from the good hotel.
  3. Bring comfortable walking shoes that can get soaked. The government is working to make Iguaçu about more than the falls, so they have incorporated fairly long walks into the visits. If you can handle them, they are terrific. If you can’t, you can still take a jeep right to the falls. Anyway, the walks. My flip flops were okay but some sort of real shoe that plays well with water would have been better. The photo above shows the end point of a walk that takes you along the falls. It is even wetter than it looks, but so worth it.
  4. Prepare for the raft that takes you to the bottom of the falls. This is not your stately cruise and there is no way to stay dry. Wear clothes that can get soaked; those little rain coats are almost useless. Bring a complete change of clothes and stash it in a rental locker. Strap a waterproof GoPro to some appendage and sit in the front of the raft. The crew photographer takes a picture of you, not the falls, but the ride down the river is beautiful and the falls are thrilling. You cannot control a camera that you hold, so an attached GoPro is your only real option.
  5. Try to do the raft twice. Or three times. Or more. I loved the raft.








I’m in Rio for a few days, in my role as “accompanying person. ” One of my responsibilities is to take tours, so today I went to the historic center of town.

The whole place is torn up. They are getting ready for the Olympics, which is just a few months from now. Honestly,  I don’t know how they will get everything done.  Good luck to them.

I wish I had been able to spend some time just taking pictures. As it was, every photo had to be taken on the run. Downtown is fabulous for street photography. I think this is partly due to the lack of air conditioning. People live on the street, sometimes literally but more generally just because there are many little stands on the sidewalks. People dress for comfort, more than style, so the clothes are quite individual. Folks are hot and tired, so some American with a camera is of no interest to them at all — a street photographer’s dream.

The city is chaotic and has seen better days but you never know. There may also be better days to come. If they can cobble together a city to match its spectacular setting, this will certainly be the case.