life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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I want to save it (a short story from St. Lourbès)

Tu veux montrer l’oiseau à ton père? la mère a dit à son enfant.


You want to show your father the bird? the mother said to her child.


A small child led his father by the hand. They walked into the garage and toward a small cardboard box. The father picked up the box and brought it to three of us standing at the entrance. Gently, he unwrapped the puzzle pieces that kept the bird in the dark inside.


He has been there since the morning, the mother explained.


I peered inside to see a song thrush. The thrush are my favorite of the bird families. They are so delicate and unassuming. Their plumage is often quite simply. They are elusive and difficult to find. Yet their voices are the most beautiful flutelike notes you will hear in the bird world.


He has a broken wing, the father explained to the child.


We have to let him go.


He carefully lifted the bird out of the box and placed it onto the ground. It moved quickly away from us.


I felt an inexpressible pain and sense of mortality watching this small bird walk and hop away from us, periodically instinctively spreading its wings to fly, as if this time those bones and feathers may lift it into the air. Did it know that they never would? I felt a pang in my heart watching it and wondering. Our birding companion’s children wanted to save it.


Je veux le soigner, a tiny voice called out as the child was led back inside by his mother.


I want to save it.


I could feel my own heart in those words and that pleading voice.


Many times, I have tried to save birds. I kept a surly pigeon with a broken wing for years before a friend’s dog abruptly ended its life.


We stood and watched the delicate song thrush move into the grass, stop, look around, and carry on. The juxtaposition of the four of us standing there, knowing this bird would more than likely not survive, was almost too much to bear.

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My fingernails preferred France

IMG_7431My hair did not like France. The water was very hard, and my thick curls were in a constant tangle. I finally figured out that I could rip through it with my comb while it was dry just before taking a shower, which minimized the frustration. Prior to that, however, I would basically threaten to cut it all off several times each day, much to the chagrin of my husband.


Don’t worry, I would tell him. I will make you a wig with my hair, and YOU can wear it if you love it so much!


He would just roll his eyes at me. Apparently, my threats were not as intimidating as I would have liked.


My fingernails adored France! In the united states, I have spent many years with my hands close to my face. Any slight anxiety or fear, a need for control in an otherwise unpredictable existence, it never took much to keep the habit going. I have always wanted to stop and periodically have had temporary success in doing so. I tried bad tasting nail police, gloves, brightly colored nail polish, the list goes on and on.


My greatest triumphs over the obsession were during my travels in Africa and Russia. There is nothing like traveling to a foreign land to create new behavior patterns. I have long since given up attempting new habits with New Year’s resolutions, but I have had much success in ceasing from biting my nails and picking at my cuticles when traveling. It just takes one cold to realize I probably should not be putting my hands anywhere near my mouth. Plus, with the colder weather in France while traveling in December and January, my hands spent most of their time in pockets staying warm.


My husband has attempted to correct this behavior in two languages, often blended into one.


Ne pick pas, he will say, and Ne mange pas, when he sees me going at it.


I have appreciated his efforts, though I am afraid it hasn’t done much good. It is such an engrained habit that I often don’t even realize I am doing it.


Somehow, I was able to cease and desist with regard to my fingernails. Even with my cuticle clipper disappearing with my shoulder bag when our car was broken into in a remote location in Provence, I kept quite vigilant in keeping my hands far from my face. Just one look at them, and it would take all of my control not to want to try to fix them, even though time and experience has told me that there is no fixing when it comes to nails and cuticles. Any attention beyond that of a professional manicurist typically tends to make them worse.


IMG_7381But France was good for my fingernails! It was the return home that has been the real challenge. Without the distraction of foreign architecture, croissants, birds, and all the pleasures of travel in my beloved France, I find it incredibly difficult to avoid my hands. They are always around, and if I take even one look at the state of my cuticles, it is next to impossible to keep myself from trying to fix them.


Just one little nibble and that’s it, I can hear a voice coax from within.


No! That’s how it starts, I plea.


Oh, come on. You have done so well. Why not reward yourself with a bite?


I tell my husband how much easier it was in France to outwit this habit.


Hm, he responds. I think it’s easy in Paris to have your attention focused outward, on all the exciting things around you. We were also constantly doing things. It’s that old phrase about it being easier to be human doings than human beings (I really don’t know if that is a phrase, but I’ve heard something like it before). However, back at home there is downtime. The external distractions are lessened and we find ourselves back with our selves. Without distractions, habits (like nail biting) are easy to slip into. We can use this as a flag in our meditation…whenever we fall into some habit that we wish to stop, we can use that as a flag to stop and be…and be okay with just being.


