Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Life in "La Vieille France" or The France of Yesteryear

I had a week...and then another week, and today I am writing from here; on the other side of France and on our way to Germany in a few hours. I am a make-believe countess for two days and a night, in the Chateau de Rigny, a magical, fairy-tale place to stay and visit. The kiddies are with Thierry's family, and we are on a big ol' road trip, starting with a 9-hour drive and a night here:

As you can see, it is a dark, rainy sort of day; just the right sort for writing by the fire. The little pink and gold salon I am in does not have its fire lit; it is not protocol to light fires in July, but I am having a nice cafe creme to warm me up, and I am quite alone in here.

Our bedroom; each one is decorated in a different style:

View from the bedroom balcony:(the XVIIth century building through the trees was built to house a royal silk production facility.)

The main building (there are several, but the rain has kept me from counting them all):

One of the gates leading to the gardens and paths along the Saone River: (whose water filled its moats in the days it was a fortress as well as a castle).

The original castle was built in 890, and this one dates from 1286. It was fully fortified and had five towers and a double-moat. It was ruined and rebuilt a number of times and went through various families as loyalties and wars conquered and gifted it according to royal whim and local might. It was transmitted through the female line.

Today I feel filled with the dizzying sensation of a lifetime of choices and chances that brought me to this moment. It's not only that we are celebrating 21 years of marriage with this trip, but also the truth that life is beautiful as well as unfair and sometimes exactly what we wish it to be.

On one hand, I have the weight of meeting up with two different old friends during this trip who have each been dealt really tragic cards. They are both alone in the world (but in different towns, or you know I would set them up with each other!) They have each lost two children and spouses; to horrible, sudden accidents and to slow, torturous illness. The child or grandchild they have left is handicapped and ill in more than one way. I have thought of them every day for years and kept them in my prayers, sent a Christmas card...and there is not a whole lot more to be done. Their courage and pure kindness are an example to many. 

The other side of the coin is what has grown out of our choices as a couple, Thierry and I. We have spent the last 20+ years vacationing in either Iowa or Mont-de-Marsan to visit family. It sometimes seemed like a lifetime sentence to boring. But it never was. My incredible family never let us have a minute to be bored when we would visit, alone or with 1, 3 or 5 children. Food, dice games, little trips here and there were always on the agenda. In France, Thierry's family has kept us fed like kings each time we have come, even when it was for 2 or 3 months, and played games with the kids for hours at a time, every day. 

There is now a beach house that his sister has the use of for 11 months of the year, just an hour away, and the house his uncle gives over to us each time. My dear father-in-law found a van for us this time that he either rented or borrowed from a friend, he won't tell. Vacation in Mont-de-Marsan has become a luxury retreat. And this week, my retired in-laws are sharing the keeping of the children with my brother and sister-in-law who are taking them to the beach house. There should not be too much missing of mama this week!

And Iowa for the past 13 years? Iowa has been the most wonderful place I could imagine to raise a family. I've had my parents and siblings close by, something I treasure above all else. We also grew into the freedom living there allowed over the course of the years. Giving birth at home became a reality after a cesarean and a dissatisfactory  hospital birth (not the baby, the baby was perfect! me; I caved to drugs after about 15 minutes of labor). Educating the children at home afforded another level of freedom; and after years of talking with my friend who homeschools her children in France, I am grateful to live without the hassle of the hoops to leap through with a firebrand in your mouth here.

Now that two are almost through high school, I have moments (encouraged by my amazing American-married-to-French-guy-friends) of anxiety over the decision to live in the US; how will we put the kids through college? Will they be indebted forever and a day after the experience? Would it not be better to move back here and put them through the free, French system? I don't know. Would they not be miserable, especially the older ones who would feel suddenly different and maybe incompetent here? Would it not be awful to leave my family again? (Yes, it would.) For now, I still love the freedom to encourage my kids to become the person inside of them and not whatever society or the school system would limit them to. 

The best and worst part of this is that we have a choice. Our family can communicate, work and live legally in two different countries, both of them good, beautiful countries. I am grateful to have an option, but not quite sure if it should be guided by sentiment, common sense, intuition or left up to a dose of good fortune.

Next post: birthdays, Bordeaux, the beach, baptisms and weddings. Oh my.  


  1. So pretty! Where are you going in Germany?

  2. Hi Eva! We went to Mannheim and to Heidelberg. Anywhere near your home?

  3. No, not at all, my parents live way up north, close to Bremen.


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