Change

I’ve written a couple times about what’s changed for us, for me, since Littlest was born. About tears that come easily when watching movies, about looking at other women and parents differently, about having to look at any baby in any stroller that wanders past (okay maybe I hadn’t gotten to that one yet—it’s an obsession).

It took me a long time to find a good song to dance to with my dad at our wedding—every song about love seemed to be about romantic love, or really cheesy mainstream country-style paternalistic crap. I knew when I heard Louis Armstrong singing “Sunrise, Sunset” that it was the right one.

Now when I listen to songs on the radio, I’m intrigued by the rare ones people write for their children. Christophe Maé (Marcel), the Dixie Chicks (Godspeed), Atmosphere (Little Man), Beyoncé (Blue), and, of course, Renaud (Morgane de toi). There are songs that I want to be about children but that don’t necessarily seem quite to fit.

And then there are the songs that I think I always heard wrong, and am only hearing right for the first time.

Mon enfant nue sur les galets
Le vent dans tes cheveux défaits
Comme un printemps sur mon trajet
Un diamant tombé d’un coffret
Seule la lumière pourrait
Défaire nos repères secrets
Ou mes doigts pris sur tes poignets
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai
Et quoique tu fasses
L’amour est partout où tu regardes
Dans les moindres recoins de l’espace
Dans les moindres rêves où tu t’attardes
L’amour comme s’il en pleuvait
Nu sur les galets

Le ciel prétend qu’il te connaît
Il est si beau c’est sûrement vrai
Lui qui ne s’approche jamais
Je l’ai vu pris dans tes filets
Le monde a tellement de regrets
Tellement de choses qu’on promet
Une seule pour laquelle je suis fait
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai
Et quoique tu fasses
L’amour est partout où tu regardes
Dans les moindres recoins de l’espace
Dans les moindres rêves où tu t’attardes
L’amour comme s’il en pleuvait
Nu sur les galets

On s’envolera du même quai
Les yeux dans les mêmes reflets
Pour cette vie et celle d’après
Tu seras mon unique projet
Je m’en irai poser tes portraits
À tous les plafonds de tous les palais
Sur tous les murs que je trouverai
Et juste en dessous, j’écrirai
Que seule la lumière pourrait…
Et mes doigts pris sur tes poignets
Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai

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Universality

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My belly at 5 1/2 months pregnant

There’s one change in my life that has come about with the birth of Littlest that I haven’t yet written about. It’s taken a few months to be come clear in my mind.

It started when I became visibly pregnant—I started noticing other pregnant women, other women with young children, and thinking, “We’ve all done this in some way or other.” I felt a secret connection with all these women as I was waiting, regardless of their situation. The universality of bringing life into the world especially struck me as I spent a good three weeks in South Africa during my pregnancy.

These days as I cart Littlest around in his stroller—for example, today, as we went to the “popular” area of Poitiers to request his French passport—I feel it even more so. People love babies, be it in the supermarket, in a cafe, and, I’m hoping, on airplanes. Littlest is usually ready with a smile after a little bit of cajoling and I’m happy to share our joy with others. Recently I answered the door for a delivery with him in my arms, and the delivery man talked about his 9-month-old baby girl, and how important it was to enjoy this time because it goes by so fast. I love these moments. They crack the French façade of stand-offish-ness, which is something I’ve been trying to do more since I came back from Ireland where everyone is so nice to everyone. The feeling of connection reminds me of what we all have in common in the most essential parts of us.

Of course, there’s another side to it. I’m reminded many days of the luck that Littlest has been born into: white, male, middle-class, wanted, prepared for. He’ll have chances in life that lots of other little babies won’t have, and he’s no more deserving than them. I don’t know what to do about that except to tell him, even though he’s still too little to understand, that the most important thing is always to be kind to himself and others.

The Wedding

Here we are, finally back from our trips and with all the urgent responsibilities out of the way, and we’ve finally gotten our professional wedding pictures too. I say “finally” because they were actually ready two days after the wedding, but since we were leaving town and J didn’t want to pick them up over the internet, we waited until we got back from vacation… by which point he was much more impatient than I was.

