Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Monday, June 29, 2009

Last post in France?

This is probably our last post here in France. I plan to continue posting at home as long as our experiences are relevant to this year abroad. Philosophically, that will be the rest of our lives, but for this blogs purposes that will mean continuing through the transition from France to Ashland, Oregon, ie. the reintegration into our home and what that constitutes.

We had a fantastic weekend!! The fête at Bon Pin was everything we expected. They certainly know how to create an atmosphere around a table here in France. It starts around noon with the apero's, in this case, rum punch, specialty breads with olives, sausage, cheese, etc., Lisa's cornbread, Nick's calzone, guacamole and chips, One could fill themselves on just this course, but no...then appears the merguez (sausages), tomato tarts, and god knows what else I'm forgetting. Of course by now, the bottles of vin rouge and vin rosé have been decorked. Then Laurent, the Grillmaster, starts pulling the pork chops off the fire, and out comes the couscous, salads, bread - the "main course." Everyone takes their time with the meal, talking (about every topic under the sun), taking photos, drinking wine, and the kids go off to swim, while some clear enough space to keep the food and drink coming. Laurent soon appears with a tradition that is always a big hit, the fire-melted camembert cheese. Damn I love that stuff!

Ahh, time to give our stomach's a break. It was a beautiful sunny day and the pool was full of kids all day (I think Irie spent 10 hours in the pool) and the water was a delightful 81 degrees. Everyone moved down to the pool area, where Lisa and her hula girls gave a final performance for the guests, many of whom had never actually seen a hula dance before. They looked radiant and happy together!

Edouard, who makes documentaries for a living, brought his projector, speakers, screen, etc. so at some point near dusk we all settled in on the back patio to watch the DVD I made of our year in France. Everyone seemed to love it, and the recurring theme is that we've seen more of France this year than most of the French have seen in their lifetimes.

Time for dessert. Out came the fresh fruit, followed by tarts of all kinds: apple, berry, etc. and coffee of course. Meanwhile, the bottles of wine were steadily disappearing. Slowly some of the guests began to trickle home, but it was well after 10 pm before the core friends departed. We were the lucky ones who got to spend the night so Irie and Abbie were still out swimming with Laure and Fanny in the dark and having a blast. When it was just us and the Bruzzone's, after the tired girls finally went to bed...we finally moved inside and finished the night with a digestif before crashing hard from a very FULL day. As exhausting as any fun party can be, listening and speaking in French all day is alone incredibly fatiguing so I was wiped out!

Michelle and her family (minus Abbie who stayed at Bon Pin with us) kindly got a ride home with other guests so we could drive ourselves home on Sunday. We spent the day lolling around the pool, and of course the table. About 5 pm we finally left as we had another outstanding engagement. We were invited over to Laly's grandparents apt for an "apero" which of course turned into a full meal and drinks. Laly really reached out and made Irie comfortable here in France and at her school, and they became fast friends. Her grandparents, Guy and Annie, have become our surrogate Mamie and Papie. Laly's parent, Karine and François, are very relaxed and enjoyable as well, and we will miss their family too.

We are much loved here and have become part of a larger family of kind and generous human beings. I believe we could come back in 5 years and fall right back into the closeness and way of life with these families. There have been many tears, but also tons of laughs, and we are all truly richer for the experience! We are happy here and I think this photo represents that well:

I don't think words will ever do justice to the year we've had, but I need, at some point, to acknowledge all these wonderful people.

That will have to be another post. Maybe, time permitting, I'll sneak one more post in before we leave...

Friday, June 26, 2009

1 week to go!

I've got nothing. At least for a blog post. But I feel I should put something down before we leave town for our last weekend in France. We've got piles of "stuff" everywhere. Suitcases out and open on the extra twin bed in Irie's room. Clothes that we know we're taking home but don't need are in vacuum bags, clothes we might leave here if we run out of room are in another pile, and of course we are still wearing summer garb. We've taken anything that is ours off the walls and bookshelves, out of the cupboards, and are trying to sort out the rest.

We have the airline regulations down in writing: 2 checked bags each with at total weight of 36 kilos or 80 lbs. Carry on bags must be under a specific size and can weigh no more than 6 kilos or 13 lbs. That's 93 lbs. each, which may seem like a lot to someone going on a vacation, but after a year of living here we have accumulated a few things :) Just think if Brenda hadn't taken Maggie home, as well as 2 bags of our purchases and some winter clothes. Books are a big question mark. We don't want to part with books we love and books we still haven't read. Then there's the breakables and the technology gear. I'm leaving behind all the skiing clothes I bought, and our landlady is buying our bikes and helmets which is nice of her.

We have been having a week of "lasts." Last French classes, last weekend volleyball, last hula class, last sailing lessons, piano lessons and sleepovers for Irie, even last foods that we know will disappear from our regular menu. Luckily, we haven't had our last day at the beach just yet.

