Archive for the ‘The Road To France’ category

Return And Turn Again

November 12, 2014

DSC_9232Here I go, on my way back to France, via a week in London. In London my plan is to be as much of a tourist as possible, so I promise to show you all the sights, as soon as I get used to traveling on my own after 20 years of travelling with Shel.

Once in France I plan to nestle in, finding a French life that can be mine alone. Shared with you, of course, but otherwise mine, all mine. Wish me luck and please come along for the ride. It might get a bit rocky, but I hope it will be rewarding.

Heading For Home

September 27, 2013

DSC_7610-001Sometimes it’s impossible to see where you’re going, even though everyone around you is in the clear. Sometimes it seems like you’re living in a perpetual fog, unable to find your way. Sometimes you’re just dépaysé, disoriented, far from home. And that’s how French Letters has felt lo these 20 months, far from France, out of its element.

But now, actually tomorrow, French Letters will be repatriated, however briefly. We’re heading back to France for six weeks, to our same town, same house, same friends, same life, our vie française. Of course, you can never really go back. One couple of friends has gotten a divorce. A beloved teacher has retired. We’re no longer on speaking terms with a neighbor. Shel will play in a band with different members. And those are just the changes we know about. There are bound to be many others, given the passage of time.

We’re leaving our island with heavy hearts, because our beloved Beppo has never come home, and we now believe, as much as we can’t bear to admit it, that he’ll never come home again. But like that ferry in the fog, we can’t see everything that’s out there, we just don’t know all that’s going on around us, even on such a minute scale. Sadness envelops us like a cold mist, but joy might be just around the corner.

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And if it’s going to be anywhere, it’ll be lying in wait for us here, in what was for so long our heart’s own home. The wisteria won’t be in bloom, that we know. More wineglasses will have been broken by summer guests, that we know for sure too. Shel will go next door to the bakery every morning, sure as sunrise. And for the rest, well, we’ll just wait and see. Come along with us for our fifth return home.

Un Ouf De Soulagement

October 6, 2011

Whew! That’s what ouf de soulagement means, a sigh of relief. Finally, and not a moment too soon for we leave in the morning, the packing gods have been appeased. Each of us has one suitcase under 50 pounds and one large carry-on, to last us for the next three months. Three months of clothes that will take us from Casablanca to Colmar, the first sunny and warm next week, the second most likely snowy when we get there at the end of November.

Saturday will find us, by the purest coincidence and a post on Facebook, having lunch in Barcelona with Arne and Janine, who are there now from Vancouver, B.C. We don’t get to see them often, even though we live just three hours apart, so what’s the chance that we’d all be in Barcelona at the same time? And what’s the chance that I’d even see their Facebook post saying so, given how random and perverse the site has become? But we are and I did, and so the beautiful Barcelona will be enhanced by having a welcoming committee, friends with whom to go to a tapas bar and share some of that delicious Spanish food and locally-made vermouth.

But before that we’ll have to spend quite a long time up in the sky, and then afterwards we’ll be on a ship for a week, from which I will attempt to stay in touch here, but Internet at sea is even less reliable than Facebook, and I’m not promising anything. So until then, whenever then may be, wish us fair skies and smooth sailing, and hasta la vista.

Busy As Bees

October 2, 2011

Holy buzz, Batgirl! I’m zipping around here like it’s the last day of summer and I need to get my honey all finished before frost. Actually, that’s not far from the truth. In less than a week we leave for Barcelona, followed closely by France, and the transition takes an incredible amount of effort each time, no matter how many times we’ve done it before.

Shel and I each have our lists, both diverse: pack computer cables, refill prescriptions, refinance house, get a haircut, visit the dentist, rent a car for Ibiza, bake a birthday cake, get the knives sharpened, dig out the sweaters, help Jordan move, and take Beppo and Zazou to their home away from home, the Snuggles Inn. And then right in the middle of all that, a plumbing emergency that added to the list: throw all available towels on the bathroom floor, squeegee a flood out of the garage, call the plumber, buy Pine-Sol, wash all affected floors and the towels that were on them. I think I should add get a massage, and hire a personal assistant. Open a nice bottle of wine has been on the list since the beginning, naturally. Somewhere in there has to be time to cook, pack, and oh yeah, sleep.

Right now the present tasks are so pressing that the upcoming fun seems like a blur. But once in Barcelona there will be a week-long cruise that calls in at Cadiz, Malaga, Casablanca, and Ibiza. Then a train ride home to Uzès, followed by a trip to the Ile d’Oléron, and another to Colmar.  In between our travels we’ll spend as much time as possible with our old friends, return to our French studies, teach some English, and generally revel in la vie française. At least that’s the plan,

for right now we’re just trying to hang in there, and cross as many items off the lists as possible before additional items get added. “Keep your eye on the honey” I tell myself, and the time keeps ticking away. Only six more days to change lives completely.

