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.