finding pace

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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.

 


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the plot thickens

… but it all comes out well in the end.

I have a whopper of a bruise on my leg. We visited the netherlands a couple of weekends back (goodness, has it been that long?) and while there, we went to a monkey-centric zoo. It was a fantastic afternoon for us all, but this place, Apenheul, is very well set-up for the kids. The playgrounds are modelled on the spaces designed for the monkeys to play in. I was always so jealous of the monkeys’ ropes and swings and climbing frames when I was a kid. There was this one rope swing and no one around, so I showed Louis and Elena how it worked.

 

I grabbed the rope, took a few steps back and leapt on. I wrapped legs around the rope, hooked my ankles and ouch. The knot, which is supposed to keep my bum from slipping off the bottom, dug right into my leg. Now surely I’ve done this a hundred times as a kid, and yes, I was always wondering where all my bruises came from, but what a shiner! I look like someone took a piece of 2×4 to my leg.

They didn’t. I was just being a monkey. We were up in the Netherlands for Luuk’s family reunion, which was so much fun I forgot to take any photos. We drove up on Saturday, went to see the monkeys.

at apenheul

The kids freaked out a little. Mainly because the monkeys were climbing on the pushchair. The next day we wandered around the palace grounds, in the town where we’d stayed.

wandering around the palace

Wore the kids out so they’d sleep before the family reunion.

The reunion was at a little hotel. We basically drank and ate all afternoon – ham rolls, apple tart, a buffet of quiches, soup, and finally a few chocolates for the road. The dutch were playing in the football, so a large proportion of the family gravitated to the tv. The hotel sent us packing at half time so some went to the food festival across the way, who had the match on, but we had tired kids, so we headed to our hotel. We listened to the commentary, in dutch, in the car. It was amazing how much I could pick up just from tone of voice.

The next day we had coffee with Luuk’s brother and his wife, and with Luuk’s uncle and aunt, and then lunch, and then we drove on to another city to visit Luuk’s grandmother.

pressies from oma
There were presents for the kids. And food. Everywhere we went. All we do in the Netherlands is eat. Yeah, because that’s so different from when we’re at home…

IMG5828

Photo I took day after we got back.

We returned for Louis’ last week of school. He is now on summer holidays, les grandes vacances. He is going to a holiday program three days a week, which is even longer days than school. I was nervous on Monday. I made sure he was at the same program as a friend. But he was ready to go off with the other kids before said friend even arrived. Monday evening he didn’t really want to leave. Yesterday he painted a castle.He’s off today, but looking forward to tomorrow.

I tend to dread school holidays. I used to be a teacher so this is quite the turn-around. But with Louis at the holiday program and Elena doing halte garderie as per normal, until the end of July, I’m able to go on as usual, or close to it.

I finished my mad-cap novel, the one I dashed out in under three weeks, and now I’m juggling two projects: edits of a contemporary novel that my writers’ group is helping me revise, and an adaptation of my other historical novel into a screenplay. I’m not sure it’s fantastic screenplay material, but I want to get all the way through the process of writing a screenplay. Writing one from scratch will be less daunting if I’ve done it before.

 

Meanwhile, Luuk and I have finally made some plans for our summer holiday. We have three weeks in which to rest and see some sights. We were initially dreaming of a couple of lazy weeks sandwiched between a little sight-seeing in Greece or Croatia, but the cost of flying there is a little daunting. If we drive, we can stop at sights along the way, but that’s a whopping great drive. We started looking at those ‘sights along the way’ and we’ve decided to skip Greece and Croatia, for now, and instead will dip into Switzerland, Northern Italy (things we didn’t see last summer), Austria and a little southern Germany.

Perhaps we’ll be more organised next year, snag us some early-bird cheep airfares, and gallop around (cough-laze-about-cough) the Adriatic next summer.

Tell him he’s dreamin’.


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to the circus and back again

Tags :

Category : Daily Life , food

There’s another post about our NZ trip coming, but I thought I’d catch up on what we’ve been doing since our return to France, a month ago now. It being winter (though not of the polar vortex variety), the temptation is to hide indoors with food and board games and multiple series of television shows…

But! We’ve broken that up a little. We went to the Festival International du cirque de Massy last weekend: three hours of the top circus acts in the world. This included the guy who walked the high wire at the london olympics closing ceremony!

le semaphore des etoilesImage not mine.
I didn’t take any decent photos. That’s how good the show was.

See that bicycle? Yep, he rode it along the metal pole. That contraption looks insane, but the light bulb shaped bit turns around so that they start and finish horizontal. In the middle though, yeesh! Freaky.

There were other acrobatics, including a pair who dangle from a ‘rocket’ which was on a cable and flying around in circles above our heads.

Acrobaties Aériennes

All this took place inside a tent and seemed tiny to begin with. There was an orchestra up above the entrance way and one of the clowns performed out in among the audience, but all the rest was contained in the center.

