Friday, May 18, 2018

So We Always Remember

Anyone who knows me realizes that I avoid cruelty. I can't stand to watch it or read it. I just don't watch television shows or movies or even read books where people are cruel for no reason.
But that doesn't mean that I stick my head in the sand to avoid the world at large. Yes, I would rather only focus on the positive in the world, but I have to be aware of the news and things that go on to help avoid those same events from happening again.
That's why I agreed to visit Oradour-sur-Glane in the Limousin region of France.
Earl has written a blog post in more depth about the history and I'll direct you there for that, but I wanted to share with you some of my experience.
Our friends Norman and Caroline shared with us a booklet about the town so we could be prepared.
During World War II, on June 10, 1944, German SS soldiers appeared one day out of the blue and killed every person they could find. They shot the men before setting on fire the buildings where they'd shot them. And they locked all of the women and children into the church before setting off an explosion and then burning it.
642 people massacred. Only one woman escaped the church alive by jumping from a 9-foot window. The Germans shot her as she made a break for it, but she lived, hidden among the rows of peas growing in the garden.
It is too horrible to imagine.
And the people of the village, those who somehow lived, or those who were gone to work that day, never rebuilt the village. They built another village nearby so the burnt out village where so many died stands today as a testament to the atrocity of the Nazis.
As we drove toward the village, about an hour and a half from our housesit in Chateaneuf-sur-Charente, I noticed that I was yawning, big yawns. I'd slept okay the night before, so felt like my body was just reacting to the scene I would soon face.
Parking is free and we entered the memorial building, which is underground. It crosses below a road and then visitor climb up to see the destroyed village. Anyone entering or exiting must go through the memorial.
View as we walked toward the memorial

This placard reminds us to "Remember" what happened here. 

The Nazis burnt the whole town in hopes of hiding their atrocity.
No one knows for sure why killed everyone in the village. Some say there was another village called Oradour where some resistance fighters were working. Apparently, this occupied village had never had trouble with the Nazis there. They all appeared when they were called to the square, except one eight-year-old boy who had lived in Lorraine, France and knew what the Germans were capable of, so he ran and hid in the garden of the school rather than walking to the village square. He survived. The only child in the village left alive at the end of the massacre.

The flames in the church were so hot that they melted the bell which crashed to the floor below. 
The church, where the women and children died, was of course a central point for visitors. Even though the roof is gone and it stands open to the air, the charred smell remains. A memorial to World War I soldiers is built into one wall, the residents never imagining that their village would sacrifice even more in the second World War than they did in the first, right there beneath the plaque.
Earl pointed out the number of sewing machines in the burnt-out houses. What a normal household
 item to see in so many French homes from that time, never to be used again. 

The men were taken to different buildings and shot. Each building where men were shot had a placard.
This one also has a notice that six men escaped. 
Apparently, the men who escaped, fell to the ground feigning that they had been shot and did not move as the Germans continued to shoot anyone who moved or moaned. Then when the place was set fire, they hid and about a dozen or more men managed to survive the massacre.
Like visiting a concentration camp, it takes your breath away to see the signs of such hideous cruelty.
We must be aware of it so we can say never again.
Wildflowers grow here, in the midst of the destruction.
And it doesn't have to be big cruelty, it can start with something as simple as pulling a toddler out of his mother's arms when they arrive at our borders. Separating them as a warning to people not to seek help from the United States, a country that was built on immigrants.
"Immigrants, we get the job done!" from Hamilton  in a line by Alexander Hamilton (an immigrant) and Marquis de Lafayette (also an immigrant at the time).
We can't allow even these easily overlooked cruelties to snowball to the point where it is not a big deal to lock the doors of a church and set it on fire, shooting machine guns at anyone who tries to escape as women and children burn to death.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Place Like A Home

Sometimes, I think Earl and I may have made it harder on ourselves than we needed to with this move to France.
We wanted to explore different communities, so we set up housesits. We've been moving from place to place for four and a half months now.
Near Poitiers where we had the filthy housesit with very nice donkeys

The beautiful lockkeeper's house where we housesat both in February
 and again the past few weeks in Poitou-Charentes France near Cognac.

