Thursday, November 30, 2006

atelier theatre

Early in the school year and there was an announcement for an atelier theatre (theater workshop) to be held on Thursday right after school, which is to say at 5:00 pm. I decided to make this one of my personal growth initiatives for the year so after my 4 o'clock class I went.
The setting for the workshop, a salle polyvalence ( multi-purpose room) is one of those modern, antiseptic, tile-floored rooms with a tiny stage area. There is virtually no backstage nor any lighting or sound equipment. Whatever theater happens here will be owed entirely to the capacity of the actors themselves to create and sustain an illusion. It will in other words be a minimalist production.
The teacher who is charged with supervising the atelier and actually taking attendance (yes they take attendance for real) is M. Dubedat, the German teacher. He is a delightful man, full of humor and energy, always ready to leap onstage and offer throw himself into the breach. He is clearly beloved by the students. He seems to relish the twin roles of entertainer and taskmaster. He glares at everyone as he underlines the terms of participation...every Thursday, 5-7, no exceptions. No bailing out later in the year, no prima donnas, no letting the rest of us down.
In the beginning there was very little talk about the play, in fact no play had yet been chosen. There was therefore at that point no sense of anticipation, no social politicking, no rampant speculation about who'll "get the lead". No one who signs up for the atelier has the slightest idea of what play we're doing let alone what parts they might "compete" for. Yet they sign up for a year long commitment nonetheless (granted, a year of Thursday evenings). The stakes are lower and perhaps because they are lower there is more of a spirit of amateurism in the best sense of the word than of the professionalism which tends to animate the great majority of our extra-curricular activities in the US. It would be silly of me to claim to know exactly what the trade-offs are let alone how to evaluate them...but it is eye opening to see that there is another way of prioritizing and valuing and structuring student's time and experience.
As an a further aside, I am not at all convinced that the most useful way to look at the differences between French and American schools is through an either/or perspective. I tend to feel that the creative and performing arts are likely undervalued within the French school curriculum but that they are perhaps skewed into a competitive trophy-centered model in America. I would suggest that both systems (in very different ways) have marginalized what I would call "manual arts" by which I mean the skills related to fabricating and fixing things. The French have made these arts accessible only via a fork in the road facing kids around the age of represents the road less travelled insofar as the large majority of French kids will pursue a more scholastic or academic formation. As for American kids, electives like wood shop are theoretically available but in actual practice they operate on the margins...but I digress.
The workshop leader is a professional actor from Bordeaux named Marie. It is she who will ultimately help us to mount what is called a spectacle. IThe workshop itself has been conducted in the spirit of exploring the craft of acting with absolutely no reference made so far to the particular play we will put on next May. It is an interesting and very different pace and orientation. We have spent two months now, really only eight sessions (the investments of time are targetted and prioritized so differently here), getting comfortable with being onstage, by ourselves and with each other. Marie is obviously quite skilled in her craft, she clearly wishes to impart a certain respect for the craft to others, and she subscribes to an approach that is very much the master-pupil paradigm. She lays out fundamental principles, we listen, she demonstrates, we practice and then we demonstrate for her. Finally, she critiques our demonstrations. This approach is sometimes a bit talky but Marie has one very essential gift...she enjoys other people. She has progressively involved us in an ever wider range of improvisational excercises, some non-verbal (my favorites) and some verbal, some individual and some in small groups.
When you enter a domain like theater you quickly see how the notion of fluency in a language is an incredibly high bar. One of my pet peeves happens to be the way people toss around the word fluent. I am not now nor do anticipate being fluent in French. I would dearly love to be fluent. Listening to the others improvise and one hundred miles an hour (like most theater beginners they talk too fast, too softly, and they don't articulate) is for me a continual source of puzzlement.
On the other hand I am very fluent in the customs and practices of theater which in certain instances supercede the language...thus it is that I often feel simultaneously at home and at sea in this workshop. Only once so far have we been asked to read a prepared text onstage. I chose a song lyric by Maxime Le Forestier called La Rouille (Rust). Again, this allowed me to draw on my "fluency" in literature as well as theater while at the same time controlling the language factor in a way that kept it well within my grasp.
I think I may have surprised some people with my reading...not to overdramatize the moment, but for me this workshop is an opportunity not only to stretch personally but to put myself out there in front of students and colleaugues in a way that allows them to see me in a different light.
Evidence that this is happening is slowly being manifested. Some of the students in the workshop are also in my classes. We sometimes share brief asides in the classroom about the workshop. On one occasion, the after I missed a workshop due to illness, Ameline et Juliette, two girls in my 2e class, came took time out during a class activity to let me know what our "homework" for the next workshop would be. The other kids overheard us and quizzed us about it. There was a little buzz in the room for a few seconds and I could see kids entering new bits of info into their brains, recalculating perhaps their answer to the question, "Who is this guy anyway?"
Because we are about twenty-five strong, including by the way five teachers, Marie has chosen a script that will allow for a large cast. The play is called Veillee Funebres. If I were to translate the title I'd probably call it "Last Respects". It's a very irreverent and self conciously funny piece in which several anonymous figures come to pay their last respects at the open casket of an equally anonymous dead person. The entire script consists of a series of comments made by the onlookers, inspired in part by the deceased but what also emerges is a rather bizarre series of ripostes launched back and forth over the corpse on the various subjects ranging from his hygenic habits, to his character or lack thereof, to his relationships or lack thereof with those present. The conversation rapidly descends into something not exactly befitting the occasion but entertaining nonetheless. The script is marked by a penchant for word play and scatological humor that is quite characteristic I think of French comedy. Probably a bit too spicey for some of the people who come to LHS productions although I'm not so sure people wouldn't enjoy it given the chance.
More on the theater scene after a few more Thursdays....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

