Equinox

Today was the first day of spring; for all of you in the U.S, it must have been a celebration, even if largely symbolic! I hope the weather starts to warm up, and thge days of sunshine grow longer and longer. You guys have kind of earned it this year.!

In southern France, it feels like spring has been here for a few weeks now. The leaf buds are starting on the vines, which is making us move faster with the pruning to try to keep ahead of the new growth! We’ve started attaching the vines to the wires (basically taking a single long vine branch, winding it around the lowest wire, and stapling it in place), and if the leaves burst out while we’re in the middle of this job, it’s easy to damage the vine by knocking off or ripping the fragile new leaves as we wind the branch.

Photo: Chardonnay 2014! First leaf buds...

The weather heated up this week, and left both of us tanned around the straps of the electric shears. We finished a field of Chardonnay and have moved on to the final parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon. Spring seems to be bursting out everywhere! My back no longer hurts, and my hands feels strong again, and I’ve been able to do some full days at work this week; it’s hard going when I have to crouch down low to cut stray vine branches growing at the base of the plant, since standing back up again takes just about all the energy I have. The fresh air feels good though, as does staying busy.

I’m a little bit of a magpie, and have noticed for a long time the tiny bits of pottery and glassware that are everywhere in the vineyards here. It literally seems like generations of French people have been taking out their kitchen plates and old antique pottery for decades and decades and smashing them into a thousand pieces and leaving them behind. I love them; some of the pottery has elaborate patterns on it, and often the old glass has turned to a pale purple from its original clear due to the sunlight reacting with manganese in the original glass formula. There’s iridescence on the surface, rainbows, from where the glass has developed tiny surface microfractures, diffusing the light. It makes me feel like an archeologist. I’ve started an album of photographs of these shards (since I think Mathieu would kill me if I started bringing all my treasures home!)

After work yesterday, instead of heading home, we drove 15 minutes to Frontignan, to the sea, to take off our work boots and roll up our jeans and plunge our feet in the cold Mediterranean Sea. It was glorious, and on the way home, Mathieu stopped at a roadside stand and came back grinning and holding bags of fresh oysters, sea snails and mussels, right from the producer. He whipped together a thick, fresh aioli from garlic cloves and lemon juice and egg yolks and olive oil, and put Roquefort cheese inside the oysters with bread and baked them, and had fresh lemon on the table. I made hummus and salad for myself, and watched as the shells piled high on the table. We both were sunburned and had salt air on our hair and on our skin. It felt so good.

Other new developments for the springtime: I’ve started going to a weekly tea-and-conversation-exchange at the French American Center in Montpellier. Largely an orgnaization for French people who want to learn English, the organization also arranges travel-abroad exchange programs for French students, has an au-pair program for young people who want to work in England or the U.S while practicing their English, and hosts monthly American-themed parties (last month they did a kind of line dance thing? And this month there was a Saint Patrick’s Day party.) I’m not crazy about tea, but I love to talk to people.

Tea Party

I’d used the center as a resource before, to find conversation partners to practice French. I’d never actually visited before, and since this last week I was in the city for another midwife appointment anyway, I decided to walk over to the center and see what these weekly tea parties were all about. From the center of the city, where the midwife’s office is, you have to walk through the Arabic section of town to reach the French American center, and the actual building is just half a block away from L’Aqueduc Saint-Clement in the eponymous Les Arceaux district…one of the prettiest parts of the city.

The Aqueduc Saint-Clément dates to the 17th century and was used to bring water from the St Clément spring 14 km away. The aqueduct emptied into a water tank near the triumphal arch, from where the water would run downhill to fill fountains and public water points. It terminates at the Place du Peyrou, which is GORGEOUS and full of trees and which gives you an amazing view of the terracotta rooftoops on the city:

I’ve become associalized. It’s true. After almost a year living in France, struggling with the language (and slowly succeeding) and isolating myself in the vineyards in Cournonterral, I have literally become unaccustomed to being around people, and thus I had to walk back and forth in front of the French American Center for about fifteen minutes before screwing up the courage to enter. No, really. Remember how I was saying I had developed panic and anxiety issues around answering the phone, or the door? This is part of that. It takes a lot for me to relax around people now, and to open up. My guard is always up, and I spend so much of my time in silence (while working in the vineyard) or alone (at home, or walking) that it feels a little weird to have all the noise and stimulus of sitting in a big group of people.

Once I made it through the gates, and sat down though, I had a wonderful time!

Now, that’s not to say it was really a chance to practice French. I was the sole American and sole native Anglophone there, so while I began in French, it became clear after about five seconds that all of the people were there to have a full immersion, all in English experience, and they seemed really happy to have a native speaker there! And I’m not going to lie, after the last year of struggling to talk to people? It felt REALLY good to my poor bruised Anglophone ego to have people actually wanting to talk to ME for a change. So I relaxed into English and spent so much time talking that I let my cup of black tea go cold.

Best part of the conversation (or at least the part that still makes me laugh) was when people started sharing words that they found funny in English:

“I love the word ‘mushroom’! What words do you find funny in French?”

I thought about it. “The verb for ‘purring’. ‘Ronronner’. The verb for snoring. ‘Ronfler’. Anything that ends in ‘eil’, like ‘feuille’ (leaf)or ‘oeil’ (eye)or…or…’écureuil'(squirrel). And there are a lot of French expressions that I like a lot.”

