Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A few things that blow my mind

This bug, for one thing. Doesn't its face have the smooth, planar surfaces of an African mask? Uncanny! Iris and Oliver spotted it on a tree on the promenade this afternoon, and I had a very intense Proustian rush: vivid memories of playing with these bugs, watching them climb on sticks, waiting for them to hop or fly away. Did I play with these for hours as a child? They were so familiar, without my having had any reason to think of them in 35 years. Strange. I'd love to know what they are - local to Europe only? Love those guys.

A second thing is the weather. The two pictures to the right were taken from the very same spot at the very same time: on one side, beautiful blue sky puffed with lovely light clouds; on the other: dense, thick grey, menacing of some kind of terrible weather. We absolutely love the weather here: it is never the same thing from hour to hour, so you just go out and see what happens. Today was especially freaky: a huge hail storm this afternoon (not huge balls of hail, just lots and lots and lots of tiny ones), followed by bright sunshine.

And then, right at dusk, as Oliver and I were driving to Ploërmel to see his dermatologist (eczema is acting up, but we've found a wonderful doctor), there were snow flurries ahead, and bright blue skies to the left. Oliver and I decided it was no wonder that there are tales of impish korrigans and mischievous wizards in Brittany (the Breton Fairy Tale of the Day involved thunder storms that came and went depending on the behavior of a naughty man) - the weather seems to have a will of its own, changing so fast, with such wild lurches - surely a rambunctious creature is in charge of it all.

I'll put this picture of Eleanor up for the third thing that blows my mind (tonight), as life looks pretty good for her right there, napping on her Daddy's shoulder and this has to do with well-being. The dermatologist is this wonderful, chatty guy who loves to talk about French culture, especially as it compares to German and American culture, so I felt pretty comfortable asking him about something I'd seen on a brochure I'd been looking at in the waiting room for an open air museum that said it took "cheques de vacances." Vacation checks, I thought - qu'est-ce que c'est? Are you ready for this? They are indeed vacation checks - usually only given by the bigger companies, but, like the "ticket restaurant" they are subsidized by the company (so, say, you put buy a stack of tickets retaurants for 10 euros, but they're really worth 15 euros - this is how it was explained to me long ago, but I'm (unfortunately!) not sure if that's really how it works - the company subsidizes your eating out, that's the bottom line). But there's more: some huge companies, like (EDF, the electric company of France), will put aside 3% of the company's earnings for the year (I was open-mouthed by this point - a company put aside even 3% of its earnings for its employees?) and buy apartment complexes in vacation resorts, or blocks on cruise ships: the employees who choose to, can then rent apartments or go on cruises for next to nothing. The doctor then winked and said "c'est communiste, eh?" - the workers may not own the means of production, but they have a shot at well-being. The miserable pittance of time and resources that is the American vacation is both the symptom and the cause of how oddly we are left to relax (in very short bursts - which is totally oxymoronic). As we sit here getting ready to embark on our two-week school vacation, I think of how many families are packing up to go to a vacation that is sanctioned, supported and indeed subsidized by their company. Wow oh wow. Now, not every company does this, none of the workers in the private sector are unionized in France, and so on - but 3% (which sounds so small, but for a big company is actually quite a lot) is certainly a start to big companies caring about their employees through more than just a paycheck. If you work for a big company in the States, you can at least be assured health care. Here, the government takes care of health care, giving your company room to make a vacation with your family possible. Amazing.

Well, these were not the issues that the kids were contemplating. Here they are at the lovely library grouped around a story book they were translating - there was some good debate about what words meant (good!), and I love to see how involved they became in it. It's starting to be a Wednesday thing, to go to the library - Mac and I get something for ourselves, each kid gets a book, and then we get some kind of interactive CD-rom (these modern kids today!)

Eleanor really wanted to take this book home. Really, really wanted to. Friends of ours in Chicago have a daughter the kids have named "Chicago Emma" and so this book made Eleanor really happy. We had a misunderstanding I think we can be forgiven for in first understanding this book to be about Emma having two mommies (which is the case for Chicago Emma) - upon reading it, we discovered that it was that Emma had two grand-mothers. Turns out Emma et ses deux mamies is about a little girl and her two grand-mothers. None of which stopped Eleanor from loving this book (fiercely) as being about Chicago Emma, and insisting on going to bed with it tonight.

I leave you with the wonderful little poem written above the children at the library:

Monday in the moon
Tuesday in the pond
Wednesday in the ocean
Thursday is a game
Friday there is wind
Saturday is a good time/weather
Sunday white tablecloth (or (Mac's contribution from read Jules Verne reading) white caps - the white surface of the ocean).

I don't entirely get the last line (lunch at grandma's house? choppy waters?) (is it whimsical or nautical, this poem?) (well, both, right? jeu de mots, double entendre and all that?), but I love the sentiment of the other lines - books can take you anywhere!

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