November 9, 2010

Dreaming of Friends

As the dawn crept into my sleep, I fought for my minutes, some dreams, and some lives are too good to wake up from!

I was at my Architecture School class reunion, 23 years in the future, today. There were name tags, there was a loved one, there were best friends, there was even an impossibly tall brunette that never really existed and her name tag proclaimed "MOM", but she wasn't. She reminded me of  Number Six from Battlestar Galactica. Beautiful!

I saw future versions of forgotten people, acquaintances, with whom I have entirely lost contact, grown into their mature faces, for better, but mostly worse. I felt as if I had just come across their facebook photos, but I hadn't, I'd invented the effects of 23 years!  There were friends that are still close, and faces that I know well, and such camaraderie as I am missing here and now.

We were in a professor's house, and damn, it's all slipping away as I type…. What's with dreams and that gossamer quality? For me it's as if it only ever existed in my peripheral vision, and if I turn my head to look it evaporates, like a smile from a pretty face on the train.  Well…it was a nice dream anyhow, I stayed in bed willing it to continue, but the light took it away, and my brain overflowing with inaccurate translations of useless French expressions, swept it out the door, leaving only an image of a tall brunette!

Now, after a cup of coffee, it has the residual effect of making me miss my friends, they were there in the depths of my conscious for a reason, it must be time to reach out.

We are building a new network here in Bordeaux, we continue to move cautiously, but have fun as well. We have a few people we see often, but the POD has certainly refocused with this move to the city. The process certainly makes us appreciate what we don't have, what we have put into storage, and perhaps that which we have elevated from daily relationships to an elite and seldom shared level….too seldom.

Dreams are wonderful, supposedly residue from the day, and apparently a clear reflection of what's important in the mind of the dreamer. I often have such clear…brilliant…ideas that never, in fact, stand up to the light of day.

But it's a nice way to visit!

October 4, 2010


At least the bathroom is white, not to mention big and bright!

This is the dining room, three shades of bright yellow!

This is the terrasse

We love the terrasse, it gives us some outdoor space to BarBQ, and lots of air and light. The plants, for the most part, came with the place, as did all the furniture in the house.  There was so much "personal stuff " in the house that we spent a couple of days putting things in boxes and hiding it all behind that yellow curtain in the guest room photo above. We removed all his personal photos and papers and have been enjoying the process of "consolidating his wine holdings".  Some fun, but mostly overaged whites.  The location is unbeatable, really so very central and yet on a quiet corner. We like it here and will try to call this home for a year or so while we look for our next investment opportunity (fixerupper),

Oscar is doing well at school, Pat's moving fast towards starting an english language tutoring business and I am waiting for clients to find me.  We are happy here.

September 9, 2010

Hand Holding

Hand Holding

Oscar still holds my hand.

I may be reading too much into it, or too little, but it is sublime when it happens!
We are getting acquainted with city life and all the complexity. The noises and challenges, the treasures and beauties, and the contradictions and opportunities that greet us at each bend in the streets.  Sometimes you have to keep your head down, and sometimes you must remind yourself to keep your eyes up!  There are enough restaurants to feed us and drain our pockets for years, there are secret parks and new views, free museums and boutiques, expensive enough to break the back of any shopper, and so many kilometers of bike paths to challenge our selles and souls. All this is currently overwhelming, as we try to reinvent ourselves for this new template. It will arrive, but for the moment there is a lot of handholding going on. This village takes a family!

View down to the street

I think it’s the thrill and challenge of the new environment that makes us (Oscar) reach out for a handhold, too much going on and not enough words to do any better than a firm grip.  We spent a day in the Atlantic surf along the coast, romping in the waves and holding tight to each other. There is nothing like the force of nature to make one want to cling tight.

While in my mind Oscar is a young man at 12 years old, the pounding surf  brought out the kid in both of us, and once I coaxed him into too big waves, we discovered the warmth of holding a hand in the cold water as the swells lifted us off our feet and upside down. We held tight, providing reassurance, but at one point a seventh wave stripped the grip and as I waited to find UP and resurface, 12 years and too many movies flashed in front of my closed eyes, but then 2 meters away there was a tumbled Oscar, tired of the waves, but not traumatized by the brief separation like his dad. 

Dining room to living room

It was me who led him into the waves of the real world, and somehow my job was to get him through the currents and back to shore, at least this time.  I wanted him to push himself into the bigger waves and the rewards of the risk, but I was scared with the depth between the swells. Joy, pleasure, pain and a salty residue. Life is a smorgasbord, and in this moment Bordeaux is our buffet, and we can share it while holding hands. 

