August in France

The month of August in France: when the entire country goes on vacation. Shops in Paris close down, the Côte d’Azur fills with tourists. It’s hard not to love a country so intent on enjoying itself. In the U.S., the thought of closing a store or restaurant for a day, let alone a week or a month, merits close consideration of risks, costs, and benefits. Business owners just don’t do it. Yet I’ve seen boulangeries in Paris with handwritten signs in their windows declaring themselves closed, temporarily, with no explanation and often no details on when they plan to reopen. Weeks later, the doors open once more, the scent of fresh pastries drift onto the sidewalk, and the well-rested shop owners smile, nothing amiss. My business owner friends in the U.S. would never close their doors so they could take a vacation. American customers have expectations that our favorite haunts will be there for us, without fail, and if they aren’t, well, forget them. We’ll find somewhere else. And we do. I’ve seen French business owners in the U.S. try to operate their shops à la française… they never last. Often they are perplexed as to why they lost their “loyal” customers. The French in France and their lack of concern for the “consequences” of shutting their doors enjoy a freedom that’s hard to comprehend, yet hard not to admire.

My husband misses summers in France – as a child, August meant days filled with sailing on the Mediterranean, staying up late as the day never seemed to end, and enjoying time with his whole family; they were able to leave their jobs and go on vacation for most of the month.

So, instead, we have: Le Point. A major weekly news magazine in France. DSC02060

Le Point keeps my husband connected to the goings-on in his home country. But in August, the magazine fills up with articles on history and philosophy, many of them probably written long ago and pieced together to make a full magazine. As if even the politically-obsessed French, journalists and readers alike, can’t be bothered with current events and politics while on vacation. Instead, it’s filled with stories, like the issue above, featuring Rome’s fall. Still highly intellectual and analytical, along with a bit of purple prose, it’s a touch of downtime. A beach read, French style.

Soon, Paris streets will once again fill with people dressed in their dark clothes, doing the métro-boulot-dodo. One weekend left – for the French, and for us, here – before school begins. The mornings in Colorado are already crisp, the sun rising later and setting earlier; fall is in the air.

One more weekend to celebrate summer, have a BBQ, and read Le Point.

Enjoy!

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part II)

Continuing on with my photos from Nice:

Bassin du Commerce

Bassin du Commerce

Reflections of Nice

Reflections of Nice

Nice

Nice from the Colline du Chateau

Rooftops of Old Nice

Rooftops of Old Nice

Accordionist on the Fete de la musique

Accordionist on the Fete de la Musique

Lining up to register for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com'on, France!

Lining up to check in for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com’on, France!

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

129 Nice

Hotel Negresco. Olga the angel lived just up the street from here.

Hotel Negresco

Musée Massena

Musée Massena

More of those lovely windows

More of those lovely windows

 

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part I)

Flashback Friday! And cheers to warm summer days and nights.

My introduction to France was in Nice, before the internet made research and reservations a breeze and when we still had to change currency and check passports each time we entered a new country. Backpacking through Europe with my cousin, we arrived in Nice by evening train and learned at the information stand that all the youth hostels were full. We couldn’t afford a hotel room, and while we worried that we might have to spend the night on the beach, made even more unappealing by the fact that I had a miserable chest cold, a fellow backpacker pointed out a white-haired woman carrying a red notebook. “She seems really sweet; she has a room to rent.” Thus we met Olga the Angel.

Olga was a spry woman with bright blue eyes and plenty of Je-ne-sais-quoi. Her red notebook was her guestbook, and entry after entry described a fabulous stay in Nice with Olga. She nursed me back to health with whiskey-laced hot chocolate, pointed us to her favorite restaurants and instructed us to say, “C’est bon!” no matter what, and strictly forbid us to take showers lasting longer than 5 minutes. We loved her and ended up staying with her twice as long as we’d originally planned. For me, France and Nice are forever colored by Olga’s bright smile and energy. My pictures from that time aren’t digital, but here are a few photos from a more recent trip to Nice:

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Espace Massena

Espace Massena

Marche des fleurs

Marche des fleurs

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice

We were there for the Fete de la Musique, a magical day in June where all the musicians come out on the streets to sing and play. This woman had an incredible voice:

074 Fete de la Musique

I love these Provencal windows

I love these Provencal windows

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old Nice

Old Nice

Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi

Old Nice

Old Nice

 

Summer Vacations and French Summer School

My month (+) long hiatus from blogging was unintended.

I had big ambitions for July of filling up my queue with posts, photos, throw backs to some journal entries of different adventures in France. Of getting some book and CD reviews out. I am now desperately embarrassed that I still haven’t completed those.

