Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tweaking the blog

With the semester over, it feels good to have some free time for whatever catches my interest. Lisa and I have been fantasizing about how to get our work visas so we can come back to France. It might be 3 years down the road...or 10, but we feel deep down in our souls that we belong here. I even went so far this week to apply for a few part-time jobs I found on an anglo site. One bite so far, but it wasn't really something that I felt was worth my time. While a little money would help, it's not about that, but more about making contacts, networking, finding out how things work, and what it could lead to. In other words, two things I love - socializing and learning.

I also decided to play around with the blog a little bit. As much as I know it is a good way to update family and friends (and whomever else might stumble upon it), it is also our public journal of this year in France. So you'll notice a new feature on the right hand sidebar, below the videos, a chronological listing of all the towns and places we've visited since leaving the U.S. All the names are clickable, usually taking you to the home of that town's tourism website. In almost every case I chose the countries home language version of the website: obviously almost all are in France, so almost all are en français. However, most have a small british flag near the top that allows all you english-speakers to switch to the language you can read. For us, it's an easy way to remember the year without going through all the old posts. Let me know what you think of it. I also added a French>English translator since we like to throw in French words sometimes, and a French news/euro>dollar currency converter.

We are enjoying the incredible spring weather lately! Irie is spreading her wings, having friends over for lunch or playdates, and spending a lot more time out in the common jardin hunting for coccinelles
and papillons which find themselves in a new home - Irie's insect palace.

Next on our agenda is figuring out where we want Irie to go to school next year back in Ashland, planning for Nana and Terri's visit in 3 weeks (we want buttery microwave popcorn!!), and figuring out how to get Maggie home.

Lisa: At this point we are at the time of year where we were just arriving when we had foreign study in 1985, so we're not too discouraged yet at the remaining time. I'm squeezing out all the French I can, and squeezing in all the bread and salted butter I'll never be able to take home, and squeezing into my size 4 jeans.

P.S. We are now on Daylight Savings TIme so have gained back that hour with all you Americans.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mon anniversaire cadeau

As I wrote in my last post, my wonderful wife pulled off an excellent surprise party that left me feeling grateful for the friends and life we've developed here in France. I also noted that they had all joined together to buy me a 30-minute flight in a glider. Wow!

I awoke to a cloudless blue sky on Sunday...perfect! The flight was at 5 pm in Fayence, one of those classic European hill-top villages.
View Larger Map
Laurent and Nathalie picked us up, and we took our time getting there, stopping at Lac de Saint-Cassien for a short hike down to the lake. I had some stomach butterflies, nervous excitement, but was really looking forward to it. I like thrills and adventures, but sadly, I also have an issue with getting somewhat motion sick on boats, in planes, even sometimes riding in the backseat of a car. I took a pill before we left, but they make me a bit fatigued, so I had a weird sense of pumped-up anxiety mixed with the pills effects. Irie was all excited and wanted to do it herself...I almost let her.

As we approached the air field, we could see other gliders in the sky. After checking in, they took us out to the glider, put my parachute on (a first for me!), explained what I needed to do en français if it was needed (yikes), and put me in the glider. So if I have this correct: in case of emergency, open the transparent bubble that separated me from space, unlatch the seatbelts, and pull the cord (after I'm out of the glider of course). Okay. Within minutes the small plane had pulled in front of us, latched us to it with a cable of some sort, and was pulling us into the air. I've only flown on big passenger airplanes, so being pulled into the sky was a trip. After 5 minutes or so, when we were high up in the air, the plane detached the cable and we were on our own, no motor, just me and the pilot floating (or was it being pushed around by the wind currents?) in space. He did lots of circles and figure-8 types of maneuvers and would occasionally do steep embankment turns where I was looking down the wing straight to the ground. While feeling a bit of the motion in my stomach, it wasn't too bad and I was videotaping and snapping pictures left and right. I was thankful that there was a small sliding window that I kept open for some cold fresh air. A couple times, the pilot asked me "ca va?" (OK?) and I replied "oui!" Other than that it was silence and the sound of the wind. And beautiful!!! I could see the snow-covered Alps to the north and our town of Frejus and the Sea to the south.
The pilot slowly made his way back towards Fayence and I really enjoyed circling low over the town. It was clear he was inching lower in altitude getting ready for our landing. As we came in, I could see Lisa, Irie, Laurent, and Nathalie waving. The landing approach was steep and fast, or maybe that's just a visual trick as the ground gets closer, but it seemed like the ground and the plane came upon each other trop vite and that is the one moment when I almost tossed my cookies. I was also filming the landing, but at the same time telling myself: "no, you made it this far, you're not going to get sick damnit!"
I felt like we were landing on little toy wagon wheels, but in a heartbeat we were stopped and it was over. Here's the video: My glider flight.

