A Year in France
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I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I had a latte. The mind boggles!
The language and logistics are getting easier but the oh!wow-France-gloss is fading and I’m starting to miss home – people of course, but also inanimate things… like gingernuts. And creamed corn. And marmite.
We arrived in Paris on the first of February, dizzy with jet lag, and stepped out onto an icy, gritty path – quite the contrast with the sweltering summer we’d just left behind. We crossed Paris on the périphérique, kept awake by sheer alarm at the numerous speeding, swerving, honking vehicles. Luuk’s work provided a car but there was no way we’d be driving in this insane place!
The temperature didn’t get above freezing for days. We spent the first two weeks in a tiny hotel room, just a few minutes drive from Luuk’s office (having accepted that driving would be a necessity). There was no nearby train station, only a hypermarket and a very dreary playground.
One year ago today…
We bought a pushchair and assembled it in the mall. We bought hats and gloves and lots of food. Those first few weeks were difficult, but life, and the temperature, picked up a few weeks later, once we moved into our apartment in Antony.
Antony is a charming ‘ville’ (suburb, really), about thirty minutes south, on the train, from the centre of Paris. We live on a cobbled street and can hear the church bells when the windows are open. There is a bustling town centre and, three mornings a week, a market!
I spent the first month or two familiarising myself with the market – utilizing my un petit peu de francais to politely order breads, pastries, fruits, vegetables and pasteurized cheeses (pregnancy can be difficult – the deprivation!).
I got in touch with several other English-speaking mums via an online group called ‘Message‘.
Louis and Jerome play school, at Carolee’s play group.
We have coffee groups regularly and this has been a real life-saver for me. It took about six months to get past polite greetings and comments about the children with French mums at the playground – and my American and English friends tell me that six months is fast.
Luuk’s work has been challenging and interesting. He has travelled a couple of times to assist customers in Germany and the Netherlands. He is in a unique position, having worked on developing the software in Christchurch, to assist customers using the products in Europe.
Luuk’s colleagues have been very welcoming and helpful, getting us set up in our apartment, helping us with rightly-infamous French bureaucracy, and introducing him to numerous great places to eat (and drink) lunch. They speak French, for the most part, but it took a while for them to stop using English with Luuk.
In March Luuk and I celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary – by going up the Eiffel Tower!
We went on two trips early in the year – a long weekend in the Netherlands to visit some of Luuk’s family there, and a longer weekend in the south of France with some kiwi friends who now live in London.
Louis and his Dutch rallies… and bubbles!
Our holiday at Argelès sur Mer, with Adam and Michelle.
Back home, we tried to make the most of our weekends, going in to Paris, but with my being heavily pregnant and Louis not quite walking, tripping around was very tiring.
Château de Vincennes – Louis enjoyed the stones in a slightly different way from the rest of us.
Parks were ideal destinations and there are plenty of them. Louis loves the playground, especially the sandpit, and will now ride the horses on the carousel, rather than sitting in a carriage or swan – he’s getting so grown up.
Louis on the carousel at Place de la Concorde
Merry-go-rounds are big favourites with the French. Older children can use small jousting sticks to collect hoops as they go around. Parents sit on the sidelines – the locals reading or talking (and/or smoking, gr…), the foreigners taking numerous photos (c’est moi, oui).
Louis learned to walk in April and run in May.
Nowadays, he will usually walk (or run) to and from halte garderie, if he’s in the mood.
Meanwhile, I had numerous doctors visits and blood tests. There was nothing wrong with me – I was just pregnant. But the system here is more medical than New Zealand. Everything went very well, in the end, but the hospital stay – post birth – was difficult, with the language barrier.
Elena was born 7 June, in the middle of the afternoon. 4 kilos of cool!
I was glad to go home after just two nights. My parents were staying with us and helped a lot with housework and Louis.
Luuk and Elena, getting to know each other… if they could just stay awake.
Siblings, making friends (and so far so good really, on that front)
I tried to start writing again fairly soon after Elena was born – I find it helpful in so many ways. And during the summer I discovered a writers group in Paris, where I have enjoyed getting to know some other writers and sharing my work with them. The critique and encouragement have been very helpful and motivating.
On 14 Juiliet we went into Paris for the Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysee and got to see France’s military on parade, and a fly-over with the tri-colour and everything.
Mum and Dad spent half the year in Europe and visited us several times. In September we holidayed with them in the south, at Bormes les Mimosas.
Louis and Mum enjoy the view from the restaurant at lunch.
Luuk and Louis, almost in the pool.
In September Louis started attending Halte garderie for three half days a week. It’s all in French and he loves it. We have met another family from New Zealand whose son is in Louis’ class and they are becoming good friends (who conveniently also like board games!)
Louis and Iosua in their awesome playroom.
Through these friends I have gotten involved in a group french class and I’m really enjoying both the social and educational sides of this. Luuk and I learned french initially on audio lessons and after 90 of those were glad of a break. We then had a tutor, organised by Luuk’s work, which finished before Christmas. Hopefully, Luuk will continue with this tutoring in the near future. The language is challenging but it’s exciting to make progress, however slowly.
J’espere nous parlerons trés trés bien avant nous revenirons à la Nouvelle-Zélande.
Elena is doing well, ‘doing her nights’, as the french say. She rolled over for the first time while we were down south with my parents and now she’s very nearly crawling. She loves to watch the older kids and is interacting with other babies – her favourite is definitely the little Fijian boy at french class.
She loves the jolly-jumper and enjoys pretty much every type of food – quite the contrast with her brother. She likes to yell, a happy yell, and enjoys cuddling her brother, and anyone else who’s available… And given good reason, she’ll giggle beautifully.
Louis is potty training and now goes to halte garderie ‘sans couche’. He has just (last night) started sleeping in a bed (the cot, dismantled, now lives in the cave). We’re saving his diet-reform till potty training is over and done with. One battle at a time!
We are gradually mastering this whole 2 kids:2 adults ratio, and look forward to more sight-seeing and travelling as the weather improves.
We are enjoying our church – a tiny congregation of English-speaking Anglicans who have made us very welcome.
Elena’s dedication at St Paul’s, Gif sur Yvette, 23 December 2012
We have loved having visitors and look forward to more coming in the not so distant future.
Louis and Aunty Hannah enjoying the view from Trocadero
My sister and her husband stayed with us over Christmas and we had a blast – seeing the sights of Paris, indulging in all the festive treats we could find, and catching up after 18 months apart.
My sister and me, at the top of Sacre Coeur. (Recovering from the climb… she faster than me.)
Hannah and Louis beneath the Arc de Triomphe
January has gone fast, with visitors and snow and lots of work. We are greatly looking forward to the weather improving and fantasizing about some more trips around Europe. I’ve yet to see London and we’ve a few friends there… and then there’s Italy!