Bonjour Tout le Monde,
As we approach the end of our second month in France the theme for this update has to be “settling in.” Our shipments from the US have arrived, boxes have been unpacked, the kids are enjoying their autumn school break, and we have gotten our first French speeding ticket.
Having our things from the US has certainly helped to give us the feeling that we are “at home” and less like we are camping out in a furnished vacation rental. The arrival of our 20-foot container from the US was reportedly quite the event in town. The big yellow container rumbled through the center of the village and certainly didn’t go un-noticed. Several people commented to us that they saw it come through town, and I’m told a few even took photos.
Getting the monstrous truck up our narrow little road was truly a feat of master roadsmanship (yes, I made that word up). Unfortunately, the container and piano movers arrived before the rest of the furniture movers, and the driver had no idea how to open the sealed door. Luckily he had tools on hand: a big metal bar, a hammer and an old screwdriver, and proceeded to beat the hell out of the lock. After being hit in the face a few times with flying lock debris, it occurred to me that this was most likely not the way the lock designers intended it to be opened, and we must be missing some crucial piece of equipment, like a key or a bolt cutter. I asked the driver to pause the battering, and took a closer look. There was a small wire retaining-clip, that when removed with some pliers allowed what was left of the bent up locking pin to be pulled out by hand. Several "ahhhhs" later and the doors were open.
At the successful opening of the container, the piano movers, who had been waiting impatiently for the lock to be opened, rushed to the open doors to offload the piano. This would have been a perfect plan if the piano hadn’t been the first thing loaded into the container and therefore was now buried behind 144 other boxes. The piano movers explained to our driver that they only had 30 minutes and couldn’t wait any more on the tardy moving crew. With a shrug of their shoulders and a ”très désolé” they climbed into their van and sped away, never to be seen again. The moving people showed up about thirty minutes later, and luckily were able to move all 144 boxes and the piano without the help of the piano moving specialists. Miraculously, every box that was packed in Los Angeles traversed half the globe by ocean and made it unscathed to France. Not a single wine glass was broken, a testament to the excellent work of our shipping company, and the power of mankind’s greatest scientific achievement: bubble wrap.
At last the frenetic weeks of arrival are behind us and it is beginning to feel less like being on vacation and more like being at home. There are small signs that we may one day be a part of this community: the lady at la boulangerie knows what bread we buy each day without us asking. It’s nice to walk in and be greeted with “Bonjour Monsieur Wallace, un rustique?” Le Rustique being the rustic loaf of bread we prefer for lunch sandwiches.
At €1 for a loaf of excellent bread we find that it just makes sense to buy (and eat) a fresh loaf every day. For a small shop in a small village, our bakery of choice does a bang up business. There is often a line of 5-10 people waiting to purchase bread, and they are normally sold out by mid-day. Now that we are in the know, we put our name on their reservation book each day. We definitely feel like locals when there is no bread left on the shelves, but our rustique is tucked aside waiting for us!
Being in the countryside has also turned us into conservationists. We eat local produce, walk and bike ride much more, and even turn off the shower while soaping up and shampooing, though this is more a function of having a small water heater that runs out of hot water quickly.
We reuse plastic containers over and over. The paella-maker is pleasantly surprised when we return each week with the same plastic container for him to refill, though he has yet to discount the price of our paella to account for the savings. The fancy glass yogurt jars make excellent juice glasses, and plastic shopping bags make good dog poo sacks (judging by the amount of dog poo on the sidewalk I think we are the only people in town familiar with the "poo sack" concept). Even honey containers can be recycled, though after a questionable batch of salad dressing had to be tossed out we no longer put extra hair shampoo in the empty honey squeeze bottle.
I think one of the greatest pleasures is being able to buy food at the local market. Finding an interesting recipe in a French cookbook, then buying the ingredients from a local farmer, makes cooking and eating feel like something that is connected to the community around us. The food choices here can be a bit overwhelming at times. Forget having only to choose between whipping and heavy cream--here there are about a dozen different levels of cream, each with a very specific use. France has over 400 kinds of cheese, and there are two full aisles in the supermarket devoted to yogurt. When we asked a french friend about the choices of cream she just shrugged and informed us that most of the people she knows make their own.