So here's our remaining schedule:
Tomorrow Irie has school, then after school Nathalie is driving us up to Bon Pin where we will spend the night alone as a family. It reminds us of our own cabin (that we are deeply excited to return to), but instead of a lake, it has a pool. And occasionally sanglier, or big wild pigs.

The big Bon Voyage party is Saturday up at Bon Pin, and I think they are expecting about 20 of our wonderful French friends. We have had a few fêtes up there, always fun, so we know well what to expect and appreciate, yet know that this time will be different. Hopefully it won't actually be the last time we see most of them. In any case, Lisa and I have spent the past week staying up late putting together a movie of our Year in France. We just finished it this evening (minus the burning part) and got our year condensed down to a jam-packed 48 minutes. Sunday we will return home from Bon Pin at some point, but will be in no rush.

Irie still has school this week on Mon., Tues., and Thurs. Monday she is going to Michelle and Abbie's for lunch then Laure is picking her up from school. Lisa and I were originally planning on hitting Nice one last time, but may actually hop a train someplace we haven't yet visited. Tuesday is packing day. As is Wednesday, though we also need to be packed enough to clean the apt. as our landlady visits Weds. afternoon to finalize our departure. Thursday, our last day in Frejus...hard to believe! Irie has school, and after school our friends Kurt and Stephanie are driving us and all our stuff to a hotel near the Nice airport.

Friday morning the big return trip ensues. Flying Nice to Dublin to Boston to San Francisco - a total of 20 hours - arriving into SF after 9 pm (PST). A friend from Ashland is picking us up in her van and driving us home with an expected arrival at The Nabes at about 4 am. We have every intention of crawling out of bed 5 hours later to attend the 4th of July parade. What a homecoming. Assuming all goes as planned. So there it is in black-and-white. Yikes. So much for having nothing to say...

Monday, June 22, 2009

What a weekend!

It was our 2nd-to-last weekend in France, and our last one here in Fréjus. Next weekend Nathalie and Laurent are throwing a goodbye party up at Bon Pin. Lisa, Irie and I are staying there alone on Friday night, then the big party on Saturday and we again spend the night, coming home sometime Sunday.

Friday night was Irie's reward for playing in the piano recital. She had 3 girlfriends spend the night - Abbie, Laly, and Théa. Our friend Kurt had a belated birthay picnic at the Base Nature that night so we took the girls there to hopefully get out some energy on the playground and to avoid feeling cramped in our small apt. In the video you'll notice them playing "Zombie" with some of the other kids from Kurt's party/picnic.
On the way home, walking through the port, we stumbled upon "gondola jousting" (my term) and had a laugh at their expense. We bought the girls ice cream, then headed home tired. Ha, between Irie's meltdowns from feeling excluded (there are always language issues) and the excitement of 4 girls in two twin beds in one small bedroom, it was 1:30 am when I finally dared lay down.

Sat. and Sun. mornings I played my last 2 days of beach volleyball with the regulars who show up every weekend morning. I met them through Edouard and there are some very fine players. I will miss the exercise, their kindness toward this foreigner, and jumping into the sea between games to cool off!

Saturday night we had Irie's teacher, Khaled, and his girlfriend AnnaPaula over for dinner. We were both tired from the night before (and volleyball) and found ourselves not wanting to have guests. As usually happens, we ended up having a great time! We started at our apt. with the customary Apero, ie. drinks and snacks, then we headed to the beach at dusk for another picnic. They were both très à l'aise and we found ourselves sharing the evening in 3 languages: french, english and italian. Another great thing about Europe one learns after awhile is that there are so many languages in such a small geographic area, that people find ways to communicate through their differences. AnnaPaula was born in Italy but lives and works in Paris now and speaks french just fine, and they both speak english to some degree so we all spoke in whatever language worked at the moment. Not that Lisa or I speak any italian, but just as they like to practice their english we like to try on other sounds and words. What I've found with my still-limited french vocabulary is that often I don't have a word in my repertoire so I'll find a way to say something with the words I do know. Irie got to play a game of freeze tag with her teacher (and all of us) and we enjoyed being seaside well after dark. A fine evening!

Sunday night was the Fête de la Musique which takes place throughout France every year on the Summer Solstice. We headed down to the plage about 7:30 and they had blocked off the street along the entire bord de la mer.
They had stages set up every 50-100 meters and we heard all kinds of music. A DJ, rock-n-roll, reggae, various dance groups, Sinatra-style jazz, and as you can see in the video New Orleans jazz and even country music with the line dancing that is surprisingly popular here. It makes me laugh that the French were so villified by the right-wingers a few years ago, yet here they are wearing their red-white-and-blue and proudly kicking up their heels to American country music. I think there is a lesson in there somewhere. Anyway, we met up with Laurent and Nathalie and spent the evening walking from Frejus plage to St. Raphael and back milling about, listening to the various bands, and just watching all the people.

