My French Hubby Meets My Cowboy Cousins

The old and the new at the ranch

The old and the new at the ranch

I come from cowboy stock. The real deal. Cattle ranchers, living in a beautiful bit of wilderness at the Arizona-New Mexico border. The ranch has been in my family since 1891. My grandmother was raised there; her mother rode a horse the 27 miles out of the canyon to get to a hospital for my grandmother’s birth, her first of five children. (They opted for home births after that trip!) To get to the ranch now, we ease our 4 wheel drive down the gravel switchbacks, cross the river a couple times if it’s low enough and if not, ditch the car and call my family to come get us in the tractor.

Today, my dad’s cousin runs the ranch. In his soft-spoken drawl, he tells us the ranch belongs to all of us, it’s just his watch. Though I’ve never lived there, there’s a part of me that is connected forever to WY Bar ranch on the Blue.

It took far too long to take my husband on the long trip to the Blue (the town – which consists of not much more than a one room schoolhouse – is Blue, named for the river/creek that runs through it, but we’ve always said, “the Blue” or “on the Blue”). Coming from Paris, he was fascinated at the thought of meeting real cowboys and seeing an honest-to-goodness cattle ranch. When we finally made the trek, he stared out the window in silence, murmuring from time to time, “Wow. This is beautiful.”

We sat up late into the night talking with my aunt and uncle (really my “uncle” is my dad’s cousin and my first cousin once removed, but we call him “Uncle”), eating meat and potatoes and drinking stiff Hot Toddys. The state cattle inspector came by to check on how things were going, make sure no cattle had been lost to wild animals or accidents, make sure all was well. He sat down to chat with us.

After three words from my husband’s mouth, his face contorted and he leaned forward, staring at my husband.

“Where you from?”

“I’m from Paris.”

“Huh?” He turned to me, perplexed. He couldn’t understand my husband’s accent, which isn’t really all that thick.

“Paris. France,” I said.

“Huh. What’s it like there?”

My husband hesitated, unsure how to answer. “Um, well, Paris is a big, really old city. The country is a lot of rolling hills, rivers, there’s lots of little villages, nothing like this here – ”

“You got cows there?”

“Yes. There are cows.”

The inspector nodded and seemed satisfied.

257 Bro's pics of Jim's memorialOne night we gathered around a campfire, listening to my cousins and their friends tell stories of their different cowboy adventures, drinking beer. It was 17 degrees out, so we pressed as close as we could to the fire. When we all turned to warm our freezing backs, one of the friends drawled:

“We’re all warmin’ our buns, but Stéphane there, he’s warmin’ his croy-sants.”

My husband said he felt like he’d stepped into a movie, into a world and lives he hadn’t known existed.

My uncle listens to my cousins and me tell tales of wandering the planet, of our adventures exploring various European cities, living abroad, trekking through South America, and he smiles and shakes his head, then says in his soft drawl, “It’s just so neat how y’all get out and see the world. Between y’all, you’ve been just ‘bout everywhere. Me, I just about never been on an airplane. I don’t much like being away from home.” It’s so different from the life I know, and I love him all the more for it. I know a little bit about a lot of different places and I pat myself on the back and feel so worldly. My uncle will laugh and call himself a hick, but to me, he’s classic America. He’s got his home on the range, he works hard from dawn to dusk and then some, he knows every craggy cliff, every stone, every stretch and bend of the Blue River. He loves his life, his home, his country. There’s poetry to that.

I envy him sometimes, to which I’m sure he’d scoff. I forever battle between searching out adventures, jumping into all the unknowns I can find, versus the desire to find a place I can set down some roots and truly feel I belong; to find that which eludes me: the feeling of yes, I am home. My cowboy cousins, they know where they want to be. They have generations of history behind them, rooted to Blue, AZ. They are Home, and they live it, breathe it, love it.

