The only difference I could see between the first class and second class train cars in France was the first class cars weren't filled to capacity. I still had to pay $15 for a take-out salad of undercooked quinoa and over sauced chicken. The seats didn't recline much, there was no audio-video. We just had more space, which for two extra dollars wasn't a bad thing, it's just I can't imagine paying more than two dollars for the privilege. What's remarkable about whatever class you travel is the q-u-i-e-t. If you're planning to visit France with young kids, you had better start practicing library voice weeks before your departure. I never really gave much thought to the handful of best sellers about how French child rearing is superior to all others, but they must play Zip Your Lip starting in infancy. I would certainly read the book that explains how the thinnest culture in Europe gets away with gnawing on crusty white bread three times a day, but like their slim figures, there must be a genetic predisposition to be silent in a crowd. After sitting in both classes during our time in France, I became acutely aware of how loud we Americans are, and particularly, how loud my child can be.
Our London friends, whom we met in the Australian outback eleven years ago (remember them here), have a cottage in the sleepy town of Ares on the Atlantic side of southern France, about 45 minutes from Bordeaux. Their 5 year old son S and Z spent the car ride in silence, not yet sure they could reconnect. But an hour later they were sharing an easel and playing tag. Though technically a beach town, the beaches are highly variable according to the tides. We were there when low tide was right about the time you wanted to be on the beach, but you'd have to walk a half mile through muck from the sand to the water if you wanted to take a swim. So beach time revolved around the side of the peninsula that had the most water, which is what everyone did so the traffic crawled around these destinations. During our crawl Z had the opportunity to introduce our friends to the game of Mini/Fiat. After 40 minutes we were all passing the tedium by trying to be the first to point out a Mini or a Fiat, the two cars Z loves the most. In fact, he's become so obsessed with playing Spot the Mini/Fiat that he can be in the middle of a full-on melt down and choke back his tears for a split second in order to yell, "Mini!"
The weather was perfect and I had the blissful opportunity to ride a bike again, alone, at my own pace, with my straw hat flapping in the breeze. A bike path just outside the front door led to a perfectly sized supermarket where I pretended to know what I was doing as I squinted at the small writing on various viscous dairy products. Was it yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese (which is what I was really after), the inner mucosa of an unweaned calf? (If you think cheese comes from happy cows, just look up rennet).
The French are completely unperturbed about standing in line. The lines at the check out stand were snaking down the aisles and people were quietly shuffling forward by inches per minute. About my twentieth minute in line a skinny little woman of at least 80 years approached from my left and nudged to take her place ahead of me. Normally good natured, I suddenly felt a wave of indignity. How dare she! Culture cannot account for such rudeness. After all, I'm practically 50. Why should she get to check out ahead of me?! I nudged my basket forward on the floor to cut her off. She wriggled ahead again, murmuring something in French. She had a canvass shopping trolley and a bag of apples in her hand. I pointed to the apples and tried to get at whether that was the only thing she was buying. She shook her head and opened up the trolley full of groceries. My indignant flames rose higher. No! I shook my head back. You're not cutting in front of me after I've been waiting long enough for the milk to curdle. She nudged ahead. I cut her off. I looked behind me at all the other weary faces and pleaded, "Does anyone speak English?" A woman my age raised her eyes. "Why is she doing this?" I whined. She pointed above my head. "You're in a special line." I looked down the line of q-u-i-e-t faces and wondered what was so special about us. Then I looked above the checker and saw a sign with words I didn't understand and a stick figure with a protruding belly and another in a wheelchair. "The elderly go ahead." She explained. I asked "How do you say 'I'm sorry' in French?" I repeated this to the old women twice in a supplicating crouch. She waved me off with a scowl and proceeded to empty her bag one item at a time and pay for her groceries with at least two dozen Euro coins as though they had just been introduced into circulation yesterday and she was still trying to figure them out. I didn't regret my behavior then. I regretted my apology.
On our last day we went out on our friends' small sail boat without any wind and putt-putted across the bay and back before the tide caught us in the muck. The boys were each given turns at the rudder and Z wore an air of nonchalance that implied that he was, yet again, born knowing how to do this. The day was a public holiday, "Assomption" the celebration of Mary's ascendancy into heaven, which is commemorated with spectacular fire works shows. Kind of a funny thing to celebrate. As if the virgin mother of Jesus would ever be turned away from heaven? I actually stayed home on the pretense of taking care of the sleeping toddler when, really, I've never loved fireworks since the July 4th when I was six and my father insisted on positioning our car as close to the pyrotechnics as possible with the windows wide open and me, sweating in the hatchback with my fingers pushed as far down my ear canals as I could manage.
The train back to London was a 9-5 affair, the time passed quickly and, yes, quietly. I finished a few more New Yorkers and Z mastered a few more levels of Granny Apple. We met up with C at his office where Amazon was having a Friends and Family party and we were treated to the wonders of a 3D printer and the ukulele talents of a few of the employees. Our international adventure had been a success. But I was excited to be "home" to prepare for the unpackers...
Phone Update: C was issued a new one within 2 days (good thing he's busting his butt at work). Mine is en-route to Seattle because Apple wouldn't fix or replace it in the UK. I have yet to figure out how to get photos from the computer back onto my old iPhone, so there may be fewer for the next few posts.
PS: Since it was the first day of school yesterday and I know the grandparents are dying to see that documented, my next few posts will be out of order, not that it matters much... My entire life is out of order now, with boxes everywhere. It will only reflect my current state.