We even caught a rainbow
It was yet another night that we were all out after midnight and today we are all feeling it. Here's a collage of events from the weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Crazy Times

Well, I guess it's time for another post. We leave in exactly 2 weeks, hard to believe! So many things going on at once that posting on the blog isn't at the top of my list of "things to do," but I'm going to pound one out right now, first thing in the morning. We passed a year away from home on June 16. Working on a video year-in-review for our going-away party next weekend.

1st: It's HOT! Yesterday was probably around 90. We face the problem of the French not believing in screens for doors or windows so if we choose to leave them open then every night we go on a mosquito hunt so we don't get chomped in the night.

2nd: Irie had her last day of sailing on Weds. - an all-day affair that left her tired and her face slightly sunburned. They sailed their little boats way out to Le Lion de Mer island,, around to a beach in St. Raphael, and back. Her instructor said she was excellent. Here she is!

3rd: June 5th was World Environment Day and they showed this film - HOME - on TV throughout France that night while also showing it on a big screen under the Eiffel Tower. The first 5-10 minutes are the least exciting, basically a quick summary of where we came from, but after that it is fantastic! The visuals are simply amazing! It's 90 minutes long and free at the link above. Give it a watch.

4th: Busy weekend ahead. Tonight is Irie's reward for doing her piano recital. A sleepover with 4 girls in this small apartment should be an interesting night for all of us. Irie, Abbie, Laly and Théa. Irie's question of "should we watch a movie in french or english?" is indicative of how this is no ordinary sleepover.

Tomorrow we are having Irie's teacher and his girlfriend over for dinner, then on Sunday night is the France-wide event Fête de la Musique. Every year on the night of the Summer Solstice, "the longest day of the year," they have music and dance performances throughout the country. Paris, I assume will be a complete madhouse with big-name acts. Here they will have multiple stages along the plage and according to friends the beach will be packed. Should be fun...

5th: Logistics for returning home are falling into place. A friend, Phaedra, from Ashland has incredibly offered to drive to SF, pick us up at the airport in her van, and drive us home. Assuming no disruptions, we will arrive at John and Taylor's about 4 am (after 30 hours of travel) and crash in their extra room. The 4th of July parade begins at 9;30 am and we plan to be there.

6th: I've mostly left the politics off this blog with the exception of celebrating Obama's election and how much that meant to us. However, I am deeply interested in what is happening in Iran right now - this could be the most important global event in years! These are my thoughts: This is the Iranian people's chance for true democracy and I support them 100%. They are not our enemies! The multitudes of peaceful demonstration and opposition are an inspiration to the world. I also support Obama not meddling and letting the Iranians solve this themselves. I do believe his approach is best, and unlike his Neocon predecessors whose hardline stance solved nothing but ratcheting up tensions and distrust around the world, I believe his own election and Cairo speech were a direct inspiration for what is taking place in Iran right now. Countries revolt and change from within, and these brave millions thronging the streets are human beings who desire much the same things we do - they are not faceless enemies to be bombed into submission. Bon courage and godspeed to them!!!

Mainstream American news sources are not doing their jobs on this historic event, so if you are interested in reading what is happening over there, I suggest

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Irie's piano recital

Saturday, June 13, 2009 and Chez Bailey-Browne is full of nerves. We talked Irie into participating in the "concours de piano" about a month ago and it took some serious persuading. Now the day was here and she was very nervous. Who could blame her? Elisabeth came in the morning for a specially-scheduled practice, mostly to explain how the event would proceed and give last-minute tips. Irie knew the song by heart and was ready, but she was anxious. We took her out to lunch along the beach, then headed into town via the bus. From the bus stop we walked into the park that is home to the Villa Aurélienne as well as the remains of Roman aqueducts. When we arrived at the Villa we could hear the strains of advanced students playing their pieces which only increased Irie's anxiety. She repeated multiple times: "I can't do this" while we assured her that she knew the song, and tried to calm her nerves. Problem was, Mom was almost as nervous. Finally it was her group's turn and the little room was packed full. Only when Irie's name got called did I experience that same feeling, silently rooting for her to "nail it" which she did. Then it was all smiles, the nervousness gone. She did a great job! Here's the video.

Thanks to her friend Laly's grandparents for showing up and supporting her, even though Laly had to be somewhere else. And to Michelle, Abbie and Nicholas who also came to give their support (and help take pictures). Afterwards, we all stuck around for a "goûtée" (snack) then went back inside for the awards. They had 3 categories: assez bien (rather well), bien (good), and très bien (very good). Irie received a "bien" and seemed genuinely pleased and interested in the other prizes she got with it which included some piano music, a coupon for shopping at a local store, and a rose. Her excitement in playing the piano in the last 24 hours has been noticeable so we hope she will want to continue lessons back home. We have promised to buy a piano if she does.

