Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm still living in Sewageland and things are bleak.

On Monday morning, the septic tank guy arrived finally at about 11am. I was so happy to see him that I could have kissed him- except I would have gotten impaled on his many facial piercings. I have to say that it was a bit disconcerting to have the septic tank guy turn out to be a twenty-something with metal bits poked into his face.

And he had a little goat beard. It was kind of like Aslan the Wonder Goat's, but less attractive.

But I was in no mood to be picky. I showed him straight to the Garage of Horrors, which is the origin of the disaster.

"So, where's the septic tank?" he asked.

"Well, it's right there. The big cement thing against the wall."

"That can't be it" he said incredulously.

"Yes, it is." I countered

"No, it's not."

And so it went for several long, f'rustrating minutes.

He refused to even look at the thing. He was convinced (possibly by messages from aliens communicating with him through his piercings) that the septic tank couldn't be in the garage, but must be out in the garden somewhere.

To goat-beard boy, I was nothing but a mildly retarded foreign dimwit female.

He climbed back into his truck, obviously in a huff to be called out for no good reason by some idiot who couldn't even locate her own septic tank.

He told me to hunt around for it by poking a metal rod into the ground.

I'd rather have stuck a sharp metal pole into him.

He further informed me that I really needed a plumber, not a septic tank person, anyway.


I went back into the house and mopped up the latest infiltrations, using plenty of bleach. (I am all about bleach these days, you better believe it.) Then I called up the local plumber, piteously begging him to come as quickly as ever he could.

He showed up right after lunch. He looked at the big cement block in the garage.

"Well, there's the septic tank..."

You don't say...

But according to him, the problem was not actually the septic tank, but rather the "overflow" tank right beside it. "That's not watertight anymore. I can't fix that. You need a mason."

So, he climbed into his truck and drove off. I again cleaned out the livingroom and then left a message for the local mason..

Well, the mason showed up today at lunchtime. He said that I didn't need a mason. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) What I needed was the plumbing in the upstairs bathroom re-routed and the septic tank needed emptying.


The next thing I did was phone up the septic tank company and give them a piece of my mind. In my best, most politely insulting French, I told them just what I thought of the Goat Beard Boy who has walked away without even looking at the overflowing tank.

"I'd better not be seeing any bill for his "deplacement"" I warned. "He completely screwed up."

I didn't venture to tell the secretary this, but my suspicion is that while he was at septic tank school he had little time for studying. Getting piercings and keeping that beard trimmed to a point were pretty much a full time job for him.

My time, of course, is mostly occupied with keeping the mess under control and keeping the household running.

Also, Alexa's health hasn't been that great lately. She had to come home from school early today. Luckily, our appointment with a nearby cardiologist is tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today I finished the wall waxing, which was a freaking miracle, as I have also had to deal with a nightmare of biblical proportions.
It's a flood and, believe me, if there was a big boat waiting to take me away, I'd hop right on it.

It's a flood of sewage from the septic tank.
In the garage.
In the living room.

It is very, very grim.

Sadly, the Romanian Handyman does not do septic tanks, so we have to wait until tomorrow morning for rescue to arrive.

I have to get back and man my station.

I'll write more tomorrow, after the septic tank guy comes.

Wish me luck...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yesterday morning I gleefully (if one can be said to be doing laundry 'gleefully') stuffed my plaster-encrusted work clothes into the washing machine. The last of the "decorative lime coating" had gone up on Thursday, so I no longer needed my protective gear. As you may have guessed from previous 'plaster in my hair' -type comments, I am not a neat worker. But I got the job done.

I'm just glad that it's over. The rest of the house is going to be wallpapered or painted. No more textured wall finishes for me, thanks.

After I got the laundry in, I drove the Frogman to Switzerland (don't be impressed, it's only 20 minutes away from the house). Then I had to stop at the grocery store, keeping in mind we'll be having a guest for the weekend: Christi the Romanian Handyman.
The Frogman has decided that we are too overwhelmed with large, handyman-ish tasks that really need to be done before the cold weather sets in. (The VERY cold weather, I mean. It's already quite, quite cold here, IMO. ) So, when our pal M (a Romanian actress turned geologist. Long story.) mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she knew a nice fellow countryman looking for a bit of work, this news did not fall on deaf ears. The Frogman arranged for him to spend a weekend here working with us.

