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November 18, 2001
Four months (Russell)

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Home, sweet home

Welcome to our 75th letter from abroad!  (We can't believe it either -- Gail thought we had written about 40 so far until we counted them.)

With our arrival in Europe, our entire way of life has changed.  Our Tanzanian tans have given way to 0°C weather that includes fog, rain, and snow.  Our shorts and sandals have been replaced by winter clothes that include heavy jackets, gloves, hats, scarves, sweats, and slippers.  It's amazing how rapidly the transitions have taken place... and how easily we have adapted.  Our safari already seems like a distant memory (except for the malaria pills that we still have to take for a few more weeks).  We now have a home (complete with yard) and a car that will be consistent for more than a few days.  We are driving, cooking, and doing laundry again.  One of the first things we did when we arrived was go out and buy some jigsaw puzzles to do together -- we have gained a new appreciation for having both the time and the space to indulge in such simple pleasures.  We have unpacked our bags!

We enjoy our daily morning ritual of opening up the heavy wooden shutters from the doors and windows to let in the sunshine, then closing and fastening them again every night before bed.  For the first time since they were infants, Cameron and Joss have their own separate bedrooms, and they are more comfortable with the separation than we thought they would be.  They are becoming more and more independent every day.

We have begun to make preliminary explorations of our new surroundings.  The village of Crest (pronounced "kray") is actually much larger than we had imagined beforehand.  There are four main stores (small combined supermarkets and department stores): Casino, Champion, Intermarché, and Aldi.  There is a street market twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays, where locals farmers come to sell their fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and other products.  We are trying to make the five-minute drive into town every day just to pick up the International Herald Tribune.

On our first trip into the village, we arrived at noon only to discover that everything completely shuts down between noon and mid-afternoon so that people can go home for lunch.  We finally found a small open café in which to hide from the cold and have hot chocolate, and Russell accidentally tried paying with Kenyan money.  The proprietor was so fascinated that we gave him the coin as a souvenir; and by the time we finished we had new friends: we helped some students with their English homework, and the proprietor made Gail an espresso on the house.

This entire area of the Rhône Valley -- called "La Drôme" after the river that runs through it -- contains a wealth of old castles and farms that date from the Middle Ages.  Crest itself is overlooked by a 13th-century tour (tower) that contains the highest keep in France (originally part of a castle, it was later used as a prison).  If we can ever budge from the warmth and ambience of the house, we hope to take some day trips through the caves, gorges, and scenery of the region.

We look at our situation and realize how extremely fortunate we have been.  If we had gone to Egypt and Turkey as originally planned, we would have arrived here in December with no preparations or reservations, and would probably have been unable to find any accommodations for the holidays.  Instead, we have been blessed with the generosity and hospitality of Bernard and Brigitte and their family, some of the nicest people we have ever met.  We have a home in which to pass the cold of the winter.  Thanks to Russell's sister back home, we have reserved a place in Paris for Christmas week (when the owner needs this house); and we hope to spend New Year's week with another friend in Bonn, Germany.

The "real world" still encroaches.  We are trying to keep a low profile here as Americans, but as the only non-French speakers in a region that doesn't speak English, we tend to stand out.  We still hope that some of our family members will be able to come and visit us here, but many of them are still too terrified to get on an airplane.  And with no access at all to a television, we depend heavily on our daily International Herald Tribune newspaper.

With the transition to Europe, we consider our trip half over, even though two-thirds of our year abroad still remain.  Fortunately, our transitions are getting easier all the time.  And even more fortunately, we are discovering that there is still an incredible amount of world out there left to discover.

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Crest (with la Tour in the background)


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