Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Okay, first of all, I'm staring down at the Rhone river right now (well, okay, not RIGHT now because I'm staring down at my computer screen, but just a few seconds ago) and wanted to share this crazy phenomenon with you before I get started on other stories. Maybe some of you have lived on or near a river before and you've already seen this (if that's the case, skim ahead, skim ahead), but I have never had such intimate and constant contact with a "big" river like this before.

Of course, the water flows toward the South. In the morning, it's placid, like coke-bottle green glass. When the sun comes up (and thus, the morning breezes), the surface starts to stir a little. When it rains, the water is all flat and sandpapery. Matte, if you will. But on a day like today, where there are wind and storm adviseries, where we aren't going to open the windows because we'd have to lock every window, cabinet and closet in the apartment... the water is CHOPPY!!! That's right friends, the wind is coming up from the south, pushing agains the water which is coming from the north and the wind is SO STRONG that it has pushed the flow of the surface of the river northward. There are actually little swells of whitewater!!! It's COOL!

ALSO... Just to let you know, if my writing sucks today, I'm going to blame it on sleep deprivation. Lolo's fever came back and spiked to 103.7 last night. She slept with me--slept being an exaggeration since she spent the whole night tossing, turning, moaning and grunting. I just couldn't bring myself to put her back in her bed like that, so I didn't get much sleep either. She woke up grinning, as usual, but still fevery. If she's not better by lunch, I'm taking her to the doc, cuz frankly, I'm almost out of baby Tylenol and I HATE to use it as a crutch for more than a day.

Okay, to the castle...

My friend from Charlotte, who I met for the first time HERE (still trying to wrap my head around that) invited us to meet her, her mother and her step-dad at one of their countryside properties not far from here. I was hesitant to go becuase 1) Lolo had had a fever the night before, 2) it's a castle and I was afraid of what my kids might do to antiques and whatnot and 3) I rarely get time to myself (as you know) and the weekends are my time to take advantage of Sam's presence so I can get my own projects done. Well, here are the reasons I decided to go: a) Lolo's fever was gone in the morning and she seemed just fine, 2) it's a castle... come on... you really think I'd rob my kids of the opportunity to hang in a castle? and 3) even when Sam is home, I'm constantly being interrupted and have never really gotten to work on my projects--plus, Ryan would be going to "school" on Monday, so that would give me more time during the day, during the week.

Get this... Two of our best friends from our former life as Frenchies live near that castle. The dude is a pal from Sam's cycling days and his squaw and I became pretty good buds while we were here before. In fact, Sam is their oldest kid's parrain (godfather). We used to get together during bike races and afterward and whatnot, but after we moved to the States, we kind of lost touch with them (well, other than a couple of visits during the first few years of our American experience, we HAVE lost touch... no excuses either cuz I have their email adddress *eyeroll*). So, we had considered calling them up and seeing if they wanted to spend the morning together before we went on over to the castle. *sigh* Nope. You just can't do that sort of thing here. There are no drive-by visits here--especially if you haven't seen each other in years. The closest thing they have to the drive-by is the aperitif and that is scheduled and planned. You show up, you drink a glass or two, crunch on a couple of peanuts or crackers or chips (the one place you can actually find chips in this country is in the "aperitif" aisle of the grocery store... there's not a whole aisle designated to snacks like there is back home).

No, we would have had to either call them weeks ago, have had eaten dinner together, spent the night at their house, etc. for anything NEAR a drive-by (and by drive-by, I mean spend the WHOLE morning there) to have occurred. So, though we were like 500 meters away from our friends' home--friends who went to our wedding, friends at the birth of whose children we have attended--social convention forced us to drive right on by. Sad, huh? And worse, whenever we DO finally hook back up with them, we're going to have to pretend we never saw the castle just behind their house.

We shielded our eyes as we passed the road to their house and looked ahead, gasping at the hint of a castle tower, for the dirt road to the chateau. And when we found it, I knew instantly what kind of day it was going to be. The road was well worn, with old trees growing up and over it, so you could tell it had been there for a long time. The undergrowth was soft and green, promising mossy forests and grassy fields. We wound around the curves going ever uphill, our excitement mounting in time with the climb of our minivan. We came around a final curve and saw hands waving. Our friend and her kids, walking sticks in hand, were greeting us. They jumped in the van, a kid on my lap, another sitting with Ryan and my friend hanging on the side of the van, "like they do in India," she says.

We stare, our mouths like baby birds, as we pass under the gate, huge wooden doors hanging open from hinges bolted to ancient walls. Before us sits, majestic and imposing, a tall white stone house. On our left there's another, smaller and seemingly older house, the lichen-stained roof tiles tell stories of snickering servants and spitting stable boys.

Another long building on the right touted secrets of history, cobwebbed windows and all. The two small cars parked near the stone wall looked so out of place that we naturally steered our van toward it.