For the kids, the highlight was the animals. No lions, but there were tigers and bears. And horses and baboons and dogs and monkeys…

bear on a ballThis one rode a motorbike at one point. And then the other bear jumped on the back.

Given the level of international acclaim, I would expect the animals are treated really well. I’d hope so. There seemed a nice camaraderie but I guess most adults see this sort of thing and hesitate. I’ve read ‘Water for Elephants’. I’ve heard the horror stories. The dogs and monkeys don’t concern us so much, perhaps because they’re more commonly domesticated and smaller, less dangerous and therefore less restricted. The entire ring was enclosed in a mesh cage for the tiger act but the bears wore muzzles and the humans performing with them seemed a lot less wary of danger.

So that was the circus festival that descends annually on Massy, a suburb just south of us. If we’re still here next year, it’d be hard to resist.

This weekend just gone was more placid. We had plans but most fell by the wayside because the kids were sick and we were all exhausted. My fault, the exhaustion.

On Friday night I had writers’ group in Paris. We ate and talked and caught up, and then the four of us read our work and discussion/critique followed… all good. All good. And then, magically, it was twenty to midnight. It takes me about an hour to get back, two metros and then the RER train. And the last RER trains to Antony leave Chatelet Les Halles after midnight, but still, I marched through the metro stations like my tail was on fire. The platform at Chatelet was busy, the train was arriving. I got a seat, breathed a sigh of relief and settled in to read.

And then, some twenty minutes later, I realised I’d taken the train to Robinson. The line forks south of the city and I was on the wrong fork! On the last train! Stranded, in the burbs, at one in the morning… not so smart. I probably could have taken a taxi, but I didn’t think of that till after Luuk and the kids were on their way to pick me up.

I was wired, the kids weren’t well and didn’t want to go back to sleep, and none of us got many winks before three am. Needless to say, Saturday was all but a right-off. Louis’ school had open day in the morning, so we went to his classroom, saw his artwork and talked to his teacher. Then we popped down to the ludotheque to return a game and borrow another, but didn’t linger long. We were concerned that the kids might have Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. It seems to have come to nothing (either it wasn’t that, or it was a very mild case) but we were careful.

Sunday, the grand plan had been visitors for lunch. I’d bought a giant pumpkin at the market, while with my friend Claudia. And she sent me a recipe for fondue-stuffed pumpkin, so I insisted they join us to try it. But her kids were just recovering from the dreaded H,F&M, so they stayed away and we had the pumpkin to ourselves.

cheese fondue stuffed pumpkin

Recipe:

Cut off the top of the pumpkin and scrape out all the seeds, etc. Bake some (old) bread in the oven while it’s heating up. Then make the cream mixture:

1 1/2 cups cream
1 cup stock
salt and pepper and nutmeg

Grate 400 grams of swiss cheese. The recipe said to use half emmental and half gruyere, but I just used gruyere.

stuff the pumpkin with layers of bread, cream, cheese, bread, cream, cheese… and then put the lid on. Paint the outside of the onion with a little oil and then bake for an hour or so.

To serve, make sure you scoop out the pumpkin from the sides and not just the cheese and bread in the middle…

Et voilà!

 

 


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so much to do

Yikes, I’m getting rather far behind, telling the tale of our month long visit to New Zealand. I’ve been editing my heart out… which sounds violent, and it is. Cut cut cut those nasty adverbs and all those corny cliches. And whole pages of superfluous faff.

Anyway, I usually do a blog post or two each week, and still keep up with my writing, but just at the moment there is a fire under my bottom because in one month I’m off to London for an Author Fair, wherein I will have a chance to pitch a novel (or two…) to a real live literary agent.

So it might just be one blog post a week for the next little while. And lots of photos.

Starting as we mean to go on:

IMG4384

Rolling a ball, nice and gentle (ahem), with Oma.

We spent Christmas at Luuk’s parents’ place, in the Waikato. Luuk’s brother and his family were due to arrive Christmas day afternoon, which meant a long wait for presents.

computer kids

But fortunately there were plenty of toys. Mind you, who plays with toys when there are computers, stereos and handy dandy spare keyboards around.

all the pressies

Fortunately there were a few presents to do earlier in the day, with my parents and Nana, but not until after church.

waikato (weather)

The view from outside the church, of Mount Pirongia and waikato weather… in the summer…

Elena and great Nana

Elena reading with her Great Nana.

backyard cricketLouis got a cricket bat from my parents, which Uncle David obligingly demonstrated, as the kids haven’t ever seen cricket before…

santa's many helpers

And then the cousins arrived! And then the presents were fair game!

christmas dinner

Fern and I cooked up a feast of a dinner, and managed to wear near-matching dresses… almost like pros.

christmas dinner: roast veg

Golden Roast Vegetables, and chorizo for good measure.

christmas dinner: salad

A divine salad of courgette ribbons, baby spinach, cherry toms, goats’ cheese, and rawhe ham (we happily ate leftovers for days.)

three kinds of pie

Dessert. Three kinds of pie. That’s right. Chocolate, Banoffee and Lemon Meringue. Awesomeness is pie.

christmas dessert

The kids, eating the pie.

saying goodnight to the presents

Elena and her cousins, all ready for bed.

elena and her big cousinElena and Briar, cuddling by the tree.

