Archive for the ‘gay lesbian travel’ Category

La Ville Rose

December 8, 2009

La Ville Rose

Here in Saint Araille, an orange glow in the northern night sky marks the location of Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France, about fifty miles away. Called La Ville Rose, the pink city, for the distinctive brick used in much of its architecture, Toulouse is a colorful place with a thriving economy and youthful population. The city is culturally diverse, with a history of progressive thinking and tolerance partly derived from its situation at one of Europe’s geographic crossroads, approximately halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and about three hours’ drive from the Spanish border. Affluent today as the high-tech center of France’s aerospace industry, the beauty of this small city is due to its historical affluence, particularly during the 1400’s when it was the center of export for woad, the plant from which the color blue was made before indigo was imported from India and the Americas. Many of the grey stone streets in the center are pedestrianised, and the River Garonne, Canal du Midi, and numerous parks provide shady green respite. Situated in the south, winters are mild and short here. We have found Toulouse small enough for the foreigner to easily negotiate but large enough to provide all the urban conveniences. La Ville Rose seems to us to be nearly a perfect city.

Toulouse has been inhabited since at least 300 B.C. The Romans established a colony here in 200 A.D., and the city suffered the comings and goings of all the usual suspects of this particular area, trampled by travelers, traders, warriors, and invaders including the Vandals, the Visigoths, and the Franks, not to mention the plagues, famines, fires and wars that marked most of early European civilization. The streets in the old part of the city still follow the Roman paths, meandering and narrow, and you shouldn’t be surprised to happen upon sites marked as ancient Roman temples between shopping in the second-hand stores near the Academy des Beux Arts and dining on the local specialty, cassoulet. As we watch our children in a playground beside the riverbank, listen to college students discussing their textbooks, or sip a coffee in a café, the rich history of the city seems a living backdrop to the contemporary life around us.

The town played a major role in the religious wars the Roman Catholic Church instigated against the Cathars, including hundreds put to death in Toulouse and the surrounding area during the Albigensian Crusade and Inquisition. The area around Toulouse, the Languedoc, was known for literacy and religious tolerance in the early middle ages. The Cathar’s version of faith valued aestheticism and rejected power and the idea of a single god, all cited as “just” cause for the Crusaders and Inquisitors to wipe out Catharism in a series of bloody raids, wars, executions, and occupations. Of course, the fact that the Languedoc was also fertile and lush farmland, a veritable breadbasket, and an important pathway between the continents, meant that conquering such a land added to the physical wealth of the knights and lords from the north (and the Catholic church) who joined the ventures against the “heretic” Cathars. Something of those early roots of tolerance seems evident in the progressive and forward-thinking Toulouse encountered today.

Toulouse is a vital and gorgeous city. For the tourist, the center offers a wealth of distractions. The aforementioned woad plant—the source of the blue pigment so desired by textile dyers and artists of the middle ages—brought prosperity to the region and to Toulouse, where a vital export business was established in the mid-1400s. After fire destroyed most of the city in 1463, using brick instead of wood to build became standard practice, hence today’s “pink city.”  The wealth of the woad traders who dominated the city’s economic and social life well into the 1700s can be seen today in the fabulous hôtel particuliers—private urban palaces—they built. Indeed, a visit to the Renaisance Hôtel d’Assézat, originally built for a wealthy manufacturer, now housing the Bembourg Foundation’s extensive collection of art, should be on every tourist’s agenda. More than fifty more elaborate Renaissance hôtels still dot the city, some accessible via private tours.

The enourmous Capitole de Toulouse—135 meters long—on the expansive Place du Capitole combines an original medieval gate and courtyard with a 1750 neoclassical (pink brick, of course) façade, topped by a bell tower designed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, the well-known architectural restorer of the fortress at Carcasonne, an hour east. Today the seat of the city government, the Capitole also houses an opera company, a symphony, and the Salle de Illustres, a Baroque hall inspired by the Galleria Farnese in Rome and filled with 19th century paintings and frescoes. On the plaza outside (Place du Capitole), a Wednesday market is good for African handicrafts, fabrics and clothing. During the holidays, we go on a weekend before Christmas for the evening Marché de Noel, where we shop for small gifts and decorations and stand around with hot mulled wine and warm roasted chestnuts under the lights.