View from the balcony

Patricia is my handhold. She continues to let me grow while supporting me always. In speaking French it is easy for one partner to become the speaker, and the other to become the dumb and dumber. I try not to succumb to the temptation of Patricia’s better language skills and she gives me room to try and to progress, however slowly. It’s important that, while holding my hand, she let’s me make all the necessary mistakes!

I watched a couple of Martel neighbors last month, walking quietly, holding hands, and it seemed so important. I found out later they had been walking to dinner to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, and they seemed to be so comfortable in the handholding, it struck me. Holding hands seems a quiet statement, both hands are complicit, it takes two. People who aren’t happy with each other don’t hold hands!  It’s like whistling, people who aren’t happy, don’t whistle!  

So I take Oscar’s desire to stroll through the big scary streets of Bordeaux, holding his dad’s hand, as a tacit desire not to be separated, and somehow a statement of affection and trust. I write about it here to immortalize it, because I’m certain it’s not going to last!
And holding Patricia’s hand.… well that’s just what best friends do.


We have been in Bordeaux for a week, we have been profiting from the late summer weather and a pause in our lives without English students or houses to renovate. The apartment we have stumbled upon will serve us well. We have been busy nesting, and building shelves, deep cleaning, rearranging the furniture, and repairing that which escaped the light touch of the landlord. We have a guest room, and a dining room big enough to receive you, and more museums than you can shake a stick at!

Grand Theatre at sunrise

We like it here!

August 23, 2010

Pattern recognition

As I understand it humans are uniquely good at recognizing patterns. What takes a room full of computers days to do, a human can do with their subconscious in moments. Scanning an assembly line for defects, searching the sky for new stars, finding faces in a crowd, recognizing patterns. So why are we surprised by the regular twists and turns in our lives? The choices that break or make the pattern?
Patricia supporting the celtic pattern language in the local dolmens.

We are moving again…no surprise. There is anxiety, stress, loss, and unbridled excitement…once again! Rearranging the big furniture in our lives could be called a pattern with plenty of surprising turns. Just a few months ago we were planning a summer holiday, and within hours we were all of a sudden resolved to move cities, plans changed and everything has aligned to make it easy. Now in 7 days we will be Bordelais! It seems that we went from being very content with our patterns here in Martel, to NEEDING a change, and forcing it upon ourselves. When I examine our history, our average is apparently a move every three years….so we should have seen it coming!

Summer traditions bring the same pattern to the life of our ever changing Oscar. All the French kids spend the summer with grandparents and away on vacations, and we haven’t learned that pattern yet. Every summer as Oscar’s friends disappear, his pattern is to circle his wagons and focus inward on the POD. We love the return to the threesome, after a year of taking a backseat to school chums, and we are surprised he never seems to be bored. His summer is again one of solo activities peppered with family. As I type he is in London, getting into mischief with his grandmum. Bordeaux is a big and interesting city, with dynamic places and interesting kids, so we are hoping Oscar finds interesting friends ands grows smoothly into this urban lifestyle.

Patricia and Oscar at a rugby match

The plan for our three year moving schedule (now that I can reflect and recognize it) has been to buy a house, improve it, and sell it. A nice pattern that has worked swimmingly four times over the years and twice in France, but repeating the pattern again is proving a bit more challenging. The real estate market here has stuttered to a halt, most profoundly in our price range. Our house has been for sale for too long at too low a price and with far too few interested lookers. With this in mind we have decided to remove it from the market and try the waters next year. We will have some friends stay here for the next year, making it easy to leave it without leaving it empty. Our little project is 80% done, but we are nervous about how long that last 20% could take. We will continue to work on it in the autumn and hopefully have it to sell this winter. We are moving onto the finishes and are still enjoying the process.

