Monday, November 1, 2010

Senior Rites of Passage

I wrote this article LAST Monday but didn't have time to post it. Today, we are in the Dordogne and it's absolutely breathtaking. In fact, we're beginning to take medieval castles for granted...if you can imagine!  When I can get back to my computer, I will post more of this lovely trip. But in the meantime, I've got a lot of foie gras to eat! 

My mom and my Aunt Miriam arrived Saturday. Amazingly, they arrived with no problems considering all the strike issues we’ve been having. As is my policy with visitors, they are not allowed to take a nap when they get here, even though they’ve likely been awake almost 24 hours. I’ve gotta get them off jet lag and on schedule! By the time I fed them that first night, they had both fallen asleep, sitting up, at least once during the conversation. Okay, I think they’re ready. Off to bed with you.

So we spent Saturday afternoon, wandering about Aix en Provence, them in contented fog and me trying to get them acclimated to a city where this is no small feat. Even my little sister, who possesses a near perfect sense of direction, gets all turned around in Aix. It actually scares her sometimes, because this just never happens to her.

The streets, some of which are the width of cow paths, go off in all sorts of directions, change names every block and not only that, they each have two names; the Provençal appellation and it’s modern French name. Add to that the more than 100 fountains that one seems to bump into at every turn and, well let’s just say… never tell anyone you’re going to meet them at the fountain just off the square…

There is a method to my madness in trying to teach two bleary-eyed travelers the layout of the land. You see, I must spend my days either at school or at home trying to write papers or prepare a speech in French. At least until my 5 day vacation begins Friday. Which means these two are on their own. And this scares me!

Not that they’re not perfectly capable human beings. It’s just that my mom has a tendency to wander. Not a dementia driven sort of wandering. She just finds so many things interesting along her path and as we’re walking she often just drops off the face of the earth. (She’s always done this but now she’s doing it in a country where she doesn’t speak the language…or know the names of the fountains.) And the most bizarre thing about this is she seems to be unaware that she’s doing it. In fact, I’ve been known to find her (after a good hunt) still talking like I’ve been right beside her all along. When I call her on it, she claims she’s talking to herself. I have serious doubts about this.

Anyway, yesterday I did the driving up to Isle sur le Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse. Today their plan was to go to Arles and St. Remy and this morning, after they dropped me off at school, I reluctantly handed over the keys. I had gone over the map with them, marked all key spots and one-way streets, explained what a “do not enter” sign looks like and clarified that they need to watch how French drivers maneuver…and to do it more aggressively!  So armed with the scribbled-upon-maps, my phone that I keep strictly for visitors, and a full tank of gas, off they went. I went to school and tried not to think about it.

I got one telephone message in the early afternoon that said “we’ve been blown to Barcelona by the mistral winds so we’ll be a little late!”  Oh good. At least they found their way out of Aix! They called again around 7 pm and said they had been to Arles, were now leaving St. Remy on the D7 and where should they park the car when they got here? Oh good, only one hurdle left…. getting back into Aix. I told them to follow the signs to Centre Ville, use directions on the map to get to my apartment and call me if they had any problems. I tried to sound like it was all going to be simple but I knew better.

They finally called about 8:30 as I was sitting on Place Richelme, about to have a drink with my friend Tony.

“Where are you?”, I asked.

“Well, we seemed to be in town…but now we’re not. We’re in a posh residential area…. what’s a sign that looks like a T again?”

“Ah, that’s a dead end. You’d probably better turn around.”

“Okay the street is…I don’t know…what does sortie mean…. there are no street signs. We’re up high and there are gates on every driveway”.

First, I explained that sortie means exit (oops, forgot to explain that sign) and further explained that there are gates on every driveway…and I have no idea where they are. And that if they’re up high, go down. Aix is always down. And to call me when they find signs to central ville. I ordered a wine.

Another phone call 20 minutes later. We’re parking the car. We’re at a corner by a patisserie and in the center of the square there’s a fountain…. or a monument or something. Now what?

Oh geez! That helps. This is France. There’s a patisserie on every street here in Aix, a fountain or monument next to nearly every one of them. I still can’t help you. Can you give me a street name?

“I don’t know. Something with “art” in it.”

In the town of Paul Cezanne, this really doesn’t narrow things down much either. I was waiting for them to tell me they there’s a sidewalk café across the street and everybody is speaking French!

