Friday, October 30, 2020

The Last Day

As we walked home Thursday night, the clock ticking toward 11, Earl said, “I’m really glad the day is over.”
“I guess I pushed it too much,” I replied as we removed our masks, leaving centre ville behind. 
We laughed but on Thursday, the last day before a month-long quarantine, we tried to squeeze every bit of life out of it. 
The day was glorious with sunshine and tinkling yellow leaves in the breeze. 
A small vineyard shows off its fall colors
With the announcement Wednesday night that everything would shut down on Friday at 12:01 a.m., we made a plan to get some necessities on Thursday. We knew the grocery stores would remain open, but we had slacked off and let staples get depleted, and the shelves of the stores often go bare the first few days. 
So Earl dropped me at the grocery store at 10 til 9. It opened at 9 and there was already a line. The line behind me was even longer than this. 

A grocery cart is called a chariot in French. The couple in front of me must have been
taking advantage of shopping together, which we aren't allowed to do
during confinement. Only one person per household. 

Earl went on to fill the car up with gas. I had driven to the Mediterranean the day before and the gas light came on as I returned to town. Gas prices will probably go down, but I didn't like to have an empty car in case of an emergency. 
He also went to the hardware store Mister Bricolage to get some supplies we need for patching and painting the walls of the office, along with continuing to sand and repair the shutters. During the last shut down, the hardware stores weren't open at the beginning, then they opened to builders, and finally they opened to everyday people stuck at home and wanting to make improvements. 
By 9:30 or so, we were through the long lines and returning home with the bottle of Beefeater gin since the Bombay shelf was empty. We have definite necessities. And a few other bags filled with yogurt, broccoli, potatoes, cat food. You know. 
We walked to the small market in town for decaf coffee and a few other things that I had forgotten -- oatmeal and cocoa. Then had coffee in our favorite café, Le Colibri, which means hummingbird. We talked with the owner about what she would do during the lockdown and she showed up pictures of their horses and farmlands where they would work while they couldn't run their café/bar. 
Earl had scheduled a last minute quarantine haircut, and lucky for us, Melissa came to our house to do it. I taught Chinese students while Earl went to meet Jack for lunch. Jack's wife Jules is still in the States, so he will start the quarantine alone. 
After I finished teaching, we climbed on our bikes for a ride. During quarantine, we are allowed to exercise for one hour a day within one kilometer of our homes. This was our last chance for a long ride. 

Every bike ride requires a stop at a cafe
We biked about 13 kilometers to the town of Couiza and met some friends there for drinks. They were supposed to be coming to our house for dinner on Saturday, but now that is cancelled. No friends. No interaction in person through December 1, at least. 

Enjoying the sun
We pedaled home before the sun set, a little earlier here in Quillan because of the mountains. 
Then we walked back to the Colibri for drinks with friends. It was to be our "French-speaking" group which has been meeting on Fridays, a combination of women who do both belly dance and tango. Isabelle, our tango teacher, came for drinks but couldn't stay for dinner. So from 6-8 we drank and laughed, enjoying that we could be together. 
I had suggested dinner, reminding people that this was our last chance not to cook for a month. Restaurants plan to offer take out starting next week, so that may not be strictly true, but it seemed like a good excuse.
So at 8, we walked over to Pizzeria les Platanes. We had reservations for 8, but we had to separate into two tables of four because only groups of 6 can gather. Inevitably, the women sat together and the men sat together. 


Men's selfie
Photo interrupted by Olivier, the always charming waiter. 
We ate and drank and ordered dessert and some ordered coffee, reluctant to leave knowing that we wouldn't be together again for a month. We watched the waiters turn over the tables and seat more people. That doesn't usually happen in France. People eat and linger, but everyone was desperate for one last dinner out. Some people came in as late as 10:30 and we wondered if they would be finished eating by the time the lockdown began at midnight. 
At our table, we talked about meeting furtively on walks or zoom meetings and then we said goodbye.

The month will fly past and before Christmas, hopefully, we'll be huddled under outdoor heaters sipping hot chocolate and amaretto.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Regrets and a Long November Ahead

Now I wish I’d gone into the sea. 
The sea was so still yesterday
And Earl was right, I should have taken my water shoes. 
And I wonder if, instead of rushing to the grocery to fill my larder for the coming lockdown this morning, I shouldn’t instead get in the car and drive back to the sea and fling myself in. An October baptism against the November loneliness of lockdown. 
France is going back to confinement - no travel, restaurants and bars closed, one-hour a day for exercise. And papers, don’t forget the papers that say why you have left home during a pandemic. 
I get it. 
But a panic sets in that maybe I don’t remember how to do this. Last time, Grace and Jack were here. We played cards and mah-jong and talked to neighbors as they walked past with their dogs. 
Before we knew that the lockdown was returning, on Wednesday, we had an impromptu girls’ trip to Collioure, a charmant village along the Mediterranean with a strange obsession for the church tower along the coast.
A view of the church and the crescent beach

