Posted tagged ‘The ex-pat life’

Crossroads Of The Heart

July 28, 2017


Somehow life in France always seems more vivid to me. I don’t know why, but when I’m there the smallest things glow with meaning and emotion. Every word and gesture seems nourished by an undercurrent of feeling.  Shel always said that when we lived there I was the happiest he’d ever seen me, and I think that’s still true. Something in me sings to be there, it’s an intimate experience of well-being, living in a place where le relationnel, the interpersonal, is the driving force of daily life.

I got a little French suntan last week while I was on vacation, but it’s already fading. I’m still thinking in French half the time, but it’s no longer all the time. I brought home with me the impulse to look prettier, fuss with myself a bit, that always descends on me when I’m there. That too shall pass, and I’ll once again go to the grocery store in embarrassing shirts with lackadaisical hair, not having looked in a mirror all day. That’s how I am here, less, in so many ways.

One reason is that there everyone knew and loved Shel, thought of me as his wife, seldom saw me alone. Here, no one’s ever known me to be anything but alone. Ça change la donne, which is hard to translate. It’s a game-changer, making you do something differently because of the hand you’ve been dealt.

In a certain way now I’m a half, but my friends in France all knew me when I was part of a whole. In another way I’m twice what I was, because, whatever happens, now it’s all up to me. I live another life in France, I speak another language, I’m someone else entirely.

But this time I was definitely an American, and faced a lot of gently- raised eyebrows. and a certain amount of tiptoeing around, until I took to saying notre soi-disant President, our so-called President. It’s a lot for one person to have to answer for, the horrific mistakes made by one’s country. I gained a much greater sympathy for the Germans of modern times, who must feel, as I do “it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.”

All of which raises the question of who I want to be in this so-difficult world. In spite of  the legendary bureaucracy and the notorious plumbing, should I sink back into what feels to me like the warm bath of French life? Or is that bath bound to cool with the times, just as the American dream is shattering, unthinkably? Stand and fight, or flee toward peace?

It’s a time of deep, existential deliberation for me, and it’s France that inspires my contemplation. As a woman alone on this Earth, one with a foot in each of two worlds, I welcome your thoughts and counsel.


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.