THE most amazing thing happened this morning! There is an outdoor market a few times a week just down the street from us. There are people selling everything from clothes to jewelry, from olives to pasta, from vegetables to books. I always like to browse through the books, but knowing myself (and the French books languishing on my shelf at home) I have decided that I won't buy any books that are written in French and I don't care how pretty they are, okay? Today I was glancing at the tables full of books, hundreds of gorgeous books, and there was one lonely box labelled, "Livres en anglais." There were about eight in the box. I flipped through them and out of the eight there were THE two books that Ella needs for her English class -- Julius Caesar, and Lord of the Flies. What are the chances of that???? Are you impressed and astonished? No one around here is.
:: My fancy new watch. 5 euros isn't bad.
I am having lots of fun here in France.F-R-A-N-C-E! I can't believe it! (Well, I guess I can.) At first the internet was working, but on the second day it stopped working and so we always went to Mc Donalds to use the internet.Then, the guy who owns the place we're staying in's friend, John Do (If that sounds right) came and fixed it, but still it was freezing a lot. Soon, we realized the problem. We had been using it o our laps and whenever you moved it, EVEN THE SLIGHTEST MOVEMENT, made it freeze. So, right now I'm sitting at the table, writing THIS, being careful not to move it. We like to go to a mountain of rock with a castle on top of it. Well, the ruins of it. There, we can see narrow windows almost like slits that widen out for shooting arrows during the war a long time ago. The first time we walked to the bibliotheque (library) we saw a big memorial that said in honor of all the children and men who died in war (in French) and beneath that it had a list of names. At night when we walk by there are lights shining red, white, and blue on to it. We like a lot of the food here in France. I'm glad I do! Here they have baguettes. If you're familiar with them you'll believe me when I say: THEY'RE A LOT BETTER THAN THE ONEES THEY TRY TO MAKE IN AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE BAGUETTES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND I'M NOT EXAGGERATING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Last week I was invited to attend a Relief Society dinner at the church. A very nice woman lives in our town so she offered to pick me up at a store and give me a ride. We initially were speaking French, but it soon became apparent that her English was much better than my French so we drifted over into that language. She was telling me about herself and then about interesting things to do in the area when she came to a word that she didn't know in English. I didn't know the French word so she tried describing what she was talking about. I knew what she meant, but I couldn't think of the English word either. I blamed it on having babies and we moved on. Later I was helping her set up for the dinner and she was in the kitchen looking for some things. I asked if I could help and she said the she needed some big plates, how do you say that in English? I replied, plater. No, that is not a typo, I actually said plate-er. I quickly corrected myself, No, a platter! And then doubled over laughing. She looked at me quizzically as I thought when people ask me if I speak English I will have to say, Non, rien. Nothing. I speak nothing. Matthew tried to look at the bright side and told me that this must mean that my mind was working so hard on learning French that it is concentrating on that and soon my English will be okay again. I am not quite so hopeful, merely confused.
While I obviously am not succeeding with the actual coherency bit of speaking, I have been turning my efforts toward working on my tone. Mainly the manner in which I speak to my family. I was worried before we came about getting very frustrated with my kids, being in a confined space for three months with no respite, having to make sure they get school work done, etc. I had decided that I had to do some things differently because the lecturing, yelling, what have you, was not really working. Now, for example, let's say there is a completely fictitious 13 year old boy hypothetically teasing a 9 year old girl... in the past I might tell him all about why he shouldn't do that, how he should be acting, what he could do next, where he should go to think about it all, on and on and on. I am rolling my eyes at myself! So I have been trying to just distract him or remove him from the situation, notice the positive, or simply suggest to him something to do that is more constructive and it totally works! He knows what correct behavior is, but sometimes he is just restless. I used him as an example, but of course this applies to all of the make believe people at my house.
So although I seem to be losing my grasp on my mother tongue, I am trying to refine my mothering one at least.
Whew! It is finally warming up. It had actually gotten below freezing this week. Now before all of you frozen to the bones in the United States get all hot and bothered about me complaining about the weather, let me just remind you that we here are not prepared for such temperatures and are living without central heating, proper insulation, have to walk a mile to get to our car, and, and... think of the poor palm trees! At church someone mentioned that last year they didn't really have a winter and they much prefer having the seasons like this. Matthew and I looked at each other, knowingly nodding our heads and thinking, just our luck.
