mardi 18 décembre 2012

week 15 and 16 - visitors and Noel approaches

Weekly blogs are hard to manage when you have visitors and fun and preparations - catching up on the last two weeks here and admitting I'll surely be sporadic over the next two weeks as well.
Let's get to the highlights.
We were thrilled to have Claire come to visit to celebrate her birthday with us. Her arrival on Friday was greeted with a farmer protest down the main street on which her shuttle was due to arrive. Many tractors and chanting farmers and little firecrackers. Think this is what prompted the bus driver to take an alternate route. Luckily he was kind enough to drop Claire near the stop and point the direction out so I was able to see her and her suitcase in tow.
We indulged in a home picnic with supplies from our local Marche de Carmes - there was a bit of a moment when we were buying the brie and as the cheesemonger cut it for us, it oozed out the sides causing Claire and I to swoon and make happy noises. Yes, he thought us odd but that's what they think about all Americans (!) here so c'est la vie.
Saturday brought the most fantastic day - if not freezing with a sharp wind - as we drove to Carcassone - 1 hr east of Toulouse and a World UNESCO Heritage site as it's one of the biggest, mostly original medieval villages with surrounding wall in the old section. Very cool to see. Add to this their Marche de Noel and this weekend specifically, for charity, all the locals were dressed in fantastic medieval costumes and marching around the cite all day.
We met our Irish/Spanish friends there which added to the fun and historical context.
In the afternoon when we needed a warm up, we popped into the Hotel de Cite, which was an original stop on the Orient Express - and it looked the part. We sat in the bar area which was a snug, floor-to-ceiling library with leather wingback chairs and tapestries on the wall. So decadent. At one point, the kids had sidled up to the bar and installed themselves on the barstools, chatting to the bartender who found it quite amusing.
The piece de resistance was the 7 p.m. torchlit march from the castle down to the newer part of town. We joined in and it was quite magical.
Sunday, Claire and I ventured out on our own to find St Cirque Lapopie in the daylight, as this prettiest village in France had previously eluded us in the daytime. One wrong exit off the highway (though not really clear that it was a wrong turn), meant we tried our hand at tracking through secondary highways for the second half of the journey. Though a beautiful sunny day for a drive and lots of interesting sights on the way - including a paraglider, group of girls on horseback, and many pretty rural villages - the scenic route made a 1 1/2 hr drive into 3 hrs and alas, arrived at St Cirque Lapopie at 4:30 when the sun was starting to go down. No matter as when we arrived, we found that all the town was closed for 1 month before Christmas - wow, can I pick them?!
Regardless, it was beautiful, hushed, even a bit mysterious and maybe kind of mystical. Lovely walk about and many pictures had.
Monday was full on shopping and Tuesday - birthday day - brought bright sunshine and a great day for bikes. We rented and saw much of the sites along with having a lovely time together.
An evening stroll through the Marche de Noel in the Capitole distracted us from making the necessary dinner reservations (which I didn't know I needed on Tuesday for 2 people - it's a dinner out kinda town, clearly!). Sadly, the second choice resto did not fully deliver but Claire made the best of it and all in all - lovely day had by all.
We said "a la prochaine" on Wednesday and then I crashed with the girls for their afternoon off. What I haven't mentioned earlier is that Elena has managed to sprain her ankle running on the cobblestones in her school courtyard - happened on the Monday - so I've been spending the time carting her around - first on my back then smartly pointed out by Claire - on a rental bike, to and from school plus up and down our 3 flights of stairs. Not worrying whether I'm getting my daily exercise right now.
Thursday was a rush around prep day for Noel and arrival of Marco's parents on Friday night.
We found them a lovely apt which we'd considered renting for us but was not quite going to work for the year. However, it's perfect for two for the month, lovely inside, on a quiet side street but right off the action and centrally located - plus only about 10 minutes from us.
The first night, Mom said she fell asleep to the most beautiful music - the Ostal d'Occitan which is the traditional cultural centre next door had a concert which could clearly be heard from one courtyard over.
Saturday was market seeing and catching up and Sunday we took Marco's parents to mass at the Eglise St Etienne which the girls visit with their school - it's stunning - original part built in the 13th or 14th century and massive ornate addition in the 16th century. We were shushed by the lady in front of us (I'm sure she thought we were American so was in her right) as I tried to translate. Oh well.
Lovely sunny weather and warm days for the last few.
Yesterday, I joined Geneva's class on her field trip to the Musee Saint Raymond, with Greek antiquities and Marco's parents met us there, to hear about the metamorphysis of Ovid (in French) which Geneva will be reading in French class after the holidays.
Sidebar - Elena had xrays yesterday and nothing broken so now just using her crutches and waiting to heal - hoping before we hit Barcelona on the 27th!
4 more days of school - breathing, breathing, breathing.
Thinking of you in Toronto as you struggle through your school issues - meilleurs souhaits!
Gotta get going for more fun as more visitors arriving on Thursday - yay for Bobbi, Marcello and Dylan.
Hope you received my electronic holiday greetings this year - have to play it on the cheap but the heartfelt wishes remain just as true.
Bisous to all as the holidays are upon us - best to you and yours and will check back in as soon as I can.
Meantime, Joyeux Noel - Merry Christmas - Buon Natale.
a la prochaine,

mardi 4 décembre 2012

week fourteen - rain leads to December

We passed last week with not a lot of fanfare and a fair amount of rain.
Monday began with the departure of Ken to Paris by train in the rain and the clouds continued through the week.
We spent much of the week in clouds and catching up.
Marco had a bit of a tough go with less than stellar instructors which meant for a frustrating week.
The girls and I felt a bit under the weather and keep our heads down.
I mustered the energy to get through Elena's English class on Thursday, where we talked about money with the handmade versions I brought to play a bit of our own monopoly while the kids pretended to buy things from each other. Think they were more impressed with the various currencies I was able to bring in to share - Irish pounds, British pounds, US dollars and even a 2 dollar coin from Cuba. Sadly, as we've divested most of our Canadian currency, the most I could muster was 2 twoonies and some caribou quarters. Allowed for some discussion of animals on Canadian currency.
By Friday, we were feeling a bit down for the count. However, we hosted Marco's new climbing buddy, J-C (Jean-Christophe) for pizza and beer/wine, following their climb. Felt a bit like an old Friday night with friends over - a time I do sorely miss.
Saturday turn brighter, though cold for Toulouse (3 degrees) and the sun lighten our spirits along with heralding in of December, advent calendars, the opening of the traditional wooden hut Christmas market in the Capitole square and the beginning of the Christmas lights at night.
We did some wandering through the edges of the market, starting to get into the spirit and anticipating our coming visitors. We indulged in some holiday treats - churros and then aligote (think I've mentioned before about the best version of whipped potatoes and tomme cheese - mmmmm).
The season upon us, we picked up some carefully selected Christmas decorations and the girls went to town with the apartment while I sorted out a Christmas music playlist on my iphone. We're getting to it.
I also got to partake in a degustation de Champagne at my local Nicolas wine store - did my part and brought several bottles home too.
Sunday morning was my big anticipation. I'd been invited to meet with a Montreal wine association businessman who I'd met before in Toronto. His business is to help small wine producers, mostly in France and many in the south, to find importers to represent them in North America. My hope was that this could bring me some small work opportunities here.
I picked up my trusty Chevy Spark and drove the two and a half hours north west to Bordeaux in the varying levels of misty rain, fog, clouds and occassional breaks of sun. Lesson learned: Sunday morning radio in the south west of France sucks!! As there was a port for my iphone, I wished desperately I'd brought my USB cord. Oh well.
Made it to Bordeaux in time - sort of - as this isn't a great city for driving in as there seems to be one main route in, right along the left bank of the Gironde and sadly, everyone was driving along the quais with me. Adding to the fun was the fact that the city had decided to close many streets turning into the city from the quais on the first Sunday of every month to make it more pedestrian friendly.
With only 1 wrong turn when I finally got into centreville, I was only 10 minutes late.
Not to fear, as it turned out that I would spend an hour having lunch on my quiet own and then 2 hours sitting in his meetings with local Bordeaux vignerons. Very informative and very taxing on my English head as I tried to keep track of/keep up with several intense French conversations going on at the same time. It's been a very long time since someone has commented that I'm very quiet ! :)
The end left me with 10 minutes to discuss business - which seems like maybe all needed as it looks like there could be opportunity for me to adapt French winery marketing materials into English - yayy! Working through the details now so will update on this. Oh and also was presented with 2 bottles of lovely 2009 Graves Merlot/Cab Sauv from the sweet couple of a chateau who'd intended to send it along but realized that it wouldn't be possible to travel back to Montreal. So goes my good fortune.
We are now in grand anticipation as our holiday visitors are imminent.
And on that note, look for our holiday picture and greetings coming electronically this year and shortly.
The season is now - hold on for all the fun.
Hoping all is well with you as you rush into it to. Keep the spirit of peace and good tidings with you.
A la prochaine semaine,