So what to say about the wedding? It went swimmingly, in spite of a little rain the morning of. We spent all of Friday setting up the hall, including tables, table cloths, decoration, escort cards and our DIY lazy girl photo booth.

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Setting up the “photo booth” (photo by me)

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Putting silly decoration bits on tables (photo by me)

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photo by ? (on my phone)

The lazy girl photo booth involved a lamp with a powerful light bulb, bunches of props bought at the party store, a tri-pod, a camera, and a white wall. We spray-painted a styrofoam packing frame gold to serve as a frame. We weren’t willing to put any more money or time into this, but we did want it, and the guests had a great time with it.

Escort card photos

Escort card photos (photo by me)

Our escort cards were all pictures of the guests, with J and/or me when possible. I got this idea from this website.

The flowers arrived Friday night and I think that’s when I started to feel like we were really getting married.

Our table flower arrangement + the menu in French

Our table flower arrangement + the menu in French (photo by me)

Both my pre-wedding appointments went faster than expected, and we were ready earlier than expected, so we filled the time with a game of Ticket to Ride (Les Aventuriers du rail), USA edition, on our patio.

Getting my hair did

Getting my hair did (photo by Laurel)

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I was clearly going to win. (photo by R Bernus)

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(photo by R Bernus)

My mom’s hair appointment went well as well, since my sister-in-law and brother accompanied her and she took in pictures of what she hoped for.

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(photo by R Bernus)

 

We did set up the vin d’honneur inside rather than outside because of a late downpour, and J and I did arrive under an umbrella, but after that, there was no more rain.

Umbrellas made for adorable pictures like this (we are still confirming whose little girl that is):

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(photo by R Bernus)

Our officiant was the adjunct mayor of culture. I estimate about ten years on those dreads. He was great, though we assume it was his first wedding because he was quite emotional and had prepared lots of notes about the laws and acts to read.

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(photo by R Bernus)

I didn’t eat anything during the vin d’honneur (I had eaten a sandwich around noon) though I did have a cocktail (a pineaujito) and J did make me taste the miget aux fraises at one point.

Juicing the limes Thursday evening

Juicing the limes Thursday evening (photo by me)

Two coolers of bitters and pineau, ready for lime juice

Two coolers of bitters and pineau, ready for lime juice (photo by me)

The finished product

The finished product (photo by R Bernus)

Melons from Poitou

Melon from Poitou (photo by R Bernus)

Miget aux fraises

Miget aux fraises (photo by R Bernus)

Tasting the miget aux fraises

Tasting the miget aux fraises (photo by R Bernus)

As J had predicted, no one went home between the vin d’honneur and dinner, except the American guests who needed a rest in order to make it past midnight. So there were games of pétanque and shellfish gathering down by the river as well as a slack-line.

Slack-line (photo by J's sister)

Slack-line (photo by J’s sister)

I was not stressed out the day of the wedding, but in the days prior I had been worried about the service and the timing of the French wedding games. But everything went well. J’s friends had translated the games into English and his witness read in both languages, and the American guests actually loved it.

Elle ou lui? (Newlyweds game) (photo by Laurel)

Elle ou lui? (Newlyweds game) (photo by Laurel)

As a “prize” for the first game we got a couple of aprons and a betta fish. Yay?

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(photo by R Bernus)

Actually, I was pretty happy about the aprons, but the fish? We were leaving on a twenty-day vacation afterwards… somehow he miraculously survived two full weeks without food and with very little sunlight.

The cake appeared around midnight, and the first dance happened around 1 am. (Thanks to my dad for sticking it out till then, because the father-daughter dance followed.)

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Cutting the cake as the younger cousins look on eagerly (“C’est pour qui ce morceau?”) (photo by J’s sister)

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Our Franco-American themed wedding cake (photo by J’s sister)

The dance party was fun, but most of J’s friends actually don’t really dance, something I discovered at our wedding. So once the Americans left the party at around 2/2:30 am, the dance party consisted of about four or five people at a time (including me, almost always). We did managed to have a few good moments toward the end of the night when we put on Manau (La Tribu de Dana), Axelle Red (Parce que c’est toi), and Louise Attaque (Léa, Je t’emmene au vent).