A few blocks north of the Capitole, the Basilica Saint Sernin, built between 1080 and 1120 and often cited as the largest Romanesque church in the world, offers a reminder of the role religion played in the history of Toulouse. Saint Saturnin, the first bishop of Toulouse, who was martyred (dragged through the streets by a bull) in 250 when he refused to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods, is supposed to have been interred on the original site of the basilica. At least 128 weird relics—bits of bone, teeth, a fragment of the “true cross,” etc.—donated by Charlemagne are lodged in the crypt, chapels, and ambulatory, which increased the basilica’s popularity as a stop on the pilgrimage route called the Compostella de Santiago, adding religious tourism income to the town and church coffers. The stone that killed Simon de Monfort, a leader of the Crusades against the Cathars, was thrown from the roof of St. Sernin in 1218. The interior of the church is vast and light and open (115 metres long, 64 metres wide and 21 metres high) with vaulted ceilings, a peaceful and spiritual place in the cruciform shape specifically designed with an extra-wide ambulatory so that the pilgrims could see the relics without disturbing any services underway at the time. As we wander the aisles, stopping to stare at the moldering grey tooth of a saint nestled on velvet in an elaborate gold reliquary cask, we wonder how the believer on the road to Spain in 1200 might have felt awe.

A five-minute walk south along the Rue du Taur (Road of the Bull), the Eglise Notre Dame du Taur provides a dramatic architectural contrast to St. Sernin. Tucked between houses, one doesn’t expect the gothic expanse inside from the narrow façade. This church, however, also plays a part in the St. Sernin story, for legend has it that Notre Dame du Taur (literally, “Our Lady of the Bull”) is built upon the spot where Saint Saturnin became detached from the bull that tore through the streets of Toulouse with his body. Others believe that Notre Dame is actually built upon the spot where the Romans sacrificed bulls to their gods, the act for which noncompliance led to Saint Saturnin’s death sentence. Inside is Jacob’s geneology in a 14th century fresco as well as the pictoral story of St. Saturnin’s life and bloody death.

Eglise de la Daurade, on the bank of the Garonne near the Art Academy, built on the site of an ancient pagan temple and then a Benedictine abbey, houses the Black Madonna, Vierge Noire, of Toulouse, a statue of Mary whose face has darkened from candle soot over many years, and who is credited with many miracles. She seems to particularly favor pregnant women. Her outfit is changed several times each year by a special contingent charged with the honor, and it is said that parishioners have solicited new garments from famous designers of French haute couture. It’s hard not to speculate about what the Virgin thinks of her fashionista attire.

The Musee des Augustins offers yet another perspective on the diversity of Toulouse, both religious and architectural. Originally a convent with a beautiful cloister, chapter house, sacristy and chapel, the grounds now house an impressive collection of more than 4000 works of art, including, among other objects, Romanesque capitals and funerary epitaphs rescued from religious sites around the country, paintings that were the spoils of Napoleonic conquests, and statuary from local hôtels particuliers. The cloister garden is serene and orderly, lush with flowers, vegetables and herbs, each labeled and all carefully tended. Here it is easy to imagine why the wealthy might choose to retreat into such a place, to live in one of those tiny rooms in the walls above. If you visit on a Wednesday afternoon, take advantage of free entry and tour, wander the illuminated gardens, and stay to attend the free weekly concert on the restored baroque organ. If you are traveling with small children, like us, come when a concert is scheduled for later and wander through in the afternoon, telling the stories of the huge paintings while rehearsals echo through the halls.

Another former religious house, les Couvent des Jacobins, provides a wonderful example of 13th and 14th century Gothic architecture. The fanned brick ceilings seem like palm trees or huge flowers stemming from the marble columns. The Convent also houses the relic of the body of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, there’s a detailed inventory of which bones and their measurements on the Convent website: http://www.jacobins.mairie-toulouse.fr/accueil/accjaco.htm . It’s the contrasts that get to you—bizarre scrap collections and majestic constructions to faith; wars and economics and religions overlapping; the best of tolerant and intellectual enlightenment next to torture and inhumanity. We wander the streets of Toulouse, the world, and we discover that we are a strange history, a meeting in the contemporary moment of weirdness and goodness and horrors.

