Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Joyeux Noël

We leave for Morocco in one day, it is 5 days until Noel, 11 days before it will be 2009, 30 days and the U.S will swear in a new President. Since we will be away from our temporary home in Fréjus, away for Christmas and away from the computer until 1/1/09 when we return from Morocco, this is my Holiday greeting, a review of our 6 months in France, and a personal inventory of my thanks for getting/creating such an experience and what I’ve learned from it.

2008 was a time for discarding the typical, the known, the tired, and embracing the new, the strange, the unfamiliar. Undoing and remaking. Renewal and hope. Evolution and lessons learned. Taking on such an endeavor is a risk. One never knows what they will find when they shed the comforts and familiarity of the daily grind. A trip like this can be a grand success and still consist of many failures, some get do-overs, but most are one-of-a-kind events that will have to remain difficult lessons from which we learned something très important but don’t get the chance to improve or try again. Within this “strangers in a strange land” experience, we have been buoyed by our friends and family back home. Whether in good times or difficult ones, to have those who love us dearly only an email or skype call away makes it all seem easier. We know we have a support structure of people who care and that makes the risk-taking seem less daunting. That is also true for all of you who take the time to read this blog because you wish us well and are interested in our journey. You are all appreciated. Merci!

Where have the last 6 months gone? Well, here’s June, July and August in a paragraph:
Packing our house of 11 years into a locker, driving across the country in a rented SUV with dog, 3 weeks visiting old haunts with a year’s worth of baggage (or is it a lifetime’s worth?), leaving our dog with caring family who go out of their way to make sure she gets to Paris ok, finding our way through NYC for our blissful week on the QM2. One full crazy day (driving on the left) in England visiting Stonehenge and Salisbury, our horrible experience with Flybe and the extra $500 it cost to get our stuff across the Channel on a 90-minute flight to Brest, somehow getting everything to fit in our petite French rental car and that first long drive in France with all the foreign signs, our week in Granville on the Normandy coast - visiting Mont St. Michel, D-Day beaches, Caen, and just getting accustomed to being in a strange land. Taking the train to Paris and the whirlwind month we experienced there - loads of history, art, food, shopping, Irie fits and riding the Metro, Lisa and I realizing that we haven’t spent this much time together since the summer of 86, finally finding Maggie in the spaghetti-maze that is Charles DeGaulle Airport, and the weird sensation of starting to become familiarized with a place only to uproot again. Another rental car, this time a large van (because we have Maggie) that is too tall for the parking garage where it is parked, oh well, onward to the Alsace region of France for a week, having a pool and Irie making friends, exploring the beautiful wine region and Strasbourg and thinking about what might have been (we were originally going to live there), and finally...the arrival to our home in Fréjus, France on August 30.

Since then another 3 1/2 months of this year abroad have come and gone. The transition into what would be our home for the next 9 months, Irie’s first week(s) of school, and learning where the important places were like the grocery store, bakery, post office, and markets. Making new friends with the other Americans here - Michelle and Abbie - a godsend for Irie and us! Finding/buying used bikes so we didn’t have to walk everywhere, and learning to live without a car. Enjoying the beach and Mediterranean as much as possible, and learning how to kite surf before autumn descended. The difficulty of finding french classes/lessons, but once discovering Vous Accueil having our Life In France take off: Lisa teaching hula, making friends with Nathalie which leads to us becoming friends with their family (and meeting other friends, Hélène, Katell, and Christine), which leads to many fun evenings together including their introduction to an American Thanksgiving.

The normalization of life and schedules finally began in October:
Mon. afternoon crafts class for Lisa (an excuse to talk french with her friends);
Tues. mornings at Vous Accueil for french and Tues. afternoons of Rick and the ladies talking french for a couple of fatiguing hours;
Weds. Irie has no school, but I have french and she has piano lessons après midi;
Thurs. is OUR day! While Irie is in school we often go to the boulangerie for a du cafe et une patisserie while reading and discussing a french newspaper like Le Monde.
Fri. morning - more french lessons, and Fri. afternoon Lisa teaches her hula group; and, lately I have been biking/hiking every Sun. morning with Nathalie’s husband Laurent.
Add in our 1-week boat trip on the Canal du Midi, a 10-day visit by Grandpa and Grandma Browne, a 10-day visit by Athena, 3 short trips to the very fun city of Nice (a 50-minute train ride away), a night in Marseille, and our occasional nights with our new friends and we are living a full life here in France.

The first 6 months have been a whirlwind: of activity and relaxation, storm and calm, intensity of emotions and insight, all swirled together with the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of a foreign land. Besides the new places, we have a new language, new friends, new culture, new foods, new appliances, new etiquette, new knowledge, and yes, new free time! Taking a year off is a something for which I am amazingly grateful! How lucky are we? Do I deserve such a treat?