In Reigate with the beautiful house and lovely British people

In Aix en Provence -- getting tired of traveling, but oh the places we went! 
 We've never been totally unpacked. We've stored bags at our friend Delana's house and now that we've picked them up, we look like hoarders with the back of our car loaded and two bicycles hanging from the carrier.
When we talk about the things we miss (besides our family) I think most of it might have been solved if we had simply rented a house in one place.
We haven't been able to make friends near by. Although, we have made some marvelous friendships with British people who we housesat for. Caroline and Norman, where we're housesitting now, have invited us to Norman's 70th birthday party in the fall and have promised to come visit us in Quillan. We also struck up a friendship with Jane and Andy who live in the U.K. and hope to see them again. Our French friends Michel and Danuta are busy with their lives, and they will be hours away from our new location, but they did introduce us to some new French friends, Hugues and Marie-Claire, who we perhaps will see again. We do have plans with my American friend Linda and her French husband Maurice, who will visit us in Quillan before we go hiking for a week along El Camino Santiago, but the French part. So we can't say our lives are devoid of friendships. But if I wake up in the morning and want to go for a walk with Sheila, or a run with Najah, Noreen or Pam, I'm out of luck. I have no sounding board to discuss problems with the kids, spats with my husband, work frustrations.
Still, our friendship pool might have grown if we had stayed in one place and started integrating into a community.
Earl misses volunteering with the children at Childhood League in Columbus, but could he volunteer in France? Maybe he can teach English classes, or maybe simply play with disabled children on the playground. That might be a way to improve his French as well.
We both hope to take French classes, but haven't been in one place long enough to do that.
And we'd love to find a place to go dancing again, even take dance lessons since I just saw a study that people who take dance lessons actually expand their brains!
It's hard not to have a place to call home, and since we sold our house in Ohio, we literally have no home, although not quite homeless.
Two more days until we settle into our French rental and I'm looking forward to it with relief.
But a couple more adventures first, and hopefully I'll make time to blog about today's trip to Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village that was demolished by the Germans during World War II and left to stand as a reminder of the horror of war.
And then onto a beloved Medieval village, Mirepoix.

But we're close, very close, to settling down into a long-time home.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Just a few days after I posted about trying to make French friends and realizing they were prejudiced, which you can read about here, a blogging friend, Jacqueline, came to the rescue. She invited us to visit her small village, Loubillé for the celebration of VE Day (Victory in Europe), known as Victoire à  la France here.
Perhaps there was a bigger celebration nearby where we are housesitting, where farm fields served as the landing spot for RAF pilots and a monument stands for Claude Bonnier, a resistance fighter who died at the end of the war,
The flowers at the foot of the monument speak to the ceremony that probably took place here. 
But visiting Jacqui and seeing the close friendships she has developed with the people of her village, both British and French alike, was just what I needed.
Me and Earl with Jacqui in her jaunty hat.
If you don't write a blog and read blogs, you might not understand how bloggers can be friends without ever meeting in person, but it happens. Every blogger that I have followed and later met in person, I have enjoyed. It's as if we are old friends, because we know about each other's lives and we care about each other. I asked Jacqui's son Ed, who I had read about since he was young, if it was weird. He agreed that it was, but Jacqui also had no problem asking me about Grace and what was going on in her life. I'd recently shared information about the boys' trip so she was up to date on them. So the minute we met, we fell into companionable conversation.
So why was this small celebration in Jacqui's village so special?
After our failed attempt to make French friends, I was buoyed by the way that Jacqui is an integral part of her French village. She's even on the town council. And the people in her village embraced me as an American friend of Jacqui's.
I exchanged more cheek kisses with people in Jacqui's village than I have in a month of tourist-y travel throughout France.
It started when we met at the bar for coffee before the celebration. The female owner of the bar extended her hand when we were introduced, but the male owner explained that we exchange kisses in France as he moved toward both cheeks. But, he drew the line and shook hands with Earl.
Each person we met took the time to introduce themselves, and the French moved forward for cheek kisses.
Jacqui's son Ed was recruited to hold the flag as the mayor spoke.
The ceremony was brief with the Mayor reading the story of three young French resistance fighters who were killed by the Germans in this little copse of trees outside of town, where a young man of the village later found them, but everyone bowed their heads to think of the sacrifices. Ed at 17 was nearly the same age as those who gave their lives.
Then we walked the few kilometers back to the village where pitchers of Kir waited, along with pices of pizza and quiche-like pastry. We chatted with Jacqui mostly, occasionally engaging with the others from the village.
Sometimes, travelling, just the two of us, gets lonely. I miss spending time with friends, discussing everything and nothing. Talking about things in a language that I know, inside and out
But even if I had stood on the sideline to watch how Jacqui interacted with her village friends, I would have seen that life in France is possible even for those who didn't grow up speaking French.
So thank you, Jaqui, at French Village Diaries, for supporting me when a new book comes out, but more importantly, for showing me what is possible after 14 years of living in a French village.
If you're interested in finding some English language books set in France or just want a peek at life in France for a U.K ex-pat, French Village Diaries is the place to go. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Teaching Online Catastrophe

Since we moved to France, we've been living on my salary. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten as many classes as I had hoped.
I needed to earn more money, so I applied to a company called VIPkids. This company teaches English to Chinese children as young as 4 years old. It's a one-on-one lesson for half an hour and they have a lesson the teacher goes over with great animation and props, like hand puppets or magnetic letters.

