Wednesday, November 5, 2014

America, America Part One

Hi there. Long time, no see. I'm coming to you from miles and miles away from my dining table in the South of France. I've still got the table (it was shipped over with the rest of our worldy goods) and we're all five still eating dinner on it nightly and saying 'bon appetit' before food gets from plate to hungry mouth. This is a tradition we're all trying not to lose. In case you've been wondering, here's a snippet of what we've been up to over the past months.

It’s been five months since we said goodbye to France. Five months in which to get settled, find a house, start school, choose after-school activities, and introduce America to my little immigrants. 

{American-style awesome}

A friend of mine who is raising half-American, half-French children in France recently posted an article on the hidden immigrant child; children who don’t seem different from their national peers on the surface, but who have a rich history of different cultures, social mores, language, and mannerisms buried deep in their souls. My children have that, are those little immigrants.

They’re not immigrants in the sense of the little Malaysian girl I met while having lunch with the Littlest at school today, nor are they immigrants like the family who just moved with three children from Mumbai after a lifetime of their father shuttling back and forth between the US and India.
No, they’re Americans by passport, birth right, and tangled genetic history. They look like everyone else here, speak the language without an accent (well, not much of one anyway), and have flipped the colloquial switch to say things like soccer and garbage and AWESOME! with very little effort at all. The Littlest maintains his diversity by proudly telling any and every one he was born in Ireland but that his brother and sister were born in Austin.

The Pledge of Allegiance is something we do at school here. It’s like learning to tie your shoes; every American child learns it, but no one can remember how or when. In my experience, it is a singularly American thing. A few simple words strung together 122 years ago to celebrate Christopher Columbus’ discovery. There have been a few alterations and additions (the ‘under God’ part) over the years and questions arise about fealty and national pride, indoctrination and patriotism. In Ireland, the Catholic public schools have the kids learn prayers before eating lunch, and later the catechism for their Holy Communion and that comes close. French children learn poems and songs weekly, and La Marseillaise with its armed citizens and impure blood running in the fields is sung by even the smallest school child.

My children weren’t here to learn the pledge and so were at a loss when it came time to stand, hand over heart, looking at the flag hanging above the bulletin or black board and recite it. I’d tried a few times to teach it to them while we were away, but like everything, without context or necessity things don’t stick. Kids won’t learn to tie their shoes as long as they wear Velcro. 

The first week of school, my little Americans were perplexed by this uniquely American ritual. ‘What is the thing everyone says?’ ‘How does it go?’ Now we had context. Paul and I went into pledge mode and recited it in unison, hands on hearts (me with a typical tear in my eye. What’s wrong with me?).

Texas ups the ante by throwing in the Texas Pledge right after and so we all learned that one together too. The Middlest said that he’d gotten by all that first week by repeating, ‘America, America’ over and over the whole time and then the same again with ‘Texas, Texas’. My kids are immigrants in disguise; card-carrying Americans just learning how to fit in and doing an improvisational, resilient, awesome job of it. 

They all know it now. The Texas one too. Of course they do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


One of the reasons my posts have become few and far between is that after four years in France I have let myself become inured to what Quentin Tarantino so aptly called 'the little differences'. I don't notice the mobile butcher that passes through my neighborhood every Friday, stopping in the middle of the street so the carnivorous residents who file out with coin purses and net bags from behind stucco walls can buy their weekend beef.

I have long since begun to ignore the Nanny Brigade: sexy nounous who push their charges en masse wearing high-heels and kitten heels, mini-skirts and short-shorts, usually sporting multi-hued hair. I forget to notice, to share it with you, to be bothered to snap a surreptitious photo with my phone. (I would have totally done that two years ago.)

And then, inspiration strikes and something that simply cannot go unnoticed and unremarked upon happens while driving back and forth from either school or the grocery store or Pilates class. I was listening to the radio and Dolly Parton's original version of  'I Will Always Love You' came on. I love Dolly and can't help singing along, so there I was sitting at the red light belting out a very un-Whitneyesque version of eternal love, whispering in parts too, just like Dolly intended. After the song ended and I was well past the red light, tears inexplicably in my eyes, (oh, Dolly how you can write a song!) the DJ echoed my sentiments exactly. He was telling all of us in French radioland how much he loves her, how all her songs make him feel something, how he prefers Dolly's original whispered version of her most tear-jerking love song, and then he really hooked me. He said that his all-time favorite Dolly song was Jolene. I mean, come on! Who doesn't love Jolene? He had me right there, nodding and laughing through the roundabout and up past the boulangerie as he translated the gist of the song. Sharing the Dolly love with all of southern France.

