June 30, 2009


A friend told me the other day that we were “on his list”.
For good or bad!? I pressed on….apparently we were on his list in an inner circle sort of way. It was a pleasant surprise and it made me start to imagine what I would do if I were to “have a list”. He cleared matters up and expressed that he didn’t have a real list, and that admission to the list was comprised of being good enough friends that we wouldn’t ask each other “why we moved to France". I was proud to be on his list, but now I am dying to know “why he moved to France”??

I have been thinking about lists since then, lists of places I’d like to visit, places I’d like to live, people I’d like to invite for dinner. Fun to think about, and much easier than one’s “bucket-list”. Favorite movies, colors, books, foods….it’s a worm hole.

I made a list

I drew a pea pod on a sheet of paper and started writing names down of people we know here in France. The closer to the pea, the closer to pod. I erased a lot and moved some people in a ½ an inch and others out an inch, and then I started writing all the French speakers on the bottom and all the English speakers on the top. It was an exercise. It showed me that there was a halo around the pea pod, empty space, it made me think of the billboards with the word “available” advertising itself. But I’d rather think of the halo as the reserved area, the VIP lounge of our lives, the area that is already full with names, written in white, because they don’t need to be written, they are simply known.

I burned the list

I think I’ll start over with …

What I’d like for dinner:

I’m done with lists.

Today is the first day of summer vacation here in Martel. Oscar has been running rough-shod over Martel, water balloons, squirt guns, bicycles…. He plans to stay up late and eat only candy for the next 66 days!

Pat is in Carcassonne with her choir group singing and eating cassoulet for two days. Me, I’m trying to figure out how to make “summer” feel different from the rest of the year, besides the heat and the incredibly long days. I finished re-roofing our project house. I managed to do almost all of the work without ever having to climb ON the roof; my friend Ed and I worked from the attic floor on ladders as we moved up the slopes and then just a bit of monkey work as I climbed in from the peak on the last few tiles. I installed my first Velux skylight, built a new chimney (see the photo at the top) and did a bit of gutter work as well. I am left with a new appreciation of these systems which have evolved over hundreds of years. Born of necessity and performed in the beginning by farmers and itinerant craftsmen, they are now very compartmentalized professions. A roofer in France does not do gutters, and a framer does not build walls! They all seem to be impressed that I can touch upon several trades, what they don’t see is me scratching my head, looking over the rooftops to see how the neighbors did their ridges and valleys. At the end of the day I am hot, tired and wondering if THIS is why I went to college?

I made a roof.

I’m done with roofs!

Oscar finished the year with good grades, A’s and a couple of B’s. He moves onto the French equivalent of 7th grade next year. Moving to the next grade is a bit different here; everyone asks if Oscar ‘will be advancing of not?’ It seems a strange question, but they seem to handle it differently here. While being “held-back” is a terrible thing in the US, full of negative connotations and self esteem challenging hurdles, here in France it seems incredibly more common and while negative, it can have a positive spin. I suppose it is the opposite of that problem we seem to have in US public schools where everyone passes and becomes the next years problem, here, one just “re-doubles”, it sounds like a backgammon game! However I wonder how many kids are dis-proportionally older by the end of high school?

French schools are better than American schools.

The public school system here is still strong and very democratic, there are private schools, but they are not very expensive and not worlds apart in quality like the majority of the schools in urban America. They have their faults, poor infrastructure, absent teachers with no money for substitutes, but where they shine is their cafeterias and their secondary education. France has a complicated system which has most High School students choosing a professional path as they enter the 10th grade. One can go to a culinary high school, or a furniture making high school, or even a circus high school (one of France’s most popular). There is a majority that continue onto a general college-prep high school and then toward university, but the system offers a plethora of choices for the students who want to do two or three year programs and move straight into a trade. This system seems to avoid the idea of “high school dropouts” because everyone continues through to some sort of certificate or diploma. I imagine that most of the people that continue onto low level jobs have completed two or three years of high school with some specific training for that job, and voila, a career is made!

Oscar continues to think he will be an historian with a second choice of architecture, I’ll keep you posted. Thankfully he has abandoned his aspirations to be a food critic reviewing different kinds of pasta. He is off to Camp for the first time in our lives. One week in the Pyrenees, swinging from trees, shooting arrows and hurtling down dry ski slopes in a go-kart!! Will we all survive? He’s growing up!

Summer rolls on, and us with it’s rhythms and rhymes.

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Karren said...

Lists, lists.. I live by my lists~ although they are more pedantic Milk, Bread, Bank and hardware store!

seth said...

I want to be in your halo of white space :)

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing more pics of the latest project. Add that to your list. ;)

Thanks for the fresh posting!


Jo Jo the keeper of many McBain things said...

In the evacuation from the colonies, I was fortunate enough to retain a McBain list .. I still have it and refer to it often. If only I could remember where I put it ...Fenton's was mentioned there ... wondering if you seen its 15 secs of fame in the new Pixar creation ...