The next day we hung around and ate slightly less. Walked a bit of it off, trecking down to the Kaniwhaniwha* (say that five times fast) stream and back.

walking off christmas dinner

Walking to the stream, on the road, which fortunately doesn’t get a lot of traffic.

Kaniwhaniwha streem

*Kaniwhaniwha, pronounced, ka-nee-fa-nee-fa.

elena and Mt PirongiaElena walked the last little bit, up the driveway to Opa’s house.

settling catan with Dave

We spent some time settling Catan with Luuk’s brother, who won a LOT.

Santa's hangout in a NZ mall

We spent a little Christmas money at The Base (it’s a mall) and admired this Kiwi version of the universal Santa’s grotto mall installation. (They’re Pukekos.)

the sandpit at the other cousins'

We went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to catch up with my cousin and her kids, one of whom is in this photo – just. But there was a sand pit! It was like christmas.

rhinos at the hamilton zoo

We went to the Hamilton Zoo and the Rhinos were fantastic.

tuatara at the hamilton zoo

And the Tuatara was… alive. But we saw him!

chilling with opa

Back at Opa and Oma’s we chilled out.

cucumber on Louis' eyes

Who showed him that cucumber can go on your eyes? Fess up.

Elena was nightmarish with food (perhaps with reason, having been carted around the country and cutting several teeth…) but Louis tried a few new things. We have no idea where he learned this trick though.

Louis and me

Lovely chilled out days at in the rolling waikato hills.

Elena and me

I’m a human climbing frame. Also known as a parent. Any prone adult of whom my children aren’t afraid will do the trick.

Getting the belly raspberry revengeThe kids get their revenge: blowing raspberries on my stomach.


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The Christchurch Bit

We spent the first 12 days for our time in NZ staying with my parents in Christchurch. Here we recovered from jet lag.

elena falling asleep before dinnerElena kept nodding off in the high chair.

Luuk went to work the day after we arrived and for the whole following week… which meant our trip around the world didn’t gobble up ALL his annual leave.

Me, my parents, and the kids tried to keep busy, in order to resist four hour mid-afternoon naps. We did a supermarket trawl, for all the kiwi goodies we’d been going without for two years (pineapple lumps, gingernuts, raspberry licorice, rice crackers, yoyos, black forest chocolate, venison sausages…)

And then it was coffee time. A great NZ flat white was just spot-on. And so was the lolly cake.

lolly cake appreciation

 Elena agreed.

ducklings at northlands  And there were ducklings, in case the lolly cake wasn’t joy-giving enough.

On Saturday morning we visited the farmers’ market at Dean’s Bush. This place is just pumping now. It was always lovely, but I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of other places to go while so much is being rebuilt. We didn’t even get to the first stall before meeting more than one familiar face.

bumping into people at the riccarton market

Bumping into people at the Riccarton Market.

It took us probably an hour to get from one end to the other with all the impromptu catch-ups on the way. Luuk and I fortified ourselves with one of the best sausage rolls the world over, about half way along, and there were numerous other tastes and treats before we returned to the cars.

Next stop was the ‘encraftment’ market in the city center.

encraftment market, cathedral square, christchurch 2013

A friend of mine had a stall at this fantastic local craft market, so I was very excited to see her and browse her lovely wares. It was strange, however, to be back in the city center, which has been largely inaccessible to the public since the earthquakes. The cathedral will be demolished, but part of it remained and we had a good last look through the fences.

On Sunday we visited Ilam Baptist, where we used to go to church. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone (well, those who were there) and the kids enjoyed being around so many other kids. Having warned about two people of our arrival, we ended up lunching on our own, but actually it was quite nice to have a little time out.

fish'n chips after church

And some essential kiwi tucker – fish’n chips from Captain Ben’s.

Dad had the week off work, so the kids got lots of time with their grandparents. I took the opportunity to nap each afternoon, to do a little shopping on my own, and to see friends.

christmas cookies with gran

Louis making Christmas cookies with Gran.

christmas grotto, spreydon, 2013

Visiting the Christmas Grotto.

hagley park playground

Playing on the playground at Hagley Park
(after a lovely coffee and scone at the Curator’s House – things NZ does well…)

good ol' kiwis

Speaking of things NZ does well… kiwi fruit!

