Aug 28, 2010

La Cow Parade

In Bordeaux, they are cows all over the city.  We spent a day trying to find them.  Apparently, this same exhibition is a) either in Paris or b) was already in Paris...

Aug 16, 2010

Almost didn't go

Had planned a pretty nice vacation in Provence and Friday it almost well apart. I was really sick, with a rapid and horrible 24 hour thing and couldn't possibly fly. So I canceled my flight reservation and lost the price of my ticket. Feeling still weak Saturday, from not eating, I had reserved myself to staying in Pessac. But A had such a tight agenda with the family and ting in Pessac would mean almost a week sans familie with A and the kids going north. So instead of staying, I did the totally irresponsible thing of buying a last minute ticket and going anyway. So I left Pessac for Marseille still feeling weak. Saturday night I arrived in Toulon a little late... Sunday, since I hadn't seen D, who so courageously helped us renovate our kitchen and not really feeling up to adventuring too far out, we ended up at the beach in Le Brusc. There we just rested on the rocks before heading to Marseille for dinner, where I stayed the night. Today I spent the day in my old town of Le Beausset. It's weird that this isn't my home anymore and I am feeling vey nostalgic. Just trying to have a relaxing, non-adventurous week without the kids. The one thorn in my side is that my GPS isn't working. It was working fine in the US, but coming back to France, where it was bought, it doesn't seem to want to work anymore.

Anyway, I am really sad that I have had to modify my grand plans because of getting sick, although I am happy to get a few nice days in the sun;)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Aug 11, 2010

Everybody Goes to Royan

Sunday afternoon, we loaded the kids in the car and headed to Royan about 1.5h-2h from Pessac.  Royan is at the mouth of the Gironde and so almost on the Atlantic Ocean.  A's mom has a small house here and lives here part-time, alternating with a much larger house that her and her brother inherited from their parents.  But the brothers live elsewhere and someone has to keep up the family home.  Anyway, we arrived in the little house in Royan on Sunday afternoon.  And where were the kids and I sleeping I wondered, I had assumed the guest bedroom.  Mais Non.  The attic.  The attic?  Are you crazy?  The stairs leading to the attic are steep and dangerous for the kids. 

MIL -- But I put a sheet on this thin twin mattress on the floor and set up a pack-n-play.  Plus laid (not put on) a set of sheets on this thin 'futon mattress' on the floor for you.

Me -- See how getting down is dangerous for my kids and dangerous for me to carry them?  And look how my head hits the ceiling and I look like the Hunchback of Notredame.

MIL -- Bof (meaning suck it)

Instantly my SIL set up the guestroom for herself and I was screwed.
To get over our disappointment we went to the beach, which we could have walked to, but we forgot Zach's stroller b/c while I was letting L using the restroom before the grand departure, they loaded everything into the car and were driving away slow enough so that we could hop on without slowing down.  Reminds me of the trains in England.

To my surprise, we are not the only ones vacationing in Royan (from the anonymity perspective) .  You can hardly go out without running into someone you know, well not someone I know, but someone that vacations here regularly.  Many of those people you run into don't live here, but are vacationing here too...

Anyway while I thought I new MIL BF quite well, here are some new things that I learned:
1) He thinks that woman are not clever enough to turn on the cable box, it's too complicated.
2) When getting up in the morning at 5am to make coffee, he likes to turn on all the lights so that anyone sleeping in the attic will also wake up.
3) After his 5am morning coffee it's back to bed, let the mother of the boys he just woke up deal with their cries, he is tired.
4) He thinks that American eat ketchup with everything, never drink coffee, hate all cheeses and can't see light shining in their eyes at 5am.
5) He loves depressing WWII music.
6) Manners are for sissies, woman and children.

Because I am working during the day it is rather hard for me to spend very much time enjoying myself.  Went the the beach twice, which is very nice.  Otherwise besides a 30 minute grocery store outing that no one wanted me to go on by myself, I haven't really explored.  Leaving for Pessac tomorrow and then Marseille Friday -- YIPPIE!!!  D, A, V, B, A, M et al here I come;)

Aug 9, 2010

Le Weekend with the Belle-Familie

The French call their 'in-laws' la belle-familie, the beautiful family.  A sister-in-law is a beautiful sister and a father-in-law is a handsome father and so forth.  My MIL insists that the kids don't call her "grandmere" (grandmother) but bonne maman (good mother).  Grandmere and Mamie are what 'old people' are called, but bonne maman, well that is what is more acceptable to the baby-boomer grandmother.  I guess for my grandma, it didn't matter, she was happy to be a grandmother and didn't feel the need to dye her hair for hide her grandmaness... But bonne maman would not be caught sporting her natural grey do, but rather a sort of brown/bronze color.  For my FIL, Grandpere is ok.  Who cares really, for men getting old is ok.

