Thursday, August 31, 2006

Field testing

You wanna know what's good?

Try petit pot de creme...

or pain chocolat

The day before school starts they're field testing their new school shoes

Coming soon...mother abandoned as children and husband leave for school. Stay tuned

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Getting up and getting for larger view

She was up (way up) and down in a heartbeat.

The Colm imperative:
Tess can do it; therefore, so must I.

Talking him down took the better part of fifteen minutes.

He scared himself (me too), but he got down without any help.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The sky is crying...

Don't be alarmed by the title of this post (stolen from an old blues tune).

It's just raining, that's all. But it's been raining for three days now. All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not in one of those campsites that can be found all over this area. Camping, as far as I can tell from what I've seen so far, has very little to do with "getting away from it all" especially if the "it" you're talking about is other people. Campgrounds are crowded tent cities they do have amenities like restaurants and laundry. On the other hand, if you're trying to economize and get to within cycling or walking distance to the beautiful beaches here, then the experience makes some sense, I guess. Right now though it must be a bit of a muddy mess. In any case what we're experiencing right now conforms more or less to what I expected from a place situated on the coast. After this year I should be able to declare myself one way or the other on the subject of living in a maritime climate. Beth and I have had a long standing flirtation with the San Juan islands and sometimes this feels quite familiar here.

I'm told that July was actually very hot here, and that it is not unusual to expect a very nice September.

Before I go on, I need to tell everyone who has take time to post comments on this site that I really appreciate hearing from you. It was interesting to get a comment from a reader dropping in from some unknown site in the blogosphere...I think I'll just leave it at that.

Beth and I have wasted no time in taking full advantage of a few French customs such as: eating good bread, lingering over meal time, enjoying an apperitif before dinner, enjoying a glass of wine during dinner, and having a cigarette afterwards. At the rate we're going, I don't see us dropping these habits anytime soon. There is a lot to be said for the epicurian (sp?) - not to be confused with hedonistic - sense of life and its notion of simple and pure pleasure being at least partly the result of mindfulness not just of what one desires but also of what is present and available to be enjoyed. I heard it expressed not long ago by someone on NPR thus, "There is nothing more pleasurable than clean cold water to someone who is thirsty."

So here's to being thirsty!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Making the great transition/translation

August 28, 2006

  • We’re going down the road in the Clio when Tess breaks out with “ohhh lalaaa!” There is a momentary pause, and then a startled giggle. The sound she made seems to have come quite unbidden from some brand new place in her brain. Pretty soon she and Colm are pointing out the window and repeating, “ohhh lalaaa” at every little thing.
  • We enter the office of the high school principal. He seems like a nice man. He greets Tess. She frowns, makes some barely audible but nearly feral noise and buries her face in my pants leg. I feel like I should have her on a leash.

  • The kids are in Colm’s room at the other end of the house. Beth and I have just decided to head to the beach. I holler, “On va à la plage?” The answer from Tess is immediate, instinctive and resounding, “Yeah!” I can hear her running down the hall towards us.
  • Last evening we played a form of Simon dit (Simon says). Tess knew all of the following commands in French. Colm followed suit for the most part:
Stand up
Sit down
Walk around the sofa
Climb up
Pick up the pencil, the pen, the paper
Put it on the table, the chair, the sofa
Give it to mom/me.
Leave it on the ….
Take this
Come here
Look at the ….
Catching her in a moment of playfulness is like feeling the wind at your back…things go so fast and so easy.

  • A mere 90 minutes later… Beth carves a peach at the dinner table. Tess and Colm stuff their their slices into their mouths before I have even touched mine. Tess finishes her piece in rapid fashion and says in a faintly whiney voice that she wants more. I offer mine to her on the condition that she asks for it in French. She frowns. She’s not in the mood. I tell her what to say. “Je voudrais de la peche.” Defiant, she tosses her head to one side. “That’s okay,” I say. “I’ll eat it if you don’t want it.” “I want it some peach,” she says again, the whine now in full force. “I just don’t want to speak French.” “That’s okay. I’ll eat it then.” From the other side of the table, I hear Colm trying to say something with his mouth full of food…”shuvooojayjuhpesh.” Lovely. I hand him my peach as if I were giving him an honors diploma. Tess is both stunned and nonplussed. We can’t stop Colm from asking for peaches, meanwhile Tess ponders her options.
  • Videos are reserved for Sundays in our family, but recently I proposed a new arrangement. Sundays are for videos in English but French videos are good any time of the week. The response?“Dad, can we watch a French video today?” Beth looks at me like I’m some kind of Dr. Frankenstein ...only time will tell, I suppose.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Chez nous....for a year

