Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 18, 2010 - warning - a bit of social commentary...

Today was my first day driving. However, before I say how I did, I must say that Mike has been an awesome driver here in France. It's not easy since, one minute you may be on a two lane street and the next moment a one lane farm road with small, SMALL places to pull over when another car comes. And the streets, one moment you're on a boulevard - the next on a one car width 2-way street with cars parked on the tiny side walk. And, it doesn't seem to matter if you are driving on the N9 - the local toll highway or the Chemin de Tresse (a town "way" that leads to our villa complex), they drive like freakin' bats-out-of-hell.

Add to that, that I rented the biggest mini-van they make over here and you can easily feel intimidated. But Mike's done very well. And while he pays attention to the veille me-me (old lady) driving 60 mph through the villiage, I try to read the signs.

The French are, as are most Europeans and everyone else in the world but Americans, keen on saving energy. Solar panels are not uncommon on houses, in the distance from our patio you can see a large wind farm, people drive small and very fuel efficient cars, and they use Round-a-bouts all over the place. In fact, I can only think on ONE traffic light that we've even stopped at. This makes for great fuel efficiency and lovely driving. But, as you whirl around them with the French merging and tailgating, reading the direction signs sometimes requires more than one trip around the circle!

Mike and I have only almost filed for divorce twice during our trip. My Mom and dad said never hang wallpaper together if you want to stay married. Navigating in a foreign country could be added to that list.

But now that we can make our way to the supermarche without ripping each others eyes out, we're harmonious. (Check in again for another missive: Driving to Carcassonne - "which exit on this round-a-bout???" and "When are we going to be there???"

We also have a sort of marriage councellor: Madame GPS (pronounced Jay-Pay-Ess). She's got a pleasant female voice and by the luck of the gods, speaks English. And she NEVER says, "That way, THAT way! NO, right, no- the OTHER right, idiot!" Of course, neither do I!

So today, I decided to drive home from the beach. It's only 5 mins. But I haven't driven a standard since Emily was a 1 year old. And, that long 1-lane farm road between the vineyards and the wheat fields, and one round-a-bout. I never stalled the car, didn't miss the road (although I nearly got beeped at for going too slow as I turned onto it) and managed to pull over in time for an on-coming car. That may not seem like much, but I'm proud!!

By-the-way, I love our Renault Espace. It drives like a dream (of course the roads down hear are REALLY well maintained) and has everything and is super comfortable. You can't lock yourself out, it beeps when a bump in the back is immenant,and has plenty of room! It's a deisel and seems pretty fuel efficient since it's about $6/gallon here. (I'm still trying to figure out how $3/gal. brings our economy to it's knees and Europe, all though struggling too, seems to manage at $6/gal....) Food here is inexpensive, especially the fruits and vegetables - so everyone has an equal chance to eat healthy. Other things, they are expensive.

I've had some really pleasant conversations with French store keepers. All employers are obliged to give their employees (new or old) 5 weeks a year. Large national manufacturers close for 3 weeks so everyone has an equal chance to vacation without stressing about their backlog of work. There seems to be an equal amount of work and repose; Seriousness and time with family and friends - something that seems seriously lacking in our country.

Little things like: School starts at 8am, work at 9am.1-2 hours of lunch everyday. They actually LEAVE their desk and go out to a restaurant and eat and laugh and relax with friends! Unfortunately, the American business culture is corroding that. Pretty soon they'll all be stressed out jelly-fish stuffing fast food into their mouths while sitting over their computers being highly inefficient for the rest of the afternoon.

My cousin's daughter is sequestered, as most high school Seniors are right now, for about 2 months, studying for the future defining Bac - a gruelling serious of 4 hour tests. This determines what kind of University they will be able to attend - for much less than $10,000/year. Imagine what our country might be like if, based on your test scores alone, you could get into amazing Universities all over the country, no matter if you were an aristocrat or the baker's daughter!

I'm not saying the French school system is the best - I still like ours better. But I sure would love to have a more level playing field for upper education and a proper lunch break (The French are horrified by our 20 mins lunch breaks and lack of bathroom breaks and real meals at school).

But despite the hard work all week, the weekends are spent eating wonderful meals with friends and family, walking in nature, or going to the museums (often free on Sundays).

So yesterday, we took a quick trip to Pezanas. That was a mistake as we needed much more time there. It is an amazing mideaval city not far from here with a twisting, winding maze of a pedestrian district where artisans of all types stand in their doorways, talking to the merchants around them, and being very pleasant to us. We met a very nice Canadian couple who'd bought a wreck of a place 10 years ago and renovated it during summers here. They love it there so much, they bought another. I then ran around with mouth wide open as I looked up and saw many, MANY places for sale. I need to start playing the lotto.

Unfortunately, the stores were closing shortly after we got there and so we found a nice restaurant in the Place de Gambatta, across from the home of one of Moliere's friends, and had a beautiful dinner. Well, poor Emily got hopelessly locked in the "toilette". The waiter, feeling very nervous came out and got Mike. Mike calmly translated to Emily on the other side of the door how to very delicately hold the key so it would work. I guess the waiter had to shine the light from a cell phone into the lock to tell her exactly when to turn it!

So, that makes all us girls who've been locked in a cabine de toilette this trip. Megan and I got locked in at the Menagerie in Paris and workers in the gardens were called, with tools, to get us out. Nothing will make me forget all my French skills than being locked in a toilette!

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