Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

38 days

...and counting. The days are rushing by now. Where did the year go? We are in such a groove, feeling like we belong. It's now OUR town too. The French is flowing more freely from all our mouths. We see familiar faces at school, on the beach, at the market. Friends wanting more time with us as that time disappears and vice versa. Lots of talk of a return; when and how? Irie is having regular play dates and sleepovers. She talks of wanting to come back for a month every year to see her friends. She says things like "we need to go home NOW or I might not want to leave." We talk of our "network" here and the possibilities of work.

Part of the rush of time is typical of the seasonal changes, no different from at home, or probably anywhere else in the world. Winter brings a slowing down, hibernation behavior; spring equals rebirth, longer days, more activity. Days at the beach melt away in the daze of sun, picnics, wine, swimming, paddle ball, reading, and conversation. Every weekend brings invitations - to dinners, picnics, volleyball and basketball games, Bon Pin - or another springtime festival or event of some kind.

Fun, joy, amazement, and yes, sadness and struggles, and learning as we go . Such an old country, but alive with new experiences. The return to old haunts, the excitement of new places. I'll never forget the Queen Mary 2 voyage, Mont St. Michel, a month in Paris, the vineyards of Alsace, boating the Canal du Midi, our amazing odyssey to Morocco, skiing the Alps and driving a team of dogs, Carnaval, Menton, the ride in the glider, the chateaux region, and living in the French Riviera! I absolutely love living near the sea! The connections to home through the visits of familiar faces, the joy of discovering new wonderful friends who have filled our lives here and created a new place to which we now belong. We have been welcomed into homes of people who didn't know we existed 9 months ago, people who will miss us, as we will miss them.

Life is a balancing act, but how to balance two places we love that are so many miles apart? Our lives will never be the same! We planned our Year In France for a year, now we've lived most of that year, very soon we will reintegrate into our lives in Oregon...for how many years will this year impact us? Forever I imagine. How can one not be permanently changed from living in a different culture? Language dissolved to the basics (for me at least) and seeing how the use of language, the turn of a phrase, the specificity of word choices, the importance of syllabic emphasis or facial expressions changes our perceptions of all that we experience on a daily basis. The joys of la vie en France: the food and wine that has changed how I want to eat and drink forever, the spreads of diverse cheeses, dried saucissons, olives, breads, tapenades, etc., the à l'aise pace of eating and conversation, the massive array of world class wines; also the activity of daily life - I've never walked or ridden my bike so much (at least since childhood), I swim in the Mediterranean daily, the devouring of books, the pace just feels right. I truly feel that HOW I live here in France has left me healthier in both mind and body.

Of course, we will return to work, I to school and Lisa to her private practice, to home ownership, cabin ownership, the reality of managing rentals, to Irie's extracurricular activities, to having a car and needing one. The pace will quicken, but I seriously desire with every fiber of my being to stay in the here and now, to relish each conversation, each chance encounter, to make time for breathing and the joy of a long meal or a morning in bed with a book. 38 days...

Friday, May 22, 2009


Yesterday was a national holiday here in France (Ascension) so Irie didn't have school. We decided at the last minute to go to Cannes (our photos) since it's only 30 minutes down the tracks and the world's most well-known film festival was happening. When we arrived, at about 11:30 am, we walked around the Festival grounds, which are directly on and next to the bord de la mer. It was still early so not much was happening.
Lisa and Irie did some window-shopping, while I did some eye-rolling people watching. Cannes has an up-scale exclusive feel to it anytime, but especially now with all the movie stars and wannabe's in town. Plenty of gaudy glitz and interesting apparel, and later in the day (as we were heading to the train station) more tuxedos and gowns. Lots of big yachts out in the bay, and helicopters coming and going as well. We didn't take in any movies, but every night after dark they show a classic on the beach for free and that would have been fun to do.

We found a sushi restaurant for lunch and had our first sushi since we left the States. Good, but pricey. Then we hit the beach, which by mid-afternoon had to be the most crowded beach I've ever been on. Film Fest + National Holiday + warm sunny day = EVERYONE AT THE BEACH!
The water has really warmed up so we did plenty of swimming, more people-watching, and headed home. It's great to be able to hop on a train (for about $7 each) and take in a place like Cannes or Nice, but one day here was plenty. No we didn't see any stars (that we recognized at least), but when we saw big crowds we beelined in another direction.
Another example of what one can do living here on the Côte d'Azur.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Un autre bon weekend!

