Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bergerac, a kinder, gentler place.

Today we get up and as it’s Sunday we have a leisurely breakfast, me the toast and coffee, Cindy has mixed slices of fruit and coffee….separately, and Caleigh has a bowl of sugar coated cereal with milk…..combined in a bowl, without the use of a spoon. In record time we are wheeling down the French country side. “Good job team, the beach master at Dunkirk would be proud of you.” For all my constant buffoonery at their and my expense, I couldn’t buy…ask for better traveling companions. We make the 26 kilometer drive in just under a half an hour, the day is crystal clear. Sunny but cool, and we arrive at noon. A note to any filming location scouts out there, you want a gorgeous ancient French river town location with no one to get into your shots, late January on any Sunday. One word Bergerac, France. Alright two words. We park our zippy little Citroen in a lot by the river and get out. After about five minutes we close our collective mouths and smile, nice, a little too nice. I scout the roof tops for sniper positions, none, look around for police barricades, none. guys in hazmat suits pointing at us, nope. Well lets go into this deserted ancient city. Again its Sunday in the offest of off seasons and every tiny block has a boulangerie, which if you didn’t know is where the French manufacture their currency, the baguette. We walk down narrow architecturally decedent streets, every example of French architecture is represented, well all the good examples, they fortunately didn’t have a mini Pompidou center discarded in it’s midst. The main Church steeple was cocooned in scaffolding and netting giving it a decidedly industrial artsy look to it, like a Hugh Ferris charcoal sketch, had only the weather been overcast and gray. We stopped across the street from the still life steeple and ordered a few treats from the Patisserie, I got a café éclair, Caleigh got a strawberry filled doughnut, and Cindy intelligently ordered a baguette sandwich sub thingy. Mine was so better than Caleigh’s. We continued around this empty city, Caleigh commented on how much she liked Bergerac, which was so unlike her, not about being positive but about analyzing a city’s merits and comparing it to a more hip metro city. I think she was dead on, it’s a very intimate city, but it has layers, there is the romantic aspect of the older section, with a statue of Cyrano De Bergerac, who if you must know did not come from Bergerac. Then there is the river, with all the nice bridges, and boat ride offerings, on my favorite river; the Dordogne. And there’s a commercial section I didn’t see, nice if a city can do it, and the outer environs.
The surrounding countryside did not abruptly slam into the outer defensive suburban ring, instead it cooperated and blended in with out drama, there were Gironde styled houses surrounded by their acreage, and small farmhouses scattered close to residential streets. We continued on our walking tour and came to a city square where they must hold their weekly market, great location. Across from the market square was a memorial honoring the fallen in 1870, surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was at the memorial for the battle of 1870 where I took a half dozen of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever taken of some frosted flowers. There were little things that added up to a well thought out city plan, public toilets, by which I mean available for public use not some toilet by itself in the middle of a sidewalk. I won’t make that mistake again, hey I thought they had just installed it, not that some bozo…mime had dropped it off and had to go park his Renault. Cindy had wished that more things were open so we could experience it in it’s more natural state, but I have to disagree. We were the recipients of a divine gift, we got to road test this city by our selves with out having to wait in bumper to bumper traffic of people. We will return in a couple days to Bergerac, hopefully on market day to see the spices they use to flavor this most beautiful city.

Bordeaux redux; sil vous plait...ball

When I was young, about twelve, I was visiting my grandmother and grandfather in Providence, R.I. My grandfather was at Brown University as the dean of students, and I was at Gram’s with my family. During the course of the day, my mother left Saskia my younger sister, and I alone with Gram. Well to make a long story short, I scraped my knee up pretty well, and was on the porch crying. She approached me and sequestered Saskia into the kitchen to pour some glasses of fresh lemonade she had just prepared. I remember this frail elderly matriarch sitting down next to me and holding my hand and looking into my tear stained face and sweetly ask me, “ Do you know where you find sympathy in Webster’s dictionary Henry?” Quivering I meekly answered, “ Why no Gram, where would I find it?” Still looking into my eyes she answered, “ Between syphilis and shit, now get in to the kitchen and help Saki get those lemonades.”
Well we just got back from Bordeaux and that’s how I felt the entire way back. My own fault really. Caleigh and a couple of her friends had plotted,…planned on taking the train to Bordeaux and meeting a few fifteen year old school chums enroute. Simple huh, and no I’m not out of my #$%$@ing mind. We were informed by a couple parents this was the norm. This was also reinforced by our daughter, who obviously had no stake in the outcome. Well throughout the week the plans were fine tuned, to the point where it still didn’t add up, so I volunteered to drive them, and Cindy offered as well to make a day of it. Well that was as good as this fieldtrip ever got, the best laid plans of mice and men…..more like two wet feral cats fighting in a small canvas sack. The day before we were to leave, one of the friends cold / flu hadn’t gotten any better, and for her wellbeing she would stay at home. It was at that point that Cindy and I were considering just calling it off, but insanity prevailed.
“High and inside swinging , Strike One”
Driving to the wine capital, soon to be whine capital we approach Bordeaux, splendid visually, ok so which map shows the best route into the city center…..
”Low and away swinging, Strike Two”
We finally get over the river and head 180 degrees wrong by north west. We deduce our mistake and correctly circumnavigate to get back on course about twenty minutes later. By now the other friend gets her bearings and correctly identifies the correct subterranean parking structure. Parking is rewarding and as we exit the garage, the rain stops. “Lord thank you for this sign, we shall have a bounteous journey in thy name, and by the way, we are not worthy………..
"Just inside, One ball, two strikes”
Caleigh gets a hold of their friends who arrived earlier. We have cell phones. What could go wrong?
“Back in the batters box batter!”
With our child safely in the hands of one twelve year old and three fifteen year old girls, we set off to explore the wonders of Bordeaux. We walk street by street, a little unnerved as we see the scale of this ancient metropolitan cityscape. As we near the end of this main shopping promenade we start seeing a lot of scary individuals, poster boys for pick pocketing, passport dealing, camera stealing, white slave trade recruiters, and Jacques le Ripper wanna bes, oh my.
“In the dirt swinging, Strike three .”
O.K. we got our phone, “Hi Caleigh, everything O.K.?, …No I’m just checking in …..Hey do me a favor put the Nikon in your purse and lets…ah meet….so where are you?….uh huh.. Hagen das, O.K. where?……..well what do you mean you don’t know, go out and look…………..O.K. we’re near, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes……….no of course you can finish your ----- ice cream.” click We get there and are met by her in the street without her jacket on and without her purse. Ah Fudge,.. “Cal, where’s your jacket and the Camera and your purse?……..O.K. good you left it at the table with your friends, go get them now, …no I don‘t want to discuss anything, go get the camera“………..So she returns and see that everything is fine…..even though ice cream is today’s special replacement item on the menu for good warm healthy lunch…..
”Batter hit by the pitch!…… ball three strikes, back in the batters box batter!”
So Cindy and I, along with the really valuable camera, head into a nice restaurant. I have the Risotto avec Champignons, she has the Fruits of the land, which was canard, jambon, foie gras ( thinking of you Gary) the meal was great, we paired it with a 25cl caraf of Bordeaux red. We’re finishing our meal and the cell phone rings and I meekly answer……….nothing. Crap the phones dead. Cindy asks for the phone and turns it back on correctly, Caleigh calls back…..“Cal call us in fifteen minutes, were finishing up lunch.” we pay up and depart the restaurant, realizing that had the phone really been dead we would have been somewhere with out a paddle by north west.
“Ohhh, hit by another pitch, right in the back of the neck!……..back in the batters box batter!”
We call her and learn that the other friends have just left so we set up to meet her just down the street. Well not the best laid plans, but we meet up with them and continue by going into a few different stores and head to the parking garage, which we do find. Well all loaded up, ticket paid at the Caisse we proceed to leave this wonderful city that we’ll need to return to. Ideally to make better memories at next visit. The sun is shining and we depart Bordeaux, after spending twenty minutes trying to find the ramp to the bridge.
“ Batter hit by another pitch………back in the batters box batter!…..batter!”
We get on the bridge and at one of the many rotary’s mistakenly head wrong by north east this time. We head northerly for quite a few kilometers and tour St. Emilion then finally make it back onto the correct route and then home.
“Batter is ejected from the game!”
So my mother returns from whatever task she had to accomplish leaving Saskia and I with Gram. I’m still sitting on the porch, looking dejected, alone with my empty plastic lemonade glass. “Well hey sweetie, everything O.K.?” she asks knowing I’m sad. “I scrapped my knee on the sidewalk, and it still hurts.” I whine “Hey, how about Knock, knock?” She knows I try to invent knock, knock jokes to make her laugh when she’s sad. “Yeah that would be swell, thanks.” anxious…..“Knock knock” my mother says……..Real quickly I reply..” Who’s there”….As she starts up the stairs into the house I hear. “ So boo fuckin.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Love in the time of Consumption