And I said (as I so often do) "This is SO going on my blog".

Anyway, cruising through the supermarket, I was passing the frozen foods and suddenly noticed...Hot Pockets! I was amazed! I was fascinated! I bought some! Hot Pockets in rural France? Get outta here!

It's kind of strange that I was so excited about this. For one thing, I've never eaten a Hot Pocket. Ever.

Second of all, I am more of a buy local and organic kind of food shopper. And what isn't local, I try to buy fair-trade, green, ecological, etc.

But the presence of these uber-American items in this small French supermarket somehow had an irresistable appeal. I bought a couple of boxes. I had to!

So, for lunch, I fed the twins Hot Pockets. Cooked in the microwave. Egads and Quelle Horreur! Junk food. Microwaved junk food! But they LOVED it- thought it was the tastiest ever.

After lunch, Mallory came up to me with one of my copies of New Scientist. She was quite interested in the cover story, but was finding the text too hard to read on her own. So, I had her read it out loud to me as I cleaned up the kitchen. I explained the difficult bits and helped her with the pronunciation of 'cephalopod', 'chromatophores' and other interesting, but not present in daily life, English words.

Raising kids to be truly bilingual takes a certain amount of effort. Luckily, it's usually lots of fun.

After all that, the twins headed back to school and it was time for me to start waxing the walls in the dining room. I opened the jar of orangy-colored wax, dampened my sponge and got to work. I spread it around in one corner, using the prescribed circular motion.

It looked like crap.

I turned to the cats. "Does this look like crap?", I asked them, which was a huge mistake.

All those two did was sit there and look at me disdainfully. Of course they thought it looked like crap. They that think everything I do is bad, or at best stupid. That's how cats are.

You dog owners can't even imagine how bad it is. Your dog thinks everything you do is really swell, extra peachy-keen and just generally super-duper. His eyes say it all: I love you, everything about you. You are perfect. Please give me food now. And even if you don't give him the food, he still worships you.

Cat's don't do worship. They do contempt. And you better be quick with that food or you just might earn a bite in the ankle region.

So, I have been severely handicapped in my home-improvement projects by the fact that I have two cats in the room with me at all times. They stare at me with that look that says. "You're doing it wrong, loser. And my food bowl better not be empty."

It's kind of dispiriting.

But I bravely ignored the two furry naysayers and forged onwards. I finished the first wall.

The Frogman came home from work.

He agreed with the cats.

"That looks pretty bad" he said.

But unlike the cats, he actually had a constructive suggestion. And he was right, a second coat DID help, immensely. Suddenly, the wall looked just like the sample wall back in the DIY store. Possibly better!

Take that, cats!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I recently read a blogpost by a friend contemplating giving herself a pedicure.
Me? I don't even have time to dream about such a thing. My idea of looking good these days is not having large chunks of "decorative lime coating" stuck in my hair.

Yesterday I hardly got anything done dining room-wise, though. Instead, I spent over three hours at the insurance office, getting our new health insurance and car insurance both set up.
I only had small chunks of plaster in my hair, so I was looking pretty good. Good enough for a trip into the village, anyway.

What about that famous French socialized medicine that we are always hearing about? The system that is supposed to be the best in the world? you may well be asking.

Well, it is fabulous, but it turns out that we can't have it. It's only for people that WORK in France and because the Frogman is a prof at the U of Geneva across the border in Switzerland, we're on our own.
Just like in the USA, it is going to cost us a fortune for even so-so coverage.

After a few hours in the insurance office, I was grateful to get back to my plastering. Srsly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"She who rests on her laurels will probably end up getting poked in the rear by branches"
Maybe that sentiment has been expressed previously and more elegantly by others, but it's my own personal motto. And so it was that after a weekend of basking in the glow of my Antiques Roadshow moment, I got back to work Monday morning, bravely struggling with the "enduit decorative a la chaux" that's going up in the dining room.
I don't know WHAT the heck to call the stuff in English. Babelfish is giving me "decorative lime coating", which sounds like something an innovative chef would put on orange roughy and serve with a purée of autumn vegetables.

The stuff looked great on the sample wall at the DIY store. And it seemed so easy to apply. You just spread it on , smooth it with a trowel and voila! Instant rustic charm à la française!

