Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bordeaux, France: Days 7&8

Day 7 was Ashley's day to take Henrik to the park and I stayed home and filled my morning with leisurely things. The rain had left by now but the cool weather stayed, and this day was nothing short of delightful. After Henrik woke from his nap (always between 1:30 and 2) we left to go-guess where?-yes, back downtown. Today was different, though; I was going to apply one important lesson I had already learned. I hadn't been in France long, but I had already picked up on several important things. One was that the French dress. All French. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor. There is no such thing as running to the grocery store in your fitness clothes. Or even going to the playground in such casual attire. It was not uncommon to run into mothers at the park dressed in slacks and blouses, jeans and heels, dresses or skirts. The fathers always wore what we would term "business casual". This is what the people wear to shop in, run errands in, walk around town in. There wasn't any sloppy dressing, which was, in my opinion, very refreshing.* Anyway, all that to say that on this day I chose what I would wear a little more carefully. Instead of my "tourist attire" of pants and t-shirt, I chose a feminine, full white skirt with a cotton eyelet sweater, styled my hair (as much as you can style long curly hair) and stepped out of the house feeling very French. By the time the day was over, I was feeling anything but, returning home a mere shadow of what I started out in. Our second day out was nothing short of disastrous due to the fact that Ashley and I lost each other downtown. No cell phones that worked. Absolutely no way to get in touch. We found each other at last, but not before Ashley had taken the tram all the way back to Merignac to look for us and I had nearly taken the tram back there to just get Henrik home. It was not the greatest afternoon, to say the least. Well, not for me anyway. Ashley got to do some shopping while she was hunting us down, but I had Henrik the whole time and he was not inclined to go shopping. So we spent as much time as possible in McDonald's and on a bronze turtle in the adjoining plaza, then back to the Cathedrale St. Andre to wait for Ashley (which was our designated meeting place)... and wait... and wait... Turns out that Ashley first got the wrong McDonald's, then the wrong tram stop, and finally she got to us, and just in the nick of time, as I was very seriously thinking about two options: 1) finding a cafe and getting something to eat and relaxing or 2) boarding the next tram back to Merignac. Thankfully, I was spared that decision, and all ended well, although in conclusion, it was not my best day in France. And, to top it all off, the running to and fro, chasing Henrik and walking so much on dirty streets led to my skirt getting dirty, my feet hurting, my hair a disheveled mess and a sweaty face. By the end of the day I was back to looking very American.
Moral of the story: Don't be vain enough to think that you can blend in so effortlessly with a notoriously beautiful people group. Because you won't.
*I have many more thoughts on this, and especially the way women dress and their general behavior, all of which I will blog about later.

Day 8: My day to take Henrik to the park. We went through our routine of chasing ducks and geese, feeding swans and trying not to feed the nasty carp, those ugly fish that tried to take away the bread from the lovely swans. We then went to the playground so that Henrik could play and socialize a little with some children his age. This part always terrified me. I never knew what to say beyond my oft-practiced "Desolais" sentence should someone try to talk to me. Or what if one child beat up Henrik? What would I say to the French parents? What if Henrik beat up a child? What then? What if he fell off of the slide and cracked his head or broke his arm, then what? I couldn't even allow myself to think of the possibilities, it was just too nerve racking. Thankfully, there weren't too many people there that day. Henrik tried to hit one boy, but the boy's parents took care of that for me (you can count on the French to help you correct your child - very disconcerting at first, but kind've nice in the end when I realized that I, too, could correct other kids!) and then poor Henrik offered a leaf to a little girl and she ran away screaming. Then Henrik went up to their father and tried to break his paper. I could only mumble "desolais" as I chased Henrik around. Thankfully, the family left at last and Henrik and I only had to worry about the occasional grandparent bringing their grandchild to play. But most of the time, Henrik was chasing ducks, and I was chasing Henrik. I prevented his falling into the water many times. I walked him around the 5 km park trail and then we went home. This day was my first to go to the park alone, and although I got there okay, I couldn't remember the way home! I started down the correct way, but made a wrong turn, and then once I panicked, I couldn't recover my mistake. Thankfully, Merignac is not a big town and I just walked until I came to a street I recognized, and then I knew that the next street over was ours. Whew! I was so glad to hit that street and see the little house at the corner. Thankfully, I had left the park early "just in case" so we weren't behind schedule, even with my blundering.

That afternoon I went out shopping. I took the tram to the mall at Meriadek first, then on to downtown from there. It seemed as though we were spending most of our time downtown, but it happened that it was really the best plcae to be when you don't have a car and are having to rely on public transportation. But it wasn't so bad as all of the good stores are downtown, the streets are always crowded, the shops at the time were busy (after all, it was soldes season!) and cafes are everywhere. Ahhh. I shopped with the masses and then rested my weary feet at a French Coffee Shop, sipping a cappuccino and watching all of the people, listening to the chatter and hum all around me of a beautiful, soothing language that I could barely understand. I strolled the streets and even found a quiet bookshop. Bookstores in France are nothing like they are here. They more resemble a library than what we Americans know as a bookstore. Absolutely quiet. Not even any soft background music. People either sitting very still at a table or standing somewhere selecting a book. The sections were easy to figure out, and I almost bought a favorite book in French, but didn't know where I was to pay. The only place that looked like it might be a cash register was a dark desk with a lamp and lots of papers on it close to the door. A computer was also perched on it, but I had no idea if this was a register or help desk, and I didn't feel too inclined to draw attention to myself in such a quiet setting by trying to find out. I went back out onto the cobblestoned street and spent the rest of my afternoon peering into shop windows, buying things and just strolling along, taking in as much as I could with my eyes and ears.
Finally, I headed to the tram stop bound for St. Augustin, Merignac; the end of the line for the tram, and for me, too.

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