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!