I walked around wondering where Cinderella was, or Belle, or even Fiona. Our friend took us on a small walking tour of the grounds, my camera finger sore after only five minutes. We strolled past the basin (a soon-to-be pool) down to the raspberry patch where brand new delicately ripened (because she said they had already picked the bushes over TWICE that day and already there were new berries) fruits batted their eyelashes at me. I took the bait, crunching the seeds between my teeth, unable to process just how mildly sweet and not at all sour they were. Never in my life....

We went toward the main house, the open door of which had already been too much of a temptation for my chilren (who were now traipsing around the castle). Before I had even gone inside, the kids (mine and hers) were waving down to me from a balcony on the second floor. Walking into the house was like stepping in from the heat to an air conditioned room in Houston. Only, there was NO air condition. No fans. Only deep, cool stone floors and walls, standing guard against the sunlight.

I don't have words in any language to describe what I see in the castle. I'm not even new to castles, but this one is the first not to be a tourist attraction, so words escape the emotions I felt. I can't organize them. So, I'll just blurt: shelf of bottles, thick walls, perfect light, smooth stone stairs, kitchen cave, antiques everywhere, crazy shutters, jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. You'll just have to see the pix (I promise, promise, promise they are forthcoming).

After a tour of the castle, we head outside to a umbrella-ed table under the shelter of an arbour of branches. Plates and glasses are set already. I sit and let myself be dazzled by my friend's mom carrying out a cutting board with a herbed leg of some animal (lamb?) on it. A crockery of golden roasted potatoes sizzles on the table. A basket of what is surely local bread. A big bowl of salad, the vinaigrette tickling my nose. I'm DYING of hunger. Even the kids' mashed potatoes and sliced ham on a smaller table is in peril in my presence.

"A little rose to start your day?" My friend's stepfather asks.

"Volontiers!" I try not to shout it. Don't wanna give away the fact that I'm a boozer (though my friend already knows).

The meat was tender and savory and juicier than any flesh I've had in a LONG time! The potatoes weren't terribly cooked but the flavor was such that I would have believed they came from the castle garden. The vinaigrette fulfilled it's earlier sweet and sour promise. The rose seemed to have been born for this meal. I was in sensual heaven. The sun warmed my eyes, the laughter of the children--barely-touched plates abandoned for the wonders of the castle field and the mystery of the tower--tickled my ears, the creamy fromage blanc mixed with fresh raspberries and naturally vanilled-sugar stroked my taste buds (as did the rich, bitter coffee that followed), a wooden breeze--smelling of ancient timber and earthiness--playfully caressed my hair. Heaven I'm telling you. Heaven.

"I want a castle" became my mantra for the whole day. The view of the distant mountains, the sparkle of the Rhone close by, the cool wooded paths, the guano-lined stairs which spiraled down to a bona fide wine cave as well as a freshwater resevoir that was clearly meltwater from some nearby mountain, the buzzing hive in the big chestnut tree, the stones, the tiles, the wood, the, the, the... UGH!!! I WANT A CASTLE!!! I have to stop writing about it. I have to stop THINKING about it. It was like a fairy tale. I had to remind myself that my true dream is a farm. A farm, a farm, a farm.

*deep breath*

Yes. Castles are beautiful and romantic and mysterious and historical and I'd love to spend time restoring one, caring for one and I'd love to become a frequent visitor, but you never really, truly OWN a castle, do you? Sam even said that in the hours that my friend's step-father called the castle by its name, as though it were its own person... a member of the family. He never said, "my castle" or "my home" or even "here," but rather used its name every time.

However, though a castle is dreamy and misty and well, Heavenly. It's job is to stand and remember. But a farm... A farm's job is to work. To produce. My farm's job will be to change the world and bring hope (dude, I sound like I'm campaigning for Obama, don't I?). I almost got sucked in by a castle. I could have totally had a love affair with a castle and forgotten why I came to France. That was a close one. *wipes brow*

One of the great parts of being there was the relief. The freedom, if you will. I wasn't scared to let the kids go. I usually have one ear pricked, always listening, one eyeball always watching. But that day, I just let them go. Even Lolo. I walked away from her in the field and came back to her puking up a dried leaf. That was her last dried leaf and I didn't even have to say, "No, no!" Ryan and Lily and my friends two kids ran through the woods and the fields and played in a big sandpile they weren't allowed to go into (my friend's youngest used Lily's dress shoes as shovels for awhile before discarding them into the woods... had my friend not gone digging through the sandpile and combing the underbrush of the woods, Lily would have happily gone home barefoot). They had raspberry stains around their mouths from picking. Lily had a beach's worth of sand in her diaper when we went to change her... My friend's mother had to bring out a bottle of water to rinse off the little booty. I would have let her run around naked, but Sam's got an arms'-length relationship with nature.

