‘The end of labour is to gain leisure.’ Aristotle
How many gendarmeries per square mile in the south of France? I wonder how these little creatures got their name, and laughed to myself at the comparison. It is nice to have a few moments to contemplate life after such a busy summer.
I started the long overdue task of weeding the garden for only the second time in a month. The little weeds grow between the cracks of the outdoor tile under my clothes line. The small orange bugs infiltrate the entire west garden. I dig a little more. And more appear. Good thing I am not too squeamish.
The garden is overloaded with unidentifiable plants and growths. Nothing is ever really lost they say, and plants are a good example of that theory. From years ago plants seem to find new life, and inch their way through the soil to make an appearance. I hacked the bushes back and left huge piles of weeds, rotting trunks and dead headed flowers.
In our house, gardening tasks divides as follows. I cut down the garden rubbish, usually in an energetic rage and Alfonz bags it up for the trash in the green recycle bags. It is the perfect marriage, although others would disagree. A symbiotic arrangement, like the feeder fish on the sharks back, we intertwine our daily chores, and somehow miraculously get them done. Occasional, like in most good marriages, we find ourselves completely foreign to one another, and have it out but normally there is a sweet synergy at play.
I feel the muscles of my body aching after a long swim at the beach, something I swore I would do each night in our pool after the students go to bed, throughout the summer months, but instead I found myself falling in to my own bed from exhausting. After twelve non-stop weeks of endless; wake-up, make coffee (prerequisite), make breakfast, prepare lessons, give 2-3 hours of lessons, prepare lunch, serve lunch, cleanup, go on 2-3 hour outings, return home, prepare the next meal, give another little lesson, help with homework, serve dinner, cleanup, set-up evening activity, shower (on a good day) and finally go to bed; I think exhaustion would set in for most normal humans. Not just, oh I am tired let me get myself to bed, but a deep fatigue that enters into your bones, it almost has its own pulse, a creature living inside that needs hibernation. If I closed my eyes for just a second I could fall asleep standing up, and I found myself finding creative ways to sit for a few moments longer at different intervals throughout the day for a wee rest.
I listen attentively to the sounds of our house. One room, I hear Angelina making up a song called, Spazmataz and every time she figures out the lyrics, she starts to laugh at her own silliness and has to start all over again. I peek in her room, and find her playing with her Barbies. Since the summer began this is the first time she had the chance to be alone.
Our schedule didn’t leave much room for leisure days of nothing, instead we ran from one exciting activity to the next. They didn’t complain, who would when the choices are; horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, lasergame, beach, lake, river days, picnics, bowling, Minerve, Carcassonne Castle, Oppidum, Malpas, Narbonne, Beziers, Capestang tower… etc…. however, our family is evidently a group of homebodies, with the exception to Alfonz, who would rather be riding his motorbike at 100 miles per hour towards the unknown. The rest of us find sweet comfort in routine, and our private spaces where our imagination unfolds. Angelina in her Barbie world, Daniel in his Lego world and I prefer the deep depths of the corners of my brain where I already spend far too much time inside my vivid imagination where I cocoon every chance I get. I hear Daniel humming in his room, a different tune from Angelina’s, but it is the sound of happy Daniel, my content boy with no troubles in the world. Bliss.
Our home is their soft place to fall, where they rest, where they have no pressure to be anything but exactly who they are. It gives a feeling of contentment knowing that Alfonz and I provide this for them.
I made a giant vat of butternut squash and leek soup. I couldn’t resist the first squash at the supermarket; all round and smooth. I am sure it was shipped in from some crazy-ass country with no regulations, and loaded full of pesticides, but it is a risk I am willing to take after 12 weeks of meat with meat two times a day, fueling the adolescence and ourselves trying to keep up! To taste the sweet creamy yum of a pureed soup with a little crème fraiche, was enough to make my day. Simple and good.
I rode my bike up to the square where Alfonz decided to lunch with a new acquaintance and I joined them for the coffee part of their three-course meal. Caveau de la Place is the best deal for lunch around 9€ for the plate, and 13.90€ for the three course with wine!
We then followed him and his brother home to take a gander at his seven-year architectural project here in Capestang, where an old ruin with exposed stonewalls meets an ultra modern, streamlined minimalist.
The contradiction was complimentary. A mix of eclectic old features, pared with the modern vision of an artist. Open plans, windowed walls from floor to ceiling, high-tech Japanese style Jacuzzi flush with the floor, koi pond with lily pads who eat the mosquitoes, imaginative outdoor exterior wall metal coverings, flowering vines for a splash of colour, and the views that carry across the connected terracotta roof tops towards the vine-covered countryside in the distance; a classic vision only missing the stereotypical mangy French cat at the peak. A giant fig tree hangs over the fence from the neighbours yard, adding shade and privacy, which softens the edges enough for even my worn-in style.
This is the vision. Right now it is only a shell with three open floors with the sound of a man chipping steadily away at the concrete between the stone in that makes up the connecting wall. I can smell the varnish on the old restored shutters for the exterior of the windows that meet the small street outside. The three-story village house will be rented for a pretty penny, this I am certain, to people looking for the Sud de France experience, but don’t want to leave the lap of luxury.
What is more important functionality or the look of a rental house? I say somewhere in the middle. The only thing missing in my never-humble opinion is a clear glass shower with a bench for the top floor and a little Lou so the visitors don’t have to descend two floors to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Our visit made for a nice break and inspired me to visit my dream home on my bike ride home.
