I think back to the times when I am sure that someone was being teased or bullied and I said nothing because I wasn't on the receiving end that day. I can't remember specifics but I am sure that aside from the stress and fear of being picked on, I probably felt relief that it was someone else and not me for the moment. I wish that I could have shown more courage at those moments.
Tonight we are invited to my cousin Didier’s house for dinner. Dinner at his house is a tradition between all us cousins who have spent several summers together at the beach on the Mediterranean. We have such great memories that without fail we spend the whole entire evening reminiscing and laughing. The menu is simple, cantaloupe and prosciutto to start and shish kebabs on the barbecue, the kebabs are a combination of beef, pork and lamb marinated in olive oil and Harissa, spicy red pepper paste, and French fries. The menu is a given, we have had it for twenty years now. Now that I have just written the word twenty, it hit me that we aren’t the band of youngsters that we once were and that we laugh about. What makes these evenings so great is that it’s almost as if we are back in time, at least in our minds. I’m making sure to get this post out early because I know that for a fact that I won’t be in any shape to write because it will be in the early morning before I will be getting home. I’m getting chauffeured but who knows I might be the one driving home because I don’t drink anymore and my chauffeur does like his red wine.
The primal force that motivated my determination to get myself and the baby girl to Bordeaux was not only to see my family in its entirety or as close to that as possible, but really to see my aunts and my two remaining uncles. My oldest aunt is 88 and in a wheelchair, she is still sharp for the most part, she might be a little fuzzy around the edges but it’s harmless. Her wheelchair is necessary because her good leg through years of overuse has become completely arthritic. Personally, I find her remarkable because she suffered a stroke at fifty paralysing her on the left side completely, she overcame with the help of everyone, family and doctors and when my uncle passed away, she still carried on with the same grace and dignity. She actually went out and bought a modified car do that she could drive herself around, she was past seventy at this point. When I saw her on Saturday, it made me so happy to see her alert and having fun.
My Tonton who has always had me across from him at the table, who would listen to me at every age whenever I had something to say, has become old. He is now 85 and having worked tirelessly all of his life as a landscaper/nursery owner is in constant pain in both knees. What makes it more difficult is that he is a very tall man and he isn’t as rail thin as he used to be, in his golden years he has cultivated quite a sweet tooth. My Tantine now scolds him the same way she used to scold us when my cousin Leon and I were children, “stop with the chocolate, you two!” now she isn’t saying you two, she is just scolding him. What made me so happy was seeing that my Tantine, who is as much of the backbone of the family as my Tonton is, hasn’t changed a bit, she is 80 but she still has quite a bit of energy. I felt much better, because seeing my Tonton slow down made me sad. It really drives home that life is so transitory and we accompany each other on this journey of life for a short time, I don’t want it to end. I love having them in my life.
My other Tantine, who I call the most beautiful, is also slowing down, still tries to do as much as before but she pays the price nowadays. However when she is at family gatherings, she is gay and vibrant and if there is champagne, watch out she will not refuse a glass or two. She is adorable. She is a phenomenal cook. She has made us Vietnamese spring rolls and Vietnamese soup a countless number of times and those two dishes are hours of work. She is an amazing woman.
My other Tantine and Tonton came all the way from Sainte-Etienne, I told the baby girl that this Tonton gave the best hello kisses, three times on the cheeks and he does it with gusto. He takes you by the shoulders and as he kisses each cheek, he tells you want a wonderful niece you are, how you are still as young looking as ever, seeing you made his day. And when he does and says all this, you know that he is sincere. My Tantine, I know always had a special place in her heart for my sister and me because we are the daughters of her baby sister that she adores. My heart broke a little because she wasn’t doing as well as I had remembered but I still got my kisses and I walked around the garden with her which was very nice.
Clearly, you can understand why I absolutely had to come to France, what better reason to come than to see my older generation who love me and took care of me when I was little in France.
I would pick vegetables. They aren’t only healthy and delicious, vegetables also help you keep the weight off and all of your blood tests in good ranges. Eating a great deal of vegetables can provide enormous benefits in such issues such as cholesterol, blood pressure, low blood sugar and these are just a few examples to start with. I consider myself lucky that I love vegetables, I know that in the past I had issues with eating correctly but since I have recovered from my illness, it has become a point for me to make sure that I eat vegetables every day, if I don’t then I don’t feel right. Vegetables provide so many benefits, I’m glad that I have embraced the vegetable as a daily part of my regime.
Today was day two of the family celebration at Tonton’s house. The baby girl and I have shuttled off to another bedroom, this one is back at the house where I spent most of my summers during my childhood. We are sleeping in the room that I shared with my cousin Leon when we were kids, the one who taught me how to hunt, capture and kill lizards to prevent them from growing into alligators. Those are really fond memories, our family was still large, it was my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my mother some times, at least three cousins and my sister and myself with other family members dropping by all the time. I remember conversations that were spirited fun, long conversations at the table involving children and adults, everyone had a voice, very democratic as I remember it. I’m laying on the bed writing this very happy that I don’t have to change beds anytime soon.
Speaking of which, I don’t know what came over me today but I was hit by a wave of exhaustion that was so powerful it made my muscles weak. I felt almost ill, it was rather unpleasant but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. I just kept quiet and ate with everyone taking the time to just listen, every now and then I would take the little princess Rose in my arms and that helped distract me from the exhaustion. When you have a darling princess in your arms, how can anything bring you down? Interestingly enough, when I was walking around with the precious cargo in my arms, I felt no exhaustion, it was only when I gave her back that the tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks.
Tomorrow, we aren’t doing anything. The baby girl and I ate going to sit back and enjoy Tonton’s and Tantine. Francoise, Nicolas, her daughter and fiancé and baby Mathis will be leaving and we are of course going to miss them terribly, they made our stay in Rouen and here very special.
