The way I see it, there are three reasons never to be unhappy.
First, you were born. This in itself is a remarkable achievement… For you to have been born…you had to win a race against 24,999,999 or so other wriggling contenders, all rushing to swim the English Channel…And think, you could have just as easily been a flatworm.
Second, you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist. For endless aeons you did not. Soon you will cease to be once more. That you are able to sit here right now in the one never-to-be-repeated moment, reading this book, eating bonbons, dreaming about hot sex with that scrumptious person from accounts, speculatively sniffing your armpits, doing whatever you are doing — just existing — is really wondrous beyond belief.
Third, you have plenty to eat, you live in a time of peace, and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” will never be number one again.
Day 14 in France
My French parents (Matthieu and Brigitte) discovered a French class for non-natives here in Tassin (a Bethesda of Lyon, if you will), and so I started attending last week. For two hours in the afternoon, I am surrounded by internationals attemping to do the same as me, communicate in French. The first class, I was the one and only English speaker in the room. I, at one point, had no idea what the French phrase was, to answer a question, and so answered in English, thinking someone would laugh. Err, no one laughed.
Yesterday we split into smaller groups. To my left was a woman from Kosovo, to my right, a man from Algeria. Otherwise, the group was two women from Brazil, one from Bolivia, two from Spain, a girl from Hungary, and some other lady with crazy hair who I couldn’t understand who thought it would be a good idea to wear a sweater without a bra.. or maybe can’t afford one… Understand this class is subsidized by the French government for non-native speakers, hence the diverse internationals, like myself. Many cannot afford schooling at a university or other, so they are in this class. I’m in it for the reason that it is very inexpensive, but also a good jumping-on point to learning the language and having general conversations with others doing the same. One of our teachers, Claude, is about 80 years old and looks like the kind of grandmother who would be constantly baking desserts but also yelling. She wore a mauve wool pantsuit and it was the first time I had ever seen one. I hope to see her again next week.. I guess.
On Tuesdays, like today, we have a teacher by the name of Martine — she’s a firecracker sort of lady, old, sexy, French, totally with it, very informative. She has crazy curly hair that’s always in her face and has a small cardigan around her neck upon arrival with an energetic greeting. I like her much more than Claude (no offense girl).
This past weekend was by far the most cultural getaway I’ve had in a while. First we went to the children’s great-grandmother’s house. The name of the town escapes me, but after a few hours driving through fields we arrived at her 18th century French farmhouse. Believe me when I say this thing was the original — it had a mote around it, for God’s sake. The kitchen would be best described as the first idea of “rustic,” and everything — even the ice cream and cheese — was antique. Before lunch, I strolled around the property to find two perfect and identical horses, an apple orchard, tennis courts, a guest house, enough hay to feed the entire country’s farm animals, a mean dog, and something resembling a cage in the ground (dungeon?). I was instructed to ring the iron bell outside the front door when lunch was on the table (roasted chicken and mashed potatoes), and so we sat in a dining room with guns on the walls and a thick antique dust in the air. Noticed that the knife that carved the chicken had a handle made of an whole pig’s leg — hair and hoof included. The kitchen was a heavy wooden table in the center, surrounded by brick walls and various appliances probably installed “by hand,” including a caste iron stove and detached sink unit.
Upon a “Voulez-vous du vin?” during lunch, I politely answered “Oui, merci” (who says no to wine at lunch?). This wine was one of a kind — it had no label, had already been opened (probably a few decades earlier), and had pungent sour tannins with heavy notes of cherry and.. dirt. Upon a glance into my meager portion, I noticed also a heavy sediment of *unknown* settled in the bottom of my drink. I considered this a cultural experience and drank up. The ice cream tasted like alcohol and had what resembled old green grapes in it — maybe the original rum raisin?
I was sad to leave this impressive gathering, but we waived goodbye to old granny and her mote, and continued to Orléans. Brigitte’s youngest brother was getting married there, and so I was to experience a French wedding.
I definitely found out one thing — the French know how to party. I had no obligation to the children for the wedding, for the most part, and so indulged in fabulous hors d’oeuvres consisting of escargots, caviar, an open raw oyster bar, champagne, etc. It was quite the spread and very nice. Conversed in French and also English, since the attendants were numerous and quite accomplished. Part of the family is also from the United States, and so that helped. To get to the point, though, about French weddings — they’re long. This cocktail time lasted until 8PM, and then their sit-down dinner was until 11PM. First dance was at midnight, and shortly after, dessert (four on one plate) was served — a sort of basil ice cream, herb and vanilla mousse, chocolate tarte, and a fancy cream puff. And then they danced. Until 3AM.