We decided to eat lunch first and found a place in the sun. It became almost too hot as the sun shone onto us, me with my Aperol Spritz and Tina, Jo and Melissa with their rose wine. 
My empty drink as we came to desert and our goofy poses for the cameras

Lots of laughter

Around us, the world seemed normal, except for the masks that covered everyone's faces. 
After we ate, we walked around the cute shops and oohed and aahed at the quaint streets.
The stairs and plants and colorful painting "The gate of solace."

Then we drove to a more secluded beach. The plan was to swim and then to practice belly dancing on the beach. 
The sun had disappeared behind big flat clouds and a breeze blew. I wore a sweater over my dress. 
Melissa changed right into her "swim costume." That's what the Brits call it. I said I would wander down to feel the water first. 
Tina made it clear she would hold down the towels on the beach, not even considering a swim. 
Melissa had brought swim shoes and I had brushed off Earl's suggestions. The beach was much sandier and smoother than Nice, but close to the water there were more stones. I let my feet sink while Melissa plunged right into the water.
After a few minutes, as the cold water swarmed around my ankles and the clouds hung low over the sky, I decided that I wouldn't swim. I went back to the towel and plopped down. Jo said she would join Melissa, so she changed and headed down to the water. The shrieks she emitted as she walked into the water, made it clear that the water was cold!!!
Two brave souls

Tina and I stayed on the sand, but we enjoyed watching them swim. 

Tina and I on the beach, my bangs shrinking upward already in the moist air

After Jo and Melissa dried off, we did some belly dancing on the beach. It was our promise to ourselves that we would practice since we didn't have belly dancing class on Wednesday. 
Melissa teaches, and she brought along "jingly belts" and scarves. 

The scarves are swoopy in the wind. 

These three with the Sea in the background. What fun we had, even if we scared off many people on the beach. 

Belly dancing with the curve of the Mediterranean behind them. 
We drove home as the sun set and a black cloud hovered above the mountains as we made our way toward them. 

It wasn't until later that night, after we got home, that Macron announced a confinement for all of France that begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and lasts until December.  
We got a last trip in just under the deadline. 
So, I should have gone for a swim, but maybe in December. 

But still dreaming of the smooth sea

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

House Work

 We're creeping along on improving the house. Some of the work that has to be done isn't really visible, not as visible as repainting the door and the shutters.

I started sanding these shutters because they were low and easy for me to reach.
Earl finished them, of course. 

I'm so glad we finally choose a color. 

Our "front" door with a yellow rosebush that will be trained to curl across the top.

Before, the doors were brown. I hated the doors and I sat and looked at them a lot in the kitchen. They were brown inside and out. 

You may be thinking, there's a lot that needs to be fixed. Yep, but we're getting there step by step. 

My husband is meticulous, of course. The doors and shutters must be taken down and sanded smooth, then painted. The doors need the window panes to be re-glazed. That all takes a long time. 

Black trim on the blue shutters. 

So we have one door and two shutters completed. 

Then, the electrician came in last week to do some of that hidden work. The office I use is between our bedroom and the terrace. It has a concrete floor and walls that we haven't touched yet. But what it didn't have was a heater. We had some colds days in the past month, so we knew a heater was necessary. 

Our heating source is the cast-iron radiators that were here in the house but were connected to an oil tank. We didn't want oil heating, so removed the giant tank. Now each radiator is filled with water and has its own heating unit, so we can turn each one on individually. 

The "office" has only one outlet and that outlet is busy with my computer and the printer and the light I use for teaching. Plus, as Jay the electrician pointed out, a heater needs a line directly to the fuse box. So he had to drill a trench to run a line to where the heater will be. 

Jay framed in the doorway, kicked up a lot of dust last week. 

Knowing that the room would be filled with dust, Earl and I cleared out nearly everything. Once the dust settled two days later and the electrical outlet was in place, we decided we might as well paint the room and lay tile on the floor. But the floor takes a distinct dip from one end to the other and there is no way we'll be able to tile it. We're debating carpet (something you don't really see in France) or maybe just a big rug. 

What color will we paint the walls? Some variation of white that we have in big tubs. One of our many good friends gave us a tub of "magnolia" paint. I think it came from some friends who are moving and clearing out their home. Magnolia sounds good for the office. It will make the walls look fresh and remove one of the many construction materials we are currently trying to store in what will one-day be the media room, but that we currently call the "cozy" room. 