'Jolene, tu est tres jolie, plus jolie de moi avec tes yeuxs verts et cheveux longs, mais s'il te plait ne prends pas mon mec. Je l'adore et je ne peux pas trouver un autre. S'il te plait ne prends pas mon mec!' He was into it.

Let me tell you, hearing a French guy translate Dolly Parton's Jolene is something you just can't ignore. Thank you Mr. DJ. I needed that.

Go on, listen and enjoy. Everyone can use a little Dolly in their day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Honeymoon, 1998

I need to explain. This post is an excerpt from a little thing I worked on a couple of years ago. I was trying to put together a memoir, a memento of our marriage and France and how the two go together. We had just moved to France when I started this project, an adjunct of my blog that you've all been so kind and generous to share with me over these four years.
Lately things have been changing, shifting, and I have been trying to keep up. I continue to spend my time surrounded by words, dreaming up stories and making friends out of thin air; contemplating, reading, piecing bits together and searching, searching, turning the thing around and upside down, looking for the perfect combination. But things happen, time passes. It is important to revisit the past, to read those old words and ideas, to conjure the newness that must be left behind in order to move forward. 

Thank you for indulging me. Back we go...

The Honeymoon

Marriage is one of those things I’d never seen done well. Maybe you’re like me and you haven’t really either. Or then again, maybe you’re one of those lucky people that I pray my children are among who grew up with married love all around you, so thick and rich, such a part of you you never even noticed. 

You can’t really see marriage done well in popular culture. They usually stop at the marriage part leaving us to believe that love, real love, the kind that can only be built through years of give and take, excavation and discovery, trial and error and the shared making of a life, is supposed to magically just happen after we’ve seen the credits roll or read ‘The End’. 

I confess in all honesty that while I loved Paul when I said yes, I will marry you, and I loved him when I nearly bounded down the Texas hill country aisle to him with a smile plastered a mile wide on my face and a feeling of true bliss and wonder at what we were doing, I wasn’t really ‘in love’ with him until we’d spent some time together as a married couple. A done deal.

And so when I say that we fell in love on our honeymoon, it is true. We are still falling in love, on the good days of this marriage, over fifteen years later. Falling in love is all of the parts that come after. And it’s the crux of our French story too. The honeymoon is never over. 

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, numb from exhaustion, husband and wife for less than 36 hours. Our luggage bumped through the empty streets of Meyrargues; the flutter of a lace curtain, a baby’s cry and the deafening scratch of cicadas our only greeting. I looked over at my new husband and wondered, ‘What in all hell have I done?’
Shutters were drawn, the village locked up tight. A depressingly gray multi-window apartment block at the edge of the village stared blankly. Nothing moved except for a clutch of adolescent boys wheeling around on bikes. One with a scooter zipped around the younger ones, the mosquito whine serrating the quiet of the sleeping Sunday village.

Now I know why. Nothing happens on Sunday afternoons in tiny southern French villages. People repose after a long lunch. Life quietly plays out behind shuttered windows and doors. You are seriously SOL if you happen to arrive in a tiny, French village like say, Meryrargues, jet-lagged, overwhelmed, newly married, over-packed and starving as I did on the first real day of my marriage. It did not bode well. 

I can see her, my 26 year-old self, wrestling with that overstuffed suitcase with no fancy wheels or swivel pull handle through that dreary napping village. I want to tell her of the story that will follow. I want to tell her it will be fine.
More than fine, you’ll see. You’ll end up falling even more in love. Not just with Paul, but with a country and its way of life. Its food. You will become one of the people who wouldn’t dream of going out on a Sunday afternoon. Who might even flick the lace curtains to see who it could be passing by, out and about at this hour, and on a Sunday? Eating will become your favorite past time. Reposing behind shutters closed to the afternoon, your favorite time of day.

You will be utterly besotted.

Don’t worry, I want to tell her. It will all be more than okay.

(to be continued...)