We spent our first night in Bordeaux last week. It was a trial run to do reconnaissance on the apartment and make lists for the pending move. All went well, the streets were calm, the air moves through the house, no ghosts and nice morning light. Now we will spend the next 7 days finishing projects and preparing the move. The apartment we are moving into comes entirely furnished, but we’ll need shelves, saucepans and slipcovers. We’ll need to rearrange the furniture, hang some art and grease some hinges. The list looks long, but we’ll be ready.
The location is wonderful, on a quiet street between to major pedestrian shopping streets. There are restaurants around the corner, fancy clothes shopping and the best gelato in town. Most importantly, we have a guest room!
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July 11, 2010


It feels like a heat wave and Martel is "en fete"!  This weekend is the annual battle of the bands, known as Bandas, where our tiny town is overrun by marching bands and the throngs of fanatics. Everyone drinks beer or white wine coolers and thumps around enjoying (some more, some less) the songs and antics of the Spanish-Basque music (think marching band).  It started around 8pm last night and finished 24 hours later. They all stop around 3 am to sleep a bit and then restart for the church mass. Soon we will join them for the trophy portion of the weekend.

Click here for someone else's video of Bandas

We have Ed's son Jordan and his two kids, Faye and Dashiell, sharing it with us, so Oscar has playmates, as do Patricia and I.

By day we watch the kids and the Tour de France and by night we compare parenting notes and watch the World  Cup Soccer matches . Oscar and Faye have grown up together since their beginnings, sharing daycare, then preschool, and a lot of co-parenting all the way. They were our neighbors and friends in Oakland and while we now we see them only once a year, the ease at which they (and we) get along is inspiring.

Old friends are priceless and Faye is Oscar's oldest!

Fete's like this are seen through different eyes this summer, it's hard to think of events like these as last opportunities, but they are and there will be new ones populating our days in Bordeaux soon enough. For now we live in the moment, enjoy the heat and the friendships that surround us and try not to worry, or even focus on, the hurdles in the future.... They'll come, we'll jump, and I'll write about it.

June 8, 2010


I recently stumbled upon a life expectancy calculator…. After answering a few questions that a family doctor would be too courteous to ask, I found out I have another 38 years to play with! The good news is that Pat has the same 38 years. Must be the Pilates!

Somehow this knowledge sticks with me, like the musical refrains that get stuck in my head in every quiet moment. I’ve been keeping track, and letting it play upon my thoughts. Time for a change.

Martel was always a 5 year plan for us, and today marks the first day of our 8th year. So as not to go too far past our own expiration date, we have been casting about, thinking of the future. Loading the scales with friendships and favorites, fortunes and fallacies, wondering and wandering, and trying hard to open our hearts and our eyes wide.

We have come to the conclusion that we are not ready to leave France, that this project is still working well, but that we need to find a way to transition into a new mode to continue to live this life. The first part was the decision to continue France. The desire to repatriate is as a magnet deep in the crust of our American life. The strings that connect us home are fortunately elastic, and seem to still have their “stretch”. We feel that home is there, but here too. Different versions of home, one deep, the other broad…. So we made a decision … that home for the next few years is going to be Bordeaux!

Bordeaux has been as a mistress since we first discovered it on a hot summer day 8 years ago with Rob and Audrey. It has been our perpetual escape to culture and diversity, two hours away, less French than Martel, more European and Cosmopolitan like San Francisco, it whistles where Martel hums. Bordeaux is certainly urban and challenging in contrast to the comfortable and mellow of Martel. But, we like its energy.

The decision to choose Martel seven years ago was uninformed luck, the new choice of Bordeaux is a more thought out decision. We traveled widely in the southwestern corner of France and found many appealing options in cities like Montpellier, Ceret, & Bayonne, but the combinations that came together in Bordeaux kept resurfacing as the clear choice. There is a middle school in Bordeaux which has an American Section and this was the final straw. They have a philosophy of teaching half the day in an American style, reading American literature, studying American History, sitting in circles and learning ideas more than practices. The school is public, half the teachers in this section are Americans, the students are all bilingual and half of them are French. They strive to teach “bi-culturalism, thru bi-lingualism”. Our thought is that by finding this program we can foster Oscar’s American side and advance his English skills without necessarily needing to return to America, and that fits into our plan at this moment. Oscar was accepted into the school just last week! So we’ll be packing our bags in August for the beginning of school the first week of September.

It feels like springtime in our family with new things popping out of the soil, planting new patches, and the sad reminders of how green our garden has been here. Martel has been great. It was really ideal to move into a small town, to be able to learn French on such a compact slate, to learn French ways with such a small cast of characters, to be accepted by most of the community so quickly. While we think we are ready for a change, figuring out how to say goodbye is not obvious. We have discovered great friends here. Having the luxury to do these moves by choice is a rose with thorns!