Life in a small French village is full of little surprises. A couple of nights ago we saw a flyer for a music performance by a pianist and violinist. We didn’t recognize the venue (and there aren’t many, given that our village has one rue principale), so we didn’t really give much thought to attending what was obviously an amateur event. But that evening we found we had some extra time and thought it might make a fun adventure, so we decided to check it out. We drove about 10 minutes away to a small road with nothing but vineyards and the occasional farmhouse. At the noted address we found cars wedged into any available spot along the roadside. We found a place to park, and walked down a dark driveway and discovered we had arrived at a beautiful old mas where a crowd of fifty people were seated in a large barn-turned-studio. We were welcomed by the owner and we took seats at the back of the room.
The performers were announced, and for the next sixty minutes we were treated to a classical concert that rivaled anything we have ever seen. The female musicians (a pianist originally from Japan and a violinist from Texas) were highly talented professionals (both performed in Paris for noted orchestras) and seeing them perform in such an intimate venue was truly a special experience. The audience gathered for un apéritif avec les artistes in the garden afterward where we met the home owner and many of her friends, one of which it turns out lives just up the road from us. One of the ladies gushed on and on en française to Felicia about what an enchanting evening it had been and thanked her so much for being there. It was only after a couple of minutes of blank stares that we realized she had mistaken Felicia for the Japanese pianist.
Speaking of la langue française, our lack of French language skills is certainly the single biggest obstacle we have to overcome. Felicia and I started French lessons from a local teacher, and of course the kids have eight hours a day of French in school. We get by day-to-day with a few words here and there, some memorized phrases, and lots of hand gestures, grunts, and wild gesticulation, and somehow we make ourselves understood. It helps that most people here speak better English than they let on, even if, as one self-depreciating seller of delicious pesto claimed, “I speak English like a Spanish cow.” Considering that his english was about 100 times better than my french, I must speak French like an Italian pig.
So as we settle in to our expat lives we raise a glass of wine (being careful to look you in the eyes and not cross glasses!) and toast "à votre santé."
Bonne journée et merci for following our French adventure.
Ken, Felicia, Paige and Ryan Wallace
Bonjour Tout le Monde = hi everyone
très désolé = very sorry
la boulangerie = the bakery
un croissant, un pain chocolat, un pain aux amandes, et un pain aux raisins = various pastries
rue principale = main street
mas = farmhouse
un apéritif avec les artistes = a drink with the artists
en française = in french
la langue française = the french language
à votre santé = to your health
bonne journée = have a good day
Photos © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
As someone born and raised in southern California, I've never really experienced the change in the seasons. In Los Angeles the seasons are marked by holidays and store displays rather than changes in weather.
In L.A. you know summer is over after the Labor Day weekend has passed, and it is officially autumn when the grocery stores start advertising Halloween candy and sending out Thanksgiving advertisements. To get into the spirit of the season we break out our collection of orange plastic leaves and toss them on the dining table as though they have blown in from an open window.
Here in Provence l'été is over, and l'automne has announced itself in a rather more tangible way. While our friends in Los Angeles are sweltering in 100 degree (F) temperatures, we are experiencing cooler, windy days with the occasional rain, thunder and lightning storms. The swimming pools are closed for the season, and the stores that were opened all day for tourists are now fermé for a proper three-hour déjeuner.
This is agricultural country, so the weather drives much of life. The vendange is nearly complete, bringing an end to three weeks of dodging tractors filled with grapes on the school run. Melons and other summer fruits have disappeared from the market, and the quaint sound of shotgun fire can be heard at dawn signaling that la chasse has officially begun. We were told that if we plan to take walks in the countryside this time of year we might want to wear bells and orange vests to avoid being mistaken for un sanglier.
And while we don't have the autumn color show of New England, the leaves on the vines are turning from green to shades of amber and orange, and the cafes and fountains are sprinkled with golden fallen leaves. It is a welcome change from year-round evergreens and endless stretches of watered lawns.
Of course anyone reading this (assuming anyone actually is reading this!) in a place that experiences a proper autumn will wonder what all the fuss is about. And to our friends on the east coast who are already thinking about snow blowers, all I can say is "bon courage!"
l'été = summer
l'automne = autumn
vendange = the harvest
fermé = closed
déjeuner = lunch
la chasse = the hunt
un sanglier = a wild boar
bon courage = an expression to wish someone "good courage"
All Images © 2014 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.