Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

Motherhood Act 2

March 1, 2013

Turning 18 is a big event here.  You fall asleep a dependent, and awaken with the right to vote, enlist in the army, take the driver’s permit test and order a Remy with your espress.

The concept of ‘sweet 16’ smacks of commercial seduction to the French, and 21 is just an odd number.  20 is celebrated as the start of a new decade, but 18 signifies emancipation.  Ta fille has become une femme, and ton garcon… un homme.

Our youngest celebrated her 18th birthday yesterday – far away with new friends at university in London. As Emma crossed the threshold of adulthood, the curtain closed on Act 1 of my life as a mother.  It’s a period that spans the entirety of my time in France – soon to be 25 years.  To add insult to injury, my carte familles nobreuses (which entitled me to 30% discounts on trains and museums) also expires.  Official notice that it’s TIME TO MOVE ON.

When we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in April 1988, I was pushing a stroller and carrying a diaper bag. Devin was nine months old.  What were we thinking?  Parenting is already a grueling apprenticeship, but somehow we assumed we were up to the challenge without a safety net of family and good friends.

The choice to stay on (and on) embraced challenge and isolation, but ultimately solidified the nuclear family.  Our three children, now 25, 22 and 18, didn’t grow up outsiders, but sensed they were different.  It was a status they attempted to camouflage or ignore but eventually came to embrace with gratitude.

We did more learning together than many families.  We taught them English, and we absorbed French grammar, history and geography overseeing homework. By round three I finally mastered the subjunctive.

As they grew up in the country, we gradually figured out how to garden, tend vegetables, restore a ruin, care for and train dogs and horses.  I’m not certain Devin, Sarah and Emma were as keen about our choices as we were, but as Jeffrey likes to remind me, we planted the seeds of nostalgia – memories infused with pungent odors, the fury and glory of nature.

Last autumn they left us behind for schools in Philadelphia, New York and London. The French phase of their education is over, and they’re exploring life in familiar, but ultimately foreign cultures.

This morning it hit me that I’m the age my mother was in 1988, when her only daughter and first grandchild moved an ocean away.  At least I have the consolation of what’s app and skype.





Tidings of Commerce & Junk

December 20, 2011

I return to the States at least twice a year, but until two weeks ago hadn’t visited between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, since 1989.  It’s hardly America’s most flattering season.  Over the intervening decades, the holiday season caught the same malady as presidential campaigns and sports seasons – the chief symptoms being it lasts too long, and exerts undue influence over the national psyche and popular culture.

When I asked friends and family to recollect how it was way back in the late 80’s before inflatable snow globe lawn ornaments, LED roof line lights and holiday-jingles-all-the-time radio stations, they were pretty certain it was much the same – like parents who don’t notice changes in children morphing daily under their noses, while someone who sees them every few years finds them barely recognizable.

In the aftermath of the ‘great recession’, I anticipated a reassessment of the ‘meaning of Christmas’ and collective determination to resist deficit consumer spending. While Republican presidential wannabees stage endless debates extolling radical cuts in government programs to reduce the national debt, corporate America hasn’t let up its consumer assault.  The means of infiltration, with new media larded over old – renders the red, green and glitz pitch relentless.

Over ten days I visited Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, staying in cities and suburbs.  The further north I headed, the worse it seemed to get.  It might be that the intensity of Manhattan, where there’s no escape from input overload, proved a tipping point.

Wasn’t Christmas about celebrating the birth of a child in a manger, who grew to preach about the illusion of material well-being?   I hoped to find respite from the onslaught at mass in my old parish church, but it too was unrecognizable – with a gargantuan advent wreath featuring four massive candles the size of pascal candles intended to be lit throughout a full liturgical year.   The scale of disneyfied décor had the charm of shopping mall swag.

As much as I’ll miss sharing Christmas, Hannukah and New Year with my nearest and dearest American family and friends, I left regretting that at least for me, the joys of the season are squelched by an avalanche of schmaltz and commercial overkill.

New York’s Lower East Side – a nostalgia tour

August 9, 2011

My last Manhattan neighborhood back in 1986 was the East Village, when it was still marginal to rough.  An attempt by young art dealers to break out from Soho and establish an edgy gallery district had failed, and the mood was dispirited.  The block I lived on off Third Avenue on East 12th Street, was lined with a modest mix of prewar appartment blocks and small-scale brownstones, awaiting the spark of gentrification.

I’d moved downtown from a coop building off Central Park on the establishment Upper East Side and the culture shock was was both thrilling and intimidating.  Mugging was rampant then throughout the city, especially in borderline neighborhoods, so dormant feral instinct quickly kicked in.  A few years earlier, fresh out of college, I had a dim apppartment on West 79th Street off Broadway, followed by a sunny, souless perch in an anonymous Yorkville high rise, but had yet to share a stoop with hookers and addicts.

Times sure have changed.  This month, our eldest daughter will move into a college dorm two blocks from my old address, in what has become the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan, if not the country, for a young creative person.  It’s safe but still aesthetically edgey compared to predominantly residential/retail uptown neighborhoods.  Happily there are still vestiges of its immigrant and bohemian heritage. Read More »


December 1, 2010

When I moved to NYC after college, the impossible dream was to take over the lease on a rent-controlled apartment. Rent control symbolized mythic, affordable Manhattan before housing ate up half a paycheck – the stuff of urban legend.  I never got lucky.

Well, every dog has its day, and I can finally gloat in my rural backwater that I’m grandfathered into EJP, a bargain electricity option which EDF (formerly known as Electricité de France) no longer offers because it’s far too good a deal for the consumer.  I’m tempted to be smug, except EJP is a blessing disguised as a curse, and it was more fun when you could bitch about it.  Now complaining you can’t do laundry or use your electric oven because it’s an EJP day is considered obnoxious.

EDF created the EJP (Effacement des Jours de Pointe) option for secondary residences, where cold weather consumption occurs (if at all) on weekends and holidays.  They offered a very low annual rate, excluding the 22 coldest weekdays of the year, when national consumption peaks and the EJP rate correspondingly spiked.  Where EDF miscalculated, was promising not to include weekends, school holidays and the wee hours between 1am and 7am. Read More »

Learning to love your accent

October 6, 2010

Forget being hung up about your accent.   Communication is governed by the rule of subjectivity, with enough opportunity for misinterpretation when speaking in your mother tongue. Having a foreign accent is a universal condition of learning a new language.  Embrace yours with pride.  Few foreigners who learn new languages as an adult, manage to suppress their accent even when they speak fluently – so accept the inevitable.

However, expect your ego to be challenged.  Unless you are supremely thick skinned, letting go of inhibition demands ample reserves of self-esteem, good humor and humility.  Keep reminding yourself of the progress you’re making.  Focus on practicing as much as possible and refuse to succumb to self-consciousness.  Few of us are naturals in more than one domain.  If linguistics is yours, terrific, but it probably isn’t, so persistence will have to get you over the hump. Read More »


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