Speaking of freezing, we bought a refurbished little laptop for the kids and I to use while we are here and it freezes up at any slight bump or nothing at all. Just for this one entry it has frozen and been restarted about 12 times. Incredibly frustrating! We want to return it, but they will only do exchanges and it will take so long... We don't know quite what to do because it does work sometimes and we need it.
There are no clocks in our house. I am used to having my cell phone on me and don't even have a watch. We live in a narrow town house on a narrow street making it difficult for light to peek through, thus disabling my fine "telling time from the direction of the sun" skills. Fortunately (da, da, da, dah!), there is an Ikea nearby (2.6 km to be exact -- I have never, and will never again, live so close and I hate to be tacky, cliché, unamerican, and cheap, but I just love that place) so we hopped on over there and found some little alarm clocks for .70¢ a piece. We bought five. We also picked up a high chair because as much fun as Phin wiping cheese, snot, chocolate, what have you, on me at every meal is... it was getting a little stale. We also grabbed some little trains because our poor baby boy had arrived with no toys of any sort and was compensating by wrestling everyone to the ground. Now he calmly toodles his train along everyone's arms, legs, etc. Much nicer. And also some great little throws because we are chilly without central heating, brrrrrr.
Back to clocks. One lovely thing to counterbalance the lack of timepieces is that there are two bells in our neighborhood that regularly toll at the hour and 1/2 hour. They are a little confusing, though. A few days ago someone asked what time it was and Lucy answered, "It's fifteen." Fifteen? It can't be fifteen. "I heard the bell ring fifteen times." They are about one minute apart from each other so in the earlier hours one hears a few chimes and then later a few more, but later at noon and midnight, for example, they overlap and one really has no idea what the time is.
We also have no mirrors which is rather liberating. Until I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window. Aach! Not being a very good ambassador and all that nonsense.
One thing I am realizing is that life is life no matter where you go. It is inescapable. I still have a lot of laundry to do. And it is less convenient with the little tiny machine I have that takes two hours to wash five shirts. But at least I have one! And I still have to cook meals. And it is less convenient with no oven and no counters and a tiny refrigerator and none of my favorite pots and utensils. But we are still eating plenty of yummy food! And I still have to clean up after meals. And it is less convenient with no dishwasher and the sink is really low and my back is starting to hurt and last time I didn't have a dishwasher I had two less kids and the others were smaller and we are all here all day long and since it is cold we always want a hot breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But at least we have running water (that is sometimes warm!) and... yummy food (recurring theme). And I still have diapers to change. And I feel worse about it because even though I brought all of my cloth diapers, once I saw the washing machine situation I decided to just use disposables -- it was the diapers or the rest of our clothes. But at least the disposables aren't ridiculously expensive! And there are the other things like bathing: I imagined having all sorts of time for pampering myself more than usual, but our hot water heater has about enough water for 1 and 1/2 baths so we really have to stagger our days, there is no shower, and the whole house is just cold and drafty. But at least it is historic and cool!
I tend to idealize things and fantasize that everything will be so amazing when (summer comes, we go on that trip, the kids get bigger) and if (we just had a new car, a better washing machine, more money), but it all really has more to do one's outlook and attitude. Our interior has permanence and can be molded and refined while the exterior cannot really be controlled and one must adapt to it. Life is life wherever you are -- even in the south of France. C'est la vie!
Last week I had a headache. I tried to sleep it off, but it was still there in the morning and I decided I would go to the pharmacy to buy some Tylenol. I looked up the words that I would need and set off. One thing that is different here (in a bad way) when one doesn't speak the dominant language is that a lot of stores are set up in such a way that the items to buy are behind a counter and one has to ask (and therefore actually speak) to get the hoped for object. I stepped up to the counter and asked for what I needed, in French. The woman looked at me with a horrified expression. I was pretty sure that I knew the word, but I must have not pronounced it correctly. I then said, "En Anglais c'est..." She wouldn't let me finish, saying, "Non, non, non, non, non," and looking around desperately for help. All of her coworkers were busy. She then turned back to me. I said the word again and then saw that there was a piece of paper and pencil in front of her. She looked on with agitation as I carefully wrote the word in French with all of the requisite accent marks. Oh! Then she wrote on the paper "500 grams" and "1000 grams" which I am sure that I could have just told her orally, but we were beyond words at this point. I pointed to one, she wrote down the cost, I paid, and I left. If I thought I had a headache before...
