Thursday, June 21, 2012

La rentrée

In France, there is a name for the annual return of students to school each fall. It's call la rentrée and it literally means the reentry or the return.  

Jack, Kate and Liv had their own mini rentrée today, going to visit their former classmates and teachers at the little village school surrounded by vineyards. Part of their nervousness was because they had never actually been to the building we visited today -- it was under construction in the spring of 2010 and didn't open until that fall. So back in 2010, Jack went to class in the mayor's office of one village 3 km in one direction, while Kate and Liv's class was house in the mayor's office of the village 1 km from our home  (and now just across the street).

But today, they walked into a bright, beautiful, big new school -- and were immediately swarmed by friends. Jack went off and played, looking occasionally like a rock star surrounded by fans. He would check in with me from time to time, but spent most of the time running around and answering questions (ARE YOU COMING BACK HERE TO LIVE? I heard many of the kids ask him). Kate and Liv clung to my legs, not sure what to make of everyone who remembered les jumelles -- the twins -- when their own memories of our time here seems a bit hazy.

It was so wonderful to talk with their former teachers and see so many happy faces. After about a half an hour, we went into the new gym (gorgeous but lacking one important feature -- windows that open) and heard kids perform various musical pieces. We learned that today is La fête de la musique -- The Feast of the Music -- and all across France people performed music at schools, on streetcorners, in parks and other public places.

Sitting in that hot, happy gym and looking around at the familiar faces was a moment that reminded me -- as so many moments have reminded me this last week -- of just what a magical time we had the months we lived here. In retrospect, it seems kind of incredible that we were welcomed so warmly into a community, especially since we were here such a short time. But as the shouts of "Jack! Jack! Kat-eeee! Olivia!!" rang out across the playground, I just felt so lucky. Lucky that we got to come here at all, and find these friends, and have that experience. And lucky now to be able to return, if only for a visit.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Today is the 10th day of our trip -- and I know this for a fact because one of the many challenges facing us the days just before we left is that Olivia got a crazy-high fever and sore throat. Looking back, I am feeling lucky it was the Wednesday night before our Friday morning departure (and not Thursday night or even during the flight)... because we were able to get an appointment Thursday afternoon with an older doctor we had never met before. He took one look at her throat, saw her fever, and pulled out his prescription pad.

Strep, most likely, he told us. So he wrote a prescription for 10 days of antibiotics (and threw in prescriptions for Jack and Kate, just in case) and sent us on our way. By Friday morning, Liv looked much better... and she finished her last dose last night.

These 10 days have been packed with so much aside from amoxicillin. This is literally the first chance I have had to sit down and write (my poor parents are getting one or two line updates or photos... enough to know we are alive and well, but that's about it!). It has not been the peaceful, slow-paced, sit back and soak it all in kind of experience that our time in 2010 was. But it has been wonderful. Just wonderful.

Take today, for example. We woke the kids up at 8 a.m. and drove into Beaune to our favorite breakfast place. We met up with old friends Ravi and Kavitha and their boys for breakfast and a walk to the Parc Bouzaize. From there, we went to lunch with Geraldine and Thomas and their great kids (who are all shockingly taller than they were two years ago!), and then had a birthday party with seven different kinds of ice cream for Kate and Liv. Beaune friends Alli and her lovely girls (also taller than when we left them) joined us, bringing my favorite French cookie, macarons, and so many good stories. There was so much good food, cheese, wine, laughter and conversation... it felt like we had all just gotten together a few weeks ago. But the tall kids tell us it's been longer than that.

There is so much to write about! The flight over was really pretty great -- no bloody noses or blizzards to contend with... just a few troubles at security (Olivia's backpack kept being selected to be searched, making us wonder just what Foo-Foo had been getting up to) and impossibly tired kids who were hard to get off the flight once arrived for our layover in Amsterdam (called Hamsterdam by the kids once they woke up). John had left for France two weeks earlier (more on that later) so Jay and Judy, his parents, were traveling with us. Somehow we managed to get them all off (me briefly carrying both big girls, just so the crew could start cleaning the plane) and had a pretty great time from there.

I had found a place in Aix-en-Provence for Jay and Judy to stay in during the four weeks we are here -- and it is simply wonderful. Sunny, light, and right in the center of a beautiful southern town... just right. We dropped them off and unloaded their luggage and then took off on a crazy drive to Marseille, where John had been staying with a colleague/friend and his family and where we were expected for dinner.

John had programmed his iPad to show the drive to the home of our friends. But somewhere along the way, I moved the "destination" pin.... to the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. By the time we figured out we were nowhere near Rue Paradis and our waiting dinner, some interesting backtracking (in a huge city with tiny crowded streets) had to take place.

We made it, eventually, and the kids (who had done SO well in a very stressful situation) were happy to see kids to play with. John and I were happy to be out of the car and have a glass of wine.

And the wine... and the cheese... and the language... all of it was just so wonderful to experience. That first week (from Saturday night until last Friday), we stayed in the south, touring to new places (the beach towns of Cassis and Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer), Roman places (Pond du Gard, Glanum, Arles and its ancient arena), small villages whose names I don't remember, and the cities of Aix and Marseille. In between, John managed to do a little bit of work (which is why he came out early, and why he had to head back down to Aix tonight) and we managed to eat much good food and of course, lots of cheese.

Staying with our friends in Marseille gave the kids an instant reimmersion into speaking French -- because they were much more likely to speak French with children than with us. John and I continue to be blown away by how well they did and are doing. With a few days of playing with kids under their belt, we stopped for coffee in the small village of St. Remy. After devouring several baguettes, Liv went up to a woman at a nearby table with a dog, and asked, in perfect French, if she could please take a picture of the dog (adding the s'il vous plait of course). The woman said "bien sur" and many other things... and we now have an adorable photo of an adorable French dog. (I will try to download photos tomorrow of the trip so far.... but trust me -- he was cute).

While we were in the south, I thought perhaps Provence and those beaches would elbow out my beloved Burgundy as the best place in France because it is so beautiful, so lush, so sunny... but as we drove up on Friday, and the familiar soft rolling hills, the unrelenting green vineyards, the soft blue sky all seemed to be reminding me that if I have a home in France, it's here. And that's just with the landscape and windy roads factoring in -- but when you add in the wonderful people like those who gathered to celebrate Kate and Liv today, then it's no contest.

And it feels good to be home.

(more to come! I promise...)