Sunday, July 29, 2007

Beating the heat in the high country...Black Lake

We went to the Elkhorn Mountains today along with our friend and neighbor Chris and his two kids, Emily and Edan. We were looking to gain some elevation and some relief from the 95 degree heat hitting us here in the Grande Ronde Valley.

The hike to Black Lake is perfect for kids and the water...well, lets just say that for a mountain lake it was easily the warmest water I've ever gotten in. I'm loving these excursions, the air smells so good up there.

It's great to see these four kids reunited. After a year's separation they haven't missed a beat.

Summer time in Union County

Two days ago we took the VW bus up Mount Emily to pick huckleberries...unfortunately, I forgot the camera. We found berries and some yellowjackets. Colm and I both got stung. Watching the kids pick berries and then spill their bowls is a test of parental restraint. I keep telling them to eat them just to keep from losing them but they were determined to be pickers not eaters. Unfortunately not a single berry made it from their bowls to ours...oh well. We love it up there and we had a nice picnic.
The next day we went to Saturday Market (dead batteries...again no photos). That afternoon we went to one of our favorite places in the valley, Cove. We swam at the local pool which is nestled at the foot of the hills and is surrounded by tall pines.

Afterwards we visited our dear friends Doug and Melissa and then went to a bluegrass concert on the grounds of the Ascension School summer camp. Cove is hard to beat on days like this.

Coming home that evening we caught the moon rising over the hills. She rode our backs all the way across the valley to home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Choosing a play

As some of you know I direct plays at the high school where I teach. I'm doing it again this year and have not yet settled on a fact I'm not even close at this point.
I thought I'd try using this blog to solicit suggestions for plays to be performed by high schoolers. In the past I've done shows like
The Foreigner
Romeo and Juliet
Dancing at Lughnasa

so I'm open to suggestions from all genres except musicals. It would be nice if you've actually seen a performance of the play you suggest or at least have heard of a production done by a high school but no matter. Fire away.
I await your suggestions...eagerly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sweet nothings

The first thing Tess did when she entered the house was walk straight to the piano, sit down, and begin to play Hot Cross Buns.
Our first night home we walked down the street to Meg and Chris' house. Their two kids, Emily and Edan, are best pals of our two kids. We ordered a couple of pizzas and ate them out of the box while sitting on the backyard deck. The hug has taken the place of the bisous. Tess and Colm spent a year acquiring the habit of kissing people on the cheeks hello and goodbye, already that has fallen out of use, though not quite out of memory. When they are approached by someone I can see them lift up their faces a bit reflexively in anticipation of the ritual kiss. But it never happens here. One morning while staying at Tanya's house in Portland, we received a visit from a young girls. Tanya was extremely conscientious (by American standards) about introducing her to everyone, adults and children alike, yet there was very little movement. People smiled, nodded hello from where they were. It was all over in half the time it would take in France. I miss that ritual.
We had homemade chicken tacos for dinner last night... and then raspberry milkshakes for dessert...ummm - talk about comfort food. Nearly all the ingredients came from the local Saturday market where the vendors are also the people who grow and produce the stuff they sell. A group of local musicians played bluegrass music while people milled about in the market square. I'm starting to see that double take that people do when they realize it's me they're looking at. I had a welcome home message on my phone from a student (Tess's piano teacher), someone I wish we could have packed in one of our suitcases and brought along with the family. The kids love going downstairs and opening boxes we stored down's a bit like Christmas as they remember toys and books and clothes they used to have. Tess and Colm keep saying, "I remember this!"
We've had a very soft landing here...even my visits to DMV, the insurance office, the bank, the telephone company, and the supermarket have had a personal and friendly touch them.
We took the kids to the public pool yesterday to try to combat the heat. The water was like bath water.

A bit later as we were leaving, Beth mused aloud over how the kids were probably going to miss the pool we so enjoyed at our house in France. Colm heard this and immediately spoke up.
"But we have a pool!"

