Category — Provence
We are back in California. The luggage is unpacked. The kids are in school. We are back to “normal”.
We spent our weekend having a very American experience: YMCA Family Camp. Three days of wholesome outdoor family fun including two nights sleeping in a cabin with 8 creaky bunk beds and no lock on the door. All this plus a toilet that required a flashlight to find in the dark. We loved it!
There were constant reminders that we aren’t in France anymore:
- The pile of forms we needed to sign promising not to sue anybody
- The vat of fruit cocktail masquerading as “fruit”
- No smokers or lingering cigarette smoke anywhere
- Super peppy and smiley camp staff
- Referring to tie-dye shirts as “art”
- Dinner started at 6, ended at 7, and kids were in bed by 10 – on a Saturday
- No drivers tailgating us on the way there, but plenty of passing on the right
- No wine…
While every place has its good points, no place is “better” – at least not for us. It was great to go to France. I’m so glad we did it. But it is also good to be back home!
A huge thanks to all the readers and commenters who took this journey with us. It enriched our adventure to be able to share it with you.
September 6, 2011 3 Comments
We are spending a few weeks this summer driving around Europe before heading back “across the pond”. We spent a week in Switzerland and now we are in Alsace.
Being on the road as a family is great, but it does have challenges. Work has slowed down, but it hasn’t stopped, and it’s harder to get things done when we’re all jammed into small vacation rentals.
Fortunately, the girls have reached the age where they’re pretty good at entertaining themselves for an hour here and there while we grab some email time. This morning they were sitting at the kitchen table being very quiet (always a worrisome sign!) so I asked them what they were doing. The answer:
“We’re drawing weapons.”
Umm… OK… Sure… And why?
“Because we like them.”
Yes, my lovely little daughters are into weapons and they know all about them.
It’s our fault. While we have been in France, we have visited a wide range of Medieval fortresses, read books on Chevaliers (Knights), and generally learned a lot about that part of history including the fighting and armies and attacks. Prior to coming to France, I disapproved of weapon-style toys. But apparently I’ve changed my opinion because we bought the children quite a few, as I discovered when I started to pack up to go home.
Here is the “toy weapon tour”.
Or in French if you prefer.
July 14, 2011 7 Comments
This was our final week in Provence. It has been a week of lasts:
- The last trip to the market to buy olives, pasta, and cheese and practice my bad French with the very patient people who sell their goods there
- One last picture of the Grignan castle sitting at the top of the incredibly picturesque medieval village where the girls go to school
- The last Wednesday pizza from Ivan des Pizzas – a Hawaiian, the American kind with ham and pineapple, not the French version with chicken, green pepper and onion (pineapple optional!)
- One last pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from the best bakery of the many, many, many we’ve tried during the year.
- A last trip to the clothesline… one last walk to the garbage and recycling station… one last mad dash to catch the school bus…
- And many, many, many last bisous (kisses) with the wonderful people we’ve met during the year
This year has been intense. It’s been incredibly good in so many ways, but it has also been difficult. Everything was strange which meant it was also hard – like the time it took four hours to buy lightbulbs!
I fully expected that right now I’d be feeling glad we came, but ready to get back to “normal” life in California. I didn’t expect that leaving would make me sad.
It was hard to say good-bye to so many people. Claudine, Jacqueline, Augustin, Alain and the other wonderful Chansojeux leaders who immediately embraced our children as part of the village; Emma, Christine, Vanessa, Genevieve and the lovely English-speaking people who let me have a real conversation; Caroline and the other parents who let me practice my French while we waited for the school bus; Genevieve and Jean who introduced us to raclette; Vanessa and Jerome who taught us the traditions of the galette des rois; Julien who gave us homemade pate from his own pig; JP and and his amazing food (takeout fois gras – yum); Gilbert who gave JM tips about growing crops in Provence; the staff at the village cafe who kept us supplied with coffee, bread, pastis, and great conversation; the wonderful teachers at the Grignan school …and…and…and…
We hate to leave. As the girls say, we’d like to stay in California AND stay in Chantemerle.
Our very warmest and most sincere au revoir and merci to the incredible people who have touched our lives this past year! Vous allez nous manquer!
July 3, 2011 11 Comments
Once again, we had a plan, but we quickly got distracted.
