Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Schooling in France: Ocean

First confession: I do not love the beach. The ocean, though, is part of my very soul. I love the ocean, especially in the off-season, when I get it to myself. It is going to rip my heart out all over again to leave it. Think snow, sister, and how much you would miss that again...snow is good, and Christmas tree hunting in the snowy woods, and fires in the hearth with hot cocoa. Besides, you and sand will no longer be intimate buddies, yay, Iowa. Sorry, back to the beach.

As an educational tool; the seaside is matchless. Number one advantage; children WANT to be at the beach. No coercing, cajoling or need for promises of delicious snacks to get them there. I am practically speed-walking to keep up with them all.

We spend hours answering questions about the moon and the tides, the tide pools (massive, dangerous things along the Aquitaine coast here. At high tide, they create a whirlpool/wash-you-out-to-the-end-of-the-earth-effect,but they're wonderful to play in at low tide.) The older ones want to know about surf conditions and waves, the others about when and where to swim and why they have to dive under waves when they get too big. Sometimes the older two get distracted by beach humanology, or the study of the opposite sex clad in swimwear. (This would be an opportune time for a reminder lecture on many topics.)

My tiny niece and nephew, exploring sand architecture.

Then there are shells and rocks and smooth pieces of glass; marine biology, geology, physics...without even trying. Fish, birds; more biology...and have you ever told the beautiful story of Johnathan Seagull with your feet in the Atlantic while watching the sun set? (Well, maybe not the whole story right there; the waves make an awful rucccous at this time of year, but it was begun there, and finished later while knitting on a towel while the littles dig in the sand or make bracelets from bits of rubber.)

Last...or primary, depending on your thoughts; PE class. It is work to walk through sand, swim in waves, fly a kite, play soccer on a beach. Once again; there has never been a need for encouragement to move at the ocean. We have all kept active with the bare minimum of equipment; a bucket, a shovel, a ball, a kite. My surfer husband does not have a board here, much to the dismay of the kids, and to my relief. That did not ever spell bordom; just more questions for the adults to answer. Why are 87 people trying to surf the same wave, Dad? (sociology and group think). Was it like that when you were young? (ancient history). What was it like when you saw the ocean for the first time, Mama? (lessons in gratitude). 

If, like us in one more week, you do not have a seaside of your own, no reason to despair, one can learn anywhere, as you know. In most parts of the world, one can always take a road trip and reach the coast or a Great Lake for a blissful voyage into water and sand.

Beach in June (my nephew again):

 Beach in July (note opposition with beach earlier, in June):

It's hard to get a clear sun-set photo, but here is a hazy one:

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Boy's France

The two months here have meant different things to each of us, but I have not said much about the youngest two; Charles, 10 and Gael, 6, who just do boy stuff, like at home, but different.

Here are a few photos from their day to day here, starting with summer's favorite pastime, lucanus cervus, or stag beetles:

     Killer beetle attacks huge ship:

The beach, a favorite spot:

Charles, Gael and I learned about cow-fighting, or "la course landaise" during the town festival.+ After a class for children on this tradition (using inner tubes and balls as cow substitutes), I am longing to see it for myself. As much as I hate bull-fighting (and yes, I have actually been to 2 corridas), because it ends in torture and murder (sorry, traditionalists, but yuck!), the demonstration of how one jumps over a cow, feet together, or swings away from a charging animal at the last micro-second, was beautiful. Add the costumes and the have the soul of the town festival here; "Fete de la Madeleine." What a phenomenon to try to describe; music and tradition during the day, debauchery all night. The young bucks after the running of the bulls, um, cows,

The kids had their own "encierro" or bull run. They used to do it with very small calves, today (I think litigation has reached France) there are adults pushing wheel barrows dressed up like cows with horns:

In the arena for the class; red scarves for all:

Photos of photos of the ecarteurs (dodgers) in action:

Charles turning 10...too fast!

And the summer is not over, neither is our trip to France; but as C. said this morning; "We'll be home in our own house with our dog and our friends next week!"

+As to why no one else was at the class; first of all, it was geared to children. Second of all, we'd been out to the night time part of the town festival the day before, and even with the best of intentions, had only made it home at 1am. We danced, listened to music and wandered the streets, all together, along with hundreds of other families. It did not seem as wild as I once remembered it being, but then again, we left "early." The only ones I could drag out of bed in the morning for the cow event were the youngest.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bordeaux...Friends Married to Frenchmen

Lucky for me, I have friends with such determination and powers of persuasion that I end up escaping for a minute (or a couple of days) to make the trip to see them all together each time I come. I met the first of them, Dede, at the grocery store when I had just moved to Bordeaux, pregnant with Duncan who is 16. I later met Janice, who introduced me to Caroline and Catherine, who ended up being my neighbor when I moved to a little town on the seaside. With each passing year, I value much more the friends who have made my life a richer, better one. They are also the ones with whom one can share, cry and howl with laughter for hours on end. I got to see this lovely gang in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago. (We sandwiched it in between the baptism and the wedding.)

