Three Days in Porto

I went to a talk at the school I teach at last year given by one of the former directors of the Futuroscope theme park in Poitiers. The whole talk was interesting but one thing he said has really stuck with me:

On ne part pas en vacances simplement pour se reposer. On part pour revenir changé.

(We don’t leave on holiday just to rest. We leave to come back changed.)

A lot of trips I’ve taken have done that for me, but this past weekend I left behind work and family to spend a long week-end with my parents in Porto, Portugal, and it was again true.

Traveling with my parents is always different as my adult responsibilities seem to some how disappear no matter how many years I’ve been living away from home. But this time there was even a day outing planned and organized by a third party that none of us had to worry about managing.

This was my first time in Portugal so last week I somehow managed to find the time, also after talking with one of my colleagues who speaks Portuguese, to learn a few phrases (Fala inglês? Adeus! Obrigada! Olá!) It was fun to try to exercise a velar /l/ and whistle some s’s. A tour guide even explained to us the plural thank you and I used it once or twice getting out of a taxi with my parents.

The first day was long since I drove to Nantes (two hours) at 7 am before flying to Porto where my mom met me at the metro station. I dropped off my things at the 5-star hotel my parents were using for their work meeting and the television in the room greeted me by name (in writing).

That afternoon my mom and I (my dad was working) walked around Ribeira and into the Saõ Francisco church which looks a bit like someone threw up baroque gold all over it (except pretty of course). No pictures were allowed but trust me, it was extravagant.

Not the church itself but a room nearby to give you just a glimpse of what the church was like (except x10)

Everything in Porto seemed unlike the other European cities I’ve seen. I guess I haven’t seen a lot of baroque gold in my life.

On Sunday we went with my dad’s group with a guide on a van tour (did I mention we didn’t have to take charge of anything at all that day?) to Coimbra University which was also beautiful.

The organ in the university chapel
Close-up of the tile on the chapel wall

Then we went to Aveiro where we rode on a boat through the canals. The buildings are very pretty but hard to get good pictures of given the cars parked in front.

The boats had cheesy and/or tawdry paintings on the bow and stern
One of the 28 art nouveau buildings in Aveiro
Just a house

Monday morning my mom had reserved us a guided walking tour of Porto.

McDonald’s in Porto (a historical building)
A glimpse of inside
Inside the incredible train station
Near the old market (that red building peeking out at the end)

Anyway for someone who knew almost nothing about Portuguese history and culture I feel like I really learned a lot, and also got to taste some port wine. I picked up a few souvenirs (a tile trivet, a bottle of port) and lots of memories of almost an almost stress-free trip. I’m not quite back to reality since I’m still on vacation for another ten days but I was reunited with Littlest and J yesterday and special boy seems happy to have me back. I’ll just try not to let the mental load back in right away… and keep reminiscing about this magical, brief getaway.

The Past Month

I’m not sure what to say about the past month—the blog has been on the back-burner since I didn’t feel like I had much to say. Things have been fine though work is still intense and I do worry about burn-out.

I’ll be on vacation at the end of the week and will be flying to Porto to meet my parents for four days. It will be my first time in Portugal and I haven’t had the time or energy to get any real Portuguese basics into my brain.

On that note here is a long but wonderful article (three articles really and apparently one that I missed) about traveling:

NY Times: The Voyages Issue


There Is No Reason to Cross the U.S. by Train. But I Did It Anyway.

Rick Steves Wants to Save the World, One Vacation at a Time

It Was Just a Kayaking Trip. Until It Upended Our Lives.

And another that I might have to go back and read.

My Weaned Toddler

A dearly loved cheetah

Weaning Littlest, though the best decision for us, has caused some interesting changes in his behavior.