But of course, as with so many other things that seem easy, it hasn't been all that instant. First of all, I had to strip the walls and repair them. Then I had to put on a coat of textured base paint. And then finally I got to start applying the actual decorative coating.
It goes like this: You glop a heap of this fluffy, plastery stuff on the wall and spead it around. And then you fuss around with it for ages, trying to make it look like it was put on by a master artisan enduit-applier guy - the kind of guy whose ancestors were slathering a mixture of donkey dung and chalk onto the walls of their peasant neighbors back in the Dark Ages and making it look darn good, too.
Elegantly masterful, yet nonchalantly casual.
After a hard morning slaving over a hot wall, I went out for a moment. While I was gone JP ventured into the dining room to give it a try.
He later reported, somewhat astonished: "It is VERY difficult!".
No kidding.

This morning, I only have one more wall to go with the plaster. Sadly, I used up the last of my third pail of the stuff last night. So, I have to go back to the DIY this morning and buy more.

This is more than a little frustrating, as I only need a couple more litres to finish up with, but it only comes in one size, which is about twice as much as I need. And at 44 Euros a pop, it's not a small matter.

Once the stuff is all up and has dried for a day, I can start on the next stage: applying the wax coating. It gives the walls color (we chose a sort of natural peachy shade) and makes them washable.

After THAT, I'll put on a stencil border in cerulean blue.

Then after all that, I'm going to sit in my beautiful dining room and drink kir.

You are all invited.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm not only a huge fan of home decorating shows. I am also helpless to resist an episode of Cash in the Attic or Antiques Roadshow . For any deprived souls out there who haven't seen either of these shows, let me explain: they both involve trash suddenly revealed as treasure.
On Antiques Roadshow, people full of hope (and, ok, often delusions) show up with their family heirlooms or items unearthed at a garage sale. They all get to consult an expert and ask the million dollar question that actually might be worth a few bucks: would anyone pay anything to own this? Of course, the answer is quite often no, but sometimes there's a yes. Some lucky woman finds out that her great-aunt's tarnished fruit bowl is a 18th century solid silver epargne from France and is worth over 20,000 dollars. Usually the lucky woman says that she would never sell Aunt Selma's fruit bowl, but she's thrilled to know it's worth so much. And everybody goes away happy.

Cash in the Attic is somewhat less fun. It entails a family ransacking their home to find items to sell at auction so that they can build on a new garage or go to Disneyland. I love seeing people finding treasures in their own home, but I find it somewhat painful that they'd sell, say, their great-grandmother's china in order to go on the It's a Small World After All boat ride.

But that's just me.

So, I have spent years dreaming of making a Big Find, of waltzing into a thrift shop and snapping up something for pennies that turned out to be Something. Not that I'd sell it, but it would be Something.

And Saturday morning, I think I finally did it!!!

It was 10am and I'd convinced JP and Tya to go with me to the much anticipated Big Sale over at the Emmaus. As you probably remember from the Blue Haired Sparkle Jesus incident, I am just the kind of person who would get very excited about an all-day, gigantic sale at the region's only thrift shop.
But we were struggling through the huge crowd, meeting with disappointment after disappointment. Each time we'd find a great piece of old furniture, there would be a big "sold" card taped to it. And it was always the same two names on the card, which indicated that the antiquaires/brocantes guys had struck again. Antique store owners flock to these things, camping out in front of the doors before they open in order to snap up all the decent pieces. Then they drag their finds back to their lairs and sell them for 100 times more than they bought them for.
I guess a person has to make a living, but it's frustrating when they buy nearly everything in sight, except for the stuff that was complete junk even when it was new back in 1980.

So, we gave up on the furniture pretty quickly and decided to have a look at the "artwork". Most of it was pretty bad and astonishingly odd. A still life in oils featuring lemons and playing cards. A cheap plastic frame displaying a blurry photo of an elderly poodle...
But then this caught my eye:

Ooooh! Pre-Raphaelite!!!!! I have long adored the PRB! I am all about high-quality overblown Victorian romanticism! One of the first posters I ever bought (after I grew out fo my Star Wars phase) was a William Holman Hunt print which now hangs in Tya's room.