We were supposed to visit the Tarascon castle, the famous Château du bon roi René (Good King René’s castle), but we got distracted on our way. It turned out that the Beaucaire Fortress was holding a journée médiévale (medieval day) that weekend. The animated tours are held once a month in April, May and June, then every Wednesday in July and August. And so we changed our plans for the nth time and decided King René’s castle will be for some other time.
Well, it was a great choice. The Beaucaire Fortress only opened to the public last year, so is not in any guidebooks. Plus it was a windy Mistral day, and so the fortress wasn’t busy at all. Best of all, the animators were serious scientists who study medieval life in general and the art of medieval self-defense. So, we were set for an amazing personal tour.
First, meet the troupe de troubadours, the singers & jesters with their chest of ridiculous stuff…
Then we all had a turn shotting a 12th-century crossbow – adults and kids.
Next, we were led by our guide to the triangular dungeon.
Here, we saw many old graffiti and other cool things.
We were treated to a demonstration of the art of medieval fighting.
Some little girls got to take part in the action!
June 9, 2011 1 Comment
I was somewhat familiar with the French custom of greeting with bisous (cheek-kisses) even before this trip. Most French-Canadians greet each other that way, including JM’s family. When JM and I first met, he had been in a predominantly English environment for a long time so he didn’t do any cheek kissing with me. It ended up that both his brother AND his ex-girlfriend kissed me long before he ever did!
But I was not prepared for all the kissing here in Provence. There is a LOT of kissing going on. And they kiss three times – not just two. (I’m told in some places in France it’s actually four!)
I am still not an expert at the bisous but I have picked up a few things:
- Don’t actually kiss - the lips should not actually contact anything during the bisous. Simply touch checks lightly while making kissing noises. Ideally the corner of each mouth just barely avoids making contact with the other person’s cheek.
- Don’t kiss the same person twice in one day - it can take a lot of time to get through all the kissing, especially in a small village where you know most people. The trick to dealing with that is to only kiss each person one time every day. I ran into the cafe owner at the bank one day. I had to almost chase him around the bank to kiss him – but I was determined to adopt French customs. I discovered afterward that was a mistake since I had already done the bisous with him that day during my morning bread purchase.
- Let the French person take the lead – the only mishap I’ve ever seen during the bisous happened between two English ladies. No one was quite sure of how it happened, but the two sets of lips made distinct contact. It was embarrassing and/or humorous for all involved.
- Beware of glasses and hats – it took me a while to learn this one, because French men are quite smooth about removing their glasses as they go in for the bisous. The combination of two pairs of glasses bumping into each other is not pleasant, so caution must be used. Hats with wide brims are also dangerous and should be removed before the bisous no matter how bad the hat hair.
- Some men kiss, some don’t – I can’t figure out any pattern in this at all, but certain men here kiss almost all the other men, some men don’t kiss any other men, and some go both ways. Since I’m not a man it doesn’t impact me at all, but sometimes JM gets some unexpected kissing action.
- Kiss the village barkeeper, but not the teacher – actually who gets the bisous is consistent, once you figure out the customs. If JM sees someone he knows and gets the bisous, then I get the bisous also since I am his wife. But parents of your kids’ friends are not automatically bisous-ready. When I go pick up the bread or have a coffee, there are bisous for the person behind the counter – man or woman – unless it’s the new lady whose name I don’ t know. But don’t kiss your kids’ teachers even if you see them every day.
If I can just convince my kids to stop tell people they like “French kissing” I’ll be set.
May 27, 2011 7 Comments
Welcome to the Hôtel Doctrinaires, an old college founded by the Pères Doctrinaires of Avignon in 1635, now fully renovated and converted into a nice hotel in Beaucaire. Surprisingly for a 17th century hotel, it was very comfortable, and our room was large with a jacuzzi bath.
Here are a couple of pictures to give you a sense of our stay…
It’s interesting that this hotel was almost empty, despite its awesome charm and great comfort, whereas the much more expensive Best Western was fully booked. Go figure…
Dinner was revealing, however, when I realized that L had now fully developed her palate for French gastronomical cuisine. Indeed, when given the choice between the standard “kid fare” of steak haché and frites (hamburger patty with french fries), she instead opted for the adult salmon main course – along with a small provençal quiche, an awesome preparation of mixed vegetables and a little side salad. And Z who was notorious for eating only plain pasta, rice and bananas before coming to France, had to “copy” her sister and ordered the same dish. They’ve fully embraced the local culture. Now that’s my girls !
