⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

March 21, 2017

Colette | 5 Years Old Today



It is Colette's fifth birthday today. The other night we were reading a book of poems. One began with, "The moon was at its zenith." I asked Colette what she thought that meant. She didn't hesitate: "It means it is at its highest point." We are all excited to watch this one as she grows to hers.







Romy Danda too.

March 18, 2017

La Cantine.

Colette had impish eyes and leaned over to whisper something in my ear this morning at breakfast, “I had an idea about the cantine.”

The cantine is, arguably, the only negative aspect of her experience in France. The cantine is the school cafeteria. Highly structured, and run by an independent group from the school itself. When we first arrived last summer, the school director gave us a tour of the school. She gestured with pride to the library space, the common area that unites all the classrooms and pointed with a smile on her face to the recess courtyard and the closet full of trottinettes (scooters) for the children to use during recreation (recess). We walked away from the play area in the courtyard toward another separate building. Before we walked up the stairs to enter, she made it clear that this is technically not part of her school. She meant it symbolically, as if she wanted some absolution from the space. La cantine.

Then we attended the parents’ meeting Colette’s maîtresse hosted in September. She suggested that when possible, parents take their children home for lunch. In France, there is a formal 2-hour break for lunch. This is time when the children are cared for by the cantine workers and class assistants. The school does not assume responsibility for what happens from 12-2pm. At about 1:50pm in our town, there is a stream of children in the streets walking back to school from lunch at home or at mamie’s (grandma’s). Starting very young. A person who didn’t understand the concept might suppose a strange flock of orphans takes over the town everyday at lunchtime. Some days Colette comes home, other days she stays for lunch at the cantine.

Recently, we received an email from the director of the school and saw many postings around about a grève (strike) at the cantine: Grève, mardi 7 mars | En raison d’un mouvement de grève le mardi 07 mars 2017, nous vous informons que le service restauration scolaire ne sera pas assuré à l’école maternelle. Aucun pique-nique ne sera toléré dans l’école.

[Basically: the cantine workers are going on strike on March 7. There will be no school lunch that day - children must eat at home. No picnics in the courtyard allowed].

Ah, the French and their strikes. Such devotion. I’d love to know what was behind the strike exactly, but I imagine it had something to do with the tension surrounding that cantine.

At drop off Xavier or I will often pose the question to Maîtresse or the class assistant: “Est-ce qu'elle mange a la cantine, Colette ?” (Does Colette eat when she is at the cantine?). Alarming response: “C’est une catastrophe !” Tongue clucking. Sucking in air. Big eyes. The first time I got this response, I gasped and asked why. "Elle ne mange rien." She doesn’t eat. It is true, she is a picky eater. Add endives and chicken (she is still very sad about eating chicken) and her stubborn personality and, while I would not call it catastrophic, I would say it is a problem. Xavier insists that she needs to have the opportunity to go to the cantine and learn to eat a wide variety of things. He is right. I am not sure it is working. Regardless, the cantine is often the low point of Colette’s narrative about her school days.

After school recently:

Me: How was your day?
Colette: Good! Pablo did many bétises (made a lot of mischief). We played petit chat (little cat) in the courtyard.
Me: Sounds fun. How was lunch?
Colette: (sulking) Ugh. I don’t like the cantine. The water tastes like pee-pee.
Me: What did you eat?
Colette: Du pain et des carottes
Me: That’s it? Did you try anything else?
Colette: No. And Brigitte was yelling really loud at us.
Me: Why?
Colette: Because we make noise. She rings the bell over and over and taps the tables with a jar or a tray to try to get us to be quiet.
Me: Hmmm. Can you try whispering to your neighbor?
Colette: Well, first, I cannot breathe when I whisper. Plus, we are fille, garçon, fille, garçon and I am always next to a noisy boy.
Me: What happens when everyone keeps talking and doesn’t quiet down?
Colette: Well, Brigitte and Antoinette keep a list. A white paper with les prénoms (first names).
Me: What for?
Colette: Well, if they write your name down enough times, you get sent to the dortoir (the little nap room/dormitory) during recreation
Me: Oh my! Is your name on the list?
Colette: (gravely) One time! (starts panicking)

Back to breakfast this morning:

Colette’s idea about the cantine (whispering, despite it being hard to breathe): “Sometimes when I sit in the cantine, I look up at the ceiling and I imagine myself climbing on the roof. I have a little knife and I cut a hole in roof. I can look down on all the children sitting in lines at the tables. I can see the cantine workers. I have a rope and I make a lasso. Then 5 lassos. I catch the cantine workers from above and then the other children help me to take them to the dortoir where they have to stay for the rest of the lunchtime. After that, we can all talk as loudly as we want to each other and tell stories and eat our food.”



Sacrée Colette. She drew this picture to help illustrate her idea. See her up there on the roof with her 5 lassos?

March 11, 2017

Cap Canaille & Cassis



Xavier and I had a holiday on Friday. Cassis is one hour from our house...so we set off for a lunch on the Mediterranean. Up above Cassis rests Cap Canaille: the highest sea cliff in France, looking out over the Mediterranean and Cassis. The height is dizzying - 394m (1,293 ft) above and a straight fall down. Incredible. Xavier doesn't love heights and he turned white the closer we got to that edge (hence the numerous photos featuring me). The color of the water, the ochre rock, the vegetation of the Côte d'Azur...remarkable. French Riviera at its best.




My legs dangling 1,293 ft in the air from that perch - such a whir





We drove down into Cassis to find a restaurant recommended by a local friend: La Presqu'île. It is one of those Côte d'Azur establishments that manages to be ritzy/high end and dumpy around the edges. I love that mix - only in this context (St. Tropez had a few of these as well). We parked the car and the smell of sun heating sandy pine trees and the sound of doves cooing brought memories - all of Xavier's summers in Saint-Aygulf, and my time in St. Tropez. The food was fancy and very good, the view and reflection from the water (right there) - even better. As soon as we had finished and had our café we went straight down to the beach below - smooth white stone against turquoise water. It was too inviting, I had to go in. In my underwear. The first breath was choking and then I kicked hard and kept kicking. About 10 minutes later, I felt like it was the middle of summer and I was just in for a dip. Xavier joined - couldn't resist. After 30 minutes in the water and a swim out to the buoy, we washed ashore. My teeth chattered for a while after being in for so long, but it felt like a spring purification session. Fantastic. You know where I will be whenever I have a spare chunk of time for a swim.









March 4, 2017

Spring



The end of February/beginning of March signal spring here. The almond trees come first. They start to reflect the amaranthine white flowers in the vineyards. Now the other fruit trees are starting to blossom. Our apricot tree and soon the cherry and pear. Provence is a region of fields and fields of fruit trees - buds swelling and bursting. Our girls are thriving too. They make their ’nests’ in the fields, traipse through a baby olive grove, explore the orb around our house in the evening glow. Plead for another push on the swing - heading straight into the slanting sun.











February 28, 2017

Plage Sainte Croix on a February day



As soon as we caught our breath home from skiing, we got in the car and headed to the beach (not quite an hour away). It was warm enough to flirt with the hem of the water and both Colette and Romy eventually ended up soaked. They spent the day echoing each other's actions across the beach. We dug an enormous tunnel and bathed in sun that felt nothing like February as we've known it.













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