We went home at 5 am, were in bed by 6 am (after fifteen minutes of pin-pulling in my hair), and 25 guests showed up at our house at 6:15 am with the onion soup that is a regional wedding tradition. We didn’t know they had soup, we just heard them yelling to let them in, which were not going to do because my brother and his wife were staying with us and they had to get up at 9 am to catch a train (also we had to get up at 10:30 to set up the Sunday brunch for these same people and our families). So we cursed some in French and yelled and when one of J’s friends finally climbed in through the bathroom window, he basically just turned around to spread the message that this was not going to fly. So the 25 guests went back to the village hall and ate the soup amongst themselves. We have loads of it in our freezer.

The Sunday brunch went well, though we were exhausted and there was a lot of cleaning to do. J’s friends hung out playing pétanque and palets, his family and mine and my American friends all made a massive effort to clean up the hall. By around 6 pm people started leaving, and we went to dinner with my parents and my American friends that night in the Poitiers city center.

Tired. (photo by Ed)

Tired. (photo by Ed)

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Palets (photo by J’s sister)

The days following we managed to see a few guests that were hanging around longer. The last guests left Tuesday and we headed out to our mini-moon on Wednesday morning.

I had spent a lot of time dreaming about a day-of-coordinator, but they are pretty expensive and I would have wanted one for two full days almost. In the end we didn’t hire one, and everything went fine. I also didn’t regret the 100-euro wedding dress instead of the 700-euro one, or the lack of a DJ (since J’s friends don’t dance anyway). J looked fab and I felt pretty great.

Coming out of the mairie, getting whacked with petals (photo by J's sister)

Coming out of the mairie, getting whacked with petals (photo by J’s sister)

Mini-Lune

After the wedding Julien and I took a mini-moon to Brittany/Normandy. We treated ourselves to two nights at a B&B in Pontorson, which is a five-minute drive from the Mont-Saint-Miichel access points.

Incidentally, we were heading out of Poitiers on a Wednesday morning when French farmers were demonstrating, and by demonstrating, I mean blocking most intersections into and out of Poitiers. We managed to get out of Poitiers on the north highway entrance, which for some reason wasn’t blocked (too far from the center of town, probably), but lots of cities had traffic problems that day and the next. Mont-Saint-Michel was blocked off all day so we resigned ourselves to not visiting this year and prepared to go to Cancale from the B&B. On our way out our host gave us some tips on where to park the car before the “blocage” and so we ended up going to Mont-saint-michel without paying anything for parking, just as the tractors were on their way out. Apparently they set up camp again the next day so really the only time for us to go was in the evening.

Mont Saint Michel from the shuttle driveway

Mont Saint Michel from the shuttle driveway

Inside

Inside

Inside looking out

Inside looking out

There weren’t too many people and it was still quite nice out. We didn’t do any paid visits this time and just had a walk around. Then we headed back to Pontorson where we had some excellent moules-frites.

The next day we spent at Saint-Malo, one of my very favorite places ever. I was there with my parents during a biochemistry conference in 2008 and have wanted to go back ever since. This was J’s first time, as with Mont Saint Michel. We walked around the ramparts, went kayaking among the little islands, and walked around the fort.

Looking out toward the fort at high tide

Looking out toward the fort at high tide

During our walk around the fort

During our walk around the fort

Not sure where

Not sure where

We ate crêpes for lunch and had dinner at a wonderful and tiny restaurant called Divers’City (I know, I had to get past the superfluous apostrophe).

The next and final day of our mini-moon, we went to Cancale. At Cancale it appears the thing to do is buy oysters and throw your lemon on the beach. But still, it was beautiful as well.

Pierette

Pierette

Cancale and the new husband

Cancale and the new husband

Cancale

Cancale

I still love that area of France. In Saint Malo I kept saying to J, “Alors je demande ma mut?” (“So shall I put in my transfer request?”) Unfortunately he says there are not enough mountains in Brittany. Sigh.

Since all the wedding madness and mini-moon and vacationing is finally over, I hope soon to write about our trip to the Basque Country, and eventually of course, the wedding, but I am waiting on the professional photos for that.

