The French vacation schedule continued in what, to an American sensibility, feels decadent and even a little overwhelming. But since we are in the midst of such an unusual year, we were grateful for another two weeks to coordinate some adventures in other parts of France.
CHADENAC: Our February vacation started with a trip to the little country town of Chadenac about an hour outside of Bordeaux. There, our friends Sharon and Christophe from Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley have bought a farm and are in the process of crafting a new rural life in France. There kids, Walter and Margot, attend local schools in the area but had plenty of time to play with Jack and Daphne, too. While they were in school, Sharon, took us to a wonderful Neanderthal museum whose interactive exhibits—javelin throwing, digitally rendering the children into Neanderthal tykes, and more—were incredibly fun for all. Sharon and Christophe were amazing hosts at home and in giving us tours of both farmland and other medieval towns in their area. We were so impressed by how much they have changed the rhythms of their life; Sharon can talk with local neighbors about what they will be planting next, and Christophe works with his neighbor on the upkeep of their party, pruning and harvesting himself as well. Continue reading
In January, Marianne Weems visited us in Paris so that she and Shannon could work on a book they are writing together on Marianne’s theater company, The Builders Association. Then the whole family went with Marianne to Liège, Belgium so that we could see their latest show, Continuous City, in Liège’s international performance festival. The show was fabulous, spectacular and poignant–very well-received by Liège audiences and Jack and Daphne who sat in the first row. While there for the weekend, we had a fun time with the Builders’ cast, especially Moe (also a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers) who played intensely with Jack and his Gormiti. The kids also enjoyed getting to know the Tchantchès, an historic trickster figure who has a variety of madcap experiences helping Charlemagne and drinking excessively. The Wallon Museum in Liège offered a vivid presentation of this Francophone political movement within Belgium; we actually had no idea how little we knew about Belgium’s internal politics. Jack and Daphne each got to a buy a new stuffy/doo-doo in Liège. Jack decided to name his new little stuffed monkey “Moe.”
Daphné et Josephine
Daphne’s 6th birthday was February 7, and we had quite a super-fun time. She decided she wanted a “Hello Kitty” theme and chose all of your decorations and party favors accordingly. Monsieur Pinaud of our local boulangerie made a super huge gateau chocolat–with praliné, meringue, mousse au chocolat, and a bunch of other yummy things layered throughout. He also took great care in fabricating a perfect Hello Kitty figure from “pate amandes;” Daphne spared no time in eating the entire little sculpture. A dozen children from Montessori Kids came over, including several older girls from Jack’s class who have been very kind to Daphne from the beginning. Michael trotted out his traveling magic show, which never feels to impress (even Shannon who has seen it repeatedly). Daphne received many wonderful presents from her friends along with lots of hugs and kisses.
Hello Kitty Cake
More pictures from Daphné’s birthday on Flickr.
After two weeks with my parents over the Toussaint holiday and three weeks with Michael’s parents that included Thanksgiving, we braced ourselves for being without family and long-time friends for Christmas. Montessori Kids started us off well with a lovely holiday fête, including an array of delicious food and a chorale of children singing holiday songs. After a solstice birthday where Jack got to have the food (steak) and movie (Madagascar 2) of his choice, we organized outings and playdates during the Christmas week. We also had a few lovely shopping excursions at the very civilized Bon Marché where we bought presents for American family members. Jack and Daphne wrote to Père Noel in French, asking for Gormiti and Ecole des Gourmets respectively. Instead of buying new stockings, I gave them each a “kitty-themed” hanging pouch that could double later as toy storage (which we desperately need). For Christmas Eve dinner, we had a wonderful goose and an array of new macarons (flavor: buerre salé, hmmm) cooked by Michael and Daphne. When I casually noted that this was the first that the kids had ever had goose, Jack protested, “No, Mommy. We’ve had goose from our traiteur at school,” reminding us that, while the parents nibble on leftovers at home, the kids are having long multi-course French lunches that include all varieties of meat, fish, and fowl.
Because Jack’s winter solstice birthday is so close to Christmas, we have been moving the major celebration to his half birthday (on June 21). This year we abandoned the practice to make sure he had a party with his new friends here. One of his closest school friends is Naim, a hilarious little guy who began writing notes to Jack in school, saying things like “je voudrais t’inviter chez moi” and “tu es super-cool,” drawing little American flags on his stationery. It turns out that Naim also has a winter vacation birthday, so his mother Rachel and I decided to join forces on a shared birthday party. The boys decided on a Gormiti theme, the latest fantasy figure collection to capture the juvenile imagination and the parental pocketbook. This Italian-conceived, Chinese-made extravaganza seems to have caught on in Europe before reaching the United States, so I guess we can pretend that the Gormiti addiction is a sign of Jack’s internationalization.
Naim’s mother Rachel is an artist and made a fabulous invitation as well as Gormiti T-shirts for the two proud boys. She and I also decided to go for a very adult-friendly cake selection; in fact, I have no idea where to find a mediocre kid-cake here. We ended up with around 17 children crowding into our fifth floor walk-up. Yes, it was pretty wild. The kids moved from room to room in swarms, taking over Jack’s room, then ours, then Daphne’s with escalating intensity. Michael came to the rescue with a brief magic show that calmed everyone down very successfully. For a brief moment, all you could hear was Michael’s tranquil magician’s patter and Jack’s incredibly masterful translation of his dad’s monologue. After candles, cake, and an overwhelming number of presents, the swarms began again, but all parents decided to detach over a few bottles of champagne. In truth, we were pretty pleased to have so much happiness in the apartment and to see our little guy so thrilled.
Being in Paris has been a reminder of how great it is to be in a very active theatre town, or perhaps I should say performance town. “Theatre town” is probably too limited a term, perhaps too American a term, for capturing the sense of enthusiasm and experimentation that someone like me feels upon encountering an artworld with public resources. In France, an ethic of support has propelled l’exception culturelle française, a domain of public financial support that has kept French cultural life (along with baguettes, fromage, and wine) relatively accessible and relatively innovative. Compared to the United States (where corn is the closest thing we have to a subsidized national product, though banks and automobiles periodically join that list), the artistic variety seems absolutely incredible.
This is a lovely theatre that seems to have both an international face and neighborhood identity at once. Located in the 20th (i.e. to the ‘l’est”), it has the unfortunately unusual distinction of having a woman as its artistic director. Catherine Franc oversees a theatre whose self-presentation is inviting and innovative, not afraid to use words like “rêve” and “chaleur” to welcome its patrons to various spectacles, entretiens, and colloques. She directs herself, welcomes high profile directors and playwrights, and also mixes it up with a variety of cool pieces for different age groups. Recently our family took advantage of the “Samedi en Famille” program, one where we all got to see a new Mike Kenny piece for children called La Nuit Electrique –great acting, parable-like story, a tad scary for Jack who can’t stop worrying whenever theatre lights dim. After that, a troupe of Theatre de l’Est actors swooped up our kids from the lobby to an upstairs rehearsal room where they were served dinner and treated to an “atelier” of theatre games. While children dined and played, parents got to do there own dining and playing. Michael and I ran out to a local brasserie for a drink and snack and then returned to see a grown-up theatre production of St. Elvis, a piece originally conceived in the nineties to explore the obsessions, fantasies, and fetishes of Elvis as well as the world’s obsession with him. We had a great evening and felt inspired by Franc’s interest in creating the conditions that allow the parents of young children to attend the theatre while simultaneously cultivating a new little generation of theatre spectators.