God love his sunny optimism.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Where the heart is...home

We arrived in Oregon on Wednesday but didn't actually sleep in our own beds until last night. Jetlag is affecting us all but not enough to prevent an overall warm fuzzy feeling about being home.
Leaving Charles de Gaulle airport turned out to be a little nerve racking... we got there three and a half hours early...too early in fact, but due to an emergency evacuation of the Air France/Delta ticket areas because of an abandoned suitcase, and thanks to a wrong steer from a ticket agent who sent us to the wrong area we ended up having to run (literally) to catch our plane. All went well though and we're here, home.
As we turned on to our street, Colm yelled out, "I know this place!" We pulled into our driveway and out waddled a cat roughly the size and shape of a bear cub. Jasper was like, "Man I thought you were just going out for the paper...what took you so long?"
He dropped himself like a sack of potatoes on our shoe tops and we settled in.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How do you say "fun" in French?

How do you say "fun" in French?

Actually the answer is "fun". But here are some other acceptable responses.

Tess found this exhibit entitled "Ombres et Lumieres" at the Cite des Sciences to be lots of fun.

Colm fulfilled an adolescent dream on this carnival ride in the Tuilleries.

And another one atop the castle dungeon of Chateau de Bonaguil when he skewered Pierre who likewise indulged one of his own adolescent fantasies by dramatically dying in front of a disbelieving public.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Paris...highlights, lowlights, sidelights

Ok...I located a wifi network at our hotel so I'm baaaack...a post from Paris!

we found a cabbie at Gare Montparnasse who was able to put our bags, guitar, and us into a single cab...not legally perhaps, but it worked. Plus he was a great conversationalist.
Surprising: the Hotel Eldorado is a very cool place and cheap. Rooms are adorable, bathrooms down the hall are impeccable and a lovely little courtyard attached to the restaurant bar. Easy walking distance to take out Chinese, Italian, Lebanese, fruit market, boulangerie, metro. Plus, our room offers a view of the Eiffel Tower, all you have to do is stick your head out the window and crane your neck. We're on the fifth floor so it's a bracing experience...the kids like it better than tv.
Endearing (if you're the parent) annoying if you're not: the kids improvising entertainment for themselves in Parc Monceau which is about a twenty minute walk from our hotel. Parental advisory...this video contains evidence of parents delivering mixed message to children while trying to maintain the appearance of conscientious parenting.
Interesting (if you like this sort of thing): the July 14 military parade that began at the Arc de Triomphe and went down the Champs Elysee. This year for the first time France invited 20 other countries to contribute units to the parade. Reminded me a little of the Soviet displays in Red Square that I used to see in news clips when I was a boy. Huge crowds up and down. Military hardware as far as you could see, and the traditional flyover by French fighters trailing the tricolors across the sky.

I noticed everyone looking up and barely got out my camera in time to get this photo.
Exciting: riding the metro for the first time with the kids...Colm and Tess have since become expert at working the system, although Colm still gets whacked in the back by the turnstiles when he's not careful. You can see their little brains just whirring as we go through the metro scene. Tess counts stops. They crane their necks looking for trains. They gamely jump on and off. They make beelines for empty seats just like veteran commuters.