Well, after two days of lying in state, on the second floor of our rented farmhouse, I have emerged from my slumber and am attacking the keyboards once again. Neither sleet, cepacol, or the weight loss functions of consumption shall keep me from the appointed stories. Cindy dealt with the same mutant cold / flu double whammy with a lot more perseverance than I. I was reduced to a coma like condition, with an exaggerated nasally whiny “ leave me alone to die all alone in this bed”. In retrospect it was a miserable combo, one I wouldn’t wish on anyone, well maybe a couple people. This all started after we took Caleigh to a local Doctor, and she was diagnosed with a sinus infection. So after an exam, and the prescriptions ( 3 ) we were out about 32 euros‘. All of you that think that socialized medicine is the root of all evil, I pray never have a child with a serious sickness that forces you to sell everything in order to provide for your loved ones. Sure they play the accordion way to much in their music, but their priorities aren’t linked to health and pharmaceutical companies profit lines. I won’t mention politics or religion again, as this is blog tries to rise above the primordial issues of state and religion. Primordial or Byzantine? Caleigh is flourishing, today at school she is taking an exam for her International Scooter license, too bad the reference material is in French, as it should be, but I believe she will have someone translating for her during the test, and before the test she should have time to review with a school chum the regulations for that exam. For those of you that think what a trooper she is, in reality she doesn’t have it too bad, the school lunch program runs about 113 euros per trimester, and the food is great, the main problem is they only have an hour and a half in which to scarf it done. This weekend our little Audrey Hepburn is going to Bordeaux with 5 other friends shopping. We’ll drive Caleigh and two of her friends to Bordeaux, and the other three older girls will take the train. Then Cindy and I will window shop, as Caleigh will have our weekly allowance as shopping monies. Then horrors of horrors we’ll meet up with the group and escort the little campers home, much to their embarrassment. When I was a kid, if I had a problem with plans my folks made the solution was real easy, sit at home and play with a piece of wood and a hoop. And the hoop wasn’t a new hoop, nor painted. Well if we’re going to be in Bordeaux, I might have time to research some of their local products, or at least buy a couple bottles…..ah buy a couple samples of their specialties. Cindy and I have deduced that the best lunch deals are at local brasserie’s, and just order their special that day. We had been to cafeterias, hotel restaurants, and the occasional LeHoutearx for their famous buffalo wings. We had some pretty bad meals until we stopped at a couple brasseries, not exquisite, but a lot better than our regular fare, and reasonable. Well I’m sorry for the delays in getting posts done but I’ve been under the weather, what exactly does under the weather mean?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Viva La France or Viva la differance!

Today Cindy and I drove around the immediate area, we drove northwest towards Sainte Foy le Grande, then south and inland towards Pardallian. Our mission today was to get a weekly planner as required by the school for Caleigh. We’ve managed to shop for all 52 items and only require the planner to finish off the list. Kind of funny and maddening at the same time. We’ve translated the list and matched it with the items at four different stores, and this silly planner has bested us. We bought a daily, weekly, and monthly, but can’t find a the correct weekly type, after returning the others we’re S.O. L. or as they might say here Merde outta luck. So we’re driving through the rolling hills, it’s still winter, the trees are bare. As we drive by the trees appear to have been uprooted and shaken of all soil and stuck back in the ground upside down, just the bare roots sticking up in the air. We’ve had rain, and in a few months the those bare limbs will start to sprout green. Caleigh has still got a steep learning curve to deal with in the French school, at thirteen her spirit still pushes her onward, but the language barrier does get frustrating. In all the articles I had read previously, there was a two to three month span of frustration to look forward to. Well not look forward to, but to be ready to lend emotional support to. She to her credit was prepped prior to and still has a very mature approach to it. I see it as her knowing that she is getting small bits at a time, that hopefully as the French saying goes. “Little by little the bird builds it’s nest” is an apt saying. When you think of the complexity of a nest, then the monumental task accomplished by a small winged creature, that piece by piece, constructs this marvel of nature. I think it equals the magnificence of a spider web, incomprehensible in scope, and elegant in its simplicity. That’s what she’s doing, piece by piece putting together sounds, words, and sentence structure to adapt to her existing language base and parallel it to another alien language. Christ, I have Cindy occasionally proof read my observations, and she must be flummoxed by someone of my age murdering the English language and grammar, which is my primary language. Well, I’ve got to keep this short, as tomorrow morning I’m driving the petite students to the bus stop. Next morning: Got up late, thought I had the morning off as I’m coming down with what Cindy has been fighting all weekend. I picked up the kids and as I was driving up the last hill to Soumensac, the tour (School ) bus was heading down the hill, so I enquired where to for the next bus stop and was given basic directions, dropped off the kids at the second stop in time. Today Cindy and I drove down south to Agen, A beautiful river side city. We try to take different routes around the area, trying to see as much as possible, when taking a long drive. Today our goal was the large department store Darty. Our main objective was to see Agen, after reading about it, but it gave purpose. Let me continue with the ending,…or maybe not the ending, but another chapter in the absurd. We have been trying to get a weekly planner for Caleigh’s school, not any run of the $%&^&ing mill planner, but a magic three bean planner for school. Today we drove to Agen, and knew there was a Darty enroute to Agen, just this side of Agen, printed the store locator and everything. Well everything but find it, we are quite competent in all of our day to day tasks, chores, etc. This planner will have probably cost us, 125 dollars in gas, 8 dollars in incorrect planners, and one marriage. Actually it has become a mildly funny rallying cause for us. We have seen more of France, laughed in traffic instead of nerving out, learned more routes around our town, and gotten comfortable filling up our gas tank and we‘ve done it together, and we’re enjoying our time together, instead of worrying if we were going to be bored of each other while Caleigh was in school and we were stuck together. Which is something we hadn’t planned on, who needs a fuc$%^g planner, we have each other.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the price is right

Well today should be interesting, we have our 10:00 class / senior care providing appointment. Cindy and I answered an add placed outside the local tourist Information office. It read something like. “Lady, licensed to teach English would like to make a mutual arrangement to offer French Lessons, enquire at“. And so on. We met her with her cat Lord Nelson, who was, as cats should be, very disinterested in us. She was a mature lady, we met for an hour, and she was extremely interesting, in the nice way. It is only upon reflection, and I can’t say for sure why, that I felt a little light go off in the back of my dimly lit mind. Was this going to be a mutually beneficial set up or were we, the naive American rubes, being set up. The deal is that we will help her with grocery shopping and lend a hand with household stuff, and she would help us with French lessons. There are either so many ways to spin this, or I am essentially “a ungrateful spoilt little shit“, ( Thank you Mom for providing me with that phrase, it’s really paying off big dividends now) who has no appreciation, blah, blah, blah. It’s a sad state of affairs when the offer for / to help is regarded with such cynicism.
“My what sad times we live in when voyaging ruffians say “Ne” at will to old ladies, why, there is a pestilence upon this land when even a hard working organizer of shrubs cannot make a decent living…..” Paraphrasing “Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.”
So we’re going to drive her to the local Intermarche and help her shop, we obviously will learn a great deal about French products, or be told to quit lollygagging about and fetch the cat food for older incontinent cats, but with fish flavor not that smelly beef one. You see there’s no polite or funny way to spin this, I’m sure as you read this, someone; where it’s nice and hot, is routering my name on the back of a chair, in a waiting room called Purgatory.
I’m not going to post this until I return and write about how it went, so right now as you read this I’m Driving Mademoiselle Fleur (The French version of Driving Miss Daisy ) in a 2008 Citroen not a 1949 Packard. May God have mercy on my soul.
I’m back:
O.K. so it wasn’t that bad, she really is a dear. Cindy had a fun time conversing, learning about different French produce, products, and shopping methodology. And I, I mastered the French version of shopping carts, gliding next to a woman of advanced years with walking aids, while I steered an independently minded four wheel steering cart. I never once ran or nudged into her. Well, if I did, I pointed inconspicuously to the elder man with the nose bubbles beside us.
There was a false start, when the card reading machine wasn’t accepting her card, after about five attempts I gave Cindy a glance, she was looking at something else, bastard that I am. I’m thinking how subtle I am, and this nice elderly woman is having doubts cast on her from the slow learning one in the group. Another good thing was learning about three different places to shop. Believe me with the hit we’re taking on our U.S. dollar to Euro conversion, we need any help we can get, and isn’t that the first step to recovery.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This weeks bargin

