Archive for June, 2008

nearly two years in the Rhone Alpes….

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

I am (re)reading “A Year in Provence” for my book club. When I first read it 15 some years ago, I found it interesting but not riveting. The only thing I remembered from that reading was the Mistral and how absolutely horrible it sounded. (The Mistral is the bitter winter wind that whips down through Provence all winter… battering everything in sight.)

I had no idea that years later, I’d end up living just outside Provence.

But, here I am.

Now, reading the book again, I have quite a different perspective.

The book doesn’t really mention the language challenges one faces living here, especially in a small town. And the cultural differences are the very things the author and his wife embrace, rather than struggle against. They don’t have a small child going to school. They aren’t working. They’ll eat just about anything… even smelly cheese.

Still, I find myself reading the book and thinking “gee, that sure sounds nice… what a pleasant lifestyle… eating big lunches cooked by little old ladies in restaurants as old as the hills… chatting with odd ball neighbors… swimming… going to markets… bicycling up the old hills… “

Then I remind myself of one thing. I do live in France. And my France seems to be a rather different France than his. Why does his sound so much more appealing?

Seeing spots

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Kaitlyn woke up this morning, all excited about going to a friend’s birthday party. The friend she makes “suffer with English.” But she didn’t have the chance. While she was in the bathtub soaking off the distinct odor of a dirty 5 year old, I started seeing spots. On Kaitlyn.

My first call was to the birthday girl’s parents to let them know we wouldn’t be there. My next call was to our doctor. Naturally, she wasn’t in today. So I called the doctor in town we’ve used. I think the woman who answered the phone said she wasn’t in today. So I called another doctor we’ve never seen before… he was in. I thought I made an appointment. He didn’t ask my name. Good enough. If I’m in the office looking sad, I’m half-way there.

I dragged Kaitlyn out (she was watching Winnie the Pooh.. apparently it was a particularly dramatic episode and she hated missing the big ending) and we found the doctor’s office. Doctor offices here are generally tucked into apartment buildings and they are not easy to spot. I went in two doors before I found the lobby with the doctor’s name among the list of residents. Faster than I expected at least.

He came into the waiting room to get us and seemed not at all surprised by having a new patient whose name he didn’t even know. I introduced myself and started to explain what was going on in French. It didn’t take too long before he started talking to me in English. Well, half French, half English. Which was the perfect compliment to my half English half French. He used one of those things you use to look in an ear to stare at each little spot on her arms, legs, belly and back. I was right. Chicken pox.

At the pharmacy to load up on creams, special soaps and medicine, Kaitlyn burst into tears about missing the party. She told me it was not a case of the chicken pox, but that it was the handy work of a swarm of mosquitoes. Clever, but I don’t think so.

The doctor said she can’t go back to school for 8 days. In 8 days, school is over. So she gets an early vacation. She’ll miss the “fete de l’ecole” Saturday… which is the big end-of-the-year party where all the kids dance then we eat bad food then the kids play frustrating carnival games. Putting it that way, I have no idea why I was looking forward to that in the first place!

She’ll also miss a sleep over she was supposed to have Saturday night. Which is annoying… since now I’m scrambling to find a babysitter! Why does mine have to be in New York having a (hopefully) good vacation!

The doctor said she’ll be even more spotted tomorrow. We’ll see how she looks. And we’ll see if I can find a sitter. One who’s already had the chicken pox.

how cold is too cold?

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The pool guys didn’t have as much to do this year when they opened the pool. Normally, they have to fill it about half-way, because they drain that much out for winter. Today when they took the cover off, the water was to the top. I asked if it was rain water. Yup.

I stuck my hand in and it is cold. Like ice water. Only chillier.

When Kaitlyn got home from school, she dashed to the backyard to test the water for herself. Cold? Maybe… but not too cold! She then ran to her room and changed into her bathing suit. I added her floating swim suit thing and wished her luck. She put her foot in the water. And stopped. Too cold? Oh, no. No way. Not too cold. It took her a long time to get on the ladder with the water all the way up to her knees. And she stood there for a few minutes, while the bottom half of her legs numbed completely. Finally, she leaped into the water with a squeal, splashed in a circle and climbed back out. “That water is totally cold!” She repeated this drill several times. I finally convinced her to trade in the swimming pool for the bathtub and she went inside. I wonder how many teapots of boiling water it would take to make the pool water bearable?