The desire to make the most of it, both externally and internally, is what I strive for. Externally that equals all the experiences recapped above and blogged about extensively since we left home. Internally, it’s having the time to breathe, think about the first 43 years, and where I want to go from here, what I want my future life to look like. I have read more books in the last 6 months than in the past 6 years. I have had time to think about my professional life, and accept that I was ready for a change. Thus, I am returning to school, on Jan. 5, 2009, but that is something I will write more about later. Though Irie has struggled with being uprooted at times, she is tough, resilient, talented, and I believe will relish this experience...later, more than now. She is seeing more of the world than many adults ever get to see and it will contribute greatly to her blossoming into a successful human being. We are closer as a family, closer as dad and daughter and closer as mom and daughter. Lastly, plugging along at life in Ashland I didn’t realize how necessary it was, but this year has given me the chance to renew my relationship with Lisa. If nothing else came of this year that would be enough to make it all worthwhile. She is the love of my life and sharing all of life’s ups and downs with her is a joy!

Here is Lisa giving a less wordy, more graceful Holiday message:
O Holy Night hula

I hope this gives a glimpse into how thankful I am for the life I have, those who are a part of it, and all the experiences that allow me to develop, grow, and give back some of that energy to others. Happy Holidays and may 2009 bring everyone happiness and some unexpected journeys and surprises.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Irie speaks

Bonjour! I like France so much. It is a very old place. Paris was so cool! I liked it because of the cool art, all the marble, and the Eiffel Tower. I liked the guinea pig, Muffin, in our apartment, but she pooped a lot. I was so glad when Maggie finally got here. I also liked riding the Metro and taking pictures. I missed having friends to play with so was happy when I met Tom and Clara in Alsace. We played and swam everyday and they just sent me a Christmas card.

I really like Fréjus, and our apartment. My bedroom is really cool because I like all the pictures and the turtle shell.
I'm so happy I met Abbie. She speaks english and is from Georgia in the U.S. and is 9 years old. She is my best friend in France. We play together and have sleep-overs.
School is getting way better for me, I now know what to do in class. Me and Abbie go to a special class with Madame Blanc to learn french, I really like the teacher. She also comes over and teaches my Dad. I went over to my friend Laly's for lunch, to her grandparents, last week. We ate seafood appetizers, mashed potatoes and meat, and for dessert a sugar crêpe.

Christmas this year is going to be really cool because we are going to be in the desert. We have a little tree that we found in a junk pile, but it's really pretty with ornaments Mom made, hawaiian flowers and kukui nuts. I got my Dad a big box of dark chocolates and a Morocco book and the rest of the presents are mine. I keep getting presents in the mail from family in Michigan. Since we won't be home for Christmas I have been opening presents each day. I got lifesavers and bubble gum so far from Nana and Papa, a jump rope from Aunt Missy, Uncle Randy, Kaden and Knoel, and a Sleeping Beauty dvd from Grandpa and Grandma Bailey. Merry Christmas, or as they say here in France, Joyeux Noël.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Noël preparations

A busy week ahead. Getting ready for our French version of Christmas which, unfortunately for Irie, isn't living up to the American standards to which she is accustomed. She is tolerating the tree we found on the curb, tolerating the sparse number of ornaments (maybe because most were made by Lisa in her crafts class) and is very pleased with the packages that have arrived from the grandparents.
We are going minimalist as we have our trip as our present to each other, though Irie doesn't necessarily appreciate that sentiment just yet (I have empathy - she's a kid after all), and spent the weekend writing cards to family and friends that will go in the mail today. But she flipped out that we would be on the road on Christmas day, and that she would be opening most presents this Saturday, before we leave. She's not obsessing about Santa finding her but she started to get into this kick about poor Santa and the one-sidedness of his generosity. Well, that led to a teaching moment about the meaning of Christmas, giving, and selflessness. Sometimes I think she stops a tantrum just to get us to stop lecturing. To get in the spirit, we have been listening to Christmas music on iTunes and Irie has been watching Christmas videos on YouTube, while also enjoying the local Christmas markets and public decorations. Here no one decorates their houses on the outside, but most of the businesses do and the cities seem to put a lot of money into making the public areas look festive. They also take their separation of church and state seriously so all the decorations are of the secular variety, lights, trees, garland, etc., but a manger scene is not to be found.

We're on our way to Morocco in 6 days, our first voyage to the African continent, to a place that just oozes exotic mystique. We will spend 3 days in the medina of Marrakech in a Riad (their version of a B&B), then we drive to the edge of the desert where we will stay Christmas Eve before riding camels on a bivouac into the Sahara for a night in the earth's largest desert. What a way to spend Christmas Day, huh? Then we will spend parts of 2 days driving to the Atlantic coast where we will spend 3 nights in Essouira before returning to Marrakech for 2 more nights including what should be a festive New Year's Eve. We return home on 1/1/09.

Other news: I got a job. Shhhh, don't tell anyone. The story is typical of how one makes their way in a foreign land, getting to know the people and the community. I was having back pain after our boat trip so went to the local chiropractor. Talking to him in franglish it turns out his wife is the pregnant woman who was supposed to be Irie's teacher, and in fact, will be in March when she returns to work. Then, last week I ran into him again, and he asked me for my phone number because a friend who makes commercials needed an english voice-over and he thought of me. I just met with the guy this morning and he was très sympa and even offered to pay me for my work. I look forward to the experience, another possible friend, and linking to the commercial for you all when it's finished.

