September 25, 2016
Stephen and I headed out one day last week to explore the Calanques between Cassis and Marseille. It is a stretch of land between those two coastal cities that is protected - a national park, actually. The calanques are inlets in the Mediterranean coastline with high limestone cliffs on both sides. The water beneath is turquoise. The trees - phosphorescent green.
We started in Cassis and hiked through the Calanque de Port Miou (just outside of Cassis), the Calanque de Port Pin to the Calanque d'en Vau. We started around noon and were back in Cassis about 4pm, with a nice rest/swim on the beach near Calanque d'en Vau in the middle. We also scrambled up a pretty steep and poorly marked trail on our way back (climbing at certain points, afraid we'd have to turn around and certain the way down would be much trickier than climbing up the rock faces). It was a wild trek and was just right. I had been craving that kind of excursion for a long time. The terrain is unreal - such beauty. The water was frigid, but fitting with the rest of the experience. I loved spending time there in between those cliffs with my brother - having a good heart-to-heart. It made the notion of living this far away from him more bearable.
September 20, 2016
One of our favorite drives in Provence takes us on a path through Ménerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Lourmarin. These towns are nestled in the mountains of the Lubéron and seem to be time-locked in some other age. Especially lovely this time of year when the tourist season isn't quite so high and the days are still warm and the air is crisp. We took Stephen and John when they were visiting this past week and basked in the Lubéron sunshine and little girl capers.
Marguerite taking special care of Colette, who had smashed her hand in the car door.
September 16, 2016
Life is sweet so far. A simple reduction, but very true. Focused on small moments of breathing in cloud formations and hanging laundry to dry outside. Girls running in the gravel and through our field of dandelions (blowing wishes). I just sort of feel like I keep waking up in a very good dream.
Plus Marguerite comes every other weekend. Such a dream for us all!
School has been challenging. I was bracing for it (obviously). I've mentally devoted the month of September to adjusting. It is going to take at least that long. Colette won't eat at the cantine (lunchroom) and has decided that she definitely wants to move back to NYC.
Morning before school:
Colette: "I don't want to go back to school. I don't like the bathrooms. They are really small walls and I don't know how to flush. I'm not going. In this school we just do numbers and do parcours and the cantine which takes a really long time and drawing and then to the bathroom - with toilets I don't even know how to flush. I miss my other school."
Me: "What did you like about your other school?"
Colette: "I liked the games and stories and toilets I knew how to flush."
(So, Xavier took her to school and pushed through the classroom of children to walk Colette to the bathrooms to check it out and practice flushing together. The details you don't think will matter that much!)
I will say Romy has been much more flexible. She goes with the flow. I was a bit worried recently when picking her up from the garderie however. When we pick her up we get a report of the day. They have a written account of what each child eats, how long they sleep, anything irregular. This particular afternoon, one of the women who works there wore a stern expression and I worried Romy had hit someone or maybe even something worse.
"She did not enjoy the cauliflower."
Internally I exhaled relief. Externally I winced and shrugged my shoulders a bit. "I am sure she will like it the next time."
She replied, "I hope so."
SO much respect for this culture where the 18 children with whom Romy plays, ages 0-3 years old, sit around a table for a snack and no one begins to eat the apple slices until each child has her put on her bib and has passed the plate around. We are in a tiny town in Provence. French culture is so deep rooted.
Colette was invited to a birthday party right out of the gate. I received the invitation and then a text with directions. It went something like: "Chemin du Moulard, house with the blue door - next to a field of sunflowers." Only here. Only in Provence is that a real address. Our house does not have a number either.
Xavier has already undertaken some major renovations. The kitchen. Totally transformed. He replaced two strange sinks with a nice big old basin. Required a circular saw and an inordinate amount of dust. The second time around (because the hole originally cut was 1 cm too small - beat him up. He is incredibly resilient - just kept going despite the amount of dust he inhaled) we created a cocoon for the dust. In the end, the sink is amazing. Bravo Joly.
I think I will never tire of exploring neighboring villages - churches, squares, markets, facades.
Choosing paint colors and letting the house come together bit by bit.