Hier we went to Hyeres (that is just fun to say), a gorgeous town on the Cote d'Azur. It is only about 15 minutes from our house so a nice little afternoon jaunt. Phin had fallen asleep so M took a nap with him in a parking lot while the kids and I set off for destinations unknown. We stopped at an information office and picked up a map then started walking up a hill.
::We found Edith Wharton's house Castel Sainte-Claire (thou shalt not envy wonderful author who lived in villa in the south of France) and were so disappointed that it had been turned into horrid little offices. I wanted to gape and gawk at her life a little bit.
::got a little lost
::came upon some old ruins
::and a quaint little village with our favorite blue doors
Our house is pretty difficult to describe. Matthew and I both have already dreamt that we found extra rooms so that says something about the size. That happened to me in Japan all the time. It is cool and slightly spooky at the same time. It is decorated like our cabin ~~ someone's second home so not a priority. It is very old, but I can't get a clear answer on exactly how old. I do know that the upstairs hallway seems to be giving way. Here the girls will take you on a tour:
::there are three levels + an attic with a narrow, curving staircase
::this is the bedroom where Matthew, Phin and I are staying
::the pink bathroom
::the kind of smelly toilet room, but working on disinfecting it
::where we like to hang ~~ lots of eating and schooling, but absolutely no arguing
::Ella on the second floor
::Lucy on the third
There are three other bedrooms. The nicest one Matthew commandeered as his office because it had the least amount of beds and is farthest from the noise center. Charles, Lucy, and Ibby are sharing a room, and then Ella has her own.
(My interpretation of his story anyway.) It is 12:00. Mary just peeled out of the airport because a bus was bearing down on her. Surely she will return momentarily. We will wait here. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. She doesn't seem to be coming. I suppose that we will go catch the bus that will take us to the train station. Just missed a bus. I guess we will get something to eat since we missed breakfast. That sandwich looks good. I point hopefully. The guy makes fun of me and says the words are the same in English ~~ tomate et mozzarella. Tres delish. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Now we are at the train station. Just missed a train to Toulon. I guess we will get something else to eat. A fast food sign I can read : Orient. Charles gets yakitori and I get a samosa. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. The train takes almost two hours and arrives in Toulon around 5:00. Mary and I stupidly did not discuss this part of our plan and I don't have our passports or our ADDRESS. Surely she will know this and will come to Toulon train station to pick us up. We stand outside in plain sight of anyone who would like to drive by for two hours. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Nothing. I decide that maybe she thinks we will meet at the La Garde train station, but discover there is a train strike. We then take a bus and a journey that would take minutes by train takes almost an hour by bus. Expect to see Mary at the station so take a seat until it closes at 8:30. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. We have been kicked out so set out into La Garde with no real direction. We have picked up a map and see that there is a hotel. We will go there and see if there is a computer we can use to look up our address on the internet. We come to a big building that says hotel, but it is closed. Why would a hotel be closed at this hour? There are some people inside and eventually one of them comes to the door to see what we need. I ask, "Is this a hotel?" He answers, "No this is the Hotel de Ville. City Hall." (My personal favorite part of the story, totally rolling on the floor laughing, as everyone else in that office must have been doing when the guy went back inside, but actually also the worst part of the story since city hall is literally two or three blocks away from our house). So find a real hotel and trek across town about two miles to find it. Go inside and try to communicate in English. Not really getting anywhere. She doesn't want to let us use a computer unless we are staying at the hotel, but we have a place to sleep somewhere in this town. After about 30 minutes ask if the lady can speak Spanish and the answer is yes! More people speak Spanish around here than English. Explain the whole story (I arrived in France yesterday, I have five kids, we have too much luggage so my wife took the other kids and luggage in our rental car, my son and I don't know our address, if we could just look up something online we can be on our way). I offer to pay her a few euros and she goes to talk to her manager which takes another 15 minutes. Waiting. Okay. Try to get the computer going. 15 more minutes. Try to look up the rental website, but don't have the login and password, eventually just google La Garde and up our property pops with the street name, but no number. There is a picture of the house with the owner standing out front so we stare at the picture and try to memorize every point down to the minutest detail. Charles is quite sure that the potted plant from a few years ago will no longer be there, but one never knows. Look at the map. Hey we know where that is. We were just there. Trek back across town and start at the far end of the street looking at each doorway. There is the potted plant! There is the red mailbox. There is something in the door. I hope that doesn't mean that the girls never made it! We open the door and there is Mary sitting on the couch. It is 10:15. Not bad for a 90 mile pilgrimage.