Lastly, we got hit with a major storm yesterday which kept us housebound. High winds, pouring rain (coming down sideways in the wind), and, as I found out this morning when I went to the bakery, high seas. Some of the beachside restaurants suffered some pretty serious damage, and lucky for us all, our friend Michelle had already documented it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

An Impromptu Weekend

It's Sunday, late afternoon, and the sun has just disappeared behind the neighboring building. It was un beau jour, one of the nicest in weeks, as the strong winds of yesterday had calmed to nothing, and the cold of the night finally gave way to warmth this afternoon. Right now, Lisa is out walking l'Etang du Villeprey with her friend Nathalie. Earlier today, Lisa sat outside on our veranda reading, taking in le soleil while I went for a hike with my friend Laurent (Nathalie's husband). He picked me up at 10 am this morning in his sporty BMW and drove us to Le Rocher de Roquebrune which I have seen in the distance, but had not actually visited. Roquebrune is a gorgeous red "rock" that juts into the sky giving magnificent 360° views, both to the sea and to the snow-capped Alps. We hiked the path that ascended mildly upwards, through the trees, before getting to the base of the rock where we had to do some 4-point climbing to get to the top. It reminds me of Pilot Rock back home in southern Oregon, though bigger.

Yesterday, was another interestingly fun day in France with what has become our core group of friends here in Fréjus: Laurent, Nathalie (and sometimes one or both daughters Laure and Fanny), Michelle and her daughter Abbie, and us. We were also joined by one of Lisa's hula dancers, Hélène, and later, yet another new friend, Katell. After arriving at the Bruzzone's centre ville maison and having an appertif, we walked across town to a charity bingo event. I must admit that I have not played bingo even once as an adult, but hey, it was for charity, we were with our friends, and it gave me a chance to work on my numbers en français. The event, which took place in a local school, was nearly packed. The prize packages were quite nice including a trip to London and a trip to Morocco, but no one in our group won anything. At one point, the girls were bored so Laurent took them back into centre ville where the christmas marché is in full swing. We all came back through after bingo, in the dark, and enjoyed the lights, some vin chaud (hot wine), and the girls a few kiddie rides. It was very festive and reminded us that it really is christmas season. We then continued on our way back to the Bruzzones where the night got a bit more festive with drinks and wood-fired pizza from across the street. Here are some more pictures of the day from our friend Michelle who is always taking pictures. I like that! Not only is her camera better (notice that her night pics at the christmas marché are much better than mine), but then I can finally be in some pictures proving I'm actually on this trip too.

What Lisa and both remarked on this evening is that we had no plans for the weekend, so everything that occured (except for Laurent and I usually taking a bike ride on Sunday mornings) was completely spur-of-the moment and impromptu...and fun!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

This and that (includes UPDATES)

Irie lost a tooth last night, a first in France. She wondered whether the tooth fairy would find her, and we asked her what she thought. Her thoughts: that there is only one tooth fairy for the whole world, she has to speak all the languages, and gives whatever money they use in that country. We told her to put her tooth in her tooth pillow (which she brought with her) and we'd see what happened. She woke up to 1 euro and no tooth and was happy. We didn't tell her that in France they call it La Petite Souris (the Tooth Mouse), but realize she may get told about it at school today.

UPDATE: Irie came home from school and said, "here in France it's a Tooth Mouse." I asked, "well who came last night?" and she said, "the Tooth Mouse," so she immediately adapted to the custom here.

Lisa and I went to Nice on Tuesday, did some shopping, and yesterday we had our medical exams for our cartes de sejour. They were very basic exams, but included a chest x-ray to make sure we aren't bringing TB into the country. We now have to go back to our prefecture with 550 euros worth of government stamps and then we'll finally get our CDS. This is the card we had to apply for upon arrival (after getting our visas while still in the U.S.) that allows us to stay in France for longer than 3 months. If we were to stay longer than a year, we'd have to get it renewed each year.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's what the girls did while we were in Nice.

The weather here has definitely been cooler. Wearing coats and scarves, but this week the days are sunny and so at it's warmest in the early afternoon we might be hitting 12℃ or high 50's℉. Last weekend we had strong winds from the south which caused massively big waves, especially for the Mediterranean, and that was part of the same system that flooded Venice, Italy. You will notice in the pictures (Taken in Nice) that the mountains of southern France are now topped with snow. Pretty cool to be seeing snow while standing on a beach.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fréjus Vous Accueil Fête with Hula!

Wow. Yesterday was a special party put on by Fréjus Vous Accueil to celebrate their 30th anniversary. As we are members of this group and take advantage of some of their activities (bus trips, classes) we decided to go. Plus, my hula group, weeks ago, suggested they perform the dance they were learning to show the other members and let them see first hand that hula classes were now available too! And for a limited time only!

We went early to help set up tables and chairs. The caterers were also there with the place settings. The room was large and located in Port Fréjus, a few blocks from our apartment. Immediately on entering I was inspired by the location. We had 180º views of the harbor--packed with boats and the sea beyond them. My spirits soared anticipating that view while dancing. After making suggestions to a handful of French ladies about the number of guests, the number of tables, the math involved, and the possible placements of such, Rick finally gave up, watched them argue, moved tables as requested and shook his head as a standard U-shape finally filled the room. He then made the brilliant suggestion and necessary cajolling to get me to dance a kahiko to invite hula into the room. I danced Aia La ‘O Pele i Hawai‘i with good effect. My head was clear and ready and the dancers were ready for a warm-up. I'm not sure the effect on the organizers or the caterers, but later one of the caterers kept asking me questions or telling me things, as if I was in charge. Must be the effects of Pele!