May 27, 2011 1 Comment
We are in the 1st century A.D. at the height of the Roman Empire. Emperor Augustus is coming to visit Nîmes, and the city promises to mark this extraordinary event with a magnificent show at the Arena of Nîmes featuring gladiator fights, chariot races, chariot battles, barbarian prisoners from northern England, military exercises accentuating the Roman army’s mighty prowess, Roman and Celts simulated battles, etc. In other words, an unprecedented show to highlight the Emperor’s days of remarkable glory…
The year was 127 A.D.
May 12, 2011 10 Comments
This sign tells you that the maximum driving speed is no longer 70 km/h. That speed zone is over.
Maybe it’s just me, but I would find it more helpful if the sign mentioned what the new speed is.
UPDATE: So apparently it is just me. All the other people who live in France (and apparently in many other countries) find it completely normal that you just KNOW what the speed limit is for that kind of road. Any sign that is posted is indicating an exception. This sign is merely saying “the exception is over, go back to your normal speed”. Maybe if we stay here longer I’ll be able to look at a road and instinctively know if it’s a 90 or a 50. Until then, I stick by my original premise that if you’re putting up a sign anyway, you might as well put one up that is informative for everybody, not just those who are in-the- know.
May 9, 2011 6 Comments
It is the school break yet again and we are taking day trips around our area. There is still a lot to see and we only have two months left before we leave the village.
We visited Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. We saw the source of the river, which according to the visitor information is the biggest spring in France, and the fifth largest in the world. It is certainly a beautiful spot. The water is crystal clear, and there is some kind of water plant that gives the river a gorgeous green color.
The source of the river is at the bottom of a cliff, which makes a pretty dramatic backdrop.
The area is a bit touristy. You can clearly tell how to get to the famous source – just follow the stands selling things. We stopped at one of the most expensive ice cream places, which had the benefit of a view of the river. But the extra 2€ per scoop was worth it for the access to a clean washroom.
As it turned out, the men’s room at the ice cream place had one of the most lovely views in the whole area. Each man who took a leak was treated to this lovely scene:
(Yes, I looked. But JM checked that the coast was clear first. I’m inappropriate, but with limits.)
But for the ladies – NOTHING!!! Just a white wall. Not even a picture of the view – let alone the real thing. NOT FAIR!
May 3, 2011 3 Comments
The village hosted an egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Our kids had been to egg hunts in California too (shout-out to our fabulous neighbors!), so we weren’t expecting this to be any kind of new experience. We were wrong. There were a couple of things that were very different.
- The eggs are chocolate. These French mamas are not at all shy about sugaring up their children for birthday parties, school events, or the after school goutez (snack). At Easter the eggs are chocolate and they are LARGE. Among our friends in California it would be quite a faux pas to give kids large amounts of candy, so it’s typical to hunt for plastic eggs filled with stickers or small toys. I mentioned this to one of the parents from the village, and she were concerned about the environmental impact of all the plastic eggs. Her view was that the kids just eat the sugar and then it’s gone, but a plastic egg will live for centuries.
- The eggs hide in the rocks. There are no lawns in our village, but there are lots of rock walls with plenty of cracks just perfect to hide an egg in.
- Kids don’t keep their eggs. After the hunt was over the girls proudly showed me their eggs. I was very surprised to see them dump their precious eggs into a big basket, and watched as every village child was given exactly four eggs (one big, three little). The eggs the kids went home with had nothing to do with the eggs that they found on the hunt. I wondered if this was just a village thing, but the girls told me they did the same at school. Everybody shares.
This is different from the US egg hunts we’ve been too. If a kid doesn’t make an effort (or have a parent who will make an effort for them) they leave empty handed. This is a very basic example of the difference in the thinking between the individualistic American society and the community-centric French one. It’s not like either approach is clearly better. It’s nice that everyone got eggs, not just the big kids who are faster. But then that kid who sat and whined instead of trying got the same eggs as the motivated ones.
- After hunt glass of wine. Of course, being France there has to be a drink. This time it was juice for the kids, and white wine for the adults – at 10:30 AM!
April 27, 2011 10 Comments