We Summer in France
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.
No related posts.