Time is flying by! Can’t believe it’s October already and we leave at the end of the month. Speaking of time, we’ve adjusted quite nicely to the rhythm of the days here. Everyone is pretty quiet until about 8:00 AM (in Williams Bay, the garbage men would be making a lot of noise at 5:30 AM and contractors started up their machines way before 6:30!). Even the church bells, which chime the hour, don’t start before 8. Lots of shops close for a long lunch from 12:30 to about 2 or 3, and then dinner is late. Restaurants don’t even open until 7:30 PM, and people eat about 8 or 9.
Wanted to add something from my last Post. I was talking about how everything is so small and compact here: space is a premium. They tuck bathrooms and toilets in the oddest places: in corners, and anywhere they can find a few square feet. We went to the movies, and the bathroom was INSIDE one of the theaters itself (yes, where they seats and screen were!). You had to walk behind the last row of seats to get to the “toilette”. Once inside, to use the toilet, it was so compact that when I was done and had to leave the toilet space itself, the door came right against the toilet when you opened it inward, so I had to climb over the toilet to get out, as the door was blocking the way!! Well, the exception to the space/everything smaller focus was the Carrefour store I was talking about in the last Post. Granted, it’s out in the suburbs, but I have since learned it is the second largest retailer in the world (and the largest in Europe), is French based, and has 10,000 stores in 33 countries. Didn’t know we were visiting a store with such a large presence. Since they are not in North America, did not know about them. Instead of a “superstore”, they call their stores “hyperstores”.
Think I’ve talked about how young everyone seems to be here. At least where we are, not that many older people out and about. A lot of babies being pushed around, and I’d say about 95% of them have a pacifier in their mouths….interesting.
So, the thing that was lacking in our lives here, friends and a social life, has come out in full bloom. We have been invited to people’s country houses, to lunch or dinner, to hang out. The InterNation group that we went to has a Language Exchange every Wed. We went and saw some of the new friends we had met the week before. I even found a couple of people to start a Cooking Club with! It just makes the experience here complete. I feel a little overwhelmed as there all of a sudden seems to be so much to do with so little time left. A nice problem to have. I feel very comfortable here and happy. We really have a life now. Sad that we have to leave just as we were getting started. People seem to want to “learn” from us (and practice their English). There does not seem to be that many Americans around and all nationalities, including us, seem very interested and intrigued in finding out about each other’s customs, how you say things, connecting.
Went to the Museum of History of Resistance and Deportation. Montpellier was another center of the resistance. The museum was in kind of an obscure place in the outer edges of Montpellier. We were the only ones there and the receptionist unlocked the door and turned on the lights for us, even though it was “open”. The Holocaust was horrific any way you look at it, but I’m finding that when you are in the places where things “happened”, it makes it hit home even more. The museum wasn’t the greatest and was all in French, although we were given little tape recorders that had explanations in English. As we left the museum, I tried to take a picture of the building in which it was housed. I was across the street from it, and was trying to take the picture without cars driving on the street blocking my view. One driver saw what I was doing, and stopped the line of traffic until I could take the picture! How nice was that!!
One thing that was presented in the museum was a section about where the Jewish children were housed before they were discovered and sent to one of the concentration camps and exterminated. The address they gave was half a block away from our apartment!!!
Very freaky. When we went home, we went and found it. We walk by it daily and never give it a thought. It now houses some “Seniors”….having trouble thinking about its history and horror so close to us.
It just makes it more real when you are standing on the same ground as where these actual events occurred.
Both Ken and I needed haircuts, badly. So we did some research while out and about and found a place in the mall where the Carrefour was located. They had reduced rates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Despite no one really being able to communicate very well, we got the job done. It feels great to get “cleaned up”! Interesting, my stylist used no “products” at all, unlike the mousse, “shine”, spray, etc. etc. that my gal, Katie at Clearwater, uses at home. It still came out pretty well. As my son, who spent two years in Bangkok Thailand says, “In a foreign country, even simple tasks are fun and interesting!”. One of my new friends, a manicurist, even picked me up, brought me to her house, and gave me a manicure. Procedure was exactly the same as home. We had a lovely morning comparing cultures and languages while I got my nails maintained.
I felt pretty good Thursday night, as we were invited out to drinks/listening to a band by some friends, and I had to say that we were already busy! We had our first Cooking Club that night. Lots of fun and even though we started at 7, didn’t get home (a 10 minute walk) until 1! Lots of discussion around the table. Edamame hummus and green gazpacho were on the menu (from my Lake Geneva Cooking Club) to start off. Real challenge to find edamame, tahini, SEEDLESS green grapes and dill weed!….part of the fun! Of course there were also wonderful cheeses from the area, French bread and fruit salad with a homemade Crème Anglais (with fresh vanilla beans from Madagascar), at the end. A very different venue for “Cooking Club” than I am used to!
Last Sunday, one of our friends had told us about a rare treat: a Mikve, a Jewish ritual bath from the 12th century (and about a 5 minute walk from our apt.), was going to be open to the public (this does not happen often), and for free. We went and of course, it was all in French. I talked to the Director, Michael, and he graciously offered to have us come back this week to give us a private tour in English, again, no charge. Very nice of him! We came back when he wanted to meet and had our private tour. Very interesting. Actual columns and benches that were a thousand years old. Michael explained that this wonderful architectural find is of great pride to the city. There is evidence that the Jews were in Montpellier very early on (it was founded in 985 A.D.), and made up 10% of the population (1000 out of 10,000). In those days, there was a good acceptance between the Catholics and the Jews. Since those days, Michael explained, there has been much persecution and evictions of the Jews, of course. Currently, there are only 6-7000 in a city of 250,000. The Institute currently housed at this site of the Mikve focuses on working against anti-Semitism, mainly by Islamic fanatics. Awe inspiring to walk the same steps, be sheltered by the same walls, that Jewish women (men used the bath, too, occasionally, but at different times, of course) did 1000 years ago and know that these were one of the few in the world that survived and were preserved.
After our tour, we met some friends at an English Book Store. Another language exchange, and we ran into some other friends that we had met last week. This book store was on an interesting street, called, translated: “Street of the Iron Arm”.
Know I’m going on and on about our social life, friends, etc., but this is very important to me. It makes me feel like we are living here, not just visiting/being a tourist. This was our goal: to see if we could have a life here for a year or two. With being so embraced by people, the strong answer is: “Yes!”. I guess a turning point for me was yesterday when another new friend invited us to her home to play a French card game, Barbu. We were talking about how we could get there; what tram stop serviced our locations. She asked me where I was at to see which tram line to take. I said, “We live by the Observatoire”. It struck me like a ton of bricks: I had not said, “We’re staying by the Observatoire”, but “We live…”. Two very different choices of words.
Lots of plans, activities coming up, which I will include in my next Post. Some of my French friends who follow my blog told me it was incorrect to use “Avec Amour” (which literally translated means “With Love”), but I could say “Bises”, which is “Kisses”, instead, or sign off by using “Amities”, which is more than “Best Regards” but can’t really be translated into English. I learn so much every day.