November 19, 2015

Superposed lives

Our boxes arrived today. It was a long trip from Bordeaux, 4 months, as scheduled, just long enough for us to kind of forget what was in there, but not so long as to forget the history attached to each treasure!

Its an interesting thing, kind of the close ) or better the close “.  Some part of us was still there, still in France, still walking in solidarity with the rest of the Bordelaise, grieving the mistakes of Charlie Hebdo and a disenfranchised world. There is not enough change on our fractured planet.

 Our stuff left France a long time ago, before we did, and it had the pleasure of moving at a floating pace, while we had to fly and tear the bonds of gravity and the gravity of our itinerant ways.  But like a bad case of d├ęcalage horaire , jet lag, our here and now has caught up with us and now it is on us to superpose the last 12 years upon the next. Now we have the art and the tools to let us bring that life into this one. Our grieving period is over, we are onto acceptance, we are supposed to know what to do with ourselves now, we are supposed to have rediscovered our patterns.
Yes... I sent my favorite cooking chocolate!

And we have.

Having our stuff catch up with us has simply shaken some of the cobwebs out. and as we pick up some of the bizarre loose change that tumbled out, we are happy and sad and reminded of what an amazing dream we have just awoken from and fallen into.  

45 boxes, this is about half, crazy!!
Those 12 years were great.

Some wine for the spirits.
We are fortunate., just in time for thanksgiving!

September 18, 2015


Emigrants? Migrants? Ex-expatriates, Patriots, Americans again, Oaklanders?

Still settling into this new/old thing .  So here it is, we lived the first 4 decades of our lives as Americans…..

one decade as frenchmen

back to a reality.

Back to the house we have owned for a long 18 years, but lived in only 4 and its all so strange and familiar.

As we unpack our “stuff” we found some of the items landed in their spots from 12 years earlier, and some floated off with a question mark. There were things we didn't recall owning, things which didn't fit into our new lives, things we tried to get rid of 12 years ago, the boomerang stuff that has returned to treasured status and some of the treasured stuff which is already adorning the shelves of Goodwill…
The last bottle af an extreme vintage

The house is wonderfully sparse, as are the closet rods the bookshelves and our agendas,  but we have notice the french stuff is soon to be NYK METEOR and will crowd our lives by mid-October.  Perhaps by then we will remember which cabinets are for cereal and which are for spices. So far the kitchen is a grab bag,  knives and spatulas co-mingling, pot lids in one room, pans in another!?!? Monty Hall would appreciate the randomness.

Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line

But what I want to try to understand is the changes in life that our re-patriation has wrought?  I only sort of understood what it meant to be an “ex-patriate”, a heady mix of belonging to several cultures at the same time.  We were part of a French community, the local American community and the Absent from America tribe as well.  

Re-patriation was a process,  starting with the straddling of the previous 3 communities and the decision to exit, stage east. First there was an element of quitting a club, perhaps because there was a shared challenge to living offshore. In an ex-patriate community there was a brotherhood of complaints and compliments autour the society you are invading. Second there is a loosening of the laces, maintaining a fit snug enough so as not to trip, but preparing your exit. Third, but not last, there is a reweaving of relationships from proximate to distance.  Its a bit of a roll reversal that I hear echoed in my voice when I say now, as then, what I miss is my friendships (and the cheese).   So we quit that!  We left some soldiers behind, but America is undesirable enough that we will be replaced. May they love it as much as we did.
Exploring Tahoe

So we are back in our new & old life. It is not really a challenge, it’s oddly easy. Life in someone else's culture is challenging, life here is home and familiar, I think a french person would feel the same returning to their shores. Perhaps life in France is more challenging on a technical level, but their complexity might in fact be what we are missing now.  Obvious differences, turning on the machine of daily life is a breeze, buying/ renting/ turning on a phone or a gas line is so streamlined here it boggles the mind that it could be so simple. No-one is asking how long you will stay, instead there are the open arms which presage a hug. There is not the tensing of the posture before a double kiss, wondering is it 2 or 4 and do I start on the left or the right?  But neither is there the acknowledgement that we have grown so fond of. When you walk into a store in France, you ALWAYS say “bon jour”  to the store!  or whomever might be listening.  In a doctor’s waiting room, you say hello to the collected masses, in an office, or a party, the custom is to bon jour everyone first, THEN chat, or work, or wait your turn.  In America, California version, the greetings are sadly unimportant.  They might happen, but just as likely, there are people you might never say hello to?!
Too often it becomes a “hello& goodbye”.

The food is expensive here, but deliciously innovative, the service is over the top, the pace is on speed, the cars are too big and there is traffic of epic proportions! I am happy to see there are high heels, there are silly little jackets on enough of the men and the proliferation of yoga pants is not as bad as all of the french think it is. The weather is better, the amount of Organic food is off the hook, but then again, the majority of the already less expensive food in France is of a better quality than here in ‘the states’.

12 years has made some inroads.  There are farmers markets everyday, there is “grass fed” beef at every store I have visited, tipping has climbed from 15% to 20, but I understand that wages haven't moved, so its a decent way to tax the rich and gastronomically inclined. The radio stations are still bad (download the app “FIP), and the cable TV bills are whack!  Cell coverage has improved and your prices are starting to drop.  We have been used to paying a fraction of what you pay, like 10 to 50%, that’s crazy!

