Monday, March 29, 2010

Mer Bleue

Last Thursday was a wet day, reminiscent of Ireland. The house hunt was shut down for the week and I was feeling a bit blue. So, we decided to go to Montpellier's fabulous aquarium.

Aquarium Mare Nostrum is near city center and shares a space with the fairly new outdoor shopping mall, the Odysseum. In the lobby there's a free standing cylindrical aquarium filled with huge spacey-eyed fish calmly staring out in welcome. The Baby, not for the last time that day, bumped his head against the deceptive glass in an attempt to get closer to the fish.

You pass through a dark entry with mirrored floor and glass ceiling--the only barrier between a fish filled aquarium above; watery shadows reflecting from overhead causing vertigo and the sensation that you're walking on water.

They have a replica of a submarine and an old cargo ship. Inside the cargo ship you can steer the big wheel and push all the twinkly buttons. And then the storm begins and the floor feels as if it's bucking on waves as they splash water up onto the broad windshield and through windows, sprinkling those standing close with water. The windshield wipers crank away trying to cope with the deluge and the thunder and lightning clap and crack, eliciting screams and shudders from kids and adults alike. Ma Fille and the Middlest, who'd been up front and center steering and plonking away on the controls before the storm, came shrieking back to me, 'Let's go Mommy! We're scared!'

The most fantastic part for me was the ocean aquarium. It takes up the center of the building, more than two stories tall and visible in teasing peeks from different areas throughout until you finally reach the darkened room, with theatre benches and a slanting wall of glass the only thing separating you from the sharks, manta rays, swordfish and various other ocean life.

One requin in particular kept swimming up to us, pressing so hard into us that you could see his gills flatten out against the glass--all the while grinning so that he showed his rows of slanty, sharp teeth.

We touched starfish and concombre de mer, piecing together understanding from the very nice woman who explained all the small sea creatures to us in French.

It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy day, educational and in French.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

L’obsession de la maison

As those of you who know me well know, I have a touch of the obsessive. This applies to things in turn. I don't obsess about it all at once, preferring to focus intensely on ONE thing. When the kids were babies, it was them poor things. Living in Ireland during the summer, it was the rain. Now it's finding a house. 

It is driving me demented. And unfortunately for everyone, I cannot stay off the computer and the house website. I tell myself to stop. Don't look today. Okay, don't look this morning, wait until after lunch. I'm like a gambler hooked on online poker. Only the game is house slot machine. If I pull the lever just so then bing!, the perfect house will line up like a threesome of pineapples. Everyone tells me, 'It's not a great time to look for a house.' But we only have until mid-April here in Sommiéres so it doesn't really help to know that. Now is the time that we're looking for a house. 

We wanted a pool, have had to give up on that idea because all the piscine are either postage stamp mockeries of proper pools or in the worst case, a big, deep, round hole in the ground with an above ground pool buried inside. Safe? No.
Now all I want is something comfortable with enough rooms for the kids to have their own and Mon Mari to have somewhere to work from home. Somewhere he can be where we don't have to all whisper shout and tiptoe while he's on calls, always on calls.

One last thing you should know--the houses here have different levels of kitchens. Either you've got cabinets, a sink, and maybe a hob or cooktop and that's equipée, you're thankful, laughing. Or you've got a microwave included, perhaps a dishwasher if you're lucky, but never, ever, jamais a refrigerator. Add to that, no fixtures. I'm talking wires hanging from ceilings where a light or ceiling fan should be and sad looking holes on the walls where there once were sconces. 

Please say a house prayer for me. Or at least an, 'Aidan would you please chill out!' mantra for the sake of Mon Mari and our relocation agent.
I'm ready for a new obsession.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Night Music

Les grenouilles have been treating us to an evening symphony.
It's been many years since I've lived far enough from people populated areas to enjoy nature's sounds. For being so quiet, it's really quite loud.
I love the songs of the birds, the neighing of the horse next door, have even gotten used to Monsieur Coq and his hourly reveille and now the frogs have begun their courtship rituals.
The sound is fantastic—a deep, throaty croaking, calling out to princesses everywhere, 'Donnez-moi un bisou!'

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Secret Closet

Why is it that the forbidden holds such power? When I was a kid and someone told me not to do something all I could think was, why? What mysterious wonder is being hidden from me?

In this house one of the closets bears this sign:

It is like a welcome mat, encouraging us to wonder what's inside. Every time I passed by it my fingers itched to casually slide it open. Maybe if my foot accidentally slipped and kicked it open. The kids were the same. 'What's in that closet, Mommy?' We all wondered. Ma Fille was the first to cave. She came to me and said, 'I opened that closet and all that was inside were old shoes.'

Of course then we all had to do it. Rowan and I had a peek for ourselves. She was right, old shoes mostly. Some prescription pill packets in Arabic, nothing at all very exciting.
I don't know what we were expecting really; ancient manuscripts, a treasure map, jewels?

