When we began planning this sojourn some years ago we were fortunate to have an invaluable resource to turn to as we wallowed in our ignorance: a French friend of our neighbors who lives in this part of the country and whom Lois met when she visited the States. She is opinionated and forthright and we had a lively e-mail correspondence wherein she gave us vital basic information and kept us from getting too hysterical and answered some of the thousands of questions we had. We soon learned to submit to her scrutiny any potential apartment rentals communicated to us by our realtor (another angel in human form whom we were lucky to meet on the internet) or, indeed, anything for which we needed an independent assessment. Whenever we sent her a copy of a letter from our realtor describing a place for rent, she would reply with a full and frank appraisal of the apartment, its location, the local schools, approximate driving times, mood of the locals, etc. One of her most important criteria for habitability was proximity to "the malls", as she called them. "Oh, you'll be just 5 minutes from the malls!", or "It's pretty there but it's too far from the malls." Of course we just looked at each other and thought, "WE"RE never going the malls! The whole reason for spending a year in France is to get AWAY from the damn things! WE"LL go to the local markets every day, the cremerie, the boucherie, the patisserie, the tabac, just like the natives do, etc., etc., etc."
So, guess what, we go to the mall every Monday, just like the natives do. By "we" I mean whichever of us is driving Mike to school that week. We do a big grocery shop for things that aren't readily available in the local village shops, like, uh, like potato chips, and, let's see, frozen pizzas, and, um, well, you know, stuff like that. This is my week to drive so I walked into the Geant Casino mall bright and early this morning and was stopped in my tracks by the over-the-top Christmas decorations. It looked like a miniaturized version of the Macy's Christmas parade was parked in the main concourse - all these float-like displays with animated giant plush beany-baby looking figures, angels, Santas, reindeer, oxen, the holy family, three kings, etc., nodding, ringing bells, mooing, looking from side to side. Hanging from the ceiling above them from one end of the vast hangar-like emporium to the other are giant swaths of fake pine boughs with ornaments, ribbons, blinking lights, candy canes, etc. I thought I was back home! This is the famous French taste? Gallic sophistication? I keep forgetting, and then keep being reminded, that these people consider Jerry Lewis a genius. Joyeux Noel!
Celebrating Thanksgiving here was a little different. Lois made a magnificent traditional meal, except that instead of stuffing a turkey she stuffed a chicken. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, fresh baguette, it was great, but subtly French. The piece de resistance was a pie made, from scratch, from some variety of gourd or squash that LOOKS kinda like a pumpkin, although it's more deeply lobed, and which was fantastic - way better than a regular pumpkin pie, which is not my favorite anyway. Served with a soupcon of creme fraiche, it was the perfect end to a perfect meal. We called our families, which is always a delight, and pretty much took it easy (except for Lois, of course, who was slaving away in the kitchen!) I kept reflexively reaching for the remote, only to be brutally disappointed that there was no football on the tube.
Although I miss people and places in a sort of abstract way all the time, I always know that we'll be going home in July so the feelings usually remain comfortably theoretical. But this weekend I felt, for the first time, pangs of homesickness, and it reminded me of being a child. It's always disconcerting to bump into that kid again after 20 or 30 or 50 years and realize that he's still very much alive.
Mike is suffering through what are called his trimestrial exams - two solid days of tests, in all his subjects, on everything they've studied from the beginning of the year. We spent the weekend studying but needed to take a break before we all started throwing things, so yesterday afternoon we walked around the woods and fields surrounding the house for a couple of hours. Good humor restored, we renewed the struggle with the French language - present indicative, past indicative, participles, negatives, etc.
And there's a picture of a local bakery window, too.
Sarko was laying low for a while during the strikes, and we were all worried, but, thank goodness, he's back, he's bad and he's everywhere! The photo below was in today's London Times. This kind of thing probably wouldn't appear in a French paper because the Fourth Estate (I think it's the fourth estate. Journalism, anyway.) here still clings to vestiges of the old-fashioned belief that organs of information have a duty to protect the privacy of public figures. (Oh, I think there may be some strict laws or something involved, too.) The Brits, of course,
howl with laughter at this idea from the back seats of their motorcycles as they chase celebrities
into churches, hospitals and morgues, and no one howls louder than Rupert Murdoch and his minions, who produce the Times. The woman on the left of Le President is Tinka (really!) Milinovic, a Bosnian "television presenter and singer", and she below is Laurence Ferrari, a "glamorous, newly divorced television presenter" (is there a pattern here?) with both of whom he's recently been romantically linked.
There IS a pattern here. According to the article, Sarkozy's girlfriend during his previous separation from Cecilia was a journalist, the current foreign minister and ecology minister are married to television journalists, the Socialist party leader and longtime companion of presidential candidate Segolene Royal was dumped by her because he had an affair with a journalist, and the former finance minister (and current president of the IMF) is married to "another media figure." And among other interesting presidential items in the article are the following:
Francois Mitterand would sometimes visit three (3) mistresses in an evening; he called them his "starter, main course and pudding" (I hope that sounds more romantic in French!); and Jacques Chirac's nickname when he was Mayor of Paris was "Three minutes, shower included." Yes, little Jean-Pierre, you too can grow up to be President of France.
Speaking of the Times, I think I mentioned that they were running a contest to find a slogan for England in 5 words or less and that my favorites were "At least we're not French!" and "At least we're not American." The winner was announced this week and I must admit it's pretty good: "No motto, please. We're British."
Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. And to my friends at Powell's: Don't worry, it'll simmer down a little by, oh, say 10:30 on Christmas Eve! And when it does, you'll be stronger.
As will we all.
C'est comme ca!