We have given up succulent duck on every menu for the welcome plethora of Thai, vietnamese, mexican….. We are getting used to short showers and smelly toilets, still surprised by the homeless camps behind the never closed shopping centers, the cars everywhere, the outrageous prices for bread! And OMG how early ya’ll eat! still not sure what you do all night after you leave the food behind before the sun has set!?

But its our heritage too, and we are happy to be back within it, hoping that we manage to hold onto whatever bizarre or sensical habits we were exposed to over the 1.2 decades as frenchmen!
Oscar and cousins at UCDavis

Oscar heads off to UCDavis tomorrow, starting a new chapter in the history of P(O)D. Its disturbing that when I type that it reminds me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Once again, in so short a span, we will be redefining ourselves.  But that was a bit-o-the plan, to hide all these transitions into each other, hoping the change of scenes and acts and principle players would go un-noticed by an appreciative audience happy to have scored last minute tickets in the front row of our own broad ways!

July 24, 2015


we have moved a lot, but never quite this way.

upper deck in a first class train as we roll our of Gare St Jean

ciao, ciao Bordeaux

ciao ciao mes amis.

12 years and 44 days and it seems like we all grew up here, its crazy!  We never meant to invest such a large part of ourselves here, if we had we would have done it differently, but we would have ended up in the same place.  

Arriving in a heat wave that still sticks to my back, speaking in phrases, grunts and foreign tongues, we plodded and plotted and landed with aplomb, more than a plomb, in 2003, in Martel, in France profond.  Schools, real estate agents, le marie, tradesmen, marche’s and the curious french people that took us into their hearts where we stayed for 7 or more so years…

Page two, discovering the city mice in us, the urban splendour of Bordeaux!  speaking in sentences by now, never quite right, but we were a bit more than understood. Bordeaux changed who we were; perhaps it was the urban thing?  Half of being french is what we learned in the country, but that life was not so different from say, Connecticut or the Ozarks, just with better food and stones. The other half of the french assimilation is this “european” mentality that came to us in Bordeaux. Giving away the car, walking and shopping and socialising at a macro level. Somehow in the urban context we developed an expatriate personality which is different from the assimilation mode we started in. 

It was important in the begining, when the adventure was to be a brief one, that we dig in deep to the whole french pie, we eschewed the anglophone community, in part because there wasn't one, in the hopes of becoming frenchmen in disguise.  It was fun and frustrating and fulfilling, so many recollections of failure and folly, stupid things we said, did, or didn't where we should have, relying on our american persona to excuse our errors. I hope they thought we were cute as often as stupid.  The different people that have moved through our lives in the past 12 + 44, the best one’s have stayed but there were a few good ones we left behind. The kids that just stare, really, american?  but why you talk so funny?  the old ones that tear up and express a gratitude that I can barely understand and all the rest, friends, good friends, that started out from curiosity and compassion to become so much more.  We have made some real friends and we are taking them with us!  We are taking so much with us!

The extrication? the unraveling, our departure, our reboot…. 
Moving 7 times in the past 12+44 has been great, really. It keeps us honest, it keeps us lean, in suitcases if not body and mind.  One can't keep skeletons in the closet very well when the closets keep changing. The physical process identifies the emotional one.  We still have baggage, it still doesn't match, there is one fibreboard drum which made it right up till the end, a suitcase from my grandfather too, and a collection of backpacks and sacs and now a collection of 52 banana boxes that too may live to see another day!  But Im mixing my metaphors…

This last departure is different. we are perhaps tying a knot around the package and wherever we open it what tumbles forth will have changed in the translation. 12+44 has been such a resounding success and its kinda like, over!  Which means that something else must be about to start and that’s strange.  We are returning to a known set of parts and a known life, rich in friends and relations that have nourished us at a distance, but….

I feel like I have changed so much, who hasn't in 12 years, its easy to see the proof in the photos, the infant we carried around, the dark hair thats made room for grey, the eager eyes that now wear glasses. So, I suppose, the life we are returning to must have evolved as well.  And I want that.  I want our old life to be different and the same, I want the relationships to be there and strong and new and old and I fear the changes that will be there and just hope, and expect, that we have all grown in the same ways. 12 years is a long time, it was longer than I had dreamed it could be.

Did I say it was a success?  It really has been great, as a family we have prospered, we are strong and happy and ready for what’s next!  Oscar did so well at being a student, we did well enough at being french land barons, and perhaps the return to an altered life will make the mid-life transition an easier one as the nest we are emptying is a new and familiar one.  Its an odd set of circumstances. perhaps I’ll soon stop talking to myself!

I got to watch Oscar saying goodbye to a friend or two and tried to imagine it. For O this has been such a huge part of his life, and he’s now leaving friends he has spent thousand of hours with and for another country.  Saying goodbye they hug like americans, kiss like frenchmen, and it seems to be me who tears up. Oscar is leaving a lot behind.

We each have our way of coping with the grand changement….Patricia takes pictures of everything…..Oscar is having vivid dreams….Me, Im just worn out by the emotion of leaving a life, or maybe it’s the parties!