A lovely little Arc de Triomphe, thoughtfully sent to my by a dear friend in Texas who also loves France!
A lovely little Arc de Triomphe, thoughtfully sent to my by a dear friend in Texas who also loves France!
Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the ol’ U.S. of A. Today Mr. Gren was all about getting the Christmas tree up and this evening we’ve been invited over to some friends’ house for a second Thanksgiving dinner. You may have guessed by now that writing a blog post isn’t high on my priority list for the day. But I didn’t want to leave you all bereft and weeping for lack of something fabulous and French. So, I submit to you this photo of a Paris metro sign that Mr. Gren took. There aren’t too many of these Art Nouveau signs left around the city, so it’s worth getting a picture of one. This one is on Montmartre near Sacré Coeur.
Have a great Friday!
Today is my birthday! (Thank you, thank you) This is my first birthday in the cabin. Maybe we’ll catch Mouse #40 tonight for a present.
I spent three birthdays in France. The first one is definitely one of my most memorable birthdays ever. Mr. Gren was the youth pastor at an English-speaking church just outside of Paris (Emmanuel International Church) and that first year my birthday happened to fall on a weekend perfect for a youth event. And this was an EVENT. Progressive dinner. Through Paris. On bicycles. Mr. Gren had the route all planned out, criss-crossing through the Western side of Paris from Fat Tire Bikes to our three stops — the apartments of three church families who would be providing our meal. We had nine kids from 13-16 years old and two other adults to help us corral them. It was a diverse group: American twins who had just moved from Colorado; an American brother and sister who had grown up in Scotland; a Dutch-German girl who had recently arrived from South Africa; a boy from Iceland whose name sounds like a bird chirp; a Swiss-American girl who had grown up in France; and our other two leaders were from China and England. Such is the nature of an international church!
It was daylight when we started out, but, being autumn in Paris, night fell pretty quickly. Now we were corralling nine kids on bikes in Paris in the dark . If you have never been to Paris, it should be noted that Paris is not a bicycle-friendly city. Cars are king and, although half the population drives vehicles that could fit in the bed of an American pickup truck, Parisians all fancy themselves race car drivers. Or maybe rally sport drivers would be more accurate. Speed AND recklessness! They may never admit it, but I’m positive that’s what they all dream about at night.
One of Mr. Gren’s favorite places in Paris is the Étoile — the massive roundabout that encircles the Arc de Triomphe. Twelve streets converging into one writhing mass of cars, weaving, dodging, honking and cursing. It’s a perfect place to take kids! Anyone with half a brain and a will to live knows better than to actually try and bike through the Étoile. Instead, we went around via crosswalk at the head of each street, which was still plenty treacherous. We only had to make it about half way around before turning off on a side street to head to our next stop.
And not a moment too soon! Bike chains were dropping like flies and the four of us adults were frequently pulling kids and disabled bikes off to the side of the street for quick repairs all while trying not to lose the rest of the group. I was bringing up the rear with stragglers, daydreamers, and other slow-pokes. All of a sudden, the Icelandic kid in front of me was launched over the handlebars of his bike as the gears locked up, nearly causing me to run right over the top of him. Betrayed by the chain again! Hjortur was a tough little kid and was game to keep on going after a quick examination of his scrapes. Not that there’s much choice when you’re in the middle of the road in Paris!
Somehow, Hjortur’s unscheduled meeting with the pavement was the only casualty of the whole trip. We arrived at all our destinations, ate good food, had a lot of laughs. I was even surprised with a birthday gift at one apartment and a cake at the final stop! How can you top a birthday like that? Probably never going to happen, but today is shaping up to be pretty good. Mr. Gren surprised me with baguette and French goat cheese, Lindt chocolates, and a beautiful bouquet of red roses. Happy birthday to me!
Once upon a time, I used to live in France. And just like Charles Dickens said, It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. But, despite the “worst of times,” not a day has gone by in the 6 years and 6 weeks since we left that I don’t think about being back there. For someone like me, who lived and breathed all things French since her sophomore year of high school, getting to actually live in France was a dream come true. Apparently my enthusiasm was contagious enough to infect my non-francophone husband. When the opportunity to move there came up one and a half years into our marriage, we were both excited about it and ready to go!
And for the past 6 years and 6 weeks, we’ve been trying to figure out how to get back. We haven’t even been able to go back for a visit. And the farther removed you are from something, the foggier the memories become, the more things change without you being able to witness the change firsthand. Thanks to Google Earth, we’ve found that our bakery, our favorite creperie, and the little craft shop I used to go to have all changed hands and all become something different. Maybe the neighborhood needed something different, but it’s hard not to feel a little pang of wistfulness knowing that it’s not the same. I guess, you always hope that people or places left behind will somehow freeze in time, ready to pick back up when you return. Kind of like when the Pevensie kids return to England from Narnia in the Chronicles of Narnia books. I suppose that creates its own set of problems.