After disembarking, I helped him turn the glider around and it was light as a feather, then they hooked it to a golf cart and pulled it to the hangar. What a fun little business they have going! What a great experience and present!!! Thanks to Lisa for wanting to make my birthday in France special, Nathalie, who had the idea for this present, Laurent for driving, and everyone else for pitching was really fantastic! Here's the photo gallery.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My birthday weekend

I'm pooped! What a weekend! I try to downplay my birthday (I've had a lot of them), but my daughter can't contain herself. I knew Lisa was up to something, but didn't know what. Because of Irie's exuberance and desire to be a part of it all, I figured I wasn't being taken away for an intimate weekend with Lisa. My best guess was a small party involving the Bruzzone's and Michelle and Abbie. As it turned out Irie was in on the secrets, and even though I was teasingly trying to get her to tell, she did a great job of not spilling the beans.

Friday, we had a long-planned dinner with some new friends we met at Irie's school. The dad, Kurt, heard Michelle and I talking in english and introduced himself. He is an American who has been here 20 years, married a french woman, Stephanie, and has a son, Charlie who is a year younger than Irie. We had a delicious dinner at their apt., and a very nice time. Even before the dinner, Irie's excitement resulted in her giving me her card and present...a day early. That's my girl!

Saturday morning was heaven as I got served coffee and breakfast in bed, and Lisa gave me her present and card. She told me I needed to be ready to go "somewhere" about noon. Before putting me in the car they blindfolded me. Little did I know that an hour later I would still be in the car, and feeling a bit carsick from the curvy roads and not being able to see. After getting lost and having to call Nathalie, Lisa finally got us to our destination - the Bruzzone's country house, Bon Pin. I had a feeling, based on the driving time and winding roads, but what I certainly didn't expect were all the guests! Here I am, less than 9 months in France, and we have 17 people at my birthday party. I am humbled and deeply touched at how we have been welcomed so warmly in France, how generous and caring the friends we have made, and how our french lives have developed in such a short time. (Those of you who worried about whether we'd come home have legitimate concerns :))

We have had glorious spring weather the past few weeks, but Sat. March 21 was cold and cloudy with a few raindrops even. Despite that, our friends drove an hour into the country to spend my birthday with us, and there they all were: Nathalie, Laurent, their girls Laure and Fanny and Laure's boyfriend Aurelien, Michelle and Abbie (who came with us, it was their car afterall), Edouard (my "employer" for the CERS ad he made), his wife Marielle, and their precious baby girl Serena, Hélène, Pascale (my french tutor) and her significant other Eric, and Jerome who supplied everyone with his music-making all afternoon and even got Lisa and I to sing along on separate occasions. We had a wonderful meal that left everyone gonfler (full). Then came dessert with champagne (frozen), 3 delicious gateaux and a group card. Inside was a trip in a glider the very next day! In Michelle's great photos I think you can see the surprise on my face. Thanks to Michelle for the continued use of her car, and for taking photos all day! Big thanks to Nathalie and Laurent - not only did they open up Bon Pin to all of us, but Nathalie was a major help to Lisa in getting this party together in every way , and Laurent slaved over the fire cooking up the chicken, pork chops, veggies, and the melted Camembert that disappeared in a flash! And the biggest thanks to my lovely wife for going to such extraordinary lengths in a foreign country to make this an unforgettable birthday!! She even topped off the evening with one more courageous surprise, dancing my favorite hula, Pua Hone, with everyone a witness of her love for me.
Thanks Hon!!!

