Two Years, One Post

When we left off in July 2014, I flew back to the U.S. for a short summer break. I had already decided to stay on for the upcoming school year in a different post at the high school. Being an English assistant had been such a wonderful experience, but I couldn’t reapply for the program no matter how much I enjoyed teaching. I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave France yet, so I began working 40 hours a week as a surveillante, a general secretary/resident advisor-type position that exists only in this country. (You can see a few mentions of my surveillant colleagues in past posts, as well as on the Cast of Characters page.) With the longer hours, I couldn’t get back into the blogging swing of things, but I was plenty busy working with my kiddos, singing in choir, and starting a new sport: karate.

After five years apart from my muay thai trainer, I was more than ready to punch something. After one year in France, my love of croissants had caught up to me and I was also very ready to start exercising. I strapped on my kimono and got to work on my katas, but I also met a certain young man. [Side note: Ladies, if you’re looking for a mister, look no further than your local male-dominated sportsy sports place. I’m talking golf, weight training, martial arts…your chances are good. Real good. Guys, it might be time to try yoga.] We started dating and were all set to spend the rest of our lives together by December.

My chéri is a country boy who lived in his hometown for 27 years before jumping on this crazy American train. He bought his grandparents’ old farmhouse after his granddad passed away and has been renovating it for four years. Very sweet. Very The Notebook. But when I told him that I wouldn’t be able to stay in France forever, and that I already had plans to attend law school in the States the following year, Chéri decided he was coming with me. We had been together for six months.

So, we went to law school. We read. Lord, we read. Chéri learned English and I learned what torts are. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was not happy to be there. My partner was not happy to be there. We went a year before recognizing our mutual homesickness for Normandy. So we went back.

Last July, we packed up our American apartment and flew back to Normandy. We moved back into our old house, contacted our old employers, and picked up right where we left off.

Just like this blog.

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The Right Time

I like time. I always liked numbers (never math) and the way they formed patterns. 17 steps in my childhood stairway. 800 mississippis from the base of the mountain to my aunt’s house.

Diets must always begin on a Monday. The radio volume should be set to factors of 5 or a number ending in 2.

That’s why, even though I’ve been ready for months, the blog is starting now. January 2017. A new year, a new writing habit, and one I’d certainly like to keep.

A few things have changed in the nearly two years since I set down my metaphorical quill. I’m still (back) in France, but I’m no longer in quite the tourist mode I was before. More on that later.

So, welcome back. Take a look around, re-read a few of my old favorite posts here, here, and here, and stay tuned for new blogs every week.

Let’s Do Lunch

What a pleasure it is to be invited for lunch in France. These Wednesday afternoon (traditionally “off” days for school children) or weekend meals begin with drinks around noon and last well into the 4 o’clock hour, and are even more luxurious when held on the terrace of one’s garden. I might not be a garden- or home-owner myself (yet!), but the next best thing is having friends who are.

My choir bestie Annie, a gourmande for traditional french cuisine, has had quite a time coming up with vegetarian recipes for us to eat when I’m around. Each meal is a surprise and an adventure in one. We nibble on nuts or crackers while drinking our first glasses of cider or wine, then move on to an hour’s worth of entrées and main dishes. We’ve nommed our way through tomato tartes (reminiscent of southern tomato pie, but with decidedly less cheddar), veggie pizzas and lasagnas, stuffed roasted red peppers, and sweet potato soups. A natural pause in the conversation is the perfect moment to bring out the cheese board and homemade bread, and is also when I usually loosen my belt. Desserts and coffee come next, of course, and a quick shot of farm-fermented calvados (for health purposes) revives us for our promenades around town. We always stroll down the local trails, visit nearby châteaux, trespass on neighbors’ property to pet their horses and donkeys, and generally do whatever it takes to work up just enough of a second appetite to return home for a cuppa.

Strolling through a nearby village: Agon-Coutainville.

Strolling through a nearby village: Agon-Coutainville.

This past Wednesday, Annie and I laid in the garden hammock digesting while the clouds floated above us. Following Annie through her giant English garden always reminds me of walking around my grandmother’s backyard. She died when I was ten, but one of my favorite memories of her is the way she would guide me around the backyard, reminding me of the names of all the flowers, popping touch-me-nots, and watching critters flit around the nearby woods. Annie is a lot like her. She lets me attempt the French names of her beloved flowers, then quietly corrects me when I ask for help. She’s just lovely. 