It’s nice to be remembered

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The sun has finally come out. It’s warm. We can put away our sweaters at long last. So with a forecast of 30 degrees for tomorrow, I figured it’s about time to call the pool guys to open the pool.

I called the same pool guys who’ve been opening and closing our pool since we moved here. I like them because, among other things, they remember who I am when I give my name and they know where I live without needing directions every time. I told them I needed to have my pool opened, and he said he could come this afternoon. This afternoon? The first sunny day in month and they could do the job right away? Sure! I told them anytime after 2. Ok. Then he said the nicest thing. He said “Vous parlez francais tres bien maintenant.” That means: you speak French well now. Granted, the first time he showed up at the house we’d only been here a couple of weeks and I could muster hello and pool. Like Tarzan. Still… it was quite a lovely compliment.

Kroger would be cheaper

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Kaitlyn and I spent the day enjoying the warm sun as we walked through the old town of Geneva. It’s really quite nice. Filled with row after row of overpriced shops. It’s the part of town the gps mistakenly led us through the other day when we first arrived. We window shopped (something Kaitlyn’s not very good at quite yet), ate lunch (she threw a fit when I said I didn’t want to eat at the one with menus that had dinosaurs on the outside), rode a carousel, wandered through a department store in search of a bathroom, got lost, took a water bus across the lake. We were busy.

Our last stop before claiming our luggage at the hotel was the American Market. Since I’d made Dad go to the English bookstore (where he napped in a chair) and to a Starbucks (where he read Kaitlyn her new book about space, often offering the comment “I didn’t know that.”), I spared him the trip to the American grocery store.

The store turned out not to be far from our hotel. (Yes, I asked the clerk.) It was past a row of strip clubs, but since it was daytime it wasn’t too bad. Kaitlyn didn’t seem to notice the pictures of naked women in the windows. The store also turned out to be small and a bit on the dingy side. Maybe that’s a neighborhood requirement. The shelves are packed with all sorts of things that I didn’t even realized we missed until I saw them: chex mix, pop tarts, sweet pickles, Stewart’s ginger beer (I should have bought more than 2 bottles). I filled two shopping bags with 115 dollars of stuff we miss.

How do you get to the airport?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Note to self: when in a strange city that you’ve already found frustrating to drive in, suggest guests book taxi for ride to airport.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6:15 when my wake up call rang. I’d stayed up way too late last night watching a BBC show about what people ate during Shakespeare’s time. (The people on the show actually spent a week trying to eat that crap and it looked nasty.) Kaitlyn also liked the show and also stayed up too late. So after I got myself ready, I had to try to rouse an incredibly tired 5 year old. Note to self #2: when sharing a hotel room with Kaitlyn, don’t try to watch tv show late at night, she’ll watch it, too.

So I walked the three blocks to get the car out of the parking lot only to discover one wee problem: the gps was not getting a signal. It didn’t get one the entire way from the parking lot to the hotel. So Dad again called upon the desk clerk for directions. As soon as we pulled away, the gps found us. But was telling us to go left when the clerk had said to go right. Who to believe? The correct answer to that question is: the taxi driver you hire next time.

Not that I didn’t enjoy a last half hour visiting. But I found no pleasure in the driving portion of that time.

translation, please

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

I’m not ready for the UN, but tonight I actually was called upon to translate… INTO French!

It happened at dinner. And, admittedly, when it comes to food I can generally hold my own. It’s not that we even eat out that often.. it’s just that it must be important to me.

First, I jumped in and saved Dad from ordering a glass of sparkling merlot. The waiter spoke what I’ll call waiter English… enough to pretty much do his job with a client who doesn’t speak French. Dad mistakenly judged his English level to be more of, say, actual English speaker level. He ordered a glass of Merlot (despite our trying to explain that wines here are named for the regions in which they are grown, not for the grape). The waiter thought he asked for a glass of “d’eau.” And he asked if he wanted that to be sparkling or still.