September 1, 2016
Big big day here for us. First real day of French school. In my projections of our life in France, this day gave me very cold feet. And alas, Xavier and I drove away from the schools looking at each other wearing big smiles. Colette was A++ and Romy a superstar too (she had a bit of preparatory advantage).
Yesterday, I took Colette into Aix-en-Provence for a date. We roamed around, ate lunch, bought a backpack and watched a movie, Comme des Bêtes (The Secret Life of Pets). Colette shouted in the theater: "That's New York!" We ate popcorn and laughed a lot.
It was sweet to spend time together in the streets of Aix, stop at the market and sit and talk over lunch. I told her that she has a superpower that I (and all grownups) have lost. Magic words. One of her biggest fears about school is that she won't be able to say what she means - or anything at all. She understands French - Xavier has always spoken to her in French, but expressing herself in French is unknown territory. I told her that this magical power allows her brain to just be there - in the classroom - with the others and suddenly after a week or two weeks, the French words she means will just start flowing out of her mouth. Her eyes lit up. I told her that soon her français will feel just like when she speaks English. She hesitated and said, "but I don't want to lose my English magic words." I promised we would always use them together - that way they will stick.
A good breakfast and a quick picture and we were off. Both girls with their backpacks, doudous safely held inside. Colette was confident and a bit over excited. Romy was delighted to go see Colette's school, wearing her backpack proudly.
The names in Colette's class! A change from Harlem for sure: Aurélien, Mathéo, Clémence, Lilou, Lola, Gabin, Anselm. Very sweet. We walked in - gave her Maîtresse, Isabelle, a big bonjour/bisou and started to observe. Colette walked over to where a girl was sitting and playing at a table and sat next to her. She didn't come back to find us. We had to go over and ask her for a kiss at some point. She said, "I will see you later, at the end of the school day" matter-of-factly. Sacrée Colette. All of my fears for naught.
August 28, 2016
Today we went to the village harvest festival - les vendanges. Colette, with her dress pulled up and tucked into her collar, stomped on the fresh crop of grapes in a big tub - with the local village children. She had a disgusted look on her face at first, but soon enough she melted into the grapes and loved the sensation.
The very start of harvest season here. Appropriately, I feel like for the first time in many years I am aware of true seasons of the wild things around me. I am intimately familiar with the form of the moon and where it is in its cycle every night. We eat most meals outside. We eat up fruits and vegetables from the market down the road - all things that are grown in the fields around our house. Stephen gave me Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food before leaving NYC. I've enjoyed reading it and finding that many of the suggestions in the book are really intuitive in this part of the world. Heading to the market and just discovering what is freshest at that moment - asking the vendor what is tastiest and how she likes to cook it. The potential in tomatoes (and they are heavenly right now around here). Tapenade, anchovies and herbs. Real simplicity based on the quality of the ingredients.
My favorite activity is pulling up a map of the near region and selecting a little village - doing very little research beforehand and just driving there/showing up. Balade-ing. The Lubéron is almost mystical to me. Definitely feel high-spirited exploring there.
Excellent ice cream cones in the Lubéron as well.
On the home front, still feeling chaotic - need some regularity and measured rhythm to our existence. I think it is coming this week. La Rentrée. Romy has done very well in her adaptation period leading up to school (small chunks of time at the crèche). She basically runs over to the baby dolls and toys, looks at us and says, 'see you later' when we go to drop her off. No issues. Found the right spot for her doudou on the wall.
Colette begins school on Thursday.
The trickiest part for me is still parenting. It is bizarre. I can think about it rationally, but I still take the nightmares and emotional woes as a verdict - somehow a reflection of how I/we are doing providing the necessary emotional scaffolding for this big shift in their lives. Too much screen time. In order to unpack boxes and organize or paint or make food or entertain visitors, I turn to Daniel Tiger or harebrained Peppa Pig. I get a knot in my stomach thinking their brains are turning to mush (as I tell Colette) and project into the future - they won't be as adept or creative. Sheesh. Ridiculous.
The reality is that their days are mostly spent digging and swimming and breathing Provence air. Pretty fine.