Yearly Archives: 2006

The apple doesn’t fall far…

For the first time ever on this (marathon) trip to Canada, Camille paid attention to the in-flight safety video shown before take-off. Starting on our Lyon to London flight, she stared at the video screen, riveted.

Oh crap, I thought to myself.

You see, as those close to me know, I have always been deeply distrustful of being stuffed in a metal tube and projected tens of thousands of feet up in the air. A deep-seated fear of flying is something I have struggled with my entire life, and at the moment I feel like I have (almost) conquered it. But as I watch Camille watch the safety video, her eyes getting wider and wider as each different crash scenario is covered, I wonder if I haven’t instead just fobbed it off on my youngest child.

Finally, the video gets to what has always been my personal coup de grace, the “emergency landing on water” scenario (now there’s a euphemism for you). Just after the part about the plastic slides turning into inflatable life rafts and detaching from the fuselage (which is floating nicely on the water in the video – yeah, right) Camille turns to me with eyes like flying saucers.

“I hope that doesn’t happen Mommy,” she whispers.

“Ha Ha! Don’t be silly!” I exclaim, ever so jolly. “Of course that won’t happen sweetie. I’ve flown my whole life and that’s never happened to me. It never happens. “

“It must happen. Otherwise they wouldn’t show it.”

Hmmmm. “Well, because it may happen very, very rarely, but not on the airplanes we travel on. Camille, this is not something that you have to worry about. You can trust Mommy and Daddy. Do you think we’d take you on an airplane if it wasn’t safe?”

Camille just narrowed her eyes at me, plucked the safety card out of the seat pocket it front of her, and began to study it with intense concentration.

Charlotte just takes my word for it when I tell her she doesn’t need to be worried about this thing or that thing, but Camille will have none of it. No. Like me, Camille needs to be sure.

Camille’s lack of confidence in both the airplane and me reminds me of my earliest memories of flying with my Dad. He also had some unresolved issues with flying in his time, but like me, he was bound and determined not to pass them on to his children.

His method was to try and get us excited about the fascinating world of aeronautics – to memorize the details of each type of aircraft out there (and to know never fly on a DC 10, which I still remember to this day is due to that faulty rear engine mounted on the tail), to explain what each sound was: that was the flaps going down, that was the wheels being retracted into the fuselage, that was the steward swearing because he’d spilt hot coffee on his hand…

I think Suzanne just played with her Barbie and largely ignored him, but I listened intently, all the while remaining every bit as suspicious as Camille. If he’s putting this much effort into distracting us, I thought to my little self, then there really must be something to worry about.

We’ve finally arrived in Canada after the trip from hell. Charlotte caught some kind of stomach bug and was running a mild fever and kept saying she felt like she needed to throw up (which led me to hoard the vomit bags from every flight we took), the security wouldn’t let me take any of her medicine on board – liquids, you know…I guess Al Quaeda has figured out how to make bombs out of children’s strawberry aspirin.

We got into Vancouver three hours late (traffic jam in Heathrow’s take off lanes, as usual), missed our flights to Victoria, and then had to wait TWO HOURS beside the luggage carrousel waiting for our absent luggage which was first stuck behind a jammed cargo door (turned out it was frozen shut) and then when the ground crew finally got the door open they realized that all the cargo bins in the aircraft’s hold were also frozen shut so had to cut them open like sardine cans with metal cutters to get the luggage out. The BA staff said they had never seen or heard of this happening before, but I HAD noticed flying over Greenland that the outside temperature reading was hovering around -76 degrees Celsius.

Anyhoo – by some Christmas miracle managed to catch the very last flight over to Victoria which left at midnight, and arrived in Victoria after 28 hours of solid travel and less than 1 hour of sleep to be told by my parents that they had been without electricity since noon that day due to a huge winter storm that had knocked out the power lines.