There were 58 guests and the two girls, Irie and Abigail were accommodated with their own child's menu, kind of. They received shaved ham instead of a salad with foie gras. Their main meal was veal with veggies, just like the rest of us. They also tried out the cheese plate and of course loved the dessert. The wine was local, the champagne authentic. I could have stuffed myself, but as I was dancing later I paced myself. We sat with our friends Nathalie and Laurent, Hélène, and Michelle and Abbie. Everyone had a job: the 4 ladies dancing, Rick on sound and smile inspiration, Irie and Abbie on still photos, and Laurent shooting video.

We don't have fancy, organized costumes. We do have friendship, a lot of practice time and genuine intention of giving the gift of aloha. My French is limited, but I've done my best to convey to my group the spirit of aloha, what it means to be in tune and comfortable with your body while dancing, and what a gift it is to share something so profound that you have learned. Our class day is Friday, so we had a last minute chance to practice together. It was rainy, grey and cold, so I drew a change of scene on a whiteboard: sun, rainbow and the 4 of us dancing on a beach. I also let them know I was struggling with a heaviness in my heart about my own group at home. I likened it to growing pains, told them I thought all would be ok, and that performing with them the next day was the ultimate affirmation of hula for me, and exactly what I needed at this time.

As we held hands before going on to perform I reiterated the message that what they were about to do was really special and the audience was lucky indeed. My nerves were kicked up a notch--not because I was dancing but because I had to introduce our dance and briefly explain hula in French. Can you imagine? BRIEFLY explaining hula! My little speech went fine, and I'm bragging, but we were great! It was so easy--the applause that greeted us when we entered, the view, Rick providing our smile prompts, the girls running around taking pictures, Laurent with the video cam, the appreciative and interested gazes from the audience, and best of all the feeling of oneness between the dancers. After dancing Ke Ao Nani my 3 students stood behind me with support while I performed my new dance, Honomuni. This dance about Moloka‘i and a jeep ride is our next project and it is a fast and fun song. Then we all held hands for our final bow to enthusiastic applause.

What happened next, in our chilly little dressing room, was not captured on film but lives in my heart. The 2 French women became tearful and cried as they let themselves realize what had just happened, what they had given, what they felt--for themselves and each of us. Michelle, my American friend, has experience dancing hula with her church, so she has been lucky enough to feel the profondeur of it. She and I looked at each other, beaming. I said to my French friends, "you get it." They nodded silently with tears streaming. They told me they thought of me and my worries with my group at home, and how they could see that the dance itself rose above the pesky, petty, mundane worries of life and made them seem small. I welled up telling Rick about it later, and am welling up now.

We changed back into our party attire and met our public. I was approached by 2 women who report their intention to show up next Friday. They have prior jazz/tap experience so I'm hoping to integrate them into my existing group. After the guests trickled away we helped with clean up and Rick, knowing what is best for me, encouraged a dance of the slow version of Nani Hanalei to close out the room. You can see video of Ke Ao Nani here or see side bar for YouTube link. Due to technical difficulties the end was cut--oops!

My French is improving. But love, aloha, friendship and hula transcend language.

Much love and aloha to all who gave of their time to read this, Lisa

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Joyeaux Thanksgiving Americain!

So, here it is the morning of our favorite holiday, and we are 5700 miles from home. Living in Oregon, while both sides of our families reside in Michigan, has resulted in a tradition of inviting others like us who's families are elsewhere. To the Margulis's, Bollings (and Ken), Dreyers, and Cranes - we will miss you today, but hope you have a joyful day of celebration!

Normally, by this time I've put the turkey in the oven and we are happily cutting, chopping, and preparing all the courses to be served in about 6 hours, with our guests arriving in early afternoon. It is a day of ultimate relaxation and good cheer with none of the stresses of Noel such as decorations and gifts. Good conversation, great food and drink, the communal sharing of thanks and chores, and to keep us all from passing out, an evening of riotous games. We described a game we played last year (a drawing version of telephone) to our French friends who are coming today, and we all wondered how that would come off in French. Tina, you are the best memory keeper--didn't "the dog pooped in the yard" become "it will be a sad day when a donkey leaves the church of the bleeding cross"? We might skip that game today :)

Like normal, Lisa has already made her incredible apple pie (thanks Grandma GG!), and we are prepping for the meal. We will also continue the tradition of having each guest write down three things for which they are thankful, and before dinner we each pick one, read it, and guess who wrote it. The meal will be very typical with one glaring exception - no turkey! I went to 5 boucheries to no avail. Turkeys here are a Noel feast and getting one a month early proved impossible, so I bought two whole chickens instead. The other major difference is that it is not a holiday here, so Irie is in school right now. She talked us into letting her have the afternoon off so she can make decorations, but she will be back in school tomorrow morning. Lisa will miss performing with her hula group at Festival of Lights but will perform with her group here at a party on Saturday. A glaring difference for her will be not having to wear leggings or a turtleneck as part of her costume!

