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Helping with dinner preparations
After years of Cameron and Joss attending French school, and Russell and Gail getting to know many of the parents, we had a general idea of how the French way of life differs from the American. Still, we experienced one of our most delightful spells of culture shock during the week that we spent as guests of our friends Bernard and Brigitte in their home near Geneva.
There are many things that we wish Americans would adopt from the French. We have already discussed roundabouts -- prevalent throughout Europe -- and how they make sense. French washing machines are far superior to American ones; the machine itself heats the water, so it is possible to vary the temperature of your laundry all the way up to boiling. Radiant heaters are much nicer than forced air heaters; not only is every room in the house the same temperature, but our feet always enjoy a nice toasty floor.
Bernard and Brigitte have done an enviable job in building a family and raising their children. There is a very strong sense of calmness, closeness, and family tradition. Everyone helps out, not only within the family but within the neighborhood. Conversely, Bernard and Brigitte's exposure to us included Joss suddenly leaving the dinner table without a word in the middle of the first course (he was found hiding in one of the bedrooms -- he said he was all done) and then returning to the table by slithering slowly across the floor.
We were not supposed to be houseguests for so long, but there was a glitch in our planned car lease. When we went to Geneva to pick up our planned Renault station wagon on November 10th, we discovered with horror that not only was it not there, but the office had absolutely no record of it. We had to wait until Monday the 12th until we could call the main office in Paris, who apologized and told us that the car would not be ready until Wednesday the 14th. (To be fair, we had made several long-distance changes to the arrangements, from the original December 8th pickup in Zurich to a November 12th pickup in Geneva. With the pickup date now changed to November 14th, we changed the location one more time... to Lyon.)
Bernard and Brigitte were absolutely gracious in patiently allowing us to camp with them for a few extra days. We took advantage of the local department stores, Carrefour and Migros. Our first purchase was some new Winter coats for the boys (to replace the ones that we had donated away in Australia). This was followed immediately by our second purchase -- some Winter clothes for Gail. Meanwhile, in another part of the store, Russell was ecstatic to discover several DVDs that are not available in the US (the multi-region DVD player we picked up in Hong Kong has come in very handy).
Bernard and Brigitte were also kind enough to let us go with them to mass at the local Catholic Church, where we saw firsthand how tightly knit the entire community is. We had the double handicap of not fully understanding either the language or the liturgy, but we enjoyed it all the same. And for our final dinner on November 13th, Brigitte prepared a wonderful French dish called raclette de pommes, which consists of melting a special cheese fondue-style, and eating it with ham and potatoes.
We finally left Geneva on November 14th and made our way south to Lyon, where we were scheduled to pick up the Renault car lease at the airport. We discovered that the car had been successfully delivered... but the paperwork hadn't. So the very nice woman at Renault took us (and our hoard of luggage) to nearby Hotel Campanile, where they fed us lunch and allowed us to wait in the lounge until the Renault courier arrived.
We finally received our Renault Mégane station wagon in the early afternoon, and were greatly relieved to discover that all of our luggage just barely fit (including a large cardboard box that had to be parked in between Cameron and Joss in the back seat). We had our transportation for the next several months, and now we headed further south towards our home for the next several months. (The first time that Russell got behind the wheel in two months, he pulled out of the parking lot and steered into the left-hand lane. Oops. Wrong country...)
The city of Valence lies a few hours south of Lyon in the Rhône Valley. A little further south of Valence is the smaller village of Crest. And just outside of Crest is a 400-year-old country home in which we will settle for much of the Winter. We stopped along the way at the Géant Casino department store in Valence for some supplies and groceries -- a task that ended up consuming several hours -- so we didn't arrive until almost nightfall. After figuring out how to make the heat work (it had reached 0º C during our drive down), we began the slow but rewarding task of making ourselves at home.
In the days to come, we hope to completely unpack our bags for the first time in four months. We do not plan to do any extensive traveling for awhile. Instead, we hope to meet our neighbors, get to know the village of Crest, and practice our French. The Winters are cold here compared with California; so the sooner we can settle in, the better.
Crest: another arrival... and another gorgeous sunset
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