“This day just keeps getting better and better,” was my response.
This meant no hot shower, no lights, no warm food, and no heat…it was just about enough to send me over the edge.
However, things have been steadily on the upswing since electricity came back on yesterday at noon, so I can’t complain. There’s a great storm (again) right now with gorgeous huge waves and tremendous wind at about 150 km / hour. It’s very beautiful, and it’s amazing how having electricity and hot showers can make one have such a more benign view towards nature.

Original Sins

Very annoying. Every time I have gotten a bit lippy over the past few days, Franck shakes his finger at me and intones in a priestly voice, “Tais-toi femme! Remember the Original Sin!”

Not feeling very kindly towards Catholics at the moment.

The Immaculate Conception and Other Connundrums

Two days before coming to Canada, the girls’ school, Saint Coeur, held a special children’s Mass to celebrate the Immaculate Conception and to ready everyone’s spirit for the Christmas.

I thought the idea in and of itself was a good one, although as with all things “church-y” I had some reservations as to its execution. But my dubiousness be damned – the girls were quite insistent on going. Charlotte’s teacher this year was singing and directing the school choir, and one of the girls’ many half / second cousins (not sure which- Franck has a huge family – she is the granddaughter of Franck’s aunt and I have no idea what this technically makes her) Noemie, was singing and had stopped Franck in the school yard that morning to ask if we could all please to come and watch her.

After school all the children at school were chattering about who was going to church and who wasn’t; it went without saying that everyone wanted to go. I found it amusing how the Immaculate Conception Mass was the must-attend social event of the season for Charlotte and Camille and their school mates.

The service was in the Notre Dame cathedral in the heart of Beaune, just one of the many jaw dropping stone churches in France that – oh – date back to the early Middle Ages or so.

Outside, we met Franck’s Aunt Renee and another half or quarter aunt, Madeleine (the wife of Franck’s mother’s cousin – not sure what this makes her either), who had also come to hear Noemie sing. Inside, I was astounded at the number of people. Almost all the old wicker church chairs were full of families from the school. Franck settled himself against one of the massive stone pillars, and as the alter boys swung the incense balls around Charlotte and Camille spotted a whole bunch of friends in the audience and were kept busy waving to them.

The priest emerged in his priestly garb, emblazoned with a portrait of a very holy looking Virgin Mary in a circle on the back of the gown. He was bespectacled and extremely young; it wasn’t too long ago that he had been a child himself. Alrighty I settled back in my wicker seated chair Let’s hear what this young buck has to say about the Immaculate Conception.

As many a modern young woman, I not surprisingly have a bit of a problem with the whole veneration of the Virgin Mary / Immaculate Conception thing in the Catholic religion. While I appreciate the fact that the Catholic church has some kind of female presence (as you certainly won’t find it in the priesthood or the Vatican, but I digress…) I have a problem with the fact that Mary is such an atypical woman, regardless of culture or era. Despite the much lamented depravity of our times, I doubt one would have any much more luck in France in the 1400’s finding a woman that was; a) a virgin, and b) bore a child that was not the result of sex, but of an act of God.

For me, the Virgin, while a lovely symbol in her serenity and love, is simply too perfect for me to truly relate to. She is so far from how I see myself that all the praising and praying to her ends up alienating me most of the time.

Mary Magdelene, on the other hand…she hasn’t been mentioned very much in the few Catholic services I’ve been too in France, but I have always suspected that there was a woman who I could pray to. A woman who was innately riddled with imperfections and desires, who sinned, many times and greatly, and who still managed to gain redemption despite all that. Come to think of it, who, whether they be a woman or a man, can’t relate to that?

But as luck would have it, the priest at the Mass didn’t seem fit to launch into the Immaculate Conception right away without doing a brief but fiery detour around The Original Sin. So we were regaled with the story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve didn’t want to listen to God, and forced Adam to disobey as well. She had the gumption to simply say a big fat “No” to God, and to make a long story short she and her despicable actions have damned all humankind (for evermore, amen).

I could feel the steam rising in my head until it was almost ready to blow out my ears, when Camille interrupted my inner indignation.

Maman, I need to do a poo.” She squirmed on my lap.

