Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lasy Day of Vacation

I was remiss in not showing you the cheese of the week yesterday - forgive me! In the bottom left is an "Hirel Fermier," a Breton cheese which turns out to be from a little town between Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo right on the coast - yum! I was in line behind two French people at the cheese stand and they had asked to try it and to my utter amazement they turned it down (who turns down any French cheese? a discriminating palate, I know, but wow, I could never turn down a French cheese) - I liked its smooth ever so slightly tangy flavor, and knew the kids would, so I got some. They've named it "Sally" (they name their favorite cheeses). Next to Sally going counter-clockwise is the other new cheese of the week, a Maroilles, a cheese that's been made since the 8th century (thanks you, monks!) and which received its Appellation Controlée in 1955 - very esteemed. Continuing counter-clockwise, you have what's left of a great Etivaz (the kids call it "Bob") and after that, I'm a little embarassed to tell you is a Muenster from the Carrefour supermarket (feel sheepish buying cheese at the supermarket when the fromagier goes to all the trouble of coming to the market, plus, his comes from small fromageries, etc.) - but guess what? it's still good!

So today was a small day - we're getting ready to go back to what we know in France: work and school. I think that you can call it a routine, although time to work and think is still enough of a novelty that I'm tremulous and excited. I have much that I want to do in these next 6 weeks before the next vacation (!) and am nervous about getting it done. But I also feel much refreshed (much, much refreshed) and so ready. I should make myself accountable and write down what I'm hoping for: 1) read much more much faster (always) through the French Renaissance bibliography I have, 2) flesh out the Prudence iconography conference talk to a book chapter on Louise's use of Prudence imagery, 3) write a chapter on Louise's interests in the Middle East via Jean Thenaud's voyage, 4) map out The Book (really? is there really a book in me? a very encouraging colleague said there was, so I really have to look - and believe) - if there is The Book, it seems to be about the imagery of moral and political virtues that Louise de Savoie wielded in her efforts to raise her son to be the heir apparent of the French throne (which he became), and to solidify her power in her service as Regent Queen (which she was, twice). I don't have my images picked out the way I would like to have them - there are many images, but which to prioritize, research further, etc.? The Prudence chapter will be rich in images (and hoorah, hoorah for the discovery of that tomb), but I need more for the other chapters, and I need to know what those are about. I've thought about having a chapter for each of the four virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, and Prudence) - there are certainly images that correspond directly to some (Prudence) and by allusion to others (I could work with her Heroïdes manuscripts for Temperance, for instance). OK - all this and more (the moral education of princes and still and ever more general reading about Renaissance France to make that bridge from the Late Middle Ages viable) in the next six weeks. And the Women's Studies course on Feminist Utopias and rethinking the Art History survey (always), and the other little things that come up.

Hard to tell what the kids are feeling. The girls seem excited: Eleanor can't wait to take a nap at school (!), and Iris just loves school period. Oliver hasn't said much of anything, except that he doesn't like to get up early. He's still nervous about not speaking fluently ("What's the French word for "gruesome"?" he asks me - and he wanted an exact word, not an approximation; I think that that's part of it for him, is an anxiety about the French words not being exactly the right ones, not having the same meaning exactly. We'll see how we get him to relax about that - each language has its own unique gifts, words that don't translate ("je ne sais quoi" (!), or "Schadenfreude" for instance), or rather, words that you can explain better than translate - but most words translate, and Oliver will have to trust that. Or, better yet, stop translating altogether. This is what we're seeing Eleanor do. She has learned, smart little thing, that we turn to her much faster if she speaks in French - so, to get our attention now it's "Maman, regarde!" "Viens, Maman!" - works every single time. Iris still translates words, but has lots of expressions and gestures on automatic - she says "Ouais" for "oui" - sounds like the real deal! Up above, you see them getting through a particularly tense moment in Cinderella (en français!) - I think it's when the stepmother locks her up in the tower. Intense! Other than witnessing the demise of Disney heroines, our day was relatively calm - just getting ready for tomorrow in the back of minds, really.

We did have one really exciting moment, when Iris and I were out for a walk (she wanted to explain some of her "fact sheets" she's been writing - she had one on ant-eaters, mountain goats, and lice (there was an outbreak at school before the vacation, maybe that's the connection?). So we're out, and it's lovely and sunny if somewhat windy, and we get down to the canal, the river, and are stunned to see how swift and high it is - it's been raining, yes, but we didn't think it would add up to anything this high! Iris was immediately concerned for our dear new friends who have the house on the island and was devising all sorts of ways that they might escape (the path to their place was flooded over, but Mac assures us that there are other roads that are always passable for them). We were walking down and I happened to look back and gasped because all of a sudden (always!) there were this huge storm clouds, trailing rain after them, where, I swear to you, not 5 minutes ago, there had been bright blue sky! The Weather Channel ought to have a Brittany desk, I tell you - there is never one dull moment in weather here. So we ran home to tell Mac to run out here (he's a bit of a weather chaser) and he did, and captured this split-sky image which only tells a bit of the tale. But where we the canal is usually perfectly placid and calm, instead we had this.

No wonder the Duke built his castle up on the hill, eh?

Mac took off at about 3 p.m. to go see a screening of Avatar in a nearby town. I've spent an alarming amount of time thinking about that movie, having made it the springboard for the final exam in my "Monsters and Marvels in Medieval Art" class and was so, so happy that Mac could see it. He said the theater was absolutely packed, and that the movie was great. Yea! I'll refrain myself from launching into any kind of Avatar exposé at this point, as I want to get back to an early-to-bed routine, and return to The Three Musketeers (the vacation mode had me reading a Michael Crichton novel, which I relished!). A bientôt!

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