Sunday, November 30, 2008


It's 3:45 a.m. in Rouen. This is actually the first time I've been up in the middle of the night without Anna waking me. She appears to be making it through the night tonight. At least so far, which is a great sign. I don't mind being up now though — it gives me an opportunity for some much needed silence. As I was lying in bed not sleeping I realized that it's been 10 days since Anna's been in school. She had some play time with her posse back home, but that was time I spent frantically pack, working, or cleaning to make it here. As much as I wish I were the perfect, patient mom, I'm just not. I try. I really, really try. And there are days and even weeks where I feel like I'm doing a great job. But sometimes I struggle, and 10 days without a real opportunity for silence surely doesn't help.

Part of the problem is just recognizing what it means to be three. It's not something I remember, and without any previous exposure to kids (no siblings, cousins, babysitting, etc.) it's just all new. Anna is this misleading mix of wicked smart, funny, and sophisticated, on the one hand, and a clingy, often whiny, mama's girl on the other. Sometimes I forget the latter is actually the more typical behavior at three.

And, of course, these are extenuating circumstances for us all. My family basically picked up on a whim (mine) and relocated to an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar country with almost no knowledge of the language and no support system. In the winter. On the other hand, pain au chocolat. ;-)

Like everything, this is a process. I expect that by the time we really get it nailed down, it will be time to come home. My hope is that in the process we will all laugh and play and grow. Perhaps me the most.

Lessons, part deux

First, the obvious: wherever you go, there you are. As in, when I said to David: “Yes, it will be cold, but it will be French cold”, I wasn't taking into account how much I hate to be cold. Anywhere. So, this morning, when I awoke to a forecast high of 36 degrees (with a wind chill of -1C), I was ready to drop all plans of going anywhere. And in fact, I insisted we drive the 1.7 miles to the museum instead of walking, as we have done thus far. Which leads me to lesson 2:

2) A three-and-a-half-year-old is going to be a pain-in-the-ass whether you try to drag them to an art museum in Portland or in France. She just doesn't care. She wants to run and she wants to eat, but that's about it. Oh, and she wants to play school and she's the teacher and this is your lesson and did you hear me??? No, she's the teacher and this is your lesson!

3) Wine is good. But I knew that one already. ;-)

So I'm hoping that a little impulsive excursion to Paris will be just what we all need. After all, that's really why we're here in Rouen — so we can get on the TGV and be in Paris in an hour. I've spent the day agonizing over what activities we can get away with given Anna's age and the weather. This would be so much easier if it were 60 degrees outside. I think I've got it worked out, but I'm sure my miserable failure will be an entertaining post on Thursday!

As for the one thing I wish I'd brought but didn't: my Bugaboo stroller. The umbrella stroller we've borrowed while here is literally impossible for me to navigate on these streets, which means I'm dependent on David to get anywhere. We spent a good chunk of time tonight researching ways to rent or buy a stroller here, and/or to ship our stroller from home (um, how does $500-$900 via FedEx sound?). This is a situation that still needs a better resolution. Any ideas?

High of 36

Um, really???!!!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lessons so far

We've only been here a few days, but I already have a few dominant impressions:

1) “Renovated” means different things in France than in the U.S.
2) lies.
3) Nothing in France is as far as it looks on a map.
4) Carbs, the more refined the better, are somehow “good” when you're in France.
5) We take an awful lot of daily comforts for granted in the U.S.
6) No matter where we are, Anna talks all day long. From sunrise to sundown. Speaking of which,
7) It doesn't get light here in the morning until around 9am. This is fine for us since we have no where we have to be. Ever.
8) Bread, cheese, and homemade rhubarb jam can be turned into many different types of meals.

There will be more, I'm sure. In the mean time, today's plan is to try to find the “downtown” area, which Jean-Paul drove us through the other day. It looked amazing. I'll post pics of what we find later today.

A bientôt.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paris to Rouen

Update: I have begun to add photos as a slideshow. If you want to read titles and any notes about the pics themselves, click through to the actual Flickr photo page.

Wow, the past two days have been a whirlwind. Yesterday we awoke in our B&B in Paris after a fairly difficult night for Anna. Wasn’t sure what to expect for the day, but she did quite well. After a breakfast of coffee, some unrecognizable (but good) juice, and des croissants avec confiture de la maison (homemade jam), we went for a stroll over to La Tour Eiffel about 5 blocks away. It was cold but remarkably uncrowded. We stopped at one of the many play areas in the area, where Anna took a ride on a carousel. Then it was a taxi to le train pour Rouen. European life is so idiosyncratic — at the train station everyone watches a screen to see which quai your train will depart from. As soon as the number is posted everyone runs as fast as they can to the train. It just seems much more dramatic than necessary. Anna passed out in my lap for the brief ride, another taxi, and then voila, we were at our nouvelle maison.

