Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Second Day of School

This is our study! Mac and I set it up yesterday while trying to make the time go faster waiting to go get the kids. Today, we were able to settle in and actually work there (after a second failed attempt to set up a bank account - you have to have a rendez-vous you see!). It's up on the third floor of the house. So: ground floor is living and kitchen; second floor is bathroom, kids' bedroom, our bedroom; third floor is two more bedrooms (!) and this large sitting room we've made into the study. The beams are there, the glass in the window is 19th century, I swear (bubbles galore), and the floor slopes in great ways that make you wonder if you've been sitting down reading for too long. Yesterday, I read a bunch of medieval blogs. Yes, there is such a thing - many of them, actually, and they're way cool - the one I frequent is called In the Middle and it is terrific (actually, I finally contributed something and today's post acknowledges it - yikes and hoorah!) - it's incredibly gratifying and inspiring to read these blogs: a) there are tons of experimental ideas floating all around, b) many resources, too, and c) everyone who writes is totally human about it: anxieties, hopes, dreams, aspirations, questions. I don't know what the effect will be on my research, but I like what it does for me as an academic/human being. Mac has been working on a book review to get back into writing - smart. We've committed to speaking French to each other all day (before you cry "Geeks!" think of us rather as doing it out of loyalty to the kids who, after all, are surrounded by French all day.) (ok, you can call us geeks), and today Mac laid out a bunch of the ethnic and cultural problems of WWI for me - in French. Difficult and fascinating (there's this weird moment, between 1871 and 1918, when class starts to trump ethnicity when it comes to identity - but, this (and more) will be in his book!). When I stopped reading medieval blogs, I turned to reading a 1512 account of a trip to Jerusalem (via Egypt) by Jean Thenaud, who had been sent there by Louise de Savoie, mother of the soon-to-be King of France, François Ier and (for you, Carrie!) Marguerite de Navarre. I'm keen to know why she sent him and what his impressions/modes of writing were. Nothing beats original sources and the beauty of the early modern period is just how many are edited and accessible.
Ok, but truly, this is not what you want to be reading about. You want to know how the kids' second day of school was!!! I actually spent a lot of time staring out the window thinking about them when we first settled down.

Yep, this is our view from the study: the two towers are indeed those of the castle of Josselin - 15th century those towers are! Richelieu (who has become an evil wizard named Krichelieu in the Baby Pink Dragon stories) burned down 5 of the original 9 towers - jerk. But these two are pretty fantastic to gaze upon - and I had occasion to this morning, as the kids did indeed react to their first days' experience. We've read and heard lots about the stress of being in a new place with a new language on kids and how they might act out (a British parent we met here pointed out that his 3-year old was "very naughty" when they first got here - which, of course, I found utterly charming). And I'd been ready and preparing myself for them to act out - that's why yesterday was so incredible, when they were so gleeful. And that's why this morning, after a lovely breakfast, it was such a shock when Iris went totally nuts on Oliver who, granted was singing a Christmas tune in an Alvin and the Chipmunks voice, and started pummeling him like mad. He, of course, fought back. Fistcuffs in a Ford Fiesta is no picnic and the only thing that saved Eleanor is that she is so deeply ensconced in her car seat that she can hardly move. We begged them to stop, but it was full-on flailing. My sweethearts! I had expected/been prepared for them to turn on us, sure, but not each other. And Oliver and Iris have talked about everything (being nervous about school, liking this or that food) and so this completely broke my heart. Good thing the school is only a 4 minute drive away - we pried them apart and there were tears and we tried to get them to make up and Iris did hug Oliver, but he shunned her and instead joined the stream of little boys (who all greeted him warmly) going up the stairs. My Iris - don't cross her, man. The thing is, of the three of them, she seems to be the one to be most consciously throwing herself into the project of learning the language: when I picked her up today, the first thing she said was "Bonjour, Maman" - there went my heart again. I immediately asked her if she'd had a chance to make up with Oliver and she looked at me like I was nuts, or at the very least way too melodramatic, and said "we played puppy on the playground." ??? Well, whatever it was, it was fun because she said that it had been another great day and she can't believe she has to wait until Thursday to go back. (Remember, no school on Wednesday in France). Her little friend was with her all day - I asked Iris, "how do you guys tell each other you're friends?" and she said "she copied what I was drawing and gave it some extra stuff." That, to me, is why kids are so so so fantastic - that's such a beautiful, fun way to communicate without words. I love the idea of "extra stuff" as continuing the conversation. Oliver and Eleanor had great days, too - Eleanor got to paint today, using cars! And she showed me their little nap room - we've been asked to bring a special blanket, pillow and snuggly animal - we'll have to buy the first two things, but it's already decided that it's Ducky who'll get to go to "French nap." :-) Oliver's teacher wants to work on his handwriting, i.e. work in cursive, which means he'll be learning that cool French handwriting; he also has his first homework (they paste the assignment into a notebook) which we're going to do tomorrow morning. My little guy had the classic living abroad food experience in which he flubbed the language and consequently didn't get what he wanted: he's been looking forward to the cheese plate selection ever since Mac showed him that that was a possibility on the web - and there came the lovely person with the cheese plate and Oliver must have been asked if he wanted any, and he must have said no because he said the person whisked the plate away before he could get any. My poor little guy! Iris said "try saying oui to everything" - genius. I told him not to worry, just two days ago at lunch, I was taken by the word "lardons" (basically, pancetta) and poached egg in a salad, thereby overlooking the word "gisiers" which is gizzards to you and me. Ah, life!

Ok - the only other news I have to report is that I bought a book today at the English Book Shop (yes) called The Breton Wench about a true-life 18th century Breton woman pirate, and that it is cold here (30-5 degrees F) - not as cold as Indiana, granted, but it turns out that Brittany only produces 8% of its electricity and so with everyone turning their heat up, we might have outages, especially as there is snow falling in Normandy - if lines snap over there, we lose power here. Gulp. All of our heat, everything in the house really (except the gas range) is electric. On the radio, they've appealed to everyone's "civisme" (love the word - civic duty, basically) and asked people not to run dishwashers or washing machines or any unnecessary electricity. Yikes-o-rama. The cold should stay until mid-January, but hopefully today's red alert for electricity won't be every day. Guess we'll snuggle in bed 17th-century style if the power cuts out.

For those of you who have been clamoring for SabbaticalMac in your e-mails and just need to see the man himself: voilà


  1. Hello, dear friends!
    It has been fun to read about your adventures in France! I'm with you in spirit every step of the way. The school sounds wonderful, though I hope you're enjoying your day off!! When I was a kid in Germany we had school 6 days a week (8am-1pm), so I guess there are all kinds of models, though the European ones don't seem to take working parents fully into consideration.
    Indiana is COLD and they're forecasting snow for tonight. Meanwhile WT has begun and I can only daydream about my next sabbatical.
    Alex and I send you lots of love!
    Let's talk soon,

  2. Hi dear Julia and Alex - what are preparations for Alex's first birthday? can't wait to hear/catch up!