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Enfants au paradis...(cont.)

high tide one evening in Petit Piquet

major face plant only a moment away

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Bassin d'Arcachon

The west coast of this presque isle, part of the Cote d'Argent looks out onto the Atlantic and features beautiful sandy beaches extending north for miles and miles. The waves there attract surfers from all's kind of like Baywatch in some places. The water can be quite dangerous for little ones left alone.

Petit Piquet

Sailboats slip around the Cap and moor on the east shore which looks onto the Bassin d'Arcachon. Here waterfront homes and cafes nestle low right up to the high water mark. Everyday the water drains away at low tide exposing oyster beds and leaving boots tilting on the wet sand.

The Bassin d'Arcachon

The west coast of this presque isle, part of the Cote d'Argent looks out onto the Atlantic; it features beautiful sandy beaches extending north for miles and miles. The waves there attract surfers from all's kind of like Baywatch in some places. The water can be quite dangerous for little ones if left alone.

Petit Piquet

Sailboats slip around the Cap and moor on the east shore which looks onto the Bassin d'Arcachon. Here waterfront homes and cafes nestle low right up to the high water mark. Everyday the water drains away at low tide exposing oyster beds and leaving boots tilting on the wet sand.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

who needs language when there is a teeter-totter?

August 23, 2006

A word about pacing. I think that I won’t be able to post regularly like I did on the 20th. Hopefully I can find a rhythm that allows me to develop something approaching a daily routine. Probably resorting to photos will play a big role in that. It could well be that the photos are what many if not most of you want anyway. In any case, know that I’m going to be trying to make it worth your while to visit this site on a regular basis….so enough prologue.

Gerard served as our guardian angel here in Lege Cap Ferret (henceforth simply Lege) for about four days. He certainly earned his wings with us but I’m sure they’d been issued to him long before this. Landing in his care was the definition of a soft landing. It may sound absurd but on the eve of his departure for the United States we both found ourselves feeling as though we were saying goodbye to a dear friend.

I won’t try to capture Gerard here in this blog…that I think is something each of you should consider undertaking in person. What I can do is summarize what he did for us.

First he found us and our bags in Bordeaux and drove us to Lege. On the way he gave us our first cursory look at the roadways and the ways of driving in France. Major highlight: the “rondpoints” or roundabouts…like England only the other direction. He also made mention of the clearing skies and suggested that we might well appreciate the micro climate of Lege as compared to Bordeaux. We told him that La Grande has welcomed Cecile with thunder and lightning.

Gerard spoke exclusively in French…so, therefore, did we. It was interesting to observe Tess and Colm during this first extended conversation in the van. Normally they are pretty verbal (understatement?) at least with each other and usually to the point of interrupting the adults. They were silent for nearly all the drive to Lege. Perhaps they were weary, but they didn’t sleep. I think part of it may have been an emerging sense of a brand new phenomenon -Mommy and Daddy speaking French all the time to other people. I can’t even imagine how this is messing with their minds. I do know that the concept of French or English as a subject of conversation just like Thomas the Train or Strawberries is now officially on the table for both of them.

When we arrived we met Martin, Gerard’s nine year old son. One word – adorable. Poor Martin is having separation anxiety. He loves his home, his friends, his things. At first glance, it’s easy to see why. Bravely he showed us around the house while Gerard cooked us dinner. Gerard took over and explained how the kitchen worked, how the lights worked, how the water worked. Woven in and around all the debriefing stuff was a running commentary on the Presque isle (peninsula) of Cap Ferret. He warned us that it was overrun by tourists but that they would disappear on the eve of September 1, the end of summer vacation for the French people. Gerard discreetly slipped away after dinner, and we crashed hard.