I know he is right. He is a wise one and has been my guide and guru for some time. Yet for just once, it would be nice to have it easy in this realm, but I will take all of the beauty and love that does seem to come so easily in exchange for the concerted effort and work in others.


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The whole galette


For our honeymoon, my husband and I spent three weeks in France. We are true Francophiles and love everything French (well, maybe not everything but certainly most things).

For my first marriage, I had wanted to go to Paris on honeymoon, but my husband, a far crazier birder than me, wanted so desperately to go birding in Costa Rica that I just couldn’t say no. Being an enabler by training, I acquiesced, and we spent between 2-3 weeks getting up at 5am with the sunrise and birding until 5pm with the sunset. We experienced one attempted car break in, one flat tire, and saw over half of the species found in Costa Rica, thanks to our bird guide and friend, Nito, who we had met at the national park where we worked in the summers. I called the trip, “Our honeymoon with Nito.” We even managed to spend a few fabulous days with two friends who had sold their home to travel the world for a year. With Nito and our two friends, we walked up a winding road that led to a ranch on the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

We parked our car at an obliging woman’s home at the base of the mountain.

It’s not far, Nito had told us before we began the ascent, and he repeated this phrase for several miles and hours before we arrived in the rain close to midnight.

Inside, we sat on chairs fashioned from the cows the ranchers kept on their property, and they told us about hunting the jaguars that hunted the cows.

The reason I share this story is not to demonstrate how much of a pushover I can be for the people I love. More so, I wish to illustrate the kind of experience I seek while traveling. I want to journey beyond the surface, which can be difficult as a tourist, especially if you do not speak the local tongue. However, the more experiential travel can come with challenging packaging. which leads me back to my second marriage and second honeymoon. They say the third time is the charm, but I am hoping this one sticks.

We planned to faire un tour of France, making a circle by rental car that would begin and end in Paris. The trip began relatively without consequence. Procuring the rental car seemed to take much longer for us than all of the other French people, who seemed to walk in and out of the Hertz store within minutes. But finally, we were on the road and doing our best to navigate with a lagging GPS to get out of Paris unscathed.


We made it to Bretagne and spent several days with friends from my time teaching English to elementary school students in Quimper ten years earlier. We journeyed south to Bordeaux, where the real fun began. While taking a shower, I slipped in the bathtub and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, my husband was nearby, grabbed my other arm to pull me up, and I was able to relocate (can one say this?) my shoulder. I say luckily as it was a Sunday, and the thought of trying to find a doctor was far from desirable. The cure for my first ailment? Drinking red wine and cognac from afternoon until night mixed with a little shopping.

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We continued our journey, spending a beautiful day birding with an ex-pat British fellow who had come to France as a young adult to learn the language and had fallen in love with a Parisian woman (who wouldn’t?). the day was reminiscent of my first honeymoon with Nito, as our guide was set on finding as many species as possible and seemed to have an unending supply of energy with which to accomplish this task. Our final species was a little owl/chouette cheveche, seated atop a small chimney as the sky grew dark all around it.

Parking in Bordeaux was a miniature nightmare, and we were quite happy to quitte la grande ville pour le paysage encore (aka, we prefer the countryside to the city…typically, though our experience in Provence was to temporarily prove otherwise).


A night in Rocamadour at a Bed and Breakfast run by a super friendly British fellow. So far, we were really enjoying the ex-pats. I knew something was up when he opened the door and was super excited for us to arrive. I thought, This guy is French? He’s so happy and expressive! Nope.


Ailment number two came the next morning. We had a lovely breakfast, and I played a couple of songs on the ukulele for the innkeeper, his mother and twin sons, and the French couple sitting at the next table. We asked if we could take a photo with the innkeeper, and while my husband was preparing his camera, I started laughing at something the twin boys were doing, bent forward, and slammed my face smack dab onto a hard, wooden chair. Blood began dripping from my upper lip, which instantly began to swell until it eventually turned into what felt like a puffy beak. I love birds and joked with my husband that I wanted to be more birdlike.

In the end, I decided that I much prefer looking at birds than being birdlike. My beak was not so pleasant, and the pain and swelling brought on ailment number three, a sinus head cold in Arles.


Ailment number three may also have been brought on by the fact that we spent an afternoon walking through the misting rain in the city of Arles and then returned to our apartment and kept the windows open wide to avoid the smell of old cigarette smoke from the previous tenants.

Tant pis. I can survive a cold, and I had brought with me a small, traveling pharmacy.

