Saturday, September 26, 2015

Scarves and changes

I just stocked up on a few scarves.  Not the wooly kind but the "cover-your-neck-cause-there's-a-mean-breeze-out" kind.  I used to scoff at scarves and the French obsession with them.  Now, after one too many throat infections and a pneumopathy a year and a half ago, I cover my neck when it dips below 70°F.  And as we are now officially in the fall season, more of those days will be around the corner.

It might not feel very fall-like as I write this, on a brilliant late September day, but I am feeling that seasonal change.  Juliette had to memorize a poem at school (so many poems!) and it sums up the change and emotions that go with it quite well.  As I helped her learn it, I now know it, too!

Un champignon et trois marrons
Sont venus en délégation
Accompagnés de feuilles mortes
Ils ont frappés à ma porte.
"Avis à la population!
Aujourd'hui, changement de saison.
Mettez les vacances au placard
Voici l'automne et le brouillard."

Didier Dufresne

English translation:
A mushroom and three chestnuts
Came in a delegation
Accompanied by dead leaves
They knocked at my door.
"Notice to the population!
Today the seasons change
Put your holidays in the closet
Here is autumn and the fog."

Ok, slightly less poetic when translated, but it does feel like we're turning a page.  Vacation memories are farther back in our mind.  School is back in swing, work routines settling in.  Days are still long but we feel them creeping in on us in the morning and evening now, condensing time.  As my mom said, this season seems to bring out emotions and melancholy like no others.

Does it mirror our own fear of ageing, I wonder?  Now is the autumn of our lives.  Sometimes I feel I am in that season now.  (Coincidentally, I am an "autumn", in the color scheme and feel my warmest and coziest in those colors.)  The end of the year is coming soon, and I wonder if I've done all I wanted this time around. 

And so we feel like hunkering down, storing our nuts and settling in for a long autumn's nap.  We can do that in autumn, right?  I am not quite ready for the glittery lights of the holiday seasons, but Halloween and a walk in crunchy leaves are coming soon, so I better get used to it. And I won't forget my scarf.

What emotions does autumn evoke in you? 

Monday, September 21, 2015

This and that

First of all, thanks to those who responded positively to my blog about wanting to help out the refugee situation.  I talked with some of my close friends in town who were feeling quite the same way and it warmed my heart.  I can't say I have all the answers or THE way to help.  My friends and I all did some researcch and found a few outlets.  We are certainly not the only ones interested in helping and there are channels that already exist, especially on the UK side.

So if you are interested in donating goods or money, the Secours Catholique, a Catholic charity, seems to be a reputable one.  They are focusing a lot on the Calais migrant camp since this is close to our area in France.  Otherwise the Red Cross/Red Crescent is, in my opinion, a good place to donate as well.  Doctors without Borders seems to be doing a lot for refugees on site in Europe as well.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...(frivolity and food)

Work has been picking up a little, which sometimes means grabbing lunch in between companies or eating in my car.  I took advantage of a two-hour break between classes and companies to eat at McDonald's.  It's always an event for me, being American and all.  I feel special going there.  And in France they have free wifi, so I can surf for free on my iPad.

So on a rainy Thursday when I was feeling a little glum, a trip to Micky Dee's (does anyone else still call it that?) cozied me up.  I ordered their Tex Mex burger (not so spicy) and a caramel frappé (basically a milkshake) and sat down.  At this particular restaurant off the highway, there were a lot of business men and women grabbing a bite.  I found it funny to watch the smartly-dressed folks sit alone and, what else, surf on their phones, as they munched fries.  One business man saw an old acquaintance so they sat together to break the solitude.

I ate and texted or checked my Facebook feed or, gasp, took a look at my lesson for the afternoon.  I do actually sometimes work.  One of my texts concerned something I was afraid I'd overlooked in a file so I checked with my colleague who seemed to have overlooked it as well.  I resisted temptation to text other colleagues for reassurance.  Do you ever feel you are in perpetual conversation with all this texting?