Suffocating and frightening
: the metro to Trocadero to see the July 14 fireworks. We knew we were heading into a maelstrom but we had no idea how intense it would be. Terrifying thing number one - we were in the first row of people waiting along the train platform. Behind us a crush of people whose numbers were steadily swelling into the very finite space. As we looked into the dark and empty tunnel waiting for the train to arrive it was hard to push back fears of being pushed into the void. Terrifying thing number two - clutching our kids and being borne along a human tide as we exited the train and began the incredibly slow, incredibly hot, incredibly claustrophobic progression from the underground to the air above...what is normally a five minute walk out of the large and labrynthine Trocadero metro to the streets above took us a half hour. And there were moments when I wondered if we'd ever get out of there. Colm began whimpering, "I want to go home." I held him up so that he could see and maybe get some air. People were holding cameras aloft conscious of recording a singular event. Beth and I became familiar with a small set of faces that seemed to float around us in more or less the same relationship to ours. A young couple from Brazil on holiday who struck up a walking dialogue with Beth, a black woman holding a little girl in front of her, a stout swarthy man shepherding two boys...all of us perspiring madly. And then we heard the explosions. It was a surreal moment...everyone fell silent for an instant and then there was a kind of collective moan. The fireworks had begun up there. It is what I imagine being in a bomb shelter during an air raid might have been like. Some young bangers tried rushing past along the walls, chanting what might have been soccer chants, dangerously tipping the energy of the crowd towards something restive, something volatile. They literall imposed themselves on the larger crowd and began to create a slipstream along the wall but the effects of their actions began to ripple into the middle of the crowd. A young man pushed up against Beth. She snapped at him and he balked. He tried again and Beth warned him to stop. I was surprised to se him look chastened a bit. He backed off and looked for another route. We could see the stairway ahead, finally there was a jetstream of cool air pouring in on us. We mounted the steps and as we did we got our first glimpse of the night sky through a canopy of tree tops. There was a thunderous explosion and the trees were suddenly backlit, spectral. We had arrived into the air but there seemed to be prospect of escaping the human tide which had brought us to this point. A metro employee stationed at the top of the steps was shouting at us to keep moving, it was a sensible message but the crowd was insensible to it, beguiled by its first impression of the fireworks. I felt sorry for all the people behind us and I also felt an urgent need to separate from this scene. Beth and I took a sharp turn away from the fireworks, going contre sens we began to find room to manouver. Amazingly in five short minutes we had found some curb space in a delivery lane where we could spread a blanket and set the kids down. Somehow our Brazilian friends found us there and remained by our sides for the duration. Beside us on one of the major treelined streets funelling into Trocadero there were thousands of people filling the street from curb to curb extending as far back as we could see, their faces all upturned and illuminated. Colm was newly invigorated and intrigued. He too looked up into the sky framed on one side by tall oak trees and on the other side by the walls of tall buildings. Tess did too but she had her hands clasped tightly over her ears.
Breathtaking: the fireworks themselves were like nothing I have ever seen. Just as this night has redefined my sense of the word "crowd" so too it has replaced whatever experiential correlative I had in place for "fireworks". It was spectacularly indulgent. Perhaps I've been in France too long...but I would even go so far as to say that it was coherent. Whatever it was it made everyone gasp and applaud numerous times.
Gratifying: When we struck off early to get away from the crowd and try to get home without descending once more into metro hell we began by simply walking away. Neither the Brazilians nor we had any real good idea of how to get home. We knew where home was but we didn't know what would work to get us there, so we walked. As we walked we noticed that it was now the cars in the streets that were hopelessly jammed up and immobile. We snaked past them, trying to stay ahead of what we imagined was a burgeoning movement behind us. We came to a large plaza and debated what to do. The Brazilians went off and we began a circuit of the plaza hoping to get a sign of where we should go. And then while we were paused by a group of parked scooters, our map unfolded. A kindly man, short and balding in a suit jacket and an unbuttoned shirt approached us and asked in English if he could help us. Patiently he listened to our notions about which metro stops to try from this point. Carefully he explained how to get to each one, how far away each one was. He brought perfect clarity to our situation and then he excused himself politely and receded back into the night. Twenty minutes later we were in the metro seated and on our way home.
Mortifying: Sunday morning I got my wallet picked by a guy in the metro. I lost my passport, my credit cards, my money....bleh. The guy was a pro and a brazen one too. I looked him right in the eye right after he had done it...I realized it all a fraction of a second too late. He skipped out of the car just as the doors closed. I tried to open them and could only watch him hot footing it away as the train gathered speed and took us toward the next stop. I stood there and began swearing, Fuck, fuck, fuck. Beth looked at me alarmed. He got my wallet, I said to her. He took my fucking wallet. Oh my god. What happened to your wallet, said Colm. Did a pickpocket take your wallet Daddy? Yes he did. Why? ....It just so happened that the subject of pickpockets had come up the night before. It had fascinated the kids then, the whole idea. Now life was obliging their desire to know more. Trying to respond to the kids insistent questions at the very moment when I was consumed with fury and embarrassment was not easy to say the least, but it helped by get control of myself and focused my for a bit on the kids, which was a good thing. They are so tuned in to what's going on. I got off at the next stop and went back to look in the trash cans for my luck. I also kept an eye out for my perp but no dice there either.
I spent the rest of the day mentally replaying the scene, auditioning my own personal version of Groundhog Day.
Sobering: Going to the US embassy in Paris and realizing that I've become a statistic. There were many other sad faces there trying to salvage a vacation gone to hell. In fact the place was overrun with people. I arrived fifteen minutes after the embassy opened, but after taking a number and wandering into the waiting room where there are no less than 18 windows operating on individual cases and the backlog is already enormous. One woman was so shook up by the enormity of having lost her entire family's passports, she could not remember how to spell her daughter's married name, not after trying two times. She gave up for the time being and bravely promised to try again later...if I hadn't heard that conversation myself I would have had trouble believing it. There were also lots of French nationals there who after having worked in the US for a year were obliged to return to France in order to apply for an extension or a renewal of their visas.
Mesmerizing: The Eiffel Tower managed to haunt our children's inner lives first from afar being Tess's first cultural reference point and then almost a year later from our hotel window. We drew ever nearer to it each day of our visit, seeing it from across the river, out of bus windows, from the top of a ferris wheel in the Tuilleries and even through the smoke of the fireworks on the 14th of July, and then on the morning of the 15th we left for the metro at 7:45 and began our assault on the sommet. The plan was to beat the lines and it worked. Beth and the kids went up while I went to the embassy get a new passport. The kids were gaga about the whole thing although honestly they had as much fun afterwards in the kids playground in the Champs de Mars. Sitting there watching the kids play on a swingset with the Eiffel Tower looming behind them set against the passing clouds you have to pinch yourself sometimes to remember where you are.
Calming: Sailing wooden sailboats on the pond at the Jardin du Luxembourg is a bit like eating quiche...if you can get over the fact that it is a bit of a cliche you can actually enjoy it for what it is - fun. You can rent boats for an hour or for thirty minutes. Luxembourg is a beautiful garden spot but the fun police are very much in evidence there. Don't try to sit on the grass or move a chair next to the pond. The latter rule is truly baffling to me. It was hot the day we were there and a pair of old ladies tried to move a couple of chairs from the perimeter designated as the chair zone about five meters into a spot of shade maybe one and a half yards square. The uniformed woman in charge of overseeing the pond needed only a couple of minutes to find them out, wag her finger at them, and say with a sardonic smile, "Your chairs don't have wheels on them, do they?"