It is a ruin by Canadian standards. A three story grand maison only connected on one side by the garage to the neighbour’s garage, probably the best-case scenario. It has the typical French style of the late 18th century, with three windows on the top floor, two on the second with a little terrace in the middle and two windows on the bottom floor next to the entrance. The garage is on the far side of the house, and goes all the way to the back of the yard, which is accessible by a large garden gate. The yard is bigger than mine now, big enough for a nice sized in ground pool and a garden full of flowers and herbs. I decided to finally take down the number to make an appointment to see the inside. We shall see, maybe my ambition will get the best of me… why can I not stay content? Instead I always search for a new project.
Daniel and Angelina are ready for their first day at school. Big step for my 10 year old boy, who’s not the most studious child, at least not in the traditional sense. He is preparing for his junior school year by finishing his summer homework and us buying the last few items for his school bag. Gone are the days of one teacher for the entire day, and hello to the changing classrooms and hauling your books from one place to the next. Where remembering the day, the time and the rotating schedule is just as important as the grade on your test.
I predict smelly lockers with half eaten sandwiches in his future, and piles of unknown papers looking for a book to live in. Such is first year; a controlled environment for the child’s first taste of independence. He either sinks or swims. He must learn the ropes, find a way to stay organized and understand the system completely to do so. Here we have no advice to give our growing boy as neither of us went through the French school system. There is no room for error, and it is no wonder with pressures like this that the children already have dark circles around their eyes from not sleeping through the night the day before school. Immense amounts of stress is placed on these kids, in theory, it will push the children to do better. I reality it breaks a child’s natural desire for learning. They can lose that love to learn and have a bad taste left in their mouth for the rest of their life when it comes to school and the system that is suppose to teach them. I prefer letting the child lead, developing them through praise and positive reinforcement, and to respect the child’s natural curiosities. Every child is different. And the assembly line mentality to education in France is enough to make my head spin. There are many better ways to teach children. C’est la vie, education is free, so most don’t complain or question the system.
Angelina is only concerned about her hair and whom she will sit next to this year. She has no idea that CE1 is the beginning of massive amounts of homework and the pressure for her to achieve. When Daniel was in her grade CE1, we had a very hard time doing much else other than homework, as his evenings were full of study. There were tears, many fights and sleepless nights. The good news is that I already know what to expect for the course work, as the teachers have to cover the same curriculum. That makes us one step ahead of two years ago. Add in Daniel’s new world, and the anxiety that comes with it, this will be an interesting year. With some luck, Daniel will love his new school and the responsibility will force him to step up and mature. It is his chance for the independence he craves. Here is to a new school year.
We are booked full for October break, two weeks with 9 children coming for English lessons. Some kids are returning for more of the same and others are brand new to the program. I still have to find 10 new lesson plans for Toussaint to make sure the children have a variety of grammar, vocabulary and lessons. I will get started on this today. Note to self… but this chair is so comfortable.
Le Petit Platane, our B&B and apartment rental is booking up nicely for the fall. September and October will be busy for me, while Alfonz is very busy for tours and shuttles. Thank goodness for that! There is nothing worse than an abrupt ending to a season, leaving us wondering, what the heck happened? Is it over? Is it over for everyone or just us?
You may remember that Alfonz bought me a car for my new line of work. Having six teenagers plus my two in my house for 28 weeks a year makes it really hard to share our Mercedes Viano van.
The Opal was purchased in June, just in time for our first students during the first week of twelve. Alfonz noticed a light on in the car and took it to the dealer to see if they can find out what it means and found out that the people we purchased it from had accidentally broken the spark plug into the engine and sealed it up and quickly sold it. And for a pretty penny too! 6000€ is what we are in to if for after purchasing new tires. Imagine my surprise when the mechanic came back with a 2000€ estimate for the work.
We then went back to the owners who said, ‘Too bad it is past eight week since purchase.’ Actually it was thankfully only seven weeks since purchase! (Funny how he knew the rule, most people don’t.) So since then the car is stuck at Opal, waiting for the Juridica to arrange a meeting between both parties to find out who has to pay. Well, Alfonz couldn’t work all summer, as I needed the 9-passenger car for EFS outings. We estimate that he lost 12,000€ of work and we could sue and have our lawyer paid for by the insurance company. But here is the clincher; it could take 12-18 months before we see any money, and I still need a car for my business.
The headache, the stress, the language barrier, the crap that goes along with such a large conflict, makes me wonder, ‘Is it really worth it?’ It makes me angry that a person can look at us, and figure that we must be rich just because we are foreigners, and shamelessly sell us a broken vehicle in hopes that we don’t know the laws or the language well enough for them to get caught. We could get as much as three times our vehicle purchase, but then I will have to look at myself in the face everyday, knowing that these people probably cannot afford it. I have to believe that desperate people to desperate things. Still after being screwed over, my compassion is slowly fading.
Are we in the minority, the good ones left? I still believe that most people are good and most are honest. Whenever something like happens to anyone I know, I am always extremely shocked. Am I that naive? I have this shiny happy people attitude, and honestly believe that everyone is like me and could never intentionally hurt a soul. (Well maybe I could hurt a bad person in self-defense or if my kids were involved, then I could rip someone’s face off. I am a mamma bear after all).
On a very exciting and happy note, my Hungarian peppers are growing nicely in the southern French sun. Four plants died due to the neighbours pesky cat, who urinated on them when they were small. But the remaining six plants will be enough to make a batch of Lecsó pronounced Letcho. It is a stew with peppers, tomatoes, onions and paprika and sometimes dried sausage or eggs served with fresh crusty bread.
It has been a long time since I had anything to say. After a few days of rest, I should be back to my normal levels of writing, 1000 words a day. I am 72 days behind! I should be caught up by Christmas, just in time to take our holidays in Budapest Hungary.
And that wraps up our long overdue post on what the Hamori family did this summer.