Archive for the ‘…en Voyage’ Category

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Yellow tufted sunshine…

April 13, 2010

Colza fields below the cathedral of Viviers.

 

The fields are glowing with the yellow tufted colza plant.  Colza, a weed known as canola in the states, is cultivated for the oil.  In Provence in spring, fields of it spread out for miles.  For me, the expanse of vibrant yellow is as striking as the fields of lavender and sunflowers that are synonymous with this region.

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Stand-by…

March 3, 2010

It seems we’ll be staying in the states a week longer than planned.  As a former flight attendant, I have the privilege of flying for free for a certain number of years.  A benefit I feel blessed to have as flying internationally with my ever-expanding family would be beyond our means.  However, we fly stand by and if any of you have ever flown stand by you know what the entails.  It just so happens that the flight on the day I planned to fly back is full.  In fact, the flights to Paris for the entire week are full. 

The continuation of flying privileges was offered to employees after September 11th to entice them to quit.  In this way the company could cut costs.  This buy out, as it was called, was proposed just after I married Raphael and shortly before I became pregnant with Olivia.  I couldn’t imagine a better deal coming my way at a time when I was in that euphoric state of new love and wondering how I would handle leaving for days each week.  And it’s been great.  Not only do I fly for free but Raphael and the girls do as well. 

In the early days it wasn’t difficult to get on flights.  Alone, I looked at it as an adventure of sorts and I was willing to fly to any city in Europe and worry about getting to the south of France upon arrival.  With each child it’s gotten progressively more difficult.  Our standard route is to take the train from Valence in the early morning to Charles de Gaulle, catch the plane to the states later that morning arriving in Pittsburgh in the evening.  In recent years Paris has become the most difficult European city to fly into.  These days there are almost never any seats on the plane.  

We’ve taken to creative traveling.  Our trip over spanned two days and took us on a three train ride to Germany, with a change in Paris.  After a short night in a hotel in Frankfurt, we caught the plane the following afternoon to the states.  This was actually one of the easier trips and still less expensive, if more tiring, than buying full fare tickets.  Last fall we drove half the night to Frankfurt, left the car for a week in a parking lot, and upon arriving in Philly, discovered there were no seats left on the flights to Pittsburgh so we were obligated to fly to NYC and catch a 10PM flight to Pittsburgh.  All this traveling with carting three cranky kids and one cranky pregnant lady.  Poor Raphael.  I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

I am returning to France next week sans Raphael who flew back 10 days ago.  The worst part of the trip back is the arrival.  In Paris I still need to get the train to the south but that is easy.   If I fly to another city it is a longer train ride, usually with one or more changes, or a flight to Lyon followed by a two hour car ride.  I just don’t feel up to it so I’m waiting another week when the flights to Paris look more appealing.  Olivia is missing school.  All of them are, but her class is the most important.  And I am missing Raphael and France.  Spring is arriving there and well, here, there’s still snow.

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Cultural differences…

February 25, 2010

Each time I visit the states I discover more ways in which I’ve been Francophiled.  This time it was a trip to my favorite haunt, Wal-Mart (Sadly, it’s become a bit of an addiction.)  On this visit, as usual, I noticed the largeness of everything.  Yes, it’s been documented that Americans are slightly fuller than the French (And if I continue to escape my household for the States each time the girls have a school vacation, I will begin to look more American and less French.  Okay, so I don’t really have the French women’s physique, I look more like those half-naked women artists loved to paint lounging around in gardens, you know, the kind with plump cheeks (butt) and thick legs.).  And being 6 months pregnant doesn’t help.

I made a detour to the McDonald’s conveniently placed at the exit for my Coke.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon, a non eating hour for the French as it was after lunch and before the gouter, afternoon snack. I got in line behind three people all ordering large meals and the fact that I noticed this and thought to myself that it’s not time to eat already makes me more French.  Then it was my turn.  I asked the guy for a large Coke and he pulled out what had to be a two liter sized cup.  My eyes bulged and I asked if it was too late to downsize.  “No problem,” he said with a laugh then pulled out the medium, the large size in France.

My male French friends have remarked on the size of American cars.  This is definitely a plus for me, not the car size but the fact that large cars equal large parking spaces.  In France, there are certain parking spaces in which I find it impossible to park – and I have an average sized car.  My town renovated the main parking lot a year and a half ago.  The first thing everyone noticed when it finally reopened was that in certain portions of the lot, if there is another car parked in the facing space, it’s impossible to pull directly out.  A three-point back up is needed to get out.  Chalk that one up to poor design.  They also decided an overhead rail was needed above the entrance which they made so low most buses can’t enter.  I don’t think it was their intention to discourage tourism.  The tourist office is located at the far end of the parking lot. 

Parking in France really becomes and issue when you have children.  I’ve found myself in a spot, the car perfectly centered between the two lines and the cars on either side equally well parked and yet it is impossible to open the car door wide enough to get Angeline out of her car seat.  I have to unhook her belt from the front seat then stand at the edge of her cracked car door, reach in and hoist her out (And she one heavy hoist!) shimmying her through the thin space and over the top of the car door.  My other two, being skinny French girls, can climb out on their own and squeeze through the small opening.  In another month, it’s going to be interesting for me to squeeze my pregnant belly out.  I’m going to have to consider this before I park. 