dimanche 25 novembre 2012

week thirteen - lots of friends, old and new

This has been a week filled with fun and friends.
It started on Monday with the girls and I joining Marco's Master's gang at his university for Chinese dinner night - each country represented has the students preparing a meal for the rest of the class.
The six Chinese students made yummy Chinese version of pho - broth in which they cooked fish dumplings, lamb meat slices, daikon, potatoes - very tasty. It was lovely getting to meet all of Marco's colleagues who we hear so much about each week.
En route to arriving at the party, we learned that Geneva has been selected as 1 of 4, and 1 of 2 kids, for her original painting which she submitted to a local contest. SO PROUD!!
If you've not yet voted for her on facebook, you do have until Dec 14 to do so and encourage all your friends. Think we've determined first prize for the kids' section is an Xbox - likely will see how we can convert this into Euros ;)
I had to rush off from the dinner (which didn't end up turning out to work) to meet my dear longtime friend Ken at the train station as he joined us for a visit on his French odyssey. Sadly, I was an hour late getting there as there really aren't any buses leaving from Marco's university in the south side of the city after 7 p.m., travelling to a Metro stop so I could get to the north/central trains station.
Thank goodness for Wi-Fi (please pronounce as Weee-Feee) connections and fb so Ken knew to hang out.
Tuesday we did some great visiting in the city and then Ken had the privilege (?) of keeping my girls occupied while I had Geneva's Professor meetings - parent/teacher interviews with the 8 Professors of her subject classes. Pleased to say that she is across the board seen as a hard working, well mannered, serious student and a pleasure to be in class. Along with doing well, in spite of her language disadvantage. Yayy Geneva, two big scores this week.
Wednesday the girls are half day but this week, Elena had a full day off for a teacher PA day - actually rescheduled from this coming week so a film crew could shoot a movie inside their school. Exciting and whistful for me.
Ken and I took the morning casually then had the girls join in a lovely afternoon cafe lunch plus wander of the city.
Thursday, Ken decided to get back on the walking trail, which he'd been doing in Normandy, so left us for a walkabout for two days.
I resumed my English teaching duties, both with Elena's class and with Thomas, my tutoring charge.
I realized how much I enjoy it and enjoy my time with the kids - I think the same can be said both ways.
Friday was a relaxing down day - needed it.
Saturday was a funny adventure - we met Ken in the town he'd walked to west of the city - L'Isle Jourdain - fantastic Saturday market - and then made our way south to the Pyrenees to share with Ken the beauty plus pleasure of thermal baths. Wouldn't you know this is the two week window when all the thermal baths in the Pyrenees close for break as it's after school vacation and before Noel?! And ALL of them close - we know as we drove to the next town over just to check. That said, we were introduced to Luchon and some lovely driving so made it worth a trip, even if we didn't get to take the waters.
I shared Sunday morning market at St Aubin today with Ken - so great - and we found the musical man from the day previous in L'Isle Jourdain at our Sunday market here along with the guy from whom I bought the two plates I treasure at home on my last trip here 5 years ago - very exciting for me. Resisted buying anything more - just barely.
We didn't resist buying some yummy market food and shared Aligot (this version of mashed potatoes and Tomme cheese also had other bits so was more like delicious hash browns) along with kicker sausage/pepper paella on yellow rice. Oohh soo good!!
I pushed the afternoon agenda to drive north one hour to the town of Albi - everyone thanked me after as it was gorgeous. Beautiful old bridges, a stunning castle, fantastic church with an entrance that almost looked Gaudi-like. Also the home and museum dedicated to Henri Toulouse-Latrec which we didn't even make it to - we just had lovely wanderings - so clearly we'll have to go back.
Ended our day with a tasty chicken dinner - a nod to American Thanksgiving - however no turkey as my local market vendor had sold out already to all the Americans here. Funny.
We also made ourselves mulled wine, which we'd sampled at the brasserie the day before in Luchon and it afforded me the chance to meet the local wine shop guy at Carmes market whom I not yet stopped at. We did actually buy a litre of local wine out of his huge cask, which he filled into a water bottle. 1 litre = 1 euro 50. Seriously. And it was tasty even before we corrupted it with carmelized brown sugar, cinammon, lemon and heat.
Tough life I'm leading here.
While dinner was on the go, our awesome neighbours in Toronto skyped us into the local Santa parade going on down our Toronto street. Definitely do miss these kinds of local activities and fun with friends.
Can't have it all.
Did I mention it was 18 degrees yesterday and today?
Enjoy what you've got when you've got it, yes?
Here we go - on to almost December. Wow!
Until next week - bisous et a la prochaine semaine,