Between Tony and I, we sort of figured out where they might be and gave them directions to get them near my apartment and told them I would meet them when they got close. I settled back to finish my wine, having almost zero expectation that I’d ever see them again and if they ever did call, I would probably be good and drunk by that time!  Ten minutes later, another call.

We’re in front of your door! They sounded surprised. I was surprised. I hadn’t even finished my wine yet…. not even close to a buzz and, of course, not on the other side of my door. But within 5 minutes we were all together again recounting the events of the day.

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud of these guys. I still can’t find my way into Aix with certainty and these two pulled it off in just an hour from entrance to finish.  So tomorrow, maybe I’ll send them to Marseille. This should raise the bar. We’ll see if they can accomplish the same feat while trying to maneuver around mountains of old garbage that are rotting in the streets because the garbage haulers are on strike…or the cars people are burning because nobody has anything else to do while not working. If they can do that, I’m going to make them do the driving and navigating on our trip to the Dordogne next week.  I’ll be in the back seat…. sleeping while sitting up.



  1. So did they pass the Marseilles test?

    They did a superb job of navigation for one day after arrival...your technique for jet lag must have something going for it!

  2. Bonjour Delana

    Can't wait to read about your trip to Dordogne. Have a wonderful trip!

    Julie xx

  3. How fun for them and you. Bringing a friend (or sister) to travel with was a great idea. That way you can do your thing and not feel guilty while your mom and aunt can roam and feel secure. Have fun!

  4. I just can't wait to hear and see the Dordogne trip!!!
    Thank goodness for cell phones, no? What DID we do without them?

  5. "We’re at a corner by a patisserie and in the center of the square there’s a fountain"... HA HA HA!! You're right, this could be anywhere!

    When I have visitors (or go anywhere) I'm the same as you on that first day... no naps!

  6. Lovely post, I really enjoyed it. You are braver than I am, I would NEVER give my car keys to anyone. I guess at least they were used to driving on the right. All our visitors only drive on the left !! Thankfully my car is only insured for my husband and myself so we have a good excuse LOL. DCiane

  7. Looking forward to reading about your Dordogne post!

    How brave your visitors are! It freaks me out driving anywhere I don't know yet alone in a foreign country where I can't understand the road signs. Well done to them!

  8. Fun post Delana, sounds like you look after your guests very well. They are brave too, to head off on their own like that, look forward to hearing about Dordogne.

  9. Wow, good on them! They did much better than I ever would have - and I've lived in France 4 years!

    Very funny post, Delana. Keep 'em coming - and emjoy your trip in the Dordogne!

  10. Excellent post Delana! What a challenge for your Mom and Aunt!

    Looking forward to the rest of the post on your trip!

  11. Thank you all for responding. I have been so out of touch and feel like I'm out of touch with everybody.

    Fly- They decided they had absolutely no interest in dodging garbage. They've cleaned Marseille up this week but they won't have the time now. Le prochain fois!

    Julie- The Dordogne was glorious and when my visitors leave, I can't wait to tell you about it.

    Paulita- Yep, a partner and them! Tomorrow while I'm at school, they're going to Cassis and Bandol. I'm sort of looking at a day at school as a rest!

    Sara- I think you and I are visitor experts. Let's start a travel business for American women. I'm serious!

    Piglet-I just read your post today. I find it hard to believe you get freaked out about much. You're moving faster than I can keep up!

    LibbY-I don't know! I'm paralyzed without my cell. OMG, the Dordogne was enchanting.

    Diane- it's a rental...with the extra insurance. Paid for by my mom! What the hell!

    Sharon- Bravery or stupidity...history has always labeled those who suceeded in these ventures brave...those who didn't...stupid. Luckily, they fell into the first category! I'm kidding...a little!

    Sion- I'm so behind in my reading. I've got to catch up with you!

  12. Delana,
    I live near Wittenberg WI and enjoy your article in Miriam's local weekly newspaper. I am planning my first visit to France next summer with my family (50th bday present to myself!) We have decided on renting a gite one week in the Dordogne and one week in Provence. We are getting overwhelmed with all the choices of cottages in picturesque villages. We are thinking Saint Remy or Vaucluse area in Provence and Domme, Lemuieul, or Les Eyzies in Dordogne. Any recommendations for certain villages or lodging? We'd appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!


  13. Hi Nancy,
    My email address is Write me a note and I'll respond with whatever help I can give you, okay? It's great to hear from you!


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