Friday, March 30, 2007

Where ARE You From?

I’m not the type to be homesick. For whatever reason, I never have been. Genetics or environment, who knows, but whenever I packed a bag or a truck and left home, I rarely looked back except to wave a hello to old friends and see how they were doing. To be honest, I’m not sure I really know what it feels like to be homesick. Weird. To think fondly of someone you haven’t seen for a long time. To reminisce fondly about experiences you had in a certain place and time. Those are concepts I have experienced. To be sad about missing someplace and have a longing to go back to where you were before? I somehow misplaced that part of my personality.

But this morning I was struck with a pang of nostalgia. At least I think it was nostalgia. I was avoiding work on a client’s kitchen design with problems that have me (temporarily) stumped. So in typical procrastinating fashion, since I was already on the computer... I started reading blogs. Chez Loulou was just getting back from Spokane, Sam de Bretagne is obviously blue and missing Minnesota, and then Living the life in Saint Aignan threw in a photo of San Francisco. All of which made me think of the 22 year old “boy” that arrived at California’s Golden Gate, all agog, in his VW van.

Was I ever really that young...

Along with the rest of his baggage, he arrived in San Francisco with a rather distinctive accent honed on those formative, rural years in Kentucky and Virginia. That is to say it had a certain farm-bred “southern edge” to it. So the first question everyone asked was “Where are you from?” That is WHERE are you FROM spoken with a sort of incredulous intonation. And this was the bane of my existence for at least a couple of years until I managed to soften it enough to pass without endless comment. (Although, I did learn along the way that there were instances when you could use that accent to advantage - which I did, mercilessly - and felt that it was justifiable revenge to do so.)

Now I’m back in the South, and once again my accent is often a topic of discussion. Are you English? Are you Dutch? American is usually the third guess, not because my French is any better than any other poor American struggling to make himself understood, but there just aren’t that many Americans flooding this area of France. It’s that Not Paris - Not Provence syndrome. I guess it is better than the old stupefied look followed by the where (in what godforsaken part of the country) are you from of my youth. Only this time, there is little hope of losing the accent.

And now with the miniature Franco-Americans running around the house, I can see the cycle starting all over again. Different generation, different South, same story. Regardless of what we try to do, they are blossoming into true Languedociens. They pronounce pain meaning bread like Americans pronounce pain meaning ouch. I kid you not. How funny is that. “Si tu plais, encore du ‘paeen’.” They are asking for more bread, and my mother would think they were asking for a whippin’. Please, more PAIN. No Mother, there is no S&M in this family. Not even when they ask for it politely.

PS: For the completely NON-French-speaking person who happens to read the above...
In "proper" French, and I use the word proper in the loosest of terms, the "n" in the word "pain" is absolutely not pronounced. It is a "p" then an "a" like the "a" in "and" but you don't close on the "n" UNLESS you grew up in a family in the southern region of Languedoc. Languedoc did not readily give up its occitan "langue d'oc" and numerous "peculiarities" linger on in the speech of the natives. Do I hear tom-toms beating in the distant hills?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Parental Learning Experience - No Pictures Please

Guess what:
Little bitty kids don't really know how to say they are feeling nauseous.
Not pretty.
Intense feelings of guilt for insisting that they try just one bite of food.
Adult gets to experience, first hand, the same virus.

Hindsight Hint:
When a 2+ year old sits at the dinner table in a pleasantly warm house, says he's cold and refuses to eat. He just might be sick... very soon.

