A Divine Comedy of Provencal Proportions

Summertime finally arrives…

While the French football team has hogged central stage in the unfolding farce I’ve lovingly nicknamed WC 2010 – Les Bleus, Les Miserables, we’ve been living out our own adventure in Provence.  Our first few months here have been far from what I first anticipated, but they have been beautiful in their own way.  And as is the case with Les Bleus, keeping a sense of humor and perspective on life makes the unbearable, bearable.

Before I begin my tale, let me apologize for the silent treatment over the last month-plus.  Getting settled in France has been a full-time focus since our arrival, but I look forward to more writing over the coming weeks.  Speaking of which, this is going to get a little tricky.  I have yet to finish with my tales of Australia, have a book to write on Indonesia and want to write in the present with France.  So here it goes.  My time frame is now officially discombobulated.  However, I am hopeful that if I pick away at this monumental task before me I will write more often and with better timeliness.

First Attempt at France:
May 2nd (from the airplane) – We left Singapore at 11pm last night.  Other than a massive fight outside the airport (which in hindsight was travel-stress induced and silly), surrounded by luggage and an angry driver (as well as policemen that probably wanted to arrest me), the flight has been super easy.  I desperately need a bath, facial, massage and highlights, cut – the bath being the only real necessity.  And putting aside vanity for a moment, I am looking forward to next stage of this journey.  I am excited about being in France, though I must admit that I am sad to be leaving this part of the world.  New Zealand was amazing.  Australia a delight.  Indonesia changed my life and Singapore was just plain fun.  We had dinner with Alex, James and her kids/parents last night just down the street from The Raffles hotel and it was just perfect.  A stress-free way to say good-bye to the far east (at least until our unfortunate bout at drop-off).

We are flying somewhere over the middle east right now.  Our “French” friend, Bill, (he is really English, but has lived in France for 30 years) is meeting us at the airport in a few hours.  I have mixed emotions about that.  I kind of just want to land, get the car, go to the house…  Socializing or being social right now is not at the top of my list.  We are leaving behind a third world transformative life experience for one that may just carry with it just too many high expectations and preconceived notions.  Everyone adores Provence.  The place conjures up vibrant images of 300-year-old chateaus, 200-year-old vineyards, newly flowered and sweet lavender hills, Mt. Saint Victoire and Cezanne painting it for the 100th time.  Provence has substance and history.  It is idealized and cherished by many.  And for good reason.  I, on the other hand, fear it may represent the residential equivalent to my “walking baby in stroller fantasies” that I held six years ago.  For months while I was pregnant with Talia I looked forward to the springtime walks we’d have once she was born.  I was so thrilled she was due to join this world in April.  Me putting her in the stroller, her cuddling with a soft blanket; we’d walk for hours through Tribeca and New York City as I strode off my baby-fat and she slept soundly.  In my dreams.  Motherly bliss at its best.  This was to remain only a dream.  Once she was born, she made the rules.  And she hated strollers.  Hated them with a passion.  Stroller = tantrum.  There would be no walking, no new-mother strolling bliss.  In the time it takes for an infant to scream bloody murder, my dream floated into nothingness.

Provence preconceptions run high as well; and I am trying to minimize them prior to our arrival.  Something tells me that this will be a good thing.

Second Attempt at France:
May 6th (from our summer kitchen) – We’ve now been in Lourmarin for nearly one week and I want to quickly recap our first adventures.  Nothing crazy thus far, unless you call me nearly burning down our new house (built in the 1600s) crazy.  We did much of what newcomers to southern France do – in this vein, we are hardly original.  We found the local market and proceeded to buy the creamiest cheeses, fattiest sausages and freshest produce we could find.  We then added in some fresh bread and some local wine and scarfed to our belly’s content.  We then ate beyond being satiated.  And ate some more.  So yummy.  Our gluttony may well land us in Dante’s 3rd Circle of Hell, but full-cream thighs be damned – it is worth every bite.

Actually, it’s a good thing I’ve put on a few pounds since our arrival.  I now have some extra insulation.  It is officially freezing here.  F-R-E-E-Z-I-N-G.  This is not what southern France is supposed to be about.  I’d bitch about it on Facebook, but my rants would fall on deaf ears.  One is not allowed to bitch from the likes of Southern France.  I hear stories of New York City springtime and I secretly crave a walk down Bleeker street in the newly-minted morning sunshine.  Coffee in hand.  A stroll through the budding tree-lined streets of the West Village as a new day dawns and New Yorkers head off to start their day.

Instead, we are wandering around the local Hyper-U (French version of Wal-Mart).  Foreign land, foreign language.  I now realize that my junior high-school French lessons will be of limited use and only wish I had embraced learning a new language at a younger age.  Of course, this is one of the reasons we are here.  I want to truly learn French, want our kids to be bi-lingual.  Perhaps French is not the most commercial of all potential second languages, but it is beautiful and it will give Judah and Talia the gift of knowing a different culture and vocabulary.  This is important to us.  But more on that later.  Now, well now we are in my French version of Hell.  Welcome to the 4th circle, being lost and frozen in a Hyper-U.  We came to France equipped with a tropically-inspired wardrobe knowing that we might need an extra sweater or some socks for the first few weeks.  But we certainly didn’t expect this.  Armon and I have renamed Provence, The Artic Circle (“the 4th Circle” is my private sobriquet).  And while all Europe had a terrible winter, I expected it to be gone by now.  Alas, the bad weather has carried on through into May.  Locals are still wearing their winter garb.  Down jackets, boots, hats.  We, on the other hand, have shorts, flip-flops.  Our noses are red, lips blue and our bodies are visibly shivering (and we aren’t even in the frozen food section).  Outside, the mistral (romanticized name given to ridiculous days of wind that blow here often, more on this later) has been howling and Armon and I jointly celebrate a thermometer that reaches more than a single digit retort.  Today, we bought slippers and warm pajamas for the kids.  We also bought some Espadrilles for Armon (he will kill me for sharing this piece of notoriety, but at least his toes will be protected from the blustery cold).  I am stubborn.  I vow to be loyal to my flip-flops – at least for a few more days.