The wonderful storybook town of Eymet, seems as though it is for sale, piecemeal. We stopped in today at an English / French run immobilier ( real estate office) to see what kind of deals were being had on the local market. We were told of a small townhouse that was reduced from 89,000euro’s to 39,000euro’s, all it needed was a new roof and an interior remodel. I can handle an interior remodel all day long, and into the night, but the place seemed too small and dark. So after I dropped Cindy back at the rented farmhouse, I drove into Eymet, walked for an hour around the town. There was a beautiful little townhouse, (74,000euro‘s, 3 bedrooms; I think if you click on the photo, it will open in another window ad enlarge) the picture of which is posted above as this post’s photo. The exterior details are mind numbingly beautiful. To replicate that level of quality and detail would be really cost prohibitive. The drawback was that its on the wrong side of Eymet, on a traffic street and surrounded by commercial blight, garages, other not so beautiful houses. Too bad really, such a nice elevation. As I walked around Eymet I noticed a lot of Agency signs, seemed as though there were two houses for sale on every street.
There was that Farmhouse I described in my last post, so I asked him about it since there was one of their signs out in front of it. He was really pleasant, helpful, but wasn’t sure what I was talking about. Turns out either a competitor or goofy adolescent, or whomever, decided to place one of their agency signs in front of the house. I recalled seeing a hand painted sign out in front of it as well, and told him. I got his card, really liked him a lot, and later drove by the farm house and wrote down the telephone number on the custom Boo Radley hand written sign. When I got back to the farm, I e-mailed him the number on the sign. So any of you reading this, get in touch with me and we can rebuild an eleven hundred year old Farm house structure, free; water damage, structural issues, mechanical equipment, play it right I’ll even let you throw in a pool. The season in Dordogne is unlike any in the world. I’d bank on it! E-mail me and I’ll write back with our banque account information, real quick like. Hello, h-e-l-l-o, any body out there? The number you have reached has temporarily been disconnected ………………………..Limited time only. You-all come back now, yahear.

this is us, this is them, kinda

After our first month in France, I wondered what differences really stood out. I think the most glaring difference was that we spend no time in front of the television. We spend time on the computer surfing the internet, however less time than at home. We only have one point of connection here, which requires us to have shifts. Cindy gets up early and checks her e-mail, the banking statements, and our other bills. While Caleigh is at school, I can log on and research stuff, and when Caleigh gets home from school, she researches ( I-chats with friends). The main reason we don’t watch T.V. obviously is that a: it’s in French, b: the programming is worse the in the states, and c: there’s nothing on, like in the states.
I do recall when we first arrived, someone told me that there is a big difference in attitudes, here in France they don’t care if an athlete has 18 other girlfriends behind his wife’s back. (No that’s not right a golf course has 18) 12 girlfriends behind his wife’s back, he’s just a man. In the U.S. they make a big deal about it, like our priorities are askew. I should have mentioned that European sponsors were also hightailing it off that endorsers putting green, pretty lickety split. I understand what he was implying that we are provincial, and puritan in our values, morals. Its an easy shot to take the intellectual highroad, the stance of how paparahtsi-ish we are as a nation, that’s easy, but try defending the worshiping of Jerry Lewis?
Minor differences are numerous, whether its correct here, or in the states, or neither.
Go into any market in France, and you’ll see: Fresh produce, like in the states, but more selections in France. In France, there is the same stuff in every food supermarket, every region has their specialties sure, but the overwhelming selection is good healthy food , fresh goat cheese, brie, fresh baguettes, meat with out hormone, additives, and organic, and a little bit of sugary cereal, potato chips, and candy. In the states you go to a market in Larchmont village or Encino ( affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods )and there will be nice selections with maybe one isle of twenty selling crap. Go to that same market chain on Western and Crenshaw or Labrea and Pico ( economically challenged neighborhoods )and there will be fifteen isles of crap to four good isles. It’s bizarre, when I lived on Windsor near Crenshaw same thing, Cindy and I were floored. I’m no sociologist, or economist, but the message is pretty odd. I understand supply and demand, basic day to day stuff, but it’s not like that here. The radio stations here take a little getting used to, in the states sure they play most of the same songs repeatedly, but push the scan or preset button and you can find another desirable station, in L.A. anyway. In France I found a likeable station, left to do some errands and came back an hour later, turned on the radio station got busy doing something then it dawned on me twenty minutes later. “ Damn, this guys been talking about something strait for twenty minutes“, it seems they have talk hours and music minutes, maddening. Well the driving here is pretty civil, and I can only compare it to L.A., where I’ve lived for the past twenty years, so that wouldn’t be fair. We don’t have wacko’s here going into schools and shooting kids, that does happen once in a while in Germany, if I recall correctly. We were led to believe that it’s hard to have a bad meal in France, we found that to be true the first two times we were in France, we went gaga over the taste sensations. Each meal seemed to outdo the last, this time not so much. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve has some fun meals, but surprisingly we’ve had some really bad. We went to what I called the French equivalent to Hometown Buffet, we didn’t know that going in, but we knew it going out. I ordered “Faux Fillet”, Faux means false, like Faux marble, it’s a painted finish that looks like marble, Fillet like Fillet-o-fish, a fillet of seafood. Faux Fillet here means sirloin cut of meat, when asked how I like it cooked I answer “medium” that’s actually a little rare, well I was told that meant a little rare, what I got still had a pulse, which was a good thing because all the muscle in my piece of raw gristle was getting a workout. The knife had the French equivalent of Playskol written on it. I ended up leaving half of it still pulsing, hidden under the Mt. Everest side of fries. And as we know fries are the same the world over, except in the states they’re called Freedom Fries.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

a small island away from home

Well, we’ve now been in France for a month, Cindy is, I must say thriving. Not that she was ever in a shell, but she is really flourishing. She’s the reason we have attained the Carte Bleu, (the French Visa / MasterCard ) there are stories of people who have lived here for a while and can’t seem to get one. I’ve not met any, but we were told that this is a difficult process. Cindy also for the first three weeks has been dealing nonstop with the perpetual billing for utilities at our house in California. “Can you hear me now?” Then the contract work for this place we’re staying at, wrangling a deal on the next place, the list is endless, and day to day living expenses.
Sadly, I must admit though I help in a limited manner, she has done the lioness’s share. We all know the percentage the lion does, but I do the fat, dumb, and happy aspect with aplomb. She had an interview with our future French Teacher. She’s 81 years old, an incredible lady, she may have even thrown a cabbage at Louis XIV. She looks like a French version of either Joan Plowright or Dame Edith. She has lived an incredible life to date, really inspiring. She lost her only child, he was almost 18 when he was in a fatal motorcycle accident, a month away from starting school to be a veterinarian.
I drive Caleigh and three of her class mates from Eymet to the school bus stop in Soumensac. (Bet you wish you could say that ) Its five mornings a week, every other week, its kind of fun, it’s the most quiet I have all week, I kid you not. I could drop a pin onto a sponge and….well I’d hear nothing, but isn’t that the point. For some reason the kids are quieter than church mice, and I’m not talking about those loud punkass suburban church mice either! We leave at 7:20 a.m. and it’s pitch black out, we drive to all three of the kids houses and then the 10 kilometers to Soumensac. There I drop them off and start back to the farm, on the way I stop at different places and take photos, depending on the route I take, then wend my way to the closest boulangerie. My thinking is I will load up on baguettes until I’m sick of them , that way when back in the states I won’t miss them as much. Because lord knows that worked really well with drinking while in college. The nice thing about picking up the kids in the mornings is the kids are there when I drive down the driveway. Promptly. Whereas in our household on the weekends, when we want to go to a neighboring town for market day, the evacuation of Dunkirk was a hundred times more organized, and took less time.
The weather is turning around, we braved the coldest winter that anyone here can remember. We aren’t complaining, as in the heart land it was 50 below. Good thing a majority of them are …insulated. Hey nothing wrong with that extra layer.
We are planning a weekend excursion to LaRoque Gageac with Caleigh and possibly one of her friends. We’ll have to get their parents o.k., we might even try to leave early-ish, drive there, have lunch, walk about, then drive back. It was the first place in France we visited three years ago. It’s actually the third most visited spot in France. But not because we visited it three years ago, I can understand your confusion though.
We are settling in, our familiarity with our new environs is steadily growing. We know all the roads that encircle our little town of Eymet. We know what to get where, who to see, when, we see a light at the end of the tunnel in regards to what our budget should be for the week. We have spent the initial large sums needed to set up a house, the staples, cleaning goods. We have a routine that now allows us to plan excursions. It’s not like we wake up and say what should we do today, we know Caleigh’s school schedule and can plan accordingly.
So the learning curve is getting easier, we no longer feel like strangers in a strange land, we know we are strangers, but the land is familiar, the people no longer alien. We’re not the timid little foreigner’s anymore, we’re not local, but now we are from around here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Heartbroken farmhouse

