Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memories, dreams, and reflections

Which is not my title, it's a book title. But I dabble in all three from time to time.

It is an odd time, many bridges to cross, all figurative. The month of May is like that in France. Tomorrow is a holiday, actually a double holiday. Labor Day and Acension Day. Labor Day is always May 1st but Acension Day isn't. Since it's a thursday, most people aren't working on friday and the boys don't have school. Same deal next week - May 8th is to celebrate the end of WWII and then monday is Pentecost, so a five day weekend with the bridge. Don't ask me how the economy stays afloat. I only know that paying off my student loans while the dollar is record low makes it so much more fun than before. SallieMae and US Department of Education, I'll see your criminally high interest rates and I'll raise you a kick-ass exchange rate.

As for dreams, well, Meghan, one of my shadow sisters, visited me in a dream last week. Blunt as always in my dreams, she told me I didn't belong here, where we were, in the dream. I was trying to go back, and you can't, she said as she kissed my cheek. So I woke up.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Something like an urban legend

So, there's been talk of an IKEA opening in Rennes. As a matter of fact, they've been talking about it for years. And then they started building it, or at least that's what everyone said. And they've been saying that for a while. Yesterday, internet searches, phone calls to friends who often go to Rennes and phone books revealed that, in fact, there is still no IKEA in Rennes. Will there ever be? Is it really under construction? Will everyone just have to keep going to the one in Nantes for years to come? I cannot say.

But I can say that I've learned a new word. L'arlésienne. Which comes from a short story by Alphonse Daudet. And which has come to mean an inexistent person or an overexistent person. Like what's his name in the Usual Suspects. Like the IKEA in Rennes.

I know, I know, IKEA isn't a person, but the one in Rennes is definitely both inexistent and overexistent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ah, le mercredi

Wednesdays are funny in France. It's like a parenthetical notation in the sentence that is the rest of the week. Grade school children don't have school so you see them everywhere. Either with their mothers or grandparents or caregivers or in groups with adults from childcare centers being led around the city center. To the library, to the cinema, to the shops, to the bakery.

If someone mentions work schedules and says quatre/cinquième (4/5), chances are the one day off is wednesday. When a mother says she's returning to work, after a parental leave, for example, the first question everyone will ask her is: As-tu ton mercredi? Do you have your wednesday (off)? All the sports activites and music classes and pony clubs and whatever else are on wednesdays, which means most moms spend the day in the car.

I don't know quite how I feel about it. I like having a break in my work week, it's a day to catch up on papers I need to grade or lessons to plan. And it's nice for the kids to have a break too, their school days are really long, especially on the two days when they eat at the cafeteria. 8:30-4:30. That's 8 hours. It's organized well, recess happens twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, but still. I sometimes wonder if they wouldn't do better in a system that had fewer hours everyday, including wednesday. It's been talked about occasionally here. But then everyone who has a job linked to the current schedule throws a fit. The teachers because they like the break to do the same things as me. The sports and activites people because they like to be able to do things all the same day. And then of course everyone starts tossing out the French classic: mais ça a toujours été comme ça. But it's always been that way.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Several things

Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

1. I am fine. The boys are fine.

2. It's still not spring. They speak of it coming one day but I'm doubtful. There are, theoretically, blooming pink trees and magnolias have supposedly come and gone, but I've seen none of it. How could you? Too much rain and hail and wind and cold.

3. I did see, however, a beautiful rainbow on saturday afternoon. I didn't even bargain with any saints to get it. Others, on the other hand, are probably bargaining in my favor. Thank you, all of you.

4. I do not have a brain searing headache and I am not in a funk and neither of these states is a result of drugs, prescription or otherwise. These are things to be grateful for.

5. Can someone please pick me a theme song?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chart this

I probably don't have permission to post this, so please, no one report me to the Economist. I visit their website regularly and would be very sad if I were no longer a welcome guest. I tried to do it the legit way and it didn't work so I'm left to my own devices.

By the way, Falling short, it's their title, not mine.

Falling short

Apr 8th 2008

NORWAY is the most generous rich country, giving nearly 1% of its national income in foreign aid in 2007. Total net aid from the 22 countries of the OECD development assistance committee fell by over 8% to $103.7 billion as debt-relief payments tapered off. Each country gave an average of 0.45% of GDP, some way off the UN target of 0.7%. Only five countries achieved this. America, the biggest total donor, is miserly compared with most other countries.


This is, in part, what I was trying to get to the other day and didn't express clearly. How many of you have heard how much we give in foreign aid? Heard the government lament about how much we spend on helping other countries? Well, it's true, $21.8 billion is a lot of money, but no one who complains about how much we give ever mentions that proportionally, we actually do a lot less than many other countries. That's what I was trying to get to - we frame things, we gloss them over and we lie. Yes, yes, you're right, maybe everyone does.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On anchors and roots

Saturday was a strange day. More of the those ridiculous spring showers (of rain or hail depending on the mood of the skies) that come out of a cold nowhere and don't feel like spring at all. By 11:00 my house was oddly calm, the children had left for Nantes to stay for a week (school vacation again) and I had the whole day to do nothing or anything.

