Life in France, Part Two

Life in France, Part Two April 4, 2008

Friday in France

The day started hard. Both the children were restless during the night, especially Samuel. Little sleep for anyone and we all gave up around 6 a.m. Adriana and I had said that we’d walk together to the village at 6:45 to get some fresh crossaints and a baguette from the bakery, but it was clear that she couldn’t leave the fussy Samuel. So I threw on some clothes and left the house.

The sky was turning light by then, and a gentle fog covered the river to my left as I walked toward Montigne sur Loing. Little traffic, a chill in the air, but very comfortable walking weather. I reached the bakery by 7 a.m. and walked into its warmth. On some other day, I would have been able to enjoy the delightful smell of warm bread, but this lingering congestion denies me that pleasure.

I did manage in my limited French to order some crossaints and the baguette, paid for them, and tucked them in the bag I remembered to carry. Merchants in France do not supply the ubiquitous plastic bag found in every store in the US. One either brings one’s own, or, in the larger stores, purchases them on the way out in order to bag the items purchased. At a small establishments like the bakery, no bag means carrying things by hand. Period.

As I began the walk back, I heard the church bells ringing out, calling people to early mass. The fog was deeper, and held the promise of a spectacularly beautiful day when it lifted. I got home in time to see Jonathan off on his bicycle to Fontainbleu, and to help with the children for a while.

I had promised on this morning to do the week’s grocery shopping for the family in order to free tomorrow for other things, and was definitely dealing with some apprehension. First, could I even find the major market again? Second, assuming I found it, would I be able to shop adequately with my language limitations?

After an inventory of the refrigerator and a discussion of the things we need for Jonathan’s surprise party tomorrow (he still has no clue, amazingly), I headed out, reminding Adriana not to worry as it would take me at least two hours to complete the task.

That, by the way, was a significant understatement. However, I did manage to find the store, and get most of the things I needed. Here’s what I learned about the French stores when we are preparing for an American-style cookout of hamburgers: They don’t carry hamburger buns. At least, I couldn’t find them (learned later that they were there with regularly sliced ordinary bread, but never saw it). Finally settled on some rolls to split. They don’t carry bread and butter pickles. In fact, their pickle selection is really sparce, so will need to slice some that I bought.

I was also looking for some fresh spinach that Adriana wanted. Couldn’t find it, and, unfortunately, don’t know the French word for spinach, so didn’t know how to ask for it. Very, very frustrating for me not knowing French.

There is much more real food in French grocery stores than American ones. Far less space devoted to “pretend food”–highly processed items and dog and cat food–and far more devoted to real, fresh, nutrient laden food. So much healthier for all.

I did spend thirty minutes just looking for a simple timer. Since the best discipline for Joshua is “a la sia”, or “In the seat,” I told them it would help him if there were a timer so he could see how long he had to stay there and that it would go off when the time was done. Did find one at last, by the way.

Managed to pay for the purchases with Adriana’s French debit card, bagged them, and headed for the car, which fortunately, I had marked mentally in the parking lot. Beautiful drive home, but had been gone over three hours by then and was concerned about getting home before Jonathan did, in order to hide the birthday purchases. However, that worked out fine.

The sky was cloudless today, and the owners of the estate early this morning provided for us a simple molded plastic table and six chairs for the patio, so we adjourned out there for the afternoon. Jonathan got home by 2 p.m. and Adriana’s friend with the six month old also came over.

Here’s where I’m not sure I’ll find the words to describe the next magical hours. Gorgeous spring weather, wine, beer, good cheese and good bread, children playing and enjoying the outside, gentle conversation, good-natured ribbing, deep peace. This morning, multitudes of tulips magically bloomed. By tomorrow, iris plants will be in profusion along the river. Tiny wildflowers every where. Quiet. No sirens, few cars on the roadway way up above us. Space to breathe, to be, to simply enjoy. I have rarely enjoyed anything so much as that afternoon.

Children are now very tired–neither would nap this afternoon. So Adriana and Jonathan are bathing them and getting them ready for what we hope will be good sleep.

I, personally, have really turned French–after so quickly grabbing clothes to go to the bakery and then the store this morning, I realized I’ve never bothered to bathe. Won’t be long before I smell like the French. I may already, but with my congestion, I’ll never know.

So, that is our day. Tomorrow, somehow we are going to cook burgers on a very inadequate grill, serve them, and celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. Sunday I will play tourist and go into Paris just to see parts of it. Monday, Jonathan and Adriana must spend part of the day there with the government bureaucracy working on Adriana’s Visa, so Adriana’s friend and I shall care for the children most of the day. Tuesday will be my last full day here, with a very early departure on Wednesday morning so I can make my mid-morning flight. Am a bit homesick, even after this beautiful day, so know when the time comes to go home, I shall be very ready. But today really was magical. One of those days that needs to be savored and held in the memory forever.

A foretaste of heaven.

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