Here is a special group of women; Americans married to Frenchmen. It takes a special sort of person and makes you into another sort, to live with and raise children with someone from a whole other culture. If you don't think French is "really different" from American, that's OK. We know better. Thank you, ladies! For being there for me, for your good humor, perspective, and positive outlook, for keeping the faith. I am so grateful!

The best spot in Bordeaux for a fabulous glass of wine (Bordeaux mostly does marvelous wine only.):

New sculpture; it may be leaving soon, as it is for sale and the price was out of range of even fund-raising Bordelais.

Janice has become a tour guide in Bordeaux, so she led us to the beautiful night spots and plazas that have been renovated since I last lived here. Dede is a city girl at heart and knows how to get anywhere on tram or on foot. Between the two of them, I had a splendid outing. Caroline and Catherine knew the best off-the-beaten-track restaurants, and we ended up eating at an astounding, delicious Lebanese restaurant. This was my first foray into Middle Eastern cuisine; I felt like Toad who was on the great River for the first time with the Water Rat (Wind in the Willows); "oh my, oh my, oh MY!"

Cate came with me for this short trip. We had a quick tour of Bordeaux the next morning. We moved here when she was 10 months old and stayed in the area until she was 4. This photo is in the little regional train that put-puts back and forth between Bordeaux and the towns further south. Some major improvements have been made in these little trains! Back in the day...really, though, these were the cattle cars with seats I took every day to school in a small town from an even smaller town. Today; luxury, light-filled wonders.

The Cathedral of Bordeaux, St.Andre; I have always loved this cathedral. Not only is it a beautiful place to pray and hope, it is also nice and cool on a summer day. Cate first came here as an embryo!

So much for the perfect Madonna and baby; the expressions on the faces of these two crack me up. The Virgin looks like she is holding a mildly bothersome toddler who does not belong to her, and he looks like there might be a snake on the ground.

Thank you, for still being there, dear friends, I will miss you! I sorta even miss Bordeaux. A bientot!

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Another part of my post, the most important part of all, was a tribute to friendship, love and kindness, without which there would be just an abyss of pretty and ugly.

Meeting up with my friend Katie in Mannheim, was the highlight of my days that week, (we must allow for Thierry being the main event of the whole trip.) It was so much fun to spend the only sunny day with her, exploring the gardens of Luisenpark and the rest of the town. Thank you for making the train trip there!

Germany: Heidelberg

Here is the town that somewhat drew a line through my previous musings on architecture and national character. Of course, Mannheim was largely bombed and rebuilt, whereas Heidelberg retains much of its original 16th-19th century construction. It is cute, and full of tourists, consequently. First, there is a castle; a big, fortified castle, with sections that are still being rebuilt after bombings and disasters, I think. I can't read German and signs were not ever written in anything but German. But it is pretty, all over.

At Heidelberg Castle:

On the way up or down from the castle:

Down in the streets of the town of Heidelberg:

View from our nice, dry cafe at lunchtime during a punishing downpour: (the suit of armor is for the boys)

View from the castle:

Germany; Mannheim

I've started this post over twice now; first time; it needed rewriting. Second time; Blogger crashed. Third time, a charm?

The car trip itself was a door into a world I had forgotten existed; a long drive without children. There was yarn to knit, the GPS to check, scenery, incredible scenery, to see, a Dan Brown book on audio and a handsome driver. Paradise.

It rained, most of the time. This was only a problem for the mist that covered the mountain tops I would have liked to see and the speed my chauffeur had hoped to reach on the Autobahn in Germany. Here is one of my hopeless attempts to capture scenery in a moving car. I felt much better once I gave that up.

The hotel was completely distinct from the grandeur of the French chateau, but massive in its proportions and with a fabulous view and location. A few shots: Outside: (ours was the balcony on the far right, second floor):


Around the outside:

I explored the residential neighborhoods, finding these beautiful, solid houses that I thought maybe embodied what was essentially the German character; reliable, lasting and not many frills. Then I spent a day in Heidelberg and saw a whole other side to German architecture. Conclusion and caution: a week is not enough to be able to grasp a culture. (The pastries really are quite massive though; and bring back memories of a trip to Berlin when I was 19. My friend and his family treated me to a fresh and different pastry from the bakery down the street every morning. They were so kind to me; taking me to every possible distraction and historical monument in Berlin as well as East Berlin. I was welcomed, cherished, happy...but I dreaded that morning pastry, knowing it must be eaten.

There were some flowers on balconies, but this did not prove itself the affair of national pride as it is in France or Italy. Naked balconies here are maybe a sign of "I have better things to do."

Next up; the cute little town of Heidelberg.