I've done all the training and preparation and have been waiting to be booked for a class. Today, around noon, I got a message saying a last-minute class had been scheduled with a student named Ci Jei.
I practiced the class. I carefully placed the props around my desk and I tested my headphones and the internet link.
I've been sick since last week with a sinus infection, so I placed a glass of water nearby when I saw that I needed to sing a hello song, the alphabet song and a goodbye song, but I knew my singing voice wasn't the important thing. I needed to be energetic and animated.
I signed onto the class promptly at 2:30. Before me was a mother holding her young son (Ci Jei, I'm assuming) and an older son.
Ci Jei wanted nothing to do with this. He started crying almost immediately, so I picked up my fake microphone and started singing the hello song. He ran out the door and slammed it behind him.
I knew I needed to persevere, so the older brother hopped in to take over. As I was introducing the alphabet, I felt my nose start to run. I reached over and grabbed my tissue that I left nearby to wipe off a white board.
Oh, no. It wasn't a runny nose, it was a bloody nose. A red stream trickled down my upper lip and I
No, this isn't me but gettyimages photo of a woman with a
bloody nose. 
kept swiping at it with the now very bloody tissue. I kept saying sorry, so much so, that later when I was teaching the parts of the face, I pointed to my nose and the boy said, "Sorry."
No, it's a nose, not a sorry.
The nose bleed must have continued for 15 minutes. I finally excused myself, tore the head phones off and ran into the nearby bathroom for a roll of toilet paper. Then I returned and continued to teach the class to the big brother.
The way to get more classes is to earn stars from the families that I teach. I'm pretty certain that this mother with her crying son was traumatized by the copious amounts of blood flowing from my nose.
At least if I start with such a dire beginning, it has to get better, right?

Sunday, May 06, 2018

An Attempt at French Friends

Yesterday, after saying goodbye to our sons at the airport, Earl and I drove to the Charente for another housesit.

 It is the lock keeper's house where we housesat during the floods. But now the weather is gorgeous and French people pull up in their cars and park along the lock to enjoy the sun reflecting off the water.
Some actual lily pads
 This morning, we took the dogs for a walk

and then returned to see boats making their way through the locks. Although this was once the lock keeper's house, people are on their own for operating the locks now. Earl cannot resist helping them, though. Whether they want help or not, he's out there turning the wheel to open one side before turning the wheel to close them in. Then he goes to the opposite side and turns the wheel to let the water out and the boat slowly lowers to be even with the water on the other side. It's good that he's keeping busy.

The boat enters the lock where the water is higher and must lower the water to move to the next part of the river. 
We were talking to some Americans from South Carolina who rented a boat when a yellow van pulled down beside the lock and stopped by the garden of the house where we're sitting." The garden has a sign, "Jardin privé" which means private garden, meant to keep people from wandering around the yard. I imagine they'll eventually have to put up a fence. 
When I was inside the house, the woman who drove the yellow van came to the door and asked if the owners were home. I said no they had gone on vacation. The woman said they had met the homeowners and tried to call them but she thought she had the wrong number.
I gave her the correct phone number and the woman continued to chat. She said her husband would be very excited to meet us because he loves America. And a few minutes later, he showed up at the door and began to speak about Chicago and the Indianapolis 500, along with their yearly Christmas trips to "Vegas."
They seemed nice and they said that the homeowners had previously allowed them to picnic under the weeping willow at the end of the garden. We shrugged and said that was fine. And could they also use the boules court in the yard?
I told them Earl had always wanted to learn to play boules and they said they would love to include him. Then they invited us for an aperitif before their picnic.
When we wandered down for an aperitif, Beatrice and Pierre had several friends and grown children with them, probably 15-20 people gathered beside the river with a table, an umbrella, lounge chairs and folding chairs. We were quickly given a glass of rosé, technically "gris" Pierre explained since only a certain type of grape grown near Avignon count as real rosé grapes. The rules about French wine are baffling to me so I nodded my head.
We talked about Mustangs and movies and music and all seemed to be going well, until Pierre mentioned that France has too many Muslims. "I don't like zee muslims," he said.
That was a conversation stopper for us. I tried to point out that the U.S. has many Muslims, too, and he loves the U.S.
Pierre moved on to a different topic, hopefully realizing that we were not a receptive audience for Muslim bashing. I sat a few more minutes then moved to talk to a young couple in the group before saying we should go back to the house to let them have their picnic.
We walked up the drive past the sparkling canal hand in hand.
"And things were going so well," I said.
"Yeah," Earl agreed.
We'd said we would return to play boules, but the thrill had faded.
Our first attempt at new French friends was not a success, but we know not all French are prejudiced against Muslims, just as not all Americans are prejudiced about certain races or religions.
We won't give up.