Acceptance Exercise:
They get sick, you get sick. Get over it. Besides, you are lucky when only one at a time is sick. When they are both sick at the same time it is exponentially worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Home Sweet Montpellier

Montpellier is sweet. It is sweet in the hip slang sense like your old Corvette is cherry, or your old man is pretty cool. It is so sweet that I tend to be like my sister when she moved from the east coast to the California Napa Valley. “OK, I managed to get here. Now close the gates, shutter all the windows, and don’t tell anyone how great it is. “

Nudging all my little ducklings into place here took some doing and some luck. Mostly luck, but it still means that I have a vested interest in Montpellier holding onto its more endearing traits. Although there is probably no need to worry about “my Montpellier” disappearing, the region does have an astonishing growth rate compared to most areas of France. Still, not that many people are going to feel the same way I do about a smallish city of 250 thousand, a quarter of which are university students. Right? Even if the metropolitan area is close to 500 thousand, it is a far cry from Paris, or Marseille or Lyon, or Bordeaux, or Lille. In fact, it comes limping over the finish at number 8 among cities in France. So I don't really need to worry. Right?

It is not a big deal for some that there are two large opera venues, a world renown modern dance festival, or a strong theater and music scene, not to mention an “important” museum which just went through a 4 year renovation and has reopened to rave reviews. All that is true of plenty of cities, and Montpellier is a good 6 miles away from long sandy Mediterranean beaches having neither the glittering, gold-encrusted glamour of the Côte d’Azur nor the lavender caché of Provence. It does have a smart little airport with plenty of Air France flights to Paris, but if I “just gotta get outa town” I prefer to endure the 3 hours on the train to Gare de Lyon, or go Spain-ish and take the car to make the 3 hour drive to Barcelona. The burdons we have to bear. It doesn't sound that great. Right?

Montpellier is a city that was at it’s zenith during and for a couple hundred years after the middle ages. And coinciding with that history, it has one of the largest pedestrian quarters in Europe. About one square kilometer full of winding streets, charming squares, and architecture that just reeks of history. Scratch that, people flock to charming, Montpellier is NOT THAT charming. Perhaps I’m a little biased. Being a complete freak for historical novels set from the middle ages through the nineteenth century might put me in that category. Arthurian legends, swashbuckling musketeers, rob from the rich give to the poor type guys, their horses and carriages careening down narrow, cobbled streets. They rock my world. And here I am rolling out of bed to sneak out of the apartment, descending three flights of 300 year old stone stairs, and scuttling across the marble paved street to pick up the morning baguette. Looking up as I dash for the center of the street , I almost feel like I need to confirm that there is no risk of someone emptying a bedpan from the big windows above. How close to heaven can you get? ... Maybe a little biased.

And that doesn't even take into account that I spent half my youth watching my feet for signs of hair and waiting for Aragorn to come and rescue me. I was sure I was a hobbit. If you check Montpellier's history you learn that at the beginning of the 13th century the city was the dowry of Marie of Montpellier for her marriage to Peter II of Aragon. I walk past her house all the time, really, it is still there. But I just can't figure out why Tolkien didn't catch the misspelling of the name Aragon. Maybe it was the accent that threw him off.

I could go on, and probably will, but rather than regurgitate much of the basic information that can be found in any encyclopedia I’ll try to present a more personal perspective of this somewhat unruly little town. And of course, take some more photos.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Most of the French people I know (and I know quite a few of them) use a lot of sponges (this is a good thing - this is a sound ecological practice) unlike many Americans who have the habit of grabbing a wad of paper towel to solve every cleaning situation. Guilty as charged.

BUT... I have an issue. Sponges are great big succulent sources of bacteria. And I cringe every time I see that sponge wipe across the table after a meal and get tossed into the sink. Repeat the process. Repeat the process. Repeat...

In my house the French adult is a complete clean freak. Two showers a day, wear it once and into the clothes bin, vacuum, dust, bleach, mop the floor,... sans arrêt (constantly). But that sponge swings its way across the table top, the counter-top, the chair seat, and plop, back into the sink.

Since the French can be sensitive about any criticism, and since I love the French, and I don’t want them to feel I am criticizing anything, I have a personal quest. I try to keep it under wraps, but I think I can divulge it in an English language venue without too much danger of reprisal.