We looked. We invaded privacy. Would you have looked?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Our family loves the road trip. We perfected it driving across Ireland, seeing nearly every nook and cranny save Waterford. No reason, we just never got there. I am the navigator, food fixer, kid soother, dj, etc. and Mon Mari is the driver. He drinks diet Coke, listens to music, stays awake and keeps us safe with his calm and steady driving. My role as navigator has gotten us around traffic jams via back roads and given us many ooohhs and aaahhhs through gorgeous scenery.
Therefore I was devastated when he suggested we get a sat nav.His argument was that we could really use the help driving across England and then France.
‘How could you?’ I said. ‘A sat nav is a usurper of my navigational duties.’ It was akin to him getting a little on the side…quite an exaggeration yes, but I have a point to make here. So when it came down to it, he bought one, gave it a woman’s voice and I pouted in the passenger’s seat. ‘Fine, you don’t need my help then. Go ahead. Let her help you.'
On our first trip under her guidance we couldn’t find the hotel in Wexford. She didn’t realize, as I did, that we couldn’t cut through a funeral procession on a one-way street to get to the front entrance at reception. I sat silently, vindicated. He soothed my ego by telling me that he didn’t want to rely entirely on the sat nav for directions, he still needed my input and would I please stop pouting/smugly smiling and help him after all.
It wasn’t until the England (landbridge) portion of our trip that she really came in handy and I began to feel a kindred respect for her. We needed somewhere to eat before the overnight ferry. We put in find a restaurant nearby and she kindly directed us to Toby’s Carvery. Rather than driving around in circles looking for something we could both agree on or worse, giving in all together and going through a drive-thru McDonald’s where ‘the lady talks to you through the speaker’, we had a big, warm meal and everyone was happy.
It was after this and her help in finding our way through Normandy in the snow that we thought she should have a name, become one of our road trip family. We settled on ‘Nancy’ and so it is. Nancy helps us find gas stations, sports shops, IKEA (not that they’re hard to spot), and most importantly the location properties our agent offers as potential homes here.
The kids say, ‘Nancy said to turn right!’, or ‘Nancy is getting mad at you’ and ‘Why aren’t you listening to Nancy?’
However, the other day I saw a sign for a chateau and thought I’d check it out. Nancy didn’t know what I was doing and started giving me warnings. ‘Oh, come on Nancy. We’re just having a big of an adventure.’ And to this Ma Fille, swelling my heart with love and pride, gave me the distinction of navigator extraordinaire, ‘It’s ok Nancy, Mommy’s just an adventurer!’

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rose Colored Glasses

When you’re somewhere new there are so many things to figure out.Even in English it can be challenging to know the norms and customs of a place—which is the best grocery store, where’s the post office, where do you find a bike rack for the car? Now put all this in French and it becomes even more challenging and, to me, more exciting and fun. Well, on a good day.
So, you create this filter to get through all the newness, just to manage the essentials and maybe have a bit of personal connection there too. The grocery store has been fairly straight forward. I know the context of the checkout situation. You smile, say hello, and frantically pack your groceries to avoid impatient tuts from those in line behind you. Same in Ireland. Then, you hear the total spent, here it’s said at rapid speed but I’m trying to figure it out without looking, you pass over your cash or laser card, smile again and say goodbye. This is easy enough. Last week I even got the courage to ask for a carte de fidélité. It was so gratifying to be understood and to communicate. I am now a proud and loyal card carrying Carrefour customer.
La Poste had me totally intimidated. I don’t know why except maybe for the memory of being on honeymoon and being cut in line a few times and then not being able to figure out how to get a stamp for my postcard. Post offices in general kind of freak me out…..make of this what you will.
Anyway, I had to mail some things and kept putting it off. The word for stamp, le timbre, kept eluding me. It doesn’t have a similar root or sound to it like some other words. For example, ascenseur is elevator and that makes sense; you ascend, elevate, are lifted. So working up my nerve and having Sofia help me repeat, “Je voudrais un timbre, s’il vous plait’, we headed in, Leo bumping up the stairs in the buggy and the two big kids under threat of something awful if they embarrassed me.
It turned out to be easier than I’d thought. There was a line with people sizing each other up, wondering who was the weakest and therefore most easily queue jumped. But there was also a very nice machine where you can weigh and appropriately stamp your post. I was staring at it, trying to decipher which region I needed when Sofia suggested, ‘Mommy why don’t you choose English?’ Oh, how easy! It’s usually this way with me. I worry over something, make it HUGE, nearly insurmountable and then poof! piece of cake.
We still have to buy the bike rack but I’ve navigated and found one at a shop called Feu Vert. Who can guess the English translation? It’s a clever name for an auto/bike and sundry shop.
I am reminded daily why I went along with this particular adventure. Vive la différence!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spongebob Squarepants is Bob L'eponge

I don't know what happened to the 'square pants' but they got lost in translation. We brought our sky box along so have fallen back on watching English television but today is a new day. I'm forcing the kids to watch their favorite cartoons in French. Hence, Bob l'eponge.
We've been doing 'mommy school' and I think it's fair that kid tv in French falls into the category of 'educational'. How do all you home schooling moms do it every day? My lovely daughter thinks it's really fun to do school work at home and keeps asking for more. My son, however, is less enthusiastic. Of course the baby just walks around eating things he shouldn't while I try to figure out how to answer simple questions en francais.
How old are you? Quel age as'tu? Do you have a pet? As-tu un animal familier? Pet doesn't translate that well--an animal you're familiar with--so we decided to just change pet into dog, chien.
Unfortunately, Rowan has found a French soap opera and I can hear the bodice ripping from here. Oh, dear. This does not qualify as educational. Better go.