Friday, May 04, 2018

One Day in Paris

We arrived in Paris Thursday evening, driving from Italy. We avoided the trains because of the strikes in France and had rented a car for our whirlwind trip through Florence, Venice and the Italian Alps.
By Thursday afternoon, I was sick as a dog. Chills, fever, coughing. A sinus infection -- I diagnosed myself.
The minute we arrived at the B&B on Ile St. Louis, and returned the rental car to Europcar, and walked the two miles home, I climbed to the seventh floor apartment and went straight to bed.
The boys and Earl went out to dinner, bringing me back vegetable soup, but everyone went to bed at a pretty early hour.
This morning, I was determined to feel better for the boys' last full day of vacation.
I dosed myself with medication and walked out for coffee and pastries.
I had two things on my list for today, find an Aveda and buy chocolates for the boys to take home. Anything else they wanted to do was up to them.
They weren't exactly thrilled with my search for an Aveda store, but I figured I'd better find it while I'm in a big city.
Afterwards, we decided to sit down and have a glass of wine. We hadn't had morning wine before, although we'd seen plenty of French people doing it.

Morning wine
We decided to take them to a small, authentic French restaurant in the 4th arrondisement, a place that we had eaten in January. So we walked there.
A forced photo in front of the Seine
We arrived at 11:58, just in time to get a table for lunch, although the restaurant wasn't crowded. Bistrot L'Estrapade.
My starter, asparagus wrapped in ham. 
Tucker had goat cheese with salad for a starter, while Spencer had asparagus like me. Then for their main courses, they chose pork chops in a mustard sauce, along with some creamy whipped potatoes, and, of course, we polished off a bottle of wine.
Notre Dame in the background
Afterward, we walked to Rue Mouffetard and picked out chocolates at a shop we'd never visited before. We also stopped at a wine shop and got a bottle for each boy to take home. d
What else should you take home from France but chocolates and wine.
Then we walked back to our B&B on Ile St. Louis and snores filled the apartment during our afternoon nap.
We're hitting the streets again to admire the beauty of Paris on a sunny day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Review of Paris Ever After

Author KSR Burns lured in readers with her novel The Paris Effect and the story continues in this sequel Paris Ever After, which hits the markets on May 1.
The book covers are magical and the story inside the sequel lives up to the magnetism of the cover.
The main character, Amy, left her husband in Arizona months before after he learned she had jetted off to Paris, a surprise trip, totally unlike her. But after her best friend died, she needed something to jump start her life. She thought she'd be home before her husband returned from his business trip but he discovered her secret trip. When he refused to talk with her about reconciling, she returned to Paris where she attempts to start a new life.
Amy is a bit naive and trusts people she truly shouldn't. It puts me on edge throughout the novel. She ends up living with a woman who had previously drugged her to keep her in Paris. She starts working with a guy who put her in danger climbing through the sewers of Paris. She takes risk that are not normal for a cautious woman like herself.
On her 30th birthday, her new Parisian life is set shaking when she spies her estranged husband checking into a Paris hotel, and her landlord's missing daughter shows up, taking over the room that Amy had lived in. Whatever she thought was settled, suddenly is not.
She has to figure out what her husband wants in Paris and where she will live if she chooses to stay.
Throughout the novel, the vivid background of Paris is a character of its own, along with the luscious meals that Amy shares with friends and frenemies.
This is a fast read that immerses the reader in the midst of French life, rooting for Amy to make good choices, whether that means staying in Paris or returning to her husband.

So We Always Remember

Anyone who knows me realizes that I avoid cruelty. I can't stand to watch it or read it. I just don't watch television shows or movi...