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We Summer in France

Les Gorges de l'Hérault - Copyright 2011 S. Murray

The journey started something like this–a family of four, sitting on the floor of the Air Mac terminal at Dover Air Force Base, with one suitcase, one traveler’s backpack, two laptop cases, and a slim backpack of toys. The pizza Bob would order after we hadn’t made it onto the first two Space-Available military planes would come two hours later, as would the gray-haired lady who barfed in a tiny little bag next to us when we had finally found ourselves some real seats in the waiting room.

The start to our trip to France for a month couldn’t have been less glamorous, but I was willing to suck it up. We were going not just to Europe, but France. Birthplace of impressionism, a culture where a glass of wine cost less than a glass of juice, home to camembert and the nutella crepe. The place I had fallen in love with 16 years ago, when I studied there in college.

I’ve read the books and heard of the people–those people–who renovate a palazzo on the Almalfi coast or spend a summer touring the wine region by unicycle (and go on to write a best-selling travel guide about it). Who are these people and where do they come from? If the pass to entry for this kind of adventure is ancient pedigree or family wealth, I am not one of them.

But this summer, as our C-5 cargo plane descended into Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and I looked over at my glowing husband of almost fifteen years and the two sleepy, red-headed children we made between the two of us, I was reminded–not that I am one of those people–but that anything is possible. You too can summer in France.

We are not here because we are rich (although I am thankful for our resources). We are not here because we are lucky (although I am grateful for all the times that circumstances have gone in our favor). We are here simply because we had an idea and we went for it. What does it take? First, the vision, then lots of determination, plenty of faith, and of course a dose of foolishness. For what parent cannot be considered foolish for expecting to live in a student dorm as a family (only to be kicked out three days later) or to find a nanny for one’s children within 24 hours of arrival?

Friends, we have arrived in the South of France. We drove through the night from Germany to get here and we spent two hours cursing and “navigating” the windy unnamed streets of Montpellier in search of our bed for the night. We slept our family of four in one twin bed and one half-inflated twin air mattress for two nights and would have done it for the duration had we not been asked in French by the mean British lady to leave that afternoon. But we found a new place to live within a few hours and found an angel of a French-speaking nanny. Have we landed? Could we finally be ready to settle in?

There were no towels in the student dorm room and so it was two days before we broke down and showered anyway. (A small, lightweight Nike athletic shirt would do the trick as a drying aid.) We knew how to perfectly time our interest in meals and purchases at exactly those moments when the French restaurants and stores would be closed. (Sunday fermetures? Monday closings? Pentecost? Cafes that only served drinks? Waiters that were going on dinner break or who brought one fork to the table at a time?) Ah, yes, it’s all coming back to me.

We are in Europe now–where “customer is king” does not mean you will be served on time or that you have access to what you need at any hour of the day. When you are served, however–eventually–you will be treated to the most delicious meal you can imagine, of crisp-ish lettuce and finely sliced red onions–cherry tomatoes that are plump and juicy and redder than red. The little muffin on the side of your plate will not be bread, in fact, but instead an egg-bread-quiche concoction spiked with red and green peppers and browned to soft-crisp perfection. The 2 euro (3 dollar) Chardonnay you order will be the smoothest you’ve ever tasted–all wine and no bite, no extra bitterness or sweetness.

Yes, we have landed in France. Last night, when we finally arrived at what will likely be our home for the next four weeks, I knew we had everything we needed. A petite kitchen–a “closet” that will most certainly do. A bathroom with a shower that will break the children of that silly bath habit. A nook with a bed for the kids to feel they have their own space, and a futon in the living room for the parents. White tile floor, white walls, and a window looking out on green trees that shimmer in the light (Monet himself might have painted them); an open, endless esplanade; and a cream-colored elementary school. Windows to let in the sounds of the schoolchildren and the scent of grilled meet from the restaurant below. Yes, we have everything we need for our little séjour (stay) in France.

Well, almost everything. It should only take a few more days to figure out when the stores are open so I can go buy that little luxury called toilet paper.

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7 Responses to “We Summer in France”

  1. Wow – so thrilled for your and your family! What a wonderful adventure!!

  2. I have a tear of joy in my eye for your family. I’m always fascinated how your and Bob’s vision, ingenuity, and loads of love for each other translates into adventure after adventure. And not just parking yourselves in an all-inclusive that requires a passport at the airport – or a European journey with a premeditated itinerary. I mean ADVENTURE with a capital “A.”

    What a fond family memory in the making. And a wonderful lesson for your children to absorb a different culture! This reminds me of how my parents did it, and surely they will adopt your sense of learning and adventure when they able to traverse the world! Enjoy, and I’ll be tuned in for more updates!

  3. Midnight Mama 02. Jul, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Thank you for your amazing words. I’ll never forget how one of my former bosses–from a family of ten children–told me that his parents took the whole family to Europe one summer. How did they afford it? Camping! I love the idea that with some creativity and drive and vision, parents can create the life they want for their children–whatever that vision may be. I’m sure you are doing the same for your beautiful children. Keep enjoying this amazing adventure calling parenting…

  4. I really admire your pluck! We are the least intrepid family you will meet, and I consider going to the grocery store with both kids a wild adventure. You guys really are amazing.

  5. Midnight Mama 04. Jul, 2011 at 3:34 am

    I totally agree on the grocery store adventure. I have a running rule to try to avoid a supermarket trip with both kids at the same time whenever possible for it is always sure that chaos to the tenth degree will break loose if I do.

  6. I am reading your emails/posts with delight. As we always say, it’s not so much the journey that matters but the place we go…
    I am happy for the four of you. I trust that you’ll be able to build lasting memories for your family.
    Now that Summer is in full blast in France, avoid the beach but go Aigues Morte and the Parc Regional de Carmague. This is really worth the trip. If you want to break away from people, a few hours drive north to Les Cevennes is really nice. We’ll be there over July 14th week-end….

  7. Midnight Mama 06. Jul, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Hello dear Gaelle. We are having an amazing time and I owe you a BIG thank you. We found a fantastic nounou for the children via our second day here. This could not have happened without your help discovering this site and writing up a post! Thank you, thank you.

    We in fact visited Aigues Mort last weekend and took a boat ride into the Carmague. Beautiful! I have to admit I enjoyed the shops in Aigues Morte too. This weekend we head to Paris for our last “hoorah” and then it’s time, sadly, to fly home. Time flies! I hope your time in France is relaxing and energizing.