dimanche 18 novembre 2012

weeks eleven and twelve - fin de vacance de Toussaint and back to it

My blog has suffered a bit with vacation absence - desole - however, as all my students are back to it this week, I'm reinstating my Sunday blog date. Let's catch up...
On arriving back from our fab time in London, the girls realized the end of vacation neared and began to melt down anew with the prospect of going back to school. Didn't matter that we still had a great weekend get away ahead of us with our Irish/Spanish friends. The return to school loomed large - mostly the things they don't like - and the anxiety of going back was tough.
We got past it - mostly with the reassurance that vacance de Noel is a mere 6 weeks away with visitors arriving in less than a month (and now sooner). Was a minor salve to the bitter pill.
That said, we did have a fantastic weekend away. Thank goodness for our dear new friend, Eimer, also history teacher, who fashioned us a lovely gite to stay at near Boussac; an itinerary filled with the prettiest village in France (St Cirque Lapopie), one of the most famous pre-historic grottes (caves) in the world with knock your head off beauty and amazing prehistoric cave paintings - some massive in scope (Grotte Pech Merle), a museum dedicated to the local Frenchman who discovered the Rosetta Stone along with deciphering hieroglyphics (in Figeac), and one of the more famous pilgrimage stops in France (Rocamadour); along with hilarious company, loads of laughs and some amazing food.
We drove 1 1/2 hrs north of Toulouse to la vallee de Lot - beautiful views of fairly high hills (maybe low mountains) surrounded by lush green valleys with the Celee river running through. Gave us pause to feel a bit like we were in Ireland with the lush of the green and all the stone houses + fences around. Very different views from Toulouse - again, so interesting to be such a short distance from home and in what feels like very different country.
The joke for us about "the most beautiful village in France" was that our family never actually saw it in daylight. With all the timings, we ended up driving through it at dusk twice then stopping for dinner once. What we saw was lovely and I'm sure we'll need to go back to try again. And can I pause for a moment to note my very first black truffle omelete - we were in truffe country! - along with some pretty lovely foie gras?! Ahhh... (full on exercise mode must start soon!!).
Pictures on facebook - help yourself to them :)
We stayed up so late both nights that by the time we returned home, later than planned on Sunday night, the girls were so exhausted they had no time to fret or fuss and straight to bed/sleep.
Monday morning came with minor consternation from all 3 students in the house but life goes on.
And girls, on returning to school, realized it's not such a prison - much more worry built up in their heads.
I had a break from English class with Elena's CM1's this week as they had a pre-planned visit to the Musee des Augustins to see the gargoyles and replicate drawings of them. Geneva's class also had a museum visit - St Raymond - to study archeology. Guess the profs needed a slow build back into school as well.
Marco has received marks for his early exams and he's pacing up to where he needs to be. This past week was a tough one in terms of subject matter. However, the one bright point was that his exam was shifted to Thursday rather than Friday so less time to stress and a Friday that he could just do labs in and come home in a happier space.
I caught up on errands, laundry, domestic stuff - for those on fb, you'll have noted my title upgrade to Chef de Famille (a potentially less derogatory term than femme au foyer). I also caught up with mom friends, highly necessary as my French was beginning to slide after two weeks of parlez en Anglais. Friday, I took an hour to walk in a southerly direction after school drop off to see a neighbourhood I hadn't wandered in yet. I do really enjoy the beauty of the new city we are sharing for the year.
We kept our weekend plans to a minimum this week. We all needed some down time. I got to a new outdoor market today - St Aubin - and it's a big one.
The girls and I had another comedy routine (twice really) getting to a local pool by transit. Yesterday, we took some time to find our bus stop, coming out of the metro, only to realize that the bus only runs every hour and the next one wouldn't get us there in time. We considered walking but the driver assured us it was a long way up a steep hill. Today, we found the right schedule and bus, only to have the instructions drop us 2 stops later than necessary and we had a good hike to get back to the pool which was open today. Oh well, folly for our stories.
Christmas decorations are going up here and I'm in great anticipation of the Christmas market which will take over the Capitole square soon. Also now greatly anticipating the slate of visitors we have on tap, starting tomorrow and not ending until we get through vacance de Noel. Fantastique!
Hoping you're all well as we approach 3 months in Toulouse. Wow! Makes us realize both how quickly time flies, how we have to keep appreciating the time we have here, and truly how much we do miss our good friends and family at home. If we've not talked in recent times, know we continue to think of you.
Bisous et a la prochaine semaine,

mercredi 7 novembre 2012

week ten - vacance

Blog post delayed by having too much fun on vacation to get to it. I know, no one feels sorry for me. Get it - I'm living the good life.
The week started with amazing new Toulouse friends offering us their car and their ski chalet apartment in the Pyrenees for an overnight visit. Spectacular! And it was - the scenery was fantastic.
We had to stop at one point on our approach to take pictures of the majestic white peaks we were climbing towards. The second stop was for the sheep and their hearders on the highway. Very authentic. They had bells. Then there were the donkeys neighing. Then we were driving along the road where the Tour de France cyclists had to climb in the mountains - how the heck?! Names of cyclists still evident on the pavement. Took pictures of the signs for Steve - can't wait to see if we'll see it in person this year.
And then we were turning through the valley along to climb up the twisting highway through picturesque mountain villages on the way to the top - these are mountains!! And only 1 1/2 hrs south of Toulouse.
Our neighbours have this lovely new apartment in the complex right at the top base of the mountain/ski resort. Nice! It was deserted as not yet ski season. Nice! They've already asked us if we'll be joining them for skiing this winter and we've said absolutement!!
Sadly, the next morning, I was feeling wiped out so left it to Marco and the girls to climb up the face to the top and wave to Spain.
A nap recovered me and we packed up to head to the local thermal spa town - several in the area and one recommended by our friends as best for kids. Tough time - soaking in warm thermal spa water with amazing Pyrenees view in the background. Ahhh.
Evening drive back to Toulouse and two days to get ourselves together plus laundry done before the girls and I departed for London on Friday. Sadly, Marco decided he needed to stay as it wasn't worth just a weekend - he has to be at school this week.
We arrived midday - 1h 20 min flight - yay - to easy train connect to Southbank and Denise's pretty garden flat on Kennington Park Road.
Weather cooperated most days - thanks, London! - so we got lots of brisk but sunny skies.
Highlights included great local gastropub plus local coffee shop with super friendly Trinidadian owner, Frankenweenie at Leicester Square, Borough Market visit for Sunday dinner supplies, Camden Market visit to meet up with our good friends Carl, Ingrid and Louie, Covent Garden shopping, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, a dinner at Jamie's Italian plus another revisit to our previously found pizza fav on Southbank.
Lovely to wander and be tourists - thanks for the great welcome back, Dee + London.
Back now just in time to squeeze in one more mini-break before the girls are back to school next week. We're off on Friday to meet up with our Irish/Spanish friends north of Toulouse to see some pretty countryside and visit caves with prehistoric drawings.
Yes, tough go right now!
Then more visitors right away plus more soon.
The girls are also counting to Christmas visitors - now just over 5 weeks away.
We are very lucky - we know and will keep enjoying as we should.
Hugs to all - a la prochaine semaine.