After dinner, Dad treaded into more treacherous language territory. He tried to explain that earlier today he’d gotten a plate of pasta that he hadn’t paid for because he didn’t have any cash and that he wanted to pay for it now. The waiter just looked at him then looked at me and said “je ne comprends pas.” That’s my line. (It means “I don’t understand.”) Then he actually expected me to translate. And I did.

This trip to Geneva sure makes me feel smart. Or at least better about my French skills.

ah… Americana

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

17 june 2008
part 3

On our way back to the tram, I spotted an English bookstore and just had to stop.

Kaitlyn sat in a tiny chair in the children’s section, reading. The bookstore was pretty small, but I took my time to savor it. Sure, I can (and do) order books online. But you simply cannot replace the satisfaction of flipping through a book as a way of deciding whether or not to buy it. I found a book about the Rhone Alpes region. (Where we live). I’m thrilled to have one in English. I have on in French and never even crack it open; it’s too frustrating.

The clerk at the bookstore gave us directions to a Starbucks just up the street. Naturally, that was our next stop. There’s also nothing quite as satisfying as at least having the option to take your over sized coffee with you. We opted to consume our beverages there and were served in the most giant real mugs I’ve ever seen. I do miss those chai tea lattes.

watch this…

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

We are determined to find something worth seeing here. The clock was a waste, but the city famous for timepieces must have something to offer in that field. To that end, we went to the Patek Philippe watch museum.

Undaunted by it’s lack of an indicator on our map, Dad asked the front desk clerk for help. I told him to also ask if was worth our while. Dad returned with directions and a thumbs up on our destination.

We took lucky tram #13 across town.tram.jpg Then Dad and I stood on a street corner turning our map every which way trying to get oriented to find our way. Once there, we couldn’t even figure out how to open the stupid door. We just kept pushing and pushing. Dad pointed at the sign with the hours on it (in French) and I assured him that, yes, it was open. Then he started pushing the buzzer. No one responded. We could see someone inside on the second floor watching us but making no effort to do anything. Finally I tried pulling the door and it opened. Duh.

The guy at the desk where we paid to get in tried talking to us in French. I did alright until he starting rattling off instructions at a kilometer a minute about checking our bags and coats downstairs. I hated admitting lingual defeat, but I had to.

You can’t take pictures in the museum, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the watches on display are amazing. Kaitlyn raced past most of the cases at her usual brisk museum pace. Dad and I tried to see what we could. There are watches with the most intricate displays… tiny tightrope walkers, itty-bitty cherubs striking bells to mark the hours, watches hidden in rings, fans or pins shaped like baskets or bugs.

At last… something in Geneva worth the time. watch-museum.jpg

into the clouds

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Forget that masterpiece that is a flower clock. Today we set out to see a real tourist attraction. Even the New York Times says this is “not to be missed.” Although, I do believe the writer meant that if it’s sunny. We set off under the thick cloud cover to ride the telepherique that provides a stunning view of the city. Or I assume it does. Given the weather and my intense dislike of cars dangling from cables high above the earth… it made for a strange choice on Dad’s part.

You get there by riding the city bus all the way from the center of town to the French border. Then you have to hoof it out of the country. The border control building was shut up… looked like no one had been there for weeks if not longer. Maybe they figure when the weather isn’t good, no one would be going that way.border-crossing.jpg

The telepherique may be busier when there’s something to see… and people going to see it. Today they were running it if someone showed up. Luckily, we managed to ride up before the bus load of pre-teens arrived on their school field trip. Dad asked the telepherique operator “If I said in English I’m glad not to be riding with those kids, would you understand?” The guy laughed which clearly answered the question, although he still offered up a “yes.”

foggy-mountain.jpgThere was little to see at the top but clouds. And a small snack bar where Dad got a cup of coffee and Kaitlyn bought a stuffed cow. When the kids poured out of the telepherique, we headed back down.