May 22, 2015

Suffering (Slightly) from the Syndrome: Le Trinquelin


I'm not asking for a pity party, because if I were, I realize the world's smallest violin would, sarcastically, emerge. But people who live in Paris can sympathize when I say that I'm suffering from VFS: Vacation Fatigue Syndrome. No, it's not a real thing, but it should be. If it were an official diagnosis, it would a French epidemic.

I've written before about how May is the month of long weekends, coming right on the heels of the two-week end-of-April school break. I'm sure some people either a) sit around and relax or b) go to their country homes and relax, or c) visit relatives and relax, but since we know our time in France is limited, and we have neither nearby relatives nor a country home, we like to see and do everything we possibly can. We're saving up our relaxing in a special account for when we leave the continent.

That means that, despite having been gone for the better part of a month, we still leave Paris this past weekend to visit Belgium and Luxembourg for four days.


A few days before our Belgium/Luxembourg weekend, we are in Cognac for four days, to watch the National Gymnastics Championships and tour around the coast.


Just a few days before going to Cognac, we are in Italy for a week, including the Amalfi Coast, the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum, Rome, and the Vatican, where we write postcards just for the fun of mailing them from such a tiny country (the main post office is a van in the square).


Leading up to Italy, we are in Budapest. Which means that the last normal week we've had, with both girls in school, Anthony at work, and me not packing/unpacking/or booking reservations (some of which -- I must complain -- literally have to be done by phone and printed/faxed contract, as if we are living in prehistoric times) was in mid April.

And so, of course, this weekend is -- again a 3-day weekend. Our VFS has kicked in to the extent that Gigi, who just returned at midnight from her school trip, has refused to budge from Paris. Anthony is going to stay with her, while I take Pippa for an overnight trip to visit friends in Fontainebleau. I would love to sit around in my PJs all day, but it just happened that way.

If you are wondering how the girls fit in any school, or we fit in any work, the simple answer is that we don't fit in much. Anthony also isn't free to go on all the trips with us, for the full time, but he manages quite a lot. I am amazed to have made it to half of my dance classes this month, but that's mostly due to trains that got back just early enough on Sunday for me to make it to my Sunday night class. Going to one of the classes, I got to miss the defrosting and cleaning out of the fridge that happened because the circuit breaker tripped sometime during our long weekend away. Fun times, Anthony, fun times.

My VFS is clearly exacerbated the fact that we're not so much sit-around-and-sip-champagne kind of travelers. We really like to see a place thoroughly, experience any local thing we can, and get active whenever possible, like at this ropes course and at Océade, the largest water slide park in Belgium. We have fun, but we exhaust ourselves.


And the planning of it, which falls largely to me, since Anthony already has a full-time job and doesn't need another one, feels like creating a World War battle plan (though having just spend some time in museums for both World Wars in Belgium, I'd clearly rather have VFS than the Battle of the Bulge on my doorstep). Speaking of World Wars, one of the May holidays celebrates World War II Victory Day, the others being May Day and Ascension Day.

My American friend Kim tells of moving to France and getting offered a job. The conversation goes something like this:
   "You're hired! When can you start?"
   "Immediately! I can come in tomorrow morning."
   "Ah, no. Not tomorrow. It's a holiday."
   "OK. Then I'll come in on Friday."
   "Ah, no. You see, we're taking the bridge day on Friday, so nobody will be here."
   "Then I'll start on Monday!"
She starts on Monday, and works Tuesday, and on Wednesday says to her new coworkers, "I'll see you tomorrow!"
   "Ah, no. You see tomorrow's a holiday."
   "I'll see you on Friday?"
   "Ah, no. Friday's the bridge day..."
She was offered her job in May. To anybody living in France, that is obvious.
Meanwhile, since returning from Belgium on Sunday night, Gigi went straight off on Monday morning to a week-long trip to southern France with her school (a week-long "classe verte" field trip), and I've spend the week making a host of complicated summer vacation plans. They are complicated because Anthony does have to work sometime, we are meeting various people in various places, and -- as previously mentioned -- we are not people who like to just sit around someplace and relax (though right about now, I am finally starting to understand the appeal of that sort of vacation). For example, I'm making reservations for four different ferries, three different hotels, and three different train rides -- and that's just for one vacation around the Bastille Day weekend.
In fact, a statistic that Anthony found and now loves to quote says that "at 1573 working hour per annum in 2012, the French are the least industrious people in Europe." The absolute least. I know you're going to ask, because everybody else does, so: Yes, even lower than Italy and Greece.
My VFS -- coupled with a wanderlust so intense that even as I'm "suffering" from VFS, I'm still planning to run myself ragged this summer with as many vacations as a human being can stuff into eight weeks -- also explains why this post is late going up, instead of on my normal every-three-day schedule.

THE CHEESE: Le Trinquelin

Le Trinquelin is an orange-rind raw cows' milk cheese from Abbaye de la Pierre-Qui-Vire in the Burgundy region. As with the other cheese from this productive monastery, it's a certified organic, farmhouse cheese. It's named after the stream, the Trinquelin, that runs through the monastery's property and on the banks of which its cows and goats graze.

Like most orange-rind cheeses, it's got a sort of sweet, sweat-sock stink to it, but this one is on the milder end of the spectrum. It's got a classic, semi-soft texture between creamy and rubbery.


First of all, I find this Trinquelin out in Burgundy during the other period of severe VFS -- summer vacation. We make very, very good use of our discount family train tickets during these times. On just one day of this trip, I take the following photos, meaning I've gone from the monastery itself to cute villages, on a horseback ride, and back to Paris. Notice how much the cheese looks like the local haystack.


Much as I really have no right to complain about too much traveling, I also should not be complaining about pungent orange-rind cheeses, which can be quite delicious. But the truth of the matter is, I'm getting a bit tired of them (but not, I should say, of cheese in general); I've packed in more rubbery, stinky, orange-rind cheeses than I ordinarily would, based on my own preferences, in order to be able to write about them. This, for example, is a cheese I wouldn't have bought, if I were choosing my cheese purely for pleasure. Unlike the name of this cheese, which is practically "tranquil", our May long weekend season and summers are anything but.


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