There are periods in life where it seems nothing goes right and everything goes wrong. That’s just life. I get that. I may not necessarily like it, but I get it. I also know that what differentiates people is how they handle these aforementioned times.
Does one spiral down into a depressive state that paralyzes? Does one walk around with negative energy that then acts as a magnate to further troubles? Or does one cry for a few hours, wipe eyes, lift head and then scoff in the face of adversity?
I’ve asked myself that on at least a hundred occasions over the last 100 days. It’s been one thing after another to the point of being beyond laughable. We are so far beyond laughable that in fact, life is now laughable again.
So let’s pick this story up where I left off – the Bar-Tur family fighting against some sort of unknown bug that attacked us during the night. We’d go to sleep with hope of a good night’s rest that would enable us to once again face the next day with hope in our eyes, a bounce to our stride and a grin on our faces. To that end, we were indeterminable. At times, given various stages of desperation, we’d slather ourselves in bug-spray or alternatively don granny pajamas that covered our ankles, tushies, elbows, forearms and necks. Our ankle-to-chin armor so-to-speak. Nothing seemed to consistently work. But we didn’t give up our fight against these (pun intended) little buggers.
We’d wake up in hopes of a different day – but, alas – one or all of us would be covered in welts. These welts would itch like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. It was frustrating, depressing, crazy… the bites scarred us mentally and physically. They impacted our sleep, our exercise. Our visitor schedule. Indeed, few souls were brave enough to risk a night at Chateau Bar-Tur.
It was like living our own personal episode of “Monster Inside Me”. If you haven’t heard of it, this is the Animal Planet series with titles such as “Maggots in My Head”, “Screwworms Devour Flesh” and “Bedbugs, Food and Sex”. Lovely, no?
I’ve jokingly titled our episode, “Provencal Parasites Prevail” or “Acariens Amour Americains”. Anyway, after crying into our noisettes (Armon’s new coffee of choice; enough milk to produce a hazelnut color) and all over our croissants each morning, we’d pull ourselves up by our flip-flops and carry on. Whenever it got bad enough that we felt it worth another decontamination / extermination attempt, we’d call in the experts and then pack up a few clothes and set off on another adventure. That was our sliver of silver lining. Without the bug bites, I am not sure we would have made it to Portofino, Italy or to Corsica this summer – both amazing escapes that offered bug-free respites to our daily life.
I also got to visit NYC briefly in July – a trip inspired by “get me out of the house” combined with “I have an interesting business prospect” rationale. I got to see friends, get some work done and recover from my French attackers. When my trip was over, I was itch-free, reinvigorated and ready to go back and face our invisible foes once again. Of course, my hopefulness sprang eternal and I was sure they would disappear before I returned.
I landed in Marseille, hugged and was hugged by my fam and then we hopped into the car so the four of us could spend the afternoon at a beach in Cassis. We had a lovely, sweltering afternoon – followed by dinner and a quiet ride home with two exhausted kids in the back seat. We arrived no earlier than 9pm, went straight inside and crashed. At first I slept the sleep that one enjoys after a 24 hour long day.
The next morning I awoke early as jet-lag did its thing. And despite the short night, I was covered. Nothing fewer than 30 bites on my neck and arms. It was a disaster. I was a disaster. Armon took one look at me, saw that the kids were bitten too and we packed up. Well, I didn’t exactly have to pack – I hadn’t unpacked from NYC yet. Back to our hotel in Aix.
Armon headed to London for work and the kids and I camped out in Aix – recovering from the latest onslaught. And as we did, I decided a trip to Paris was in order. Why not go to Disneyland Paris and then Paris for a few days.
We could explore that part of France and also be in Paris for Bastille Day – kind of like being in DC for July 4th. Again, attempting to make lemonade out of our lemons.
I also looked for a new house for us to live in come September. We wanted to be closer to Aix anyway. Closer to town and closer to the kids’ school. And luckily I found what promises to be a great home over the course of the next year. Things really started to look up. We were out of bug hell. We had decided upon a great International school and now we had a fabulous place to live for the next stage of our journey. On top of that – we were going to Paris!
I took Armon to see the house as soon as he arrived back from London. He loved it too. We went to lunch in Aix to celebrate and sign the lease before heading to meet the kids at the train station. After lunch, we put some money on the table and high-tailed it back to our car so we wouldn’t miss the train. And then the unthinkable happened.