For me, the most frustrating thing about being in France is the restraint required to keep me from pulling the car over every day on a country road and walk up to one of the thousands of decrepit buildings, the saddest have for sale signs hung on them like a sentence. I see them looking at me, not unlike the stray kitten on the side of a path. You know the best thing in the world would be to adopt the kitten, shelter it, feed and nurture it. Give it the little love it truly deserves. With the tiny purr in its throat, as you pick it up and offer it a little affection, that its not seen ever in its life. The soft whiskers twitching nervously as you initially pet it and gain its trust. You know that feeling, losing yourself in the round clear eyes, that see’s a perfect world now that its been embraced.
Well, when I see a structure that’s seen decades of neglect, I swoon. I see the proud corner stones that were once true and plumb. The wooden beams acting as window headers for generations of family’s, who during rainy days were sheltered by this house, looking out that window at the horizon, searching for a bright spot in the clouds. That kind of light that streams through the clouds, typical of renaissance paintings. I see the roof line, swaying downward from age, like a plow horse in the fields walking slowly, eternally dutiful to his burden in life of tilling that field.
The front door to me is not unlike that kittens eyes, the ocular to its soul. The patina and rust of the hinges are as vibrant as any campaign medals on the breast of a dress uniform, not as deserved, but just as proudly worn.
I really envision these wonderful neglected buildings, and what I could do to them to not only restore their soul, but go beyond their past glory and stir up the ashes and ignite the fire that was within before. Turn the eyesore into a respected neighbor on that farm road. The potential each one has is truly limitless, keep the patina of the stonework, finely sandblast the refuse of a hundred generations of spiders waste from the beams and woodwork. Rebuild the window sashes and door frames, retile with reclaimed tiles, update the kitchen, the true heart of every house. Redo the mechanical systems, give the structure a modern day jolt of an architectural defibrillator. Then the interiors are a blank canvas, the prism of styles, colors, and furniture are limitless. The concrete sense of accomplishment is one of the things missing in the children today, everything is instantaneous gratification.
Then as you look at that little ball of fur, maturity asks you nicely to take off the rose tinted glasses. You see the responsibility required, other obligations that you currently need to give that attention to. You think of the vet bills, the kitten hood turning into cat hood. Cat hood turns into old cat hood, didn’t you just loose a cat you had for 16 years, hearts still raw thinking, yearning for his offhanded glance at you, him coming in the middle of the night, when ever he felt like it and curling up near your arm. Just close enough to pet, but he’s gone, back into the night.
So you drive by the farmhouse that needs attention, and as you glance and yearn, maybe through half closed shutters it see’s you looking at it in that way, and maybe it warms a little, like the kitten you had to put back on the ground, purring as you left.

Driving in France

Driving in France, to me anyway, is easy. There’s no wrong side of the road, like in England. There is no 200 miles an hour like Germany. There’s no rotary every 20 feet , with rabid drivers like in Italy, and there’s no truck with an oversized farm trailer in every town like Greece. Nope; I honestly enjoy driving in France, the French grow up knowing about automotive history it seems. Every where I’ve driven is pretty much civil, balanced and courteous. The only minor exception is when driving in a small town, or city, someone will park in the road on a one lane road, get out of their car and go in to a Tabac, ( small local tobacconist store) buy a pack of smokes and then race out and drive off. In the states that’s justifiable homicide, here it’s, “Hey when you need smokes, you need smokes (or whatever item it is)it’s going to happen to everyone, so we are paying it forward”. It’s actually kind of neat, it forces you to think, wow so I loose a minute, traffic could easily account for loosing that amount of time, then you relax. (Even though by definition this guy doing this is traffic delay) We looked at so many options for getting around while in France for six months, car rental, long term lease, buying an older car and selling it before we left. The new car lease was pricy, but viable. The buying an eight year old Peugeot 406 break (wagon) for four thousand dollars was my preference, but then there’s insurance, paperwork, reliability. Anyone in their right mind who after being questioned by their ball, by their spouse about “What happens if it breaks down?” and proceeds to buy a used car, deserves the four hundred “I told you so‘s” they get at the slightest sign of any trouble.
“The radio station is fuzzy, I bet a new cars radio would sound better in this subterranean garage.” Luckily Cindy or Caleigh don’t do that, that’s why we ended up Leasing a year old Citroen C4. Fun little diesel 5 speed four door. Good gas mileage, well diesel mileage, and peppy. The first thing I noticed while driving was, when you turn the steering wheel, the center of the steering wheel and horn hub don’t turn, just the steering wheel aspect. It was really disconcerting as we’re pulling out of the Nice Airport parking area, turning the steering wheel, car responding and the center hub with some controls on it not moving. I’m thinking “jeeze there’s a disconnected bolt in the steering column and I’ve got to return it and ask what the… are you guys renting me?” After a few blocks I relaxed and actually enjoyed the disconnected aspect of it.
“Hank, stop looking at the steering wheel and pay attention to those spike strips in the road, you are going the wrong way, where do you think you are England?”
Say Good night Gracie
Good night gracie.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Canary in a coal mime

I must say that learning French in France is not the easy task I thought it would be. I kept telling myself that with immersion, the learning curve would be flattened. Being lazy stands that learning curve right back up. Sure I can go into any boulangerie in France and ask for my baguette either Ancienne, normale, or seasemme. It’s painless just walk in and look at the person behind the counter, the millisecond they start to look at you just blurt out “Bon jour“, I’ve actually made it into a game, I watch the top of their eyebrows, as soon as they start to raise, eh viloa! Even when I’m not wearing my beret, striped shirt, and whiteface makeup they think I’m French. You have to blend, that’s my theory, people get me, I think that’s why a lot of the locals ask to have their photo taken with me. I could have cheaped out and bought an inexpensive Marcel Marceau beret, but what’s the point of looking silly. Nope, you have to get the Kangol series mime 104G, 45 euros, but worth it. And another thing, there is face white out, and there’s face white out. I opted for the top shelf Kabuki Deluxe brand, not that cheap Taiwanese four pack deal at LeDrag Shoppe. Don’t want to look silly, that’s all I’m saying. You know the old saying, shoes make the man, well for the traditional French shoe, when wearing a beret, striped shirt, and white face, its not white penny loafers. I get a lot of people asking me about them, but when I start to talk they all indicate that I should sign, I guess they are all hard of hearing over here. Well, that’s why I TALK REALLY LOUD,A N D S L O W, cause I’m an ambassador for the good ole USA, and I’m representing my peeps.
I figure lately you guys haven’t been getting your moneys worth, I’ve been kinda silly. So I’m going to smarten this up a bit, the are many things in France that I stare with awe.
When we visit the medieval towns, I always try to see if I can see some of those self supporting stone stairs. When your over here visiting us, hint, I’ll take you to a few, but for those who may not visit, check out this link. It shows the process of setting up and building a set of stone stairs. I can just imagine a certain Midwest talk show host at this place.
“So you use a Stone material, how long you been here Pierre?”
“We are at ze factory now 12 years” Pierre answers bewilderedly, wondering how bad his English recognition is.
“No, Pierre,…How long have you been in France?‘ The host replies.
“But, ah I am being born here, is this what you are asking? Quizzically.
“Oh Pierre, you are a funny one, So how much does each step weigh, do you start at the bottom?” The host looks at Pierre’s narrowing eyes.
“Each step weighs,…………but of course you start at the bottom,….Where your accent from.? Pierre replies switching tactics.
“Oh I’m from the farm country, Pierre, why do you start from the bottom, these expensive?”
“Why don’t you stop asking the two different questions at once, farm boy.” Pierre is not interested any more in this interview and starts thinking about his two hour lunch.
“Well there you have it, anything you could possibly want to know about stone steps, next week we show you how to build one of the gorgeous stone steps from the top down. You want to show us how that’s done Claude?” Looking at Pierre, the Stone Artisan, now walking back towards him from his work bench, raising a menacing steel mallet above his head.
“So, Philippe is that a real stone hammer, or is it made of steel? Signing off

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rain, exit; stage left even......