It was near noon the next day when we got up. Gerard took me to the Mairie (City Hall) to do the paperwork for the sale of his car and for my application for a carte de sejour (a residence permit). We had documents spread across the counter; I had documents in my briefcase, plus translations of said documents. I had been forewarned about the bureaucratic nightmares awaiting me in France – our experience in getting our visas had seemed seemed consistent with these warnings- but I have to say that nothing of the sort has happened to us here as of yet. The people there were unfailingly polite and they gave every indication of wanting to go the extra mile on our behalf. When I commented to Gerard about this he agreed, but not wanting perhaps to encourage me too far in that direction, he reminded me that I had not yet received my carte de sejour, I had merely completed my application. Hmmm…

Then, on to the bank to open an account. Again, wonderfully polite and friendly people. I was beginning to notice however that I could understand Gerard better than I could anyone else. Gerard was keen enough to observe this himself and he sometimes would interject and counsel people to speak “doucement” which is to say a little less energetically. It was amazing how just a little bit in that direction helped. It’s hard enough in a domain like banking where even in English I don’t understand every fifth word but when people are talking at warp speed, it’s really too much at this stage of the game.

Then it was the insurance company…more of the same.

Gerard took me home (his home really, but not now, not for a year). Beth and the kids had been in the pool experimenting – successfully it turned out – with tripping the electronic alarm system that is supposed to help prevent pool accidents. The alarm sent out a whooping siren sound leaving Beth and the kids alarmed and unsure what to do next. Gerard’s son, Roman, came dashing over from his apartment in the garage next door, probably fearing the worst- an American on the bottom of the pool. As for that, Gerard has installed a very nice fence around the pool. We feel much better with that in place...without it I'm not sure we could have ever relaxed in this house.

That evening at 7 Gerard has arranged for us to take an aperitif with the neighbors, Yannick and Crystal across the street. They have a daughter, Constance, just a little younger than Tess and a baby boy. They are a young couple, both work, he in a software startup company, she in a title office, but they are the old timers of the neighborhood. Yannick was born and grew up in this house. Back then there were no other houses around. It was all fields and forest, a childhood idyll. Even Gerard recounts how when he built his house ten years ago all he could see out the kitchen window was trees. Now it’s different. Houses are going up everywhere…it’s a boom cycle here very much like what's gone on in Bend.

When we go over there Tess and Colm get their first introduction to the French custom of kissing one another on the cheek. It’s going to take awhile for them to get the nuts and bolts figured out but they seem willing. I still make the mistake sometimes of offering my hand for a shake even as I lean in to give/receive “les bises”. I haven’t seen any evidence yet of the American style bearhug. Tess and Constance immediately pair up but at a distance, as if they aren’t sure how much distance is safe. Toys are all around. At first they select ones to play with individually. Then the chips and the bread and foie gras comes out and they are drawn to the food. Then on the way back to the toys the two girls stop next to a teeter totter. Constance straddles one end. Tess seems to sense what is needed here, and she gets on the other end. In an instant they are communicating, up and down. There are smiles, then laughter, then they are off and running, the distance between them has disappeared. Colm is left alone to fend for himself. He takes advantage by playing with a scooter, the sort of thing he would almost certainly have had to share with his sister if she were not otherwise occupied.

Yannick and Crystal are wonder company. Gerard has to leave. They invite us to stay for dinner. We accept. It is very late. The kids eat first and immediately afterwards Colm crawls to the couch and falls asleep. Constance and Tess disappear into her bedroom. When I go to retrieve her half an hour later, I open the door and find the two of them lying on their backs side by side on the bed, eyes wide open, arms and legs completely relaxed as if they too are about to fall asleep. It is marvelous to me…they haven’t exchanged a single word all night yet there they are quite content to be where they are.

It would be nice to say that Constance and Tess are going to cross the street and play together every day but it is hard to say when or how often we’ll see them again. We will see them of course, but Constance goes to another school in another town where her grandmother can pick her up after school. On weekends they entertain family...thirty of them is not unusual. Theirs is a life centered around family and surrounded by work. When Beth asked them about what they did for recreation or pasttimes, they shrugged. It is nearly eleven when we say goodnight.

