Sunday, December 21, 2008
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.