The collections housed in the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle which sits next to the Jardin des Plantes. First there is the stunning collection of skeletons in the Paleontologie et Anatomie Comparee in which the reconstructed skeletons of thousands of species are displayed in a manner that evokes a march of the dead through time and a dizzying range of species and variations on themes. The second floor houses dinosaur skeletons.
Then there is the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution which attempts to conjure animate life in its many forms. These are museums that sustain on both the casual and serious level, I think. Our kids could not have been happier in an ice cream parlor or a toy store. By chance we saw the paleontology exhibit first which visually hammered home in the kids' minds that these were dead things. Interesting however not even the beautifully rendered life like creatures (many in their real skins) could make a dent on our kids' perception of them as dead animals. Time and again Tess or Colm would point at some fierce but stuffed animal and say, "Look here is a dead wolf."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Why blog?...or courting the coincidental reader

This will be the last post from Lege Cap Ferret and probably from France, unless I can squeeze one in from the hotel or a cybercafe in Paris while we're there. I'm taking a break. Don't know for how long...

I started this blog back in the spring of 2006 primarily as a vehicle for sharing information about La Grande with my exchange partner, Cecile. I posted photos of our house where she would be living and of our neighborhood and the high school. That initial exercise allowed me to glimpse the potential a blog had for creating and maintaining a kind of personal memoir. I say personal and not family only because it's me who posts material on this blog and thus even though it is often a family record it is always sifted through my own perspective.

It became an obsession for me here in France, a creative outlet where I could continue to develop a writing practice and in the process try to document our life here. My work post was typically the kitchen counter top. I got used to typing on my feet, sometimes for hours. I was often oblivious to the activities going on around me and at times I presented a bit of a problem to Beth and the kids who were tempted always to believe that I was present there in the kitchen when I was, in fact, often elsewhere.

Photography became an unexpectedly essential element of my creative process. It's gotten to the point where I now enjoy working in both directions, from the visual to the textual and vice versa. Posting photos sometimes was a way to put something up quickly without having to spend too much energy or time composing. I tried to find a rhythm of posting several times a week but only occasionally was I up to creating longer entries.

There were times, however, when in the process doing a quick photo post I'd see the images suddenly in a different light or a couple of images would suddenly speak to each other, and then I'd find myself being led my the photos in a direction I hadn't contemplated. Other times I merely inserted photos, often of the kids and/or Beth, to give readers something pleasant to look at, eye candy if you will.

