A Travellerspoint blog

International Thanksgiving and more!

This was a pretty darn unforgettable weekend…

overcast 3 °C

Obviously, last week was Thanksgiving in the US (I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend and was able to spend some time with family!). I have always loved Thanksgiving for precisely that reason – it’s a day where time seems to stop and you can just relax in the company of family that you don’t get to see nearly often enough. And then there’s the food, too…

Needless to say, the idea of not being in Sioux City for the Thanksgiving gathering this year made me a little sad. Nicolle felt the same way, so we invited our core class at the CLA, along with Gabrielle and Claudia, over to campus for a little soirée. In Nicolle’s building, there is this nice little kitchen with a social space and a big table (one of the incredibly few gathering places on campus – it’s a little strange). So Nicolle checked out the key for Thursday night. (After visiting three different buildings and always getting sent to another office.)

So, right after class, we rushed back to campus and got to work. I also had to do laundry, because I had had one of those panic moments that morning when you realize just how few clean clothes you have left… So I threw in a load, packed up the toaster oven (that little guy has paid for himself tenfold!) and ran over to Nicolle’s building on the other side of campus. We also needed a big knife (which neither of us had) for some heavy duty chopping, so we walked over to Gabrielle’s. Then walked back in the twilight with a huge chopping knife in my hand (She had prudently wrapped the blade in a paper towel, but it still felt a little bizarre…). Nicolle got started on her family’s stuffing recipe while I ran back for the laundry, then back to keep cooking. I made some corn seasoned with pepper and thyme and spinach-garlic mashed potatoes. And we totally had a Kammerer moment when, at the last minute, Nicolle realized that we had forgotten the gravy! So that got whipped up quickly… Between running between our buildings, up and down the four flights of stairs between Nicolle’s room and the kitchen, and to the other side of campus a couple of times to meet people at a bus stop, we were pretty hungry. Luckily, there was plenty of food.

We had asked everyone to try to bring a little something to contribute to the meal, and we ended up with a fantastic mix of absolutely delicious foods from each country represented (the US, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Chile). Along with our stuffing, corn, potatoes, cold turkey sandwiches, and raw fennel (a palate-cleansing tradition in Nicolle’s family), we had Korean chop suey, Taiwanese egg and tomato rice, Chinese vermicelli, rice dumplings, and a couple of chicken dishes. We also had a (Canadian) apple pie and tiramisu (both homemade), and some wine. And a keg.

It ended up being a four-hour gathering, and it was so fun to share such a familiar tradition with a new group (only four of us – the Americans and Canadian – had had Thanksgiving before). It might not have been like any other Thanksgiving I’ve ever enjoyed, but in its own way, I think it was perhaps the most authentic. I am so incredibly grateful for my experiences these past months, but I am far more grateful for all of the friends that I have made, who have made it all the more fun, educational, and interesting.


Then, in true Natalie fashion, I was able to get a precious few hours of sleep before I was up at 5am to catch a train! This time, the destination was Thonon-les-Bains, a beautiful little spa town on the other side of Lake Léman. (It’s really close to Geneva, as well as another little town called Evian-les-Bains, which is where Evian bottled water comes from.) I got there at about noon, after two train switches.

Train side notes: The last train I took was to Paris, almost a month and a half ago. This time, I understood every word that was announced over the intercoms. It’s much less scary that way – I remember the panicky feeling I had after every incomprehensible announcement on that first ride from Paris to Besançon. Victory! Also, a bizarre thing that I have noticed: I have now taken 9 trains in France, and been asked for my ticket only four of those times. It almost makes me wonder how many of the people sitting around me actually bought tickets! But I understand that the fine for getting caught ticketless is pretty substantial…

Anyways, I spent a of couple hours exploring the charming downtown area of Thonon, where I found the typical tons of restaurants, bakeries, and tourist shops, but also a few interesting little specialty shops, including the first real vintage thrift store I have found in France (one of my weaknesses)! The architecture throughout the neighborhood was beautiful and very French.


I also found a little church – La Basilique Saint-François-de-Sales (Basilica of Saint Francis of the Dirty…), which was very interesting! It was built in the late 19th century in the Neogothic style. I assume that it has just undergone some renovations, because the interior was absolutely spotless, and there were construction nets throughout the entire space. It was bizarre, though, because the walls were decorated with murals by a painter named Maurice Denis, and the whole thing reminded me of a cross between the Neogothic church that it was and a 1930s WPA project…


But the real reason for my trip to Thonon came later in the afternoon. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend informing me that Expanded Eye, a British couple/design team who makes some of the most incredible tattoos I have ever seen, were closing their French doors at the end of November. (http://expanded-eye.blogspot.fr/) They have a really cool business model: potential clients send in a personal statement, story, or inspiration and desired body placement. If your story is interesting/inspiring, you get an appointment. If it’s not, you don’t. Then they spend a few days working on the design together, you show up, they walk you through the design and the ideas behind it, and you get tattooed! It is very much of the school of thought that a tattoo is a piece of unique artwork executed by an artist using the skin as a canvas. It’s an interesting merging of the very personal experiences of the wearer and its visual interpretation by someone else.

