Monday, April 11, 2011

France has turned up the volume on her charms

I’m having all of the necessary, predictable reservations about our decision to leave.

Just like a woman who decides to leave her gorgeous, interesting, successful, but -not-exactly-right-for-her boyfriend, the finality of the decision has left me fraught with nostalgia for France’s sweet side.

Her apple and cherry blossom gauziness has returned to woo me, visually, romantically and sensually. It's as if all of Burgundy is wearing an intricate veil, making her beauty all the more intriguing. Buds have sprouted into neon-green leaves. Everywhere I look, there are flowers, gauzy, white, pink, yellow, blue flowers. The landscape has softened, after a winter of  sharpness. The very air is sweet. Doux. Why does the coming of Spring surprise me every time? I'm like that goldfish in Ani DiFranco's song,  Little plastic castle. 

Suddenly, I am insatiable for her food. A bacon, tomato and chevre sandwich on an exquisitely crusty baguette traditionne from the Avallon bakery practically seduced me last week. I ate half of it with one hand, while hurtling down the N6.

And Ian made a simple salad of shallots, petit poids and new radishes last week. The kids turned their noses up at it. I ate the entire bowl. It was if I was trying to fill a deep hole, with food.

And her people, her people: They are suddenly all so friendly and familiar.

Yesterday, at the stable, I loved France, and the Pesteau Farm, with such a fervent passion I could scarcely breathe.

Everything seemed right and perfect and preferable about it. The sun, the green hills, the fuzzy ponies offering themselves up to my eager children as a means of self discovery. First Esther, looking so capable, so confident up there on top of her favorite frisky pony, Hitouche. So centered in her seat, taking all the instructions, in French, without falter.

Then Isla, overcoming her fear of trotting, and her allergies. Smiling while trotting. Reins in one hand, her other firmly grasping the pommel, or a Kleenex, her little seat also so firm and centered, listening intently to  her teacher, smiling, letting out little squeaks of excitement laced with fear, laced with self satisfaction. Swoon.

The look on her face was mostly one of pride. Seeing my kids proud of themselves has got to be one of the most awe-inspiring, spiritual pats on the back motherhood has ever handed out.

I was crying under my sunglasses for most of the morning. Crying as Isla trotted round and round the indoor ring. Crying as Esther led Isla on her pony across the brook and through the cross country obstacles. Crying as Isla lay her head across her pony's mane an ducked under the poles. Crying as she reached into her pocket, got her own mouchoir out, and blew her nose.  I'm a mess.

And talking, again, with Eloise's mother, a woman whose name I will never learn, but who I have always enjoyed talking to. I told her we were leaving. She was surprised. Our conversation came easy, of course, now that I’m leaving.

And I was filled with regret for the time lost at ballet, which Isla also loves, but which has pulled me away from those ringside talks. I didn’t find them at the ballet studio. I definitely don’t find them at the school gates.

The most reliable place to find connection has always been African Dance. Last night was no different. No disappointment. I returned after months away, two months perhaps, and was soooo happy to be back in that room full of my people. My tribe.

Vivienne was more friendly than ever, was that my imagination? and we spoke with ease, as we lay on mats, side by side. We chatted like school girls, like old friends, as we warmed up. Why is my French pouring so readily out of my mouth, after all this time?

And the banter, and the joking and the smiling faces all around the room, so welcoming, so warm, so familiar. Forging connections in these estranged circumstances is so challenging but so incredibly rewarding.

Vivienne made sure I was coming back next week for the live drummers. I sealed the deal by paying up front. Hopefully I will stay healthy.

My winter sinus infection saga went on too long. Finally seeing the ORL was another miracle: The miracle of French health care. I felt better within 24 hours. And, as usual, my session with the doctor, the successful communication, was another feather in my cap. And the ease and accessibility and affordability of French health care glared at me with an accusing eye. Why would you trade this for American health care robbery?

I don’t know. I don't know.

It’s all bittersweet. It is all another chapter. A new chapter. Another new chapter in a book that has seemingly endless chapters. It’s time to turn the page. But wait, I just want to read that part again...