Now, I'm far from being any kind of expert on Victorian era etchings, but this looked like the real deal to me. It was dated 1884 and had a tiny embossed stamp on one corner. Not that I really thought it was valuable in terms of money. But I liked it and knew I would enjoy having it in my home, especially for 20 euros. So, I hauled it around while we wandered in the book aisles and then among the dishware. The whole thing measures about 50cm x 70cm, so it wasn't very easy. But I really wanted it.

We didn't find much else at the sale. JP bought a book and we found an enamel covered pail to use as a kitchen compost bin. Not very exciting.

We got home and had a nice lunch of roasted chicken and french fries. Then I sort of pottered around the house, folding laundry, sweeping up, and that sort of thing. Then it occurred to me that it would be fun to try to look up my etching online.

I had to kick the kids off the computer and that took a while. But eventually I sat down with a cup of tea and the keywords I'd garnered off the etching: Sir Frank Dicksee, Adolphe Lalauze, July 1st, 1884 .

I nearly spilled my tea when Google showed me this page. It's a place in Oxford that specializes in prints and engravings. It's supposed to be the biggest place in the UK for that sort of thing. And they are selling "my" etching for 1200£!!

That's 1500 euros!

My Antiques Roadshow/Cash in the Attic dream has come true!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Considering that these are the folks that gave us the word "avant-gard", the French sure have a thing for conformity.
Consider the lowly coloring book. In the USA, it's a tome that little tikes use to express their artistic souls. And if these souls declare that the entire page depicting the teddy bears' picnic is purple and scribbly, so be it.
French coloring books, on the other hand, come with model pages. One page has the black and white image to color in, but the opposite page has the same picture already colored in. The kids are supposed to copy it. And for Dieu's sake, whatever you do, DON'T color outside the lines!!! The preschool teachers come down hard on that kind of thing.
So, from early days, conformity is the rule and it doesn't take much to get labeled a freak around here. You will not be surprised to learn that Burkinamom already has quite a rep in the Vallée Verte for being a strange oiseaux/bird.
I learned this quite by accident the other night at the party down in the village. JP had been in deep conversation with M, one of our main allies in the village. After a while, JP turned towards me and said ominously "M. just told me what people in the Vallée are saying about you."
Frankly, I wasn't sure I even wanted to know. There's lots of mean things that people could say about me, many of them true.
Then I had a sudden thought about the headlice. Someone found out we had lice in Africa? Oh please let it not be the lice...
And then he said "You go barefoot at home."
And I said "????"
"Well, " he explained " remember when we had a cleaning lady in a few times 10 years ago, when the twins were born? She went around telling everyone how you didn't wear slippers at home. "
And I guess this shocking news item made the rounds of the Vallée for years and the echos are heard unto this day -despite the fact that I now wear slippers, just like a normal French person.
Really, I do. It's so darn cold here, I'd be crazy not too.

In an attempt to escape the deviant label , I made a special effort today when a local builder came by. I sort of tried to draw attention to my bright red slippers. Unfortunately, I think he came away with the impression that I have a severe motor problem involving my feet. And he didn't seem to particularly notice the footwear. But maybe it's a guy thing.

I'm expecting a package in the mail soon and our postperson is a woman. Maybe I'll have more luck with her. When I sign for the parcel, I'll be sure and find a way to make her notice my footwear. Maybe casually bring it up in conversation?
"Gee, cold one today. Your jacket looks warm, though. And I'm sure glad to have my slippers on ."

I feel that I need to get out from under the slipper problem because the villagers have other evidence of my oddness and I think I'm scaring them.
The problem is, I walked. That was the nail in the coffin of social rejection, right there.

It was a cool Tuesday evening, I had no car and I needed to get to a meeting at the school down in the village. So, I decided to walk it: 20 minutes along a country road. It was nice. Honestly.
But I arrived to generally incredulous cries of "You walked??!!" Really??!! "
And I could see they were all thinking "Barefoot, pedestrian, non-French freak".

And I thought Africa was a challenge...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Everybody loves a good house renovation story. That's my conclusion, all the comments and blog hits I've been getting about the few photos I posted last time about my own little epic: HGTV Goes to France.

This weekend, I have to admit that not much really got done. Not as much as I'd hope, that's for sure. We had guests all day Saturday. And then that night we were invited to a party down in the village and didn't get away until after one in the morning. The late night and the tasty kir (a mix of white wine and creme de cassis: if a French person offers you some, just say 'yes') both explain why I was completely feeble and ineffective all day Sunday. I had excellent intentions and spent hours down in the dining room, but little actual progress was made.
One interesting thing did turn up, though. The plaster over one of the doors was quite brittle and thin. I chipped away at it and discovered the wood of the wall frame underneath.