I hate that international travel is so far out of our reach right now. Heck, we haven’t even been able to travel a few hours south to visit my grandparents. Our passports have expired and we can’t justify the money to renew them right now. Guess there won’t be any spur-of-the-moment trips overseas should we be the recipients of some fabulous windfall.
Since the likelihood of us getting back seems to diminish with each passing year, we do our best to bring little bits of France into our lives here. Even here in the cabin which is decidedly un-French. Sometimes I make French meals, especially if we can share it with friends. During the school year I tutored some junior high/high school students in French and I hope that will pick up again this year. Even if they can’t answer me, at least it gives me a reason to speak French. The screen saver on my computer is a slideshow of all the photos we took while we lived there; sometimes it’s the best reason to have the computer on — just to sit and watch all of those beautiful places go by. The kids like to ask about the pictures, too, which gives us a chance to tell stories, to help them understand.
Mr. Gren and I watched “Midnight in Paris” a couple of weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised. It captures that same wistful longing that we feel. The main character, Gil wants to remain in Paris and wishes to go back in time. Paris kind of does that to you. What was it like when _______? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is always the same: magical. Oh sure, time has smoothed over some of the bumps in the road from our time there, but we still remember the severely painful personal events, the frustrations of being a foreigner, the terror of the Prefecture (expats will know what I’m talking about on that one)… And yet… some of those things could have happened anywhere, and some of those things made our experience uniquely French. All of those things made us wiser.
And none of those things dulled the beauty of our time there.
Before our first daughter, Rana, was born, we decided to decorate her room with a carousel theme. We found carousel crib bedding that also came with a matching diaper hanger and wall hanging. To finish off the decor, we took pictures of carousels whenever we found them. Most French cities of any size have at least one beautifully carved and gilded carousel. And there are plenty of people, young and old, who still enjoy them! Enjoy some of the photos that we took of these lovely works of art!
Rana still loves carousels. Since we moved to the cabin, we’ve had to pack away all of her pretty carousel figures and pictures. She does still get to use her carousel horse sheets and any time we go to the zoo, the day is not complete without a ride on the carousel!
In preparation for our move to France in 2003, I did a little clothes shopping to class up my wardrobe. Even though France is no longer the world power it used to be and some would argue that Paris is not even the fashion capital of the world anymore, there’s no denying that the concept of French style still holds a certain cachet. And, let’s face it, everyday American style post-1964 is awfully sloppy. The last thing I wanted to do was look like an American tourist for three years. It’s that whole “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The Parisians appreciate some effort, too.
If you’ve read French Friday #33, you’ll remember that all those new clothes didn’t show up for six weeks, so I did look like an American tourist for awhile. But once I had the opportunity to begin dressing “more French,” I noticed that something was off. I had missed a key component that I hadn’t even been aware of before. French women, regardless of age or formality of dress, have an affinity for red shoes. Powder blue was a close second. It didn’t matter what color the rest of the outfit was, in Paris, red shoes go with anything. At first, I thought it was kind of funny, but I began to warm to the idea of the red shoe. Why not have a little fun? Why not tell the world, “I am so confident in the rest of my look, that I can put on these red shoes and not even care.” Sounded good to me. Not having the occasion to wear pumps that often at that time in my life, I opted for the red sneaker, which was perfectly acceptable.
I wore those sneakers into the ground. By the time I threw them away several years later, there was no tread left on the soles, the red was scuffed off the toes, and the soles were peeling off from the shoes themselves. It was kind of sad to let them go. By that time, we were back in the States where white sneakers reign supreme and most women would never consider wearing something as attention-getting as red shoes. After all, if you don’t do it right, you could be flirting with “street walker” rather than “fashionista.” Nevertheless, I made a little vow to myself to always own at least one pair of red shoes from then on. Just another way to keep a little bit of France with me.
We’ve been in the cabin for five months now. We had Christmas here; we survived an ice storm that knocked power out for five days; we watch the river rise with each rain storm and go down a couple days later. We’ve caught seventeen mice and have evicted a bat and a flying squirrel. We’ve relaxed our standards of housekeeping because a layer of dirt, ash, and pine needles is just a fact of life here. We’ve roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace; there is no oven here which makes cooking interesting. There are ups and downs to living here; overall it has been a good season of our life. That doesn’t stop a girl from daydreaming, though. I’d live in any of these places (all photos are mine).
I’m not picky.