Sunday, April 25, 2010

La Floraison du Château (Josselin)

Ooo, but it's good to be the duchess! Or at least the little pretend duchess that, as soon as she enters the castle ground for the annual flower show finds herself being able to take a pony ride. Can you believe it? While Mac and Mamie and Oliver went down to the English garden to explore the floral displays (and by the way, a new rose was launched here today: "La Lune Rousse" - the Red Moon), Iris and Eleanor took in a pony ride. I don't think that the two of them ever stopped smiling.

Eleanor had that grin on her face the entire time.

So clearly, where there might be children, there is face painting. And that awesome, excellent very well done face painting. This level of fun causes me rethink my Big Insight of the vacation a little bit. I hadn't written out the Big Insight, but it worked at trying to understand why French children are just so good. My previous theory had been that, in modeling their dignified and reserved parents, they themselves were dignified and reserved (thereby consigning my kids to a lifetime of goofiness, should they happen to model themselves on me, but giving them a shot at dignity should they model themselves on their father). But then, during the vacation, after the Incident, and watching parents and children move together in the streets of Quimper, I started thinking that part of the reason French children are so well-behaved is, unlike in the States where the desired state of being is childhood and eternal youth, here in France, the desired state is adulthood. I think that Adam Gopnik wrote (or must have written about this) at some point. French kids model themselves on adults because here being an adult is cool: it has multiple perks and freedoms and privileges. In the States, it's being young and childlike and a kid that is prized. Think of the one of the most treasured values of American society: fun - associated with kid culture, youthfulness, a good time as had by a kid. Now consider the linguistic fact that there is no word for "fun" in French. There are many words for "funny" ("rigolo" is Eleanor's favorite, and it is "rigolo" when she says it, too), but none for fun. And it's not that French people don't know how to have fun ("le fun" gets plenty of airtime on television and in advertising and in spoken parlance), they do; or that they don't laugh, they absolutely do. It's just that it's on different, more adult terms: wit, I would argue (and perhaps falsely about a much smaller group of people than I know), "wit," I would argue is as prized in French culture as "fun" is in American culture in terms of a cultural value that is invigorating and satisfying and reveals the smile of a culture. So, I don't know if every soccer fan in France prizes wit over fun, but from this little observation post of French culture, wit (and its sophisticated adult framework) is highly prized and, I believe, is part of the larger desirability of being an adult in France. Thus (Big Insight) why French children lean towards the dignified rather than the goofy. What do I mean by goofy? Exclaiming at everything, finding things wondrous when maybe they're not, being overly demonstrative - stuff like that. I love both cultures, both the kid culture (although it's louder and has serious issues with self-restraint) and the adult culture (although sometimes I miss the exuberance and can't keep up with the cool demeanor). I think that it's watching Eleanor put on her "French face," too - the way she purses her lips (and I will do everything in my power to get this on video) is simply more reserved and demure.

All this to say, we went to the face painting booth and had a glorious time watching Oliver (wo-ha!) become a bee, and Iris and Eleanor become garlanded with flowers. "I love France," Oliver said demurely (yes, demurely) as the painter was marking out little honeycomb shapes on his wings/cheeks. What I need to remember, and what Mac just reminded me of, is that, all told, the children have been in school 12 weeks (two 6-week sessions), and they still have 10 weeks (one long session) to go. I actually have no idea what changes await them. Eleanor announced this afternoon that she actually has three French faces. Wow!

And so what does it mean after my Big Insight that I can't resist posting this image of Oliver as a milk-swilling bee? Truth be told, I think it has nothing to do with either fun or wit, or dignity or goofiness, but rather the popping blue of his great big eyes. These pictures help time stand still just a little bit. After dinner, Oliver sighed and said "Well, back to reality" as he wiped the face paint off. He was totally jolly, though, as reality included a tarte from the boulangerie, and a whole lot of Asterix.

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