Elena spent much of the week climbing up and down my parents’ stair case, and didn’t tumble once (though she terrified us all plenty). The kids also enjoyed the piano, when they weren’t clonking their heads on it.

perks of gran's house

On the second saturday of our stay we resisted the market-pull and hosted an open-house kind of party, so that we could catch up with as many people as possible, in one day. It was fantasic, and exhausting, and probably fattening, but hey! it’s christmas.

the joy of stairs

There were lots of kids to play with and we probably neglected our own, talking the day away with friends from so many different circles.

In the evening there was BBQ, and so naturally it rained. Dad has stood in the rain for probably half of my birthdays, ever, cooking our meat. Once again, somehow, that was his lot. We ate our full, and then some, and then some hokey pokey and goodie goodie gum drops ice cream.

Somehow we’d managed to miss people at that one-big-get-together, so on our last night in Christchurch, Eva came over for dinner.

nose-bopping fun

Eva and Louis, nose-bopping.

We were in town long enough to see a few of our closest friends multiple times, to get past the bare-minimum catch-up stuff. Of course it wasn’t long enough, but one day we’ll be back. In the meantime, I haven’t any great certainty or insights into whether or not we want to move back to Christchurch in a hurry. We will most likely be back there sooner or later, but perhaps not forever. The city is changing all the time, and that could be an exciting rebirth to be a part of, or it might just be too difficult, going back. We can only wait and see.


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Quoi?

Category : Daily Life

Officially, POUR QUOI is the way to ask WHY in French. But with the right kind of eyebrow action (and a hand gesture might help) a good QUOI? does the trick. Literally, just WHAT?

Perhaps it’s PMS but there seems a lot of stupidity going around this week. Perhaps it’s teething and the terrible two’s last stand, but my kids are driving me up the wall.

Elena hates (loathes, attempts to destroy, screams at) the rain-cover on her push chair. This means a lot of noise, all the way to school, the market, and home again. It varies from screech to whimper but all of it’s miserable and really, truly, SHE’S FINE. Strangers comment, or just glare at me – terrible mother, clearly, ignoring the protests of my otherwise adorable daughter. Thing is, the moment I take off the rain cover, she’s fine. If I pilfer her a grape from the groceries, she’s happy as larry, until the grape is gone. Gah!

All this pales, of course, compared to the real problems in the world. Violence, oppression, bigotry, warped ideas about bodies and beauty in the media… But, gr.

Louis gets stuck on repeat, and feels the need to tell me, thirty times over before I’ve had my morning coffee, that he’s not going to go outside at school today. The decision, I’m afraid, is not up to him (or me for that matter) but he needs to stop saying it over and over and over, before I lose it.

School holidays have finished, at least, and we can return to routine and normality (for a month or so, then comes the Christmas Crazy – ie. trip to NZ!) I’m sure the kids will get into their groove. And I’ll get out of my rut.

I was doing the groceries online, earlier today, and was browsing through the international food categories. There’s USA (sweet popcorn is the only item in this category – quoi?) and then there’s TEX MEX. I scroll through two pages of burritos and tacos and guacamole with a surprisingly low percentage of avocado… and then at the very bottom of the last page –

tex mex and peanut butterSo this is why the French don’t like Peanut Butter… they think it’s tex mex! Quoi? (Doesn’t help, I’m sure, that it’s Skippy, hardly the best example of this delectable spread.)

I mean, I certainly mess with food, play with fusion, make up recipes as I go. I use sweet chilli sauce like the Thai never intended, probably, and the Italians would have some strong words about the way I make cannelloni, but where do you put peanut butter on a taco?

On Tuesday, in the rain, Elena and I went to the market. She wouldn’t sleep in the morning and so I figured she could grab a few winks between an early lunch and halte garderie (starts at 2pm).

It didn’t go well. First there was the rain cover to contend with, and then we were half an hour early to pick Louis up from school. So we went to Cafe de la Gare, which make awful coffee but an alright Lemon pressé. I let Elena stir in my sugar then wrestled the glass off her so I could drink it. But I used all my cash at the market and they won’t take my bank card for a 4 euro purchase. How much do I need to spend? Twelve, thirteen Euros. Quoi? He’s just pulling numbers out of the air, right? I got a croissant (Elena needed lunch – but she wouldn’t touch it – quoi?) and a hot chocolate (also held no appeal to the stirring-child who just wanted to load it with sugar packets, paper and all). Nine euros, he let me pay by card. Was the four euro reduction on account of the screaming toddler?

Then we got Louis and went home for a sham of a meal and (finally) Elena napped.

Randomly, I bought fish off a guy whose sister works in NZ, for the French ambassador. Small world, eh? Also managed to take the kids for their BCG vaccines (finally) and turns out the pediatrician knows a few kiwis in these parts, mostly rugby players, and once saw to Andrew Mehrten’s kids.