This Fragile Life

August 26, 2011

Some of you have been having summer for lo these many months, but chez nous it only arrived a week ago. We’ve been reveling in it, grilling out on the back deck most nights, sitting with a glass of wine on the front deck after a leisurely supper and watching the daily arrival of the Victoria Clipper, returning from, guess where? She’s the noisiest boat on the water, and you can hear her before you see her. We don’t mind. We’re outside with the Anna’s hummingbird applying herself to the cuphea, with the sudden influx of nocturnal flying ants, a solitary and occasional bat, and tonight, Zazou climbing the mast that pierces through our deck and into the twilight sky. “Come quick” Shel calls “Look at Zazou.” And I do.

I didn’t pose that feather there, I happened upon it while watering. My hose accidentally doused it, and still it hung on. It wasn’t among its own kind, had fallen, largely unnoticed, far from home, and yet it seemed to have landed in just the right spot. That’s how we feel about our home in France, even though it doesn’t belong to us, even though we can’t spend as much time there as we wish. We hang on to that dream for dear life.

Today we saw Shel’s wonderful oncologist who asked us if we wanted Shel to get a CT scan before we went back to France in October. He asked “What would you do if it were bad news?” and Shel said “We’re going back no matter what.” So no scan, just plans.

For the moment, we’re enjoying the island to the fullest. The sun shines, the water shimmers blue, abandoning its usual steely green. I gather blueberries and blackberries and salad and chard from my garden.  I despair of having enough warm weather to get even one ripe tomato, but I stake my little plant up and hope.  We sleep with the screen doors open, the night-scented nicotiana outside the bedroom wafting us to sleep. I cook meat over real wood charcoal and it’s the most delicious thing ever. We’re having summer.

But as soon as summer’s over we’ll be turning our thoughts to the east, where we’ll be taking a little cruise, just one week, out of Barcelona, on our way back to France. We’re getting better at the transition back and forth, but here’s the thing that drives us crazy: the baggage limitations. By which I don’t only mean the fact that if we take more than 50 pounds we have to pay, or the fact that winter clothes take up so much luggage space, it’s also that we just can’t drag three suitcases apiece like we used to. It’s hard to admit, but irrefutably true, we are older than we used to be. And thus we must learn to live out of one suitcase each for three months. That’s what we did last Spring, but then it was summer clothes.

We’re trying to make the best of it all, and I’d say we’re doing pretty well.

And We’re Off

March 2, 2011

Tomorrow we’re going back to France, a thing I won’t truly fathom until we land in Paris. We dreamed the impossible dream, and now it’s coming true, against all the odds. Génial ! Wonderful! Fantastique !

We’re limiting ourselves to one suitcase each, which turns out to be easier than I’d thought it would be.  We each get 50 pounds, but amazingly both of our bags are a bit underweight.  I suddenly realized “hey, I wear the same pair of jeans almost every single day here at home, why do I need more than that in France?”  Well, actually I do need more, but not that much more. We already know that where we’re going is very casual, and usually warm.  We won’t be dressing up, and we have a washer and dryer.  And, drum roll, there are stores in France!  If we need something we can buy it.  I don’t have to take shampoo and toothpaste and band aids and all the paraphernalia that filled our five gigantic suitcases the first time we moved to France, because now I know exactly where to find everything, how to live on the local economy. It’s a great feeling, liberating.

Today as I was out doing errands I was thinking about how to explain something in French, something technical to do with a bottle of wine I’m taking over, and when a woman held a door open for me I automatically said “Merci, Madame.” I think I’m ready to be there, well-worn jeans, rusty French and all. When next we chat, I’ll be here:

My computer sits right inside that lower window, the one opening onto the balcony. See you there.

Counting The Minutes

February 27, 2011

In just a few days we’ll see the venerable Pont du Gard, our dear friends, the town where we lived so happily for so long, our dear rented house where we spent some of the happiest days of our lives. In less than a week we’ll be repatriated to that life, just one year to the day after we left it. When we walked out that door we didn’t believe we’d ever be back, Shel’s health seemed so precarious that we couldn’t imagine a time when he would be able to return. And now here we are, almost ready to go.

I say “almost ready” in the loosest possible sense of the phrase, since we’re not packed at all.  In fact, we’re not going to pack until tomorrow, when Beppo and Zazou are spirited away to the luxury kitty hotel where they’ll be spending the next three months. Packing upsets them, and we already feel guilty enough about leaving them.  I know they’d rather be in France with us, especially Zazou, who might long for her native land. But it’s such a long and arduous journey for a cat, and to make them do that twice in three months seems cruel and unusual. So they’ll stay where they can be pampered, and we’ll go to where we can pamper ourselves, albeit catless.