It's sort of amazing how much mileage we've gotten out of our Canon A75 Powershot digital camera. I wish I could post a picture of the camera itself. For a month or so it has been showing signs of serious stress. First, the hard shell case is starting to come apart. There's a gap almost 1/8 of an inch wide, you can actually see inside the camera on the top left corner (I covered it with scotch tape) seems like you shouldn't be able to take pictures with it like that but it's still going strong.
Lately, I've added some bells and whistles to the blog by posting video clips via Youtube. Most recently I've learned how to embed clips in the blog like the one at the end of this post...easier and more fun for you hopefully.

I also gave myself permission to move back and forth from the personal to the professional. The line dividing these domains is always somewhat blurry. Here however it has been nearly erased. Coming to France was like putting our family in a lifeboat. For a good long time we only had each other. My forays into work at Lycee Nord Bassin were things I needed to report first to my wife as part of our collective effort of getting our bearings here and then also to the extended family and friends.

Later, as time passed, I began to forge a professional identity here. I began to imagine that perhaps my colleagues might be interested in some of what I was experiencing and thinking about. At that point I began blogging for a wider audience. At a certain point I began hearing from colleagues at work here in France saying that they had looked in on the blog. Originally I had imagined that my colleagues in the US might be readers but it seems that the reverse has been the case more often than not.

For me it was a matter of playing the cards that Fulbright and the French dealt me. Beth's story by contrast is largely untold in my blog but it is definitely one that is worth hearing. Her particular challenges were enormous and they required her to get up each day and create out of whole cloth a situation for herself. Her achievements were in and of themselves quite remarkable. I am quite sure that there are several households here that will guard for a long time to come souvenirs, both tangible and intangible, of her presence here.

I can think of easier places in the world to set about trying to do this than France, and there were times when she and I were exasperated by the reserve and the traditional, conservative attitudes and practices that serve to keep outsiders on the outside. Her French was a boon to her though and it allowed us to move as a couple amongst the people here. It also forged between Beth and I an even stronger alliance.

According to my blog account I will have made almost 300 posts by the time we leave France. Poems, songs, personal essays, dialogues, sketches, reportage, narratives, photo essays, news and artifacts, anecdotes...It's safe to say that I have written a lot and I would be very shocked if there is anyone out there who has read it all. My own mother said to me during one phone call earlier in the year, "Kevin, you certainly do write a lot of words." She meant it in a good way, of course, as in, my you are prolific, but for others perhaps less constrained by the bonds of unconditional love, the length of certain posts has perhaps been off putting at times. Using the blog as a space in which to think out loud carries with it certain challenges and problems for reader and writer alike.

One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher for as long as I have been one, is the tendency to believe that what you have to say should be perforce of great interest and value to others. The positive side of this syndrome is, I hope, a fervent and hopefully contagious desire to engage with people, with events, and with ideas.

I'd be lying if I said I was indifferent to whether or not I had readers. In fact, one of my struggles has always been how to scratch that itch to write and also find an audience, even a single reader, with whom to connect. People who know me and who work with me have had to endure and politely field my awkward solicitations. I have tried submitting manuscripts of short stories and poems...

In the process of creating this blog I became aware of readers via the Comments eldest daughter Erin, and my colleague Charles were easily the most consistently present respondents but there were also my parents and siblings, Missy and Adam, Jerry, Sharri, and here and there an LHS student like Jesse, Micah, Katlin, and later on some LNB students like Benoit, Fanny, and Ysoline and colleagues like Francis...they were few in number but very important to me. A few others have responded via email or even in person. Perhaps there were other readers unknown to me but my own sense of audience I must confess was sometimes rather vague...a blog is a little cocoon inside of which you can pretend to be alone while simultaneously feigning transparency to the wider world.

Whether the wider world is looking in your direction is another matter altogether. To quote Conan O'Brien's comic insult dog, "There's three people watching this, Sam, Harold, and a guy in traction at the hospital who can't reach his remote...oh wait a minute, Sam just nodded off!"
So far that harsh thought has not deterred me from sending things out...I'm not sure whether this will change when I get back to the states. Maybe I'll go back to a more low tech approach and just start leaving odd manuscripts lying about for random people to pick up and do with what they that I think of it, that reminds of a Finnish film Beth and I saw a few years ago in which there is a scene at the end where a poet surreptitiously inserts his handwritten poems into cereal boxes on the supermarket shelves and leaves it to fate to marry his lyrics to some random bleary-eyed breakfast eater.