I sanded the plaster bits off and had a good look. Two upright pieces of nice old wood embedded in the wall. I think that i'm going to leave them exposed and call them "architectural interest".

I also continued with another project in there: stripping the layers of paint off the built-in cupboard in the corner. The product I bought barely seems to make headway against the layers of thick gray paint that was slathered over the original paint, lurking just below a thin layer of pink.

But when I finally got underneath all the ugly paint, I found a great surprise- the original paint on the cupboard was a bright turquoise color. The bottom of it was painted reddish brown, as were the baseboards. I'd love to strip the whole thing and leave it in the original colors. I guess that's the archaeologist in me. But it would probably be easier (and possibly more esthetic- the two doors in the room are already completely stripped and varnished) to strip it down to the bare wood. I can't quite decide.

After all that, I couldn't figure out what to next, so I decided to wash the dishes. As you can see, I had lots of help.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I thought that today I could show you what I do when I'm not sitting here blogging.
Mainly, I scurry about, doing the endless chores that go with a big house and four kids. Then when I have a free (ha!) moment, I get busy stripping wallpaper, painting and generally getting all HGTV-ish.
I love HGTV. When I'm in the USA, I have it on 24/7: Designers' Challenge, Design on a Dime, Deserving Design, Designed to Sell, Divine Design, Designing Designs for Dyslexic Designers...
Ok, I made up that last one, but ONLY that one. The others are all real shows on this channel that is all about home decorating projects.
But these days, I don't need to watch that stuff on tv. Nope. I have my own, very neglected house to whip into shape.
Just getting it clean was the first challenge. but once that was done, the fun really began.
The first project was to re-decorate Eldest daughter's room. It boasted bright pink wallpaper and a border of ballerinas. She chose it whan she was three years old but she found that, at age fifteen, her tastes had changed somewhat.
So, she did some sketches and made her plans. I wasn't too sure, but it turned out great. It's still not all finished, but the paint and wallpaper are done.

I love the retro wallpaper she chose. It's something that would have been in the house when it was built over 100 years ago. And the plum coloured paint really punches it up and makes the room more fun.

Here's the view out her window. Nice!

Now that her room is done, I am working in the dining room. the old wallpaper is damaged, so it's coming down. Sadly, the walls are very old, fragile plaster and I'm having to do lots of repair work, which is slowing me down. This project, which I thought would take about two weeks total has been dragging on now for three weeks and I'm still only halfway finished...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

They turned it on and we're ALL STILL HERE.
Hooray for the LHC!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I used to know someone whose husband was a scientist at CERN. Sara would often shake her head in frustration and say some variation of this speech: "All the time you hear people say 'Well, he's not exactly a nuclear physicist, is he? when they want to indicate that someone's not all that bright. Like being a nuclear physicist is the Gold Standard of geniushood.
But I've got to tell you: I live with a nuclear physicist day in and day out. And most of our friends are nuclear physicists. And you know what? They're NOT all that bright. They know stuff about physics, but that doesn't mean they can program the VCR or even tie their own shoes. Honestly!"

I have to admit that I was (and am) one of the guilty ones that succumbed to the physicist mystique. They have the ability to really understand things that just make my brain hurt.
Total respect!
And NOW, just a short distance from my home, the big brains over at CERN will soon be turning on their very new, huge and wonderful Large Hadron Collider!
What is it?!?!
The LHC is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, that's what it is.
It's a huge underground ring (3OO feet down and 17 miles long.) that will be making particles smash into each other. Somehow this is going to tell us stuff like why matter has mass.

It's all a bit beyond me, but fascinating. One thing that did actually help a bit was watching this:

It's a very funny, yet strangely informative rap song that explains it all much better than I ever could.

For a more serious treatment of the subject, go here to the CERN site. All is explained in a soothing British accent that makes everything seem lovely and simple, like a Winnie the Pooh story. And tomorrow morning at 9am my time, you will be able to click the link and watch live webcam coverage of the first moments of the LHC in action!

What can I say? I'm just a wannabe science geek.