“The dog days of Dordogne”
An idea by Saskia Amaro (My youngest sister)

After a three hour drive Cindy and I return to Eymet for a nice local lunch, I get the Cotelletes De Agnew, Lamb, and Cindy gets a Boeuf hachett avec Frites’, a burger and fries. I chose to let the chef prepare it and not add on anything exotic, you know like uncooked egg, so lowbrow of me. We really enjoy the lunch, prior to that we had driven south from Eymet to Marmande. The drive was on and off again nice, dull tractie homes, then those mouth watering old decrepit farm houses with the stone and the tile roof, man I would love to get my hands on one of those Renovat’s, as they call them. The weather is warming up slightly, with moderate rain, and the traffic is minimal, thankfully. We arrive Marmande and drive around the old part of the city, which is nice except you have to drive through the new outer parts to get to the beautiful old medieval part. The new part was stylish 60’s, 70’s, and that’s about it.
Cindy asked. “Were there a lot of bombings here in WW 2?”
I answered. “Not to my knowledge, resistance fighting mostly.”
Then she counters with. “Well there should be now.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. This is a case where modern improvements just messed up the beautiful old village feel. After Marmande we head east to Castlemoron, and after driving through the most beautiful countryside we drive into the beautiful old town of Tonneins. We drive through and head to Castlemoron. Do you know why it’s called Castlemoron? Because we, like four hundred thousand people, have asked.
“So where is the Castle?” The idiot tourist asks
And the ever, patient local replies “Yes, we have no Castle.”
“But your town is called Castlemoron.” Wondering about the reasoning.
“There is no Castle…..Moron.”
I kid you not, we drove for two hours specifically because I wanted a picture of CASTLEMORON, well I wanted to see a castle, but the name, you know an idiot like myself could have a field day with Castlemoron. The answer is; YES, the jokes on me. Oh, and for anyone else who goes into the hardware store and asks for two cans of black spray paint, don’t waste your time. The cashier asks me” You enjoy the castle…moron, no you can’t buy spray paint“. So no tagging for me on the sign into town crossing off the word castle. That was our drive to castle-imbecile. We stop and find the local WC’s and then enjoy the local market. You have got to go to a small French town on market day, it’s like that scene in “Under the Tuscan sun”, except with Cindy instead of Dianne Lane, I guess that would make me the contractor who is walking into the walls due to my ageing eyesight. The market is unreal, local produce, Foie Gras, cooked specialties, arts and crafts. The picture posted above is of the town of Castlemoron. Beautiful town, did I mention there’s no castle? We arrive home and show Caleigh her souvenir we have bought for her to share, foie gras, so; she’s happy, and to top it all we look out the window and see bright sunlight. We are hoping the Dog days of Dordogne are behind us, and as we lower the drawbridge on another day. I need to go look up the information on Chateaux Hooterville.
(The above happened, as written, no locals or domestic animals were hurt in this story.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dashing through the snow Banque

R.I.B. (relève d’identité bancaire) ;

So we get to the Bank at 10:00 sharp for our appointment and are shown into the office where we will fill out all the paperwork. The woman’s English is minimal but she is so helpful that as we fill out the required forms and give them to her, it seems as though we might make it through. I was already for the worst, sniggling little details that no rational person could foresee, which counted me out right away. So Cindy and I are sitting there looking as though we always sit around looking at each other for ten minutes at a time with out saying anything. She was fine with it; me not so much for in the hour and a half we were there, I couldn’t put anyone down. Not that I didn’t have the opportunity. There were customers walking into the bank every now and then, and boy did some of them deserve a comment. There was this one parent that walked in with a loud looking kid. Boy did I want to say something, anything just to keep in practice. Well anyway, the lady is printing out reams of paper for us to review and stacking it in very neat piles and I am expecting her to say, “O.K. let’s get most of these filled out then we can arrange for you to come back and correct everything.” But she didn’t and everything went along seamlessly. I felt as though I had to apologize for my earlier diatribe about making the required appointment. After everything was filled out, oddly enough, they preferred my signature over that of the more responsible one in our group. she then puts all our copies in a nice blue dossier. The credit card and cheque book will be here for us in five days, and the P.I.N. will be sent to our residence. Most importantly, she gives us three copies of our own R.I.B., which will allow us to buy cell phones, cars, houses, and divorce attorneys for even mentioning cars or houses. We leave feeling like Chamberlain waving a piece of paper in the air.
Two days later, the snow hits, the temperature drops, and the snow falls again. Weeeeee! We look outside and think, wow it’s like a Walt Disney movie for our family. Well, it sort of is. Have you ever noticed how all their movies revolve around a dysfunctional family? Think about it,,,,. Cinderella; yeah that’s an easy one: step-mother, no dad, bad sisters, child labor., etc. O.K. Snow White…step-mother, seven male dwarfs in a small house, talks to animals….Sleeping Beauty. Locked in a tower, all her friends are gone after sleeping for a long time, castle grown over with vines, kissed while she sleeping by a stalker,,,,. And my favorite musical, Dead Man Walking. What do you mean it wasn’t Disney? Probably not glum enough.
So as its snowing, we decide that we need to go to the store and get more provisions. The driving isn’t bad although there are a few cars off the road. To my surprise we see a Land Rover Discovery off in the ditch, a very deep, deep ditch. One could walk across the road, step onto the driver’s window and walk flat across to the other side of the ditch. Caleigh and her friend are enjoying the drive. I’m driving really slow because if you go even a little faster than cohesion, someone else can walk across your car in a ditch. Don’t want that, now do we, in a rental car. I can’t even imagine how to describe where in the town my car is, or even try to explain that my wheels are now parallel to the road. By Sunday morning we are thinking that Caleigh’s friend may be with us another day, which is absolutely fine with us. The snow is now packed on the road and with a full night of freezing weather and ought to be real fun and slick. The interesting part of this weather is tomorrow I drive the carpool, ie; pick up three other children and make our way across this artic Dordogne landscape to the hill town of Soumensac. I’m not sure if you picked up on the hill town aspect of the drive, what goes up must slide down. Well I guess at that point the children would have been dropped off at the bus drop, and I would be on my own for the drive down Soumensac.
WEEEeeeeee! Thud. “Gee mister, nice ditch. Lets see the toll free roadside number……….dialing in the background. “Bon jour, mon voiture’ eh an ditch,…………… oui je sui Americane, ……….Oui, un ditch.………..Non, ditch…Day, ah, tee, see, eeh. ………( thinking to myself; what sounds like ditch, and why is he sounding so pissed?)…allo,……..allo………..ah Merde’”.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Do you have a permit for your minky?

