Can it be that Christmas is just over two weeks away . . . and Carolyn and Bill’s visit even closer? Time zips by. Joe returned to the States two weeks ago and I still haven’t written about our trip down to Bilbao. Perhaps a road trip retrospective for a future post.
I wrote the last entry on Thanksgiving day, really a non event for me this year. I’d wondered whether my newly purchased car would turn out to be a bit of a turkey. Glad to say all the issues were worked out and I now have my carte grise–which means the car is officially registered to me. As I wrote on Facebook last week, I often feel a bit like a tourist hybrid–not quite a tourist, but not really a resident either. The process of buying and registering a car definitely made me feel less of a tourist as did the bank account I opened last week. I actually had to make an appointment to do this. Wanting things to happen immediately is, I’m finding, an American attitude which can lead to frustration in France. Anyway, I now have French cheques and a credit card which will help a lot when paying rent and doing business at all those places (autoroute toll booths, for example) that don’t take American credit cards.
So Christmas is upon us. Blue stars are strung above the village streets and there are holiday markets and festivals everywhere. Last Sunday Montpeyroux held its marché´du Noel. I ogled the displays of dried and glazed fruits, bought a bunch of holly then drove to another holiday event, this one at the Chateau Cassan about half an hour from here. Stalls and stalls of tempting things for sale, all set out under the curved and gilded ceiling of a building which dates back centuries. At some point a certain Prince de Contii, a man who evidently knew something about gift giving, presented it to his mistress as a little token of his affection. It’s said she can sometimes be heard playing the piano, but I didn’t hear her. Perhaps she was Christmas shopping too. I bought English Xmas crackers and a Xmas cake with hard icing and marzipan.
Life in the village can feel very quaint and French–the small shops, the traditions and sense of history. For me, that’s part of the charm of living in France, but it isn’t necessarily representative of French life in general. Yesterday, I had arranged to meet a friend at the Odysseum, a huge American style shopping mall on the outskirts of Montpellier. She has a sixteen year old son who wanted to visit the Apple store. Anticipating holiday traffic around the mall, I drove to the Mosson station and rode the tram in. I was early so I picked up a few things at Ikea then sat on a bench waiting for my friend. An illuminated snowman glittered in the bright sunshine, palm trees sported stylized icicles. As I listened to the canned music playing Dreaming of a White Christmas, I had to remind myself I wasn’t in Southern California.
I have no doubt that life in France would be much more difficult without Skype,Facebook,e-mail and the on-line community. The ex-pat sites, there are many of them, are particularly helpful. Even before I left the States, I joined several, posting questions about everything from whether I should bring my hair dryer to France and the prospects of finding a writing group. (No to the first question, better to buy one and, to #2, since every ex-pat in France is writing a book there should be no shortage of other writers.) Survive France is one of my favorites. Last week, an urgent message was posted on behalf of one of the members who had recently suffered a brain aneurysm. At the urging of her family, she’d moved to a small village to be closer to them, but they’d dropped the ball and she was without resources or very much support at all. Worse, her internet was down, she was having difficulty arranging for the nursing care she needed and, not surprisingly, felt isolated and depressed. Within minutes of the appeal, the message boards lit up. By the end of the day, her internet was back up, nursing care had been arranged and she’d discovered the true generosity of the human spirit. Without Survive France, she wrote, she couldn’t have survived in France. A nice story any time of year, but especially heartwarming at this time.
Merry Xmas . . . in case I don’t catch up before then!