Each ailment had its way of testing the strength of our bond, though the physical element was mine alone to enjoy.

The third ailment was more of a shared experience.

Despite my head cold, we headed out to look for an eagle owl in a fairly unpopulated corner of Provence. An hour walking around without success, we were tired and hungry and ready for the picnic we had brought along, replete with a nice bottle of red wine.

Instead, we arrived back at the car to find a broken window, open door, and everything but my rock collection, an iPhone charger cable, and a roll of toilet paper taken from the inside.

Again, an ailment on a weekend, the day after Christmas, when everything in the vicinity was closed.

But we persevered. We had planned to head the next day to my husband’s friend from a study abroad program many years ago. Instead, we headed to her home that night, where we were welcomed into a warm home with a beautiful family, fed a traditional French meal, and able to calm our nerves (mine, at least) after driving on narrow, winding roads up to their house in the French alps.


The blessing in strange packaging? We were able to have a truly cultural experience. In order to repair the window without paying 163 euro, we had to file a police report. Suffice it to say, we were thankful for our friend’s incredibly good humor and generosity in offering to act as traductrice/translator for us and helping to figure out where and when to bring our car in for the window replacement.

Somehow, despite potential mishaps along the way, all was well in the end. The gendarmerie was closed when we first arrived, so we went for a walk until it was slated to open (after a long lunch?). when we returned, it was even more definitively closed with a garage type door covering the entrance. Luckily, just as we were about to give up, a single police officer walked by on his way back to the office.

They only have one person staffing a police office in France? Strange, we thought, but we were just happy to have his undivided attention for the time it took to file the report.


Window replacement was set for the following afternoon, but when we arrived the fellow working at the shop told us they had expected us the previous afternoon. Luckily again, for us, he was a kind fellow and offered to do the job that afternoon, even though his colleague had communicated the wrong time to him.

Ailment number three behind us, we headed further north still to the home of another friend. This time, we left our car in their driveway during the visit and not so much as a bird deigned to leave its mark upon it.

It was with great pleasure and exceeding relief that we returned the car without incident. Just a sigh and a quick exit.

The fourth and hopefully final ailment was quite literally and figuratively my husband’s to shoulder. His shoulder went into spasm shortly after our arrival in Paris, despite my wish to the river Rhone that our journey should continue without incident. Perhaps, the rocks I wished upon, gathered at the site where our car was vandalized, had been cursed? Or maybe, we were just destined for the full cultural experience so there would be no illusions should we decide to spend a sabbatical year living in France.

After two nights with little to no sleep, we decided to find a doctor. Thanks to monsieur Google, we found a Centre Medicale located a three-minute walk from our Airbnb apartment. Navigating via GPS once more, we found the center, though not without effort. There was only a small sign beside a set of tall dark green doors that my husband noticed after we walked past.


Once we found the doors, it was unclear how we were supposed to get in. we pushed on the door, but it only gave a little under pressure before settling back into its track.

Maybe we call them? my husband suggested.

I pushed on the door again. Nothing.

He picked up his cell phone to find the number when someone opened the door from inside. Relieved, we stepped inside and followed a sign that told us the center for health was on the first floor (in france, the our first floor is the ground floor and is called the Rez de chaussée; our second floor is their first floor, if that makes sense). We headed up a winding set of stairs and entered the strangest health center I have ever seen.

The inside was lit up with lights and décor akin to the makeup section of a department store, with neon and pink and white lights. We stood in line. On our left stood a tall white counter with five staff seated behind it. As each person was helped and stepped aside, they would call out la suivante (next in line), and the next person would walk up. To our right was wall with with sets of jeopardy like design. On the left was medical and the right dental, both sides with rows squares that were all lit up in different colors, each with a different form medical care written inside. Traitement de la douleur, radiologie, acupuncture, etc.

When it was our turn, we explained the problem and proceeded to pay 23 euro for a visit with one of the on-call doctor. The woman seated behind the counter told us there was an open appointment at 11:15am. It was then 10:47am, so we decided to wait. There is always a long wait for an appointment in the states, so what was a half an hour.


She gave us a piece of paper and told us to place it in the file box outside of Cabinet C. We were then instructed to sit and wait in the sale d’attente. Being from the United States, where people are germ-crazed, I have somewhat of a phobia of germs but nothing too irrational. I think more so, I was still recovering from being recently ill, and from the sound and sight of the people waiting, I was afraid we might both catch another variation of the current French plague—the woman standing next to me was pale and sweating and literally looked like she about to pass out and keel over—so we walked back down the winding stairs and sat in the windowsill of the ground floor.