So we arrive at the local bank that caters…..well I don’t know if caters is the right word,
In the states banks cater to their customers to a degree, here, well lets give it time before I judge too harshly. We arrive at the bank, there are two people in line to see the cashier, and there is one person in an adjacent office meeting with a lady behind a desk. We wait, after the two patrons in front of us have been helped, we approach the teller and mention that we would like an opportunity to open an account in their banking institution. She informs us what we actually want to do is make an appointment to open an account. O.K. point well taken, at this point the lady in the adjacent office has finished her meeting, “appointment” and comes over to help the cashier. She acknowledges that we are making an appointment for account opening. Lets see today is Tuesday, early in the morning and our next available appointment is…………..Thursday at 10:00 am. Are you $#%&&^ kidding me I scream into the confines of my own head. Sounds great, cause I know people are twelve deep outside and around the corner waiting for available teller time.
“What about tomorrow, Wednesday?”, my wife sheepishly asks.
Even me with my preschool level of world politics and French lessons knows that Thursday is the best we’ll get, and any more questions like that and they will clarify the Thursday they have scheduled is two Thursdays from now. I’m already turning around and heading for the door.
Gotta love the officious nature of banking institutions. We’ll go with our three past Bank statements, mortgage payments, account balance, contract of house letting ( residence), our extended stay visas, three different utilities receipts, some money to deposit and information for transferring money from the states to here, our passports, California drivers licenses. And you know when all is said and done we will need to reschedule due to forgetting to bring paperwork that releases us from the liability of some guy on a dirt bike hitting our mailbox back home. The main reason for doing all this, is to get $%&&@$# cell phones for each of us. This will enable us to keep in touch with each other in a foreign land, for six months. The cell phone companies won’t sign you up for a contract if you don’t have a bank account, the bank won’t give you an account if you don’t have an address, and you can’t rent an apartment if you don’t have a cell phone number or bank account. The easiest way to think of this is the old question about the guy that approaches the river crossing and comes to a small boat. He has in his possession a fox, a goose, and a bag of grain. The boat only can carry the guy and one of the three possessions at a time. And the whole exercise is to get all three to the other side with out the goose eating the grain, or the fox devouring the goose. Well in this question they don’t throw in the French language, scheduling useless appointments, or cranky east coast curmudgeons like myself. The answer is you stuff the grain down the gooses throat, and make high grade foie gras, sell it and buy some spices, a bottle of local wine, a baguette, break up the boat, barbeque the goose in spices and sit down to an excellent meal of Baguette, goose, and a local red wine. I haven’t figured what to do with the French fox yet, but give me time.
With the resounding thud of our earlier banking appointment still ringing in our ears, we head out to Bergerac to get school supplies for Caleigh. We had started to get supplies from the local Carrefort but Cindy baulked at the prospect of spending the equivalent of $9.00 for a small one subject notebook. Luckily Caleigh’s new friend had instructed us to go to Bergerac to a store named Le’clercs, something like that. So we drive the 24 kilometers to Bergerac and get to this store, wow big difference. We go to the electronics part of the store first and pick up a printer, scanner, copier. Great deal for what is sure to be a six month rental / disposable purchase. Then into the main body of the store for school supplies and a minor amount of things. We see baguettes for .30 euros each, which is $ 0.45 so we got one, and the school supplies were a quarter of the price. We go through the list of supplies and grimace at the fact that we get to buy another scientific calculator for Caleigh, knowing exactly where the other (newish; 6 month old) one is back at home. We finish the shopping and drive home,
once home we layout the supplies for Caleigh.
I decide to go for a drive and start photographing the surrounding countryside. I wind my way down roads that are new to me and make my way to Duras, the town where Caleigh is attending school. I park the car and walk the town, photographing the wonderful old architecture. There at the end of town I see a gorgeous Chateaux and start photographing the exterior, it is Chateaux Duras. I walk through the freezing town photographing anything that strikes my fancy and make my way back to the car. With heat on full blast, I make my way back home and Cindy and I eagerly await Caleigh’s arrival home. We naturally are concerned for her and the experience she’s having with the new foreign school bit. If it’s lemons we’re hoping she’ll make lemonade, it could go either way, we have faith in her but hope she’s adapting. She finally returns home and she’s beaming, turns out her classes today were English and Gym and a few others. But in Gym they do gymnastic, Cindy and I look at each other and crack up, our half lemur daughter has been taking gymnastics for a few years and is fearless. Me not so much, I’ve gotten to the point that it’s hard for me to watch, every gravity and physically defying routine makes me cringe because I always imagine the worst. The teacher got the idea pretty quick that the half lemur would be a good teaching aid so Caleigh was feeling pretty good about herself. English class was interesting, trying to guess the instructions in French for her English lesson. Anyway she’s getting a more confident stride as all these little steps are slowly building in balance. She was blessed to find a few friends, and in my opinion some really good character kids. She is making plans for a sleepover type thing for the weekend with a couple of her new gal friends, fine by me, they all seem to really thrive off each other. That’s all a parent can ask for, their child to be happy and have good influences. These years will define some of Caleigh’s character, most of that die has already been struck, these days are reinforcing and strengthening the bonds that will last a life time. I’m excited by these experiences for her and can’t wait to see how all these friends transition with her through life. France may be in deep winter and cold, but no matter where you live, its not what you know, but who you are inside that keeps you warm. Good night John boy. Night Grandpa, now get outta my bed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Educating Caleigh

We arrived real early to her school, as all the alarm clocks were set for 6:00 am, and her school starts at 8:45 am. We were up with tons of time and all showered, separately. We had breakfast and I went out and started and preheated the car. Once in, we started the drive to Duras. Not only was it pitch black, but what little we could see was fog. There weren’t many people on the road, and we sped to school. Caleigh was giddy and nervous, so we ( I ) teased her about all the new boys that she would meet. A father’s humor knows no bounds, or an insensitive father’s humor….well you get the drift. Once in the quaint town of Duras I found a suitable parking space, and then was directed to get a more suitable parking space so we moved the obligatory 20 feet closer. All being happy at this point, other than the disgruntled driver my wife had married, we waited. When there was movement in the school and adults started filing in, we joined them. The main entry to the schools goes through a steel and glass structure and into a common waiting area, a fishbowl if you will. The students file through there and out into a yard. There are steps from the fishbowl, to the yard, and a landing on either side. So we sit in the center seating area and are watched by all the eligible young boys, even those who aren’t eligible probably. Caleigh is the new girl in school and looks like a light bulb to these boy moths. I’m mildly amused. I’m also thankful that through the crowd of innocent bystanders come two of the young girls that Caleigh has befriended. They approach and all say Hi to Caleigh and the boys look discouraged as these two girls have taken the new little guppy out of the deep end and steered her out of their mini shark tank and into the reefs.
After a while Mr. B arrives and introduces himself and indicates that he has to get the typical Monday morning logjam sorted out but that he will be with us shortly, just stay here in the middle of the fishbowl. Caleigh rejoins us and a couple minutes later the morning bell sounds and all the students roll by on their allotted rounds. The young ladies size up Caleigh, and the boys check her out. I will be happy after the first few weeks when Caleigh has gotten to know her fellow students and learned that she is really a lot like them, just wanting to socialize during what free time school allows her. When Mr. B return, we go with him to the Principals office, we being Caleigh and I as Cindy has chosen the exact time to search out a powder room. We proceed in and The Principle starts with the questions and asks for Caleigh’s grades from her previous school. After hand gesturing and saying in broken French that my wife will be right back, and she has the papers he nods. He then asks me what I do back in the states, and I tell him the start of the huge concrete…Cindy walks in and she hands him her previous report cards. They go over her report cards and question her about the courses, how much French she speaks, who she knows in the school, what’s up with the note about chewing gum in school. It was just once in class, and they go on to the next observation, this was done all very politely, friendly even, as they wanted to know where she was on the scholastic food chain, unlike the moth boys earlier. They were impressed how many of her past teachers had commented on what a joy she was to have in class - a little money goes along way - just kidding. Caleigh earned all those compliments. Long story short, for now she would remain in her grade. But if the language was to much of a hurdle, they may recommend placing her one level lower to facilitate the language barrier. I was impressed. Caleigh will have her work cut out for her, but if she maintains their level of accomplishment and stays in her grade, I will be amazed. If not, I’m still amazed at her going to a foreign school. At that point Mr. B explains the days order throughout the week for Caleigh and the different classes and teachers. He then takes her to her first class after having Caleigh talk with a couple other girl students who go over any questions she may have. I hear in the background a friend of Caleigh’s who is helping Mr. B with questions for her. We are left with the “Secterarie” of the Principal, and Vice Principal, she says a few things in rapid French and I agree. Essentially that Mr. B will return shortly and help you fill out the required documents; or for a people who subsist on French fries and lard we look quite fit.
Mr. B. indeed returns and goes through a stack of papers that require filling out. He is methodical and very helpful. We follow along nodding and saying “Oui” whenever we actually understand which side of the paper he wants filled out. I know this because he shows me the blank side and shakes his head at me. ( Joking) He is a delight and guides us through the process, we feel relieved on our drive back to the farm that it wasn’t the daunting task we thought it very easily could have been. Tomorrow we will go to the local bank and open an account, that will then allow us to acquire cell phones, as the Carte Bleu credit card and the NIB is required to obtain cell phone service. I really want to get Caleigh a basic cell phone so she’s not left in Duras waiting for a lift one day. But, that should be another interesting process - getting the “Carte Bleu.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Getting ready to take the dive;