I go around popping sponges in the microwave. Shhhhh. Like my mother went around straightening pictures. Even in other people’s homes. No, not in the homes of complete strangers or casual acquaintances. But in the homes of other family members and close friends. OK, I don’t do it a lot. I’m too afraid of getting caught. But...

The odd thing is I have never run into anyone else who uses the microwave to sterilize something in this fashion. I also do it to wooden kitchen spoons and forks. Soak them in water and then into the micro they go. So I’m beginning to think I am the weird one. Doesn’t it seem logical that the microwave is going to kill any bacteria as it super-heats any water in the object, be it sponge, spoon, or anything else non-metallic and non-pet-like in appearance? Do I need to check myself into a clinic for improper microwave usage?

I know not to ask my son that question. He has learned to be skeptical of Papa and the microwave. No, regardless of how bacteria ridden he may be, I have never tried to stuff him into the microwave - I’ve read all the wet poodle stories - and I know better than to heat a bottle of milk in the microwave and then pop it into his mouth.

Are we ready for the cute kid story?

Ok, at the risk of “you had to be there”...

All French kids have a doudou. A doudou is a stuffed thingy, maybe a representation of a well known character, maybe an animal, or just a soft blob of fabric covered stuffing. The doudou is a BIG deal. I’m not really up to date on this practice with American kids although I know that I had a blanket that I kept as close as possible for as long as possible. But in France the child rearing experts insist the doudou is a completely necessary and vital element in the child’s early development.

So anyone halfway conscious gives their children a doudou right off the bat. If they are conscious and smart, they buy multiple copies of the same doudou from the very beginning so it can be washed and or replaced if, godforbid, you should loose it or destroy it in some unseemly fashion.

Being the progeny of model parents, my miniature Franco-Americans naturally have their doudous. Now passing the 2-1/2 year mark, the doudous can sometimes stay in a back-pack or even be left at home if everyone agrees that the outing is not likely to result in any sort of personal crises which requires the comfort of one’s doudou. Nevertheless when bedtime comes around, the doudou is in high demand. You never want to know what the consequences are of being without the doudou when it is absolutely in demand.

Background complete. On with the story.

So some months ago, when the twins both decided all of a sudden to ditch the pacifier, the boy started chewing on the ears of his doudou. My guess is he didn’t really want to ditch the pacifier, he was just putting out a dare to his sister and when she took the bait, he had no choice but to follow through. Backtracking is not an option - it’s a guy thing, even little bitty guys.

He chewed so vigorously that he would stuff an entire ear, and half the head in his mouth, which resulted in a doudou which was at the end of the day very wet and very disgusting.

Round about one bedtime, Dad realizes, yikes, the spare doudou is not in the house, the drying machine is way too slow and noisy, and the doudou is at its dripping, disgusting worst. Of course, you know what is coming... the microwave. No metal, no problem. Ninety seconds in the microwave = no bacteria, at least for a while.

I probably don’t even need to finish the story.

This is also at the peak of the still current period when the miniatures are very concerned about things being hot. You don’t touch the stove, you blow on your food. “C’est trop chaud!” It may have icicles forming on it, but you need to blow on it because it is too hot.

In the meantime the doudou has passed his 90 seconds in the microwave and is waiting patiently in bed next to the pillow.

Enter boy child, who climbs into bed and picks up his doudou ready for a good night hug. Only mildly alarmed, but with big round concerned eyes, and clearly expecting some sort of remedy, “uh, papa, my doudou, he's still a little hot.”

Papa is useless, he can’t blow on the doudou because he is crumpled on the floor, holding his stomach, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Oh hell, like I said, you had to be there.
End with sheepish grin.

Thinking Out Loud

I’ve always been a bit of a “jack of all trades and master of none”. So the delimma about what form this blog will take is probably going to resolve itself in the same manner, and consequently wander around in different directions. Poke a hole here, turn over a rock there. Not the best format for developing a consistent readership, but since I don’t yet have any plans for the blog to be productive in any particular commercial fashion, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

I will try not to let the posts fall into a pattern of nothing but kid stories and parenting issues.

