It’s been a rather hectic week for this family. Monday, we raced around to get ready for our evening flight to Brussels. We gave ourselves four hours to get to the airport, return the car, etc. It all went pretty smoothly really. No navigational errors, no problems with the car. Great, until we are in the air and realize that Matthew’s wallet is not. After almost a full day of calls and emails from Belgium, we are assured that it will wait for him in Toulouse until his Friday morning flight to Chicago. Whew!
We stayed with Matthew’s cousin, Victoria and her husband Cedric and their three children. Well, sort of. Actually, we stayed across the street in Cedric’s ancestral home with photos of his parents hobnobbing with kings and queens and presidents and billionaires everywhere. And can I just tell you a little about the chickens? The chickens! Freakin’ everywhere there were representations of chickens! On either side of the door, two big, metal roosters greet you. When you walk in, they are on the walls, the tables, in the form of utensils and on plates. They are on the fabrics, on shelves. I’ve never seen anything like it, particularly in the home of such elegant, wealthy people. They also had these terrariums filled with birds made with real feathers. I actually felt a hint of avarice for those. They were beautiful in a slightly morbid way.
Larken loved her 6 year old cousin, Alienor, and we had a wonderful time talking with Cedric and Victoria. Matthew went into the cellar to choose a wine for dinner and couldn’t find a bad bottle. The one he did choose was pretty spectacular and served with a simple dinner of potatoes, green beans and stewed beef.
Wednesday morning, we packed up our little world in a flurry as there was to be a gathering of journalists at the house we occupied. Cedric’s father had published his memoir and would be sharing some of the extraordinary documentation behind it. His office was filled with ledgers several hundred years old, photos as old as photography itself, various letters from important people and piles of other things we could only guess at. We had no desire to be in the melee, so we hopped into our little, borrowed Renault and headed south for a very, very long days drive home.
We made it around Paris before rush hour and with only one moment of panic. I was navigating and terrified I’d drop us into one of the infamous banlieus, but we managed to stay on track. In the evening, we stopped for petrol and reluctantly faced the fact that we’d have to forage for food at a roadside station. We should not have worried. We found lovely sandwiches with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, meats and, of course, perfect bread. I love France! The only downside to the glorious bread that I’ve discovered, aside from what it is probably going to do to my butt in the coming months, is that all that crunchy crust makes for a seriously messy car on a roadtrip! We passed through several incredible villages on our way home that we will revisit when there is more time. So much to explore around here!
On Thursday, Matthew and I each managed a bike ride in addition to work and preparing for M’s Chicago trip. You can see what the area is like, just loads of old farms and bridges with pasture and forest surrounding. I rode into Najac to see the village and photograph the 14th century church there. I couldn’t get in, but the exterior was lovely. Matthew did a longer ride and discovered this beautiful, lantern plant, bringing one home for Larken. She was intent on tearing it up, so I took a picture just to show you.
Friday morning we dropped Matthew for the early trainout of Najac. It was a bit hard to leave him at the station, boarding the train. Lark and I are on our own for a few days and I have to admit that I’m using the electronic babysitter a bit as the weather has turned cold, rainy and windy which is fun for about 20 minutes before we run back in to get warm.
I am a little amazed at how challenging basic money stuff is here. Sometimes my US credit card works at the grocery, sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday as I was trying to get out of the store with my fussy toddler, the cards decided to malfunction. I ran home quickly in dumping rain to get the newly minted checks from our French account only to discover that only Matthew’s name is on the checks! Apparently one needs a penis to write a check in France. I had to go back, choose several items to remove from my bag and then hand over the last of my euros. After lunch today, a mandatory 2-3 hour closing of everything in the country, I’ll see if I need a penis to get cash from the bank. We have to apply for and pay extra for a debit card here and have not yet figured it all out. Just a very different deal from home, but part of the fun is the hard stuff.