As we make this transition into our new part of France, we have also become a bit more officially French. Pat has started a business as a Formatrice des Langues (language teacher) and I am officially a Createur which I can’t really translate better than that. I do not officially practice architecture in France, so I am more of what we might call a designer. I have a business now which enables me to “create and execute concepts”. So now we have the right to make money, pay taxes, and fill out endless scads of paperwork! We shall see how this transition unfolds, but it comes with the privileges of French healthcare, and a greater investment into the society. Perhaps they’ll let us vote someday.

I’ll share more about Bordeaux in the future, but Ceil Miller Bouchet from the Washington Post wrote a wonderful picture of it you can read here.Click Here

So we are making lists and emptying closets, visiting the caves and the castles that we are afraid we’ll soon be missing, filling our calendars with last lunches and last suppers, and steeling ourselves from the second thoughts, the cold feet and the eventual regrets. It has been a great life here for the past 7 years. We arrived on this evening, June 8th, in 2003, into a France crisp from the beginning of a disastrous heat wave. It has been mild going ever since. We are looking forward to this summer, and even the moving process. We have found an apartment to rent in Bordeaux which is in the center of downtown on a pedestrian street. It comes furnished and wired, and should be really easy to slide into. We will arrive with our clothes, some books, and our tempurpedic mattress, and leave our home in Martel furnished at least until it sells. This will give us a home to return to on school holidays and weekends while we wait for the real estate market to improve.

Bordeaux is 30 minutes from the Atlantic, 2 hours from Spain, and 3 hours from Paris on the high-speed train, of with there are no less than 12 per day. There are 20 farmers markets in the city and 231,344 residents (1 million in the metro area). There seems to be a café or restaurant for about every third person, and more culture than we will know what to do with. Pat has already made contacts for teaching English, and I am growing fonder of their soft yellow stones and Bordelaise architecture every day.

We intend to find a new project in Bordeaux, an apartment or a home that needs us, hopefully in the center of the city, and hopefully a pile of stones in need of a fresh eye and elbow grease. The only certainty is that it will have a guest room!

April 25, 2010

Breaking rules and Breaking news

We have learned our way around the French and their customs. Long meals, attentive salutations, and a regimented social order. While we had a barrier breaking meal with the local clergy (see previous post) which moved us to a more intimate footing, all is not simple. With the normal French citizenry, once you have been introduced with a handshake, and a glass of wine, you are on what we call kissing status, and the protocol is to kiss the cheeks (twice) every time you say hello and goodbye until the end of time. So about a week after our dinner with the priests, Pat encountered one of the young priests on the streets of Martel and directly planted a kiss on each cherubic cheek….much to his dismay!  She quickly realized she had just gone somewhere new,... turned scarlet... and learned that we aren’t supposed to kiss the priests! Who knew!?

But that was in the winter, March, and now it’s Spring, April, and we have sunburns to prove it. After a long enough winter, the sun caught us unaware, and a day at a rugby match and then the next in the garden has us all looking healthy if not a bit stupid.

The Rugby match was the last game of the season for 6th ranked Brive team, the team for which Pat teaches beginning French to a pair of foreign players, and we lost, but it was a good game.  The Garden affair was a long French lunch in the sun, the type of lunch that the French would just assume conclude, hours and hours later, with dinner, for which we have finally learned how to pace ourselves and enjoy. 

For both events we were in shorts, plenty of water, sunglasses, but still it was an early reminder of the summer heat in our near future…..but some like it hot, as do we, when we are safely inside our cool 12th century pile of stone.

Our pile of stone is by the way for sale. We have had it on the market for a few months and we are still waiting for the world to beat its path through our 300 year old walnut doors!  The market for renovated homes in the Southwest of France is a bit saturated, and the buyers seem to be waiting for some economic indicators that we don’t know about. So think of us if you know someone who knows someone!

Meanwhile our guestroom is stilled owned by us and still available to you.  This spring will bring my Dad and Debbie, two nieces, my pal Ed, and then my mom, but that leaves us rather available now that the ashes have cleared from the skies.

 Pod on bikes in Bordeaux with friend Jean Dwight

Other breaking news…our fifteenth year as Mr. and Mrs.!   
15 years on the 15th, that only happens once I think, or at least it’s supposed to only happen once, that one’s number of years match the date. So we celebrated with a trip to Bordeaux. Over a nice dinner we looked deep into each others eyes, and smiled at the pleasure and ease and excitement that we continue to provide each other. We toasted the past 15 years and then rode our bikes home from a fine restaurant to toast the next 15.