Speaking of rugby, we’re off to a game this weekend. For someone who grew up in NZ I’m not much of a fan. I’d been to two live games in my life before moving to France. This time next week, I’ll have been to as many in France as I ever did in NZ. Unfortunately, my warm coat is blue. Might have to fashion some black ferns on my cheeks, just to be sure.

 


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a few of my favourites

We will soon be visiting New Zealand, going home for the first time since we moved to France over 18 months ago. We’ve also been talking/thinking about what we want do to when/if our time in Paris is up (in theory, next June).

I could be organised and make lists of pros and cons… but a lot of the things I’d list probably aren’t really game-changers.

Still, here are a few of my highs and lows of life in Paris, or in my case, the Banlieue (suburbs outside the 20 arrondisements)…

Coffee here is a definite LOW. Australia and NZ are spoiled for fantastic coffee. Italy beats Paris, in my experience, but neither float my boat, after years of caffeinated artistry, care of the baristas down under. When in France… drink wine. Or pressé. Pressé is fresh squeezed juice, usually orange or lemon. This comes served straight up, with water and sugar on the side. Mix as you like. A lovely, long, refreshing and healthy drink.

luuk and kids at parkLuuk and the kids at a popular park in La Rochelle.

Parks for the people. In Paris, it depends on which bit you’re in, but out here the parks are fantastic. The play grounds tend to be fenced in. Adults sit around the edge, barely involved, while the kids play. But whether you’re at the playground or not, the parks are so well-used. They’re full of people. School gets out at half past four and the parks are buzzing till six. Later in summer, and a little earlier when it’s dark by five in the winter months… but the atmosphere is great. All the kids play together, adults sit around and talk, read, relax. Students picnic and study and smooch. People walk dogs, work out, watch the world go by. Lunch time is similar, and most of the day on wednesdays (no school) and weekends. People live so much more of their lives in public, in their community, surrounded by strangers, acquaintances, friends.

Public transport was the bad back-up plan back home, or it was for me. I hope to approach it differently when we return. Here, I walk or take public transport nearly everywhere. Once a week (at most) we drive somewhere. I walk five kms in a normal day, just taking the kids to their things, picking them up, buying bread or running errands. Visiting friends often takes me further, but a trip to the park is barely a detour. Louis rides his kick-bike and can easily go faster than me. It can get a little chaotic in the market, on busy footpaths or in tiny shops, but that’s always going to be the case with two toddlers in tow. Unless they’re asleep.

Fresh bread is so readily available, at a good price. If you can’t eat wheat then France is difficult, but if you can, it’s heaven.

Several hundred types of cheese. Need I say more? (My previous post is a roquefort-rant if you want more on this…)

The markets, with their numerous fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, fromageries, traiteurs, poissoneries… I could go on and on. Just this once, I won’t.

friends and foodFriends and Food, the perks of everywhere!
(Me and my art historian and cellist friend, at a 4th July BBQ…
cooked up by her French chef husband… c’est la belle vie.)

It’s hard to get to know locals and perhaps more-so in France than in many places in the world. I’ve met a few at the playground and formed one actual friendship with someone I met while our toddlers fought over sand-pit toys. But most of my friends are expats. I’ve gotten to know a few locals through expat friends – spouses, friends, partners, etc. But expats attract expats and – man alive! – what a fascinating bunch. I have friends from so many different walks of life. The majority are English or American, with a few Aussies, Germans, South Africans and Fijians thrown in, but the diversity exceeds the list of nationalities. Dancers, musicians, travelers, art historians, an orchestra conductor, translators, theatre types, writers, rugby players, mums with such a wide variety of pre-mum work, and then there’s the variety of ways we’re all doing motherhood. Old, young, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, bit-of-everything, bit-of-barely-anything. All this difference is fascinating and enriching, challenging and liberating.

Picnic at Ostia AnticaPicnic at Ostia Antica, ruined city near Rome.

Access to Europe is a definite HIGH of being in France. The limit on our time here gives us plenty of motivation to visit places, to take advantage of every opportunity, but there is a LOW side to that: rest-guilt. It can be hard to just chill. And sometimes we need to chill. The other LOW is the cost of travel and it’s easy to feel guilty about that too. And then there’s a bit of guilt for dragging the kids around when they’d really rather be pushing each other off a slide. Still, they have a longer attention span for art galleries than many adults I know. It’s a helluva lot cheaper to visit Switzerland from here than from NZ. And we can watch tv/play board games/read The Luminaries any time we like, for the rest of our lives, in NZ. And so… a long weekend in Switzerland, in February? Without the kids?

C’est une bonne idée.

Language is both a HIGH and LOW. The kids are learning, Luuk’s nearly fluent and I’m making progress. It’s a wonderful thing, learning another language. But, ouff, it’s hard. And some days I really cannot be arsed dealing with it. That’s the ugly and honest truth.