His cheetah lovey (crocheted by my mom) has become a true lovey. He needs to take it almost everywhere, though we often manage to leave it in the car. When he’s upset, he asks for it. When he goes in time-out or we put him in his old crib to calm down, his cheetah has to be with him. Before weaning he just slept with it and played with it but since then it’s become a real transition object. He always put his fingers in the stitches while falling asleep but now he seems to have very vigorously created a comfort hole on the cheetah’s side. I don’t know how this creature is going to survive the intense love he’s giving it. I’m glad he’s found a new way of coping with his feelings but it does seem to me that it’s clearly a replacement for breastfeeding.

On the other hand, a friend of ours warned us that even post-weaning, the breast can provide roundabout ways of comfort for weaned toddlers, and this is true. He often leans his head against my chest very deliberately when we’re reading before bed or sitting together on the couch.

He’s also been compensating by asking for his favorite lullaby when he’s sad or wakes up in the night.

It’s all very sweet but also makes it clearer to me the emotional stability that breastfeeding gave him all those months so I’m glad I kept up with it as long as I could.

Raising a Boy (Part 1?): Dean Lewis and Pink Onesies

Things I’ve been vaguely aware of without paying much attention to have come into much crisper focus since having a baby boy.

One of the things that I think shocks a lot of first-time parents these days is just how heavily gendered baby clothes are. I mean, they’re babies. And yet, not only are baby girls’ shirts pink and purple, they have puffy sleeves and frills.

So sometimes when I came across something in pink that Littlest actually could wear (=no puffy sleeves), I bought it.

For example there’s this onesie we bought at Lidl as part of a two-pack. Lidl’s clothes are nice and soft and this one was sold as a pair with another cute blue one (good work Lidl).

Then there was this pair of jammies when he was even littler.

I mean let’s be clear, these clothes are not feminine. They’re just pink. And yet, they’ve somehow gotten comments from people fairly close to me who don’t seem particularly close-minded, for example, for the jammies.

Friend seeing the above picture: “Was that a joke?”

Me: “No.”

But they don’t have baby boys. It’s just been much easier to see how little boys are boxed in from the get-go since having one in my care.

(But also, I don’t think I would ever say anything to anyone about putting a pink shirt on their male child… I mean wtf it’s 2019.)

Along those lines, there’s a new (at least to France) song playing on the radio by Dean Lewis that has drawn me in:

The video is not too interesting and the song though pretty isn’t anything amazing. What I like about it though is that it’s a mainstream song in which a young man is clearly talking about heartbreak with his friends who are clearly comforting him about and helping him deal with it.

So, I think it’s a win against toxic masculinity. Nice work Dean.

Anyway this is something I will surely be dealing with for years and years and if Littlest wants to wear pink and purple or play with dolls then I will continue to tell people that no it’s not a joke.

Words from My Bilingual Toddler

I feel like Littlest has been going through a bit of a word explosion for the past few months and it’s really fun. He’s also doing a little bit of 2-word combinations, mostly “___ + encore” or “Il y a + _____ ” and once he actually put them together to say “Y a encore bobo?” (Guess what he was asking about…)

He likes repeating almost everything but some words he’s been having success with recently are:

  • car
  • froid
  • doggy
  • his name
  • chaussettes/socks
  • milk (that final k comes out as a p usually)
  • please
  • baleine (from the book L’Enfant et la baleine/The Storm Whale)
  • kitty cat (sounds like ki-ka)
  • ballon
  • yes (this is very exciting, at least if it continues)

Other words/expressions seem to be pretty well mastered:

  • guépard (for his Cheetah lovey—it sounds like “apa” though)
  • ducky (for his stuffed duck car companion)
  • puppy (car companion in the other car—a Fisher Price dog that sings things in an asinine voice but that he loves)
  • ompa (for Grandpa)
  • Mamie, Papi, Mémé
  • the names of the two other kids my mother-in-law takes care of
  • bim (when anything falls or gets bonked)
  • book
  • à boire
  • binky (for his pacifier)
  • booboo/bobo (can’t tell which one he’s saying)
  • uh-oh
  • cheese
  • bye-bye/au revoir
  • coucou
  • baby/bébé (probably more the French one)
  • night-night
  • Nanna
  • non
  • cassé (he’s obsessed by things that are broken or torn)
  • caché (sounds pretty much the same as cassé)
  • allez (whenever he sees anyone or a picture of someone climbing)
  • ça
  • bravo (sounds like “abvo”)
  • lots of animal sounds (moo, woof-woof, meow-meow, neigh…)