When nobody asks you to write and you write anyway, you sometimes end up doing things like that...leaving manuscripts casually on the kitchen table, stuffing them in cereal boxes, posting things on the internet...courting the coincidental reader.

It's time for us to dance offstage - a little music please...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

keeping our heads above water

Overheard recently:
* "I am confused about going to the United States."
"Why is that?"
"Because we're going home, but it seems like we live here."

* From the back seat of the car the other day while we were driving the kids home from market- Tess says,
"There was a girl in that car. She was looking at me."
"um, hmm..."
"I think she was looking like that because she's jealous of me because Colm is my little brother."

*Colm had tagged along with Tess to go visit her friend Constance when out of the blue arrived his best friend, Alec, arrived at our house (with his parents and big brother) to see if he could come over and play. We went across the street and got Colm who was both excited and nervous. The prospect of playing with Alec overjoyed him but the prospect of being away from us and his sister while being completely surrounded by French speakers only obviously worried him. "Would you come with me?" Colm whispered to me as we made ready to put him in the bike trailor belonging Alec's parents.
"Don't worry Colm. We'll come get you in a couple of hours."
Colm looked at me still a bit unconvinced but Alec was enthusiatically tugging at his sleeve and he succeeded in diverting Colm's attention. Off they went.

When we came by to pick him up. Alec's mother told us that she hadn't known that Colm could speak French. She said, "He didn't speak three weeks ago. What happened?"
Beth and I looked out there in the back yard. The kids, now joined by Tess, were clambering about the swingset and a giant pile of sand. Colm was like a fish in water.
Friends happened, I thought.

*Tess comes into the kitchen after I had just put her to bed. She's cupping her hand over one eye.
"Oui mon coeur."
"Ca me fait du mal."
"Ou ca?"
"Ici, mon oeil. J'ai besoin d'une serviette chaude."
I get her a warm damp cloth and hold it over her eye. She stands there for a couple of seconds and then says, "Papa, je ne suis plus mal a l'aise." I remove the cloth. We walk down the hallway toward her room.
"Je pense que ca venait de la maquillage."
I nod knowingly. Earlier in the day she had been playing with makeup with her friend Constance. I then give her my very first father lecture on makeup. "C'est pourquoi je n'aime pas beaucoup la maquillage. Tu n'as pas besoin de maquillage d'etre belle. Tu es belle deja."
Tess regards me with an indulgent air. Then she smiles.
"Mais papa, c'est trop beau!" (but daddy it's sooo pretty!)
The smile I send back to her is my confession that the heart cannot be reasoned out of its desires.

*Tess playing with her barbies...who knew that they could speak French too? It helps me to know this.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