Do I want to stay longer in France? Yeah, I think so. But not too long. There’s another Hobbit movie coming out and I’m about to be bombarded with poster-pictures of good ol’ kiwiland. I’m ready for a summery Christmas surrounded by English-speakers who I’ve known for years and years.

And roast lamb, gingernuts, jelly, venison sausages, flat whites, cheese scones, Chinese food (NZ styles), pineapple lumps, rice crackers, meat pies, pavlova, fish’n chips, mountains in the distance, eavesdropping, getting the jokes, fearless phone calls, endless oceans, empty beaches, bare feet, giant jaffas, pesto with cashew nuts crushed through it… I’m getting carried away.

east coast, nz, dawn

Le fin.


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the roquefort problem

Once you’ve discovered Roquefort, you’re always vulnerable. You’re always in danger because you cannot un-know how good it is.

can't get enough roquefort

Once you’ve (inevitably?) purchased a chunk of this potent, brilliant cheese you’ve a real problem because that stuff doesn’t last long. It needs eating. Or at least, that’s what it tells you; that’s what it whispers from its layers of foil and cheese-paper, sequestered in the not-quite-sealed cheese container in the fridge.

Melted on steak, stuffed in mushrooms, smushed onto bread or just pealed from the knife, you will eat the whole lot. And then lick the knife.

Which is all well and good until you’re trying to watch your diet and discover how many calories this stuff packs.

(Actually, the calories are about the same as every other cheese, if you’re wondering. If you can make a small amount of strong cheese satisfy, as opposed to a large amount of mild cheese, you’re in luck. Unless you live outside of France, or don’t have the funds. Sorry.)

I’m having The Roquefort Problem (not yet recognised universally by psychologists…) with Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo is an annual novel-writing challenge. Fifty thousand words in one month, that’s the goal. At first it is a strong flavour to get your tongue around, but once you know it, once you love it… well, there’s just no going back. At least, not for me.

November starts in a few days and I MUST NOT WRITE ANOTHER SHODDY FIRST DRAFT.

That’s not to say my first drafts are uniquely shoddy. First drafts tend to be shoddy, in comparison to their fifth/sixth/seventh drafts (ie. the ones worth publishing, best case scenario).

I am in the throes of fine-tuning two near-finished (probably… possibly…) manuscripts and that is what I need to focus on, not the shiny new sports car that is Nanowrimo. It will jet me off to some fascinating new location with fascinating new friends, and enthrall me for a month and leave me with YET ANOTHER unfinished novel.

I have ideas. I daydream about novel-ideas. I haven’t written a new one in a while. When these two manuscripts are shining bright and actually done-with I have at least two more waiting in the wings. Major rewrites involve lots of new writing, so I will get to do some fresh work in there, but I know myself. I will be tempted by that shiny sports car. I will need a line in the sand.

We recently instituted a new rule, aiming to get ourselves into bed earlier: no starting a new tv show after 9pm. This is working wonderfully, or would be if we didn’t then read and read and read… but it’s certainly helping.

New rule for me: no new novels until something is published. Or at least underway to be published.

Deal.

Nanowrimo, like Roquefort, is a wonderful thing. If you need a kick of motivation and a world-wide community of cohorts procrastinating- I mean working right along side you, cheering you on, do it!

But I better not. Not this year. I got some feedback from a literary agent and if I can make the changes she suggested, in an impressive time-frame, then hopefully, fingers-crossed, we might have ourselves a real chance…

Fingers crossed, next year I’ll be doing Nanowrimo.


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reentry

rentree

Apparently, that’s what re-entering the earth’s atmosphere looks like. In France they call the first few weeks of school the ‘rentrée’ and, yep, it’s a bit like that. Louis even had a fever at one point (he’s all better now) so there was burning – and the sausages I overcooked, I suppose. That’s the kind of thing I tend to do when there’s too much going on. I start forgetting things.

We got back from Italy on the Sunday night, thinking school might start the next day. It didn’t, fortunately, but Elena had her first session at the halte garderie.

first day at halte garderie

They start them off with ‘adaptation’…

Day 1: I go with her and we both stay and play for an hour.

Day 2: she does the second half hour by herself.

Day 3: a whole hour en seul.

Day 4: if all goes well (and it did) she does an hour and a half there on her own.

Day 5: two hours.

And then the next week she goes for her ordinary three half-days (3 hours), which will be the usual habit from now till next July… minus Christmas holidays and the like.

My lovely friend Erin watched Louis while Elena and I stayed at halte garderie for an hour, but the next day Louis sat in the salle de réunion (waiting room?) and played on my ipad for the first half hour. Then we went to the park, which he was happy about.