Back on the streets of the city, we stop at Gulps, the candy store on Rue St. Rome, and the carousel at Place du President Wilson before heading back to our car, parked at one of the many underground garages in the center. We will return another day to walk across the Pont Neuf to Les Abatoirs, the Toulouse Modern and Contemporary Art Centre built inside the old slaughterhouses across the river, other days for the range of markets (book markets, vegetable markets, flea markets, toy markets, even “adult” markets—we’ll skip that one), and another day at Cité de l’Espace, the science and space theme park ten minutes east in the suburbs. We’ll visit the Gay and Lesbian Center. If we’re very lucky, we’ll take a cruise down the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 150 mile feat of 17th century construction. But truthfully, we don’t need an excuse to come to Toulouse. We will return many days (and evenings) during our time in Saint Araille. Tonight the glow of La Ville Rose in our northern sky seems positively pink. It’s a city that provides its own diversions at every turn, the past and the future in one location. It is a crossroads that is also a wonderful destination.

Latour/La Tour/The Tower

November 15, 2009

We writers love towers. They are removed and lofty, closer to the divine. Maybe we believe writing in a tower opens our thoughts to the heavens, to the muses. Maybe we need to look away from our work—the tedium of language, the marks on the page, these attempts to quantify a life, life itself, and one’s thoughts—into distances, to see the bigger, wider view. Maybe we seek quiet and solitude to be alone with our thoughts, to focus on the words. Maybe we need to hide to create. The tower’s symbolism and uses—power, protection, lookout, communication, storage—draw us up the stairs, toward the sky. The words housed in this stone structure—the words themselves a structure—contain, and maybe disguise or secret something, maybe imprison, maybe let us watch for something else.

Acrobatic ballet on former prison tower, Auch

At the first of November, Susan and I and the children move up to our home for duration of our stay in a village in France, the château’s tower apartment. It is a proper private space about 50×25 feet with a fully equipped kitchen, living room, dining area, bath and toilet, two bedrooms, and laundry, and a huge loft opening onto a covered balcony overlooking the countryside to the east, north and south. A wood stove stands in the open hearth, supplementing the under-floor heating, and we are fully connected to the rest of the modern world with satellite television, DVD, and Wi-fi. On the other hand, the square holes for the beams of the catwalk ramparts that once ringed the roof attest to the tower’s former importance as a lookout post for the monastery that owned and built it and the surrounding residents. Since the 11th century, when the stones were worked and laid and stacked up in a tower of more than 60 feet on top of a tall hill, Christian Crusaders regularly crossed this part of southern France on their way to Spain and the Holy Lands. Invaders frequently made incursions from the south—where lies Spain beyond the Pyrénées, about three hours drive from here—and the east—where the Mediterranean Sea opens to Rome and Greece, North Africa and the Middle East. Pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella passed nearby. In the tower, we are the tallest thing for miles around. We inhabit both old and new worlds. We climb the thousand-year-old stairs, hang our laundry where the monks kept an eye out for Saracen raiders, sleep restlessly while the winds from the Atlantic and the white Pyrénées howl like ghosts, and wake to write at dawn for an audience to whom I am connected by satellites and radio waves. Weird.

In the Tarot, the Tower is a symbol of destruction, the collapse of the systems and structures we erect in our lives to make us feel safe, to keep us secure, to hide away our secrets, our vulnerabilities. The pictures from the most ancient decks show a stone tower struck by lightening, the people within escaping from the flames and stones in the nick of time, often naked to the storm. This is a mythology that explains those times in life when everything falls apart. When what we had counted on suddenly no longer is. Jung liked this symbolism, of course. He even built a tower himself, by hand. Our tower seems strong, even when the wind blows. We tell ourselves that it has been here for a thousand years. This is unlikely to be the storm that brings it down.

150px-RWS_Tarot_16_Tower

I have always been a weather-watcher, but in the tower, I find myself both obsessed and mystified by the weather. Up here, the winds blow almost all the time. The winds in France have names—Autan, Mistral, Tramotane, Cers. The winds that blow in this part of the Haute Garonne are not the Mistral of Provence, but they can be just as fierce, just as damaging. The winds that blow in from the south and west—from the Atlantic Ocean and across the Pyrenees—in the fall and winter can be very cold, very wet. In the first week of November, our first week in the tower, a series of storms blow in from that direction, sideways sheets of rain, sycamore leaves sweeping past our windows. The wind is loud outside, like waves at the beach or the blood through the heart and veins of someone under great stress, intense. In legend, these winds can make a person go mad, tumble the walls of self that holds the mind together. But isn’t that always the legend of great winds? The tower stands rock solid, cutting the yowling winds. We feel safe but unnerved.