overheard recently:

- We are driving to the beach. We arrive at the point of entry for the parking at Plage Crohot. The road forks here, the spillover parking goes to the right but since it is late fall and there is hardly anyone here we always go left - except this time. Beth, on a whim, turns right. Colm, who has chattering away in the backseat switches modes and languages instantly and hollers, “A gauche!” Just when you think he’s not paying any attention…

- Tess: When I touch you, you have to run. If I touch you with my head, you have to die.
(a few moments later) You didn’t die, Colm!
Colm: But I feel better.
Tess: You have to die.
Colm: I’m magic.
Tess: But if you don’t die, it will never be done.
Colm: Oh.

- At our Thanksgiving get together Tess decided to share some family secrets with one of our guests…
“My dad thinks there’s a frog in his butt.”
“Yeah, when my dad toots he always says, ‘Did you hear that frog!’. He thinks he has a frog in his butt but he only farted. He doesn’t know there isn’t really a frog. He thinks he has a frog in his butt. He’s funny. He doesn’t know…”


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Life at the lycee

Inside the "salle de prof"... no kids allowed...the xerox machine is just around the corner.

Coffee, cookies, chit chat...the occasional appearance by the proviseur (principal) or the adjoint (vice principal)

Also the site for the occasional animated discussion of (take your pick) politics, school regulations and policies, local this case Phillipe and Hamed are taking about recent governmental efforts to increase teacher workloads and/or reduce their pay and what to do about it.

Meanwhile,just outside the front gates, no farther really than you could toss a baguette...the students congregate in the smoking area.

The older ones are very discreet about their cigarettes when having their pictures taken...

The young ones, not so much...

I should add that the stigma of smoking is nonexistant here...nobody looks at these kids as if they are hooligans or losers just because they're smoking.

Back inside the campus at the doorway to the "permanence" a sort of study hall area...backpacks piling up.

another fact of life...students either get dropped off, take the bus, or take scooters...

or bikes...

you have to be at least 18 to drive here, so there are practically no cars belonging to students parked in the parking lot...I can always find a parking spot even though the lot is not very big.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Colm facing off with a swan

C: So this duck walks into a bar one day...
S: waddles...
C: what?
S: ducks don't walk they waddle, look at him over there...see what I mean?
C: whatever...who's joke is this anyway?
S: I'm just sayin...
C: like I said, the duck goes in and says to the bartender, "You got any grapes?"
S: sounds like a duck
C: and the bartender says, " no, I don't have any grapes and beat it. No ducks allowed."
S: sounds reasonable
C: five minutes later in comes the duck again and he walks...waddles up to the bartender and he says, "Got any grapes?"
S: I know this duck, I think..
C: the bartender looks at the duck and he says, "Beat it duck and if I see you again, I'll nail your webbed feet to the floor."
S: Harsh
C: so five minutes later in comes the duck again and he goes right up to the bar and he says, "You got any nails?" The bartender says, "No." So the duck looks at him straight in the eye and says, "You got any grapes?"
S: (sound of honking) Duck jokes are the best...!