Not being overly familiar with the church or its toilet facilities, I convinced her she could wait, but by this time the matter of The Original Sin had been dispensed with and the priest had moved on to the Heart of the Matter.

Unlike Eve (bad), the Virgin Mary (good) said “yes” to God when he asked her if she would like to bear Jesus. With this, the priest saw fit to go on a anti-abortion tirade about how Jesus as an embryo (because as a Catholic priest, I suppose he is privy to the secret documents that prove that God put Jesus into Mary’s womb in embryonic form) was a human being and that all embryos, no matter how small, are all human beings. I don’t think any woman who has ever carried a child, or ever had the misfortune of a miscarriage, would ever say anything different. And yet, I feel a young person on welfare, or a rape victim, has every right to have a different opinion on the feasibility of a pregnancy than a celibate priest.

Just then a little two year old boy must have broke free from his parents and climbed the steps up the the alter where the priest was preaching, babbling away (and yes, I am entirely aware of my displaced modifier here) . The priest, who had just finished sermonizing about the sanctity of embryos, and life, and children, jostled the wayward child of with several firm pushes with his foot.

This startling hypocrisy aside, the priest’s very preachiness made me furious. The thing is, if I truly felt that I could live without any spiritual meaning to my life, I simply wouldn’t have cared what this priest or any other has to say. And yet I have come to the realization that personally I cannot live in a spiritual vacuum. I need belonging, I need meaning, I need a quiet place to escape from the chaos of life and think about all those questions that bind us together as human beings. Why am I here? What does all this mean? Do I have a purpose, and if so, what is it? What happens to me, all my thoughts and emotions and experiences and longings and confusion, after I die?

This means that I, like so many other people, am searching. And when I go into a church wanting to find something to grasp on to and all I find is judgement and rhetoric – and not humanity, a little bit of my heart breaks.

Communion time came, and I asked Franck whether he was planning on taking communion. He shook his head vigorously – a definite no. I wasn’t surprised that Franck was no more thrilled with the priest than I was. I know that Franck feels that belief is a very personal matter and that anyone who tells you how things are, instead of agreeing to accompany you a while on the road to asking these questions, is not really worth listening to. And, perhaps as a fault of his youth, this guy certainly seemed to think he had all the answers.

The girls, however, were hell bent on taking communion, so they very seriously walked up to the front and crossed their arms over their chests, as instructed (to show they hadn’t yet had their first official Communion) and the priest blessed them and made the sign of the cross in water on their forehead. They came back to their seats, absolutely thrilled, and I believe, truly feeling that they were a part of something that Franck and I, paradoxically, don’t mind them being part of.

As I often say, I don’t mind them rejecting their Catholicism later on in life, but at least they have the framework of something to reject, and to lean on later on in life if they ever need it. And I harbour a thin hope that maybe then, having felt part of the Church since their youth, they may be able to take comfort in the ritual and traditions of it, instead of asking from it more than it can seem to deliver, like their mother.

One last tasting…

On Tuesday my friend Charlotte and I realized that we would be leaving for Canada in a week’s time, and that seeing as they were off to Brussels for the weekend, we wouldn’t have any time to have a decent visit before we left. So we concocted the idea of an aperitif / diner at Charlotte’s house the next night (Wednesday) just to squeeze in one last visit.

So Wednesday morning the girls and I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and Wednesday evening after we packed everyone in the car and headed down to Beaune.

The kids dashed off to play, Charlotte to play card games – their newest obsession – with Eloi, and Camille went upstairs to play “teacher” with Alix and Capucine. Charlotte had boguth some pizzas she was heating up in the oven, and Marco told us he had a surprise in the living room.

We opened the door and there on the glass living room table sat 16 bottles of wine. Marco had extracted wine from the “cuves” where it was vinified so that we could tatse how all 13 of his 2006 vintages, spread over Volnay and Pommard, that have not yet been transferred into the wooden kegs for 12 to 18 months of aging, were coming along.