We are having our American friends, Michelle and Abbie, as well as the Brazzones (Laurent, Nathalie, Laure, and Fanny) for dinner so it will be a bilingual fête. Here's a little piece of history tying American Thanksgiving and the French together, that many of you probably don't know. Look for updates this evening including pictures.

UPDATE: The fête was fun! We spent all day preparing, just like at home.
We all wrote our thankful lists en français, the apple pie is gone, and we have leftovers for the next week. My favorite was probably the cornbread/blue chesse stuffing (see pics). The Brazzones really seemed to enjoy partage (sharing) in the first American Thanksgiving and everyone finally left about 10:30. Irie will be a tired school girl today. Thanks to Michelle for bringing ice cream, brioche, her large coffee pot, and taking some great pictures! Thanks to Nathalie for the chocolate cake! For me, yesterday FELT like a holiday, so we succeeded in bringing our favorite holiday to our adopted country.

Monday, November 24, 2008


When we meet people we are always asked why we chose to live in Fréjus. I answer “We found a place to live” and go on to explain our initial choice of Strasbourg, why it seemed difficult to find housing there, and how we made our final decision to live 3 blocks from the Mediterranean in the dead of Oregon winter. We then get knowing nods, murmurs of approval and reassurance that we did the right thing.

We have a good gig here. We have a nice apartment in a welcoming complex. The guardien (“super”) is very kind and helpful and loves Maggie. Our landlords are generous, available and lively. The apartment is very well equipped and very convenient to Irie’s school, a large grocery store, various services and of course the beach. We have a lovely Playel piano that I’m sure contributes to Irie’s rapid progress in her lessons. It’s about a 10 minute bike ride to centre ville, about 7 minutes on the bus. The bus stops right in front of the school and we are lucky enough to be on the line of the environmental electric bus. Too bad it doesn’t run on Sundays.

France is divided into départements, there are close to 100, which are further divided into arrondissements. Think counties and districts. Then there are cantons and communes. We live in the département of the Var (#83). The Var has 3 arrondissements, ours is Draguignan. Within this arrondissement is the canton of Fréjus. In this canton is the commune of Fréjus-Plage, which is where we live. Our friends Nathalie and Laurent live in Fréjus-ville; Port Fréjus is just a few blocks away. To further complicate things Fréjus and the neighboring city of St. Raphaël form an agglomeration. For our lives we are concerned with Fréjus-Plage, as that is who runs Irie’s school, the Var because if something is in the Var, we know it’s nearby, and the agglo of Fréjus-St. Raphaël because that tends to be a cultural cooperation, ie concerts, festivals. All this is located in the fuzzy-bordered area known as Provence.

It turns out that Fréjus is a very cool town. It’s name comes from Forum Julii, which is the latin name given to this Roman port, under Julius Ceasar in the 1st century BC. The lay of the land was different then. The port went further inland and what is the beach area now didn’t exist. The flooding of the river Argens over the years carried enough silt to create new land and a Mediterranean beach town.

One of the things we love about France is that despite its thousands of years of human upheaval--wars, migrations, disease, revolutions, intellectual tides--its historical items are pretty well preserved. Throughout the south of France remain the ruins of ancient Rome, famous cities such as Arles and Nîmes and their famous aqueducts, Le Pont du Gard. We visited Nîmes and the Pont du Gard during our last visit in 1996, but had no idea of the Roman riches that lay await in the unheralded little town of Fréjus. Quite honestly, no remembrance of the existence of a town called Fréjus, or St. Raphaël, even though we drove the coast from St. Tropez to Cannes so it is possible we might have passed through both on that trip.

Having now lived in Fréjus for almost 3 months, we have had time to get to know this little gem. As the photo gallery shows, there are a host of archeological highlights here. Some of the ruins remain standing, slowly decaying where they were left (sometimes now found in someone’s backyard!), others are being restored and/or put to use in modern times, and excavations continue to unearth new finds and knowledge of Roman times in this area (housed in the Musée Archéologique). The amphitheatre or coliseum was built in the 1st century A.D., and like all Roman amphitheatres, was used for gladiatorial combat and wild animal hunts. It has hosted events such as concerts, tennis matches, and bullfights until very recently, and is currently being restored. It is situated outside the ancient city ramparts, so that citizens from neighboring towns could come on over to compete in events without the locals having to risk them entering the city. Look at us in the pictures of the amphitheatre and imagine our incredulity at wandering around under the same arches that people in togas did 2000 years ago. The Théatre Romain has a modern semi-circular stadium built within the old ruins. The Romans of Forum Julii probably watched tragedies or comedies here; modern Fréjusians saw The Police.
The remains of the Aqueduct (pictured on the top of the blog home page) stretches for kilometers from centre ville to the outer hills where it ends.
There are also ramparts left standing from the old city walls used to protect the city, the Lanterne d’Auguste which was a sentinel of the old port (now far inland), and unnamed columns standing alone in various locales.