The leaving France theme is pervasive. There will be so much to miss, like French school lunches, and the sound of Isla playing in French with her friend Cassandra, and just knowing that Esther and Isla are working for world peace in their own small way. All this, and more, over at Momformation.


Anna said...

Love this!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I love reading your blog, Betsy. Your family seems so loving and alive! I am a German who has lived in Belgium and now I have been living in the US for 11 years. Living in different cultures still messes with my sense of belonging and place. I assume, you may notice that strongly when you return home to reverse culture shock. At this point my home is somehwere in between my different worlds and my "people" are those who have experineced that feeling of feeling at home and like a stranger both at home and abroad.


P.S: I am a language teacher and wanted to let you know that your girls will lose their French as fast as they acquired it, unless you find a way to keep it going.
I know a kid that watches Videos of herself speaking fluent Finnish and does not understand a word she is saying just a few years later.

Emma said...

oh Betsy....
a bit like getting through those hard, long, lonely days of having a new baby and longing for them to grow up, only to wish for those days back again once all your kids are at school, even though you know the next stage will be just as rewarding and amazing.

Living Down Under said...

It's always like that isn't it? Really beautifully written Betsy, as always. I hope you have taken videos of the children speaking in French. It'll be neat for them to watch when France is a distant memory " remember when we were in France and...".

The funny thing too is as you've been longing for home, you might long for France (or parts of it) when you go home. And you might just find an occasion when an English word evades you and only the French one appears. The irony...

Betsy said...

Thanks for reading, Antje. I am ready for some culture shock. But I won't really know, until I am there. I am fascinated by the whole concept of moving within cultures,and people who integrate completely, from one to another. I have such a new perspective on that now. German is my second language. I am much more of a "Germophile," than a "Francophile."
I always wonder what this adventure would have been like, if we had been able to go to a German speaking country where I feel so much more at ease with the language. But, now that I am learning French, mein Deutsch fliesst nicht. But I can still read and write and understand it.

I am aware the girls will forget their French and that pains me the most. I'm not sure what we could do to keep it. I am sure the kids will resist any of my attempts to keep French in our lives once they get home....

cecile said...

You are so good at putting words on feelings...
It must be hard to leave France in Spring, it's so beautiful. The good thing is, you will have 2 Springs, it barely started here !

Amy Palmer said...

What a beautiful reflection - like a poem of farewell and renewal all at once!

Anonymous said...

Hi Betsy, I have the same problem with my French. I can still understand aber es fliesst auch nicht, nur Englisch:)

Oh and I forgot to mention, I love your way with language and your way with pictures! I wish I had your way with words in german or Englishlanguage!

BTW, I have found a lot of "Alliance Francaises" in even smaller towns.
Good luck and welcome home!

Anonymous said...

And I should not try and type while my daughter is whining for water and post without proofing....

Anonymous said...

To keep the French up, you could try to only speak to them in French at home and "not understand" them if they speak English. Tough, as you are not a natural French speaker. They may loose the speaking part but they will still understand if you keep the French talking at home. I am of Latvian origin and being in an English speaking country it is really hard to get the kids to speak once they spend most of their time with their English speaking friends. Have loved reading about your experiences in France. Good luck with the move.

Mama Badger said...

Don't be so sure they will forget their French. I had two friends who were sisters from Spain when I was young. Spanish was their "secret" language. They didn't even have to whisper, they could joke out loud together, and we were none the wiser. We were all jealous. Sigh, to be young and exotic.

I know France is beautiful now, but think about how beautiful Vermont is.

MT said...

You must be mid-move by now. Thinking of you and the girls (and Ian), and hoping things are going as smoothly as possible. I know it felt a little like a big fat Christmas opening up all our storage boxes and discovering all our old belongings.

For the girls french, maybe a weekly movie night? Not sure if that will be enough to keep the ears open but better than nothing I suppose. I know my boys will do just about anything for a little more screen time :)

Take care,

MT said...

oooh, just read Mama Badger's comment. i would have loved a secret language with my sister when i was a girl. that is the good thing about having siblings, they can support each other (when they are not trying to undermine each other).