There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen, and only the nieces and nephews wore matching outfits. Of course the timing was much different than at an American wedding also, but what was the most different was the fact that it was a party, as if this kind of event was never going to have the chance to happen again in the couple’s lives. I asked someone at the wedding if this was both of their first marriages, and they looked at me oddly and said, “Yes……..? Why do you ask?” as if divorce is something off in a far-away place. It was a different air. Less stress, more focus, very serious party.
Also, a huge congratulations to my counsin, Lindsay Sweeney, who also got married on Saturday! Looked like so much fun and wish I could have been there, although I celebrated here in France for you. Until the next Larson gets married! And who will that be..? Hm.
So then we moseyed back to Lyon on Sunday through the rain, after a large brunch with the family and good friends back at the reception venue. C’etait bon.
This week I have class, I can get around the city, and can sometimes, though with much effort, can get the kids to do what they need to do. They are not used to me yet, but on the contrary, I’m not used to them either. We are tied. Hopefully soon I will be able to quote French movies, make them laugh, and then bake them a metric gateau.
And so I feel a bit more settled, speaking French with the family at dinner and riding my bike to school. I have made two friends, to-be-developed however, but am enjoying myself. Still working on buying shoes though.
Pictures to follow, à bientôt.
I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.
Day 4 in France
Language gaps, manual cars, Neptune’s kiss, artful pastries aplenty — I have returned to Europe. Only day four and I have successfully found myself enjoying my dessert after not only dinner, but lunch as well, and also have been at a loss for words — no but seriously, since my French has been on a double-boiler, if you will.
Though what I credit myself for is somewhat modest, it is fractional to the necessary repertoire for even the simplest of conversations. Add in three espressos a day and these Frenchies are spitting out all kinds of strange mixes. I learn one answer to find it has five questions I need to know in order to explain myself in rebuttal. None the less, my host family speaks English with me, and I communicate with the children through playing sports before dinner in the garden and letting them eat more than two cookies after their lunch.
The regular and plentiful comforts of America have vanished — one TV in the house and it is in a room unentered for the most part (also a 16” screen), a thermostat is to be found nowhere and so I resort to winter socks and multiple blankets, the refrigerator fits only leftovers from the previous two means and ketchup, my Oreo stash has already depleted substantially, etc. I must think twice — no three times — before asking a question.
1 Do I already know the answer to this? No? Okay —
2 Parlez-vous Englais? No? Okay —
3 Do I know how to ask this question in French? No —
As you can imagine, most conversations never get to take-off, generally in the way of plainly “Je ne sais pas.” I had the afternoon to myself today and took the metro downtown. There I found a large town square with a copper statue of a man named Louis sitting proudly on a bucking horse — not to my surprise — along with a hundred people putzing in the sunlight in their leather vests and red Fendi reading glasses, mostly holding hands with significant others or trying to capture runaway children. I entered a marvelous shoe store, Andre, with ten pairs of shoes I could easily have married (and it is unusual I care at all about shoes), but as I searched for help in finding a size I stopped abruptly and realized — how the f do I ask for a size? That project ended quickly. Don’t need new shoes now anyway. Wait until winter. Errrr fine, and so I cried a bit and asked one of the pairs to wait for me until November.
Another incident happened in a patisserie. Chantilly cream and cookies with pistachios and strawberries? May I please ha — yeah no can’t say that. K bye. Settled on gelato because the cone display was easily transferrable to speech, and inexpensive, AND they had both Kinder Bar flavor as well as creme brulee. I walked another hour satisfied and made my way home.
So besides being par-frozen in the morning and before bed, as well as feeling like I need to be smacked in the head with a French textbook — life in France so far is going quite well. The kids had school this morning, then we had mass, then an aperitif (one - two alcoholic drinks) for the parents at the school afterward. I explained to some of them the reasons why this would never happen in the US:
1 Adult day drinking is a no-no, unless on vacation or in relation to football
2 Free alcohol on school property doesn’t usually go so well
3 Drinking after church never happens unless ?????
4 Drinking in front of kids combined with the above three, at least in my world, is unheard of
So a small culture lesson for the day. Also, apparently if you are out to eat and you don’t finish your meal (or wine), you can’t take it home. Nope, no drunk microwave party later, sorry.
Looking forward to kicking off life as an au pair after training, for the most part, on Monday. Next weekend is my first travel weekend for my French mom’s brother’s wedding = more culture lessons to come. Maybe I’ll figure out how to buy shoes by then.