Friday, July 26, 2013

Life is a Beach

I'm resting myself today after two days in a row at the beach. Yes, I know, EVERYONE is at the beach at this time of year in the south of France. But I've got a perfect spot that takes only a slight effort to reach but once there makes the effort so worthwhile. Though not perfectly private and not sandy, there are fewer people and the snorkling is great. Okay, it's not the Seychelles but relatively speaking, it's not bad. And there is just something so restorative about the sea. All it takes is a whif of salt water and I feel better.

To get to my favorite place (notice I'm not telling you where), I have to pass by the throng of plebeians on the regular beach (the poor sardines) and I can't help but make comparisons to beaches in the United States.

What you do see here is the usual stuff;  families, singles, couples, lounging and swimming, enjoying their moments of sand, sea and sun.  Of course, one of the differences is the preponderance of topless women and speedo clad men, but I've already talked about that here, and it's really just a given.  But also what I note is that most women, no matter what their size, shape, or age, are wearing bikinis. I remember my first trip to the beach here in France. I was thinking I was all that because I was actually wearing a two piece. The bottoms were a little skirt and the top also had a skirt that covered up my stomach. Of course, I did not buy this little number in France. In fact, I've never seen one like it here. But my back was exposed and I really thought I was something. Within minutes after settling myself in I realized I looked more burka-clad than bikini-clad and some changes were in order. But where I come from, if you're not close to perfection, as in young, thin and no stretch marks, you wear a one piece. It's just expected. Here, after I got my game on and trepidatiously bought my first bikini in 30 years, I realized if they don't care, I certainly don't and it allows me to feel far less self-concious about my body. This is a very good thing. It's also far easier to go topless! I do notice however, that when I don said bikini while in the states, I revert back to shame. Very sad.

What you don't see are blankets laden with giant coolers containing a 24 pack of beer or bags of chips strewn around the claimed space. What? The beach with no beer…no salty snacks? Is this possible? Of course, people eat at the beach. They extract their sandwich, fruit or salad out of their tiny cooler at the appointed meal time, nibble away, and put everything back again after meal time. The french are sticklers for appointed meal times and they don't really snack, even at the beach. They may drink a beer or a glass of wine but I don't see it often. It's all so very civilized! And it might explain why there are more bikinis but that's another article.

I've staked my claim at my spot on mystery beach and my girls and I have vowed that we must go at least once a week until the season is thoroughly finished. In our bikinis and without the Doritos, damn it! It really doesn't get any better than this. We're lucky to live here and we know it.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Eau de Vie

Last week I harvested my first cherry tomato of the season. And a gigantic, mini tomato it was! It took all of 15 seconds before this still warm beauty was sliding down my throat; a bit of its wayward juice dripping down my chin. It was really not the first. I’ve had others that had already ripened but they were rendered inedible because of some sort of blight which I’ve since discovered is due to lack of full and regular watering. Geez, water! Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, I have actually. You see my terrace is on the second floor of my apartment and it doesn’t have a water source. It does have a faucet and it would follow that there would be water in that faucet. Mais non! Apparently someone cut off the feed pipe during some work on the building a few years back. Brilliant.  Thus, I’ve had to haul my water up these stairs at least 8 times a day. Double that if it's really hot and, well, I just get lazy. 

I don’t mind going up and least the first four times.  It’s just that these stairs are slippery, the steps pitch slightly forward, and there is no railing. So it’s a question of odds, really.  And I do not have one of those buttons to wear around my neck with which I can call someone nearby and feebly whisper “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! ” Remember this?

So the project a couple of weeks ago, after realizing that it was not only me in danger, but my precious tomatoes as well, was to figure out how to solve this problem. There is a tiny sink in my upstairs bathroom that could work as a water source  but I really don’t want a hose running through my bedroom. With my clumsiness, that’s another game of odds! But there is water in my kitchen. Aha!  And the kitchen window is the story below the terrace. AHA!

I bought a length of hose, cute, curly, blue hose, and with the help of a friend, threw one end over the terrace wall as she caught the other end and pulled it in the window. And it was as I feared, they wouldn't connect.

Okay, off to the hardware store. I have no idea how to ask for an adapter that connects an outdoor hose to an indoor faucet, so I unscrewed the faucet and took it with me. Let there be no doubt. 

With my faucet in hand and the word for adapter in my head...imagine’s adapteur, (one of those great words that’s the same in english if you just add a little french accent to it),  I found directions to the correct aisle. Where I found 21 different adapters that all looked exactly the same to me. An older couple was standing before them, trying to make their own selection, and I asked the gentleman what I should buy. He kindly began to help me as his wife disappeared and I had my hands full of little packages when she arrived back with a store clerk in tow. She whispered to me, "my husband thinks he knows what he's doing but he rarely does. I thought you'd be better off with an expert", and we shared a girl giggle. She knew her husband well because he did have it all wrong and in the end I walked out armed with my one little package.

So the hose is now hooked up. Okay, it's not so pretty on the outside but I don't have to look at it! And I consider it a lifeline, as in I have less chance of losing my life in a stairway accident now that I have it.

And the garden is looking lovely. Watered.  Some things are just so simple in a roundabout sort of way! No more bottom rotten tomatoes and the rose bush, well, it should come back. The morning glories I planted a few weeks ago from seeds given to me from a parting friend,  though not flowering yet, are threatening to cover the entire wall and I now have the opportunity to hose myself down when it just gets too hot. We are all happy and we are all still alive and flourishing. 