packing bags and closing accounts

About two weeks ago Beth and I did a prepack...we pretended that we were leaving the next day and we packed all our stuff. The point was to make sure we could fit it all in our valises and come in under the 22 kilo weight limit too. We borrowed our neighbor's bathroom scales and went to work. Remembering my sister-in-law's advice on rolling clothes instead of folding them we succeeded, barely. Interestingly, because we packed books in a couple of the smaller bags they all weigh the same thing...22 kilos. The only hitch in our rather uncharacteristic display of advance preparation is the fact that all this was two weeks ago. We hadn't anticipated for example the clay roof tile with the water color rendering of the bassin d'Arcachon that would be given to us as a goodbye gift or the distressingly large white unicorn given to Tess, not to mention a handful of other small objects that have crept into the equation. Tomorrow we pack for real.
We managed to find homes for a bike trailor, a couple of scooters, some soccer balls, and an inflatable trampoline. We've taken two or three bags of clothes to the local secondhand clothing store. While closing accounts here I ran into a glitch with the mobile phone provider. They had sold me a two year contract with the explicit assurance that I'd be able to escape the contract for the reason of leaving the country. When I attempted to do that last month however I was told that I needed documentation, proof, of my need to leave. I had a very annoying phone conversation with a man who seemed not all interested in giving me the benefit of the doubt. I ended up faxing him a copy of my letter of intent to return to my high school which I happened to have in my records here. Inexplicably, two weeks ago our phones stopped working utterly. No signal. We had been terminated as far as I could tell even though I had requested service up until we got to Paris. Hardball, I thought to myself. Ok. Then yesterday I got four letters from the mobile phone provider. Unfortunately for me I opened them in the order they were sent hoping that a chronological order would lend some sense and context to the contents, whatever they turned out to be. Letters one and two (we have two phones, each one necessitating a letter apparently) acknowledged regretfully my request for contract cancellation and then announced, regretfully, that it would be impossible to satisfy my request owing to the conditions of the contract. It ended on a cheerfully upbeat suggestion that I reconsider continuing my services with them. While swearing in at least three languages I opened letters three and four. They were nearly identical to letters one and two, that is to say equally regretful, both these two included a sentence accepting my request for termination but they also added that my bank account would be automatically billed up through July. I laid the four letters on the table in front of me. Beside them I lay the dead phones...the horror of it all, the kafkaesque horror. I had to laugh. There was only one thing to do. I went to the bank and closed my account. They would get no more money from me.
We're headed for Paris the day after tomorrow, gonna catch the Bastille Day parades and fireworks, take the kids up the Tour Eiffel, sail little toy boats at the Jardin du Luxembourg, have fun at the amusement park in Bois de Boulogne, see the Cit
é des Sciences in the Villette and see real dinosaur skeletons at the Jardin de Plantes...
Somehow we're going to transport ourselves and eight bags Friday morning to a nearby bus stop in Lege. Then it's on to the train station Gare St. Jean in Bordeaux and a three hour ride on the TGV to Paris on the eve of Bastille Day. I don't know how many taxis we'll need to get ourselves and our stuff to our hotel in the 17th. Once we get to our hotel I only hope we can find space for our bags... we may have to sleep on top of them. It is a dirt cheap two star hotel. We'll be sharing a bathroom with three or four other rooms on our floor...we'll see. I think there's a bar down below with live music, oh and did I mention that we're within easy walking distance of the red light district?... actually we're practically in the red light district. Trust me when I say it was this or Jim Morrisson's last hotel, a dive in the Latin Quarter (I'm not kidding). Paris is booked and plus they just don't offer sleeping accomodations for four people in one room.
Five nights later a private shuttle is picking us up and taking us to the airport and we are flying home. It sounds fatiguing, I guess, but coming over here last year we did the whole enchilada without staying overnight anywhere...that was brutal. At least this way we're breaking the trip into two parts.
Mostly we're counting on good weather to allow us to spend a lot of time outside. Saturday night there will be fireworks at the Tour Eiffel to celebrate July 14. We're not sure how close we're going to try to get to them. That same day in the morning there is a a large traditional military parade in which the national pride is exercised by every branch of the French armed services. Highlights include a flyover by fighter jets in formation trailing the French tricolors (blue, red, and white) over the heads of the spectators along the Champs Elys
Also the final units of the parade are the famous Legionaires who apparently march to a very different drummer. They are last because they are the elite troops, and also because their style of march is very theatrical and very slow. Apparently, the Champs Elysée is closed the evening before the parade and rehearsals take place at around three in the morning. I've been told to notice the bleary-eyed expressions on the soldiers as they pass by in the late morning parade.
more later,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

discovering France...Oh! the places we've gone!

Before arriving in France, Beth and I had notions of grand tours of Europe, Italy, Greece maybe even forays into Northern Africa. We got here and came to the realization that one year was barely enough time to delve into southwest France. As it turns out we still have some places left to see. Maybe next time.
Our only trip outside of France turned out to be just across the border in San Sebastien, Spain. We relied heavily on the recommendations of the locals. Many of these places we had never heard of before.
Here are some photographic touchstones of some of the places we visited:
Le Bassin d'Arcachon

Cap Ferret



Le Port de Biganos

Domaine de Certes

Les plages de la Presqu'Ile de Lege-Cap Ferret


St. Emilion

La Dordogne

Les Eyzies




Abbe Cadouin

Pays Basque

La Rochelle

Les Palmyres




La Camargue



St. Macaire



Le Lot

Puy l'Eveque