BTW: There has been a tiny amount of concern that the HLC would cause black holes to be created, which could, um, potentially destroy the entire planet. This possible downside to the experiments has caused hate mail and death threats (often full of grammatical errors, I might add) to be sent to CERN scientists.
But most educated people think that this will NOT happen. IF any black holes formed at all, they would be so miniscule that they couldn't possibly leave us all dead and homeless, besides.

So, that's ok, then.

Monday, September 08, 2008

One kind blogpal has asked if my kids actually LIKE their new schools. Good question.

Eldest daughter weighs in with a resounding "Non!". She is not liking it one bit. She is known as "The African" and random groups of people wander up to her to ask "Are you from Africa?" and when she answers politely, they wander off smirking and giggling. Idiots. As you may guess, she's really not comfortable with the attention and is becoming pretty miserable. And as a result, she even pretends not to speak English very well.
That's right!
She doesn't want anyone to know that she's half American and speaks perfect English. She couldn't hide the fact that she'd transfered in from Burkina Faso (all the teachers knew and mentioned it in class the first day) but she CAN avoid being an English-speaking "freak" by staying silent in class. I just hope that these kids get bored and move on to something else. I also fervently hope that Valentine will eventually assume the mantle of her freakishness and shine in English class once again.

And the boy Sev? He's floating above it all, as usual. On the first day he easily found two pals to show him around. And by the second day, he was making an impression the female population. He was passed a pink piece of paper with hearts drawn all over it. It was a masterpiece by two girls in his class and read "We are watching you!".
He later showed it to Valentine who remarked: "Ooh! Stalker girls. Kind of creepy, don't you think?"
Trust Tya to discern the dark underside.

As for the twins: the tiny one-room school caught them by surprise, even though they'd been warned. And it was not a good surprise. At lunchtime the first day, Alexa was crying and wishing for her old school and myriad of friends back in Ouaga. But all was well by the end of the day, as the teacher complimented both twins on their skills and fine handwriting. (Good move on her part. Brava!) So, the academic front is going well. But socially?
Well, the twins are finding the locals rather provincial and had some cutting things to say about their clothes ('the girls look like boys!') and their amusements.
A particular subject of disdain was the apparently very popular game called "Wall". It involves throwing a ball against (yes, you guessed it) a wall. The kids all play it during recess and can talk about nothing else, so I am informed. The twins decline to participate and positively yawn when forced to listen to the endless chat about it.
I tried to explain to the girls that their conduct may not exactly win them a big fanbase here in the Valley, but I don't know how all this is going to play out. The whole 'bored sophisticate' stance might offend, of course. It can do that.
But on the other hand, the twins are pretty convincing and charismatic. The girls might just get away with this and have the other kids competing for their attention, the Wall forgotten.
Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

"Rentrée" in French means "re-entry" in English and is a word that pops up way more often than you'd think. The French love their "rentrées". There is the rentreé politique (when the bigwigs get back to work after the summer holidays), la rentrée of the cinema (when the summer dross is replaced by the "real" films of the year), and then there is the Big Enchilada of all rentrées: the Rentrée Scolaire.

I guess that in English there is the phrase "back-to-school" but trust me, those three words do not even come close to packing the powerful punch of the French Rentrée Scolaire.

For one month, this key concept dominates life here in France. There is not a newscast on the air that does not feature someone being interviewed about some aspect of the French school system. They address questions like: "Our childrens' school bags- Are they too darn heavy?" (Short answer according to Burkinamom: yes!) and "School supplies- Are they too darn expensive?" (again, yes!).

This last is a reference to the baffling Rentrée ritual that is the school-supply list. This is generally distributed the first week of class and usually provides a mind-bendingly specific and lengthy list of supplies and study aides. Some teachers are insanely precise in their requests: a specific brand of coloured pencils or a ruler of a specific length and no other. And no substitutes are accepted. This can be interpreted as a) the teacher's way of establishing authority or b) a symbolic part of a long tradition of academic rigour, or possibly c) a symptom of systemic anal-retentiveness.

Another subject of much debate during the Rentrée 2008 is the new "rythme scolaire aménagé". In English it means: "arranged school rhythm".
Umm- well that didn't help much, did it?
What the phrase means is that there is a new and improved school schedule that is supposed to be better for children. It hasn't yet been started in all schools, as it's been left up the individual towns to decide. But our village has decided to try it.