And now that I have water, I think the next purchase will be a little, inflatable swimming pool. Pool party anyone?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th Revisited

I wrote this article on the 4th of July, 2009 during what was to be my first and last year in France and decided it was a good day to reprint it.  It's amazing to me that this is my 5th Independence Day as a resident of France. Apparently the coffee klatch is not over! Today, we watched the 6th leg of the Tour de France depart from Aix en Provence and it's an exciting day. I thanked all the French people around me for organizing such a fun party just for us Americans. And tonight I'm making burgers on the grill for a few of us expats, who, though we've chosen to leave our country for various reasons,  still consider her number one in our hearts. Happy Independence Day Americans. And as my cousin Joe reminded me, the French were instrumental in our victory so long ago. So it's my turn to say, thank you France.

I have spent many important days away from my home base. I have missed family birthdays, I have been absent for the birth of friends’ babies, and the funerals of loved ones. I have spent Christmas in the Caribbean, Easter in England, and Thanksgiving in Canada.  Being away at such times is never easy.

But as I was contemplating what to do on Saturday, I realized that I have never in my entire life spent the 4th of July outside of my own country. And when you’re not in the U.S. on this particular day, you really celebrate alone.

Generally on the 4th of July, I spend the weekend with family at my mother’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin, or I spend it camping with close friends. Either way, it involves food, beverage, chatter, camaraderie, fireworks and a day off work.  Not always however, has it involved much reflection. I mean, let’s face it. We all sometimes tend to take for granted what we have and how we came to get it.

So on this day, as I made an arrangement of white flowers in a blue Provencal pitcher and stuck my tiny American flag in it, I thought about my country, which I have chosen to leave for awhile, and what I love about it and what others love (or don’t love) about it.

The French love to TALK about everything and everywhere you go you hear them discussing politics, religion, art, music and philosophy. This is one of the things I find charming about them and also something I find very frustrating at times. However, the subject of my country has come up often and I am always curious to hear their thoughts even if I don’t agree with everything that is said. There is always value in discourse, isn’t there?

Of course there are criticisms of the U.S., some valid and some more a result of the caricature of the United States built on the back of American films, television and media coverage.

The general criticism of my country is its arrogance. The way America and Americans often seem to think that no matter where we are in the world, it belongs to us.

We are sometimes referred to (not kindly) as “les gendarmes du la monde” or policemen of the world.

They think we are a consuming monster much of the time (And we are. I am continually amazed by the way people here manage with tiny cars, smaller homes, less land, fewer belongings and clothes and how they have succeeded in incorporating so many energy saving tricks in their daily lives).

Some think we’re bossy, egotistical, warmongering and secluded and uninformed about the rest of the world.

All of these criticisms hold some grain of truth…some more than others (as do our criticisms of the French) but that’s not what I want to write about. That's another article. Today I want to think about what is loved about where I come from.

So what do they love about us? In fact, they love a lot of things, even if they don’t always admit it (a French friend of mine says they’re just jealous). They love our spirit and our exuberance and attitude that all things are possible. They are thankful for our strength (on D-Day a French friend called me just to say thank you) and they love our inventiveness and our entrepreneurship.

Another French friend of mine likened his country and the rest of Europe to “an elderly person”. I, in turn, compared my country to a teenager. Those of you who have had teenagers (at least teenage boys, which are my only experience) know of what I speak. They eat all the time, they take long, water and heat consuming showers, they sleep too long, stay up too late, they bounce off the walls and trip over their own feet. They are egocentric and not always very cognizant of how their actions affect others and what kind of havoc they can cause in their wake.  They are always right. They have a short history and though on the verge of adulthood, they don’t always have the wisdom of years. 

On the other hand, they are excited about something all the time, they are full of ideas and hope, they are sure they can accomplish all of their grandiose ideas, no matter how off the wall they might seem. No is not a word they seem to understand nor is “you can’t do that” or ” that’s not possible”. They are physically strong and are still not really sure of the best way to use that power. But they have faith that their future is promising and bright. They are both charming and hateful but completely lovable.

I have come from a country that is still experiencing its teens. With all the charms and foibles that accompany those burgeoning years. And right now I’m visiting an elderly neighbor. You know the one…. you love to visit her home and share coffee and a pastry. You chat and listen to the stories of days gone by and look at her collections of old, beautiful things. You love to hear about what she’s learned through the years and you hope to gain wisdom from her mistakes and her triumphs. You listen patiently (but you’re slightly annoyed) as she explains how things used to be and how uncultured today’s generation is. You agree in many ways but you also know that today’s generation has it’s own wonderful and unique qualities that you wouldn’t trade for anything. You nod your head and smile because she is delightful and wise in many ways, in spite of  some of her exasperating opinions.

But sometimes, she just spends a lot of time complaining about almost everything, seems a little resigned to the way things have turned out and she talks a lot but doesn’t seem to get much done.

So I’m still having coffee at the neighbor’s. I’m having a lovely time and enjoying every minute of it and our conversation is not over yet. But the life that I know, back in the good, old US of A, is still the one I will return to…after the coffee klatch is over. And when that time comes, it will be good to be home.