And Elena? She loves it. She has a thousand toys and two kind teachers, a few english-speaking (as much as any of them speak at 15 months) kids in her group, and cried only once – when Louis and I came to pick her up and waved through the window, then ‘disappeared’ to go in the door. She thought we’d gone. We were only on our way inside, but out of sight.

School for Louis started on Thursday. This information was on the noticeboard, on the fence, outside the school. I saw it on Monday afternoon, but we’d already figured out there wasn’t any school because the menu didn’t start till thursday. That’s right. We could find out on the internet what the kids were having for lunch, but we couldn’t find out when they started school.

A couple of days later we got the local magazine in the mail and on the back is the menu for the whole month:

menu at maternelle

Louis eats bread. I’d have thought he’d want the pasta, the deserts, the petit pois (peas) but no, apparently he only eats bread. This is what Louis tells me, so it’s possible he’s forgetting some delicious morsel of… no, probalby he’s just eating bread.

Je ne comprends pas.

He did just the morning the first day, coming home for lunch. On friday we thought he could try a full day. We want him to stay there for the lunches as we’ve heard it’s an environment which has helped many a stubborn un-adventurous eater to try new things, but he can’t stay for lunch unless he stays all afternoon. After lunch they have a two hour sleep and then the last ninety minutes of the day are free-time, easy play, or so it seems.

This week he’s done full days every day, with mixed success. He’s napping no problem, and has been dry about half the time (no nappies at nap time). He doesn’t eat much but that hardly makes for a dramatic change. He was upset on Tuesday morning. Luuk dropped him off before going on a work trip, so perhaps there was some added tension there.

first day of school, afternoon tea Afternoon tea at the park, after school. Comfort food and some big changes for the little man.

hot chocolate after school

On Tuesday it rained so I took Louis to Café de la Gare for a chocolat chaud. We have half an hour to kill between when he finishes school and when Elena finishes halte garderie, so if this wintry weather keeps up we will soon figure out where to get the best chocolat chaud in town.

Wednesday is a day off, every week, all year around, for French schools. Older kids have clubs and extra-curriculars. Little kids need the rest. It was grey and miserable, so we stayed home and baked muffins.

fig, banana and white chocolate muffins Banana, fresh fig and white chocolate muffins.
(Yes, Louis picks out the figs when he eats them.)

Louis and Elena watching fishWednesday’s outing: lots of errands and the fish pond!

School went a bit better on Thursday. I stayed for a while when we dropped him off in the morning. We did some painting and he was drawing happily until I told him I had to take Elena home for a sleep – and that he didn’t need one, because he’s a big boy, so he could stay at school and do all the fun things with the other kids.

He was not convinced. He cried. I felt a bit guilty all day. But at the end of it Louis’ teacher proudly informed me that he’d actually spoken to her! Progress! It’s all in French, of course, so he’s got a lot to adjust to.

This morning he was upset again, but more readily distracted with a truly impressive selection of those toys with beads on a wire.

wire bead toy

Comme ça.

So hopefully he’s doing okay. He should be asleep at school at the moment. Elena is too (here, at home) and I could nap, probably. I have succumbed to a cold. The kids had a bit of chesty cough last week but got better within a couple of days. Lucky things.

There’s a meeting for parents at Louis’ school tomorrow, but other than that the only thing on this weekend is Antony’s famous annual cheese and wine fair. It’s incredible. The whole neighbourhood is a-buzz with preparations today. The lights are strung up like christmas. There are roads closed, stalls set up all along the streets, the whole shebang.

Might have to find me some medicinal bordeaux after I’ve picked up Louis from school.


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Islanders at Heart

Category : Seeing the World

We took the Ferry across to Ischia, out of Naples, on Saturday morning and started on our beach-bum tans while waiting for the boat. Whew! It was a hot day.

Ischia from the marinaThe island greeted us with tiny busy beaches and empty restaurants, so we went for lunch…

antisocial writersElena was asleep at this point. While we waited for our pizza I kept on with the thing I’d been writing on the ferry. And Louis did some writing too. Poor Luuk, surrounded by all these antisocial artists.

After lunch we found our bus, and then our hotel, and set out for the pool, or did we nap first? I forget. Anyway, those were the events. We hadn’t pre-booked to have dinner at the hotel so went out late in the afternoon to explore the town and find some food.

We found a playground but many of the restaurants weren’t serving yet and the one we chose served our pasta a good half hour after everything else had been eaten. Bad form! Kids were losing it. We booked dinners at the hotel every night after that and even though they weren’t always early we could at least go straight to bed after (and a few times put Elena down before dessert).

We had a ground floor room, which was particularly handy for letting the kids nap. We could sit in the lobby or even go out to the pool and check on the kids easily (don’t worry, we did so often!)