Instead, I spent most of July in San Diego. I could blame my lack of blog entries on the fact that I was there, alone for the most part, with my two-year-old boy (who is, as everyone I meet feels compelled to point out to me, “all boy”) and my almost four-year-old daughter. So, yes, that kept me busy. But the truth is: I’ve been lazy. In the best possible way. I’ve been idling away the hours at places like this:

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

Drinking in views like this:

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Drinking lots of this (minus the ghetto cups; ran out of glasses at this BK – before kids – party):

IMG_8862

Visiting with many dear friends, and eating fantastic food. I didn’t let 48 hours pass without a taco from one of my many favorite haunts.

It’s been a long time since summer actually felt like summer. Like a vacation. It’s one of the horrible truths no one tells us when we’re in school. Once you’re done, kiss summer vacation goodbye. With the U.S. standard of 2 weeks vacation per year, I spent more than a decade in the working world calculating how best to use that 2 weeks to spend holidays with family, take a short trip, and hoping that I didn’t get so sick I had to tap into vacation time. When I first discovered that France and most other developed countries had double or more the vacation time we get, and that it is a right by law (it isn’t in the U.S., each company decides how much vacation to bestow upon their employees) I was shocked and jealous. I still feel so grateful that I was in California when I had both of my kids. California has the most generous maternity and paternity leave policies in the U.S. Still, when compared to some countries, this isn’t saying much. I realize this falls deeply into the much maligned bucket of “First World Problems.” Still, I strongly side with the camp that says adequate down time improves performance, productivity, and creativity, and leads to stronger families which leads to a better future. I don’t define adequate down time as two weeks.

Now that I have kids and have the (very lucky) opportunity to step away from my career and stay home with them, summer feels like summer again. They are out of school (preschool), and we get to travel. This year to the place of summer dreams and our former home: San Diego.

We also used it as a chance to send our daughter to summer camp at her old school: the San Diego French American School. Our rationale: It’s too expensive to fly to France every year, but we really want to immerse our kids in French. So, we packed up the car, headed to San Diego, found an adorable bungalow blocks from where we used to live and right next to the first park we ever took our kids to, and trekked each day through the Southern California traffic (has it always been that brutal? I’ve only been away 10 months but I found it unbearable in a way I never did before) to school.

Results: Everything we’d hoped for. She had a great time, got to see old friends and familiar teachers. I’m told she understands everything and spoke mainly in French, rarely resorting to English. Her resistance to speaking with me in French is gone, for the time being. And with her San Diego “petit ami” – who is French – she spoke in French (unprompted) when playing with him. Success!

Next year, our son will be old enough to attend, too. Which means my kids will get an amazing opportunity to progress in French. And it means I’ll get a real vacation. I can rent a Laser and go sailing. I can go to the mall without herding my kids out of the clothes racks every two minutes. A book at the beach? I don’t remember what that feels like.

Summers are looking pretty fantastic.

 

Boulder, Colorado: Where Caring About Fashion is Unfashionable (and Unfathomable)

Boulder is ruining my Frenchman’s fashion sense.

Boulder is a place where anything goes. Seriously. I saw a 20-something woman walking along a main street downtown wearing nothing from the waist up. Nothing. Boobs, swinging in the wind. Dreadlocks tossed behind shoulders. People go shoeless as a fashion/political statement, not because they can’t afford shoes. Stilettos and Keens sit next to each other in restaurants. Long flowy hippie skirts or biking shorts; yoga pants or business suits or sundresses and Uggs – it’s all fair game.

Now, my husband was never on the cutting edge of fashion, and I’m a physical therapist – not a profession renowned for our fashion sense. But he’s French, so that meant button up shirts, a nice pair of slacks, maybe a polo on a more casual day. I admit there were a few items in his closet that succumbed to “Operation: Lost in the Move.” (Don’t even get me started on the pea soup-colored polo with the denim collar). But I never had to tell him: “Honey, we’re going out to dinner with my parents. Perhaps the Corona tank top isn’t the best choice….”He’s always dressed up for our dates. I’m one of those girls that is crazy about a sharply dressed man. Not too sharp – if he’s more into fashion than me, I grow suspicious. But my husband, like most Frenchmen, had just the right amount of sharpness.

So, the other day, he started out the door for work wearing a beat up pair of cargo shorts, a worn grey workout shirt, white socks (on a Frenchman!) and sneakers. Before I even stopped to think what I would sound like, I blurted, “Are you wearing that to work?”

He once-overed himself and then said, “Um, yeah?” in the form of a question.

“It’s just… really?”

“Carol, you should see what some of the guys wear to the office. This is dressing up.”

There is truth to that. A Google dress code doesn’t exist. Googlers take workplace casual to a level unheard of in most other corporations. Just drive by the office around lunchtime and watch the parade of engineers heading to the cafeteria dressed down – way down – and check out the hats a few of the more brilliant engineers wear. The other day, a guy crossed the street in front of me wearing a tophat made of white fur with a pig sticking out the top.

I get it, kind of. Google is a casual place stocked with geniuses where what’s between their ears matters a whole lot more than what’s on their backs.

But, still. I’ve always loved that even after years in the U.S., my husband’s wardrobe choices remained … French.

