Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Note in the Mailbox

The note written on a small square of paper stuffed in the mailbox was signed Christian et Francette. As best we can translate (with help, of course) it reads “A little kiss in passing to take to the new people.” We have yet to match faces to authors but are deeply touched.


Living right on the street as village houses are intended to be, it is inevitable to connect with the locals in some way even with our limited language skills. Rue du Four is barely wide enough for any two vehicles to pass each other, and this made impossible by parking on opposite sides of the street for its two block length. The regulars walk or ride their bicycles by several times a day carting their items: baguettes or flutes of bread from the boulangerie, small bundles of kindling or newly picked greens from the garden plots along the river, sac jaune or sac noir headed to the dumpster, or a mother pushing a stroller. Elderly women wearing floral print housedresses with white piping around the neck and armholes sit on the step in their doorways and greet us coming and going “Bonjour Madame et Monsieur” as we conduct our errands (which includes going to the bar).


Life in Leran happens in the street because while many of the houses have terraces or courtyards, the street brings it all together. Kids play up and down the street, not worried about traffic. Their screaming and rippling laughter, while sometimes as piercing as fingernails on a chalkboard, makes us chuckle instead. Maybe it’s because these kids aren’t inside playing video games.


Jean-Pierre, our neighbor a few doors down, speaks graciously slow French for us and we reciprocate with equally slow English. He is a journalist of sorts, author, passionate military historian and we some day we hope to have the time to chat for hours. He is so patient that perhaps even our French could not frazzle him.


Since Smokey’s arrival, it has been interesting to observe people’s reaction not only to the vehicle itself, but also the anti-Bush bumper stickers. I caught Jacqueline from across the street smiling at the “Worst. President. Ever.” sticker. She then pointed at the one of Bush standing in a ‘Napoleon pose’ and with disgust exclaimed “Sarkozy!” (the newly elected right-wing French president). She obviously disapproved his election. I commented that I felt we must think alike and we smiled at each other in confirmation.


The Fete Locale is being held in Leran this weekend. We dutifully went to the mairie today to purchase our tickets for the ‘repas anime’ (lively meal) held in the plaza on Saturday evening and Doug was concerned about low turnout. Our tickets had numbers 11 and 12 on them, and this was the last day for ticket sales, and so these might have been only the 11th and 12th ones sold. It is slated to be Moroccan fare, so that’s all I need to know. It gave us a chance to meet the maire’s secretary Chantal, and try our damnedest to complete at least one full sentence in French. A “SIXTIES” dance follows the dinner. Friday night there will be a candlelight parade through the streets of the village and Sunday the majorettes will perform a spectacle. Of course, this is all based upon my interpretation of the flyer distributed. In reality, it could be a car wash and bake sale.


Doug commented the other day that he always wondered why some immigrants hung out in cliques in the States, and refused asimilation. He was referring to Hispanics with whom he had some experience. After landing in France two weeks ago and just beginning to settle in, it has become eminently clear to us why. Negotiating any activity of daily living in a language or culture different from one’s own is challenging, rewarding, frustrating, consuming. It’s not just purchasing a specific item (i.e. grout sealer, voltage tester), but trying to ask specific questions is where it gets real limiting. And when given the fall-back opportunity to just not have to think extra hard to get anything done, that’s what we do. We are not trying to blend in or become French, but maybe we’re trying to get to the point where it just ain’t so damn hard. But we sure appreciate the English table at the Bar! And who knows, perhaps one day Christian et Francette will join us…..

10 comments:

Judy said...

Your note in the mailbox reminded of when our family lived in Church Hanborough, England for a year in 1972. The village pub was just across the street from our house and Ron frequented it nearly every day. He made friends there that I had no clue about. In October there were several parties in the village. We were included with the wonderful invitation, "Ron and Mrs. Ron". They had no clue who I was either. Judy

Anonymous said...

What a lovely note from Christian et Francette. I have a feeling that inspite of the bureaucracy and the language difficulties, you will look upon your time in France as some of your happiest days. Just your description of the street with the children playing, the neighbors riding their bikes and the "simpatico moment" when you and your neighbor bond over your views of Bush and Sarkozy...your joy is already showing!

Luke is dying to hear about the upcoming weekend "fete"...especially the SIXTIES dance! Even if it turns out to be a "car wash and bake sale"...I want to hear every detail!

Appreciez!

Anonymous said...

Your little babel fish is getting to be fun! I have always wondered what "Baton Rouge" (LA) translated into...I knew rouge was red and baton seemed like the obvious version of stick...but I thought no one would name a city "Red Stick"...but that's exactly what happened! I no longer have any respect for those "ragin cajuns" and their French skills...Red Stick, indeed! What a dumb name! Luke is appalled! HA!

sarah alexander said...

I too can't wait to hear all about the fete this weekend! Loving every minute of your blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi guys- Oh man, I feel so jealous when I read this blog. It sounds hard but in a good way, the way that reminds you that you are alive and that your brain can expand even more than you thought possible. I think what you are doing is the surest cure for warding off aging. "They" say one should do crossword puzzles, but this must be the equivalant of thousands of crossword puzzles.I bet your place is starting to look pretty cute, I remember those ektorps in the IKEA catalog and they were cute. Can't wait for pictures!
Love, Amy

North of Andorra said...

Who's aging, exactly?

Dan said...

Gotta defend my peeps. Someone made a remark about the name of capital of the great state of Louisiana. Baton Rouge wasn't named "red stick" by the cajuns. It was given that name by a Frenchman (technically he was born in Montreal if my memories from 8th grade Louisiana history are accurate) Sieur D'Iberville, a great soldier and explorer in the late 1690's. The red stick was a dead cypress tree along the river that served as a demarcation point dividing the hunting ground of 2 local warring tribes. The tree was hung with the skins of dead animals and the blood stained the tree red. The name was marked as such on the map to point out the location as a potentially dangerous spot for colonizers (you don't mark quiet peaceful places with a red stick).

leslie said...

Yo! Dan, what a memory and what a cool way for a place to get its name.

Anonymous said...

I was in no way implying that anyone is aging. I was merely commenting that if one were to ever age this would be a good way to ward it off. But clearly, no one is aging,except for Madeleine who just completed First Grade. She is aging which makes me think I might be but then I forget that I'm worried and it doesn't matter anymore. :)Amy

Anonymous said...

OK Dan, I won't pick on Baton Rouge any more...thanks for the local history lesson! Luke knows when she's been outsmarted!