Saturday, November 25, 2006

a taste of home

We kept the kids home from school yesterday and enlisted them in the effort to prepare for the evening Thanksgiving celebration. My Friday schedule enables me to get home by 11:30. Things were in full cleaning, laundry, an apple pie underway... I relieved Beth who dashed off to the Friday market in Andernos. We passed the day orbiting each other, busy but able to talk about stuff at the same time.
Both of us were wanting to take stock a little bit of how we feel about where we are. The night before we had, each of us, spoken on the phone to family. In both instances, we timed our calls rather poorly as people were either in the midst of cooking or actually sitting down to eat with guests.
It can be a little disconcerting to feel the tug of familiar and familial feelings over such an enormous distance, especially when the telephone seems to collapse that distance utterly. As soon as the phone is put down however the distance is once again immediately palpable.
Another thing that happens is that Beth and I both have a tendency to then replay the phone conversation, to chew on it a bit longer. One of the facts of life for us is that our social network is very small, growing but still small. Consequently almost every social interaction we have becomes grist for the mill. The two of us sit outside on the terrace, have a drink and a cigarette, and we savor and deconstruct nearly everything we've been a party to that day. This ritual tends, in my view, to underscore and cement our partnership at the same time that it accents our craving for friendship. We are both lonely and happy.
Caught between these two currents it sometimes hard to articulate to friends and family at any given moment just how it feels to be here. A good example of this was during our conversation with Beth's brother Phillip. He and Jessica are coming for a visit in a few days and so naturally the conversation revolved around their itinerary here. His latest idea is to visit Stockholm sometime during the stay here, another possibility is Barcelona.
He is one of those people for whom the world is a giant plate of hors d'oeuvres of every possible sort. Confronted with such an appetizing array of possiblities he is inclined to want to sample as many different items on that plate as possible. Talking to Phillip about traveling, it is easy to get caught up in allure of movement, of landing out of the blue into a new city. Of traversing a new landscape. Of hearing a strange tongue or your own language resonate in the throats of alien peoples. Of eating food in restaurants and sipping drinks in cafes and bars.
It is difficult to frame our experience here, however, in terms quite like that. Ours is more of a nesting, a burrowing in. It's defining characteristic is family and it belongs to the constellation of domesticity. We have travelled a long way, it seems, for the purpose of settling down. Except for an offcial event paid for by Fulbright in October, Beth and I haven't been out to eat in a restaurant or gone to a bar since coming here. We have gone to the movies (twice).
It is tempting therefore when talking to Phillip (or anyone really who is contemplating world travel in the usual sense of the word) to engage in a kind of wistful reckoning of what we haven't done, of where we haven't gone...and to the extent that each of us is susceptible to that temptation we subsequently feel the need to sit down and reaffirm to one another just what exactly our project is here.

I suppose that project is to nothing more or less than to nurture and grow a family feeling here in Lege. This is, by the way, not a critique the world-as-a-buffet approach to travel - especially since one day we fully intend to sidle up to that table again.

And so Beth cooked, I washed dishes and moved furniture, the kids pretended to be horses, unicorns, talking cars ect...all day. The bird went in the oven around 5pm. The menu began to emerge dish by dish from the oven, first the apple pie, then the squash tort...the house was soon redolent with the savory odors of Thanksgiving.