Our arrival was a whirlwind of activity. Les Fabulets (Jean-Paul et Jannine) had invited over many friends and neighbors to welcome les Americans. So for the next 7 hours or so, there were introductions, a brief ride around the town with Jean-Paul, a tour of their large vegetable plot at the community garden, drinks, dinner, explanations of how things around the flat work, etc. Have I mentioned yet that all of this was in French? Jean-Paul and Jannine really know no English, so I was doing my best to communicate and translate for everyone. Needless to say, my brain was completely fried.

Notable personnes whom we met include Anne, Thierry and their daughter Maite, who is 16 and will be Anna’s babysitter from time to time (they live at no. 25), Norcia and her 2 daughters, Capucine (6) and Domitille (4), who live at no. 9, and the other Thierry, who is a graphic designer for a baking school and therefore (I kid you not) delivers a bag full of fresh breads and pastries on his way home every night. For free. I’m not sure where he lives, which is probably for his own personal safety! Our flat, by the way, is actually 3 flats combined (no.s 11-15). It is hard to imagine how this place could be habitable at 1/3 the size. I’ll try to post photos of the flat soon, but it is perfect for us and features such amenities as wi-fi and a projector and screen for movies! There are many, many steep, narrow steps and getting to a bathroom in the middle of the night with a groggy 3-yr-old can be quite challenging.

Today, after another dismal night for Anna (have I mentioned the club which seems to be across the street and is quite loud until around 3am?), we ate some of Thierry’s bread with fromage et cafe, and went exploring. Although the roads are narrow and steep, and pretty awful with an umbrella stroller, there is a lot to see within a couple mile radius of our flat. We walked fairly aimlessly for a couple hours (Anna passed out in the stroller — nothing like the rocking of cobblestones to soothe one to sleep) and David and I meandered around, stopping only to purchase 2 bottles of just released Beaujolais-Nouvelles. 

Now Anna is finally down for the night (one hopes), David and I threw together dinner from things we scrounged around the flat (including some veggies from the garden plot), and are going to relax a bit. Friday through Sunday morning is the grand marche (their big farmer’s market) and we’re excited to go experience it.

And so, mes amis,  I wish you a happy Thanksgiving and a bonne nuit.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


After what feels like a tremendously long buildup, we are here! Exhausted and twitchy with jet-lag, but here nonetheless. The trip itself went remarkably well. European airlines know how to do it — complementary, frequent drinks (cognac, anyone?), plenty of good chocolate, relatively comfortable seats, really nothing to complain about. And the best part was they were at about 30% capacity, which meant Anna could stretch out across two seats and actually sleep, albeit for only 5-6 hours instead of the usual 11 or so. But despite the lack of sleep and the fact that both computer batteries died early in the trip (meaning she only got to watch 30 minutes of movies for the entire 20-hour-schlep), she did great. 

My voyage was made particularly entertaining by the man I sat with part of the time who either a) is crazy or b) is actually about to be made king of Hungary, owns many castles to which we have an open invitation, is some world-pioneer in the field of Autism, is an archduke of somewhere, and who offered me Ambien, heroin, and pixie dust at various times during our conversation. Oh, and he said he had diplomatic immunity (you know, being about to be named king and all) and was therefore packing heat on the plane. Ah, fun times!

Getting to the hotel was an easy taxi ride, we have a lovely, simple room with comfy beds and wi-fi. We’re across the street from a lovely area with many markets, restaurants and shops. In the next day or two I’ll begin posting some of the photos David and I have already taken.

Tomorrow we’re off to Rouen to meet the Fabulets, the folks with whom we’re doing our swap. They’ll show us around and introduce us to some of the neighbors, etc., before heading off to our house in Portland the following day. Now I’m planning on a good night’s sleep for all of us followed by a yummy French breakfast with jam made by our hosts here at the Hotel Valedon.

A bientôt.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bet you thought we were in the air

Yes, well...we're not. We should be, but are instead at home waiting for tomorrow to come. We got to the airport only to find the Lufthansa counter closed. Apparently they have decided not to fly on Sundays (at least from Portland) anymore, but no one told us. If you know me at all well, then you can imagine my reaction upon arriving with my family and all of our crap, only to be told to come back tomorrow. It wasn't pretty. But David and Tasia came to the rescue (David took care of Anna, Tasia took care of me!). And so now we're home, living out of our suitcases and waiting for tomorrow to be today, except with a flight that actually leaves for France. I've decided to be very Jewish about this and assume that this was the bad thing that had to happen in order to have an otherwise perfect trip. Sort of like breaking the glass before marriage. Ok, glass broken. Rock on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Le Départ

We leave for France in 36 hours. The bags are packed (almost), the house is clean (almost), and we are all extremely excited about our upcoming adventure. It will take me a while to get up and running, but I'll try to post regularly so check back often. 

Our schedule is as follows:
Nov 24, arrive à Paris pour 2 nuits. Nov 26, train to Rouen, where we'll make our base in a 5-bedroom maison we know virtually nothing about. “Safe adventure”, my dad always used to say. 

If for some strange reason you want to put pen to paper and write us, drop me a line and I'll email you our mailing address. Otherwise, we can be reached via our email addresses and right here — so leave a little note saying hi, ok? We miss you already! Au revoir. A bientôt!