It is September; if I were back home, I would be full-tilt at work, dervishing around in that old familiar way. But I'm still giving myself a major pass on tasks that would require significant uses of French, or even really heavy-duty thinking. I am just sort of letting myself marinate in white wine and olive oil to see if some sort of flavor might develop out of my tough old hide.
Not only New York, but now all of France is leaving me behind, as they are fully enmeshed in dealing with La Rentreé, which takes such a uniquely gruesome toll on the good people of this otherwise blessed nation. While Americans just buy a few pencils and hop on the Cheese Bus, and Germans pace tidily off to Kindergarten, whistling grimly, the nation of France throws a full blown existential crisis in a rucksack as it passes le portail.
Of course, the kids return home after each three hours of school: first for lunch, then for dinner. And with a day off after every two days, and a 35-hour total workweek, real life here strikes me as only somewhat more demanding than your average American's busy vacation schedule of rounds of golf, disappointing or exhilarating doubles tennis matches, waiting in lines at theme parks, eating too much, and Blackberry-checking on the beach.
Since they have a specific name for this debilitating back-to-school, back-to-the-horrors-of-minimal-employment period, you would think that there would be an equally yummy name for Wednesdays off. The French call Samedi and Dimanche, "Le Weekend," despite the fact that they find borrowing words from English so deeply distasteful. I really am not doing much of any consequence this year, so perhaps I can render some national service to my host nation by naming their weekly Wednesday off for them. (I am feeling so indebted to this beautiful place, that I think I will demand only a small stipend in olives in exchange.)
My dear friend back home suggested "WTF Day." While this is nicely vulgar and certainly expresses the sense of "Huh????" an American would feel about a whole day off from school midweek, I don't think it captures the depth of joy and freedom that emerges for children at the end of Tuesday, only to devolve into misery and despair on Thursday mornings. Perhaps "Gratuit le Mercredi" (Free Wednesday) would work. Or we could use a little Spanish and make it "Mercredi Libre."
Bill and I get this same depth of joy and freedom on Tuesdays, imagining a free day with the kids, then an extra shot of joy and freedom when we drop them off on Thursdays. It's pretty much win-win in this household. Of course, Bill and I are likely fairly unique in being parents who are simply thrilled about having an extra day each week with our little monsters. If I am really going to come up with something good in service to the French people, I should perhaps think about this from the perspective of working (or worse, stay-at-home) parents who have to figure out what to do with their kid for long hours every single Wednesday. "Prenez les Enfants Au Bureau Chaque les Mercredis" (Take your Kid to Work Every Single Wednesday) is a little long, and "Jour des Gardes-Enfants" (Day of the Babysitters) is simply too bleak.
Bill suggests several Franglais variations on Mercredi, like Mer-fun-di, and Mer-Crazy. Right now I like "Mercredi de Trop," or "Extra Wednesday." That manages to capture the sense both of Wednesday as an extra day to spend as you wish, and the sense of having perhaps too much time as tout la famille. As the year unfolds for us, and the girls eventually start to learn enough French to find school comprehensible, we might find that we would rather have them in school than home with us, pestering us to play another computer game. It's beginning to get cooler now, and I can certainly imagine a time not too far ahead when it might be too cold just to send them outside to play. It might start to feel a little close indoors on yet another Wednesday in a too-small town.
But for now, it's just a treasure we didn't know to expect. All day long yesterday the kids played with their American friends from next door, uncovering more and more bones, rotting leather, and pottery to bring over and show to us. Both families went to the market in Aups and then later we shared the different kinds of olives and sausages we had bought. (In the sausage contest, donkey beat out fig by a nose.) It was a day that wound down early into dozey naps in the afternoon, into reading on the sofa, into pretty much nothing at all. It was Jour de Me Repose. Day of Resting Myself. It was Jour de Reverie. Day of Daydreams. It was Jour de Retrouver -- day of finding what was lost, of remembering.
So far, I already have four whole weeks of this life to remember, to interleaf and file away. Today marks a month since we left the U.S. Already in that time, we have found much we did not expect, like beer milkshakes. A museum in a jail. Palm trees in Nice and an English bookstore in Antibes. Heat that rose to fill each day, and is now falling away as the days grow shorter. A rising moon over the ochre rocks. A car that sounds like a hairdryer and stalls unless you gun the engine. Mercredis de Trop, and snails on the lavender, and our own open laughter around the dinner table. We have found a school that is not as frightening as we had thought (although we have been called in to see the principal tomorrow. That could be scary.) We have discovered that larger and larger concentric circles can begin to feel like home, particularly if you bring the right people and pack just the right things to bring along. We have found that the people back home who matter most still think about us every day and write us letters, tethering us to what we have always been.