Now that the weather has finally become all that we had hoped for, the weekends are jam-packed with pleasure. The weekdays are just as nice, if not nicer, because the beaches are not as crowded when all the kids are in school and the majority of adults working. Not us! Irie gets a bit jealous when she sees us packing for the beach and she is heading off to school, but she knows she can always go on the weekends, and Weds. when she sails.

This weekend the city's Club Nautique, where Irie takes her sailing lessons, held its annual Fête de Nautisme. They had music playing on the beach, the "toys" were free to be tried out, and lessons could be had. Saturday we got a 45-minute catamaran lesson, and Sunday morning I headed down early to try out the planche à voile (wind-surfing). The typical weather here these days is mid-to-high 70's and very calm in the morning with the wind and waves picking up in the afternoon. The catamaran was a blast in the afternoon winds as our ace instructor whipped across the bay. On the other hand, my wind-surfing experience was colored by the breezeless morning making it difficult to pick up any speed. I was also interested in some sea kayaking, but we were invited to a picnic with Laly's family.

Laly is probably Irie's best "French" friend and it was her family that had us over for Easter dinner. The grandparents treat us like extended family, and the parents are easy-going and relaxed. We headed over to the Base Nature beaches where we were treated to a wonderful lunch of salmon pastry appetizers, big salad nicoise type sandwiches, yummy cheeses, rosé wine, coffee, and our contribution, an apple tart. Meanwhile, the girls used the multitude of sticks that had washed up on shore (from a heavy rain on Friday whose runoff turned the bay's waters from their normal blue to brown) to create their own beach shack
while the rest of us got sunburned and (Lisa and I) swam in the ever-warming waters.

Another great weekend! And, here's the video.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Up, up and away

Lisa: One of Irie's birthday presents was a parasailing ride. Since Rick had recently been up in the glider I got to go with her. The parasailing boat left out of the port, Rick got to drive a little while the captain hooked up the parachute. He reports the little motorboat handled easier than the penichette we took last fall. Irie and I sat on the back of the boat, harnessed in and the captain let loose the winch. The wind picked us up and we were gone. The typical ride is about 20 minutes, but because we were the only customers that day and the captain and Rick got to discussing politics, Irie and I spent quite a bit of time up in the air. Plus, he knew it was Irie's birthday present. We had quite a bit of line, so were very high up, with fantastic views of the beach, downtown Fréjus, St. Raphaël, St. Aygulf, and the Esterels behind it all. As evidenced by Irie's giggles and smiles, she loved it. I was a bit motion sick, probably from handling the camera. Yet another experience in the books for our girl of many adventures.

Rick: Meanwhile, Irie has become très à l'aise (relaxed), speaking more French, talking about missing her friends here and wanting to come back to visit them, even having a bit of a springtime crush. She is sailing her own boat now in sailing class, and walking to and from school by herself. Turning 9 seems to have been a turning point of some importance for Irie! Of course, it doesn't hurt to have some cool new Converse high-tops.

Speaking of spring, the weather has been consistently nice, low 70's, regular beaching, even some swimming as the Mediterranean slowly warms up. We are feeling the time slip away (7 weeks and counting) and I know I'm wanting to get the most out of living near the Sea.

Last weekend, there was a Terroir du Vin at the Base, so went to do some wine-tasting. They had wines from all over France, as well as French food specialities such as saucissons, tapenades, viandes, etc.
While it only cost us 2 euros to get in, we left having lightened our wallets considerably. As with my wish for profiting from being 3 blocks from the beach, I plan to make the most of the gourmet smorgasbord available to me while I can, so "eat, drink, and be merry" will be my guiding principle for the next 7 weeks. Or as the French say: "bien profiter."

Friday, May 8, 2009

VE Day

EDIT: Here is an english transcript of Sarkozy's speech we heard that day. Quite moving.