Among the treasures in the Musée Archéologique are the Hermès bicephale (2 heads) and the mosaic with leopard. The Hermès (about 12-15” high) once topped a bourne (milemarker). Hermès was believed to protect travelers and so Romans topped milemarkers with these 2 or 3 headed sculptures. The one in the Fréjus museum was found near downtown in 1970. It is in superb shape. The two heads are thought to represent Pan on one side and Dionysos on the other. This bicephale has become the symbol of Fréjus and appears on all city insignia. There is a big stone replica on a round-about near our apartment (see photos). The leopard mosaic was found on a dig in 1921 still intact in near perfect condition. It is about the size of an 8’x10’ area rug. Another dig found a Roman house under the main square that gave great insight into the living conditions and culture of the times as it included painted walls, decorative objects and a well. This “living history” is one of the things we find so fascinating about being here where so much of what we learned in Western Civilization 101 surrounds us to be experienced firsthand.

Fréjus centre ville, aside from the ruins, is also very charming and european in character and has a lovely skyline from Fréjus-Plage where we live. The Mairie (city hall) and the 4th century (and beyond) cathedral sit on the central square surrounded by small shops and outdoor cafes. Narrow streets branch off in all directions leading to a bakery here, a small “place” (plaza) there, including one with an 1100 year old olive tree,
or a small tropical market where I found dried beans, fresh okra and peanut butter. The main street, the ubiquitous Jean Jaurès (this WWI hero has his name all over France), arcs its way through the center of town. Our friends, Nathalie and Laurent, live in the center of it all and like so many others, the old-looking cement exterior of their building in no way belies the modern interior. Beyond the city center are the Esterel Mountains, creating a nice backdrop that reminds us of home in Oregon, a great place for mountain-biking, and more history as it is up here where the dam burst in 1959 flooding Fréjus and killing 453 people. But that’s another story for another post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Beaujolais Nouveau Day!

And here's an explanation of what it means.

We are sitting on our patio, in 65 degree sunshine, drinking a 2008 Pisse-Dru bottle that we bought today. It has a little sticker on it that says "Célébrez La Fête Beaujolaise."


P.S. Take a look at the newly added video of our voyage on the Canal du Midi, over in the right hand column. Unfortunately, we were too busy working the locks to actually film them, and the batteries ran out before the trip did. Enjoy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Irie's Friends

Many of our blog fans have asked about Irie's contributions. While she has plenty of computer skills, knows how to spell and has plenty to say, she's not really interested in writing a blog. Getting her to write, or dictate, an email to her friends is a job in itself. She'd much rather talk to her friends and family "live" on Skype or during a visit! This entry is written about Irie, by her mom.

Irie's friend Abbie was an unexpected very happy occurrence. Irie kept hoping she would meet another American girl at school and I told her it was highly unlikely. She kept this dream alive to soothe herself of the anxiety that grew as the return to school approached. She was crushed when they couldn't be in the same class together but now she is grateful as she knows 4th grade in French is too much. Abbie has been a wonderful comfort for Irie: they both like American Girl, having their separate French class together and they speak English. I've noticed that Abbie is often a haven of security for Irie.

I think because Irie had someone like her at school she was able to make French friends faster. I was concerned, as was Abbie's mom, that if they kept to themselves, they would not learn French. What has happened is that they go between two sets of friends--the older ones from Abbie's class and the younger ones from Irie's. Irie comes home now talking about her "friends" and (finally) is getting the names--Laly, Noame, Lily-Rose, Téa. (She still isn't quite sure how to spell the name of the very cute boy she chases and messes with his hair. Don't worry, Alex, she has not forgotten you.)

Thanks to my friend Athena's recent visit, I bucked up the courage to have Irie introduce me to Laly, then bring me to Laly's mom and invite Laly to spend the lunch hour with us sometime. She was very receptive, knew all about Irie and we made plans for the end of the week. I asked what Laly likes to eat, and her mom answered "everything except ratatouille." During my French tutoring lessons we went over the best way to figure out whether she would just walk home with us, or if her mom would want to come check out our apartment as well. I was all ready the day before to confirm the plans in just the proper way (to Laly's dad now). He looked at me, like "duh, she would walk home with you," of course very friendly and forgiving of my nervous French.

I think we bombarded Laly with questions about what she would like to eat or do. We planned crêpes and typically make them with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. Laly didn't want mushrooms so we also offered to put some thin slices of smoked duck in them with the spinach and cheese. She looked at us a teeny bit funny (she had this way of just looking when she was considering either how to understand our strange French, or how to answer), and agreed when I asked if putting smoked duck in crêpes was odd--"Oui, un peu bizarre." She had the duck and it was quite good. She played a bit in Irie's room, colored a little, plunked on the piano, but had the best time playing out in the courtyard with Irie and Maggie. (Remember the lunch hour is 2 hrs long).
She and I had a nice conversation about why dogs are better than cats. She has a cat but would really like a dog. The morning at school before the lunch Laly drew both Rick and I pictures, one of them was her English lesson.

When I met her grandmother the next Monday at school she told me that Laly enjoyed her time and they would like to have Irie over. What a relief that Irie's birthday is in May, and I have time to figure out how to have more of them over.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hula in France

As I begin this I am ending a day of 26° C, in mid-October! There are very few deciduous trees so not many crinkly brown leaves blowing about in the Mistral. The cypress and olive trees, and the rough redness of the Esterels say “desert” more than “tropical.” But the palm trees and sandy beach of my neighborhood whisper “Hawai’i.”