I spent most of the afternoon at La Maison... (anciennement La Maison Renaise), my favorite café/salon de thé. I lounged about and drank warm beverages and spoke with very interesting people. And one of the things we talked about was Laval. We talked about how this peculiar little city leaves its non-native residents, foreign or otherwise, feeling neither enracinés nor ancrés. Neither anchored nor rooted here. A woman I spoke with said that, after 21 years of living here, she still feels like we grow here like hot-house tomatoes, not the real ones that grow in ground. Despite friends and children and jobs and homes and cafés and all those other things that make you feel like you belong somewhere.

I haven't lived in that many places, only 8, and for lengths of time varying from 3 months to 16 years. But of those 8, this is the only one that has slipped through my fingers.

We agreed that it was not necessarily a bad thing. Like being a foreigner, being rootless and anchorless allows for a certain amount of detachment and, for me, freedom. I am a guest here, both privileged and limited.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bonjour tristesse

Did you know that melancholy used to be one of the seven deadly sins ? Melancholy? Really? Deadly?

They traded it in for sloth sometime during the 17th century.

So I got to thinking about melancholy. Being sad and gloomy. Is that really all that bad? And sometimes it isn’t even that. It’s more like pensive than gloomy. Like pensive with an edge. Edgy contemplation.

I did find an archaic definition that explains the sin aspect. It referred to sullenness and outbreaks of violent anger caused by black bile.

Now that sounds nasty. Black bile. Moral sludge generated by equal measures of sadness, anger, guilt and confusion. Sounds a lot like a crise de foi / foie. A liver crisis of faith. Or a faith crisis of the liver.

The solution for melancholy? Chocolate, I think. Soul salve. Not as good for the liver though. The solution for black bile? Equal measures of rainbows, unicorns, cotton candy and sand castles.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Something that makes my day

Or even my week.

Getting packages from friends and family. I honestly don't even care what's it the package. It's just like getting a sweet piece of home from someone who cares. It's so nice. We got three packages this week. One from Beth with ginger chews. Hot and sweet. Everything in life should be hot and sweet.

And then 2 (two!) packages from my brother and sister-in-law, with magazines and candy for the boys (they were thrilled - peanut butter cups are to them what ginger chews are to me), and even more ginger chews. Which Boy1 has now decided he likes. It's funny to watch him eat them. He always keeps a glass of water nearby.

So, friends and family and, thank you all for thinking of us and sending things from time to time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Not Miss Météo

I'm not really into the weather. I don't monitor it, other than to decide which clothes to set out for the kids to wear to school.

I've never been particularly weather sensitive, other than to the heat. Over 75 and I start to melt.

I grew up in Illinois with the snow and the wind and the cold and the odd springs and hot, humid summers. And then I lived in North Carolina where it was, for about 4 months of the year, too hot for me. But I survived and didn't bitch about it too often. Then I moved to Seattle. Everyone bitches about Seattle weather. But I didn't. Ever. I loved Seattle weather. I loved the mist and the perfect (usually) mild summers and the moderate winters. And even the rain. It never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. I never used an umbrella in Seattle. I didn't even own one.

And then I moved here.

And now, this year especially, I find myself feeling being somethinged by this ridiculous weather.

Les giboulées de mars. March showers. Although I find showers only hints at what giboulées really means. And believe me, I have pointed out to the skies that March is over.

In fact, it's weather chaos. Chaos linked to the passage from winter to spring. That transition from the quiet knowing that is winter to the necessary doing that is spring. Sunny every once in a while, cold, harsh wind with oddly timed showers of rain or hail or huge melting snowflakes like we had yesterday. No snow, not one flake, all winter long and then, on April 6th, it snows.

Perhaps I'm the one who got it wrong. Is it supposed to be necessary knowing and quiet doing? Either way, it feels like neither.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On being firm

And I'm not talking about body parts.

I'm talking about being marked by firm determination.

About being bold and steady. About being intègre. Which I saw translated as just but that doesn't seem right. Whole seems better, as in being completely whole. Whatever that is.

About being résolu. Resolute.

In French, résolu is the past participle of the verb résoudre, to resolve. So how is resolute different from resolved? To resolve can mean to find a solution, to remove doubts, to cause to progress from dissonance to consonance, to render parts visible and distinct. How do you get from here to there? How do you separate the image parts visible and distinct? How do you make them whole? How do you give them back their integrity?

And why don't we have an adjective for intègre? Someone who is whole, true to himself. What is he?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Against the wind

I may be fooling myself. It wouldn't be the first time.

But I currently believe that there are times when the only solution to whatever ails is to be still and just let the world rearrange and reshape. To do anything else, to force anything, would just be counterproductive.

Last night at dinner, I learned a great new expression that perfectly illustrates my point.

Qui pisse contre le vent, se rince les dents.

He who pisses against the wind rinses his teeth.