lundi 29 octobre 2012

week nine - the ups and downs AND two months in

The start of this week greeted with much anticipation - the arrival of Treva and Jordon - yayy!
Monday was all planned as cleaning and sorting as I awaited our guests. Sadly, British Airways had other plans. Without spending too much ink on the ups and downs, my awaited guests were forced to fly into fogged out and frenzied Heathrow - the eye of the storm - which ground them to a halt. They did however get to spend a night with Denise in advance of 5 hours in line on Tuesday to determine that..... they would, in fact, fly to Toulouse that day, one day late and only 1 and 1/2 days to spend here.
We did make the best of it and as Wednesday was 25 degrees and gorgeous, we soaked it in.
Along side this, we are all fighting bits of cold or something, mostly, pre-holiday ready for a break-ness.
The girls were in full on countdown mode and as Geneva had bits of classes cancelled during the week, she realized she really only had 2 full days of classes this week. No bother.
My English class was another round of head shaking as I received a call on Thursday morning from Elena's teaching letting me know that the kids were all tired and it was a bit cool anyway so best we not take our planned walk in the local park for class that afternoon. But not to worry, she had an idea (not that she actually shared it with me). As I was running catch up errands that morning, after I finished cursing under my breath - still in English but did throw in a Merde! just for flavour - I looked down at all the lovely big leaves on the ground and decided on a project.
So the kids were treated to me talking about all the things we would have seen in the park - with their inputs, of course - and then writing the English names on the board, along with reasonable facsimile drawings of their likenesses. Following that, I pulled out my bag of leaves and tracing paper so the kids could colour shade the leaves under the paper. Think they thought that part was fun too.
Mme's game came last as we played "Qui je suis? Who am I" with me taking turns describing someone in class in English - what they look like, what they were wearing, where they sat - and the kids guessed.
Had thought about discussing Halloween in Canada but it's not so encouraged at our Catholic school so we just agreed that when we returned from two weeks' vacation, we'd discussed what everyone did.
Our Friday evening dinner plans at Geneva's friends' house were resurrected this week so we trudged over in the rain to la maison d'Isabelle, Serge, Constance et Alexandra - about a 15 minute walk from our apartment.
And my friends, you'll be pleased to know that the "Mariotti 15" - as in, we seem to arrive 15 minutes after the appointed/agreed meeting time - is in full effect here in Toulouse. And in fact, it's more like 1/2 hour, as in if someone proposes a time to come over, you can arrive within 30 minutes post - which is why the SMS message invitation said "aperitifs vers 19h30" - near 7:30. These people are our kindred spirits :)
We had an absolutely knock out evening - their house is lovely, they are spirited and fun, and they also invited their very good friends over, Olivier the lawyer and his wife (who we're all still debating what her name is as we can't quite remember but she was lovely and spirited too).
Everyone was super complementary of our French, as we did speak French all evening, and I got a big shout out for bringing along Maureen's appies (baguette topped with jam, basil, brie and proscuitto) which featured some of my homemade fig or pear jam.
The girls had fun with Constance and her twin sister so we all fully enjoyed - and stayed too late as Elena was a bear to get home. Woke up yesterday morning and I think my abs hurt from laughing - both good and bad as also shows how sadly out of shape they are!
This week also brought new boots for the girls as we start to get into real fall weather. Most aptly put by Denise - "freaked out that the girls have boots now that I would like to wear." Exactly!
So now we're into holiday mode - have rented movies from the library to have a lazy weekend and as yesterday + today are very cool - starting at 3 degrees in the morning and only getting up to 9 - we've been laying low and enjoying the spoils. I pulled off roasted curried squash soup + cabbage rolls on Sat night and magret de canard + potatoes fried in some of the duck fat last night - rocked them! - along with creme catalan for dessert (a southern - and tastier in my opinion - version of creme brulee or creme caramel).
They don't have Halloween here, save the candy stores trying to sell more goods, but the girls have put together some Halloween costumes from their stocks - Elena will be an angel and Geneva a devil - not sure where they will be wearing as we'll be here in Toulouse on Wednesday. Likely will have to wait until after our morning meeting at the Immigration office.
Ok, need to go decide if we're going to drive to Bordeaux to the north today or Pyrenees to the south for a road trip - we need to get out of the apartment as the girls didn't leave yesterday and by evening, it was getting ugly.
Later this week, will get onto more planning for Christmas - did I mention we'll be 11 all together and 15 for dinner? Oh you know me - I love a good party! More later. Til then
A la prochaine semaine.

dimanche 21 octobre 2012

week eight - the week of wind

It's interesting how weather plays such a part of our lives, even as modern and sophisticated as we are - how the day's weather plays out really makes an impact in large and small ways.
This week, we were introduced to the Autal wind, a Toulousian wind blowing strongly from the south. It began on Wednesday night and blew quite fiercely, though warmly, for most of the three days. We enjoyed gathering pieces each day, both Marco and I, from locals and those in the know, about its habits and legends. It's said to cause people to go a bit crazy, kind of like the full moon.
That said, there were some unpredictable bits - let's just chalk them up to the wind. And maybe the thought that it blew so strongly that we had some trouble sleeping so no wonder we felt a bit off through the end of the week.
I'm attributing the crazy wind to the miscommunication of my English lesson prep. I was under the very strict understanding that I was to get a recipe for crepes in English that I would help Elena's class make on Thursday - as this past week was some National Gourmet/Gastronomy week (as if they only recognize this for one week in France - ha!). Madame was pretty clear, as I'd suggested some no bake cookies, thinking it would be simpler - she said crepes. And oh, would I mind getting all the supplies plus ingredients together. Beh non, I could do this.
So on the appointed Thursday afternoon, I trundled in with all my wares, only to have Mme ask about the no bake recipe I'd found. Pardonez-moi? was my reply. Long to short, we improvised and switched to chocolate chip cookies, which the kids mixed the batter for and I took home to bake which became the class Friday treat. Crazy wind!
Also attributing crazy wind - though over by that time - to the Saturday last minute cancellation of Brazilian fellow students of Marco, slated to come over for dinner so I could meet the wife and see if I could tutor her in English - all my teacher friends, please laugh and shake your head.
Luckily, our French family friends were free and very willing to partake. So our first French family meal was had - tout ensemble et tout en francais. Think a good time was had by all.
Also the crazy wind made another French family's invitation to their house blow away on Friday (really, it just was a conflict). All to be resolved as we'll do-over this Friday night.
Geneva and Elena continue through school and they begrudingly look at me - Elena less, Geneva more - now when I say I think we might have rounded the corner to starting to feel like we get how this is going.
They're still just counting down to the two week Toussaint vacation which starts as of Friday.
And why not?! We've got lots of good stuff planned.
Starting with driving to Bordeaux at the start of the week for an overnight. Bring it! Yes, Ken, I mostly just drink wine here ;)
Have to be back in the city for a meeting bright and early on Wednesday with the OFFI (Immigration office) so they can formalize our visas. And ask for tax money, of course. I'm shaking my head as they've already indicated our annual contributions. Marco, as a student is under 50 euros. Mine, though they've politely but firmly stated I'm not authorized to work here, is in the hundreds. Hmmm.
Ok, more fun stuff... on Friday morning, the girls and I are off to tony London-town for some days with Denise. Ya - London, baby!
Will report after on merry making and Guy Fox fireworks.
Marco is laying low in Toulouse as he has to be back at school for the following week.
On our return, we've one more little road trip planned - just north of Toulouse, we'll be meeting our Irish/Spanish friends to tour a pretty little town near a regional park then do some cave spelunking - clearly, that needed to be said - and seeing some ancient cave drawings. Marco will be able to join at the end of his Friday, for the Saturday fun.
In all, lots of bon amusant to come very soon.
Starting with Treva and Jordon's arrival tomorrow for three days - yay visitors!!
Clearly, you can see where my head is at.
After all of this fun, it will be time to clearly focus on the next travel - when can I see Bobbi and family plus what fun travel are we planning for Noel with all our visitors?
It's a tough life I'm leading here.
You should join ;)
A la prochaine semaine,