Raphael’s favorite store in the states is the super sized grocery store.  It’s the only place he can find decently strong and stinky cheese.  But his forays into American grocery shopping often leave him confused.  First of all the apples.  They must be waxed and buffed because even though they are the same kind that we have in France, they are twice as shiny.  And he wonders, since they are the most treated fruit in France, how much insecticide is on our over treated American apples.  Then there are the potatoes.  Why are they not marked ‘good for baking’, ‘good for french fries’, ‘good for mashing’ as they are in France?  How do you know which bag to buy, he asked me?  How should I know?  My mom always bought the big brown ones in the 10 pound bag.

In France, no grocery store worker will voluntarily ask if you need help.  Raphael, wandering around the produce department in my hometown store, where he probably spent 45 minutes of the two hours he was in the store, was amazed that two people actually asked if he needed help.  The problem, when he replied yes and asked each one what he deemed a simple question (I believe it was the potato question), no one knew the answer.  In France, all the workers know the answers, they just don’t want you to ask.  (Can you imagine going into your local grocery store and asking the produce worker what potatoes are best to mash, or as Raphael probably said ‘puree’, what potatoes are best for french fries and so on?  And with Raphael’s accent!  He might as well have just asked in French.

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Keeping busy in the states

February 24, 2010

Our trip to the states is winding to an end along with the snow that dumped on the region when we arrived. 

 These visits seem to follow the same pattern each trip – minus the holiday visits which have their own obligations.  On weekends I scramble to visit everyone, both friends and family who are working during the week.  Monday through Friday, however, I struggle to find things to occupy the girls who after two or three days of freedom and ‘new’ toys, are bored and bouncing off the walls.

Vacationing in the states, for me, is in fact not so much a vacation.  I come to the states with a handful of good intentions, like New Year’s resolutions.  With none of the obligations that take up my time in France like school and activity taxiing, homework, meal cooking, and the endless cleaning that comes with a family of five and a bed and breakfast, I am under the illusion that for these few weeks, I will have time to relax.  In fact, without the regular routine of school, I have constant kid duty.  Those things I do almost daily in France that are organized into my ‘free’ time (school hours) like writing, blogging, exercising, and reading the bible, are almost impossible to squeeze into my days.  Not because I’m so busy.  Quite the opposite, as with the girls, during the weekdays I’m bored. 

I find myself in an unaccustomed situation which is familiar to most American stay at home mom’s – my children at home all day, every day.  I discover that when I try to exercise with three kids under 7 years old in the house, children who’ve been all but ignoring me most of the morning while I do dishes or laundry suddenly begin fighting or  ‘need’ things.  The same thing happens when I try to read or write.  As soon as I occupy myself in what appears to them to be an entertaining activity ‘things’ happen;  boo-boo’s, arguments, minor accidents like spills or broken toys.  My purse and make-up bag become community property, bathroom sinks become swimming pools for stuffed animals, Barbies, and grandma’s toothbrush.  I’ve spent many and afternoon fishing a Polly Pocket hat or shoe from the drain. 

I wonder how I would handle motherhood in the states with only one child in school full-time.  I am learing motherhood with a French attitude.  I remember the summer before Olivia was due to start school.  I worried that she was too young, just a baby at under three, to begin school.  Although that is the standard school age in France.  I was pregnant with Auriane at the time and she was due late September just a few short weeks after Olivia started her first year.  Would Olivia think I traded her in for a new baby?  Well, her rentree went incredibly well and it gave me time to adjust to a second child.  I adjusted so well that the next two began shortly after their 2nd birthdays. 

What do American mom’s do with their children all day until they are five years old?  In an effort to cut down on TV and movie watching while in the states (And they do much more here than in France.), I search for games and activities that diffuse their energy.  Thanks to the snow, they’ve spent time most days outside.  We read books and play games.  They’ve never been cleaner thanks to ridiculously long baths full of toys.  They color, play dress-up (In fact, they’re rarely dressed in street clothes so why do I pack so much?)  We’ve gone to museums and indoor play areas.  I’m exhausted.  But if I don’t keep them busy, they jump on the couch and run around in circles, literally.  And they fight.  Is this what all full-time mom’s go through?

My visits to the states are a nice break from the trials of life in France and I need these times to visit my family and friends, but by the time I return to France, I look forward to getting back to my routine of school runs, activities and cleaning.

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In the snow

February 17, 2010

   

Backyard under snow

 

Icicles

 

After a week of uncertainty, we’ve successfully left France and arrived on the east coast  of the states.  So what happens to a guy from Provence when you drop him down between two blizzards with scattered snow showers in between?  (By scattered I mean snowing off and on each day.)   

First, you get the car stuck at the bottom of the two long hills that lead to your mother’s house, at dusk, requiring him to walk up those hills in heavy snow lugging multiple suitcases and bags.   

Then early, before 7 am early, the next morning you ask him to shovel out the driveway so mom can get the car out for work.  Oh yeah, and you ask him to do it again the following day and the day after.   

Shoveling snow

 

He’s loving it.  This afternoon as we left the grocery store, Raphael exclaimed that he felt like he was in the Alps, minus the majestic snow topped mountain peaks.    

The kids are loving it too.  Sled riding and snow man making fill the afternoons.  Olivia’s making and icicle collection.  Angeline’s slightly less enthusiastic.  Her first venture to the backyard ended with her getting stuck in waist deep snow unable to get up.  Olivia tried to help but Angeline being Angeline, just got angry at the snow and that was that for her.   

The best part about the change of scene for me is that it’ll be brief.  Unlike my friends and family who’ve been enduring the snow since January, I will happily return to Provence in a few weeks where spring will likely be arriving with the first blossoms on the fruit trees coming  in early March.  

Olivia and her snow man.