My wanderlust must come from my grandmother, the same one who was raised on the ranch. gmagpacalShe and my grandfather lived all over the world: Chile, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, Denmark…. Her home was decorated with Persian rugs, African Tribal masks, blue and white Danish dishes. She introduced me to eating croissants for breakfast. She would have loved to meet my husband. I wish I could talk to her now – about her adventures both growing up on an isolated ranch and then as the worldly woman who smiled so broadly in those photos taken around the globe. From cowgirl to world traveler. What an adventure.

I look forward to taking my kids to the ranch and letting them wade in the river, run through the forest, meet my dear family. It’s as much a part of their heritage as is France.

Overlooking the ranch

Overlooking the ranch

Bretagne, Je t’aime

I love Bretagne (Brittany, for the anglophones). Where Paris is measured, even severe, Bretagne is untamed, free, running wild. It’s a land of legends and history: Megaliths, Fairies, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Bretagne first gave us crepes, galettes (savory crepes, made with buckwheat), and French apple cider. What’s not to love?

My husband’s family has a summer home in a small Breton village at the opening of the Golfe du Morbihan. When we visit them during the summer, we tend to escape to their home here rather than swelter in Paris. The last several trips we’ve enjoyed mostly sunny days, which last from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. We spend our days riding bikes through overgrown pastures and past flower covered rock walls that are hundreds of years old, dipping our toes into the Atlantic, and eating fresh oysters that the neighbor harvests. And, of course, crepes, galettes, and cider. Every time I suggest staying there and never returning to our “real” lives, my husband warns me that I’m not experiencing the “real” Brittany.

“There’s a reason everything here is so green and overgrown, Carol,” he tells me.

I tell him he can’t burst my bubble.

Here are a few photos:

Ile Aux Moines

My favorite spot on Ile Aux Moines, in the Golfe du Morbihan

Golfe du Morbihan

Golfe du Morbihan

Traditional home, looks straight out of a fairy tale to me

Traditional home, straight out of a fairy tale

Winner! Best French Mullet

Winner! Best French Mullet

Port de St. Goustan

Port de St. Goustan

My hubby and me, making crepes

My hubby and me, making crepes



Breton humor

Breton humor

On our bike ride

On our bike ride

A dolmen and a menhir (megaliths)

A dolmen and a menhir (megaliths)

Hey, France, Why So Glum?

Yet another article, this one from The Guardian, is highlighting the French tendency toward melancholy. In this study, people living in Iran and Afghanistan felt more optimistic about the upcoming year than the French. Stop and think about that for a moment.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about French tristesse. What gives, mes amis? You have a beautiful country, a rich history, great food, tons of vacation, free healthcare, free higher education….

Of course, many of my countrymen, particularly those of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-get-over-it variety, might say that all these entitlements, read socialism, inevitably lead to misery. I don’t buy it. Look at other European nations, some even more left leaning than France, and many of them report much higher levels of happiness. Besides, we in the “Land of the Free” fare none to well on happiness scales – often we are right up there (or down there, I suppose) with France in terms of feelings of well-being.

The article doesn’t delve into why the French are so gloomy. So I showed it to my husband and asked for his thoughts. His snarky response: “Because we know better. Life sucks and no one is fooling us.”

That’s in keeping with Olivier Magny’s Stuff Parisians Like. He writes in the chapter titled Complaining:

“In Paris, enthusiasm is considered a mild form of retardation. If you are happy, you must be stupid. On the other hand, if you complain, you must be smart.” (pg. 135)

Well, they do say ignorance is bliss. Still, I would argue that the most enlightened among us are the ones who recognize how tough life is but still manage to be happy despite it all.

I’ve observed the French and their tendency toward melancholy and negativity for years now, and I enjoy playing amateur sociologist trying to decipher the causes. My own conclusions are biased, unscientific, and based on a small sample size, but I think there is something here, in this quote from the article:

“Senik claims that the “French paradox” – the fact that the country’s general prosperity does not appear to translate into the happiness of its citizens – can be explained by ‘mental attitudes that are acquired in school or other socialisation instances, especially during youth.’”