La tour, Montesquieu- Volvestre

Lightening does strike, on occasion, we’re told. It has hit this very tower, the tallest thing for miles. It strikes the chimney and travels straight to ground. It hits the satellite dish and, like an evil sprite, dances through all of the electrics in the whole château, blowing out the television, the d.v.d. player, towel warmers, computers, washing machines, an oven. We protect ourselves as much as possible, keep everything important unplugged unless we’re using it. Unless we see and hear a thunder storm approaching. We watch for lightening like those sentinels of old watched for marauders. I think of the Tarot card image, everything tumbling to the ground.

We find that the weather on the ground floor may be very different from that up in the tower. Some days we hike down all those flights of crooked wooden steps from the howl of wind outside into warmth. The wind from the east feels dry, though the clouds may lower and darken the day early. The clouds may part suddenly, blue skies opening up. Rainbows spring up from the brown plowed hills and disappear into lavender clouds. The snows creep down the Pyrénées as the storms pass, day by day, week by week. And then the weather turns warm again. We pick more of the tomatoes from the garden. My spinach and arugula sprout in the garden. We run in shorts one day and dress the children in winter coats for school the next. Who are we inside this tower? Something different each day. Something unpredictable as the weather swirling around us. But also something solid and unchanging within—is this the self? We come down to earth some days, and find it a strange place.

I move my chair and work table so that I am able to see the sunrise, pinks and oranges and purples and reds. I sit on the swing on the balcony on warm afternoons and look through binoculars. I point the telescope toward Jupiter so that we can look for the giant red spot, a mammoth storm that has been swirling up there 400 million miles away for thousands of years. Since the time this tower was built and monks in robes tended the fields and slept on boards without blankets and watched the horizon for danger coming. They sat, perhaps, just about here and watched these same stars. We look up and out for God, but isn’t that spirit also contained within these walls, permeating the very stones of this tower? The light I see tonight left that star when that lonely monk sat in my place now. When this tower falls, what secret minotaur will be revealed?

View from our tower

In this tower, though, I am not alone. James and Izzy and Susan are all here, and soon we’ll be joined by the dogs in our care. It’s a busy tower, full of life. My heart swells with it. The structure is sound. It holds our joyful noise and points it to the heavens. It draws the heavens down in bolts that illuminate and warm, transformed into dancing sprites. Change—even destruction—can open the heart to magic, to the divine within.

I rise at 5, as is my custom, to be alone in the loft with my words, my writing, my stories, watching the sunrise, watching for invaders, storing away the harvest for another, colder day. I don’t know all that is hidden in the heart of this structure. It has not yet been revealed to me. The tower has not yet fallen away. Change will come though. I know it. And it may be the change of a tower falling, some structure tumbling, a rug pulled from under my feet. It has happened to me before: my coming out, my brother’s death, my father’s silence, even falling in love with Susan and the birth of the twins, the total demolition of my former life. I have learned that the tower falling can bring new light. We can rise to the challenges, embrace the changes, move into a new world.

Sometimes the words build the tower up. Sometimes they protect the secrets. Sometimes they reveal them and the tower crumbles. I seem to land on my feet, naked perhaps, vulnerable. But clean. Illuminated. The words are just a tower. The life within the walls is ordinary and divine in the same breath, the same light of heaven. Stones may crumble, but the light warms, a kind of magic. We must trust—not fear—the process of change. I signal the world miles away. We are safe up here together, even when the walls come down.

To Market, To Market

November 10, 2009

To write about markets in rural European towns is an exercise in cliché. We Americans—and most urban Europeans, for that matter—are so used to the supermarket, the mall, and the internet that when we travel to a place where the most important shopping is done one day a week from open-air stalls spilling out around an ancient village square, we are charmed. How quaint. How sweet. How colorful. We take out our cameras and shoot bright photos: old fellows in colorful bandanas; women in aprons carrying big baskets, folks with baguettes under their arms; tables and carts and vans laden with food, flowers, clothing, goods and live animals. Here in the farmlands south of Toulouse and most of rural France, shopping on market day is still a community event, an opportunity to socialize and exchange news as well as merchandise. The produce has been picked the day before, the walnuts and sweet chestnuts gathered from local forests. There are bargains (three basketball-sized heads of leafy lettuce for €1), and tourists to be conned (a block of cheese for €20). Handmade soaps and felted wool slippers from local sheep occupy booths next to mounds of t-shirts, jeans and socks. Live chickens with their feet bound lie in rows on the sidewalk; a merchant gently lifts the haunches of a huge brown rabbit to confirm his gender. Our first market day is during the school holidays for Toussaint (all-saints day), a brilliant October morning, in the town of Samatan. The mood is festive, the harvest is in, and we are not only charmed, we are hooked. I must therefore risk cliché.