lundi 15 octobre 2012

week seven - settling into routine

So I had set to start the blog this week with the thought that the family seems to be hitting a rhythm - that the girls are seeming to feel like they've got the groove, friends, school is starting to settle.
Then both girls had moments last night of telling me how much they wish they were back in school in Toronto and that they miss their friends. Well?
I still stand by the above statement - I think they're resigned to the year and are working at it - friends are working out and we're getting into a regular rhythm and routine to life.
Marco has made through week 2 with more comfortable thoughts about how his second week of work/testing turned out. Not exactly sure when he finds out his results so will update.
Toulouse is a city that seems to always have something going on. I spent a lovely fall Saturday wandering the outdoor market at the Capitole as the Festival d'Occitania moved front and centre - with lots of treats to eat and drink, traditional crafts and music, and general market merriment. Yes, the rest of my family chilled at home - we were all ok with this arrangement. I pulled them outside in the afternoon for the festivities going on at our local park. Along with checking out the outdoor displays and events, we got to meet the very good pen pal friends of Treva's cousin. Pascal runs an advertising agency in Toulouse so I look forward to spending more time with them when his works settles a bit. As he and his daughters speak English, we can have a break. As his wife Pascale speaks French, we'll let Marco do some practising. I was also very excited to find out that Pascal is originally from Narbonne, near our favourite Mediterranean beach, and his father is a local vigneron. He's offered for our next visit there to give me a detailed map, directions and invitation. Whoohoo!
On the note of visiting families, we have our first evening invitation to a French family home - on Friday evening, the whole family is invited to Isabelle and Serge's - parents of Geneva's friend Constance. I'll be interested to see how we make out as they don't speak English. More on that next week.
I also became a paid English tutor last week as I've been engaged by Laurence, mere de Thomas from Elena's class to spend an hour a week in English conversation. We had a good wander last Thursday afternoon, tout ensemble as Laurence, Geneva and Elena joined, pointing out things and naming them in English.
My non-paying English gig with Elena's class was focussed last week on having the kids tell me about their favourite places in Toulouse and then having them draw pictures, after which we named the colours. Finally, we talked Thanskgiving in Canada and fall colours - then I shared some shortbread cookies with maple syrup with the class. Fair to say they're enjoying my visits - blackmail cookies included.
I'm excited to start another one week countdown today to Jordon and Treva's visit next week. Also had hopeful news of a potential visitor in December. And TODAY - I will book our Toussaint vacation trip to London. As my girlfriend in Munich is there for longer than I understood, I can make this travel work. Only challenge is that the French Immigration Office now wants to see us to finalize our visas right in the middle of the first week of holidays - Oct 31 - nice! - so we might be around Toulouse for the start. But definitely off to London following and then hopefully more time with our Irish/Spanish friends before the two weeks is up.
And then it's November and only weeks to Christmas - yikes!! No plans yet but several hints for consideration. We'll see where things land.
On that note, I was shaking my head to see my local Carrefour market start filling today which Christmas chocolates. Really? On October 15th?
A la prochaine semaine, mes amis,

lundi 8 octobre 2012

week six - and we give thanks

On this Thanksgiving day in Canada - Bonne action de grace (mais pas ici) - it is a time I'm feeling thankful.
We have just spent wonderful times with Jennifer for almost a week and then Marco's brother and his family this weekend, both giving us the jolt of Canada + English which helps keep us grounded - as well as reminding us how lucky we are to have wonderful family and friends around us.
We are very thankful to be living out an adventure year while having lots of support to do it - and some visiting friends + family to share it with.
They don't celebrate Thanksgiving in France but I did manage to pull off a homemade pumpkin pie yesterday - first time with filling made right from the pumpkin - it's square as I don't have a pie plate. We'll get to enjoy it tonight with whipped cream as we got home quite late from our Thanksgiving dinner with Chuck, Lisa, Amina and Marcello so dessert wasn't an option as all the students have school today.
And what a dinner it was - not a turkey in sight but we thoroughly enjoyed our filet mignon, cassoulet, salade, magret de canard, burgers et tapas!
Highlights of our visitors' stays included a (rainy) trip to the beach, a picnic in the park with gorgeous weather then badminton, fall festival with everything a kid could want to play and lots of walking + sightseeing.
Also, I was reminded of my conversation with Susan W as we took the kids to the local pool on Saturday - first time for us however, Geneva goes each Monday for her Sports class to swim. We got hassles for bermuda shorts on guys, two piece suits on girls and we definitely had to buy swim caps to go in the pool - mandatory for all. I did some persuading on the swim attire that the visitors were Canadians and we would do better next time. So we were allowed to enjoy with proper warning. Lovely facility though - very clean and propre ;)
The downside of having Canadian visitors is that it makes the girls homesick when they leave. Luckily, we've got lots more good stuff to look forward to so we need to keep focussing on this.
More fun visitors next week and then two week Toussaint school vacation (1 week for Marco) so we have to sort our travel plans for this.
Last week also marked my debut as English teacher in Elena's class. I thought I was going to help out but it looks like I'm on tap to take the class for 1 hour each Thursday. As their English is still very basic, I think I can manage this one. Took advantage in the last 5 minutes of class to do some Canadian introduction - specifically Toronto and our lives there. Toulousians definitely know about Canada though Ottawa, Montreal and the province of Quebec centre prominently and Toronto is not very known at all. Most are shocked when I tell them it's both the largest city in Canada and has over 4 million inhabitants. Then they might remember something about a big tower. I made a quick powerpoint presentation with pics of map of Canada plus flag, Toronto skyline pic then pics of our house, our cottage and the girls' school. Elena was my assistant and walked the laptop around proudly. Kids were really interested to see a view of our life.
Marco's first week was a reminder of how school life takes over and he found it challenging getting back into the student studying routine. Friday exam wasn't as positive as he'd hoped but he's being realisitic and chalking it up to first week - all time forward to improve and refine.
Ok, as I'm still kind of in food hangover - not sure I'll adjust as quickly to 9 p.m. dinners - on our own, we're still Canadians eating at 6:30 or 7 - off to sort laundry and shopping ;)
A la prochaine semaine,

