Remembering France

Église Saint-Eustache – Paris – After-dinner stroll with my hosts Jean-Étienne and Luis – July

France and my friends there are never far from my thoughts. I’m terrible at writing to them –Je suis vraiment désolée Pascale et Jacky ! I need to remember they probably don’t care if I make mistakes. I have resumed my French lessons with Natacha via Skype once a week–J’adore !

**Pascale, Jacky, on peut se parler de temps en temps sur Skype, peut-être?

Monet’s Kitchen at Giverny

The other day during my lesson, since Thanksgiving is upon us, I was trying to explain a recipe, the broccoli casserole we have at nearly every holiday meal, and a few minutes in, we were both laughing so hard we could barely speak. I lacked the vocabulary and Natacha lacked the experience with a recipe that involves broccoli and a bit of minced onion, baked in a casserole dish with Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup, mayonnaise, sharp cheddar cheese, topped with Pepperidge Farm Stuffing. She could not imagine the result would even be edible, let alone a long-time family favorite. It had mayonnaise but was hot? It had soup but wasn’t soup? Soup out of a can for a favorite recipe? It had stuffing that wasn’t stuffing, but wasn’t exactly croutons either?  All we could do was laugh. My French has definite limits. Still, so much fun.

Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny
A bit of Monet’s Japanese Garden at Giverny
Monet’s Garden – Giverny – 1 July 2019

In October, I drove down to the Monet exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, hence the photos of my visit to Giverny this past July. I’m afraid I don’t have a great shot of the famous arched green footbridge. The day I was there, it was always groaning under mobs of people, not at all looking serene like in the paintings. Oh well, the waterlilies were in bloom and the gardens were stunning. Don’t even know what this flower is, but isn’t it gorgeous? No wonder Monet couldn’t stop painting!

For the past few months I’ve been taking a few poetry classes. Here’s my poem about living in France:

La Vie en France

I’m a different person in France, in La Rochelle.

It takes a few days to acclimate, to slow down, to breathe,

to allow myself to see, rather than photograph,

to be, more than do.

 

Of course, these days I know

not to make eye contact in the street,

to never let my hands drop below the table during a meal,

to count thumb first, palm in, to bag my own groceries.

 

I know to greet my friends pressing cheek to cheek,

right, then left, with a warm smile and a firm grip of hands—

or upper arms, if one is very moved—

rarely a hug,

 

but I have to remember, when I’m out and about,

to save smiles for a moment shared,

instead of launching them abroad like a blast

from a confetti cannon on the unsuspecting crowd.

 

I have to resist touching the produce,

displayed like art at the marché,

I have to remember to know exactly when I will eat it and with what

and to trust the expertise of the vendeur.

 

It takes a few days to stop bellowing wide Anglo-Saxon vowels

and instead to shape my mouth like a kiss

to greet clerks and servers and bus drivers with a soft bonjour,

to whisper the faint V of voilà that is almost not there at all,

to feel the grounding of the slight gargle of the Rs in au revoir, merci,

to hear and think and feel and dream in French. But once I do

 

I stand taller. I walk further. I stride with purpose like a local,

though no one thinks I’m a local—I’m too blond—

maybe English, possibly German, but I am in some ways Rochelaise.

 

En France I taste my food. I notice it. I sip my wine.

I take my meals in courses, even alone at home.

I do not read as I eat. I do not hurry.

There are no snacks—maybe an espresso and

a morsel of chocolate at exactly four o’clock.

Dinner’s at eight, as is breakfast, lunch by one,

mealtimes and customs regular as the tide,

 

which soothes me somehow, like the shush of sea on sand,

the drift of clouds over the wide blue ocean that calls to me—

Reviens—Come back—                                                                  from both shores.

(Written in loving memory of David, who made it possible.)

Wishing you wonderful times with family and friends and delicious food to eat, even if you can’t quite explain the appeal of your favorites!

10 thoughts on “Remembering France”

  1. France is my 2nd home and you brought me a lot of memories of the years I lived there. Thanx and happy Thanksgiving.

    W/Luv,
    DP
    11/23/2019

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to maintain some of my excellent French habits when I’m here in the states. Guess I’ll just keep going back to France!

  2. Two years ago we spent a couple of weeks enjoying the lovely hilltop towns of Provence. While reading your poem this morning, I was reminded of the many reasons why that vacation remains my favorite. Thank you.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Sonny!

    1. Thanks, Joan! Yesterday, I watched the La Rochelle marathon (which took place this past weekend) on YouTube. It’s been raining pretty much non-stop there and is still very green. I watched the whole thing, all three and a half hours! Loved seeing all my favorite places. Here in Fort Collins, we are currently buried under about 14 inches of snow, but absolutely beautiful. Impossible to go anywhere at the moment, so I’m enjoying sitting in front of the fire. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

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