So, the twins start their school day down in the village at 8:30am and get out at 11:30 for lunch. Then they go back from 1:30 until 4:15. They do this four days a week. only. Wednesday there is no school, and of course, they have the weekends off.
It seems a little odd, but we're willing to give it a try. It's only for one year, anyway. Next year the twins will be at the private Catholic school with our older children. This school has opted not to go with the newfangled system and has many more hours of class per week.
Valentine, for example, has classes four days a week from 8 untill 11:30 and then 1:30 until 5pm. On Wednesdays she has classes all morning. And sometimes she will even have to go on Saturday mornings as well, because she will be getting ready to face the Brevet, an important school exam she'll have to take at the end of this school year. It's a big deal and the kids prepare for it all year long. The better schools even offer some "brevets blancs", which are practise tests. Luckily, the Juvé is one of the "better schools" and Valentine will have this extra help.

But it won't all be hard work for Valentine. There is some fun in store- her class already has a trip scheduled for next month. They will be going to Germany for one week!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I had been planning to blog about school today, but I can't resist changing my plan, as I just found out some great news: my absolute favorite singer is giving a concert in Geneva in November. I don't know if I'll be able to go, but I have hopes...
I've been a Francis Cabrel fan ever since I heard the song "Petite Sirene" on the radio back in 1990. Not only are the songs he writes wonderful, he's also a genuinely nice guy who mostly avoids the spotlight , hasn't divorced his wife and writes really poetic songs.
But his most absolutely beautiful song is the one I've included here. He wrote it for his two daughters and it's very, very moving. In English, the title translates as "I Have Loved You, I Love You, I Will Love You." (It works out more elegantly in French). Anyway, here is my very rough translation of the words. I took a few liberties to get the real meaning across. (For those who speak French, it's easy to find the lyrics online.)

My child, you lie bare on the pebbles,

the wind breezing through your undone hair,

like springtime in my path or a diamond fallen out of the treasure box.

Only the Light itself could erase the secret marks of my fingertips on your wrists.

I have loved you, I still love you and I always will love you.

(chorus)And regardless of what you do, there is Love wherever you look -

in the smallest recesses of space and the briefest dreams where you linger.

Love - as if it rained down, bare onto the pebbles.

The heaven claims to know you,

And it's so lovely that it must surely be true.

Though it never comes near,

I've seen it captured within your net.

The world is full of regrets, full of unfulfilled promises,

but you are the only one for which I was created

I loved you, I still love you and always will.


We will take flight from the same place,

with same reflections in our eyes.

In this life and in the one after

you will remain my only project.

I will go to hang your portrait on all the ceilings of every palace,

and all the walls that I am able to find.

Beneath them all I will write that only the Light itself could...

And my fingertips on your wrists

I have loved you, I still love you and I will always love you
. .

So, I adore Cabrel and Natasha St Pier. But what's in the cd holder in my car? Um...Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis, Jonas Brothers, and the like. Yes, my three daughters rule the cd player and I am helpless before them. Even poor Severin has been forced to learn to sing along with Hannah Montana songs...

I just came across a website that features only blogs that post daily and without fail. Maybe I'll try it next month...September is definitely out of the question. You'd all be treated to posts like:

"Wallpapered Valentine's bedroom until midnight. Woke up this morning at 5, cleaned the catbox and put in a load of laundry. Today's plan also includes grocery shopping and re-grouting the hallway tiles. BTW: roof still leaks, srsly."

It's probably best that you be spared that.

An innovation that I am going to initiate immediately though, is a booklist in the sidebar to note what I have read recently/am currently reading. It was impossible to do back when I blogged in Ouaga, as I read so much! I could get through a book in a couple of days. That was because I had the amazing luxury of a driver to take me around. I had plenty of time to read in the car.

Also, I spent scads of time waiting. I waited everywhere and for hours: the electric company, phone company, airline office, tax office, etc. Here in France, things just seem to get done differently. I'm not saying that I don't wait for things to happen. In fact, I will probably be waiting until l'enfer freezes over for the guy to come fix the roof. But at least I can regrout the tiles while I wait.