lundi 1 octobre 2012

Semaine 5 - wow, we've been here a month already!
Sorry, friends, a bit slow on blog this week - good friend visiting (wheee!).
I digress.
So we had another week of Geneva hating French school and with some legitimate reasons. It really is different than Canada - teachers much more strict, difficult, etc. - and I sometimes wonder if they forget that she is French second language as her French is pretty good so she's tossed in along with the rest of the class to keep up. Which she does pretty well. However, one learning which is tough - on exams and marking and such, the incorrects are actually subtracted from the corrects so it's a double hit - both on mark and confidence.
However, she is doing swimming in Sports class and seems to excel beyond many of her peers. In fact, her Prof suggested she join the swim team, which practises Wednesday afternoons. She's not certain on this point. We're still discussing.
Win was in Espanol - which last week Geneva wanted to drop as it was too difficult - when after studying a moderate but regular amount over the weekend, she said she topped the class in answering the required questions/responses. Small victories.
Elena is getting there - hers were more social concerns as she likes her teachers - and friends seem to be coming so we keep breathing in and out.
Marco started school for two days last week to get settled, schedules, meet people, etc. He is excited and intruigued as his class is a world map - of course, students from France but also China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Argentina and Russia. As he is the only English first language speaker, he may actually be at the advantage to his fellow classmates. Looking forward to seeing how this all plays out. Today is first day of courses. Go Marco!
I am adding bits of French each week - Marco has commented that he already notices my improvement - however one thing I know I'm weak at is identifying days of week/times in conversation - two cases in point: I had trouble making plans with my mom friend Helene for an after school date for our two families of girls to play badminton as I was unsure following our conversation of what I'd committed to. A quick text to Helene and her patience with me helps. She's actually started scolding me for saying my French is poor when I meet someone as she's impressed with how well I'm doing (she's just being nice, I know, but it's reassuring). Next, I was to meet Elena's teacher to discuss how I'll help in English class. In fairness to myself, I'm adapting to the 24h clock and when she said we'd meet at "une heure quinze" - this didn't make sense to me as it would be in the middle of the night so I was certain I'd heard incorrectly and translated to "onze heure quinze" - 11:15. Neither were correct as she'd meant 1:45, after lunch. Oh well, luckily I don't have a lot in my day right now so was flexible.
Good stuff now - we're all enjoying friend time! Girls each invited a friend home for lunch on Friday so we hosted Estelle and Constance for macaroni avec fromage, broccoli et homemade biscuits avec pepites des chocolats. Think all went well but Geneva was embarrassed by me. Hey, I can embarrass my pre-teen in 2 languages!
Best... la vacance en France avec Genevieve also began on Friday. Jen is here until Thursday and we're making the most of it. Which means we did drive to the beach for the weekend, even though it was 13 degrees and raining most of it. Still nice to get away and have some girlfriend time with wine, yummy food, random singing and silly English. Sigh....
Jen leaves on Thursday am :( and then I will have my first English tutoring in Elena's class in the afternoon.
Following, Marco's brother and family arrive for Canadian Thanskgiving weekend - no turkey in my little oven and as Lisa's vegetarian, better to find another option anyway.
Happy October 1st - I'm supposed to say "Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits" for luck says Jen so - "Lapins, lapins, lapins a tous!"
A la prochaine semaine,

dimanche 23 septembre 2012

week 4 - regular life stuff

We're into the weeks now that start to feel like regular sort of life - up and off to school, laundry, shopping, meals, errands, etc.
Though each of these in a bit different fashion in some ways.
Laundry is a much longer process - 1 hour for the "fast cycle" wash and at least 2 hours to hang dry on the balcony. Luckily, weather is lovely still. Waiting to see how strategic we'll have to be once it gets cooler.
Grocery shopping could be at the bigger market down the street for bigger shopping with my pannier (shopping trolley), quick trip down to the smaller market just down the street, splurge stop at Carmes market close to the girls' school - small version of St. Lawrence, or the Tues/Sat outdoor market stalls that set up in our local Place with farmers and their tables.
Joined one line on Tuesday at the outdoor market to see if they had spinach. I think I upset the regular order of some older ladies who must meet each Tuesday - happen to be standing in between a few of them and was more challenging for their conversation. Fun for me to be surrounded by this regular life and I worked to catch bits about their sons, the weather, what they were looking forward to making with their fresh purchases.
When I was somewhat scolded (politely) for asking for spinach right now - not the season - the farmer lady offered me another big green leafy bunch which she assured was similar and lovely. She and the lady behind me each offered their thoughts on cooking - one thought best wilted with pork drippings, the other with creme fraiche. I tried a bit of both as I made to accompany pork roast so that plus butter and light cream. Delicious! And on tasting, though I didn't recognize the name they offered (think it's called blutte), it's swiss chard. Girls less impressed but Marco and I are more iron fortefied.
Will be back to visit this week to see what treats are in season. Oh, and can't forget that I bought "confiture de pasteque" - melon jam - big yellow watermelon that they seem to have only for jam. Will let you know when we crack this open.
I am also debating whether I can pull of some jam here as I've not yet managed any this year with the move. Maybe just a few jars of figue - would be a new one for me.
Girls just a bit better each day at school.
Geneva is enjoying being a teaching assistant in her English class. And Elena has resumed similar duties as they've started English in her grade as well. Our purchase of a badminton set has also brought El added confidence in Sports and us some family enjoyment at the local park.
Marco has a few days of "vacation" left - he starts with one day this week on Thursday to get schedules set, paperwork completed, etc., and then in earnest the first week of October when his program starts.
I was femme au foyer a l'ecole this week. Starting with Elena's class visit with her teacher and other parents on Tuesday. Though kids not invited so what did everyone do with them while we had to be there at 4:30, half an hour after pick up? Guess they did like I did - leave them with Papa - as only les meres were in class. Sitting in Elena's desk in the front row to hear about all her subjects, days, activities, it was reconfirmed that at present, I have about 1 1/2 hours of attention for full on French immersion. I started to glaze over just as Mme was starting to talk about beginning English with the students and how she is not looking forward to it - then realized the Anglophone was sitting in the front row and apologized profusely. I was able to squeak out that I was certain that her English was at least as good as my French. At the end of all of this, I've found myself volunteering to come help Mme during English class. She and Elena's principal seem thrilled - to which I keep reminding that I'm not a teacher, just possess a reasonable grasp of the English language. Right, well not like I'm too busy right now. More on my teaching assistant duties when I begin.
That evening was also the Parent Council meeting which I attended at 8:30 - solo of course because again, no kids there so Marco got a bye. After my previous French focus in Elena's class, I was already a bit weary but soldiered on. Made it through most of the list of the activities and responsibilities of the Parent Council until it was time for budget discussions. Definitely followed the crowd as, outside of generally understanding their budget is around 30,000 euros, the Treasurer lost me for most of the rest. And during voting, I clearly just followed suit as the requests for "yay or nay" were neither words I could identify. As my vote with the masses would not have swung any decision (no "nays"), think I did my parental duty.
One good piece to this is I have my first mom friend - mom from Elena's class who is also new to the school - though not new to France or Toulouse. We have properly exchanged phone numbers, SMS and Elena now has been for lunch to their appartement on Friday - I sent along banana bread with chocolate chips for dessert which was properly enjoyed - they'd never had before. Also, Estelle - El's friend - has an older sister who is 2 years older than Geneva and Estelle's dad is an accountant at the university Marco will be going to. This might be a good connect for all of us. Onwards!
I also did my femme au foyer duties on Thursday by volunteering to "help" with picture day(s). This is a Parent Council activity, not school activity and the Secretary of the Council was in full charge. Not sure how much helping I did but did manage to try to keep the kids at bay as each classroom entered for individual pictures then trouped out to the courtyard for their group photo - I can hold coats and say "fait gentilement" and "pas trop fort" with the best of them ;)
My final school triumph of the week is hopefully helping to set up an exchange between Geneva's class with her English professor and Marco's sister's class in Toronto. Plan is to get the French kids writing in English and the Canadian kids writing in French. The Principal and English professor are getting even more excited, with visions of hooking up to have the Toulousian students travel for a trip to Canada some time. Baby steps - let's get this writing bit started. More on this to come.
Personal fun - I found the library, signed up for cards and we got some DVD entertainment for the weekend. I also ventured in to meet the local wine shop/restaurant which is almost just downstairs. Francois, the owner, has regular tastings with vignerons and is happy to have me pop in. Maybe this could be my volunteer wine job. More to come - will update.
We are excited by the flush of vistors coming our way. I'm typing this awaiting our friends from the summer - the Irish/Spanish who now live in the little village close to our vacation house. We'll be so pleased to have another set of people to speak English to - if only for today.
As much as we are managing well being our own company, we could also use some infusion of new faces.
Next up, Genevieve (Jen) will vacation with us for almost a week starting on Friday - yay!! Ready to paint the town just a bit more "rose". Following, Marco's brother and his family will spend Canadian Thanksgiving weekend here as stop between Sardinia and Barcelona on their family vacation.
Then maybe we'll plan some vacation of our own. More on that next week.
So lots of good stuff - continue to soak as much in as I can and enjoy this gift we're giving ourselves.
A la prochaine semaine,
p.s. Marco made a bang up chicken parm last night and due to our unreliable oven, we ate like French - around 8:30, between downloaded episode of this week's Glee and our new French reality fave, Fort Boyard. Fantastique!

dimanche 16 septembre 2012

Week three - reality sets in


So though I post pictures almost daily on facebook of the beautiful city we’re enjoying and it all looks like rainbows and sunshine, there are clearly challenges.