Third Attempt…
May 8th – The weather is getting worse, not better.  Colder.  Windier.  I stubbornly hold-out with my flip-flops.  I am freezing.  This must be the 5th circle.

And so on…
May 9th – They say it will end by the 17th.

May 10th – I want to leave.

May 11th – I was attacked by fleas last night.  Attacked.  My stomach has 20, nay, 30 bites on it.  Swollen, red.  Puss infused blisters.  They itch.  And hurt.  And I am depressed that I was eaten alive while I slept. And where on Earth did the fleas come from?

May 12th – The kids got bitten too.  Bites all over our arms and stomachs.  They ooze.  They itch.  We scratch.  They ooze and itch more.  We scratch more.  We look pathetic.  And feel worse.  It is 10 degrees Celsius outside.  The wind is blowing 30 km an hour.  And I am popping antihistamines as though the little white pills were M&Ms.  All of us are ravaged with bug bites that itch like crazy.  Our friends blame it on the wet spring.  But this is insane.  How can Lourmarin bugs be any worse than the tropics of Fiji, Hawaii or Indonesia?  In all our travels we’ve not seen anything like this.

It rains during the day and blows around the clock.  The only positive thing I can think of when it comes to this cold is that at least I can wear my one-and-only sweater again and cover the bites that go from knuckle to armpit and boob to bikini line.

May 13th – Armon spent the day in emergency room being tested for malaria.  104 degree fever, aches, chills.  France rocks.

May 14th – Talia started Pony Club today.  So sweet.  It is about 5km down the road.  It is all done in French – she doesn’t understand a word of it, but loves being on the horse.   She’ll go twice a week from here on out.  Judah is sad because he isn’t old enough to go.  So I take him for an ice cream in a nearby town.  We remain bug-ravaged, but the ice cream helps.

May 16th – No malaria, just an “infection”.  Cold.  Human pin cushion.  Miserable.  We start French lessons.  Our teacher, Margaux, is the best thing to happen to us since we got here (save the cheese, saucisson and wine).  I love our 3x per sessions and love learning more of this beautiful language.  I look forward to the day when I can go to the market and converse with each of the local vendors in full-on French with an American accent.  “Bonjour.  Ca va?  Oui, ca va bien.  Et vous?  Bon.  Merci.  Je voudrais une demi kilo du tapenade vert et quelques d’olive noir, s’il vous plait.” You get the idea.

May 17th – Warmth.  Still a pin cushion, marginally less miserable.

May 21st – My in-laws and Armon’s sister arrive in Marseilles.  Warmth.  Still getting bitten every night.   But the sunshine makes me hate this place a little less.  (I know, I am not allowed to hate Provence).

May 23rd – We have to leave the house for the day as an exterminator comes to decontaminate it.  We come home to a hopefully less-buggy home and the laundry that 6 beds creates after being “doused in nasty chemicals”.  I now have at least 100 bites on my body and am clearly allergic to whatever it is that is doing the biting.  It isn’t pretty.

May 24th – Happy Birthday to me.  Despite the bites and infestation and frustrations of the first 3 weeks – my birthday rocked.  A run in the morning, lunch on the hillside of Bonnieux and dinner in Lourmarin – the day was packed with the frenetic energies of my family and sun-filled springtime Provence.   Perhaps Provence is growing on me after all.  I could not imagine a better day or way to celebrate another year (other than sharing it with more of our family and friends).

May 26th – A trip to Aix.  The market, two-hour lunch with family.  Now we are talking.  I adore Aix.  It has history, beauty, vibrancy.  The market in Aix is second to none and runs a full 3 mornings a week.  The market culture in France has survived despite the best efforts of hyper-markets, the Internet and other modern day conveniences.  I love this fact.

May 27th – Happy Anniversary to us.  Armon and I escape for a lovely lunch, wine-tasting and Michelin-star dinner.  Sleep in a warm, dark room.  No kids for the night.  Heaven.  We are only 1km away from our house (arguably close enough to hear the screaming youngsters protest going to bed), but it feels as though we are on a different planet.

May 28th – I get bitten overnight.  Either the fleas got me before we left the house at sunset, followed me or there’s some fierce Provencal insect that thrives on my cheese and saucisson filled veins.  I am buying toe-to-chin footie pajamas today.  My armor against these little beasts.  On a more positive note, dinner rocked.  It was great to celebrate our 10th year of marriage at a magical hotel/restaurant and I slept like I wish I slept every night.

May 29th – Sent parents to Avignon.  The kids are chilling with Glee and Sashie.  I am (finally) writing some.  And Armon is working on his tan.  I also sat in the sun some this morning.  My secret hope is that a little soleil will help burn these bug bites into oblivion.  This is war.

May 31st – Grandma and Grandpa stayed in Avignon last night so we met them here today for lunch and a tour around town.  Like Aix, Avignon offers a thrilling history, beautiful architecture and stunning vibrancy.  It is now full-on summer-time here.  Hot.  I love it.  After a month, we are finally feeling settled.  Armon is working.  The kids are enjoying their French experiences.  We explore as much as possible.  It is great to have family with us for a few weeks.  It gives us a wonderful excuse to take the time to enjoy another 2.5 hour Provencal lunch filled with yummy food, warm conversation and even warmer skin.  Now, if we can just get rid of these piqure d’insectes.  Then I’d be a fully content French camper.

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