Bizarrely, the difference between Papa and Mama is proving difficult for him and for the past few months we have both been Papa. With some insistence he seems to be reworking Mama/Maman into his vocabulary but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

He’s also way into the motion-based nursery rhymes I’ve been singing to him since he was really little:

  • Head, shoulders, knees, and toes: He’s mostly good at putting this hands on his head, and going between his knees and his toes, or showing his ears.
  • The itsy bitsy spider: can’t figure out the thumb-to-forefinger thing yet but he loves this one the most, I think.
  • Pat-a-cake: He mostly likes the baby-rocking gesture at the end

Stay tuned for more real life bilingual experimentation in a few months.

Reading in French

I still mostly read in English thanks to my Kindle which allows me to so easily buy books in English and carry them around with me on trips. Every once in a while I read in French though and I’m starting to notice a pattern with the books I like.

They’re all essentially nonfiction by fiction writers.

Last weekend I finally picked up Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano who won the Nobel Prize a few years ago—and that’s when I bought the book. I threw it in Littlest’s diaper bag on a rock-climbing outing just in case I needed something to do and it turns out, it’s a really fast read. I finished it yesterday. I found it fascinating and wonderful—though wonderful in terms of the writing and the concept, since it is essentially about the Holocaust. I did some research afterward to try to figure it out—and it’s all true. Modiano actually did become obsessed by a missing child ad while he was reading an old newspaper (from 1941) and eventually do extensive research on her, and that’s all chronicled in this book.

So that’s when I noticed a pattern with the French books that I’ve really loved.

Annie Ernaux: Les Années: Read on the recommendation of a French acquaintance years ago. This doesn’t even really tell a story—it recounts the life of an anonymous French woman in post-war France who essentially represents all women in the decades that have passed since the war.

Frédéric Beigbeder: Un Roman français: I never read 99 Francs which was made into a film. But I adored this book he wrote afterward that’s centered around an arrest and garde-à-vue experience he had. Again, all true.

Fatou Diomé: Le Ventre de l’Atlantique: I fell in love with Fatou Diomé when she was interviewed on TV a few years ago and when asked the question, “Are you afraid of Marine le Pen?”, she answered, “No, Marine le Pen is afraid of me” (and then explained very eloquently why). So I had to read her book. Turns out, again, it’s all about her: her childhood on a tiny island off the coast of Senegal, and her little brother who stayed there while she moved to France.

Maybe it says something about French writing that the books I love are not actually fiction. I mean I have read actual French novels—but even the ones that people recommend to me, I haven’t liked that much.

On that note—any recommendations out there for reading in French (that’s not Marc Levy or Guillaume Musso)?

The Past Week

Well things are getting exciting around here, as in the past two weeks we have bought both tickets to Ireland for this summer and tickets to Texas for next fall. That’s right, Littlest will be turning three in a Tex-Mex restaurant with a giant sombrero on his head. (Or if he hates it, my mom says we’ll put it on his French papy—J’s parents will be coming with us. I’m excited about introducing them to all. the. food.)

Otherwise I’m now on vacation again thank the Lord. Though I have some work to do this week while Littlest is still at the nanny’s, I do feel some relaxation seeping in.

Here’s something that got me thinking recently, being as I am on the brink of burnout: NYTimes: For Valentine’s Day, Try Being Nice to Yourself

which led me to this: Glamour: Here’s Why You Should Care Less About Your Work

Unrelated, about bilingualism and biculturalism:

WaPost: My baby has two cultures. Naming him wasn’t easy.

Bilinguals hear sounds differently based on the language they think they’re listening to, new study shows

Finally: WaPost: The 23 most unforgettable last sentences in fiction