The first invitees came around 6:30. Phil and Ann, their two kids, Liam and Mila, and Phil's mother Jennifer and her husband Patrick. Phillip poured kir made with syrup de mures and white wine. I ran across the street to borrow a meat thermometer and a food mill (mashed potatoes!) from Yannick, our neighbor, who being the chef of their house, had both items. As he led me out of his house with a lantern he steered me away from the path to the gate toward the back of his lot. He showed me into their wine cave where I saw his collection of wines...there were many, many bottles of wine there...Yannick went to one end of the cave and returned with 2 bottles of red wine, 2001 Medoc. I thanked him profusely and went back home, thinking, not for the first time, how some of my most satisfying trips this year have been the ones I've taken right across this street.
John and Gabrielle and their daughter Isabelle came from Bordeaux and showed up around 8. Nobody around here eats before 8 pm.
Beth was in constant motion. She laid out a truly splendid table. The mothers swirled around the kids in the came at them from literally every corner of the room.

Around 9 pm we came to the table. John proposed a toast "to America". Simple and unapologetic, no nuances required. Everyone at the table has been around enough to appreciate that being American may entail a complex and even paradoxical set of factors but that it is fundamental to who are and that it deserves our affirmation...subsequent to that toast I offered the Langston Hughes line, "let America be America again." All the expats (and the French spouses) raised their glasses.
We ate and drank well past midnight. John held forth on the subject of wine (he's in the business) in very entertaining fashion. My favorite adjective from John had to be "herbacious". John also dispensed some advice to everyone. "Come prepared to have your own opinion...otherwise it's just bullshit." We took pains to have as many opinions as possible after that, which of course is long hand for saying that we needed to drink more wine.

The children played all around and on top of us and sometimes with us.

It was just the kind of evening we had hoped for because it so resembled the kind of evenings we have known back home with our families and friends.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dead dinde...

We're celebrating Thanksgiving today rather than yesterday because it's Friday and a little easier to relax into the weekend than to gear up for another work day...the results are in on the contest to guess the price of our eight pound turkey (see him below)... no winners, not even close really.... When Beth unwrapped our bird she was surprised to find herself face to face with it. Needless to say the kids were fascinated.

When I told my students this morning that it's not unusual to cook a 20 lb turkey for our Thanksgiving celebrations back home, one kid asked me if our turkeys were on steroids...a good question perhaps, in any case we had a good laugh about it.

Here's the menu Beth has prepared for this evening:

Relish tray with ranch dressing

Turkey w/stuffing
Roast potatoes & gravy
Green bean casserole
Green salade

Squash tort
Confiture & cranberries
Cheese plate
Apple pie & ice cream

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The cost of giblets

If you walk the aisles of the supermarkets here you will search in vain for a turkey, fresh or frozen. With Thanksgiving approaching I decided to go to the local butcher, Monsieur Alvarez and see what he could do for us.

All he needed was a couple of days notice and he would have our turkey for us. He asked us how many people it was for. We're having three ex-pat couples over, so eight. He suggested a 4 kg bird.

OK, I said, being unable to do any kind of practical math at that moment and not wanting to in any way give offense to the expertise of my new butcher friend. Yesterday, Colm and I went to pick up the you can see it isn't a large bird, but it is fresh and the giblets are included.

The pricetage? ...put your guess in the comment box...if you get it right I'll airmail you a drumbstick.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Knittin' and pickin' or dreaming in a different direction

In the run up to coming over here, Beth and I indulged in some pretty expansive dreaming about what where we might travel once we got to France. It seemed at the time to be a perfectly reasonable notion, to take advantage of being over here to springboard around the continent...Italy, Morocco, perhaps the Adriatic Sea, not to mention Provence, the Alps, and Paris and possibly even Ireland...
From our current vantage point however all those places seem perhaps a little more remote to us. As you can probably imagine, it's not a funtion of distance but rather of money. The financial realities of life (a sixpack of Corona costs 12 euros for chrissake) have inexorably impressed themselves upon us to the point where we now have begun dreaming in a different direction...home and hearth.
You can call it plan B if you like, I call it knittin' and pickin'.
About three weeks ago, I touched my guitar for the first time since hauling it over here. It was Beth who prevailed on me at the last minute to bring it...I was in the grip of a "travelling light" mindset. I am so grateful to her now for insisting that I not be too practical.
I think this winter is going to a good time to get reacquainted with my acoustic...already the callouses are coming back on my fingertips.
I've got the guitar set up in the living room now so it is the easiest thing in the world to just pick it up even for a couple of minutes. Colm likes strumming while I form chords on the fretboard. We can bang out Old MacDonald together now.
Meanwhile Beth has taken to knitting scarves, a winter ritual for her. The other day Tess demanded to be shown how to knit...Beth cautioned her about it being tricky and taking time...but Tess can now often be found on the sofa quietly working a pair looks like it could be scarf or something someday.