This second week at school was the start of our daughters’ real, serious and heartwrenching concerns about being in a new school with no good friends yet and struggling to understand the language which they thought they knew well but realize it’s much more challenging in an all French environment.

Tuesday became the struggle day – Geneva woke up early both stressed and in tears. She refused to go to school that day. Elena soldiered on but then I got a call from school within an hour that she was “mal au vent” (stomache ache) and I needed to pick her up.

Lots of emails to friends for support/questions plus family discussions – with my “Keep calm and carry on” attitude, I often am want to push through and keep trying. Marco being the more thoughtful and patient parent was apt to give more space, time and understanding for this big transition we’re putting them through.

Needless to say, we both expected these bumps in the road – a huge move like this will not come without its challenges and growing pains. Hard to see our girls struggle with this but we are working to reassure ourselves that they are strong too and this is not beyond them – that this experience will bring them so much, including the knowledge that they are resilient and can work through tough situations.

By weeks’ end, it seems we’re baby steps further. Each day gets a bit closer to making better friends and a clearer understanding of their new school reality. We are also pleased to see that Elena’s teacher is recognizing her struggles in adjusting and has offered to stay with her one-on-one on Thursdays just to have some down time to ensure she’s feeling adjusted and confident. Geneva’s wins in English class also help bolster her confidence – she got 100% on her Friday exam (I smiled and said “would expect this”).

Ok, onto the rainbows and sunshine. Highlights of the week include Geneva having a field trip to the original “eglise” of her school’s order namesake – Saint Dominique (of the Dominicans). She said the church was really pretty however was miffed that they had to drive over 2 hours, almost to the Spanish border – on a luxury coach bus, mind you – and was less taken by the fact the original building dates to the 1100s.

Elena had a good Friday play time with the older girls in her class – she’s in a split class – and has maybe found her bosom pals in France – they played fashion show at lunch recess and took turns fixing their hair in different styles then strutting their stuff. She says they’re more kind and seem more her interest ;)

They also both enjoy the “canteen” – cafeteria lunch with full course meals at midday. We’re in trouble on our return to Canada.

Marco is still enjoying the vacation time he has before he starts his Masters program in the first week of October. We took a lovely fall bike ride on the local bike rental bikes to his university on Friday. It’s about a half hour leisurely ride across the parks from our apartment to the Canal and then the bike/walk path runs all the way south along the Canal right to his university. Not a bad commute.

We had the excitement of our first visitor – my dear pen pal girlfriend Masako who is Japanese but living in Stockholm on a year contract this year. She just happened to want to get back to Toulouse for a visit and we happened to be here. As we’ve only met in person once before, when I first moved to Toronto for university and she was visiting Canada, this was a real thrill.

Also worked well as this weekend is Journee de Patrimonie which is a celebration of history/historic sites. Bit of a Doors Open type weekend where lots of museums, churches and places of interest are open for free with special programming on in many places. We’re taking full advantage. Free is good.

Similarly, I went to a noon-time concert on Thursday at the Ostal d’Occitania (centre for the traditional Occitan culture/language, original to the Toulouse area) to see an accopella performance of Claude Nougaro’s poetry in song. The man who performed had an amazing voice and presence and kept us entertained for over an hour and a half.

Heading into week four, we are lucky that we have lots of visitors on the horizon – looking forward to seeing our Irish/Spanish friends next weekend, then Jen will grace us for a week (yayy!) then hoping to see Marco’s brother and family for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

And my biggest concern right now… other than soon I have to figure out what I’m going to keep occupied with other than school delivery/pick up, market shopping and dinner prep – where do I get my hair cut. Missing my Analiese and walking past each Salon de Coiffure (and there are many!) to check out their prices posted on each door along with gut check on “does this look like a place who could do a good job?” I know, I know, if this is my biggest concern in life, I’m not doing too badly. But it is a stressor for me. Am meditating on it during my weekly yoga mornings as I look at the sun coming up stronger over the red tiled roofs.

Right  - onto the lovely fall day that’s coming our way. September is a lovely month for so many reasons.

A la prochaine semaine,



p.s. update on the mayhem that ensues on school pick up… add to the frenzy last Wednesday when the kids all walked to Mass for some special something for Mary/Madonna (we’re still not quite sure the occasion) and they arrived 15 minutes later than expected. Many parents in a full on lather as schedule was not to time and no one at the door as we awaited seemed to know when/when the arrival could be expect. Quelle moment!