We headed back up about fifteen minutes before the appointment and proceeded to wait another half hour. At half past eleven, a woman small in stature, with short brown curly hair, a long white coat, and loafers that would be sensible but for their high heels walked out of Cabinet C, down the hall, and called out: Monsieur Lewis (Lou-wheese).

She gave me not a first or second look, but I followed behind just the same. When we reached Cabinet C (and it didn’t take long), she ushered Rich inside and followed him. I think she would have shut the door on me, but I interjected that I was his wife and needed to help translate.

Comme vous voulez (As you wish), she said, shrugging her shoulders, lifting her hands up as if to express defeat, and rolling her eyes.

I speak English, she said with a heavy French accent.

Rich sat on a traditional hospital bed, and I was instructed to sit in the chair on the far side of the desk, closest to the door. (I guess that way, if I pulled any funny stuff, she could get me out pretty quickly.)

Questions were asked, and my husband replied. When he didn’t reply quickly enough, I would interject. At one point, the doctor snapped at me to essentially sit down and keep my mouth shut.

I wanted to shake her and yell out, that’s my husband! But instead, I sat down and took a deep breath.

The entire experience was in many ways both ridiculous and hilarious. This was a no nonsense doctor. Maybe, this is how it is in the French healthcare system, or maybe it was her personality. She was clear on her opinions and on what needed to happen next, which included an x-ray that we would need to get at yet another healthcare center.

While she did not seem to have any real idea as to what was wrong, she did manage to damn all of American healthcare—our practice of overprescribing medication, high costs for care, etc.—none of which I disagreed with, though she did criticize my husband for taking medication for high cholesterol.

23 euros for a visit, it’s not bad, right? she said to us.

We nodded and laughed. She was right, though the experience had felt a bit like we were animals being herded around by feisty cattle dog doctors. She was horrified when I told her what a typical doctor visit in the states would cost out of pocket. I think she actually gasped and put her hand over her mouth. It was quite dramatic. I loved it!

We really got her going when I told her we were on our honeymoon and Rich mentioned that our rental car had been broken into.

I think she wouldn’t have prescribed any medication had I not interjected to tell my husband to inform her that he hadn’t slept in two nights. She seemed to think that because he could move his arm in all directions, things were not so serious after all.

But you are not sleeping? She asked. That is serious then.

Um, yeah. That’s why we came to a doctor.


We continued the herding experience at the next center for santé (health), where we took a ticket for radiologie sans RDV (without an appointment) and waited once more. This time, the waiting room felt a bit less plagued save for one young woman who intermittently emitted a deep, rasping sound reminiscent of what I could only imagine might be bronchitis or whooping cough. I was hoping for the former.

When our number was called, we were told that we could come back the following day at noon for an x-ray.

I was cranky from lack of coffee or breakfast, but I insisted we go to the pharmacie before eating. The pharmacie was tiny, and everything we needed seemed to cost 9 euros and change. There was no wait time for the prescription, however, and le collier (neck brace) was much snazzier than the large white one I was anticipating.

Things don’t seem to happen too quickly in French medical care, I muttered as we left.

But they are getting done, my husband replied, and without too much expense.

Things looked up after I had an expresso and a large bowl of French onion soup (just called onion soup in Paris) and several pieces of fresh bread.

The x-ray experience the following day was fairly straightforward. I was not allowed in because of the radiation, which made sense, so I took full advantage of being situated near a toilet (they are not always easy to find in Paris or desirable when you do find them). I had been pleasantly surprised by the number of helpfully located clean public toilets supplied with toilet paper during our travels around the country prior to our arrival in Paris. There seemed to be a pull off from the highway every few miles. Aire de x, y, and z, they were called.

But in Paris, you have to make use of every possible pit stop. At least, I seem to need to.


We paid 50 euros with our American HSA card (the first center claimed they could only take credit cards with chips in them…tant pis). We were then instructed to wait another 45 minutes for the x-rays to be developed. No digital images in France, I suppose.

I was not excited to dilly dally around for another 45 minutes, but what else could we do? An hour later, we finally received the x-rays. They came in a white folder with a piece of white paper. Written on the paper was a short paragraph in French (of course) explaining my husband’s condition, which I did my best to analyze, though my command of the language does not truly extend to medical speak, which I can barely understand in English either.

And that was it. My husband emailed the photos of the image to a family member, who suggested he invest in a different system for carrying his heavy camera lens around.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent eating, drinking a lot of red wine, and walking around.

During our 22-day voyage de noces in France, we managed to visit several regions of the country (more, apparently, than many Parisiens see, we were told by a Parisien), four dear friends and their families, the gendarmerie, window replacement garage, and experience the French health care system.