So as winter literally blows in (this evening,the ping pong table blew off the backyard terrace- that's the third time since we got here), we are all about beguiling ourselves with lyrics, melodies, fingering the warp and weave of our nights and days, teasing out of steel strings and wool thread, something soft, something sad, something to keep us warm...all the while dreaming of Morocco.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

100 years of French rugby

While reading the French daily Le Monde, I learned that today marks the centenary celebration of rugby in France. The Gironde, the southwest region of France where we live, lays claim to being the place where French rugby first took root.

Apparently it was imported here from England by elements of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie who, themselves anglophiles, hoped to reinvigorate the social values of hard work, fair play, teamwork etc…that were (in their minds at least) on the decline at the end of the nineteenth century. Rugby was embraced in this part of France initially as part of a campaign to introduce physical fitness into the public schools. Thus despite it’s early artistocratic origins, it quickly became the adopted sport of the working class and it also played into the politics of regional identity…it was yet another way for the outlying regions of France to distinguish and distance themselves from Paris.

The evolution of the sport led to a rather swift embrace of violent play (fair play by contrast lost some of its popular appeal), and an attendant appetite for violence among its supporters…in the 30’s this violence led to a nearly ten year cessation of matches between French teams and those of England and Ireland.

The game of rugby has become today a very technical sport, one that requires team tactics that can only be developed through rigorous and repetitive practice. It is a far cry from the more improvisational game of football (soccer), and is certainly not the “beautiful game” celebrated by the Brazilians.

Immigrants from Africa and elsewhere tend to gravitate toward football. As a result, the face of rugby is far less diverse here in France than that of football. Interestingly, the New Zealand national rugby team just completed a tour (“drubbing” is the more accurate term, I think) of France and a series of exhibitions against the French national squad.

The New Zealanders are called the “All-Blacks”. Fittingly, they sport all black shorts and shirts. They are the Oakland Raiders of rugby. Many of their players are of Maori origins and the team in its pre-game rituals engages in a kind of traditional war dance replete with screams and chest thumping and wild eyed, tongue lolling expressions intended to whip themselves and their fans into a frenzy and to plant the seeds of doubt into the hearts of their adversaries. Having seen only a
video clip of this in practice, I can nonetheless attest to it being an impressive display of testosterone induced mania…these are big beefy men preparing for mayhem wearing no more protection than a polo shirt…(I should add that the team in red in the video clip is not the French team)
The article closed with the kind of sarcastic observation about the French team that long-suffering sports fans of teams like the Chicago Cubs mights appreciate. In the spirit of looking at the bright side, it quoted a proverb..."Qui dort par terre ne craint pas la chute." (Those who sleep on the ground need not fear falling out of bed.)

p.s. this post features my very first attempt at creating a link to another site within my own text...I'm curious to know if it worked. all you computer types out there can stop snickering already...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Leaving their mark on the "sable rasa"

Tess calls this one "unicorn-squirrel"

Colm's glyphs...


Monday, November 13, 2006


Saturday morning...a convoy of mothers, Anne, Beth and Delphine headed for the beach

six kids in tow...Jade, Ulysse, Tess, Colm, Mila, and Liam

Picnic at Crohot...12 kilimoters away

Then over the dunes to the beach

Sunday, November 12, 2006

One day you will go to the toilette...