I will get to my amazing day yesterday in the glider, however, that will need to be a separate post. Needless to say, I came home exhausted and discombobulated, and fell fast asleep.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sailor Irie

Irie started her sailing class today. "Faire de voile" = to sail, en français. Every Weds. morning from 9 - noon, until June 17, she will be learning how to sail her own small boat. She seemed excited when I signed her up last week, but today she did not want to go. I think, like when school was about to start, she gets nervous about new things, more so because it's in french, and it brings out the worst in her behavior. Of course, we forced her to go, and by the end of class she admitted it was fun, she made new friends, and had a good time. As the only true beginner she shared a boat today, doing the steering, but the instructor said within 4 weeks she'll be a pro - he was very outgoing and encouraging. The little boats all sailing in a row are so darn cute. The weather was fantastic, so it was a perfect excuse to hang out on the beach all morning.

Meanwhile, while we were sitting on the beach watching the lesson, a fire-fighting plane did a few practice runs, picking up water and dumping it out. I saw three of them in a row practicing last week, but didn't have my camera. Today, I filmed two of his practice runs and they are in the gallery at the top of the post.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Living the French life!

3 1/2 months left, and we're trying like crazy to fight off the pull to get sucked into all the hoopla that will surround our return. We have plane tickets to SF, and a lease here that goes through July 3. But so many other things must be dealt with: how to get Maggie home, how to get from SF to Ashland on the 4th of July of all days, arriving to an empty house whose contents are in a locker 15 miles away, getting our one car back, Lisa reopening her practice and going back to work, taxes, the cabin, the rentals, the mail, phones, and that's on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. Over here, we will be packing and figuring out how to get everything home without going broke (oops, too late!), selling anything we can like winter gear, bikes, etc., cleaning our wonderful little apartment, Irie finishing school the day before we leave, and most important, saying goodbye to our new french friends and our french way of life.

We feel that we are in full stride here and are not ready to go home! We remind ourselves that our foreign study at Kalamazoo College in 1985 (Lisa went to Caen, France and I went to Hannover, Germany) went from late-March to late-June, so that wouldn't have even started yet. We've got 3-plus blessed months still in front of us and want to make the most of them! Lisa is making the most of every minute with regard to her french skills, whereas I'm still working hard just to get the drift of full-speed conversations, but I get by. Irie got about 6-8 inches of hair cut off this week and looks so grown up. She is also starting a beginner's sailing class this Weds. morning that goes until mid-June. I don't think she is fully aware of it, but she is one lucky girl. She's had more experiences by 8 y.o. than many of us get in a lifetime. She also had her spunky little french friend Laly over for a sleepover on Fri. night and watching them play we realized Irie has more french language skills than we ever knew.

Spring has truly arrived. We've had dry warm weather for over a week, and everything is in bloom, so one of the things we did with the two girls was go out and collect all the different flowers we could find, then Lisa helped them press them. Today Laurent and Nathalie picked us up and we went out to le Rocher de Roquebrune for a hike to find "L'Ermite" who supposedly lives in this classic-looking mountain ridge. On our first hike we found old Roman ruins now ingrown with trees and vines, and some fantastic views. On the second hike, not only did we find his cave/home, but Irie ended up inside with a few other brave souls. After climbing around outside I decided I better go check on her, and when I went to his door, he asked, en francais, if I was "le pere American" and there sat Irie right next to him. He is 86 and has been living in this cave for 43 years. It was actually quite cozy with a table, foam mattresses on natural benches for beds, and builts in shelves for books, etc. But I would imagine it's difficult to be a hermit when your home is a hiking destination. Here's some pics from our day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bienvenue Les Fouts !