All in all, it was a experience overflowing with culture, gastronomie, and the most important part…love.


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T’was the morning after xmas


The morning after Christmas, I awoke with a throbbing head. A few days earlier, I had been laughing, bent over in a forward motion, and smacked my upper lip onto a hardwood chair. It was the kind of moment that happens periodically in my life when I think, Really? Did I seriously just do that? My lip started bleeding and swelled up into what felt like a beak for several days. My nose commenced to swell as well, and I wound up with a sinus cold for Christmas.


I tried my best to buck up. I took a shower, got dressed, and drank some coffee. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed with a hot cup of tea and watch movies all day, but our Airbnb apartment in Arles stank of yesterday’s cigarette smoke (not our yesterday, mind you), and it felt like it had not had a proper cleaning in some time. Fresh air would likely be more effective for my healing than staying indoors.


A birder ex-pat Englishman living just outside of Bordeaux had detailed places we could go in Provence for specific hard-to-find species.


Eagle Owl was one, and it was on our list. So off we went in search of a moto cross in the smallest of small villages called Le Destet in a countryside spotted with olive orchards and stone houses. The slate grey mountains beyond this moto cross were home to the Eagle Owl.


There are times when I go out in search of birds and it is pure magic. I can feel the energy and know that we will be blessed with remarkable views of brilliant birds. This morning, as I kneeled down to pick up a smooth, white, rounded rock, I had the feeling that something was not right. I wondered if it would be bad luck to pick up the rock before even seeing a bird? At the behest of my husband’s daughter, I had been collecting a few from each of the places we had visited on our honeymoon in France.


I am drawn to rocks. I seem to pick them up wherever I go. Sometimes, I pick one up and sense that it does not wish to travel, so I set it back down. With this rock, I was not sure what it was telling me. So I picked it up, placed it in the pocket of my pants, and followed my husband down the trail.


We followed a road and then veered off onto a sort of strange, off road course for mopeds. Dark green pine trees lined the course on both sides. The mountains were ever to our left. With our binoculars and camera, we scanned the mountainside in hopes of spotting the enormous bird. But it was not to be. The eagle owl did us in, less the physical presence of the bird but perhaps the lack thereof/the absence.


We walked along, up and down the course trail and then back onto the dirt road.

Small birds called out and flittered through the tops of the trees, but we could not seem to catch them in our view to identify them.

The forested area opened up into meadows of short plants, lavender, gorse, and others I did not recognize. In my mind, I could hear the words of the song Wild Mountain Thyme.


Oh the summer time is coming

And the trees are sweetly blooming

And the wild mountain thyme

Grows around the blooming heather

Will you go, lassie, go?


Tired and a bit hungry, we decided to turn back. We were sidetracked once by a wayward woodpecker and another time by a bird singing in a tree (we were not able to identify either of them). Finally, my bladder necessitated returning to the car. As we approached the vehicle, we noticed a hole in one of the front passenger side windows, the small triangular shaped one just beside the side mirror.


Shocked, we walked closer.


I can’t believe someone broke our window! my husband said with surprise.


I know, I responded.


We were dumbstruck. It had not yet occurred to us that the person had broken the window in order to take items from the interior of the car.


I opened the front door to find the glove compartment hanging open. Luckily, there was nothing worth taking inside.


Then, I noticed the back passenger side door was slightly open. I looked in the back and saw that our groceries were gone.


Did you leave your camera bag in the car? I asked.




It’s gone.




I looked in the front seat and realized my own bag had also been taken.


My shoulder bag! I cried out. It was one I had just purchased to replace the one that was stolen when someone broke into our house this past summer, and it too was gone from its spot on the floor. Feeling under the weather and tired when we set out to look for the owl, I had left it behind. We were in what felt like the middle of nowhere and didn’t think about it. Besides, it was the day after Christmas. Aren’t people supposed to be nicer and more forgiving around the holidays?


Apparently not.


What I couldn’t understand was how a person could walk by a car and think, Hey, I think I’ll take everything inside! It’s a completely foreign concept to me.


My husband suggested that it would take a complete shift of perspective to think this way, that perhaps the person was thinking, These people were dumb enough to leave their belongings in the car, they were asking for it.


I can see what he means, but I have heard the asking for it line before, and I just don’t buy. If I wear a tight shirt, it doesn’t mean I want every man in the vicinity to stare at my chest.


As we left the parking area, I told my husband that it was getting easier to accept loss.


It’s another opportunity for non-attachment, he responded, and we talked about Buddhism and the burden of material things.