As I tuck Tess into bed she, her smiling face turns suddenly grave. She says to me, “Daddy, I wish I could speak French as good as everybody else.”

I tell her, “Watch and listen, sweetie and after awhile you will.”

Inside I’m thinking... it’s only our second night.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

les enfants au paradis

(click on images for a larger view)

Plage Crohot (15 minutes away)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Shout out to Lisa in Lopez and Diana D in LG

I've misplaced your email addresses Lisa in Lopez and Les T and Diana D in LG. If you or someone who knows you reads this please send it to me.

for those of you not concerned with the above...a couple of pics

Martin, Tess, Moi, et Colm in front of their new school

Beth and Co. at Porge - icecream after the beach

Sunday, August 20, 2006

En route...

Saturday, August 19, 2006


August 20
We made it. We had to wait, but we made it.

Our first delay began almost immediately in Portland after we had loaded all our bags onto the biggest cart we could find. I was already wondering how we were going to move this mountain on wheels through Charles de Gaulle aiport when the guy at the Delta counter looked at his computer screen and said, "Uh oh." Our flight was 40 minutes late due to a late arriving crew the night before. Our connection in Cincinatti was blown.

We spent the next 80 minutes cooling our heels while the agent worked the phones trying to juggling alternate flights and even running over to alternate carriers. I stood by ready to give a thumbs up to anything he might come up with while beth sent the kids up and down the escalators. We flirted with a route that featured three different connections including a one hour turnaround in Frankfurt. On top of that we would arrive in Paris only an hour or so before our train was due to depart for Bordeaux. It was that or come back the next day for the same flight as the one we were about to miss…and say goodbye to our train tickets. Impulsively I said yes but for the next twenty minutes as the agent was repeatedly put on hold a growing worry gnawed away at my gut. It all seemed very hasty, very contingent on things going smoothly...each time I turned around to find Beth and the kids I was confronted my our mountain of baggage. Finally I gave in to that inner voice and I told the agent to forget Frankfurt. We'd come back tomorrow. We’d have to eat the train tickets. Immediately I felt better and unless I was imagining things so did the agent.

The net result of all that was a very nice day in the park with Tanya, Ariel, Piper, and Jerry in southeast Portland, another night in a Portland hotel and back at the Delta ticket counter this time at 5:00 am the next morning. Not long after we arrived we were recognized by a Delta staffer who had tried to help us the day before. She made it a point to check in on us for the rest of the morning until we boarded…perhaps our first kind stranger of this trip.

Beth suggested we rent a portable DVD player along with “finding Nemo”. That turned out to be a great idea. Tess and Colm behaved as if we had taken them to the coolest playground ever. The airport, the plane, the dvd, the ipod, their books, all of it intrigued them to no end. They were great travelmates.

In Atlanta we used our meal vouchers from Delta to buy a very large pizza. We could have (probably should have) fed everyone in our area with it. Next to us was a family with three kids – a girl about the age of Tess with pink cowboy boots and a cheerleader skirt, an infant, and a boy about Colm’s age who asserted to all of us, “I can speak English and French.” Turns out he had a French and an American parent. I’m not sure exactly how Tess processed that boy’s proclamation but I couldn’t help but suspect that she might have taken it on some level as a kind of challenge. Beth and I can’t help wondering nearly all the time how this whole thing is going to unfold for our kids. Pretty soon we’re going to have a pretty good idea.

We boarded in Atlanta. I found myself sitting next to a 16 year old girl on her way to Cameroon to rejoin her mother. Her poise impressed me. Each time I see a youngster board a plane without an adult I both appreciate the care given to them by the crew and I think about what giant leap it is for them to make. This girl spoke French and English too. She’d been back and forth to Cameroon since she was six. She smirked at one of the stewardesses when I asked her in French about the customs form they had given all of us to fill out. I assumed, this being an international crew affiliated with Air France that stewardess spoke French but she stopped me and said very haltingly, “Parlez-vous anglais? Je parle un peu de Francais.” I paused and then said, “Oui.”