After a few hours dozing in the grass, we sat around the teapot and said our goodbyes for the summer vacation; I’m heading back to the States tomorrow for six weeks en famille. It will be wonderful to be back home, of course, but I’ll sure miss the friends (and meals) I’ve made here.

Coastal Touring

One of the coolest things about traveling is the rare experience of meeting people who are both wonderfully proud of their region and interested in welcoming outsiders. These odd breeds act as the best sort of travel guides for people like me, and I’ve had the luck of meeting quite a few here in Normandy.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite such tour guides invited several members of the crew to spend the weekend at his parents’ cabin in Portbail. Rather than drive directly to the village just 45 minutes away, he took us on a six-hour road trip hugging the coast of Northwestern France. 

Tucked into one of those go-carts that the French have the gall to call “cars”, we puttered to Cherbourg for a midmorning coffee, then continued on, singing along to 70’s funk and unfolding ourselves out of the car every few kilometers to line up on a different beach and stare off into the distance. 

A fellow traveler

A fellow traveler

I collected shells beside the tiniest port in Europe and stood at a safe distance from cliffs with names like “The End of The World” and “The Nose of Jobourg” (no word on who Jobourg was or whether his schnoz really was the size of a small peninsula). My tour guides force-fed me steamed mussels after they were collected steps away from us on the Omonville beach (not really worth breaking my vegetarian lifestyle for it, but an interesting cultural experience, nonetheless) and we washed them down with peach liquor.

The Portbail sunset.

The Portbail sunset.

By the time we finally reached our destination, we had just enough time to go on one of the bigger grocery-shopping trips of my life and start cooking before the sun went down. Half a dozen of us sat outside and passed around guitars while the more culinary-inclined barbecued up a feast. We noshed and sang for hours upon hours. Around 5 in the morning, as the sky lightened and everyone else was still jamming along to French classics of the 1960s, I finally waved my white flag and crawled into the cabin loft for a few hours of rest before we started it all again the next day.

Across the magical frontier of lower Normandy, where all the inhabitants seem to be on permanent vacation time, I had a ball. It’s wonderful to have friends who have taken it upon themselves to show me their wonderful country. They are proud of where they come from and happy to show it off, and I’m tickled to be able to see this world through their expert eyes.

And The Prom Queen Is…

I’ve been 23 for three whole weeks and have yet to talk about what a great birthday it was!

My first birthday present was an official contract for my summer job as an assistante d’education at the same high school where I’ve been working all year. Basically it’s a glorified resident advisor/gopher/receptionist job for the school during the end-of-the-year rush and the summer planning for the following year. Not too exciting, but I get to work with a great team and stay in France for the summer, and that’s what counts for me.

Back to the birthday.

Kids came in to sing poorly-rehearsed, adorable versions of Happy Birthday in English all day, and some of my favorite students presented me with TAGADA fraises (my favorite French candy), a stuffed frog (significant because of my well-known inability to pronounce the word “frog” in French: grenouille), and, most touching of all, a birthday card signed by the whole senior class. I had to suck in a few deep breaths when I first saw all the signatures. I was just totally blown away to see the clear visual representation of all the people who took a moment out of their day to write me a kind word. I love those students.

That evening, the entire school threw a huge dance party for me! Actually, it just happened to be Prom Night. I fell right back to my Student Government roots of blowing up balloons and taking tickets, and I was tickled to see all the seniors in their fancy outfits. The students strutted into the gym, mostly in groups of three or four rather than couples. They took unsmiling (too cool for school) photos with each other, head bobbed to the DJ, and sauntered around outside smoking. I’m sure they all had a fabulous time.

Our super romantic prom photo

Our super romantic prom photo

As the kids loitered the night away, the rest of the assistants presented me with my own bouquet of beautiful flowers and a packet of delicious black tea big enough for me to possibly never finish. We even popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  If there’s one thing that I love the most about working here, it’s that my colleagues never let a possible holiday, birthday, or anniversary go by without toasting it.

Gotta love bright flowers

Gotta love bright flowers

After I announced the prom king and queen (whoever decided it was a good idea to give me a microphone and a captive audience of high schoolers clearly doesn’t know me very well) I decided it was time to take my leave. Claiming “Birthday Girl” status, I left the after-prom cleanup to the others and drifted across campus to my apartment. Snuggly in bed with my new stuffed grenouille, I decided that my 23rd was one of the best birthdays yet.