marché2

To say that food is important in France is an understatement. Important meals like Sunday déjeuner (lunch) lasts from around noon until after dark. Rather than pizza under hot-lamps in cafeteria lines, school lunches are served to the children—who must each have a personalized cloth serviette (napkin)—in three courses—dishes like poulet cordon bleu (chicken cordon blue) and pâté du région—with multiple baskets of fresh bread. The typical French refrigerator is what Americans call “dorm-sized”; these diminutive storage coolers are all that’s needed when you buy food almost every day. How else would it be fresh? Nearly everyone stops at the grocers every other day, and often at the bolangerie (bakery) and charcuterie (butcher shop) as well. Within two weeks of arrival, we place a standing order for two baguettes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with the bread-man, Monsieur M., who rattles up the long driveway in his delivery truck to the fanfare of barking dogs. We often stop for even more bread while out. The French love of food is not a difficult custom for us to adopt.

marché

Market day in Samatan is Monday morning. We have a list of market days in all the surrounding market towns—fifty within about fifty kilometers—and I have set a personal goal to attend every market on the list at least once during our ten months here. There is a slight preference for Saturdays and Mondays, but there are at least half-dozen from which to choose on any day of the week. Samatan is a large town and the market spreads out around the town square, including a huge metal building devoted to the sale of live animals, and spilling into the parking lot of the Shopi supermarket and along all the streets radiating out from the center. On this gorgeous October day, it is jammed with shoppers and tourists, but even on a rainy day in November the streets will be packed. There are at least a hundred stalls: clothing ranging from leather jackets to Hanes underwear, running shoes, nightgowns, stockings and socks; sewing notions and fabrics, including rainbow-arrayed boxes of buttons and threads; fresh meats, ranging from rabbit to beef to duck to Alaskan salmon; the full range of vache, chèvre and brebis (cow, goat, sheep) varieties of French cheeses; bedding plants, which in the fall include strawberries dangling red fruits and pansies and broccoli and cabbage and lettuces and leeks; fresh vegetables and fruits of the season; an array of dried salamis made from every creature imaginable; local patés; platters of spices sweetening the air with cinnamon, vanilla, peppers…; a variety of at least fifty dried fruits, including pineapple, raisins, dates, figs, strawberries, and bananas; sweets, pastry and breads; handmade soaps scented with everything from lavender to bubblegum; kitchen supplies and hardware; prepared foods for take-away, curry and paella and pizza. We risk cliché, take out our camera and snap away.

In the live animal barn, rows of geese with their feet tucked under them twist their necks to watch us walk by; chickens and roosters with their feet bound lie on their sides, little black eyes darting here and there; hundreds of yellow chicks peep in crates; baby bunnies and huge hares may be petted, though their destinies are likely the dinner plate; hundreds of parakeets in cages screech and jabber into the chaos; juvenile guinea pigs and mice and hamsters in cages at child-level sniff fingers with twitchy noses; puppies—mostly Border collies and bird dogs—and kittens wriggle for attention or snooze, exhausted with being adored, in boxes or pens; young pigs snuffle in their hay; a few calves sway at the ends of tethers. It’s chaos. James, who is afraid of chickens, refuses to go in, but Izzy and I make the entire circuit, petting the bunnies and puppies and kittens, watching the geese watching us as we walk by. The old nursery rhyme repeats in my head: “To market, to market to buy a fat pig….”

fromage

We do not buy any live animals—pigs or otherwise—but we do purchase some tights for Izzy, three bunches of leaf lettuce, a bunch of carrots, a bag of walnuts, chestnuts to roast, dried mango, some pinons, a chunk of petit basque cheese, a felted wool purse for Susan, and softball-sized apples. We fill our shopping bag.