Staying in France for a Boy?

The title of this post is misleading, I guess, but I didn’t know what else to call it that would be pertinent.

My last post was about what brought me to France. Okay, it only sort of was, because I didn’t really answer seriously.

When people ask me what brought me to France, there’s always a gaping hole in the story I give, because there’s one factor that doesn’t enter into the equation (of me staying in France) the way I think people expect it to, and that’s having a French boyfriend.

A lot of foreigners in France have a French romantic partner, and a lot of them have come to France already with that romantic partner, and are essentially there for them. That’s great. Being in love with someone from another culture is an incredibly enriching experience (though obviously also sometimes frustrating), and if it opens you up to a new life in a new country, that sounds wonderful too.

But I didn’t actually follow J here, and I didn’t meet him right away, and I didn’t end up in France for him. The few times I’ve answered the “what brought you to France” question by including the part about the French boyfriend, I got an “oh right” response that felt, to me, like it simplified things way too much.

Here are the things I would include in the story of me + France + J, if anyone were every really interested in an in-depth answer (ha).

1) I wanted to stay in France from about midway through my second year here.

2) I never wanted to be single. I mean, I guess being single is good for you, especially when you’re young, but it was never my goal. I was always open to meeting someone while abroad, whether or not it led anywhere serious.

3) Through all of my time in France, once I felt I wanted to stay, I was busy making plans and plan Bs and plan Cs for how to stay, since it is so complicated to live in France as a single American.

4) Love happens to people while they’re busy making plans, and thank God it does, because heartbreak happens too.

5) Love can make so many things clearer—who makes you happy, where you have to live to be with that person, why other people were so clearly not the right one.

6) Sometimes, also, love arrives at just the right time. To be honest, I don’t see how I wouldn’t have had to go back to the US after my stage year if I hadn’t been able to get a vie privée titre de séjour at that point, thanks to J. I choose not to wonder about it because things worked out so miraculously well.

But I still don’t like to imply any sort of narrative that I stayed in France for J, even if, were we to break up now, I would probably consider leaving—another situation I rarely wonder about. So when I answer the “what brought you to France” question, I leave him out, albeit sometimes wistfully.

Being with a Frenchman

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Me with my Frenchman in Washington state (I’ll stop with the cute pictures soon I promise)

There are more than a few articles out there about being with a Frenchman. If you type “dating a Frenchman” into Google you’ll get pages of mostly funny articles about quirky or startling cultural differences, that are more or less stereotypes of The French Man. Here’s one in slideshow form (annoying), and here’s another with the reassuring caveat that cultural differences don’t excuse all annoying behavior. Phew, thanks.

But these funny, surprising differences are not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what it’s really like being with a person from another culture. I’ve been reading the articles at A Practical Wedding during my sick leave. The site was recommended by my sister-in-law and doesn’t apply much to the wedding we’ll do in France but the articles are very interesting. I recently came across this one: What Happens When Your Friends Don’t Like Your Partner. So, my friends like my partner; that’s not the point. But Anna also writes a little about what it’s like to be with someone who doesn’t heave to your cultural expectations or for your personal expectations for your life.

Unlike the stereotypical French Man, J did not say “I love you,” within two weeks of us getting together; he didn’t introduce me to his parents right away; he never sends me text messages (thank God, I believe they are a curse for new couples). We were, I guess, immediately “together” upon our first romantic encounter, but since we had all the same friends and had known each other for nine months, I think this would have been the same in the States. J does not have five different colognes lining our bathroom shelves, there’s no hair gel for his cow-licks in the morning, and he’s only started dressing well since he started dating me, really, though he is interested in what I wear and does enjoy shopping.

In terms of daily life and other boring stuff, the cultural differences are pretty livable. J has that French repartee that I don’t really have and that I sometimes find annoying. He cuts to the chase and isn’t nice just for the sake of being nice when there’s a problem. He’s frank with restaurateurs when they ask us how our meal was. He believes there is one way to drive and it is his (but isn’t that all men?), which he learned in a hilly town with a stick shift. He is friends with almost all of his exes, and consequently, so am I. He believes that French rules about eating are real rules with nutritional value behind them, always (no fruit juice with dinner! no salty snacks in the afternoon!). None of this causes too much trouble, and most of it I appreciate or at least can learn from. But it is funny that I’m able to recognize things as cultural differences when for him they are set-in-stone rules. Fortunately he is open-minded enough to travel and see the way things work in other places (Texas, Canada, India) and enjoy that without judging. Not having that, I think, would have been a deal-breaker for me!