Charlotte brought in a glass mixing bowl as out “crachoir“, and we proceeded to taste the 13 different wines – which were all vastly different – hence the richness of the system of “terroirs” that we have here in Burgundy. I hated to be cliche, but my favorite one were the Pommards, which were already quite strong and balanced. 2006 is going to be a funny year for the reds, however. Many of the wines are highly tannic, and the majority are stronger in the nose than in the mouth, and no-one knows if this is going to be rectified or not by their time spent in the oak barrels. Another reminder that wines, at their best, are living changing things that can evolve just as unpredictably as any person!

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part I

This weekend was not just any weekend, it was what is known around here as “Les Trois Glorieuses”, or in other words, the huge Hospices de Beaune wine auction and attendent party. And this weekend starts on Friday, just to stretch out the fun and madness. And as for me, as you will read, there was a lot of both…


8:00 am

Panicked phonecall from the Wine Authority in Beaune (the BIVB) who are big players in the Vente des Vins. There is a page long press release about the 2006 vintage that is released to the Associated Press and the freeloader journalists, and which needs to be translated into English. Can you do it?
“When will I receive the french document?”
“Around noon.”
“When do you need it by?”
“5:00pm at the very latest.”
“Well, I have an appointment in Beaune at three, so it will be rushed but if you’re sure I can get the document by noon…”
Oui, oui, no problem. Ah merde, must go, things are crazy here”. CLICK.

8:10 am

Franck has to run over to Magny to wait for the water guy to come and read the meter. Two days previously Franck had huge fight with them over the phone wondering WHY the meter guy could no simply call him when he was nearing Magny, which would save Franck from waiting around for an hour in the cold. And guess what the shining example of the french civil service answer? “Bah, monsieur, you should just wear a warm jacket!”

So Franck, disgruntled with French civil servants, is in a foul mood. When I shout “get the car back by 8:30 so I can take the girls to school!” he just grunts.

8:30 am

Where is Franck with the car???? The girls are all ready, jackets on, stuffy toy and school bag in hand, etc. etc. but where is Franck???? Finally I hear a car in the driveway and then a knock on the door. Whew, he’s back, but why on earth is he bothering to knock on the door of his own house? Open the door and see a nice young man holding a clipboard.

“Bonjour Madame, your husband made an appointment for me to come and service your furnace this morning.”

9:00 am

Through what can only be attributed to a minor miracle manage to heave mountain of dirty laundery out of the way and get furnace guy settled and drive girls to school before the big wooden door closes me out. When I come back home Franck is at home talking furnace talk with furnace guy, and the whole place smells like oil. Get into office to see answering machine light blinking. It was the damn water meter man who, in the end, DID call to say he was coming.

11:30 am

Go down to school to pick up kidlets for lunch, my two plus it was our day to have Alix and Eloi as well (my friend Charlotte’s children). Get everybody home, hands washed, and stuff them full of smiley fries and fish fingers. Balanced meals have a tendency of going out the window during days like this.

12:30 pm

Gulp down coffee and check emails to see if famous “communique de presse” has arrived.

1:00 pm

Still Nothing. I have to leave the house again at 2:30…Call BIVB. Where is the document?
Answer: “They’re still winetasting and arguing over the wording.”
“I need it! I’m leaving home in an hour and a half.”
“I’ll call them and tell them to hurry up.”

1:30 pm

Document finally arrives. Just FYI and to paraphrase – the 2006 vintage is looking pretty good despite very difficult weather conditions this year. The whites are excellent (especially the Chablis) and the reds, while a bit more uneven, show some promise in the more robust, well-vinified wines, although there is a bit of a problem with high tannin levels. Translate madly for one hour, and send the doc off just as I hear the car wheels crunch in the driveway as Franck comes to pick me up.