For the weekend there were many things to accomplish.  First, we had to prove to the church that we were fine upstanding Catholics, so that my youngest could be baptized in 2 weeks.  Then we had to have a big awkward meal together, so that my MIL and FIL could prove that having a meal together with their significant others is totally normal.  On a side note before we arrive, my MIL and FIL negotiate, how many meal we will have with each and if there is an odd-number, then they negotiate a meal 'ensemble' (all together).

On Friday night there was the "preparation" for the baptism.  Our preparer (not a priest) wanted to know, why did we want children, why did we want them baptized, what did baptisms signify anyway.  "Why did I want children?", wouldn't that have been a better question 4 years ago when I had none?  Answering these sort of philosophical questions in English is tough, doing it in French is impossible.  I find that the Catholics in French are sort of 'a la carte' Catholics.  They don't usually go to church on Sunday and really have no use for the strict rules of the Catholic church  -- birthcontrol, sex before marriage, cohabitation before marriage,  going to church.  The Catholic church knows this and so instead of pulling out potential faux-believers who are prone to get married and have baptism in the Church, they sort of look the other way and ask for generous donations to make up for these indiscretions.  So in order to further prove our worthiness, we were told we 'must' attend church on Sunday.  Well this seemed highly annoying since we all had to bring our babies, who would surely cause the biggest ruckus ever during the 1 hour mass. 
And so on Sunday we went to church.  My MIL was sort of annoyed at this prospect of attending church and seemed disinterested in all of the standing, kneeling, singing and praying of the mass.  However in a strange twist, she happily took communion and did the 'holy water sign of the cross' while leaving the church.  Well I suppose we all have our comforts.  Honestly, I am not a huge church goer either, but in the end, I believe, that children should be raised with some religious beliefs it seems better than the alternative (my brother and sister were never taken to church as kids and are seem rather likely to join a cult given the chance)

But before we could prove our worthiness to the priest of Pessac, Saturday night we had to engage in a rather awkward dinner.  My FIL still loves my MIL and even though he doesn't believe in a 'one-woman policy', he didn't want the divorce.  I think that 10 years later, he would take her back in a heartbeat.  In the end, he got the house, b/c it was also his art studio and so whenever the MIL is there, it is like she is queen of the castle all over again.

MIL -  'Oh A what do we do about Z's baptism should we have it outside?, what if we bring in the table from the garden and put it on the patio?' 
FIL - 'Oh what a great idea S, you are so clever'
SO of FIL - grimace look on face
SO of MIL - what about those 'Mets', I heard they are going to take the World Series this year.

But then the winds quickly change and my FIL is insulting the SO of my MIL and things take a nasty turn...  the SO of my MIL is a constant victim of his children.  Since they weren't raised right, they are constantly unemployed and needing his assistance.  Poor him.  But for a man that changes his car every 2 years, how were they able to learn the value of money?

The SO of my FIL is nice enough, but she too is a constant victim.  Although I know one of her dirty little secrets, she is quite a firecracker when no one is around (except me, since that dumb American can't possible understand a word I say) and so I feel no sympathy when her and my FIL are involved in a passionate argument.  When others are around she usually says nothing, waiting until they are alone or in the same room as me... She is sad that a man that cheater on his wife with her, doesn't want to get remarried and probably still cheats a little.   SO of FIL -- 'How come he didn't change for me?'  I guess all mistresses have this fantasy, but since her guy didn't leave his wife for her after 5 years 'together' why we she really expect him to change? 
I guess I could say that it was better when I didn't understand and it is sometimes, but sometimes those arguments are almost comical (even though heated) and I just laugh afterwards, being happy that they made such as effort to spend one more meal with us...

Thank goodness the weekend ended with a hour at the beach and I was able to read a little, '1000 Years of Annoying the French' by Stephen Clarke, I am on the chapter about American colonization, which is pretty interesting because it turns out we learn nothing in the US about French colonization except that some fur trappers went to Quebec.