Happinesss, quality of life, perceptions of well-being – so many factors play in, and it is so much more complicated than it should be. Especially for the French, with their uncanny ability to turn even the most uncomplicated thing into something convoluted and impossible to decipher.

Thoughts? Why are the French (and why are we, here, in the U.S.) so glum?

Would You Like Pepperoni on That?

Pizza in the south of France

Pizza in the south of France

According to my husband, the true test of language proficiency is whether or not you can order a pizza over the phone.

We’ve all been there. Room full of friends, maybe studying together, watching a game, or just hanging out. People get hungry. Someone suggests ordering a pizza. One person shouts out, “Mushrooms!” and another, “Pepperoni!” while a third person says, “I’m a vegetarian. No meat!”

As anyone who has tried to learn a second language can attest, when more than one person speaks at a time, conversation becomes tangled and it can be impossible to comb it out and discern what’s being said.

Then there’s the phone call. It’s hard enough to understand your non-native tongue in person, let alone over the phone. Add to that the fact that the person working at the pizza place is often foreign as well. So, two people are trying to communicate with each other in their non-native language over the phone. For my husband here in southern California, that means a French guy talking to a native Spanish speaker in English. For me in France, I often found myself talking to north Africans whose native tongue was Arabic. Chances are you’re using a cell phone, too, which despite our advances in technology still can’t compete with a landline in terms of quality.

My husband describes it this way:

“The trouble starts when they ask for your phone number. In French, we always say: eighty-five, nineteen, etc. In the U.S., phone numbers are stated one digit at a time. So the person on the other end of the line ends up confused. I’m trying to understand what the pizza guy is saying while everyone in the room is shouting their likes, dislikes, what size pizza, etc. I have to ask the pizza guy to repeat everything three or four times and now he’s annoyed. People keep yelling out ingredients. The pizza guy asks if we want pepperoni. I heard someone say they were vegetarian. But pepperoni, that must be the same as the Italian word: peperoni, which is a type of pepper. That’s not meat, right? So I say, ‘Yes, pepperoni.’”

Miraculously, the pizza arrives. And it’s not the pizza that anyone wanted.

Vieux Antibes

Vieux Antibes

I had a similar experience in Antibes, the south of France. My friends decided that my French was the best among us, so I should order the pizza. We knew of one place that delivered.  We’d been there in person before to order and hadn’t had the most… positive experience with the guy there. So, crossing my fingers in hopes that someone other than the guy we’d dealt with would answer the call, I dialed the pizza place. Mr. Personality answered. His Arabic accent was thick and he had a short fuse. I did my best, ordered two pizzas, one “Reine” (olives, mushrooms, and prosciutto) for my friend and I to split, and a second pizza covered in meat for our other friend (she was 8 months pregnant, adorable, and ravenous).

Then we waited. And waited. He finally showed up. With one pizza. It wasn’t either of the pizzas we’d ordered. He also claimed he had no change. We argued with him. This isn’t what we ordered! Why would you come here without any change? He became irate and insistent that the mistakes were ours and not his. My pregnant friend was about to pass out from hunger, so we took the pizza and he took a hefty tip.

We never ordered pizza from his store again. Pity, they made good pizza. Thin, crispy crust, flavorful cheese, fresh toppings…. The south of France has the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, outside of Italy. Even when they get the order wrong.

Ordering food in a foreign language is an adventurous undertaking. Even something that seems as simple as pizza. The day I can confidently order a pizza over the phone in France, I’m popping open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Now I’m hungry.

Happy Spring! Here's me in a lavender field in the south of France.

Happy Spring! Here’s me in a lavender field in the south of France.


French Flicks You Might Actually Enjoy

A list at one of my new favorite blogs,, got me thinking about my own experience with French films.

It’s clear that your average French film greatly differs from your average Hollywood one. The French don’t insist on happily-ever-after Hollywood endings. French films tend toward serious and dark. Or just weird – even from a French person’s perspective. I’ve developed an appreciation for the differences, but sometimes, after watching a French film, I still can’t help but throw my arms up in exasperation.