samedi 8 septembre 2012

week two - settling in

We're into our lives here and it's been a good week.
Girls have managed their first week in French (Catholic) school well. In fact, it's been much smoother than I could have anticipated.
Geneva is in 6ieme, which just happens to mean 6th grade which is the last of the "sameness" of 6th grade she would have seen back in Toronto. In France, kids move to College (their version of junior high) in 6ieme. The great news for our more serious and thoughtful daughter is that many of her fellow students are also new to the school too - it's a big transition year so all is new for everyone, not just us.
That said, our first morning at her school, sitting in for 2 hours listening to the Directrice/ Professeur/ Sujet introductions was way over our parent heads - thank goodness, Geneva's French is stronger than ours so she could fill in the blanks on the cursory bits we understood.
English is a big part of this school year, where Geneva seems in the first week to be deputy student teacher - at least here she'll feel like she's aceing something! That said, she's not yet felt like she's behind or missing out on any of her subject areas - relief! - save for Spanish which all students start taking in 6ieme and Geneva has opted to join.
As we left school that Tuesday morning, my heart ached a bit and I felt like a mom dropping her babes at JK again - knowing that they don't know anyone and hoping desperately for friendly strangers in their fellow Toulousian students who would immediately see how lovely my girls are and take them in as friends immediately.
Exhales as mostly, this seems to be the case - girls are making friends - fingers crossed that all continues to go well.
Elena also is adjusting well and from her reports, is well placed in her CM1/CM2 class (equivalent of Gr 4/5 split). She loves her teacher, is sitting beside the smartest girl in class who now is becoming her friend and loves the lunches at the school "canteen" - who wouldn't love chicken drumstick, noodles and a peach, cooked fresh for you and served on china plates?!
Both girls have had the "new girl celebrity" moments - Elena has been asked repeatedly to speak English as her French is so good, the kids aren't quite believing that she's an Anglophone from Canada and want her to prove it. Geneva has had kids she doesn't know come up to her to ask "Hey, are you, Geneva? Are you the Canadian girl?" Guess they don't have quite as many international students as the Directrices (Principals) might have indicated.
All in all, big sighs of relief and fingers firmly crossed as we move into week two of school and full 5 days of classes.
Now, I need to take a moment to paint a picture of after school pick up time at Ecole et College Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Being my first and only French school experience, I don't know if this is the norm however it is highly amusing to me.
The girls' school is on a narrow old street, at a small Place, meaning several streets intersect out of the street which goes past their school. In the afternoon, at the time for end of day at the Ecole, parents come to congregate at the front of the school. You are not allowed to enter past the front doors leading into the corridor of the courtyard so it starts looking like a mob scene - maybe free tickets to a rock concert or coupon day at Wal-Mart - anyway, the drill is that the Directrice stands at the door with the kids lined up behind her and grabs the first one in line firmly in her grasp. She then surveys the throbbing, waving mob of parents to find the match, and on doing so, thrusts the chosen student towards his/her parent - then on to the next. Adding to the frenzy is the fact that while many bicycles are parked to make the scene more cluttered, some parents who drive will actually just stop their vehicle on the street - a narrow, one car wide street - to step out and jump into the fray to await their child's delivery. Now comes a long, honking line of cars behind the select vehicle as no other car can pass through this one way street. Oh, it's a scene. I'm looking forward to further developments on this front.
The only challenge I've noted so far is that I don't know how working moms in France manage their lives. That is, how do they accomodate the different start/end times of various students school days? Geneva and Elena, being in College and Ecole, have different start/end times to their day - luckily only Mondays have a major discrepancy in the morning start time - we'll deal with that tomorrow. However, end times are at least 45 minutes difference and in some cases more. Plus Wednesday afternoons are off so kids are home by lunch. I am feeling very privileged to be a femme au foyer this year, to make this all work out. Will keep reminding myself (former A-type busy working self) of this as the year progresses.
So you have a touch of early school life. Now I need to do some minor airing of issues which are mildly irritating - you know, the things about a new country that we implants just don't quite understand, based on our previous life experiences:
1) Why is there a toilet room with only a toilet? And by that I mean, no sink. Yes, this is in our apartment. The toilet room is just that - well, that and the curtain hiding the hot water tank, various mops, brooms and the vaccuum. But again, no sink. You must exit to either the shower room around the corner - with two very lovely big basins side by side, or to the kitchen sink down the hall. This really puzzles my Canadian sensibilities.
2) On similar vein, why do French men find it necessary and even agreeable to pause when the call of nature strikes and relieve themselves on the side of street, in plain view? And not just the drunken mob from downstairs at 2 a.m. but perfectly respectable looking older gentlemen on their way home from the corner store in the early evening? Let me be clear that my girlfriend in Paris has assured me that she is not familiar with this regular practise and finds it quite odd - maybe a south of France thing?!
3) One more point on the delicate matter - why can't they stoop and scoop?? Again, my Parisian girlfriend has reminded me - and I commented the same - that Paris' previous reputation for la merde du chien has been roundedly cleared away and is not at all common anymore. Again, maybe it takes some time for this information to filter to the south? In the meantime, we are ever vigilant on our walks.
Alright, enough of those matters. Let's finish on a top note. It's been a stellar weekend so far as I've celebrated my birthday yesterday - in grand style, for certain... champagne, sushi, flowers, chocolate. Today, with the rental car, we'll drive to the Meditteranean coast for a day at the beach. All in all, a heck of a way to celebrate one's anniversaire. Also a bit of a reprieve (whether we can afford it or not) from living like poor university students and being much more cautious with our spending than we've been in a long while.
So as the lovely sun has well risen over the red tiled roofs of my newly adopted home, I will say, a bientot - a la prochaine semaine, mes amis.

dimanche 2 septembre 2012

la premiere semaine....

As I sit to type my first blog entry - first blog, formidable! - I'm looking out over the red tiled roofs of Toulouse and it's still feels like a vacation. The reality of the year we are now embarking on isn't yet hitting us... we're feeling like we're practising living here.
Reality will definitely set in on Tuesday, when the girls start school and we really will be entrenching ourselves in this beautiful city pour une annee.
That said, we have a bit more reprieve as Marco doesn't start school until the last week of September.
What are we going to do while the girls are at school for the next three weeks? Figuring that out... adding to the list.
Yes, we have the running lists... what do we need to sort out in our lives - Geneva's cell (portable... a bb) is contracted with Orange so her birthday wish from July is now realized and she is connected. Sort of, as her plan is limited to 1 hr calling in France (who would she call right now except the friends we made in St Jean?!) and expensive to call/text Canada so that is off limits. Which means she can text (me, right now as that's all the live contacts in France she's got) and surf/email - though still sorting how to get gmail into her mailbox.
Oh, the demands of technology.
As I look around our 2 bed apartment, I see ample ways we'll stay connected. Two laptops with the free wi-fi (wee-fee, girls love the French pronunciation), 1 itouch (Elena's on it regularly - yay, facetime), 1 iphone, 2 landlines (fixe - white phone is French line and black phone is Canadian line) and when Marco's bb gets a French SIM, 2 bbs. Wow, then Geneva will be able to bbm too!
Facebook has been the daily photo album of choice - hope all are enjoying!
So what are my learnings of our first almost full week?
Lesson 1: The first fear when we saw this apartment about the bedrooms being noisy is completely the case. We've dubbed our part of the busy street noise at night the "drunken Muslim marakesh on motorcyles." Picture that as a scene - lots of boisterous embibbers - though likely not (all) Muslims, blaring Arabic music, 2 stroke screaming scooters and motorcyles plus the buses and delivery trucks as we are on a major street. Good news is, this noise mostly ends by 2 a.m. Then by 4 a.m., garbage trucks and morning delivery trucks start up in earnest.
We did realize on our return that the bar across the street is also a betting hall - lovely - it's right beside the all night epicerie - which serves the loud mob.
Saving grace? It's been unseasonably cool for the last few days since arriving - praise somebody for closed windows and shutters at night! And of course, the view from the open concept living room/dining room/kitchen is lovely and quiet, and the neighbourhood really is convenient and safe.
Lesson 2: I still buy bread like a Canadian. Which means too much. Which means the ladies at the boulangerie look at me funny when I ask for the whole loaf and following, I realize it's way too big to finish in one day. Which is how long it's supposed to last. Learning... will keep practising ;)
Lesson 3: You can find ways to improvise when you're living like poor university students. Case in point - you realize your double bed is really a futon and the mattress is killing you by night 2 (not just the drunken marakesh keeping you awake). Solution: Winter duvets double as mattress topper. Next...
Lesson 4: Three flights of stairs up to the apartment will eventually get easier. Especially if you have less than 8 bags between 2 people (duffel, shop or grocery, we've done all so far).
Lesson 5: Good wine is available for 4 euros 50. Yum!!
Looking forward to seeing what the next week brings.
The sightseeing walks each night have brought back to us the reasons why we're here - not that we need to escape the apartment which begins to feel small and close and we're sick of each other's company so fresh air is needed. No, it's the amazing opportunity to soak in a city with much beauty, history, culture, art and another language we may eventually speak properly (sort of).
A bientot,