3:00 pm

Sitting in gynecologist’s office for yearly exam. Reflect that it was probably a Good Thing that I was preoccupied this morning and didn’t therefore have too much time to dwell on afternoon appointment. Gynecologist has reputation of being a good doctor, but is rather off-putting as has a “Le” in his last name and is therefore an artistocrat of sorts and also wears a silk “foulard” around his neck, which is something I have certainly never encountered before in Canada. Also, in France there is no modest sheet to cover body parts during the exam. You have to strip in a little cubicle and then walk across the room and hop up on the examination table completely naked – there is no sign of any modest paper sheet at any point in the proceedings.

4:30 pm

Have survived, although personal dignity is, quite predictably, in tatters. Run off to grocery store with Franck to buy lunch food for the “Vente des Vins” meal we are having on the next day, and then dash off to pick up the girls from school.

5:30 pm

Pick up girls, go to Meme Germaine’s to have traditional Friday evening “aperitif” (kir, Bien sur). Drop off girls at Franck’s parents, and delirious with possibilities, hop back in the car and head back to Beaune in search of something to eat.

7:00 pm

Bought delicious hot sandwiches (mine is chevre cheese and lettuce) at La Caravane on the Place Madeleine, and go to the bar next door with them and enjoy a beer from Belgium. Stroll around the streets, where all the Christmas lights are strung up and glowing and sparkling and basically making everything quite magical.

9:00 pm

Get home, and do an hour of mad house cleaning and table setting for lunch tommorrow.

10:00 pm

Collapse in front of the TV and decide to watch our Sopranos DVD again.

12:45 am

What total idiots. Tony and Carmela and the crew are just way too magnetic. Set the alarm for 5:45am – only five hours from now!

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part II

6:00 am

The alarm rings. Why did I think this early-morning winetasting was a good idea? Stagger out of bed and get a big bowl of cafe au lait in me. OK, am semi-functional now.

7:10 am

It is still dark outside, but the air is unseasonably mild, and the sky over the black rounded hump of the Mont Saint Victor is full of stars scattered around a sickle moon. I admire the sky (I am rarely outside at this time in the morning), and wait for Franck who is still rustling around in the kitchen.

7:15 am

Our car wheels crunch on the gravel of Martial’s driveway in Ladoix-Serrigny. While Franck waits for him, I walk over to the boulangerie and pick us up a big bag of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, just out of the oven. Franck and Martial are waiting for me outside, and then we’re off!

7:20 am

In Beaune, Franck jettisons me out of the car before going to find a parking place so as to save our place in line. There is a group of ten or so Parisians milled around the gate drinking coffee and eating croissants, but in the true french fashion I cut in front of them : you snooze, you lose. I’m second in line, right behind a freindly looking Danish couple.

7:30 am

Franck and Martial join me, and commend my cutting-in prowess. The Parisians start to clue in and line up behind us.

7:40 am

Alex and Jenny, our lovely guests from Tazmania who are staying at Le Relais de Vieux Beaune walk towards us, both clad in warm jackets and berets (pourquoi pas?) . They are suitably impressed with our place in line, and soon after they arrive a burly guard emerges from the cellars, shrugs and says “Sorry, there’s no more wine left,” and then laughs gaily at his razor-sharp wit. After a while he asesses the mob growing behind us and makes an executive decision – a wise one – to open the gate and let us in to the main courtyard, where orderly roped rows are already set up. Franck takes credit for this new organization which is a vast improvement from last year. Appartently he told Marie-Jo (Anne-Louise’s mother, who is also the head of Human Resources for the hospital and hospices) that this was the logical way to do it. Franck commends himself repeatedly.

7:50 am

Despite the gorgeous orange morning light and blue sky above, it is getting a bit chilly standing still in line. Martial pulls out a thermos full of steaming coffee and Franck a bag of plastic glasses and even a little tupperware of sugar cubes – so that’s what he was doing in the kicthen! Franck and Martial apparently cooked up their strategy on the phone the night before. Croissants, pain au chocolat, and hot, delicious coffee are enjoyed all round.

8:15 am

We distribute the tickets, and Franck realizes that we have two too many. We give out tickets to the Danish couple in front of us, who are very pleased and Franck also gives them our website and email addresses, never one to miss and opportunity to network!