Going to another site in search of birds was now out of the question, so we headed in search of a garage. It was doubtful anything would be open on a Saturday, the day after a holiday, but we tried. A French man scratched his head and told us that nothing would happen until Monday, and then they would need to order a window.


As the afternoon wore on, I grew more and more frustrated. My head felt like it could burst at any moment from the pressure on my sinuses. When my husband suggested that now I could buy a bag in Paris to replace the stolen one, I snapped back at him, I don’t want a Paris bag. I wanted that one.


At this point, I feel that I should add that even with this unfortunate experience, we were safe and the items stolen could have been much worse. This was clearly a problem that could be resolved to an extent, and then we would simply have to make peace with it and carry on.


And we did.


We were lucky in so many ways. There was no violence. It was a small window, so it wasn’t too cold as we left Arles behind with the setting sun and drove north to a longtime friend of my husband’s in Grenoble.


We were lucky to be welcomed into the home a wonderfully loving family.


We were lucky to sleep in a warm bed and wake up to sunlight over the French Alps.


We were and are lucky.


It felt like the eagle owl did us in, but it simply helped us gain perspective and count our blessings for so much of the beauty we experience in our lives each day.


(I still want my bag and my bird guide back, though.)


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Je ne sais rien

December 13, 2015 ~ Phoenix, Arizona

I begin this piece from a hotel near the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Early the following morning, my new husband and I will rise in the dark to begin an only slightly belated honeymoon, thanks to the generous donation of miles and financial hugs from many friends and family. This will be my second honeymoon for my second marriage, and I head into it with heart open and vulnerable.

December 19, 2015 ~ Bordeaux, France

This evening, I write from a loft in Bordeaux, where my husband and I will stay until Tuesday morning. Already, we have spent several days in France. We have covered many miles and seen some things of great beauty and others I would un-see if I could.


At the airport Charles de Gaulle, we waited with baited breath for my checked luggage to appear on the baggage carousel. Bags and ukulele in hand, we headed for the train.


Maybe, we should find a bathroom before we get on the train? I suggested.


You just went ten minutes ago, came the reply, accompanied by a look of exasperation.


It was twenty minutes ago! I pleaded. The look I received was enough for me not to insist. Instead, I harrumphed inside and furrowed my brows for a long time. I swear, people with large bladders will never understand how us tiny-bladdered people live. Sometimes, it is minute to minute. There just isn’t enough room in my body for all of these organs plus a bladder. The second I empty it, there is plenty of liquid just waiting to rush in to take the place of what was once there.


December 15, 2015 ~ Gare de Lyon

Can you tell us where to find the Hertz location de voitures? I ask a third person.

Oui. Vous tournez a droite, et continue.



We had already attempted the right turn and straight ahead option a couple of times. Apparently, turning right gives one many options in this particularly spacious station. Finally, we find the tiny car rental office. To get our car takes what feels like ages. Many French people come and go while we wait. We are offered insanely high insurance rates, which we refuse, and I hope we have made the right choice.


Traveling in France already feels so different from previous visits and longer stays. We have intelligent mobile phones that bring the United States with us and tell us where we are at all times.


Except when underground.


Settled into our burgundy Renault rental car with soft black interior, we quickly realize with increasing angst that there is no cell service underground. How will we figure out which way to go once we leave the garage?


Desperately, I try to plug in the address for the friend we will be visiting in Bretagne, the rainy northwest corner of the country.




I open our Michelin guide to France, take one look at it, and fold it back up. There is no way in hell I have slept enough to try to figure out how to get around this crazy city, known for its predictably unpredictable drivers.


My husband turns right, turns once more to the right, and then thankfully pulls over and parks in a no parking zone.


We sit and fidget with the phone. Technology is wonderful when it works, but when you have been traveling for more than 24 hours and it doesn’t, it can be painful. Not that we were really complaining. A GPS not working is clearly a ridiculously decadent problem to encounter, especially with the current state of the world.


Finally, GPS up and raring to go, address plugged in, we pulled into the realm of Parisian vehicles. And we survived, arriving in Quimper well into the evening, 42 hours of travel after leaving our Phoenix hotel at 3am the previous morning.


December 15, 2015 continued ~ Loin de l’Arizone/Far from Phoenix

We spent two fairly wet but lovely days visiting with French friends who are like family. We wandered the streets of the Centre Ville, walked along the river Odet, drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of bread, cheese, and the most delicious olives in all the world, and talked for hours with dear friends.