We’re exercising a strict packing discipline too, just in case we have to get home in a hurry.  One suitcase each, that’s it. We’re allowed 50 lbs in that suitcase, and I’m assuming that the weather is going to be warm every day we’re there, because only summer clothes could possibly fit into that tiny weight limit. One sweater, that’s it for me, cross my fingers and hope for sun.

And speaking of crossing, I keep making lists, crossing things off, adding new things to do faster than I can cross out the old ones.  But I know that by Wednesday night when we give our suitcases that final zip, all will be well.  Moving from one country to another is predictable chaos, at first you think it can’t be managed, then you run around in circles for a little while trying not to shriek, then you’re sitting in an Air France plane sipping free Champagne.  Four more days.

France Awaits Us

August 31, 2009

alentours 328

La France nous tend les bras.  I love the expression tendre les bras, which means to open one’s arms to, to call out to, to welcome.  Normally I would use it about a comfy chair that just calls out to me “here, collapse into my arms and rest,” but in this case, it’s France herself that calls to me,  Soon, my darling, very soon.

But before the joyful part of the reunion there will definitely be collapsing.  Moving to another country is very complicated, when one isn’t just packing it all into a container and trusting one’s cherished belongings to the open sea.  In our case, because we’ll be coming back, sometime, who knows when, getting ready to go is a tortuous process of triage.  Lots of things must be left behind, because the reality is that one can only take so many suitcases on the plane, and the even harsher reality is that once in Paris, one can only jockey so many suitcases onto the train heading south.  But lots of things sneak into the suitcase, just one more sweater, one more book, and before you know it we’re sitting on them in the time-honored tradition of suitcase-closers since the dawn of travel.  And so let me just say that the number and weight of our suitcases is challenging, unreasonable, vaguely ridiculous, not to say totally hopeless.

Therefore, quite reasonably, I anticipate a collapse occurring somewhere between Paris and Avignon.  You’ll probably be able to hear it from wherever you are.  It will sound like this “Holy ****,  I can’t believe we brought all this **** with us!”  I don’t need to translate that, right?

So the next time we speak, French Letters will have been repatriated.  We’re going to be spending 5 weeks in a different part of France, not far from Toulouse, and new adventures beckon.  Right after we get done collapsing we’ll be chasing them, trailing a cloud of luggage, hopes, and dreams.    Au revoir, et à très bientôt.

Sowing the Seeds of Success

August 29, 2007


“Oh my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…”  NOT!  The next 24 hours promise to be fairly hair raising, and so this will be my last post from home.  Home as we know it, home in America.  When next we speak, our French life will have begun and we will be in our new home.  Goddesses willing, the DSL will get hooked up expeditiously and I’ll be back with you in almost a flash.  It will probably seem like a flash to you because you won’t be crammed into a jet flying unnaturally close to the sun.  To me, it’ll be long, long, long but hopefully worth it.

I remember vividly that day, a shockingly short four months ago, when we merrily said “hey, why don’t we go live in France for a while?”  That moment planted the seed, and I’m hoping the fruit will be as sweet as we’ve been imagining.  The process of our move has been absolutely like gardening, where you pore over the seed catalogues in a pastoral rapture, rake up the topsoil, sprinkle the seeds with hopes and dreams, then weed and water the hell out of it all until you’re dripping with sweat, scratched and bruised, aching with exertion, and never want to see another radish as long as you live.  That’s where we are today.  Radish overload.

The sweaters are vacuum packed down to the size of a brick and still don’t fit in the suitcase.  A bag that would fly for free at 50 lbs and may weigh 70 lbs if we’re willing to pay for it currently weighs 57 lbs.   That’s a misery, since we’ll be paying as if it were 70 lbs, and so we’d damn well better cram in another 13 lbs, but how?

Our dear Sushi cat, unhealthy during almost all of her short four years of life, refused to move to France and chose to become sick unto death instead, leaving the planet this morning.  Beppo,  never having been an Only Cat, is bewildered.  We’re trying to teach him French, telling him “on ne te laissera jamais, petit minou” and it’s true, we’d never leave that little kitty, now our only furry companion.

Soon, almost unbearably soon, we’ll be setting off on what promises to be our greatest adventure yet.  Please stay tuned and I’ll be back with you right after we tackle a message from the sponsor of all great adventures: hard work and inspiration.

Let’s Go, Let’s Go!

August 28, 2007


Pack up the bags and let’s go, let’s go

Clean out the house and let’s go, let’s go

Water the plants and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go

Get cats their shots and let’s go, let’s go

Run to the bank and let’s go, let’s go

Empty the fridge and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go

Spend sleepless nights and let’s go, let’s go

Finish our wills and let’s go, let’s go

Kiss friends goodbye and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go