Ecole’ pour ma fille. ( School for my Daughter)

Tomorrow morning Cindy and I are going to Caleigh’s new school in Duras to sign Caleigh into her French school. Cindy had previously sent over all of the required documents: report cards, references, birth certificate, vaccinations, doctors report, rabies verification, and our marriage certificate, odometer correction statement, and lunch receipts for the last four weeks. I’m really excited for her, but also a little nervous for her. She is going to have a few people that she has already met, and the scores of others that were introduced to her thru the Facebook medium. Cindy and I should have it pretty easy as the person we’ll be consulting with has a great background speaking English and is well regarded by most students.
The school day as I understand it starts at 8:45 a.m. and then at 12:00 noon to 2:00 (14:00 Fr.) there is lunch, but there are a couple fifteen minute breaks throughout the day, and school gets out at 5:30 p.m. ( 17:30 Fr.) however on Wednesday they get out at 1:00. ( 13:00 Fr.)
Also to my limited understanding she will have French, English, Spanish and the elective of Latin in lieu of playing basketball. Then there are the math, history, and science, music, art, and sport. I probably deserve a C+ for just writing this page about her courses, I can’t even imagine her work load. But I’m behind her all the way, way behind her.
Then after tomorrow she will be met at the driveway every morning, by one of the carpool parents and taken to the bus stop. Then after school she will be dropped off at the bus stop and picked up by another of the carpool parents, next week I will then be the morning picker upper; skip a week and do it again. But I am prepared. I have been working on my best Jerry Lewis impersonations. “With the geflavin and you‘re hurtin with the finger and the eye, hey lady, HEY LADY,” “ So call in now with your pledge…..” Hank, you are such a schmuck.
There is one thing I don’t think is going to happen, and that is finding English versions of their textbooks. Believe me, I will drive a couple hundred miles if they can source any. She will have a difficult enough time with the French during the school day, but trying to do homework in French may be a couple thousand straws for that little camel’s back.
What ever doesn’t kill me will make her stronger. Oh and a special shout out to Tits McGhee for proofreading and correcting some grammar.

Regional Lessons

Getting to know the area.

All roads lead to Rome, or in this case our little town. We had one of Caleigh’s new chums spend the night, and after a croissant and baguette breakfast , we all loaded into the Citroen and sped off to drop her home. The drive there was easy, a distance Caleigh should be able to bike ride to in the future. After dropping her off and visiting with her parents for a half hour, we were ready to go. It was a real pleasure to talk with her parents. They had wonderful stories of their experiences in France and I could see becoming great friends with them. They are definitely visionaries, and share a fondness for renovating houses. Their house is incredible. I love it, it has great bones, incredible details, and unlimited potential, and most importantly is says home. The work he has already had done is great; an addition on the end works well with the existing structure. He added three dormers that added light to the interior and looked nice from the exterior.
Back into the Citroen and we head to the neighboring town of Soumensac. I was told that the town was a Templar town and that after their demise, the town’s fortified walls were torn down and used by locals for their buildings, additions, and outbuildings. We headed into the beautiful remains of the small town, gorgeous in it’s intimate scale and preserved buildings. We didn’t get out of the car, but just drove down the two short streets. I knew I would be back later to explore on foot with my camera. Off into the countryside we went, following one small road that turned into a smaller road. We passed the lake / reservoir and went out a few kilometers and then kept making lefts hoping that boxing the compass this way would end up where we started. Nice thing about farming roads is that they are always going the shortest routes from one village to another. We had a beautiful tour of the surrounding countryside in the matter of twenty minutes and ended back in our little town. One of my plans has always been to tour the surrounding roads and towns and photograph them. The small hilltop villages are my favorites. They are so compact and varied that compositionally there are so many places that create a small still life.
We arrive back at the house and prepare for the meeting that Isabelle has set up for Caleigh to meet a few kids that are going to be her school chums. We tried to make it to a local store for provisions, but were met with the cold reality of it being the two hour lunch break all France takes. Our bad. So Cindy in her culinary improvisation makes a great tuna fish sandwich with Dijon mustard and lettuce and tomatoes. Eh…Viola!
We leave to go next door to the meet and greet that has been set up by Isabelle. We have no idea what to expect. First, how thoughtful for her to arrange for us to meet some students that Caleigh will be going to school with. Secondly, we need to set up where to meet on school days for the rotating carpool duties, and even where the school bus stop is located.
What do we bring? a bottle of wine for a 3:00 pm kid intro? probably not. Beads…plague …I don’t really know. Arghhh..I guess we show up empty handed. So not like Cindy; more like me. Well, here we go. I’ll tell you how it went.
Well It’s 830 pm. We were there for two hours then raced over to the Carrefour market before it closed because we had absolutely no food. It went well. Not spectacularly, but well. We didn’t insult the French honor and that was half of our plan. We weren’t beheaded either and that was the other half. Isabelle the hostess was wonderful, a veritable ambassador. We were introduced to the three other sets of parents that were part of the carpool. Really nice people. One family runs a winery, one has a ranch with 150 cattle, and the other family grows barley. I think they may have found Cindy and I amusing. Caleigh had a little of the dear-in -the-headlights syndrome. We all spoke about the region, the school. It was a lively and interesting forum. I think it will help Caleigh fit in a little better. The children sat off at a smaller table which I thought was wise. It gave them a chance to sit together in a intimate space prior to them belting into a small car together. We really tried our limited French. Anyone there might have thought otherwise. We told them about our genuine love of all things Dordogne and how we had visited two and a half years earlier. I think that however we did, it was a growing experience for all of us as a family, I feel so fortunate because of the people we have met so far. We’re not alone in an ocean of foreign tongues and it’s nice to see a lifeguard at the deep end of the pool. And me with my &%#$@@ floaties on at the shallow end of the gene pool . “Water, water, everywhere…and not a drop to drink.”

So as I’m regarding the map this morning, I’m looking over the boundaries of the Dordogne, the town we’re in is straddling the Dordogne and Lot, with where we are in the Lot (or 24 Dordogne and 47 Lot as they are numerically known in France.)
“Hey, Cindy…..”
“Yeah hon” she is in the kitchen pouring her second cup of caffeine.
“You know we’re not in Dordogne per say.”
“I know that.” she replies adding milk and sugar to her caffeine. (Half and half hasn’t been seen in Dordogne or Lot yet)
“So yesterday afternoon as I was belaboring my love for all things Dordogne, I was pretty much insulting the entire room?” Please say no I’m thinking.
“No Hon, not at all” The jury has decided you shall live.
“I wasn’t insulted honey, and there was that one child who left to go to the bathroom, he didn’t seem insulted.” But the jury decided you shall live in Iceland, the cold part, not the occasionally thawing out part.
O.K. time to start researching all things Lot. The Dordogne River is what I am most familiar with, the area we are now guests of; The Lot, has the Garonne River and one of it’s branches, the Lot River dividing it. Well good news Dordogne and Lot are both in the Aquitaine administrative region, with the Dordogne being the most northerly. Our little town has the Dropt river running through it. The Dropt River branches off from the Garonne River and heads north into The Dordogne region, but doesn’t quite make it to the Dordogne River. The history of an area is usually decided by the main transportation hubs, in this case by rivers. From the Bay of Biscay, to Bordeaux there is the Gironde Inlet that is fed by the Dordogne and the Garonne. These are in turn fed by scores of other arteries. As one canoes down these waterways you see towns and castles dotting its shores and overlooking cliffs.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The want for a simpler life

The Illusion of a simpler life:

So one of Caleigh’s future school chums, she is over for the evening, she met her through one of the students that Isabel ( the proprietor of the house we are renting) introduced Caleigh to. They met and communicated through Facebook and they set up a meeting thru the electronic jungle drums. She is the type of young lady every parent wants their child to be friends with. She says thank you and yes please, not the insincere kind of manners, but the genuine type. We met her father when she was dropped off, what a breath of fresh air he was, he would fit right in with our dear friends back in Topanga. He is living the real life if I know what the real life is, or what i would want. He has really interesting projects that he’s started, and in most cases finished. It seems that the things that I’ve wanted to do, he’s done or started, but the point is that he started it, isn’t that the secret to living.
Then I think about what are some things that I wouldn’t mind doing, buying an ancient mas, farm house and go thru it and completely renovate it. Turn the interior into one of Piranesi’s fantasies, where you just want to stay inside on a sunny day and enjoy the ancient stonework and marvel at how the artwork makes all the proportions come together. There is a beauty in construction that’s hard to explain, it’s where mankind takes what nature gives him/her and they construct a dwelling and it incorporates proportions, area, scale and ties it all together, then you add more well thought out mechanical systems, furnishings, and art. I’ve been blessed in my life to work in almost all aspects of residential construction and design decorating. There is so much incorporated into just the shell of the structure, mainly the material used, a couple thousand thesis’s could be written on just the honesty of the material used. If a material is forced to be something it isn’t; its obvious, when you are true to the material’s qualities and the integrity of the material; its obvious. It sounds so snake oil salesman like, however; look at a leather belt, there is a nice shiny black formal leather belt and what that says, or a weathered old brown leather belt and what that says.
That’s the beauty of material, its everywhere, whether its denim, wood, leather or whatever, there are so many variables, and choosing the right one is interpretation and what you want it to say. That is what I would love to do, if I were able to take that risk of living my dream.
Cindy reminded me as I write this, that upon reflection we’re not too different, as we are over here taking a risk. We quit our jobs, rented our house out, traveled over to France, enrolled our child in a French school, and for five months will be living on no paychecks. Sure when we return we will have a debt, but we left owing nothing and saved a good amount, and used gift money. Its an adventure and all our families are part of it, we’ve used their energy and best wishes as fuel during times when it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that this trip would even happen. Heavens even writing this on a consistent basis, its fueled by family and friends, never a combo of both, like family who are friends………..just joking Gary.
Or as Oliver Hardy would always say to Stan Laurel on the offset of one of their hair brained schemes after Laurel would agree with Oliver setting that scheme into motion.
“ Thank you Stanley.”
And which would always end with their trade mark.
“Well, there’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” And Oliver Hardy would look straight into the camera lens, knowing the audience understood his plight.
“Thank you, Gary”

Friday, January 1, 2010

West to Adventure

Our drive across France.

We left the old port of Antibes at about 8:00 am, and headed west on A8. The Citroen was responsive considering that it hag 100 pounds of luggage cocooned in a weatherproof carryall sack strapped on the roof, and another 200 pounds of crammed luggage stuffed into it. Cindy as copilot and Caleigh behind her in the rear seat. The driving weather could not have been better slightly overcast with occasional sunlight, and not much wind.
The French landscape was sleeping in its grey blanket as we rushed in the direction of Dordogne. The annually vibrant fields lay dormant saving energy for next’s years crop, orchard, vines, flowers, lavender or whatever the case may have been. As annual as the crops may have been, the ever present ageless architecture was everywhere in it’s own bloom. The tile roofed structures were as usual gorgeous, old châteaux’s, villas, and farm houses with their varying architecturally styled pidgeoneirs off in the fields. There is an old world charm about driving by country sides where off in any direction the would be a small hill capped with a stone handmade town, they were all different in elements, but to me have the same sense of wonderment. I can’t help but fantasizing about what it must have been like to live in those towns during their heyday, what those streets must have been like. Now I understand all the cons such as disease, filth and lifespan, but imagine walking down a medieval town street, on a new cobblestone street, with freshly built cathedrals with their new stained glass and gilded ornamental details. There are such places that have been restored and are listed as Beau Plus Villages De France ( something like that title) but there are other villages that have McDonalds in the environs.
We continue westward and made great time, we thought that we might have to camp over at some little hotel on the way. But that thought vanished after four hours of driving, and we had gone more than half way. We drove through to the Dordogne, mainly because we wanted for Caleigh to have a chance to visit with some fellow classmates before just throwing her into the mix. She had communicated with five or so kids in her future French school, as luckily Isabel ( the proprietor of the house we were renting ) had put her in touch with a couple kids she knew. As we neared our soon to be town it started to rain, we thought of this as a good sign as it didn’t rain during our drive.

Getting ready for Dordogne:

We are going to be in the Aquitaine region of France, in the Dordogne specifically, in a nice little village just east of Bordeaux. We have part of a house rented on a working farm. The farm has two rental places. Essentially, there is the farm house with attached agriculture structure; then there is the rental building which consists of two rental spaces, each with their own entry and parking. The family that rents the places have been wonderful. You can’t even imagine how helpful they have been. As a for instance, they put Caleigh in touch with a half dozen kids her age that will be going to school with her. The kids have been facebooking for the last month and really getting to know each other and she is now up to date on which boys want to ask her out on a date…all of them, the little dears. They tell her the things she’ll need for school - who likes who, who doesn’t like who, he said, she said, EIEIO. You know the important things. Also the little things, who likes who,……what the kids in rural France are wearing this crop year, who likes who, what to do during the two hour lunch break, and most importantly who likes who. I’ve already got a kid on my radar from what I’ve pieced together about his record while dating one girl before moving on to another unfortunate mademoiselle. The area is quite spectacular from all I’ve researched and read about. I’ll update you on how this lab work pays off in the field.
Earlier I went to the parking lot and did a test run of attaching a weatherproof canvas carryall onto the roof of the Citroen. It worked pretty well, but we’ll see about the spider web of straps that will be stretched across the inside of our car roof, and how it handles at speed. The only thing missing from the roof, will be granny on her rocking chair with her shotgun on her lap.

“The Topanga Hillbillies”
Come and listen to the story of a man named Hank
Used some home savings from his tiny little bank,
His friends all said “Don’t move away from here”
But they flew to France, where they talk mighty queer
French that is, foie gras and escargots,

Well ze first thing you are knowing,
Hank is a getting ah mighty fat,
He ate everything, except the neighbors feral cat.
Then they said, “Hey we’ll cook that up to“,
Make some bouillinaisebaise, and add it to the stew.?”
Vichesuoir that is, black truffles, berets.
The Topanga hillbillies………..

Anyway, you get the idea. Caleigh has been all and all a pretty incredible sport about the whole thing, that lie about , I mean, the possibility about her getting a scooter helped.
There are things that sound odd about her school, but I’m not one to judge…yeah right.
She has to choose to either play basketball or take Latin. That’s right, one or the other. Other than the root names of sexually transmitted diseases, all I know in Latin was on a bumper sticker that read: “Illigitimea non carborundum, which if I’m not mistaken means “don’t let the bastards wear you down.” or “Bastards don’t wear down.”
Bright and early the next morning, I meander over to the Harbor parking lot, the caisse machine works well, and I retrieve the Citroen and tie up the roof mounted carry all bag, and proceed to our rental house. Once there I park with my flashers on and start loading our bags. There is one large piece of luggage for me; 50 lbs, there is one large piece of luggage for Cindy; 50 lbs , there is one large piece of luggage for Caleigh; 50 lbs; there is one large piece of luggage for shoes; 50 lbs. I kid you not. I know men’s shoes are heavy - my stake in this particular endeavor, the pair of black sneakers I am wearing, the nice pair of dress shoes ( and me without a dress) the other pair of brown sneakers ( it is after labor day so the white sneakers stay home),but I think that’s it. In fact, I remember leaving the pumps and espadrilles at home.
So if my math is right the ladies have 23 lbs of shoes, EACH.
“Quit your bitching Gunga Din and get the luggage loaded.” Cindy says in an impatient tone. I’m not sure but as I was getting into the back of the car I heard Caleigh whispering to Cindy bits and pieces of what sounded like.
” We could have hired a Sherpa, and left slack-jawed dad at home,” and “I told you so.”
Then, there is the carry on full of books, that I load individually behind the drivers seat, and fold down that seat as Caleigh will be sitting right behind Cindy who is in the passenger seat. So where were we, 2 large pieces of luggage on the roof with grandma, two large pieces in the way back combo folded down seat, and the remaining four smaller bags wedged in, and I still can see out the back window. As I am standing back admiring my sardine / luggage packing abilities, I note to myself the humor of it all, as the car is decidedly tilting to the rear; an uphill drive the whole way.
So, the three of us strap in and we take off on our seven and a half hour drive, stopping once for diesel / powder room break; then once for lunch, and finally once for another powder room break. As we leave Antibes we manage to get going in the right direction on the right road, and yes, Caleigh is in the back seat. We all start discussing what we liked about Antibes and what we’re looking forward to in the Dordogne - her new school and the kids she’s already facebooked with, who likes who, how it will be fun to have the small party with five of her new school chums that Isabelle (proprietor) has nicely set up. Other than that, the remaining seven hours and twenty five minutes go by quickly.