Here’s a list of things I’ve said after watching French movies with my husband:

  • Is marital fidelity to the Frenchman simply too blasé to be considered as a lifestyle choice?
  • Are French people ever nice to each other?
  • Do French people actually like this movie, or do they just say they do so they seem deep and intellectual?
  • I’ve now spent so much time gazing at my bellybutton that my neck aches.
  • WTF? No, seriously, WTF?
  • I’m going to lie here and stare at the wall. I don’t have the energy to stand or even to cry. There’s no point to life, existence; it’s all empty.

Here’s a list of movies, in no particular order, that did not make me say those things. These are films I have enjoyed and recommend:

Amélie 2001  Whimsical and loveable, with Audrey Tautou. Nominated for 5 Oscars. It’s the French movie most people have heard of, if not seen.

Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) 1998  Hilarious, albeit a bit mean-spirited. One of the funniest movies I’ve seen. Plus, it has Thierry Lhermitte. Yum.

Après Vous 2003  Charming romantic comedy in which Daniel Auteuil, as nice guy Antoine, comically finds that no good deed goes unpunished.

La Doublure (The Valet)
2006  A valet must pretend to have an affair with a supermodel in order to keep her real affair a secret. With Daniel Auteuil and Kristen Scott Thomas.

Le Placard
(The Closet) 2001  Accountant Daniel Auteuil (I must like this guy) is about to be fired when he gives the impression that he is a closeted gay man, thus saving his job. With Thierry Lhermitte and Gérard Depardieu.

Prête-moi ta main (I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single) 2006  Luis, a confirmed bachelor, has a mother and five sisters who are determined to see him get married.

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) 2005  About a truce called on Christmas day during World War I. Nominated for Best Foreign Film

And for a completely different tone:

Le Pere Noël est une ordure (“Santa Claus is a Bastard”) 1982 Hilarious + Thierry Lhermitte.

Paris, Je T’aime 2006  Eighteen short films set in the different arrondissements of Paris. Plenty of star power in both actors and directors. Some of the films are weird and indecipherable, some are sweet, some are hokey, some are fun. Overall, really liked it.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and The Butterfly) 2007  Based on the autobiography of the same name, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a massive stroke followed by locked-in syndrome. The book is stunning, well worth the read. Even though he hated his physical therapist. I would too, after reading his description of his experience.

L’Auberge Espagnole 2002  Fun story about cultures clashing, love found, love lost, with the adorable Audrey Tautou in a small role.

Les Choristes (The Chorus) 2004  Beautiful story of a teacher who makes an impact. Nominated for best foreign language film.

La Grande Vadrouille 1966  French comedy that was the most successful film in France until Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis. Great fun with two Frenchmen trying to help the crew of a shot down Royal Air Force Bomber escape German-occupied France.

Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) 2008  According to Wiki, this broke nearly every box office record in France, including the long held record for La Grande Vadrouille. Hilarious. Great for French language learners, as it pokes fun at regional accents and expressions.

Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement) 2004  Audrey Tautou searches for her fiancé, who disappeared while fighting in the trenches in WWI. Two Oscar nominations.

Hors de Prix (Priceless) 2006  Audrey Tautou (again!) plays a gold digger who mistakes a bartender for a wealthy target.

Delicatessen 1991  Okay this one freaked me out when I first saw it, but on a second viewing when I was older and more accustomed to French humor, this dark-humored, post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie had me cracking up laughing.

Le Papillon (The Butterfly) 2002  Charming story of a widowed butterfly collector and the friendship he develops with his neighbor, a lonely 8-year-old girl.

Rififi 1955  Gritty noir film. Great.

Le Corniaud (The Sucker) 1965  Hilarious gangster parody.

What have I missed? What are your recommendations? Thoughts? I’d love to hear them – always looking for things to add to our Netflix queue!