The Fouts Family and spring arrived simultaneously to the south of France. After flying into Frankfurt (fares were cheaper) and driving and sightseeing some of Germany and Switzerland, my step-brother Ken, his wife Jan and their girls Maddie and Rachel joined us in the Alps. We had no address to give them to Google map the location, just some descriptions and landmarks--"across from the parking VVF" and the reassurance from Nath that the chalet would be très facile to find. Though WE found it easily, Rick found Ken driving around town headed toward the next town. They unloaded and exploded into the chalet and were quite the troopers, having already adjusted to the time change. Rick took Ken down to the village to rent skis so they could head out early, and it was clear Ken was chomping at the bit to get going the next morning. We had another blue sky beautiful day and the girls lazed about and wandered into town late morning to rent skis. After a typical French lunch of bread, sausages and all sorts of cheeses we headed across the street to get on the slopes. From our chalet we walked across a parking lot, skiied down a small hill, had to ride a teleski then skied down to the resort to get lift passes. We have assigned Ken and his family to write their own post, so for now I will just say that the Michiganders/TimberRidgers faced some challenges. Though Ken had a bit of soreness from his morning with Rick, he was grateful for it, as he didn't ski much during the afternoon. Rick, Irie and I ended up splitting off from the Fouts' so they could get the hang of the mountain as they saw fit. The afternoon ended with Rick and I being the last ones off the mountain, it was so gorgeous.

The next morning we motivated to get the place cleaned up and cars packed. We first stopped at a nearby fromagerie, highly recommended, where we hoped to gorge on Alps' cheese. Zut alors, the restaurant was all booked and we had to settle for buying cheese instead. We then stopped in Sisteron, a town that tempted us on the way up, as it had some sort of, well, old building, built into the hill. We had lunch and continued on, arriving in Fréjus late afternoon to some heat and sunny skies! We swung by Picard, one of our favorite stores, that only sells frozen food. The Fouts girls were anticipating trying escargots and Picard makes it so easy! Rachel loved them, Maddie was a good sport. The girls stayed with us, Ken and Jan stayed at L'Oasis nearby. On Sunday we went to the market then had a picnic lunch on the beach. The girls shopped for junk while the dads rolled their eyes.

Later in the day, I participated in La Journée de la Femme by being part of a living art piece where me and 300 other Fréjusiennes lay "allongées" for an hour. The rest of the family joined me later, after a trip to the Roman Coliseum, and Rachel even made the front page of the paper!
On Monday the parents sent the girls off to school for the morning. Maddie and Rachel were a hit--they brought Tshirts from their soccer team for all the kids and the teacher in Irie's class. We let Irie have the afternoon off and we all headed to a little beach cove that Rick found on one of his bike rides, called Tiki Plage. We sought shelter from the wind! It was a toasty afternoon and each of the girls earned a Euro from Rick for going all the way into the Mediterranean. That evening we went to Nathalie and Laurent's for an apero and Jan got to practice some French and we all got to discuss how to do a proper bisou. Then we went to dinner for moules-frites--bravo again to the girls for trying all things French! or Belgian, in this case!

We had a great time, Irie was sad to see them go. In fact she cried, and I wrote a note to her friend Laly asking her to cheer her up. I know the Fouts had a whirlwind Europe adventure and we so appreciate them coming. It takes a lot of motivation and curiosity to haul yourself and 2 young girls to a foreign country and we're so pleased they made the effort to see us. (We also appreciate the things they brought--tylenol, motrin, microwave popcorn and Harry Potter 6). They packed a lot in and I know they are still digesting it all. I can't wait to read their blog contribution. We were also proud to show them the life we are leading and introduce them to the friends we have made.