I first noticed something odd about Armon’s face as he went to get into the driver’s seat. His lips pursed, he looked a tad confused like he couldn’t make sense of his reality. He looked around like he was lost with a panicked look on his face. Almost as though he were having a stroke or heart attack – his face reflected a pain that I hoped I’d never see. And then he darted to the back of our car so fast I barely saw him move. In less than a heartbeat our world was turned upside down again. I heard him utter a few expletives as I too rushed to the back of the car.
It took me a while to process what was happening. At first I thought he forgot to put our luggage in the trunk and that we’d miss our train. An inconvenience, but not a disaster. And then my mind caught up with reality. Someone, in the middle of broad daylight, had struck the petty-theft-version of the mother lode. The small triangular glass window near the front of the driver’s seat had been smashed out to smithereens and someone (curse on him) had gotten into our trunk and taken all of our worldly possessions.
As I said, the mother lode. Our luggage that had traveled with us across the globe, but still looked brand new. All of our clothes – including most of my favorite round-the-world purchases and all of the new things I had bought in NYC the previous week. Our passports. And enough Apple product that it is embarrassing to list. 2 MacBook Pros, 3 iPads, 2 iPods and all of the cords, chargers, accessories that go with the above-mentioned items. All of it gone. And yes, we missed our train.
My secret desire is that the person/people who felt compelled to break into our car, in the middle of the street, during broad daylight, on a sunny day, with lots of people around to take basically all of our day-to-day worldly possessions remain impotent for the rest of their lives. At the very least, I hope they now have some sort of invisible insect attacking them every night as they try to sleep. Hopefully a few of those buggers were camping out in our luggage and have now found the perfect new home.
It was at this point that I cried. I sat on the curb and just let loose. I think I shouted something like “I hate f-ing France, I am heading home” to Armon. He, as is typically the case, didn’t say a word. He too, was beside himself. But he mustered a big hug and kiss which momentarily took the sting out of our newfound predicament. And then I decided I just needed to cry. So I sat again and let the tears flow. Throughout the cold-laden, bug-infested summer I hadn’t shed a tear. It was time. Some of our French friends quickly came to our rescue. And I recall their reassuring words and loving hands on my shoulders as the Police came to “investigate”.
Somewhere in the midst of the craziness I managed to call our sitter and ask her to re-route. Don’t drop the kids at the train station, but bring them into Aix. “We’ve lost everything and won’t be on that train in 10 minutes”.
Of course she re-routed and brought the kids. They didn’t quite understand what had happened, but quickly caught on. For days they peppered us with “who was the bad guy” and “why do bad guys break into cars” and “have the police gotten the bad guy yet”? They grew up a lot that week and are now much more fully aware of bad and good. A sad, but necessary lesson I guess.
OK – so let’s take a step back. What’s a person to do when her house is so full of bugs that it is uninhabitable? Leave. And what’s a person to do when most of her most special personal possessions are stolen right as she’s about to embark on a trip? Go.
Somewhere in all the craziness we checked the train schedule and found another train we could get on. Armon went downtown to fill out a police report and I took the kids for ice cream. We then went to H&M and did the following: beeline to girls section for 1 swimsuit, 1 package of underwear, 1 pajamas, 2 outfits. Beeline it to boys, repeat. To Men’s, repeat. To Women’s, repeat. $350 Euros and 3 shopping bags later – we had clothes for the next few days. Clothes taken care of we headed to Fnac – France’s equivalent to J&R Audio or Best Buy. Our family without a computer is akin to a fish without gills. Unsustainable.
At Fnac, we met up with Armon and went to go buy a Mac to get us through the next several weeks. It was then that we remembered that French Macs do not come with qwerty keyboards (why do the French have to make things so difficult?). So with iPads out-of-stock and no qwerty keyboards to be found, we resigned ourselves to being temporarily computer-less. Yet another test.
We ran to catch the train. And barely made it. Once on board, I think we just sat and stared at each other in disbelief. I kept telling myself “it was just a thing” whenever I started getting sad at our losses. And then I remembered that some of my writing had been stolen, that I may have lost some pictures from the trip – and I got furious. How dare someone steal our stuff. But in France, like it or not, these types of petty crimes are quite common. I wondered to myself how I could live in NYC for 15 years without issue and then spend 3 months in France and get robbed at noon, in a well-trafficked area – but I am being naïve. All one has to do is walk down the streets of any town in France and spot the broken car glass to know that there is a massive issue with petty crime in this country. The little blue-green squares of shattered shatter-proof glass are everywhere.
We arrived at Disneyland Paris late that night and slept a deep, sorrowful sleep in the midst of our fairytale make-believe hotel. Irony at its best. And as I drifted off to sleep, a silent thought ran through my mind…perhaps this would be the beginning of fun in France. I dismissed it as quickly as it entered.