Tuesday, August 18, 2009

From Another Mom on the Continent

The brilliant writer Rachel Cusk wrote a beautiful memoir about her family's bold move of living in rural Italy for a summer. Bill gave me the book, The Last Supper, inscribed with his promise that we too would get to Italy sometime this year. Thus far, we have only had the courage to visit the two towns closest to our house (three, if you count the foray to buy bread in Sillans de la Cascade. I'm not sure I would.)

Another of her books, A Life's Work, takes place in Gerton, England, coincidentally the town where Bill's family lived for a year when he was Abigail's age, the year of his life that has inspired at least the timing of our own trip. This memoir of her pregnancy and the first year of having her first child was the only book I ever read to truly articulate the power, terror, boredom, confusion and love I felt as a new mother. For this reason, I have always liked to imagine that Rachel Cusk and I have lots in common. Except she's a real writer, and she does things like have her girls do their summer math homework when they are in Italy. She reads aloud to them rather than letting them watch iCarly. Also, she actually prepares for her trip by learning the language.

Of course, my buddy Rachel only moved from England to Italy, and only for three months, which is basically like a Park Slope writer relocating her kids to Northern Vermont for the summer, except with lots more frescoes.

At any rate, back to The Last Supper. Reading it this afternoon, I was struck by a paragraph that managed to articulate the experience we are also having:

"At this time of day the house makes a black shape on its lonely hilltop. Its silhouette is imposing, and far from friendly. We look at it from down below: we seem, all of a sudden, so far from home, so self-willed and rootless. And yet it is this feeling that is the decisive stroke in the process of our liberation. As we look at those dark, distant windows our bounds are cut, our anchors weighed."

So here we are in Provence, so self-willed and rootless, bounds cut as all heck aside from an internet connection that switches off randomly and frequently.

It turns out that the iphone that Bill got me today in Draguinan gets either one bar or no bars here in the house where we are staying this first month before relocating to another house closer to the kids' school. I am incredibly grateful to Bill for the iphone, if only because he vanquished the cell phone lady. Still, it's a pretty big letdown that I can't actually call, text, or email anyone with it, much less send them adorable snapshots of the kids whenever they look cute. In town it works fine, but here at the house it's just an awfully expensive ipod, which makes me feel foolish.

Only Bill and I are daft enough to drag our kids this far away from home for a full year on what ultimately amounts to a whim. No job brought us here. No family. No real connections. It's absolutely lovely, and we are all learning something -- I guess mostly about how to be here -- but today I can't quite get my head around the fact that this is not a vacation that will end soon. I will not be going back to school this September, only the second year I have not done so since I was three years old.

I am speaking almost no French, have not yet met anyone remotely like a friend. The French people we see do not smile when we walk past.

Self-willed and rootless. Tonight that is more than a tiny bit scary.

All this, plus I lost my best black bathing suit somewhere in the house.

Thus I am missing all those of you back home. I am missing having a beer on the stoop with you, or running into you on Seventh Avenue, or having dinner with you and the kids.

It also occurs to me that if the potatoes you made for dinner, let's just imagine, were as raw as the ones I served tonight, you could probably call a pizza store right now, in English, and someone would bring you a whole hot pie. Count this simple blessing, if you would, then send me a virtual slice.


  1. Just curious-do you actually need that black bathing suit? At least the top half? The Cobble Hill Frenchies talk about how liberated they are back in the home land.

  2. PS! Love your writing but glad my iphone (4 FULL BARS) has a dictionary on it. I keep it by my side as I am reading!!!!!

  3. Thanks for sending me the link to your blog, Launa. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts. What an adventure you are on! What will you and Bill do everyday while the girls are in school? Perhaps I shouldn't ask... especially after reading about lost bathing suits and "stripping down to nothing." Hmmm...

  4. So the good news is that I found the suit. So far I've seen only one bottoms-only liberated woman, but I was certainly the only chick under 40 on the beach in a one piece.

    Gail, we'll have to see what unfolds once school starts. The girls will home for two hours at lunchtime everyday (How sane!) Other than that we're purposefully keeping plans up in the air.

  5. Had to chuckle about the 'they don't smile' comment. It's not that the French are unfriendly, it's just that using a smile as a greeting isn't something they do, really, in the way Americans do. I think you should reset your expectation on that one. The day when you recognize someone on the street and get a firm 'Bonjour madame!' from them before you say something to them is going to be a sign of major forward progress.

    Courage! You guys are doing an awesome thing!

  6. Do you have wifi in the house? Because iphones work pretty well with wifi. Love your blog! We will be in the same spot as you guys soon. Keep on trucking!