“Like?”

“Like, ‘It’s not your business’? ‘C’est pas tes oignons.’ (It’s not your onions).”

I can’t go to a lot of their events, since they often are late at night, and I don’t have the energy these days to do that. But they do have a book club, and some other things, so I’m hoping to continue to drop in as I can and maybe volunteer? It felt like a good place to be. The inside of the building is brightly painted and has a small library and a kitchen and computers for  Internet. It was warm. It seemed nice. At the end, a young woman who seemed to work there came in and bounced up the stairs, and when I heard her speak in an American accent I wanted to follow her around like a puppy. 🙂

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I hope all of you have a wonderful equinoc! I’m going to finish with some pictures I took today on my daily hike in the hills. Every day there’s something new opening up, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful!

   

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5 thoughts on “Equinox

  1. Sounds like Laurie is fitting in just fine, thank you. You can certainly be an asset to those folks trying to improve in a foreign language! Great pictures, as usual, thank you. Enjoyed your whole post!!!

  2. We’ve had a beautiful spring equinox, thank you, with blue sky and sunshine! Now that it’s ‘officially’ springtime I can heave a sigh of relief and know I’ve made it through another winter. Please keep those lovely springtime photos coming too!

    It’s great that you’ve found another fun place to be, and to utilize your dual language skills at the same time. And I’m glad you’re making the effort to get back to being a fun part of a group after this transition time of feeliing like an outsider. You’ve worked diligently at developing your language skill and I’m happy for you that it’s becoming easier. The rest will come!

  3. Omg so many things to say in response to this post! Let’s see…

    1. Photos: these are amazing. The first, frozen one you posted looks like some sort of fruit blossom, so I worry that there won’t be any fruit since the flowers got frozen. The things I invent to worry about, I swear.

    2. Spring: I’m already annoyed that it’s not summer. I NEED TO SWIM. They’ve cleaned the pool at the apartment in New Orleans and I’m just waiting for the warm. All this back-and-forth about where I need to be right now? Yeah, I’d drop all of it and stay in Nola for another month if I could swim every day. I need swim. Need. Swim. Water. Movement. gah.

    3. Montpellier: I can’t freaking wait to visit France and see these things. I want to walk through the Arabic part of town to get to the French-American center! Also I speak English and I love tea. Also, triumphal arch =/= Arc de Triomphe, correct? Because that is in Paris? I am confused about these words.

    4. Your Onions: I think it makes total sense that you are feeling things like panic, anxiety, associality. You’ve been culturally, linguistically, socially isolated for a long time now. You know isolation is considered torture and is used as the worst possible punishment in prisons? That is some for real important stuff. I think I’ve said this to you before, but I see your mental health as being more important than your language skills. I think that your trip to the language center sounds like exactly the kind of therapy you need to rehabilitate yourself from this isolation. You might need to perfect your French, but you also desperately need to speak English! It’s your language! Your culture! It’s the way you have interfaced the world for your entire life. You need to keep doing that. And I think you need to do it in your daily life, not just on the internet.

    So, I know you are about to be totally overtaken by BABY! Yay! But I also know that life event has a tendency to leave women feeling isolated, even when they are in their culture of origin. So I encourage you to get back into the city and volunteer at the language center as soon and as often as you can once the initial there-is-nothing-in-the-world-besides-this-baby phase is over. I hope that’s something you’re able to make time for even as a new mom. But I’ve never been a new mom, so maybe this is impractical advice (which you didn’t ask for in the first place! sorry). I just, my heart leaps when I read how good it felt for you to be there in that social position. Everything in me went YES! THAT IS THE THING! DO THAT MORE! as soon as I read it. Lord this comment is as long as your original post. I’ll shut up and get out of your onions now. I love you!

    • There are many Arcs de Triomphes. 🙂 Paris actually has two that I know of, but the famous one is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile on the Champs d’Elysée; the other one is smaller and is by the Louvre, I think? Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel; it’s like half the size of the famous one. Montpellier has one too…most people call it the Arc de Triomphe but I think the real name is the Porte du Peyrou. (Porte means door or gate.) The one in Paris was completed in 1836; ours is older (1693, though a bunch of stuff was added later…) So basically Arc de Triomphe just means triumphal arch, and is more generic; a lot of towns have them.

      The isolation stress and culture shock have been intense. There are good days and not so good days. Mix pregnancy hormones in there, as well as the intense biological need to surround myself with the familiar that I believe goes along with having a baby, and you can see how it can be really hard. I find outlets where I can. I’ve made an American friend now, the wife of another wine grower in Cournonterral, also a mom, and that’s been an incredible comfort. I spent the last year avoiding Anglocentric activities because I was afraid it would prevent me from integrating but I agree – it’s more important to be in a strong place emotionally.

      • Oh yaaay! I’m so glad you are in that space now. I always notice that when I reach the height of my hormonal peak each month, I cannot tolerate the problems in my romantic relationships that I manage to live with the rest of the month. It’s like my warrior woman comes out and demands that my partner be dependable and strong in ways that middle-of-the-month woman can shrug off and live without another day. And warrior woman, she’s not wrong, you know? It’s not like I’m suddenly getting mad about random shit. It’s just that most of the time my love for my partner prevails, and during that hormonal phase the biological imperative supersedes.
        So, I imagine that pregnancy is pretty much like that all the time?

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