Laly's grandparents have really adopted Irie (and our family) as if they were HER grandparents. Besides Easter dinner and a beach picnic which were fun family-wide events, they have included Irie in many other activities with Laly. Today, after the recital they offered to drive us home, and on the way we made a stop at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple and war memorial for France's own Indochine war which occured before the U.S's involvement. The grounds of the temple were very peaceful and relaxing and a perfect way to wind down from the tension of Irie's big day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Villa Mauresque

Our friend Katell works at this "lux" (as in luxury) villa just outside of St. Raphaël along the Sea.
We had heard much about the place, but had never actually seen it. Weds. we got a last-second email saying that noone was staying that night and we could come hang out and swim in the pool for a couple hours if we wanted. With only 3 weeks left here, we (and our friend Nathalie) gladly took advantage of the invitation.
It has two big villas full of suites, two pools, and a beautiful tree-filled property.
The night after we visited she had a soccer player and his entourage staying there partying it up. Starting next Tues. for 3 weeks they are filming the European version of The Bachelor here with one lucky (or maybe not so lucky) guy and 14 women vying for him. While I never watch such rubbish, it is interesting nonetheless since we now know the place. I'm sure Katell has some stories she could tell.

Villa photos

Monday, June 8, 2009

Whoosh - the week in review

It's all speeding by now, it seems. As they disappear, each week takes on added importance. So many events and gatherings, even the scheduled weekly appointments are laden with the knowledge of an upcoming finality. Bien profiter, bien profiter, bien profiter!

Last Monday was a holiday which would normally mean beach time, but it rained so we caught up on organizing the apt. and packing some stuff. Tuesdays are always busy for Lisa as she has her own French class in the morning and an arts class in the afternoon.

Irie and her friend Abel spend lunch together each Monday or Tuesday, switching homes, this week they were at Abel's. Since their teacher was absent we let them have the afternoon off and I took them to the beach with Irie playing in the water and sand while Abel goaded me into playing paddle ball for hours. He was calling himself "Rafal Nadal" as the French Open was midway, me reminding him en français that Nadal lost, but still, Abel is pretty good at it.

Already Weds., no school, but Irie sails from 9-12, so we usually show up about 10:30 on the beach to watch, have lunch, and swim. Then we need to get back home for my french lesson (with Pascale)
and Irie's piano lesson (with Elisabeth). She has her first-ever recital this Sat. playing a song called "Got the Blues."

Thurs. mornings Lisa is off to yoga/exercise/hula, and Irie went to Abbie's for lunch so Lisa and I had the whole afternoon to ourselves so guess what we did? That's right we went to the beach.

Friday, already the end of the week! 4 weeks left. I went to Lisa's hula class in the afternoon to videotape. Her class has grown and they have now learned 4 dances I believe. They are so beautiful and graceful, working so hard with this dance style and language that is so foreign to them. I am not normally present for these classes and it makes my heart burst seeing Lisa in her element, à l'aise and beaming with pride. Here they are doing Honomuni which Lisa choreographed.

Saturday, June 6, D-Day. We took special interest in the proceedings on TV (see last blog post) with the Obamas arriving. We read in the news the next day that they hit Paris like a storm: getting a private tour of Notre Dame, Pompidou, and then having dinner somewhere near the Eiffel Tower. There were cheering throngs of people everywhere they went, they are probably even more popular here than back home. We were going to take Irie to the Aqualand water park here in Fréjus but realized that they don't open for 2 more weeks - just one more thing to squeeze in. The winds had really picked up, so we took Irie and Abbie to the beach (oooh, big surprise :)) and had some fun in the big waves. Irie has become a strong swimmer and just can't get enough of the water. Fighting these waves caught up with her as she came home exhausted and fell asleep quickly (which is rare). There was also, amazingly enough considering the winds and waves, a regatta happening further out in the bay.

Sunday, another bright sunny morning, and the winds had died down. Lisa was on a mission to bien profiter from the big Sunday market while I went to the beach to play volleyball with Édouard and his cast of players who show up every Sat. and Sun. mornings to play. There are multiple players who used to play in professional leagues here in France so I just try not to make a fool of myself. Great exercise! And a warm sea to cool off in, then home to get ready for our next fête. It was Mother's Day here in France and we were invited by our friends Kurt, Stéphanie and Charlie
to an informal gathering with them and other friends who we hadn't met before. We still aren't exactly sure of the connections, but everyone met up at a private domain up in the hills with 3 pools, tennis and basketball courts, and a restaurant. We swam, I played pétanque for the first time, and we had a very nice meal. It was dusk (at 9:45) as we left for home.

Onward to another full week ahead...