Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Big Apology et la Piscine

OK, I have to just get this off my chest. I feel so badly that I haven’t been able to keep up with my blog. I have been writing notes everyday, but I never have enough quiet time to actually type and post them. Plus, I have dialup access to the internet and after reluctantly converting to DSL at home, it is excruciating to go back to dialup. Not to mention the 3 meals I must shop for, make, clean up after (the girls are starting to do the dishes, thank God) and the 5 loads of laundry to wash and hang on the clothes line (this I love, I am a laundry person, not a dish person.) Our busy social schedule, checking in with Basic French everyday, combined with a myriad of other things, et en plus having to stay on top of the frequent invasion of les petites betes (ants, serpents and earwhigs), makes me the inconsistent but ever hopeful blogger that I have become. Time just seems to be whizzing by and each day here is filled with experiences I never want to forget, that I want to eventually record. Wish I could just download my experiences directly. We have been in France five weeks now, and my life and thoughts have turned around in circles, it’s so amazing. The girls are flourishing too. They have changed so much and I see them becoming independent and confident in ways I never could have anticipated.

I could sit all day at the pool, spacing out, dreaming, reading french home decorating magazines. It’s so different from my life in Red Hook that I find it thoroughly relaxing, not boring. And, here in St. Galmier, a beautiful walled town in the department de la Loire, about 23 minutes from us porte a porte, we’ve discovered the best piscine. It’s a funny place, with all these crazy rules that at first I found intimidating and arbitrary, but now find comforting and logical. You can only bring towels and drinking water into the pool area, you must wear a swimming suit with NO cover-up into the pool area, boys/men must wear Speedo-style mini suits and expose all (as Henry found out the first day and had to rent one the second, buy one the third.) No shoes in the pool area, you must wear the key to your locker around your wrist and oh yes, no running IN THE POOL AREA. Anyway, it’s a fabulous place and now that we have befriended the Maitre Nageur (how do you say lifeguard?) we feel right at home.

The girls are taking swimming lessons, half in English, half in French (moitmoit, je dis) and it’s great for all of us. The instructors are learning the English words for reach, stretch, arms, kick, straighten and we, their French equivalents. The technique is different and I find the girls have improved their strokes. They are actually learning butterfly and flip turns. I didn’t even realize that they actually swam strokes until I got here. It’s a bit military though, the instruction. My new friend Judith said that Fabrice, le Maitre Nageur, most studly one, actually threw her unswimming daughter into the water screaming and taking in water each time until she learned to keep her mouth closed and overcame her fear of being underwater. Now that is what I call radical. But it works and the girls have become complete water bugs.

We love Yoann, the young, career Maitre Nageur from la Haute Loire, who moved to St. Etienne to be with his copine, Delphine, a beautician who works for a salon in St. Galmier. He is so earnest and genuine and interested in learning about America. I have given him a Daniel Pinkwater book of the girls called “Dorkula” for him to practice reading English. I keep teasing him that there will be a big exam when he’s finished and he dutifully is underlining words so that I can clarify passages for him. He dreams of coming to the states and going to Auburn University, just like a top French swimmer he has read about in his swimming magazine. Is that Auburn, NY? Cold there, I imagine. Anyway, he is dedicated and I love that about him. (I have since found out that Auburn University is in Auburn, Alabama...thanks to one of my patient readers.)

I have watched the girls change from unconscious little girls to self-conscious young ladies overnight. Abbie has an arduous suitor a la piscine named Jason (not exactly a French name, je dois dire.) He is smitten and runs around the pool saying, “Abigair” and then shooting her with his hands as pistols when she looks his way. She, of course, pretends to find all this annoying and awful, and runs back to me every 4 minutes complaining that he is driving her crazy. Yet, she can’t take her eyes off of him as he does goofy dives and belly flops with great abandon off the diving board, all the while screaming, “Abigair, regarde-moi!” And Hallie too has admirers. I see the boys her age hover around her and nervously talk amongst themselves, then try to catch her attention with flips and turns and silly things. They must wonder who these 2 exotic girls are. They do stand out in a crowd. What am I going to do with them in two years when they are truly blossoming bilingual preados, je me demande?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Oui, C’est Mon Anniversaire!