Sunday was a bit of a mess. Luuk was running out of clean clothes and ventured to town to find a laundromat. And then came the rain. I took the kids to the indoor pool for a while then returned to the room for a nap. Luuk came back, a while later, drenched and unsuccessful. If there was a laundromat in Forio he hadn’t found it, or it had been closed (Sunday afternoon, after all). So we did hand washing. Lots and lots of hand washing.

Monday was better. The sun shone. We walked down to the shore for lunch and found a restaurant with this view:

restaurant on the water, ischia Not bad, eh?

And then there was the food.

best fisherman's basket EVERThis was my lunch. Best fisherman’s basket the world over. Go on. Prove me wrong.

I did learn how to cut and de-bone tiny fish while I ate it. Educational as well as delicimoso! (Not italian, just, um, blythian?)

on the boardwalkElena and I, on the boardwalk (boards aside).

We walked down to the town again, on the hunt for singlets for Luuk, but it was siesta-time. Bad luck.

The next day we went to Ischia – the town named for the island. The rest of the time we were in/near Forio, another town on the island, Ischia. Confused. My work here is done…

The roads on Ischia (the whole island) are narrow, have no footpaths, and are really best for scooters. But there are busses, which was how we got around, and they tended to be packed full. I suppose there’s a point where it gets safer because if there’s a crash you actually cannot fall over. Anyway… to Ischia we went, on the bus, and arrived safe and sweaty.

off to the castle aragonese

Our main goal here was the Aragonese Castle, which is on a big rock off the edge of the town.

Louis and Luuk walking to the castle

Walking is way more fun on a wall, didn’t you know?

The castle has a fascinating history, but I won’t go into that in great depth. There was a nunnery up there, suffice to say, and when the nuns died their bodies would go into this crypt:
where the nuns went after death

They would be propped on these chairs and as they decomposed all the bits would drain into vessels beneath. The bones would eventually be all that remained and these were buried in mass-graves – all part of a very strict and rather bleak religious perspective.

dome on aragonese castle, ischia

The castle was both fascinating and beautiful, occasionally at the same time. There’s a cafe, here in the gardens, beside one of the many churches and the old nunnery.

climbing the aragonese castle

 

Exploring the rock/castle, a bit slower with the kids, and hotter with that hottie on my chest.

church missing its dome, aragonese castle

On the far side, another church, of which only the shell remains.

ischia in blue

For all there was to see up on the rock, there was plenty to enjoy in the view alone.

the world is my jungle gym

To Louis, the world is his jungle gym (hey, at least he’s not climbing on some two thousand year old rocks… wait, that was just before we took the photo…)

elena and I, olive terrace

At the top, on the Olive terrace, Elena (and me, if I’m honest) getting very sleep after lunch.

ischiaWe were pretty worn out by the time we finished exploring the castle, and then there was the trip back on the mad, packed busses. And doesn’t it look like rain? Well, that’s because it’s going to let rip. We ended up walking a few kms of the way home because we missed a bus (too full).

The next day was properly lazy. We did nothing, venturing out only for lunch a short walk away. The restaurant we chose was right on the beach and a little paddle after lunch was not enough, so the following day we went to the beach for the whole morning.

Luuk and Elena, post-swim

Elena, my brave girl, and her beach babe of a dad.

pizza place, on the beach, forioLunch! The same place, ah sure, why not? When you find a good pizza…

I had a lazy day next, but Luuk and Louis climbed the volcano, Epomeo of hollow-earth fame. They found lots of lizards and blackberries and gated-off tunnels (presumably where someone has gone a digging for the centre of the earth). They returned to find Elena and I well tanned and rested and I think I’d read a whole nother book at that point. I read about eight that week, and wrote a bit too. I even did postcards, though they didn’t go in a mailbox till we were back home. Bien sûr.

On our last day we went to Giardini La Mortella, incredible gardens which came highly recommended.

water lillies, with the kids

Luuk and the Kids looking for frogs.

Louis exploring giardini la mortella

Louis exploring the gardens.

lilly pads and fountains at giardini la mortella

Giant lily pads, and crazy fountains.

aviary at giardini la mortella

The aviary.

teapot bird houses at giardini la mortella

Teapots for bird houses, why the heck not?

gardens are for lovers

Art on the walls of the Temple of the Sun. It’s the eyes that get me.

drinking fountain, giardini la mortella

The drinking fountain, which Louis insisted on turning on/off and drinking from without aid. I didn’t realise how complicated it was to drink from one’s own hands, but ’tis.

frangiapanis at giardini la mortella

Frangiapanis!

louis on the turtle at the temple of the sunLouis on the turtle, in the temple of the sun.

We had fancy tea in fancy pots, with a light lunch at the tea house, then the kids crashed and we returned to the hotel for swims and naps and dinner and bed…

The next day we did the bus, ferry, bus, plane, train and walk back to our little apartment in Antony, just in time for the madness of France’s la rentrée… which I’ll tell you all about in my next post.