Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Add to Google Reader or HomepageIn addition to the semi-annual exercise of realizing that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”[i] and we have to adjust our lives and life style, I was awakened the other morning by a train whistle. Trains crisscross Lansing on a regular basis and one can hear train whistles as the trains cross roadways.

Since France has invested in a high-speed rail system where the trains never have to cross a roadway, one rarely hears a train whistle in France. (Vaison la Romaine is not a village with rail service.) In fact, the trains use quiet, electric motors and thus are so quiet, the sound they make is “whoosh” as they speed by. Probably the loudest sound connected with passenger trains is the conductor’s whistle as s/he signals that the train doors are closing. French trains are quite a contrast with the US where the automobile reigns and trains must traverse roads on a regular basis. Even if the US rail system could handle high speed trains, the engineers would still need to maintain lower speeds to reduce risks at railroad crossings.

Given the location of our house, we can hear the vehicular traffic on the expressway that cuts through Lansing just a few blocks from here. There is a constant drone from the interstate. Over the years of walking our dogs in the evening, I have noted that the drone disappears on Sunday evening. I guess Sunday evening television is so good people get home early to watch their favorite programs.

In our village in Provence, one hears the local traffic – often moving too fast – and the annoying sound of motorbikes with two-stroke engines. The motorbikes sound like chainsaws and the teens who ride them love to race everywhere.

In Vaison la Romaine, we are serenaded by a rooster who takes his role very seriously. Starting at 5:00 AM (in the spring), the rooster announces the arrival of a new day and then spends the rest of the day crowing about the success of his prediction. Lansing has passed an ordinance permitting residents to have hens, not roosters. While in France, every time I am awakened by the rooster, I try to go back to sleep by listing the ingredients that go into “Coq au Vin.”

When I volunteer at the crèche, the kids enjoy pointing out jets, planes and helicopters as they fly overhead. Here in the states, if we notice air traffic, it is almost a subconscious awareness. In Vaison, we regularly hear and see the French Air Force jets as they fly by (low and fast) in an eight-jet formation. (The sorties seem less frequent now. My guess is that several of the jets/pilots have been ordered to Libya.)  

I miss the happy screams (or crying) of kids at the crèche on our street in Lansing. The closest child care is about five blocks away and the two toddlers who live in the neighborhood are happy, secure kids who are just beginning to talk, so they are very quiet. I miss hearing one of the teachers at the crèche telling Gaston (not his real name) to go to “time-out.” He spends so much time in “time-out” that it seems that he spends his time there thinking about his next transgression rather than reflecting on why he had to go to “time-out.”

The Rhone Valley from Chateauneuf du Pape
We have had a few severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings recently in Lansing. These weather events usually include high winds but they occur much less frequently than the Mistral winds of Provence. The Mistral blows from the north and brings dry air as it races down the Rhone Valley as it heads to the Camargue on the Mediterranean coast. Vaison la Romaine is situated among several high hills and does not get the full brunt of the wind but our friend Beth who lives at the very edge of the Rhone Valley has said that a person who committed a heinous crime would be able to claim that he temporarily lost his mind due to the Mistral because the winds are so forceful and so constant, it can drive one crazy!

[i] Wizard of Oz, 1939

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Add to Google Reader or HomepageWow, it has been about six weeks since my last blog entry. In that six weeks,  Sarah Palin has provided a new interpretation of Paul Revere’s role in American history, a Congressman has added his name (and body part image) to the list of notables on the “What could he have been thinking?!” list, and our Michigan governor gave a big tax break ($1.3 billion) to businesses at the expense of low-income residents and senior citizens’ retirement incomes (read “ours”).

I am honored that people read and comment on my blog entries – some even comment on the frequency (or lack thereof), reminding me that it is time for another entry.

Life goes on and may be spinning out of control but our focus has been on nesting: recreating our space at our US home. Our wonderful tenants and dog caretakers have moved out and we are making the house ours once again. Though all was well-cared-for in our absence, for the past three weeks we have been cleaning, reorganizing cabinets, adjusting furniture, as well as adjusting ourselves to the switch from one culture to the other. It is a gentle hit-upside-the-head reminder that perceptions and values are very different when comparing France to the US—and vice versa.

Before leaving France, we hosted our good friends Marge and Charley, showing them some “new finds” since the last time they were in Vaison la Romaine together in 2007. Since they were hard at work setting up our newly-acquired apartment on their last working visit, we were determined to eat well, taste/drink the wonderful wines of the Côtes du Rhône and generally enjoy spring in Provence. Mission accomplished!

Our friends in France gave us great send-offs and we enjoyed two end-of-year class parties with our two French language study groups. A bittersweet aspect of our class parties was saying goodbye and merci bien to our devoted and talented professor, Michelle Paris, who is retiring from her volunteer teaching commitment after nearly ten years. How fortunate we were to have her for our first three half-years in Vaison! 

Spring was beautiful with vines covered with green leaves and orchards already producing cherries and flowers everywhere. Ellen was so pleased to enjoy the early spring in Provence and the spring in Michigan after our return that she doesn’t think of it all the time as suffering through allergy season twice! She and Charley could commiserate through their sneezes and runny eyes over a soothing glass of wine.

With spring, Catherine reopens the Musée du Vigneron, located between Roaix and Rasteau, where one can see a vast collection of ancient winemaking implements and old vines that tell the history of winemaking. The winemaking family of Domaine de Beaurenard has been in business since the 17th century and their family collection shows vividly the tools and methods used over the years. An audio tour available in several languages, including English, enables understanding. And what is not to like about having their success illustrated by tasting and enjoying the fine wines of Domaine de Beaurenard! Their Chateauneuf du Pape and Côtes du Rhône Village Rasteau are award winning wines—and we like them, too..

Only one day after our return to the US, we travelled to PA for Ellen’s nephew Will’s wedding to his dear Deanna. Since our return to Lansing we have hosted a US reunion visit from Marge & Charley and also enjoyed a long-overdue visit from our friends Ellen & Bob and their now adult son Jeremy. We last saw Jeremy when he was about 10 years old so it was a treat to again meet this recent Yale grad on his way to a Ph.D. program at the U of Michigan in the fall. One of the pleasures of being at home in Lansing is that it offers us space to entertain and to have visiting friends stay overnight with us. On the other hand, I love that I can clean our whole apartment in Vaison la Romaine while practically standing in one spot (as per Dan S.)! It could be said that we enjoy the best of both worlds, couldn’t it?