While Mother Nature babysat my kids, my friend's step-father babysat my husband with his historical tidbits about the property. At one point, I tried to give him an out by saying that we should go home and take advantage of our kids' fatigue to do some more talking about our farm and our us, but Sam begged to stay.

So, I lay in the soft leaves and grass under the chestnut tree and TALKED TO MY FRIEND!!!

Lolo was asleep the moment we put her in her car seat. Ryan fell asleep before we got onto the freeway. Lily, having napped, sucked her thumb and watched the fields blur past her window in the van on the way home. When we got there, we were ALL exhausted and Lolo a little sunburnt. There was a pile of sand in the tub after the baths and there were dried leaves stuck to the dirty cloth diapers as I shoved them into the machine. What a great day.


So, we got up early and got ready to... *drumroll* GO TO SCHOOL!!! Ryan was so excited I thought his head would explode. He got ready all by himself, put on his socks and shoes and headed out with Papa to the bus stop.

Sam told me later that as he coached Ryan in French phrases he might need at school, Ryan interrupted him.

"Papa? Is this the school bus?"
"Yes it IS. This is the bus we take to my school!!!"
"Oh, yeah. Okay, then, I guess it is a school bus."
"It's a lightning bus."
"Because it's fast?"
"No, because it runs on lightning."

Lightning is electricity. It's the only way I knew how to explain why we need to turn the lights and TV off when we're not in a room. Because we don't want to waste lightning. And if you'll remember, Papa works at the office of the lightning factory. Papa usually takes a bike to work. One like the ones in Willy Wonka. To go to the lightning factory. But, I digress.

I called Sam as soon as I figured he got to work.

Sam sniffed.
"What? What's wrong? Are you crying?"
"No," he said thickly, clearly crying.
"What happened?" I was almost screeching, ready to grab my keys and go get my baby from the evil school.
"Nothing. I'm just worried for him."
I started crying, too. "He'll be okay, Papa."
"I know."

We spent the next few minutes feigning consolation though neigher of us would be convinced until our baby came home beaming and speaking perfect French.

But it was a good day. Sam stayed at work for lunch, so I didn't have to cook (or clean for that matter because if he aint here to see it, I don't usually clean it, tee hee hee.

Guess what I did? I wrote!!! Well, I didn't write, per se. I revised. A writing buddy of mine from Houston (Hey there, B!!!) has been reading the first revision of a novel I wrote a couple of years ago that I pitched in Austin (and an agent wanted to see it--he now has the first few chapters and I'm waiting nervously to hear back from him while I finish revising the rest). I hadn't gone anywhere near the manuscript in months (had to finish school, had a baby, moved to France, blah blah blah) but I had told myself that the DAY Ryan went back to school, I would jump back in.

It took probably an hour to get re-organized. I had forgotten how much fear goes into my writing. I no longer have any fingernails and my left leg now has cramps and spasms from shaking so much. But, I finally got things put back in order and... dun, dun, dut-DUHN!!!!! I revised 5 chapters!!! Of COURSE this work was punctuated by feeding, changing, chasing after and comforting children as well as a couple loads of laundry, cleaning the kitchen and making dinner. But what a productive day, eh?

And the best news of all is that Ryan came home from school beaming and singing a little French song about a petit papillon. Okay, so it wasn't perfect French yet--in fact, the secretary said that Ryan really gave those teachers a run for their money because since he got put in with the 5-year-olds, they are supposed to understand and speak English--but it wasn't tears and screams about never going back, either.

The funny thing is, Lily seemed to have mixed emotions about it all. She missed Ryan as much as I did. And since she hadn't been awake when he left, she wandered around the first few minutes after she got up yelling, "Ry-aaaaah! Ry-aaaaaah!" But, then, after the initial shock, it was like she had an epiphany... Hmmm... all the toys to myself with only the pesky little baby to compete... I could get used to this!


Well, today was supposed to be my first day back training for my marathon. But I told you all about the baby... Which I have recently discovered (over lunch... yeah, I took a break from blogging to eat, that's right... what are you gonna do about it?) the whole fever thing is over a tooth!!! My baby has a TOOTH!!! My other kids didn't sprout teeth until after a year. And Lolo is only 10 months old. Before you know it, she's going to decide to walk. She can already clap when I say, "YAY!" And she shakes her head no when she doesn't want to eat. This is the first time in my life I haven't wanted one of my babies to grow up. It's like culture shock or something. I guess I need to hurry, lose this weight, run my races and get knocked up again, eh?

Okay, I have a lot I COULD write about, but my fingers hurt and I have some more revision to do. See ya's tomorrow!


Rachel said...

I love reading what you write! You sound pretty happy! Miss ya and love ya!

Erin said...

*sigh* your stories just transport me. love yas!

StEliz said...

Hey jo--I haven't been able to write you back on fb because my work blocks the inbox--but just the inbox--a. nnoy. ing.

anyway, i promise I'll hook back up soon and update ya!