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.



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