One would think that Oregon, being far from Hawai’i and on the Mainland, is not the place to find Aloha. But the little halau to which I belong says different. Hula O Kahawai is a big part of my Ohana and it was hard to leave it. Months ago, in dreaming of this year away, I had the inspiration to find a way to bring hula and aloha with me. I knew I would keep contact with my hula sisters. I knew I would feel the pangs of longing when they planned events, new dances and costumes. I also knew I would carry with me the knowledge, skills and wisdom I have gained thus far. I promised myself I would practice, not wanting to forget, to feel clumsy, to fall behind. But when I even dared dream of teaching hula in France it all seemed to feel right. For years I’ve had these separate interests--French and hula--here was my chance to have them meet.

Those who know me, know I will pick up and dance just about anywhere. In Hawai’i it’s easy. Just listen for a song I know and I’ll dance it--happy hour at a lounge, poolside at a hotel. I also have no problem taking my iPod and practicing oceanside, I don’t care who is walking by. But once I left Ashland I had a little trouble finding enough aloha to dance. Maybe it was the anonymous and uninspiring motel rooms in Utah, Nebraska or wherever we were. I gathered enough aloha together for a farewell sailing away dance for family in Michigan but then it seemed to go away again. Being surrounded by water on the Queen Mary was inspiring, even if we did have lots of wind and grey skies. We also had some upright British passengers who didn’t respond to my deckside practice the same way the Hawaiian tourists do. But I was dancing for myself (and whoever wants to enjoy) and by the time of the surprise talent show I was ready to share aloha halfway around the world. Once landing in Europe, I started to look for interesting places to practice and dance. Stonehenge? No, didn’t feel right. Beach in Normandy? Yes, but a resort town, not the D-Day landing sites. Paris? Of course! Local park (I was allowed on the lawn) and Seine-side (Rick gave the nearby police the stink eye when they started to approach as if I was a nut. They backed off.) But the real test would come once I settled in my new town of Fréjus. Students? Language? Had the French even heard of hula?

We were not here long before we found our way to Fréjus Vous Accueil. This organization is made up of volunteers who offer classes and workshops. Fréjus has a number of retirees (like Ashland) and this organization seems geared to that. A very nominal membership fee allows you to take whatever class is offered, most of them are free. I was lucky enough to show up on the day that Nathalie was staffing the desk. I don’t know what she spotted but she offered her own phone number and invited me to call if I needed any help settling into town. I called and what began as an arrangement to be speaking partners has turned into a friendship. When I mentioned teaching hula for Fréjus Vous Accueil she was all over it. She began telling some of the other women about it and here I am with 3 students my first day. I now have 4 (3 French, 1 American who previously lived in Hawai‘i) and they are motivated and dedicated. They even suggested performing the dance they are learning at an upcoming anniversary event for the organization. They’re also discussing making special pareos for the event.

To keep my link to my hula group I brought along a few of my dance skirts and accessories. I usually wear my pa’u to class and the women are amazed it is 5 yards of fabric. To show them other styles of skirts I brought my “luau” skirt (fits slim). I hadn’t worn this all summer and to my dismay when I put it on at class time it was tight! I weighed myself when I got home and had gained 3 kilos since living in Fréjus! And who knows where I started after the Queen Mary! I cut back slightly on the bakery treats and my skirt fits fine again.

The dance space is not great. The offices and classrooms are located in a repurposed government building, mid-century ugly. We dance in a classroom and push all the tables and chairs to the side. There is a very thin mirror, wardrobe size, that doesn’t help us much. The floors don’t seem to get mopped and we’ve accustomed ourselves to bringing in baby wipes so we can clean our feet after we finish.

I am teaching them Ke Ao Nani, a lovely slow ‘auana (modern hula) about the beauty of the world around us. Though the dance is simple to me it is not to them, as they’ve not moved like this before. I learned a lot teaching beside my hula sister Andrea--go slow. This dance has only 2 different steps in it. For me, teaching the movements is not hard. What is hard is doing it all in French. Not only do I give them verbal instruction in French (and sprinkle in a bit of Hawaiian) but I also translated the lyrics for them (which were translated from Hawaiian into English by someone else!) and write out the instructions on each verse as we do them. (One of the dancers graciously corrects my French before I send it out to the group). Most humorous of all though, is when I rapidly call out directions while we are dancing. And during these times the English occasionally pops out. I am getting the hang of what French vocabulary I need for the body parts and how they move. But I also want to convey many other things--the sense of aloha, the meaning of ohana, what hula means to me, what an honor to me that they are trying this and will dance in front of me and the others, the beauty I see.

Like most women I have taught before they are self-conscious and self-deprecatory. And like those other women they are lovely to watch. Hula really does bring out the beautiful. In just one short month they have rhythm and are motivated to tell the story of the song. Somehow I have conveyed some of the many layers of hula, they are finding them, and they really want to do it justice. They have respect for the complexity of the dance as they do their best with memorizing the moves, knowing where they want their bodies to be in space, and at the same time conveying aloha.

Now that the days are getting colder (mid November) I spend less time at the beach. Water is still an inspiration however and I practiced during our recent penichette cruise. I recently choreographed a new beginner dance which tells about a fun jeep ride on my favorite isle, Moloka’i. With this dance my group is starting 2 more new steps (no ka’os!) and we will pick up the pace (they like the exercise). I am working out the kinks of it as I dance atop our houseboat, moored up in Mèze. I’m going to prepare a more advanced version using kala’aus to bring back to my group in Ashland.