Speaking clearly and loudly is a constant theme in my remarks to my students...their unwillingness to risk making clear and bold choices when they speak can be both frustrating and amusing especially when you factor in the difficulty I have hearing soft sounds.
One day I pose the question to the class, "How old is the main character in this story?" No one responds. Then a hand goes up. It is surprisingly, one of my female students is particulary hard to hear. Trying to get her to speak up is further complicated by the way her classmates react those moments in the classroom when I attempt to draw her out.
I repeat the quesiton, "How old is the main character?" She gives that deer in the headlights look. Barely a moment passes and then there are at least a half a dozen kids who seem unable to resist the impulse to swivel their heads round in her direction and whisper in French (and English) suggestions about what it is I want her to say, or translations of what is I said to her. I stand a mere five feet away but before I can reach her again, I first have to extinguish her support group.
I try again. She begins to say something but is silenced by the whispers from her friends who are already correcting her. She whispers back to them, they giggle...meanwhile I am waiting.
I tell them once again to be quiet, to let this girl finish. I repeat the question. Again, before she can speak one of her friends volunteers the following to me, "she doesn't understand."
I something less than grateful for this piece of information. I look sternly at the group and I say, "Nobody speak until Charlotte has answered my question." Then I look at Charlotte.
She mumbles something which I can't make out except to know that it is in French.
"English please, Charlotte."
She mumbles once more, in French again, no louder but I hear "monsieur".
I try another tack. "Call me Mr. Cahill." I say trying to prompt any kind of English response from her. But this tactic backfires since the sound of my name seems enormously funny to them. A few of them take shots at pronouncing it...and it is almost impossible for me to suppress a smile at what I'm hearing.
Her friends attempt to explain something to me but since they all talk at the same time (though not in unision) I still can't make out what they'r saying. Once more I silence them.
Meanwhile I'm back to square one with Charlotte who has become as hard to reach as some high level CEO shielded by a phalanx of secretaries and public relations types. Against my better judgment I try one last time.
"Charlotte, try again. How old is the main character?" I can tell that Charlotte is both relishing the way she's become the star of the moment and also that she has no intention of answering my question. Beyond that however I have no idea what she's been trying to say to me in part because of her soft voice and in part because of the interference from her classmates.
I am ready to abandon Charlotte altogether when a hand goes up. It is Remi, one her friends. He seems to be invested with a sense of good will. Wearily, I nod.
"She wants to know if she can go to the toilette." I look hard at all of them but particulary at Charlotte. I've been had...not for the first time in my career, nor for the last. Fortunately for eveyone concerned I've learned how to live with egg on my face.
I say to Remi, "Tell Charlotte, that one day she will go the toilette, but it will be the day she learns how to speak to me clearly and in English." Remi pauses, uncertain if he has properly understood his task. Then he turns and whispers to Charlotte.
I give her a moment and then I say to her, "I'm going to wait 5 seconds, Charlotte. If you can speak to me loudly and clearly by then, you may go to the bathroom. If not, you will have to wait..."
Her friends wait along with me. The silence seems to embolden her. "May I go to the toilette?" "Yes..." she begins to get up but I interrupt her, "but first you must tell me how old is the main character?"
"I don't know."
"When you know, tell me. Then you can go."
Her friends can wait no longer...there are whispers...all of them beneath my radar, and then I hear Charlotte say, "She is thirteen."
This isn't the way I had planned for this lesson to unfold, yet I am of a mind to cut my losses and call it good. "Please go now Charlotte."
She does.
I am relieved.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The second time is a charm

I was with the kids at the Bordeaux airport, Beth was busy finding out where her parents would be coming in. As per usual, each kid has brought along a few toys to amuse themselves with…usually it’s a car or a stuffed animal or a book. This time Colm is carrying around a pair of binoculars…he wants to see the airplanes. Me and the kids go up the escalator for kicks…we find a mechanical horse for kids – one euro per ride. They ride together, then they dismount and we go looking for the escalator going down. We reach the other end of the terminal only to discover that the escalators only go up…you have to take the stairs down. As we ponder our options I hear a voice behind me.

“Monsieur?” It is a young woman, dark skinned, with large brown eyes, she wears a scarf over her head.


“Vous parlez francais?”

When someone who is French asks you this question it is tempting to downplay your response, to say “a little” but I am brimming with confidence and I assert simply, “Oui.”

“Avez-vous perdus les jumelles?”