As I was still feeling chilled from having gotten a bit wet walking from my car, I ordered a coffee. When I asked for milk, the cashier told me in that case I would need the double latté, ten centimes more.  So I dug deeper into my coin purse for the extra ten cents.  But in the end she forgot and still gave me a regular non-milk coffee.  So I went back up and asked and she corrected the mistake.  "There's no milk, in this?" I asked, questioningly, not accusingly.  But in France, we are somewhat excused from being overly polite in customer service situations.  How liberating ;) I did make sure to say, "Merci, madame."  And I went back to warm myself (and burn my tongue) with my latté and think about my afternoon.

Notice how the French Mc Donald's logo is green with a yellow M?  In Europe they have changed the colors from the additional red and yellow and, in France at least, are increasing their market share while the US Mc Donald's are struggling a little.  Some in France even have a Strabucks-like display case, as this article points out.

They sometimes come out with some strange offerings though, like the shiny bacon they recently advertised.  It is good that they include more fruits with the kids' menus, but Juliette was not wowed by the kiwi on a stick and finds their apples have a strange taste from the vitamin C preservatives.  As for me, my little McDo ("mack doe" as the French shorten it) trip was satisfying and had warmed me inside and out.  I left, ready to tackle the rest of my day.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Life without borders

The other weekend we went to the beach.  We dug our toes in the sand, walked on the temporary sandbars at sunset and ate crepes topped with sugar.  It was lovely.  I didn't think so much about the masses of people in Hungary in refugee camps or their plight.  Every now and then my mind would stray to the topic, but it seemed so distant, both in miles and mentally-speaking.

We came back Sunday evening, rested and sun-kissed and started our weeks back at work and school.  Still the news spoke of all the migrants.  They were protesting in the station in Budapest, trying to get out of that country to continue on their journey to Germany or Austria or beyond.  Juliette asked why they were upset.  Because their countries are at war or they are very poor and they want to live here, I explained.

Wednesday, in my little world, we realized we couldn't find Juliette's raincoat.  I looked around almost frantically for it, thinking we must have lost it on the way home from school the day before.  I was sad to think it was somewhere outside, maybe being worn by another child.  But I figured maybe that child needed it more. And I realized in the back of my mind, that grieving over a raincoat was a little silly. 

Then as I sat scrolling Facebook on the couch that evening I saw that picture.  The one that moved so many, dare I say moved the world.  The one of a toddler washed up on the shore, drowned when his boat didn't make it across the sea.  And like so many others I looked at that picture and imagined my own child being put in such a perilous situation as crossing the sea, fleeing a war-torn country.  And like others, I signed an online petition and said a prayer for that family who had lost two children and the mother in this tragedy.  This was a real reason to grieve.

But still my daily life continued.  One of getting up and forcing my eyes to open at 6:30 or some other ungodly (in my opinion) hour.  Of making my little Senseo coffee with milk and sugar and checking my emails.  Of hugging my daughter, doing her braids and seeing her off to school.  And not worrying about bombs falling on us.  And like so many others, I felt guilty at how plentiful my life is compared to some.

And then I saw how some German people were waiting at the station for the refugees who arrived there, a child giving the refugee children his old toys.  And I heard that some British families were saying they would accept refugees in their homes.  And I thought, why aren't we hearing this in France?  Is my adopted country not compassionate?  But would I open up my apartment to a refugee?  Too many questions that go unanswered. That we don't know how to answer.

Now France is talking about which cities might welcome refugees.  I still don't know that I could do anything.  Offer my services as an interpreter at the town hall if needed?  Donate clothes, toys, money?  Pray for a happy end for all these unhappy situations? Sometimes I am too timid/lazy/self-absorbed to take the first steps. 

I am not a highly religious person, but I do remember a story from my Catholic schooling that has stuck with me through the years.  One of Jesus saying, if you deny the person who is hungry or begging, you are denying me (Biblical scholars, feel free to correct me ;).

There was no talk of borders or nationalities in this story.  Humanity shouldn't stop at national lines.  But are we brave enough to imagine a life without borders?  Some people on this planet are doing just that, opening hearts and homes to strangers.  Will we find it in our hearts to do the same?