December 6, 2016
Xavier is the king of projects. Contrary to way most people's brains function, Xavier doesn't feel balanced unless he has at least several major projects all going at the same time. Even better when some seem to be in direct contradiction to each other. Professional, personal, bricolage. I've learned to breathe and trust the seeming tumult. From experience, it ends well.
One of the current project categories is the ongoing renovation of our house.
The dining room is finished. We can now dine. The room was very somber when we moved in. We wanted to open up the wall to add a wide window. The trick was that the walls are about 5-feet thick. And very old (~400 years old). The idea, naturally, turned out to be more intense than anticipated (like all projects).
In September, we found our team. The mason seemed great and committed to completing the project in a week. We were delighted. This room is right off the kitchen and without it we don't have a natural dining area. The day came for the demolition to begin. The mason had disappeared. Unreachable. Provence.
A few weeks later we found a great guy - a mason who came and began attacking right away. (We like him. He's doing other projects here now). The pile of rubble was staggering. He ran into a bit of a snag when it was clear that the wall had turned to sand in some parts. It just started pouring down from above. It meant extra steel beams for support and filling the remaining wall above with concrete. And a lot more time.
Bit by bit the window took shape.
The mason also put in the new floor - we replaced the tiling (the former flooring was recent and not in keeping with the age of the house). We decided on the more typical terra cotta 'tomettes' square tiles from this region of France.
We spent three days painting the room. I had never painted vaulted ceilings - fun with a really long roller brush.
The important thing is that the room is ready - for Christmas and holiday celebrations. We are hosting all of Xavier's family this year.
December 4, 2016
Since we arrived this summer, I haven't spent much time exploring Marseille. Objectively a burgeoning urban spot (lots of renovation and new cultural sites); there is much to discover there. And it is so close. I'm just not that interested in city spaces, though. Maybe I got soused with 'city', spending the past 10 years in New York/Paris.
So I continue my hunt for wild places.
Les Îles de Frioul: a spot I can't wait to get back to the minute it warms up to swimming weather again. A short ferry ride from the Vieux-Port de Marseille to the truly wild. I went with a friend one day and was impressed with how barren and removed the group of islands are, despite being so close to Marseille. The day was windy and cold, the sun blinding. I imagine the coastline waits unvaried for the summer months - the rock and water, just the same tones.
December 2, 2016
November 28, 2016
I'm still out exploring a lot of days. Just taking a drive or a run to nearby villages. I stand there, in front of some historic beauty, and the townspeople sort of look at me as an oddity. I am far enough off the tourist path that these towns are void of them (especially at this time of year). I change the angle of my camera shot or my head and squat down. They look back at me and then look again at the thing I am observing (this petit château, for instance). Shrug their shoulders. I like that this château isn't open to the public and it is unclear who is caring for it. Hence the charm - the gate with its rainbow overgrowth, the shaggy garden, eluding its provenance. It resembles the châteaux in the Loire Valley more than those found here in Provence, in its renaissance style - beautiful slate roof. The townspeople go into the library and town hall next door and proceed with their business. I still find it out of the ordinary to come upon a little gem like this one - framed by dark, menacing clouds, a full apple orchard and an olive grove. Even if we live here, I'm glad for the effect.
November 23, 2016
Autumn is this tree's season - top to bottom. In the morning, when it is often misty and foggy here, the sunlight hits it just right. We wake up, get the girls ready for school and open the shutters to eyeball it. Stop every day to take it in.
My own reaction to the US election has caught me off guard. I've been impaired. Sluggish. Depressed. My brain and my chest feel thick. I was heartened to read that Merkel will seek a fourth term as chancellor and that Sarkozy, with his anti-immigration/too-right-wing rhetoric, didn't make it past the first round in the primaries here in France. The world feels like it is turning inward and nationalistic in disturbing ways, so any sign of movement to the contrary feels heartening.
The one thing that does feel like a salve for my political ennui is going outside - the colors around here. And not listening to NPR or looking online at news sources. I don’t know any Americans here, so I can sort of put blinders on and pretend the whole thing is not happening.
Back to the colors.
Being with the girls is also a good way of forgetting.
I was experiencing some parenting blues when we first arrived this summer. It was so overwhelming to go from a full-time job in New York, racing home to get as much time with them as possible - to an entirely new and heavy dose of them. It was too much for me at first. I had whiplash. In my New York life I made to-do lists on my phone as I walked from the subway (trying to organize the bits of free time I had to fit in friends, children, Xavier, a house, exercise, errands, plans, on and on…), using an earpiece to have a phone conversation at the same time. When riding my bike to commute, I would listen to podcasts on 2x speed, to get in more information - faster.
Now I get whole days with the girls - and my to-do lists are entirely different. Almost just conceptual. Things I would like to do, not things to check off when a short-lived spare minute appears. I gladly let Xavier put them to bed (something I could never not feel guilty about in NYC). We get babysitters and I relish it all. Feels pretty good.
I don’t have it down just right all the time though. The other day, for instance, Colette and Romy were in the bath and I heard what sounded like a bucket of water being dumped on the floor. I entered wearing an angry face. Colette looked at me and pleaded, “Mama, please! Don’t get mad. This time control yourself! Please!” I started cracking up. She made it sound so dramatic. Control yourself!
She walked into my closet recently and took a big inhale. “It smells like New York City in here,” looking wistful. She still talks about her friends and school in New York with longing, but it is more balanced now. She has good friends at school here and her French is officially moving into bilingual territory. I am stunned at how much progress she makes every week. Colette and Romy are both at prime ages for this move.
Romy is a defiant little creature. She doesn’t push back with aggression or tantrums (usually). She simply ignores. Walks in the other direction. Convincingly carries on as if you aren’t there hovering, about to pick her up to physically move her to the next thing. She is sort of tragically cute (at least to us) - her curls and her little pout. She will ask to do something and sometimes the answer is no. Similar technique - she just reposes the question and at the end adds a little, “yes?” and nods her head up an down while gazing right in our eyes.