“Les jumelles?”


I am puzzled by the question. Jumelles is the femine form of the French word for twins. I don’t have twins I tell her. I check quickly…Colm and Tess are where I can see them. I suppose they might look like twins, I think to myself, trying to extend to her the benefit of the doubt. Here are my kids, I tell her.

She is clearly a bit nonplussed by my response, and I am at a loss to understand what could be amiss here. She tries again.

“Vous etiez là?” She points back in the direction of the horse. She also makes a gesture with her hands cupped around her eyes as if to accentuate the distance between here and there.

I nod. How did she know that? I wonder.Yes we were over there but then I repeat to her that in any case I don’t have any “jumelles.” I thank her again, but she only frowns, shrugs and turns away.

I collect the kids and we head back in the direction of the horse. I tousle Colm’s hair and notice that his binoculars aren’t around his neck…then it hits me. Jumelles must also mean binoculars.

“Merde!” I spin around to find the young woman, but she has vanished.

“What is it Daddy?” says Tess.

I’m about to try to answer her when I hear Colm say, “Look! The horse!”

Before I even look, I’m saying, “No more rides…” then I look up and see a little boy standing by the horse. His hand is on the binoculars which still hang from one of the handles on horse’s head. Les jumelles. Colm runs to the boy and recovers his toy. They boy is glad to see the binoculars taken away because now he can claim the horse for himself.

I spend the rest of our time in the airport keeping an eye open for the young woman who tried to overcome my own obtuseness with words and gestures to alert me to our loss. I reflect on how my own certainty (I knew after all what the word jumelle meant, after all) utterly prevented me from grasping what it was she was trying to tell me. If only I could tell her that she has taught me two things, to listen with my eyes as well as my ears and secondly, what jumelles means.

Three weeks later Beth gets mail from the Republic of France. She opens it and discovers that she has received a speeding ticket. It is dated on the same day we picked up her parents at the airport. The ticket indicates she was driving the rental car her parents had gotten. The fine is 95 euros. The infraction: going 59 kilometers/hr in a 50km/hr zone. It even includes the margin of error for the measuring device (5km/hr) which places her at 54 km/hr. For you folks who like to crunch numbers, that’s roughly doing 32/mph in a 30 mph zone. If Beth chooses to wait longer than two weeks to pay up, the fine goes up the 380 euros. Beth is of course mortified. I am too but I also secretly relieved that I wasn’t driving. We’re also mystified. Where were the cops? How did they catch us?

When I go to school the next day, I mention the ticket in passing to some teachers. It is as if I have entered a secret fraternity…everyone in the room has gotten a ticket, some of them right about the same time. I feel better. If only Beth were here, I think to myself. (As it turns out she is at almost the same hour discovering a similar sense of sisterhood with her friends at the market, speeding tickets the great social equalizer) Then I remember to ask them about how the police capture speeders in the act.

Martine, a math teacher, cups her hands around her eyes…it is a gesture that is vaguely familiar to me…and she says, “Les jumelles.”

“Ahhh…” I say with a knowing smile. “Les jumelles.” It feels so good to know what she means.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Basse Mer

The tide goes's become my favorite time, a daily dose of autumnal feeling.

This have I always known: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,

Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,

Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales.
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

excerpted from Edna St. Vincent Millay's
"Pity me not"

Monday, November 06, 2006

Yet here we are

If we had asked respectable people we wouldn't be here,

If we had observed custom, we wouldn't be here,
If we hadn't been lucky, we wouldn't be here,
If we hadn't each taken the bait of love, we wouldn't be here,

If we could have forgotten our pasts, we wouldn't be here,

If we had wanted something reasonable, we wouldn't be here,
If we hadn't needed more than we could ever express, we wouldn't be here,

If "yes" had not been the subtext of our storyline, we would not be here.

If, even as we crossed boundaries, we had not each been trying to find home, we would not be here.

Yet here we are.

on the occasion of our eighth wedding anniversary

Sunday, November 05, 2006

kid parc

We went to a place called Kid Parc...

Beth took the kids on a roller coaster...
there was a "spectacle"

starring Kiki the clown.