Irie's piano teacher works for the Mayor of Frejus (who is also a French Senator - they are allowed dual roles here), and she informed us at her last lesson that she had reserved 3 tickets for us to go see President Sarkozy give his VE Day speech in St. Maxime. We were delighted and jumped at the chance! Victory in Europe Day is a national holiday in France as it was the day Germany signed an unconditional surrender ending WWII in Europe. While most Americans are taught in school about the storming of Normandy, France (on June 6, 1944), they are less aware that we also invaded France from the Mediterranean in the south. The Allies invaded on beaches that are in neighboring communities of Frejus, near Dramont/Agay to the east, and St. Maxime and St. Tropez to the west. This invasion, Operation Dragoon which took place on August 15, 1944, helped push the Germans out of France and to eventual defeat.

Today we left our apt. at 7:20 am, as we had to walk to Frejus centreville to catch an 8 am bus full of Frejusians who, like us, had invitations to this event. St. Maxime is less than 30 minutes along the coast, and we were dropped off at 8:30 with a lunch and told we would be picked up by the same bus at 2:30. The event was extremely well organized with various groups being put in various, pre-arranged spaces. The event was taking place directly on Le Nartelle beach where one of the Allied landings took place. There were rows of chairs for special guests, mostly veterans and their families, and behind them, rectangular corrals. We were there so early that we walked right to the front railing of our corral and stayed there for the next 4+ hours. We had a remarkable view as the crowd filled, the band played patriotic songs, the various military outfits marched into place, and volunteers handed out free water, cookies and madelines, and collected our trash. Like most of our experiences in France it was very civilized and orderly...and in this case, gratuit.

Two days ago, while on the beach in Frejus, we had seen large military ships heading west and knew they were moving in for this event.

Today, they could be seen out at sea, standing guard and ready to display France's naval power. Sarkozy entered right on time, reviewed the troops lining the beach, shook hands with vets, and walked directly in front of us on his way to the podium. He gave a short, but poignant speech about war, how it is to be avoided, but sometimes cannot be, and thanked the allies for helping France save their country. Lisa said she got about 95% of it and that it was very Camus-like. After his speech he was helicoptered out to the big aircraft carrier where he, with all of us, watched a display of naval and air force maneuvers. It was a dramatic day, one we felt honored to be a part of, as well as being unofficial representatives of the U.S. A couple different cameramen focused in on Irie standing at the barrier with us, and after the event Lisa was interviewed by a major news source en française. Here's the video of our day. Thanks Elizabet for the tickets!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Irie's Birthday

Irie finally got to have a birthday en française. She puts a lot of importance on holidays, something we're not entirely pleased with, as her expectations always aim for the moon. She waited, rather impatiently, for the almost 11 months since we left home, watching Lisa have her birthday, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day went by, and finally my birthday. We've been hearing about how hers was "next" ever since then. She must spend a lot of time worrying in her head because she has a serious need for everything to go just exactly perfectly, which as we adults know, never does.

Anyway, we thought she had a great birthday yesterday. Her Nana is here (Terri too), the weather was perfect, and loads of people remembered her. We sent out invitations before the school vacation to 8 friends to come to our apt. for the two-hour lunchtime this first day back to school. 7 of them were able to make it:
Thea, Lily Rose, Laly, Noame, Abbie, Assia, and the lucky boy, Abel.
Marching this troop the two blocks home from school was a riot, and as was true for the duration of the party, they all had tons of energy.
Poor Maggie was exhausted after the party (as were we adults).
We set up a table and blankets in the courtyard where they manged on fruit, candy, chips and drinks
while Dad cooked pizzas. After the pizza, Irie opened up all her fabulous gifts, and then it was time for cake and ice cream. They even sang Happy Birthday in english We thought the party went great, to have 7 French friends show up with smiles and gifts, but Irie felt it was too short and thought she was being ignored. We tried to point out that they were excited by an American birthday party, the dog, the food, going to a party at lunchtime, that everything about it was new to them, even the climbing tree was a hit.
The guests all had a blast!

After school, we were going to surprise Irie with her first parasail adventure but it started raining so that will happen tomorrow. Meanwhile, she got skyped by lots of family members in MI, a dozen emails from friends in OR, and a phone call from our French friend Nathalie. Despite all this attention, as bedtime approached she was incredibly sad that her birthday was "so short." We are hoping this is just a phase and that we know she misses her friends back home, but our continuous message is that she controls her own happiness. Today, she seems to be realizing that it was a special day and is back to making set-ups and telling stories with some of her new presents.