Very sad story, but not nearly as harrowing as what I was imagining: getting arrested for not having passports, getting beat up and money stolen, getting injured and not knowing how to contact us, + many, many more variations on that theme.
Yesterday our doorbell rang and we knew that it must be the long-awaited friend of our landlord and, by association, our one and only friend in France. His name is Jean-Dominique, but goes by Jean-Do. He had been on vacation when we arrived, but we had expected him any time. He came in and fixed our internet connection (yea!) so that we don't have to go to McDonalds anymore (yea!) and buy three sundaes for the 7 of us (yea!) instead of spending $10 for one combo meal (yea!). Then he went with me to the post office so that I could get a money order to send to the transportation department for my delinquent tolls (yea!). What a relief.
We do have some other semi-friends. The neighbors who say bonjour then quickly look away. The lady at the boulangerie who always tries to get me to buy less baguettes until I explain that I have une grande famille. The cashier at the grocery store who absolutely positively will not allow the little carts to be taken out to the car even though I promise I will return it after it is empty because I forgot to bring my bags ~~ they have no free grocery bags here in France. Anywhere. I think that is wonderful and I am completely prepared for this with my handy envirosax. However, I am not in actuality prepared for this at all since I always leave them somewhere in which I am not.
We also have some future friends at church. Everyone was so friendly. Charles was hoping that we wouldn't be noticed and could we please not attend all three hours. He knew all was lost when he saw the size of the ward, the fact that everyone greeted us, and also when the bishop announced in Sacrament Meeting how long we were staying and that all Americans are named Smith. The YM pres. was the most excited to meet Charles and kept popeye-ing his arm while saying super (as in pair, not purr) and making the deal that he would learn English if Charles will learn French. Charles will be the only deacon. There are 6 YW including Ella and the primary is tres, tres, small.
::first glimpse of our house ~~ in this case the representation is a little better than reality....
Metaphor for my life in France thus far ~~ I push when I should pull and pull when I should push. I ask a question in what I think is French and am answered with an apology, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak English very well." (??)
We have no internet at our house for some reason. It was there before. We suspect that the internet providers are on holiday. Or on strike. So on our to do list for the day was "find internet." We left the kids at home and Matthew and I are now sitting in a very crowded McDonalds eating le sundae avec chocolat and watching people bisé-ing everyone they see. I was hoping that I could avoid American fast food for at least a little while, but desperate times...
On Thursday we did a big grocery run and ended up with an embarrassingly overcrowded chariot (fancy name for cart) and an abundance of amazing food -- cheese, sausages, chocolate, pastries, and 10 baguettes. After dinner we took a stroll around town with Charles pointing out highlights from his and Matthew's "long walk". Our walk ended with a dark and windy hike up "The Rock" which is a chapel and what is left of a medieval chateau and just happens to be 100 feet from our house (more or less). We then stayed up until midnight watching Charlie Chaplin movies (silent films are excellent in a foreign country) and playing games. Then as the New Year arrived Matthew and the kids went outside to wander the alleys and enjoy the festive spirit. There were lots of people yelling the same thing out their windows and when they came back I said, Bonne Année! Matthew asked what that meant because that was what everyone was yelling outside. I told him it meant Happy New Year. Oh, they thought people were yelling banana.
Friday we stayed in and watched stupid American comedies that gained quite a lot in the humor department by being incomprehensible. Our new plan for learning French will be to watch t.v. all day every day. In the afternoon the kids and I went to find the sea which is only about 2 km. away, but the waterfront appears to be owned by rich people. Miss GPS kept telling me to go on very narrow unpaved roads to nowhere, but eventually we found a 10 ft. wide location on which we watched the sunset with 15 other people. Then we went home and took another evening jaunt up "The Rock," with the wind threatening to blow us completely away.
We basically live on this rock -- but on the other side.
This morning I took the three youngest to the Saturday market because we had run out of baguettes! Lunch just wouldn't have been the same. We have now purchased them from four different establishments and will soon decide which ones are the best.
I am the mother of six delightful children. I teach natural childbirth and yoga classes, cook, clean, read, draw, write, travel, garden, homeschool, crochet, talk a lot, taxi around town, and am generally striving to become practically perfect in every way.