We have guaranteed the children’s interest and excitement for the market by giving them each €1 to spend on anything they want, so long as it’s not live animals. We don’t need any more chicks or mice in the château! They look long and hard for just the right items, rejecting candies and pastries and fresh strawberries. There aren’t really any toys at this market. Izzy is determined to have a flowering plant in her room, having left her African violet in the care of her kindergarten class in Vermont, so she chooses a pink pansy for 50 cents. James spies the choumaillous (marshmallows)—perhaps six, mostly blue and pink, in plastic baggies—and spends 50 cents. Izzy can’t resist and buys a bag for herself with her change from the flower.

The best moment of the day, however, is when Susan spies a wagon arrayed with dry salamis, perhaps twenty different kinds. A sign reads “Tous 3/€10” (any three for ten Euros). A bargain. I want the one encrusted with rosemary. Susan selects one made from porc (pork), a straightforward choice. And then she makes her mistake. Qu’est-ce que vous  recommandez?” she asks the woman who is the vendor. I’m rummaging in my bag for €10.

The woman immediately reaches for a salami and adds it to our bag, stating firmly, “Âne. C’est trés bon.”

Susan hesitates. The bag is thrust in her direction as I hand over the note.

“Merci,” the woman says. “Au revoir.” She turns to the next customer.

“Merci, Madame,” Susan says, and we walk away. She has a strange look on her face.

“What?” I ask. “What did she say? What kind did she recommend?”

Susan leans close, away from the children. “Donkey,” she whispers. “We just bought a donkey salami.” What can we do? We laugh. “I just couldn’t be that up-tight American who refused after asking her for a recommendation,” Susan says.

marché3

On the drive home, we engage the kids—high on marshmallows—in making up new versions of the old cliché: “To market, to market to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” James offers, “To market, to market to buy a choumaillou; home again, home again, do-malloo, do-malloo.” For Izzy it’s “To market, to market to buy a pink pansy; home again, home again, aren’t we fancy.” And for Susan, I invent this: “To market, to market to buy a salami; home again, home again, next time, no donkey.”

L’Ecole: Part Two

October 23, 2009

Today is Tuesday, James and Izzy’s fourth day of school. Already everything is better. As Madame P said, “mieux et  mieux, petite à petite”; “Better and better, little by little.”

On the weekend, we tried harder to speak French at home, and it seems to have helped some. We play French Scrabble Junior and French Monopoly Junior. I model for the children, asking Susan, in front of the children, how to say almost everything in French: Qu’est-ce que c’est? I ask the children to speak to me in French, to help me learn French. Poor old Mom is a little slow, you know. I need you to help me. I buck up my courage and ask for help from the cranky woman at the gas station while the children watch. I practice my most important phrases aloud: S’il vous plait. Pardon. Je ne compre pas. Parlez vous English? Je ne parle Francais. I try to read road signs and advertisements and children’s books aloud in French, talking through the ways I try to decipher the language. Susan makes more flashcards. She asks the children what they need to be able to say and tries to help them remember the phrases.  James wants a turn on the scooters at recess, but we cannot find the French word for scooter in our dictionary. He says he does not want to play soccer, but that the kids follow him around at recess asking him to play. This seems to make him angry. He is intimidated. But by the end of Friday, he reports that he’s been making faces and snoring sounds with a blond boy named Louis, and he laughs hysterically in the re-telling of this. Louis might be a friend. Izzy says that she went with a group of girls for a little while and watched them twirling and lifting each other. She smiles and laughs.

On Monday, we had another small scene at the after-lunch drop-off. The children don’t want to go to a new class. They like Madame P. They don’t want to be with the littler kids. “I’m embarrassed,” James wails. But we leave them, and Madame C. shepherds them off, and by the end of the day at 5:00, they report that it was fun. They get to have a whole third recess, and they both got to ride the scooters as much as they wanted—no competition from the big kids. They sang songs, including “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in English. Plus there was a snack time and Madame C. gave them each two containers of applesauce.  James’ notebook includes completed worksheets on the “ou” sound, on which Madame P. has written Très bien! Izzy reports that she now has three friends. Both kids have suddenly realized that attendance at their birthday party (coming up at the end of November) will be sparse if they do not make friends, and so they are motivated. And Wednesday is a day off from school, right in the middle of the week!

We know we will have more dramas. The vacation will surely set us back, and we don’t even want to speculate about the first day of eating in the cantine or the first bus ride, but, for now, we have cleared this hurdle. Mieux et mieux, petite à petite.