This is a challenge because being a parent takes up a huge portion of your brain and leaves very little space for dealing with everything else. A condition that is probably accentuated by becoming a parent at an “advanced” age after entertaining very little hope of ever having children. Note: There is no plan to go into the subject of how many brain cells were lost in the 1970s.

But I am only human, so periodically I am certain to fall from the intellectual heights of the great issues of our times and descend into the cutesy and somewhat banal realm of oh-my-god-look-what-my-kid-did. The time for that sort of post is limited anyway. Soon they will be old enough to resent any intrusion into their private lives, and not take kindly to public displays of their trials and tribulations. Under those circumstances, finding myself at the wrong end of the keyboard is not part of the plan.

Anyway... this is a very uninteresting post, but I felt obligated to wrap up the whole
what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-blog thing.

Now, to get on with life...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

quandary - un dilemme

Once again I leaped before looking. A person my age should know better. A person should take the time to reflect on the process, to consider the possibilities, to examine motives, to contemplate consequences. Just what it is you think you are about to do. But of course, that’s not me. If that was me, I wouldn’t be living in France.

Me, I leap.

Now, after having made the leap into the blogging world, I realize of course that I haven’t planned what sort of blog I expect this to be. Personal anecdotes or essays? A food blog? An American in France blog? A look at my cute kids blog? Political ranting and raving? An alternative family blog? A was-that-a-mid-life-crises blog? Serious or Silly, Touching or Sarcastic, Humorous or WHAT?

I tend to be a bit timid (yes, even for someone who at 49 displaced his life to a foreign county). I am not really a great cook (although it is true I grew up in a multi-generation restaurant family, and I enjoy cooking and I LOVE to eat). There are more Americans in France than I realized, and they all have a blog (but I think I might be the only 53 year old with twin toddlers, a wife, a boyfriend, and a substantial variety of extended family members in a semi-rural southern region of France i.e. not Paris not Provence.) Speaking of toddlers, there are of course thousands of cute kid blogs (no parenthesis required). I get all anxious when it comes to politics (a subject difficult to avoid in France, even more-so than in the US). That comment after “Americans in France” just about sums up the alternative family bit (possibly a touchy subject for some). And mid-life crises seem so banal (plus I think mine is pretty much over - now it is just a matter of dealing with the aftermath!)

So where is my therapist when I need her? Probably lunching at some trendy Berkeley eater about now. (insert expletive of choice)

In addition, I don’t even know who I expect to read this. Obviously, people who blog expect SOMEBODY to read, even if it is only their old English professor who nurtured the hope that she was tutoring the next Henry Miller. (Actually I have a cute, true, “old high school English teacher” story which I can tell... sometime.) Of course I am too old and too timid to become a Henry Miller type. Not to mention lacking in genius. But if I continue spending inordinate amounts of time on blog-like things that create no income I might yet achieve young Miller’s more dubious reputation for living grace of the kindness of others.

In the mean time, a decision not to make a decision is a nice cop-out and I will just throw up a couple more kid pictures. Hey. Almost everybody loves cute kid pictures. They make us feel all warm and cuddly happy.

By the way, I did ask permission. The boy said that frankly, he didn't give a damn. (roughly translated) And the girl said it was OK as long as she got to choose which shoes she would be wearing. Me. I figure it is OK until they are big enough to sue me. And it is highly unlikely any of their French friends will ever read this blog. That is an understatement.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


This Blog is going to start with a sort of geographical riddle.

(Such riddles may, or may not, become a regular thing in this blog - if it actually becomes a blog.)


Description of photo: Les Monstres and Le Responsable cooling it on a stone wall overlooking a small valley next to an ancient religious building found in the foothills of a moderately mountainous region close to a village known for its marble used frequently in the construction at Versailles.

Where are they in this photo? Hint: They are not visiting their relatives in Kentucky where Versailles is pronounced Ver-sales.