I feel like I am keeping my hula alive, though it’s certainly not a prominent part of my life right now. Rick continues to be a hula partner in a sense. He has always been my best fan and completely supportive of the crazy hula ride I started more than 5 years ago. Now he is the only audience most of the time, and is always ready with encouragement and a little pushing to keep on dancing. I don’t force myself to dance if I don’t feel like it, might dance one song just to get my blood and spirit moving, or might dance a series of 6 because I feel really motivated and energized. When I hit a memory block I don’t sweat it, I’ll refresh with my girls when I get home. Sometimes I’m tired when I make my way over to class, thinking about the translation work, but I always leave more energetic than when I came, because the women showed up to the room and the dance. Several weeks ago, hanging out at the beach, I was listening to some of my Hawaiian music. Lei hinahina came on and I simply couldn’t stand it, I just had to dance. HAD TO. So I did, right there on the sand, facing the Mediterranean. It felt great. Looked great too, per Rick.

So, that is how France and Hawai’i are becoming acquainted, here in this tiny corner of southern France.
Your ambassador in hula, Lisa

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reactions to our historic election...

It is very cool to be in a foreign country while we make history at home! We are obviously delighted with the results: excited like the rest of the world for a fresh start, deeply touched by the historic nature of it, proud that we elected the smart candidate for once, and hopeful for our future. We also realize that he will be inaugurated to immense problems and challenges thus expectations are tempered with reality. Whereas, Lisa and I have stayed distanced from it all, Irie has been excited for "BarrackO" since before we ever left home and was just bubbling over with happiness today. We watched, and cried over, his acceptance speech this morning online together as a family. If you somehow missed it, it's worth 16 minutes of your time.

But enough about how we feel, how about France and the rest of the world? France has a crush on Obama, feeling I think, that if we could elect a minority President, then it's possible anywhere, here included. Lisa and her friend Athena were sitting at a cafe this afternoon and a young man heard them talking english and yelled to them "Yay Obama!" When buying a newspaper at the Tabac a woman said to Lisa "It works for me...and you?" As well, the first comments today when my french teacher arrived and Irie's piano teacher arrived were about the victory and how historic/symbolic/hopeful it is.

This is a great quote we found very moving: "This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten," Rama Yade, France's black junior minister for human rights, told French radio. "America is rebecoming a New World. "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes," she said.

"By choosing you, the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism. At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world." "I give you my warmest congratulations and, through me, those of all French people. "Your brilliant victory rewards a tireless commitment to serve the American people." French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama.

In Britain, The Sun newspaper borrowed from Neil Armstrong's 1969 moon landing in describing Obama's election as "one giant leap for mankind."

"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place." — Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president.

In Barcelona, an artist made his own tribute to Obama after his victory.

"It's the beginning of a different era in the U.S. The United States is a country to dream about, and for us black Brazilians, it is even easier to do so now." — Emmanuel Miranda, a 53-year-old police officer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"Americans have struck a deadly blow to racism all over the world. Americans have regained themselves and have regained the American dream. The picture of the U.S. that was disfigured by the Republicans in the past eight years fell from the wall today. The picture of the America we had in our minds has taken its place." — Prominent Saudi columnist Dawood al-Shirian.

"What we have seen in talks with him, I met with him in person and in a small group, is a man who understands, who listens and who thinks. I estimate that the basis of our common interests will bring to a continuation of a policy of listening and cooperation to deal with the important challenges for us and the United States." — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"The election of Barack Obama as president has finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history." — Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel published a statement on the chancellery Web page offering her congratulations to Obama on his "historic victory." She writes: "At the beginning of your administration, the world faces momentous challenges. I am convinced that, with closer and more trusting cooperation between the US and Europe, we can resolutely confront the novel challenges and dangers facing us…. You can be sure that my government is fully aware of how important the trans-Atlantic partnership is for our futures."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said of Obama's victory: "The election of Senator Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has taken the American people and the rest of the world with them into a new era - an era where race, colour and ethnicity, I hope, will also disappear... in politics in the rest of the world," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Obama had turned Martin Luther King's dream into a reality. "Twenty-five years ago Martin Luther King had a dream of an America where men and women would be judged not on the colour of their skin but on the content of their character," Rudd told reporters. "Today what America has done is turn that dream into a reality."

We had a bit of trepidation coming to Europe when the US has been so unpopular. We were motivated, however, to display the opposite of what we have seen of America's dangerous isolationism, and our enthusiasm and openness for learning about France and the French has been embraced. We are thrilled to feel a surge of pride about where we come from and our fellow citizens. Don't get us wrong, we ARE proud of our country and always have been. It IS all about great things. But America has seriously faltered of late and to see the masses take charge heartens us greatly. Next summer we'll be ready to come home.

As Time summed up: "Barack Hussein Obama did not win because of the color of his skin. Nor did he win in spite of it. He won because at a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than have ever spoken before came together to try to save it. And that was a victory all its own."

EDIT: Picture of all the newspapers we bought this morning.