Aug 7, 2010

Amour and the French Woman

Movies and books will have you believe that the French woman is a rare flower, a delicate thing that is complicated -- in "French Kiss", Kevin Kline says that, 'A French woman, says yes when she means no and no when she means yes, it's provacative'.  In Stephen Clarke's book, 'Talk to the Snail', he speaks of French woman like a rare breed -- they want lots of 'I love yous', surprises, flowers, little presents, and to essentially be swept off their feet.  What woman doesn't want that Stephen?  Apparently according to the book, British woman, who are far too feminist for their own good, they don't want you to hold the door open and they will lead a man on unlike a French woman who knows that dinner at a man's house means...
But I am not sure if British woman are just trying to be 'provacative' to quote Kevin (who I think is amazing in that film, BTW) and what Stephen likes is the more direct approach.  So which is it.  Complex or Direct.  Who knows, all woman are complicated and I think that no one will disagree there...
Stephen says that French men have to keep the romance going throughout the relationship because Frenchmen are notorious cheaters and all French woman know that.  I guess Stephen has never spoke to my au pair (S), who essentially thinks that making suggestive comments to anyone other than your SO (significant other) is cheating and a reason to break up.  When maybe Clarke doesn't know any Frenchwoman under 40?  For what I know there are plenty of men all over the world that cheat on their wives and vice versa, but the real question is, 'Is cheating more accepted in France than the US or UK?'  I don't have the data on that, but I do know that anecdotal chances where it was NOT accepted.  If you watch a film like 'Le Divorce', you would think that all men with money and power have a mistress, (well we in America know that this is true of our politicians too)  meeting their mistresses in the late afternoon.  For my own FIL, he's vice is woman but not enough flowers and jewelry in the world was able to make up for that...
Stephen also claim that all French woman know how to cook....  Again he should try meeting someone under 40;)
In the end, there is nothing new under the sun and we are all human and woman are woman.  Treat them with respect and offer a little surprise once in a while and you will see the rewards.  There are certainly woman all over the world (even in American), that while wanting to be seen as equal and be respected still do the majority of the cooking, cleaning and child rearing.  They want to be treated with respect but also seen as intelligent, sexy and provocative (not necessarily by playing mind games).  Perhaps it's time to bring charming and chivalry back...

Aug 6, 2010

An Artist's Cove

When I first came to France in 1999, my first impression was that French people lived well -- my FIL lives in a huge (by American standards) 5 bedroom, 2.5 bath house that was built in the middle ages.  It has a huge workshop and garage, a swimming pool and is perfectly lovely.  At that time going out to eat was 100F ($15) for a 3 course meal with wine, you could buy clothes really cheap and the weather was perfect -- no humidity.  So what if you didn't understand anything anyone was saying and you were paranoid that they hated you.  Small price to pay.  Well 11 years later, I realized that most French people live in matchbox size houses and since the Euro, inflation has driven the prices of things well above "cheap" -- to downright expensive.  At least the weather is still perfect ;)

This August I am staying with my MIL and FIL so they can spend some time with the kids.  I am working remotely in Pessac and am staying at the artist's cove (le maison de mon FIL).  Could be worst;)
Garage/Workshop Wall
The Gate
Back Yard

Kitchen Cabinets, don't see that at IKEA


These make me wish that I have radiators....

Aug 2, 2010

Did I Just Move to France?

The last 24 hours has been a rollercoaster ride.  I left Washington Dulles Airport about 1 hour late, which means that I spend 30-45 minutes sitting on an airplane at IAD, not flying.  L was really good.  We brought his car seat and although it was a nightmare to get on the plane, there were 7 hours of my life that were good because of that.  S, who came with us as far as Paris, really helped me alot.  Without her, I wouldn't have been able to eat or anything.  Our plane was 1 hour late AND they were not able to check me through to Bordeaux.  Which means that I had to stand in a 15 minute line with 3 people working the AF counter at CDG.  The woman was not really helpful and she didn't speak English at all.  But S took care of it and soon I had boarding passes that had my 2 year old sitting 16 rows behind me -- but I was too busy running across the airport with 2 kids under 3, a car seat, a backpack and one wheeled carry on, because the "very nice" woman, told me how my plane was boarding and that I should run.  But S left me after immigration and I didn't have enough arms.  I got patted down at security, very slowly, and Luc was too tired to walk.  What a disaster!  I was literally dragging my kids and baggage through the airport.  When I got on the plan, every single steward/stewardess told me that when I travel with kids I should bring nothing on the plan.  Cause who needs diapers, extra clothes, a blanket and a kids making sounds book, with their 16 month old and his almost 3 year old brother????  I really like carrying stuff and suffering.  What losers.

I actually got off of the plane successfully and just when I feel like all hope is lost, 2 tired refusing to walk kids, car seat, backpack, wheeled carry-on and an escalator with no hint of an elevator, A's dad shows up and whisk my kids and bags away, so I can get the checked bags.  He could have been riding a horse and not have been more impressive.

We got 2 good meals in us and the kids are finally sleeping.  I should too, but it's 10pm here and still not too dark.  Here's hoping to not waking up freaked out in the middle of the night ;0

Even though I will have A on the way back, I am not sure I want to relive the experience.  I don't think I can cross the Atlantic with the kids again.  Does that mean that I just moved to France?