It may be a long winter, but we can hope that we'll get more work done and be warm in our first full year in our new home. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Literally, In My Head

 While Earl was away hiking in Spain a few weeks ago,

Cows and rolling hills in the lush Spanish countryside

I decided to do a juice cleanse -- only fruits and vegetables in juice form. Our social life revolves so strongly around food that it's hard to do most of the time in France. 

A few days in, I started to notice a dizzy, swooping feeling when I lay down in bed or when I sat up in the morning. I would pause for a few moments, get my balance, and continue on with my day.

But when the juice cleanse ended and Earl returned home, that feeling -- like I had gone airborne over a hill on a narrow road-- continued whenever I would lie down or sit up. I had a check up with the doctor planned and asked her about. As long as she could rule out brain tumor, I could live with it.

She confirmed that it was an inner-ear thing, that the fluid sometimes gets out of whack. It would go away eventually, but she printed out some exercises I could do to help it along. I took the paper and didn't examine them until the next morning when I began to do them. 

I'm good at exercises, it's kind of my thing,

New running shoes regularly

but I read through the paper in disbelief. I should do these exercises 3 times a day with 5 repetitions each time. And, I should continue for two weeks.

How long does this usually last? Wouldn't I be over it naturally in two weeks? 

I began. Sit on the bed, turn my head to the right, tilt over onto my left side and lay on that side for 30 seconds. Sit up, turn my head to the left, tilt over onto my right side and lay on that side for 30 seconds. Each time as I lay down or sat up, that swoopy feeling swamped my brain until the world righted itself. 

I managed to do it morning and evening on the first day, forgetting in the middle of the day. Then yesterday, I didn't even think about it until I lay down in bed at night and the earth took a spin around my head. 

When I sat up this morning, I thought about turning my head and tilting 30 times a day for the next two weeks. I did some feeble math in my head and got the  number 420. 420 times I would turn and tilt as the fluid in my ear reset. Wasn't this exacerbating the problem if I only normally faced it twice a day -- when I get up and when I go to sleep at night. That's 210 days to cure itself. 

Cheers after belly dancing

Oh, well, I'll probably follow the doctor's orders. I just need some kind of phone reminder to get me into the groove. And probably should cut down on social outings so I have time for all those exerciseexps.


Hope everything is upright in your head as we continue to go through the roller coaster that is 2020. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Wandering Around in My Head

Fall is creeping down from the mountains into town. Here are a few shots:

The leaves are changing in front of the church tower
Everyone knows you should paint your shutters to match the fall leaves on the tree. 

Yesterday at the Esperaza market, after enjoying coffee with Jim and Theresa, Earl and I meandered toward the parking lot. A youngish woman stopped in front of me tilted her head forward and said something about "lunettes," which means glasses. She was looking down, so I looked down, wondering if she had dropped a screw to the glasses on the street below. I started to help her search when she stopped me and pointed to the glasses propped on her head. The glasses had gotten tangled in her hair. For a minute, I stood in the middle of the market  helping her free the sunglasses from her hair. It's happened to me before, so I understood the need. Sunglasses freed, we moved on toward the car. "That was weird," Earl said. "Yeah." But maybe I have a pleasant, I can help you look on my face.

This morning, I woke up early thinking of the time change. The clocks get turned back next Saturday in Europe. They don't turn back until the following Saturday in the U.S. Why should I care? Well, my schedule for teaching at VIPKids is in Eastern Time, so although the time may say 6 a.m Eastern, which would be noon for me, now the time will be 11 a.m. for at least one week. 

My schedule is in US Eastern Time, so I'm always converting it in my head. 

For week days, it doesn't matter so much, but on Saturday and Sunday I usually teach a few classes from 7-9 a.m. I was trying to figure out if I had scheduled it at 7 a.m. or 6 a.m. Translating time from France to the U.S., which is 6 hours different, can be challenging, and then I throw in Chinese time, which is 6 hours before us. My mind cannot think linearly about this. I just about get it figured out when I'm thrown into confusion again. 

The past few weeks have been unseasonably cold and rainy here in Quillan, but this week, we're having more days in the 60s and 70s, (16-22 celcius) so I'm not missing the opportunity to get out and enjoy it. I had a bad reaction to seeing myself this morning in my running clothes. I didn't want to go running. I know it's ridiculous to feel like I'm too fat to go running. Shouldn't that be a reason to go running? So I took off my jacket, put on a long sweater and went for a walk in the mountains. It's beautiful there. 

Sometimes it isn't the mountains, it's the clouds between the mountains
More clouds filling in the gaps as I crested the top of this hill. 