So, I said, “But, you’re French. French dudes don’t dress like that.”

He smirked. “French dudes, huh?”

“Yeah. That’s too much dude, not enough French. Seriously. Boulder is getting to you.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

I had to think about that. Truth is, I’m one of those people that believe the impression we make on others matters, and that what we wear has something to do with that. It’s not like I never grocery shop in my workout gear, or that I’m diligently following the latest trends, but I still think… work is a place where impressions matter. Dates with my husband are worth dressing up for. Putting on a dress and heels for a night on the town is fun.

A recent article in our local newspaper labeled Colorado as a state full of fashion offenders, and Boulder as the worst of the lot. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the end, he changed his work clothes. No longer verging on slob genius, but instead coiffed genius, he left for work.

And I spent the day asking myself existential questions about the importance, or lack thereof, of fashion and what we wear, whether it should affect how others view us or how we feel about ourselves, are we or are we not expressing ourselves through our choice of clothing, and why can Google geniuses get away with anything.

How very French of me.

Immersing in Language

There’s no doubt in my mind that immersion is the way to go when it comes to learning a language. It’s how we learn our mother tongues, after all. In my experience as an adult learner, I learned more in 3 weeks of complete immersion – in country – than I did from months of lessons taught in English. When immersed, it’s sink or swim. You don’t have the luxury of falling back on the language you know. You can’t wait for the English explanation that you know is going to come, and thereby tune out – even without doing so intentionally – the language you’re trying to learn.

My daughter attended a French immersion program for her first year of preschool. In that year, we saw her language ability in French – both in speaking and comprehension – skyrocket. Granted, we are a bilingual household, so she already had a good French base established. There were other children in her class, though, who had never heard French before arriving for their first day of school, and they were able to adapt quickly. For the preschoolers, the most utilized languages on the playground were French and English. By elementary school, the playground language was more often French. A good litmus test as it tells what language the kids are comfortable communicating in.

Now that we no longer have access to the immersion school, I struggle to find immersion experiences for my kids. Many of the French programs I’ve looked into use a lot of English to “explain” the French; far from ideal in my opinion. Most people – children and adults – will learn in a complete immersion environment when given visual aids, context clues, and an expressive speaker. I have yet to meet anyone who is competent in a language who didn’t have at least some form of immersion in their education. We’ve pieced together some experiences here and there – story times, French classes at the Children’s Museum, play dates.

We recently had family in town visiting us from France. By the end of their stay, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter was using full French sentences on a regular basis, and my two-year-old son was using more French words and partial phrases than I’ve ever seen him use. Total immersion, working. The kids even started speaking Franglais to each other – most memorably when fighting over a toy: “Mine jou jou !”  “Non ! Mine jou jou !” My daughter would come to me from time to time to ask me how to say something in French, then run to her Mimi to tell her whatever it was she wanted to say. My favorite moment: one night when my husband’s parents were heading out, we told the kids it was time to say good night. My son ran straight to his Papy, grabbed him into a leg hug, and said, unprompted, “Au revoir !” Priceless.

Finding a total immersion experience is not easy when living in a country that speaks the majority language (in our household, English, because this is what I speak and I’m with the kids the most, and it’s the language my husband and I use between the two of us). It would be easier if I spoke exclusively French with the kids and my husband, but I’m not so brave nor comfortable with my French. Knowing this, it’s heartening to see that the knowledge and ability are both there with my kids, they just have to be, well, forced to use it a bit. Pushed out of their English comfort zone.

[Edited Note: As a friend astutely pointed out, this is true for me as well. I, too, need to be pushed out of my English comfort zone; me speaking French with the kids helps us all. We do French activities - grocery shopping, zoo days, French dinners twice a week - where we speak only French, but I haven't made the leap to speaking French all the time. My aim is 30% - the magic number that some experts have said children need to learn a second language.]

In our near future we have French immersion summer classes in San Diego for the kids, a trip to France, and a French degree program for me (because seven years of higher education and a doctorate degree just isn’t enough school).

And so, our bilingual journey continues on!

 

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 2)

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people. I approached the summer we spent in Antibes thinking I would probably be at least a decade older than most of the students in the immersion program, and therefore likely to spend a lot of time alone. I brought my laptop and blank notebooks, thinking I’d spend most of the time I wasn’t in school working on my fiction and studying French. Instead, I met some of the most fabulous women (many my age on language vacations) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. As it goes with traveling, sharing a common experience, we bonded quickly and became fast friends. I have to admit I have many reservations about things like Facebook, and even blogging (it’s so public! I’m so exposed!), but these things have enabled me to stay in touch with these lovely ladies.

Here are some photos from a walk/hike I took around the Cap d’Antibes with one of those dear friends.

Cap d'Antibes

Cap d’Antibes

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes!

Daring locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes! The water is powerful and the rocks precarious. I just took photos.

551 Cap d'Antibes

554 Cap d'Antibes