8:30 am

Right on schedule the cellar opens for business. Part of me feels rather dissapointed that Alex and Jenny missed out on the chaotic mob scene that was last year, and that I had warned them repeatedly about. This year everything is shockingly well organized and orderly. Down in the beautiful vaulted cellars we buy a box off emblazoned tasting glass that we distribute, and that we’ll use after in our vacation rentals. We also buy a bag of puff pastries (gougeres) because who can winetaste on an (almost) empty stomach?

The wines are very, very young, having been just harvested just two months previously. They are served directly from the oak barrels where they are still being vinified with long glass “pipettes“. The first few reds such as the Pernand Vergelesses and the Aloxe Corton are very tannic and feel like they are scraping our throats on their way down.

As we move through the beautiful vaulted cellars (which date back from the 13th century) we find the reds on the whole rather harsh, although there are some already tasty ones (notably the red Corton Grand Cru – cuvee Charlotte something or other) that really distinguish themselves. The white are still cloudy and effervescent, as they are still in the process of fermenting. The Corton Charlemagne, however, and many others show excellent promise in a year that is reputedly going to be fabulous for whites (indeed, the price of the whites at the auction this year was up 63%, whereas the reds were just up 1% from last year).

10:30 am

Like moles, we stumble up the stairs, blinking in the sunlight. Martial and I emerge first, as Franck and Alex and Jenny are all still chatting to the winemakers below, and we each pick up a free alcohol level test, but neither of us can figure out how to use it, which we finally are forced to conclude is not a Good Sign.

After the rest of the gang emerges, we stroll around the grounds of the marvelous “Hospices” building and admire the stone statues and colourful enamel roof tiles, and then move towards the centre of town, where the party is gathering steam. We watch some people doing a demonstration of barrel making, smell the frog’s legs and escargot’s cooking at the food stands, and taste a free slice of “Tome” cheese from the Jura region.

Then we all part ways to go to our various abodes, but only for a short while, as we will be meeting back at our place at noon to warm up with a “raclette” for lunch.

11:30 am

When we get home Andre has brought back the girls and, bless him, has peeled all the potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker to cook. Franck and I scramble around preparing the plates of “charcuterie” (cold cuts). Martial soon arrives along with his wife Isabelle and their sons Gabin and Athur, laden with gifts, as usual. Cheese directly from the Jura for our raclette, some Comte just for us, and because he had the whim, two Morteau sausages to boot. Alex and Jenny arrive soon afterwards, with three lovely bottles of wine for us. We all settle down to a feast of potatoes, melted cheese, and cold cuts. I had made a salad, but of course forgot it in the kitchen.

3:00 pm

Over coffee we all lounge about, feeling satiated and quite content. I realize with dismay that Charlotte has to go to a Birthday party in Beaune that starts at 3:00. Whoops.

4:00 pm

Franck finally takes Charlotte to her party, and the guests trickle out after a very delicious and pleasant afternoon. There’s only one problem – I feel like a python who has just eaten a lamb, and starts to wonder belatedly if it was such a good idea , and we have a gala dinner we have to be at in three hours…

6:00 pm

Franck and I are collapsed on the couch, wondering how we’ll ever manage to eat again, let alone in one hour.

7:00 pm

We arrive at the Naudin-Ferrand wine Domaine in Magny-les-Villers, where our friend Claire and her sisters Anne and Marie have very kindly invited us to a wonderful “Repas de la Paulee” celebrating the Vente des Vins weekend. The cellar is beautifully decorated with flowers and decorations from last years’ Saint Vincent Festival. Most of the guests are loyal clients of theirs from elsewhere in France and Europe, but there are also some other locals – the mayor of Magny, Nicole (who cooks the great lunches as Jacky’s), her husband Joel, and of course the Naudin family.