The eyelids are seriously drooping and I have to go to bed. Until tomorrow’s potentially ordinary and lazy day.
If there were to be a movie made about my life, I would want there to be laughter even during the troubling times so I would want someone who does comedy even better than drama. I think that I would pick Sandra Bullock because she does comedic and drama equally well and she has a great natural style all her own. I really like her and the roles that she picked out to portray so she would definitely be my choice.
The long a waited day had finally arrived, Saturday July 27th, the day that my Tonton and Tantine celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. When we arrived with Michelle and Frank, who are wonderful hosts, they immediately offered to put us up for Friday night and Saturday night, we, meaning the baby girl and I were given such a warm welcome back to France. All my aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins came up to the baby girl, so happy to see her and exclaiming wondrously over how much she had changed and grown and how lovely she is. I know that it was a little overwhelming for her, we are talking about 50 people, all family, coming at you with kisses and questions in French which are to be answered in French. At first the baby girl was timid but by the end of the night she was speaking to several of her cousins in French and doing a wonderful job with having herself understood. I was just plain old happy and I felt as if I had come back home after a long voyage. I know that my home is in Blandford but Bordeaux is my other home, a place where I learned how to hunt lizards with sling shots and bow and arrows with my favorite cousin Leon, who also taught me how to find the best places to hide and other trouble making things to do. Leon was actually put out that I hadn’t written about him earlier, he was miffed that I hadn’t told my audience how much he had influenced me and taught me. I had a great laugh at that one, if there was only way to describe Leon, it would be that he is extremely witty. I laughed and laughed all day and evening with my cousins as we reminded each other of all the crazy stunts and capers that we pulled on each other and even together. One who I spent a long time reminiscing and laughing with is Didier, he is the one that you always want to be seated next to, guaranteed laughter near his seat, which is why you had better call it quickly. We also spent a lot of time missing all the wonderful times we had at my other cousin’s house, Martine, and how she took care of us, cooked for us and she was a wonderful cook, and took care of us. Francoise and Nicolas along with the two girls and their newly created families were not far, so I took as many opportunities to sit next to Francoise and the babies, I love babies you know. It was so great to just look around and see my family who I have missed for so long.
The food was excellent, the celebration was catered and the meal tasted as if it had come from a three star restaurant. While we were milling around having drinks, the wait staff walked around offering hors d’ouevres such as smoked salmon canapés, lamb, goat cheese and red pepper canapés and coppa on a olive sable canapés. When they were finally able to herd us to the table, the first course was a terrine of salmon mousses with scallops and topped with lobster and caviar. It was the right amount, very refined and delicious. The second course was my favorite, a breast of duck topped with hot foie gras and drizzled with a rich reduction, perfection in my book. There was the cheese course and then dessert. That is always the fun part, we had a chocolate mousse cake filled intermittently with fresh raspberries. It was so good.
I am exhausted now and once again, this day was a phenomenal day. I am so happy to be with family.
This morning at nine Nicolas, Francoise, the baby girl and I piled into the Renault family car, which I have to say is a very comfortable spacious car, and headed down south to Bordeaux. The distance is about 689 kilometers, which never means anything to me. In the States, it’s miles, anything else is meaningless. So basically whatever the speed limit is gives you an idea how to calculate the time required to cover the distance so, since the speed limit on the highway here varies between 110-130 kilometers an hour and the distance is 689 therefore the time would be around 6-7 hours in the car. A full day of driving for Nicolas with a full day of riding along for the three of us. Francoise had a tremendous idea that split the ride in two parts with lunchtime being the halfway mark. Her sister Michelle recommended a wonderful restaurant in the town of Vouvray that is right outside of Tours, 3 hours away from Rouen and 3 hours away from Bordeaux. Perfect rest stop, Nicolas found it without any trouble, we were seated immediately and the decor was rustic and elegant in an Old World type of way. The food was very good, we all started with sliced cantaloupe and prosciutto ham alongside a small salad. I had a salad served with sliced breast of duck, fresh mushrooms and pine nuts, the baby girl had salmon tartare and both Francoise and Nicholas had spinach raviolis filled with cheese and served with sauteed shrimp. Everything was delicious, we ended with dessert, I had a paper thin apple tart served warm right out of the oven all caramelized with a scoop of all spice ice cream, oh my, was it so light, warm and comforting to slowly eat and savor. We got back on the road and I was battling with my cell phone trying to take pictures of the fields of tall sunflowers that are strewn all between Paris and Bordeaux. I will upload them later on but honestly you will have to trust me that the blurry yellow images are really sunflowers. Before I knew it, we were very close to Bordeaux when we hit the dreaded traffic jam, it added an hour to our trip but I spent the time thinking of what to write and I immediately thought of this car ride and also the fact that we crossed 4 rivers on the way to Bordeaux; the Seine near Rouen and Paris, the Loire near the restaurant, the Dordogne on the cusp of the southwest, the Garonne right at Bordeaux. I don’t think that I have crossed 4 major rivers in probably close to 14 years. I thought that it was an interesting part of our adventure.
When we arrived at my Tonton and Tantine’s house it was a welcome stop because even with the stop in the middle, my legs were feeling a little stiff and my buttocks were numb by this time. That was all forgotten in the wake of all the welcoming kisses and hellos.
My favorite card games are the solitary kind. I have loaded on my iPad three different variations of solitaire, Free cell, Solitaire and Spider Solitaire. Every night before I go to sleep, I spend some time playing all three in the effort to exercise my brain, keep it nimble. On the off chance that I have someone to play cards with, my favorite game is rummy 500. It’s a long game and not that competitive, no one gets stressed playing rummy 500.