Visiting Quimper and La Bretagne is like returning home, and I felt full of joy and sad to leave. Being there was also bittersweet. I was reminded of friends with whom have lost contact, an ex-husband in Wisconsin, and the many years that had passed since I lived there, ten and a bit to be nearly exact.


I have sometimes envied people I know who have settled in one place and who have a community of friends. I have moved so many times that I have had the opportunity to meet remarkable people, people who are full of life and love; but I often feel as though I have no friends at all when I am sitting at home on my couch. They all seem far away, both in body and spirit.


But then, when I imagine living in one place for years and years, I feel a sense of being imprisoned. I wonder if this desire to keep moving stems from the belief that I can somehow grow older more slowly if I just keep moving.


Lately, I am beginning to realize that this may be the case, and I am growing ever aware that it is as far from the truth as anything may be.


It was more than ten years ago that I wandered the streets of Quimper. A lifetime has passed since that time, one that has encompassed a Master’s degree, a marriage, a doctorate, a divorce, and a second marriage.


December 18, 2015 ~ Loin de la Bretagne/Far from Quimper

Five hours after leaving the familiarity of Quimper, we joined a line of cars attempting to slowly enter the center of the city of Bordeaux.


We knew that Bordeaux would present us with the challenge of parking, but we didn’t think about being tired, hungry, and super cranky while attempting to find parking.


Had we spent only one night in this strange city, I would not have fond memories to recall. Nightmarish parking, super expensive shops downtown, and fatigue combined to flood my body with a feeling of being completely out of place and out of my element.


What was I doing here? What was I doing with my life? Why would I want to travel when I could be comfortable, snuggling with my cats and dog in my home in the desert.


After a good night’s sleep, I felt restored. We woke up early to rescue our car from possible ticketing or towing and walked in the dark, following the signals of our GPS to find our way.


As we approached the car, I saw a woman and a man in the distance. I couldn’t tell if they were arguing or if she was laughing. The man wore a green jacket with a hood pulled over his head.


When I heard him call out, Donne moi le monnaie, I knew something was not right.


Give me the money, he had said, as if this were a movie.


It seemed that she gave him her wallet, but he was not satisfied and tugged at her purse.


Mais, non! I heard her respond. But he did not stop.


Arrete! I called out. Stop!


But he didn’t stop.


We walked toward them, but it was too late.


I was in a daze as I attempted to provide directions from the GPS while we drove away from the center of the city of Bordeaux.


Don’t let me out of your sight, I told my husband as we left the scene behind.

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Le retour

Paris, au revoir. On quitte la France on the 4th of July. Admittedly, I haven’t thought about the holiday at all since Rich wished me a joyeux quatrième this morning over breakfast. We laughed over three French words in particular:

Liberté. Oui.

Fraternité. Non.

Égalité. Certainement pas.

Of course, I have never been much for patriotism. I have never felt like I belonged in the United States, least of all in the decade when I was born.

It has been a surprise to me how many French words have magically rolled off of my tongue, appearing just as I needed them.




le decollage horaire

Being a child of the 80s, I imagined that most of my memory space had already been taken up with lyrics from Tiffany, Madonna, The Bangles, etc.

Where were all of these French words hiding and how did they know to make themselves known at just the right moment? I may never know, but I was thankful for their presence.

Perhaps, I am destined to be an anachronism. At this time in my life, I have grown more comfortable with this destiny. I am more at peace with who I am, and I no longer try to hide.

I spent so many years trying desperately to fit in, to be delicate like the other girls, straighten my hair and wear little skirts and tiny shoes. It wasn’t me, and it did not work.

The things that set me apart are those that/also make me who I am. I do not wish to be anyone else. And my futile attempts at homogeneity did not bring happiness or fulfillment to my life.

I am not delicate. I walk into things. My hair is as wild as my personality. I feel things intensely. I cry easily. I am sensitive. I love to eat, and I feel a sense of obligation to eat without guilt to make for so many years of going without and controlling every single object I put in my mouth.

I bite my fingernails when I am nervous and pick at my cuticles.

I am a snob.

From our gate at the airport, I was intrigued to hear the sound of music being played on a piano.

A piano at the airport? Comment ça?

I went in search of the origin of those sounds. Classical Piano music still affects me more deeply than any other instrument. The cello comes close, but it cannot touch the connection I have with the piano. It began when I was very young.

I remember my first piano lesson. My father and I walked into my teacher’s home. I was holding his hand. To the right, there was a narrow staircase. On the left, a narrow hallway.

The woman asked me to let my arm fall at my side.