Today is my birthday and I am awakened by the sound of my favorite neighbor, l’ancien Maire Bernard Jacoud who brings me each day the overflow of fresh delicacies from his garden. In the beginning of the season it is lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce. Then come les pommes de terre, les courgettes, les carottes. All of it delicious and as fresh as you can possibly imagine. The French eat what is in season. You don’t find a lot of exotic fruits and vegetables in the grocery store throughout the year, just what’s in season, and according to the book, “French Woman Don’t Get Fat,” eating fresh and local produce is one of the things that keeps those slim french bodies slim. (More on this later...)

The girls, Lisa and Henry are dying to break into song, but I must first pay my respects to my benefactor and friend. Mr. Jacoud has been my loyal champion, since the first moment I came to Larajasse. I tell him it’s my birthday and he gives me deux bises, a paternal hug and warm wishes. Later in the day, he leaves me a bouquet of fresh myrtilles he has picked nearby in the woods — the sweetest gesture, il me semble. The troops break into song and furnish me with lovely handmade cards. Henry’s says, “I love you so much.” It’s so sweet. And the girls are, as always, ebullient. I am so lucky to have them in my life.

Lisa is spoiling me today. She packs a picnic lunch of salmon on round swedish bread, bio yogurt, and nectarines and we head for the pool at St. Galmier. We are on a pool jag. Can’t get enough of it. Afterwards, we go to Botanic, one of my favorite gardening stores near St. Etienne and she buys me 2 beautiful green glazed urns for lavender, to put outside the house. I buy a double hammock on sale for the backyard. It’s awesome. I have always wanted a hammock.

Les nuits de la Pierre Bleue is an annual “festival itinérant des arts a la ferme” in a little-known region of la Loire, seemingly known for its bluestone. It is Kit, Isabelle’s talented and chaleureuse friend, owner of La Fée Carabine, a wonderful salon du thé in St. Galmier, who suggests we join her, her boyfriend Igor, and a friend for le bal a bistan. It is a curious thing and Lisa and I don’t know quite what to expect, but we are game for anything. We drive up and up and up into what seems like the outskirts of a tiny town with not much to offer and arrive at la maison de Noémi, a beautiful, old stone farmhouse, with a spectacular view of the plains below. Our entrance fee of 7 Euros per person seems reasonable for dinner and the unkown festivities which await us. It all is a bit hippyish to me, or babacool on dit en francais. Noémi’s son is a bard. The first performance is a bit of bohemian performance poetry, which I barely understand, and everyone sits around in a field on the ground (heureusement, no ticks!) and tries to appreciate how deep all this is trying to be. I gather the poetry is about a homeless guy in Paris. Lisa and I try to keep Daisy and the kids from attracting tooooooooo much attention to the only foreigners in the place.

Then dinner, ah no dinner, just les aperos, a plate of cheese or saucisson that we have to pay for en plus and which is not sensational. Henry, Abbie and Hallie have been running around playing cachecache with some french girls they’ve met and don’t care much about eating. We have been drinking local bio wine which is moyen, and chatting it up at our table, but we grown-ups are affamé. Finally, dinner, also not sensational, is available buffet style at 10:30 PM, followed by a tres bon dessert que j’ai bien aimé of unsweetened wheat biscuits and fresh cerises.

The dance began at 11 and we realized that everyone had really come for that, not for the moyen diner or the performance art. These folks love to dance and it was a traditional kind of thing with accordions and line dances that reminded me of a square dance. I was dying to dance, but it seemed very partner oriented. Our kids weren’t game, so it seemed we would be wannabes. Then, the band of 4, 2 accordions, a base? and something else, announced le bal d’Ecosse, which would be a Scottish jig thing, meaning to me, the Halliday shuffle (wish Bobbie and Mimi could see me now. I miss them soooooooooo much!), so bien sur, I wanted to dance. And thank God, Lisa did too! We had so much fun, and I personally was just getting going when the girls melted down and said they must go home and snooze. That’s the problem much to do and so little time. As it is, the kids stay up until 11 or 12, but so does the sun and then the next morning, oh, la, la, it is hard to get up at a decent hour. I am racked with guilt if I wake up at 9, no matter when I went to sleep. I hate getting a late start, but late start becomes subjective here in France, amongst all my self-employed friends.

OK, time to wrap this one up. My birthday — good, better than most, my life — awesome and changing and challenging and fascinating and stressful and interesting to ME, but not necessarily to others. I’m all about the challenge and the deep stuff that is hard to talk about here on a blog. A few weeks late, and here is my birthday story. More to come...