They pulled our plane away from the gate but then we just sat there for awhile. The girl began to fret. I asked if she was alright. She told that she only had an hour in Paris to make her connecting flight. I told her our story in an attempt to reassure that the airline would take care of her whatever might happen. I wasn’t working, I could tell. Then I asked her if her mother lived near the airport in Cameroon. She gave a look that was both polite and also managed to convey clearly to me that I had no idea what she was going to have to deal with. Then came an announcement that it had been determined that a starter valve in the engine would need to be replaced. They estimated about 40 minutes. No one would be allowed off the plane unless they wished to abort their flight. I could see the girl kind of curl up, close her eyes and try to shut out all that she had just heard.

It was close to an hour and a half when we finally took off. It was a long, long flight but uneventful. The kids slept a fair portion of the last half of it. Beth and I managed to sit together long enough to watch most of an episode of “Lost” on her Ipod. Once we debarked we would have to get our bags, hump them to the TGV ticket center, buy new tickets to Bordeaux (hoping that there was space available), and then call Gerard to arrange to be picked up at St. Jean train station and driven to our new home. The bags…they preyed on my mind, they were heavy and numerous – 2 huge rolling suitcases, another one a tad smaller, another duffle bag, a car seat, a guitar, two normal carry-ons with wheels, two backpack size bags, my briefcase with all of our documents, the laptop case, plus a small backpack for each of the kids.

But I need not have worried. We sailed through Charles de Gaulle airport without a hitch. Our bags were practically the first ones out of the carousel. We found two carts that rolled smooth as skates on ice and less than a half hour after touching down we were at the TGV station lining up for tickets. We had a couple of hours to kill so we went to an open air waiting area where the kids could run around and watch the trains arrive on the level just below them. Beth and I chatted in French with a nice old Filipino woman who was just returning from a family visit in the Phillipines. She complimented Beth on her French…I realize how sweet it is that the two of us will be able to function here in the language.

When the train arrives we are waiting and ready. It whooshes to a stop. We’ve already noticed how efficient the TGV operation is. It won’t be stopped for too long. Beth takes the kids onboard and I start making trips with bags into the intercar area where they can be stored. I see immediately that there won’t be enough room (nor enough time) to store them properly. Plus there is the problem of getting by people who both embarking and disembarking. I throw caution to the winds, I throw bags in the middle of the hallway, I run in and out of the train, alternately leaving bags behind me either on the quai or on the train, all the while nagged by the fear that the train is going to get underway before I’ve finished. By the time I’m finished, I’m really regretting the decision to wear my new brown sport coat.

For all the build up at home about riding on the “super fast train” I must say the experience was an anticlimax. Colm fell asleep soon after we were underway and didn’t awaken until we were nearly there. Tess too slept about half the trip. Beth and I were struggling with jet lag and that bone deep weariness that hurts and yet won’t let you sleep the way you need to. As we neared Bordeaux, four hours later, I began to anticipate one last baggage manouvre. I made a pile of bags in front of the door…about half of what we had. A couple of girls made a similar though slightly smaller pile (all of their stuff though) in front of the other door. Neither of us knew which side of the train we would debark from. It turned out to be mine. More frantic struggles, more “je m’excuse”s. Beth had to waken the kids and urge them out from the far end of the car. Finally we had everything out, the people slipped away, the train left and we were alone on the quai. Across the tracks, an impassable gulf, was the station. I looked around for carts but see none. I looked for an elevator, no dice. I looked for Gerard. Seemed like we had struck out. So I decided to go have a look. If Gerard was looking for us, Beth and the kids and the bags ought to attract his attention, in the meantime I needed to find a way to move those bags.

We finally found Gerard but without spending an hour trying to do so. I called his cell phone from a line near the ticket counters. He said he’d been there an hour. His van was parked out front. As I tried to tell him what part of the station we were in, he finally seemed to recognize the place and he told us not to move that he’d be right there. I hung up, turned around walked ten paces, and found him kissing Beth hello on the cheek. He had probably walked right passed me as we talked. It struck me that calling cell phones “mobile phones” made a heck of a lot more sense.

And so we made it safely to Gerard’s van, and for the next three days put ourselves completely in his care. For all of that we will be forever grateful.


p.s. more later...I lost all of this material this morning after an hour and a half of was very hard to bear. We coped by going to the beach.