Anne serves us all mouth-watering gougeres along with a kir. Miraculously, we seem to have room after all! We sit down and the conversation turns to Jacky, who after being ill in the hospital for some time, had finally passed away the week before. Franck told Nicole (Jacky’s sister) how Camille now insists to visit his grave every time we go an say “bonjour” to Pepe Georges at the cemetary on the top of the Mont Saint Victor. I think she will always remember him as the nice man who sold her Chupa Chups lollipops. Joel and Nicole then regaled us of the routines of the regular clients at the bar, my favorite of which was a man (who will remain nameless – this is small village after all!) who comes in every morning at 7:00am, has a coffee, a croissant, and then a glass of white wine, and then strolls up the Mont Saint Victor for his morning constitutional, takes a leak at the 12th Century chapel up there, and only after this edifying morning routine is completed, heads out to start his day.


We sit over coffee, digesting the absolutely fabulous meal (see menu above), and Claire fills up our empty coffee cups with Marc de Bourgogne. And the best part about it is that we only have to get in the car, put it into first, and roll down the hill to get home!

My Weird and Wonderful Weekend. Part III

Sunday November 19th

11:00 am

Finally emerge from bed, call Charlotte where the girls are sleeping over to tell her that I indeed probably won;t be down to pick the girls up before lunch


Finally get down to Beaune to pick up the girls, who we take into town, despite the spitting rain so that they too can experience the “Vente des Vins”. We wander past the “Halles” where the wine auction is in full swing, and continue on to the Place Carnot. After a madatory ride on the merry-go-round that looks as though its doing brisk business, we tour the stands around the place and finally stop at the one that sells escargots. The girls clamour for some (as I was a child that subsisted for years on bologna and velveeta I never in a million years could have thought myself capable of betting childfren who would be clamouring to eat snails, but there you go). Tha ir is redolent of garlic and butter and parsley, and when we are served up our “douzaine d’escargots”, piping hot, I distribute toothpicks and we devour them in record time.

4:00 pm

Wit our tummies now happily full of snails, we follow the parade of folkdancers and bands through the rue Carnot up to the Place Monge, where Charlotte and Camille discover the elastic trampoline is installed, just as it was last year.

The contraption, something I have never seen before anywhere else, is four trampolines touching edge to edge, making up a rough square. Each trampoline has poles comign up from both suides and from behind, to which a harnass is connected with huge ruber bands. So the kids get strapped into the harnesses, and then when they bounce it is an amazing combination of bungy jumping and trampolining. Charlotte, who as far as I can tell is afraid of nothing, had been dying to try it last year but there was a huge line-up so I had (somewhat relieved) said no.

This year however the line-up was minisicule, and I figured my little daredevil was allowed some fun too. Imagine my surprise, however, when Camille asserted that she also wanted to try. She seems to have inheirted what my husband refers to as “the Bradbury sense of self-preservation” meaning that if she can help it she is very careful not to put herself in danger’s path.

So I say yes to both my little risk-takers, they are strapped in and spend a good ten minutes hurtling up to the sky in their harnesses. It actually looks like a heck of a lot of fun.

5:00 pm

The rain is coming down harder, but the lights have all come on and create a sparkling canopy which we walk under to get back to out car.

The truth hurts…

OK, so I really needed a haircut. Things have been so busy lately that, to use my dear friend Andrea’s expression, at times I felt like my head was going to pop off. So one week ran into another, and my hair grew longer and longer, until my cute layered cut began to betray my Canuck roots and morph into a long, shaggy hockey mullet. As my Canadian friend Heather, who lives in Dijon, reminds me “Business in the front, Paaaaaarty in the back!”

It looked really bad, but having lived in Canada for most of my life I never dreamed in a million years that anyone would actually come out and say so…

PHOTO: The girls, my mullet, and I in Brittany last week.

So I was out on my weekly Monday morning walk with my friend Charlotte this week, and I casually announced that I had made a hair appointment for the next day.