I hope you're finding beauty wherever you are today, rainy or clear, warm or cold. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Days Pass Quickly in France

When last I blogged, Earl and I were in Paris for a long weekend. Who doesn't love Paris?

A view of the Seine as the sun rises while I was on a run. 

 When we returned home, it was back to real life. Living in France isn't a vacation. I work most days and we have a routine, just like when we lived in Ohio, but very different from when we lived in Ohio.

We just recently agreed on a paint color for the doors and shutters. 

The biggest change, of course, is that Earl doesn't have to go to work. Although he does work on the house, it's nowhere near the same as a full-time job.

And I don't go to work early either. Sometimes on the weekends I'll teach classes at 7 a.m., but most days I wake up around 7:30 and linger in bed until after 8 before I get up to go for a run. Back in Ohio, I would be out the door at 5:30 so I could run, shower and get to 8 a.m. classes. 

Many mornings, we'll meet friends for coffee at a local cafe, or we might bike to a town 7 miles away and have a coffee there. Of course, a coffee at a cafe isn't complete without the addition of a pastry. Wherever we go for coffee, there's a bakery nearby to grab pastries. When I first moved here, my favorite pastry was chausson framboise, similar to a chausson pomme, a kind of apple turnover, but this one has raspberry in it. Now, I've kind of evolved to prefer a pain au raisin, something I've heard called an escargot because it's curled around like a snail, or like Paris!

A pain au rains and cafe creme

I usually work from 12-3 teaching Chinese kids and I have to work on my university classes. I've been lucky this year to teach classes back to back, and with the renovation of the house and an unimaginable tax bill (from the U.S), we have needed the extra money. Most of the time, I can organize my schedule the way I want it. 

On Monday evenings, my friend Theresa and I are doing a pilates class. She doesn't need the exercise (I do) but we both hope that we will improve our French by being surrounded by French women exercising. 

On Tuesday evenings, Earl and I are taking a tango class. There are only five couples in the class and we wear masks, but they're all people we enjoy socializing with and it's an excuse to get dressed up and even forced to wear some low heels. Apparently the tango is all about the line of the leg with heels -- for the woman. 

A tango demonstration by our instructors. We don't look like that yet.  

Sometimes we go for a drink or have people over after tango class. Then, at 3 a.m., I have to get up and teach a live class for my university class. It only lasts about an hour. I tried teach the class earlier, but my boss told me I would get more students to attend if I held it at night, after students are home and finished working. So I get up at 3 a.m. teach and fall back into bed, usually not able to fall asleep for an hour or so. That's probably not something most people will have to deal with, but that's an issue with working in a different time zone. 

On Wednesday mornings, we have our market here in Quillan. It's always fun to wander around, to see people, to buy vegetables and stop in the butcher's before we stop for coffee and chat with more people who wander past. 

Wednesday night is belly dancing night. I told Spencer that I had belly dancing class and he said he didn't even want to know what that was about. It made me laugh. I don't know if he pictured me in a skimpy outfit dancing for other people, but it's just a lot of women in exercise size clothes or harem pants or dresses with jingly belts tied around our hips. We've been taking class since June, when confinement lifted, and I don't think I've gotten any better, but I always have fun. 

Thursday and Friday are just regular work days or coffee days. Maybe dinner with friends.

Drinks in a Quillan square with Louis on Earl's lap and Derrick (in his own chair) joining us.

Saturday is another market day here and usually a bit larger than Wednesday. We repeat our schedule of wandering around the vendors, buying some gouda cheese, some eggs, fruits and vegetables, maybe even a new dress for me before we find the sunshine and sit down for coffee. 

On Sunday, we try to go to Esperaza market. I've written about it before. It's a very big market and has a lot of local handmade crafts and clothes. It also has more people with dreadlocks than you will find anywhere else in France, I feel confident saying that. 

Winter coat and flip flops. Yep. At the cheese and sausage vendor. 
A protest against the mask mandate
Dreadlock and a cornucopia hat -- you bet. Next to a Harley Davidson coat. 
Some of the beautiful handcrafts on display. 

This is a normal week for us in France. It doesn't include special occasions or new friends or going away parties for old friends. Adventures to the castles around here or forays to the dentist in Spain. Trips to the beach or wanderings around Carcassonne. 

How can we do so much, you may wonder as I list our activities? Well, first, we aren't working as many hours. While I work, Earl will do laundry or cook meals. Also, TV. We don't watch nearly as much TV as we used to back in the States. But I understand. When you're worn out, it's easy to turn on the TV and veg out. For me, the sacrifice has been worth it. 

I may not have described what you would imagine is life in France, but it's pretty nice, in spite of Coronavirus. 

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...