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