“Oh yes,” she said with confidence. “You were meant to play the piano.” She told me that the way my hand naturally fell in a cupped arc was how she knew. As an adult, I wondered if she told all new pupils this story, but I never questioned it as a child.

After so many years of strict classical instruction, I have very little patience for pop music and poor form on this instrument. At the airport, I should have been thrilled to see a young person playing. How many teenagers play piano? Much less, how many have the nerve to play in an airport?

But I was tired, hungry, and cranky. And the young woman played nonstop pop music in the vein of Philip Glass with the form of a robot.

Finally, she stopped. Dieux merci.

Had there been a ukulele to play, now that would have been something, though I imagine I would have been too shy to pick it up.

And then we lined up to board. AirFrance has the strangest system for boarding I have ever experienced. In the beginning, it was entirely a free for all. Then, we waited. There seemed to be little organization to the process. And we were tired.

In the distance, I heard the twinkling sounds of classical piano. A voice inside me sighed contentedly. Enfin, la vrai musique!

Now, I sit above the Atlantic. There are icebergs in the ocean below. We are not far from Iceland.

Tomorrow, I return to work. I will trade a part of myself for green and grey. I will choose the earrings I wear. I will watch the clock and try to stay awake before the jetlag hits.

On Jewish holidays, we toast and say, “Next year in Israel.”

Today, I wish for the next year à l’étrangère. Maybe even in France.

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Un très bon séjour

My heart was heavy this morning when my dear friend Isabelle left me and Rich at the Quimper train station. Rich told me not to think about it, but it was like leaving a part of myself behind. La famille Marty is family for me. We have stayed in touch for nearly ten years since I left Quimper in May of 2005. Despite the questionable security of facebook, it has served us well for sharing our lives from a distance.

When we first arrived at her house on Rue des Pivoines in the ancient city of Quimper, we stepped out of the car and were met with cheers from the garden.

Pierre help up an enormous American flag and shouted, “Welcome home!” Laughter ensued.

“Vous faites comme chez vous,” Isabelle said when we first walked into her kitchen three days ago.

“Make yourselves at home.”

And we did. We were part of the family. It was as if I left only yesterday. Or even as if I had never left at all.

And there is a part of that wishes I never had. In France, I dream in French. My panic attacks have ceased. I feel alive and eager for adventure. I imagine leaving the united states and returning to Brittany to live once more.

When last I lived in Quimper, I was in a constant limbo between worlds—my life in Washington and in France. Now, I feel different, more free. I am older. I feel less inhibited to ask questions. I sense the privilege of travel and the preciousness of time with friends who live far away.

I feel older, too.

I get more tired than I used to after a day of exploring. After a week, I am completely exhausted. I am sure that having two languages swimming around in my head adds to the fatigue.

I sense more of an urgency to imagine the life I want and then to realize those imaginings before too much more time has passed.

I know that life is long and there is time. I know I should appreciate each day instead of living in a time that has not yet come to pass.

I also know that time passes quickly, and my own life on this planet is finite.

When I taught in France, Sarah, the daughter of Pierre and Isabelle, was 8 years old. Today, she is 16. She is a woman, beautiful and graceful. She wears makeup. Her body is more womanly than my own, despite the age difference. And I am so thankful to be able to see how much she has grown up in the 8 years since I left. It is remarkable.

What a difference from my solitary life in Lowell. We spent hours at the table, drinking wine and eating food grown and cooked with care. We spoke of many things, the subjects flowing as easily as the wine from the bottle into our glasses.

Truly, I was in my element.

Standing at the train station, waiting for the train, I could see my friend Emily so many years ago, waving goodbye as I boarded the train that final morning in Quimper. I could see her only a few years ago with our friend Christiane as we sat eating patisserie in the square by the cathedral in the center of town. Neither was with me physically but their presence was strong in spirit for they are within always.

I am sure I romanticize life in a foreign country. It is easy to do when I am unfulfilled in my own life.

It is a true gift to meet people from any place who instantly become family. I have spent most of my life searching for places where I feel like I belong. It has been more with the people I have met that I have found community and a sense of place than with the places themselves. I certainly feel a strong connection to the mountains, forests, and rivers where I have lived, but it is with the human and winged inhabitants that I have found my true home.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I write on this grey, Breton afternoon. “La vrai Bretagne,” on dit. As the train speeds ever farther from my famille Marty and the charming city of Quimper, I feel it deep within, and I work hard to hold back the tears.

Many pictures were taken, good food eaten, laughter and jokes exchanged, stories told from the years of many lives around a table.

For this, and for so much more that words cannot express, je vous remerci la France, la Bretagne, et la famille Marty.