So, on a whim I sort word-barfed out the background of my year in France and what it has meant to me so far, as well as some of my feelings about art/expression and sent it off. Later that same day, I got a response that they were “very intrigued by my story and would be happy to illustrate it”…
So that’s why I was in Thonon. The shop, called Needles Side, was actually owned by Xoïl (Loïc Lavenu - http://blog.tattoodo.com/2014/05/30-abstract-photoshop-tattoos-by-xoil/ ), one of the most prominent tattoo artists in the industry, and Expanded Eye guests there a few months out of the year. So I got to meet a bunch of really cool people: Loïc, his two apprentices, two other guys who were working out of the shop, and of course, Expanded Eye (Jade and Kev). The shop closed permanently on Saturday, the next day, (I was Expanded Eye’s last Thonon appointment!) so everybody was kind of in party mode.

First, they walked me through the design, which I was instantly in love with. Then we went into the back so they could figure out the exact placement. I don’t think that I will ever forget the sound of Kev’s really high-pitched London accent saying, “Alright, you’re gonna have to drop your trousers.” The tattoo was designed for a leg, but they found that it worked really well in two different places, and they spent at least ten minutes going back and forth between the two, while I stood there pantsless and other guys came in and out of the room to carry out their own business. But they just couldn’t decide. So they took me out into the front desk area, where their five colleagues could all evaluate the options together! Fortunately, they had really good input, and everyone was happy with the final decision.

After that, all that was left was to get tattooed! It was a bit doctor’s office-y; lying on an adjustable table covered in paper and all. The whole process took about four hours, with a short break halfway through to “grab a fizzy drink” (apparently it’s important to keep sugar levels up) and waddle – still pantsless (but this time with my leg wrapped in Saran wrap) – through the shop to find the bathroom. Luckily, with the way that the room was laid out and the leg that was chosen, I was able to lie on my side and see what was going on in the shop around me. (Loïc is doing this thing right now where he does any animal in seven minutes or any portrait in fifteen minutes. So I got to see a couple of those happen – crowd, stopwatch, countdown, and all – as well as a couple of other general tattoos. And there was a steady stream of people in and out who would just pop in to say hi and see what people were up to.)

It was about 7pm by the time it was finished, and the shop had shut down around us, but everyone was still there hanging out. So we just started chatting around some beers and chips, then some pizzas got ordered. After that, they started talking about going to a bar (really the bar; there is only one that stays open late in Thonon), and I figured I’d soon be heading over to the hotel across the street. But no – they had every intention of showing me the Thonon “nightlife” (seriously, there is one bar open until 1am, then another one opens from 1-6am…). So, very long story short, we just hung out and had a great time all night until my train left at five the next morning!

I don’t know if I have ever met such personable people or such impassioned artists, and I’m so happy I got the chance to spend so much time with them. They live their art and take their jobs very seriously (and are, as a result, incredible). But at the same time, they know how to have a great time while doing it.

(Unfortunately it is a bit of an awkward angle...)

Posted by NKammerer 14:13 Archived in France Tagged food church train friends dinner cooking tattoo thanksgiving thonon-les-bains expanded_eye needles_side

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Greetings! I've been following your adventures from my cozy couch in Omaha, and I'm very excited for you. Excellent ink, by the way.

by April Smith

You're such a punk! Though I must say you very eloquently expressed your feelings for getting tatted, so I guess that makes it okay. I really like the story behind your tattoo and the tattoo itself. It fits you so well and makes you all the more hip ;)

21 DAYS!!!!!!

by Vinnie

What a great piece of art work. I am JEALOUS!!!?. But in a very good way. Truly something that will always remind you of this time. Keep up the dialogue. Love reading it. And keep having such an amazing time. This old man is living vicariously. Love ya b

by Bill cw

More and more food. I expected legs about twice the size as in the photo, is that really you.

It sounds like a great Thanksgiving, you really make things work.

The tat is super cool, love it. and love you.


by Opa

Sounds like you had a wonderful Thanksgiving - I love how all you and your friends love to get together to eat and party! You tattoo is amazing!! I know you are so looking forward to Christmas with "Lucy & Ethel" - you guys are going to have a ball!!
Love you!!
Aunt Chris

by Aunt Chris

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