He did find the two-liter coke bottles hilarious.

He did find the two-liter coke bottles hilarious (also, see cowlick partially evidenced here.)

In terms of the relationship, it’s hard to say whether our differences are cultural or are simply the effect of growing up and having a different take on life. J has never played games with me on any aspect of our relationship: getting together, moving in, PACSing, buying a house, deciding to get married. I don’t think that’s French though, just the sign of a good person. He wasn’t convinced we needed to get married and I don’t think he would ever have asked me. This, for me, is completely French, and I’ll try to explain why, since it’s not like American men are all popping the question at 28 years old. But it’s true that in France, marriage is a bit démodé. His cousins have kids but aren’t married, and I have plenty of colleagues in that same situation. I’ve adjusted my little girl expectations so much over the years, and been so happily surprised at so many other things in our relationship, that I could almost have lived with this one. On the other hand, J and I are both in agreement that we find the idea of a “proposal story” ridiculous (for us) and when people ask us about it we’re tempted to answer, “We talked about it together like grown-ups.”

Culture is macro and micro: I’m American and he’s French, yes. But I’m also from a family of scientists while his is working-class. We like to read books and go to museums, and they like to play sports and climb mountains. I’ve played the violin since I was seven, and he can barely clap to a beat. I grew up in Texas, and he grew up in Poitiers. All of these things are our cultures, and so far we have been very good at bridging and combining them. I try to play tennis and go climbing; he goes to museums and monuments with me. He agrees to marry me and I agree to the five-course meal.

The one thing I remain curious about is the fact that we always speak French. I believe that, especially when I first arrived in France, I don’t have exactly the same personality in the two languages. French me and English me are getting more and more similar. But I’d like J to know the English me some day and I have no idea when that will happen. I have no patience to be a teacher with him, and he doesn’t have enough motivation to go out and work on it himself.

Wedding Planning

None of this bullshit! (Kidding---this bullshit was yummy and at my brother's wedding.)

None of this bullshit! (Kidding—this bullshit was yummy and at my brother’s wedding.)

J was very clear with me when we were deciding whether or not to get married: if we got married, he wanted it all. There would be no little lunch in a restaurant after city hall. No barbecue at our house with cookies baked in the kitchen. No cold buffet. Not even a hot buffet. Buffets completely banished really.

No, this will be a wedding with a five-course meal, a dance party, a vin d’honneur with the whole village (okay, not the whole village… just everyone we know).

So I said okay. After all, I’ve actually never been to a French wedding, and I like new cultural experiences. And I knew there were things I wouldn’t go all out on: the dress, the rings (we’re not even sure we will have them), the pre-wedding parties.

The only thing really important to me is to be able to celebrate with the people we love.

So there’s the hiccup. Who are the people you love when you left your home country five (or seven, depending how you count) years ago and most of your American friends have never even MET your boyfriend?

GAH. I am having a hard time with it. I would really like to invite my college friends—but there are so few that I actually exchange e-mails with anymore! Yet these were people I loved and laughed with for four very formative years. Not inviting them practically admits the friendships are over and cuts off a good opportunity to renew.

There probably will be some of this, though I won't wear that hat.

There probably will be some of this, though I won’t wear that hat.

I think and think and think about this. Honestly to really decide, we need an estimate from the caterer, and I have designated J to do that, since he cares more than me about food. So we’ll see how speedily he gets on that (my bet’s on NOT AT ALL.)* But who’s to say that these friends will even come? Would I spend $1000 to go to the wedding of someone I hear from maybe once a year, but who I basically grew into adulthood with? I DON’T KNOW.

(The answer is technically probably not because most people don’t get married during French school vacations. But not everyone is a teacher.)

*J hates making professional phone calls and always prefers that I do it even though he is the native French speaker.