Right now I have to end this post. It's the first day of school for my older kids. The little ones started on Tuesday. Tomorrow I'll definitely post about their schools and the French rentrée in general.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A few days ago we were out burning old wood and trash in the garden. It was a big deal for us and the kids were all out helping me, wearing work gloves, wielding shovels and rakes.
Hey- I'm the first to admit that it doesn't take much to amuse us here in the depths of the French countryside.
We had to spend most of the afternoon digging out rotted logs and piling them on the fire. After a while though, I went into the kitchen to get dinner started, leaving the older ones in charge.

So there I was, peeling zucchini (we eat a lot of zucchini these days. People leave it anonymously on our doorstep, as there is a local glut and it's a known fact that I have four kids and no vegetable garden of my own. It's very kind, but right now I have a backlog of several pounds of the stuff.), when I heard singing.
Opera singing.
To be more specific, it was The Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust.
I stuck my head out the window and was confronted by a sight that I think people would pay good money to see: My 12 year old son out by the fire, holding up his shovel like a mirror, giving a pretty fine falsetto rendition of Marguerite's most famous aria from Faust.

"Ah, je ris de me voir si belle dans ce miroir! Est-ce toi, Marguerite, est-ce toi? Réponds-moi… réponds-moi vite!Non! non! ce n'est plus toi!… non… non. Ce n'est plus ton visage: C'est la fille d'un roi…" he warbled, pretending to admire himself in his shovel/mirror. (In English: 'Oh, How I laugh to see myself so beautiful in this mirror. Is it you, Marguerite, it it you? Answer me..answer me quickly. No! No! It's not you. It's not your face: It's the daughter of a king.')

Now, those readers familiar with francophone culture might think Severin learned a line or two of this song from reading Tintin comics . In the old Belgian comic (now also a Spielberg film to be released in 2009), one of the characters is an obnoxious Italian soprano that constantly sings part of this aria.
But actually, he learned it because my kids had all insisted on watching the entire opera when it was on television recently. I have to say, it was a pretty proud moment for me as a mom, enjoying the live broadcast of this famous French opera with my four kids, who absolutely loved it. Even Sev. How many 12 year old boys do you know that would voluntarily sit through an opera and enjoy it?

Anyway, his version was really something to see. His three sisters were rolling in the grass, laughing like mad things. If my video camera hadn't been stolen I SO would have filmed it. On the other hand, I doubt Sev would have let me post it on YouTube. ..

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sunday started off with a mass at the fine old church in the nearby village of Boege. My childen were all delighted, marvelling at the brevity of the service (Only one hour! Imagine that!) and the comfort of the church (no heat, no dust). The twins were particularly pleased that we had the pew just in front of the statue of Joan of Arc and right across from an even more fascinating statue of a very fierce, armor-wearing angel in the act of gruesomely dispatching a hideous demon.
Writing about the church reminds me that I never posted much about our visit to the monastery last weekend. And of course there is the goat village, which certainly merits a more detailed account.
So, here's the ruins of the Cistercian monastery up in the mountains. It stood for about 600 years, until the local villagers tore it down in the 18th century and used the stone to build their village church.
Not many local history buffs in the village at the time, I guess.
After the underwhelming medieval fair near the ruins, we headed over to Les Londaret (aka The Goat Village). As you can kind of see, it's a cute village. But it's real claim to (relative) fame is the herd of 40 or so goats that roam free in it.
So, there we all were: 40 goats and 400 tourists.
That works out to 10 tourists PSG. ( PSG = Per Square Goat. They are square because the tourists stuff them full of goat treats all day long.)

But Mallory felt that the goats were not getting all the affection that they should. While the tourists happily bought endless bags of alfalfa treats to stuff the goat denizens of Les Lindarets, they seemed to have little real feeling for the animals. In other words: Where was the love?
So it was that Mallory passed through Les Lindarets like some small blonde goat goddess, dispensing affectionate pats and hugs, as well as comments as to the fine personality, strength, sweetness and/or general all-around loveliness of each individual goat. And she took care not to miss even one.

The one below got special attention, as he had an injured leg.
Just as we left, Mal ran into a shop and spent another of her Euros on a final bag of goat treats. "These are for Aslan. " she explained, rubbing the bag energetically with her hands.

"Umm..ok. Good idea. But what are you doing with the sack?"

"Well, I'm going to send this to Letty in Ouaga so she can feed it to him, but I want him to know it's from me. So if I can make it smell like me, he'll know who it's from! Do you think he misses me? I sure miss him."

Yes, I definitely think that he does.