Friday, March 12, 2010

Try something new... see what happens

You just never know when a seed planted perhaps long ago, perhaps far away will take root and start to grow. Last January, Iris and I and Mademoiselle Marnie took 20 students to the Czech Republic on a tour of the country organized by dear friend Julia. During that time, we kept seeing this little mole guy again and again (he's to the left under the sun umbrella, enjoying a nice big slice of watermelon with friends). We were quick to discover that he was none other than Krtek, the lovable mole of Communist-Era Czech cartoonist Zdenek Miller. He's affectionately known as "La Petite Taupe" here, and Mac and I were thrilled to discover that the wonderful television station/group arte was releasing the DVDs of the earliest episodes (those from 1963-1976). We thought: what a wonderful opportunity for the kids to watch more cool stuff in French (the love affair with the wondrous Barbapapa continues...). The package came today and we were so excited and so popped one in the DVD player, only to discover that these terrific little tales are told with no words at all. !!! As the Wikipedia article astutely states: "the characters almost never utter more than emotional sounds". But, hey, everything about it great and the kids love it: the emotional sounds are actually quite wonderful, the music is (yes, I'll say it) beautiful, and the drawings are well, see for yourself - this little 5 minute film gives you a great idea of the world the kids now want to inhabit with the little mole. (Julia! I can't wait to share these with you and Alex!!!)

If you have the time to see it, you can marvel with me at what kind of post-post-post-communist world we're living in that our kids find the didacticism perfectly in accordance with the wee moral lessons we try to give them - and I quote (from Iris): "that's what you always say, Mom, about friends being better than stuff." There you have it: I have the social ethics of a 1968 Communist cartoon (ok, maybe minus the suggested beer the mole is having with lunch).

Plucky Eleanor went to maternelle without her sister again today (Iris's teacher was still out, still no substitute). She's still determinedly sporting her new fashion sense of a dress over pants. Iris told us about this game that she and Eleanor play based on a great scene in Asterix and the Roman Agent (French title: Asterix et la Zizanie) in which Asterix and Obelix have a fight (provoked by the Roman Agent, "le semeur de zizanie") and walk away from each other, and then, after a brief pause, run right back to each other and cry and exclaim and proclaim their friendship and give each other hugs. Iris and Eleanor call this game: "I'm not going to play with you" and I would give millions to see it. Iris says to Eleanor this morning: "Just play 'I'm not going to play with you' but don't turn around." !!!

It was while dropping Eleanor off that I saw a friend of Iris's and her mom standing in the hallway. Not even thinking about what I was doing (for if I had I would have never done it for all my worrying about what's appropriate in French relationships, etc.) I asked the mom if, since there was no class today, the little friend might want to come over for a little bit today. I received a very puzzled look (of course) and an "on verra" (we'll see) which of course reduced me to a little sorry mess of "ack! I don't know how to do this without making people completely uncomfortable! ack!" More could be said about this, but I'll spare you my neurotic anxiety about offending French people - Mac will tell you that I overly worry about almost every exchange. Annoying probably for everyone. Trying to get over it.

Well, Iris and I had a lovely morning and she helped me make our paltry soup (Oliver and Eleanor had turkey cutlet in a mushroom cream sauce, with beets and carrot salad as a starter, the cheese course of course, and "le cookie" for dessert). We spent a little bit of time chatting with the niece of our across-the-street neighbor who is heading back to hospital for another 5-day period. The topic turned to politics (regional elections are this week-end) and we asked about Josselin's mayor. "Ah, he's not a good mayor," said the niece. No? "No, not at all - for example, he's never come by to say hello to my aunt." That's my kind of politics. And why shouldn't he come by? In a town of 2500 people, it's perfectly do-able. I think of DePauw being around 2300 students and our president, I'd bet, has met every single student. Loved that moment of French politics. I will try to shed light on the different parties in a future post. As is ever our fortune, we live in a very conservative part of the country - but French right is closer to American left than American right. Ooo, that just made me look forward to writing about politics.

BUT WAIT! Just when I had given up on Iris's little friend coming over (and was sad about it: the mom was so hip, I said to myself: she has purple hair - I thought she'd go for it!), and was settling in to work upstairs, I heard the door open downstairs and Mac talking with another adult. Woo-hoo! They had decided to come over!

The mom still had a kind of bemused look on her face. I soon found out why: this was her daughter's first ever play date at a friend's house. !!! We're just crazy Americans, I tell you! First revelation: seeing parents do the kiss hello with other parents and use the familiar second-person with each other does not mean that they hang out at each others' houses all the time. Second revelation: (and this only came to me as I was chatting with the little friend's mom), the tremendous majority (if not all) of our kids' classmates' parents are 10-15 years younger than we are. Oh, we are freaks in so many ways. In chatting, I also discovered that the little friend's mom was just coming off of her second 3-year maternity leave (the little friend has a little sister). That's right, I'll say that again: her second three (3)-year maternity leave. DePauw gives you 6 weeks of sick leave (we don't technically have maternity leave). This young mother works at the local meat-packing plant. Second three-year maternity leave. Actually, I don't even know what to write, I'm so blown away by that. All of these subtleties were blissfully lost on the girls: the little friend's mom went to run errands in Ploermel and we agreed to meet up at the school at 4:30 p.m. and then it was just wild and wacky bilingual fun: they played marbles, and vet, and did some coloring and invented a game they called "Ma Cabane" (my cabin), and then (yes!) we watched an episode of the little mole - I stuck around a bit at first at Iris's request, but by the end, they were on their own with their very full roster of activities.

And then they forged ahead to go pick up their little sisters. So there you have it: tried something new and something wonderful happened.


  1. Ah, the mole! I totally know him - grew up with him in fact. I think he must have been on East German television? It sounds impossible, but I think I even remember the episode from the Youtube video. I don't know. I'm so glad you found him. Alex at 14 months is already a pro at playdates. We had a great one just tonight with Micah. The two boys are adorable together - and Rebecca and I enjoyed each others company as well. What would the French think?
    We miss you loads! Love, love,

  2. Bravo, Alex! et bravae Julia and Rebecca - are you taking some pictures? i sure am sorry i'm missing this! we're having a petite-taupe-a-thon here - but then seeing a castle later. as the petite taupe would say: YIKES! :-)