“Are you getting it cut?” she demanded, somewhat stridently.
“Yes,” I said, absently fingering the lower layer of my mullet. “It’s gotten way too long.” I expected her to perhaps murmur in agreement, but then to cushion the blow with some sort of vague compliment about my cowlicks or something.
“Whatever you do,” she said. “Don’t let your hairdresser give you the same cut she gave you last time. That cut did nothing for you – something about the longer bit at the bottom really made you look old and hard.”
Gulp. Shock rendered me speechless. Could such words actually be coming out of the mouth of Charlotte – someone I know to be kind and generous and a very good friend? It took me at least a minute, but I made a heroic effort to rally around.
“Well, maybe I’m just starting to really look older…” I let out a hollow laugh. When in doubt, employ the old Canadian standard – self-deprecating humour.
“No, it’s not that,” she disagreed. “It was definitely the haircut. It was a bad haircut. That bottom bit doesn’t suit your face.”

In a daze I returned home from my walk and proceeded to make Franck’s life miserable for the next hour until, sitting down for lunch, he finally asked, “so why the hell are you being such a grump?”
I stared at my quiche for a moment, until it all came out in a whispered rush. “Charlotte said my haircut makes me look old and hard. Have I really been going around looking awful for the past few months without realizing it?”
Franck studied me across the table. “No. I think you’re beautiful.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled, sending silent thanks to the Gods for having such a husband, but then added, “But even if she thinks that, I can’t believe she actually said it!”
Franck considered this. “That’s considered being a good friend in France – telling the truth. It means she considers you a true friend.”
I mulled this over, still disgruntled.
“Would any of your Canadian friends have told you that?”he asked.
“Would you have rather Charlotte lied?”

But the next day as I sat in the hairdresser’s chair, staring into the mirror, I grabbed a hunk of the bottom part of my mullet. “I think I’m ready for a change,” I said. “Cut this bottom layer off completely, I’m sick of it.”

So she did, and for the rest of the day I received amazed compliments from all and sundry, even from Charlotte. And this morning as I stared at my reflection in the mirror I had to admit – it was a vast improvement, and something I might not have thought of changing if nobody had told me…

Still…I think I may work on teaching my french friends some good old Canadian tact.

Leading by example

In a desperate effort to wrangle our grocery bill under control, Franck and I have instituted a note board system in the kitchen, where we mark what we need to buy during the next foray to E. Leclerc. We are NOT allowed to buy anything not on the list (i.e. oooooh look, the Petit Ecolier biscuits are on sale!) , and even the items on the list are cause for lively debate most of the time.

I have to admit this system is saving us quite a bit of money, particularly as it prevents me from, in the throes of a big grocery store headspin, wondering “do we have any mustard? I love my mustard…I think we may be running out…maybe I should pick up a bottle…maybe two as life undoubtedly isn’t worth living without mustard…” and then returning home with three jars of mustard to add to the five we already have stored in the pantry.

As long as I have known him, Franck’s hand-writing has been full of portent and mystery, being a cross between egyptian hieroglyphics and the greek alphabet. I have become so used to being unable to decipher it that I stopped trying many moons ago, and certainly don’t bother to try and read which items he has written on the note board. I, on the other hand, have always been proud of my unfussy yet emminently legible writing style.

So yesterday when we were cleaning up the lunch dishes I was completely shocked when Franck’s hand left the message board after marking down two new items to buy; I could actually read what they were. Not only that, but the items were noted down in the loopy, lush cursive that eight year old girls favour. I laughed so hard I had to sit down, and Franck, struggling to maintain his dignity, explained that he was trying to write better so that Charlotte, who is learning to read at the moment, doesn’t follow his bad example.

Unable to fight an irresistable urge, I got up and added a daisy above Franck’s perfect little “i”.

To prove his point Franck called Charlotte into the kitchen and she read the items “Sopalin” (paper towel) and “Pates” (pasta) perfectly. She also commented that the little flower was a nice touch, which Franck took credit for, and most smugly too.

Then Franck pointed to items I had written below, and Charlotte squinted for a moment.

“I can’t read them,” she said, reprovingly. “The writing’s too messy.”