The End of our French Adventure

The Husband’s sojourn in France ended on a high note.
Even though he doesn’t exactly have a mop of hair to manage, he can’t go more than a week without getting a haircut. Our two weeks in France were no exception. And so, on our second last day (miraculously, a non-cycling day), we took a walk into the village of Fayence in search of a “coiffeur hommes”. This coiffeur hommes was not manned by an 80-something year old Frenchman with a pair of shearers and a shaving bowl. Instead, we were greeted by an attractive 40-something Frenchwoman with some sort of modern hair-cutting machine that The Husband approved of. The hairdresser couldn’t have been friendlier and The Husband even tried to practise his French on her but the real clincher was when she paused, looked at him in the mirror and said, “You know, you look a bit like Bruce Willis.”
Well, The Husband was in seventh heaven. The hot French hairdresser had made his day.
Buoyed up by his new-found mean man looks, his confidence in practising his French that evening was up too. He decided to practise a sentence on the waiter at our favourite Fayence restaurant. We were thinking of ordering the crayfish risotto and wanted to know whether the crayfish was served in its shell. I wasn’t entirely sure how to say this in French so I translated it literally from the English: “is the crayfish still in its shell?” It didn’t sound entirely right but I was at a loss as to how to phrase it any other way and so I taught The Husband this literal sentence in French. He, very bravely posed our question to the waiter. But the waiter beautifully finished his sentence because, you see, in French there is a wonderful word which means “out of its shell”. “Decortique”. Isn’t that just so neat and beautiful? Sigh… French is such a beautiful language.
After our last dinner under the stars on the terrace of our villa, we retired for our last night in France, before waking up the next morning to a 24 hour journey back to SA. We had to check out of the rented house by 10 in the morning, even though our flight from Nice was only at 4pm. When I say “our” flight, I mean myself, The Princess and her nanny, Charity. The Husband had found out a few weeks ago that he had to fly straight to London for work. I was terrified and decided I had nothing to lose by asking the French granny at the check-in desk whether there was any chance Charity could be up-graded to business class? Pretty please, with a swish of creme fraiche on top? Of course, there was not a frigging chance of that and so The Princess and I were going to be all alone sans daddy and sans nanny on the long haul flight from Paris to Jozi. Oi.
We had a six hour layover in Paris where The Princess fell asleep once only on Charity’s shoulder, lulled into slumber by the soothing music in Sephora. She promptly woke up 20 minutes later and was as wired as anything for the rest of the night which is precisely what I had been afraid of. Our flight was only leaving at 23:20 and I figured by then she’d be hysterical if she hadn’t slept. I was praying I’d have no-one next to me in the two-seater configuration but it was not to be. The flight was jam packed. Luckily, the guy next to me was a father of two kids under the age of five and was the most chilled neighbour you could wish for. A Brazilian engineer living in Maputo and building a mine somewhere in Mozambique, he kept on telling me that everything I apologised for was “no problem, no problem” in his thick Portuguese accent. And when I think back to my tolerance for babies on planes, I should be ashamed of myself. A tiny peep out of any kid on an aircraft in my former life and I would’ve shot the “pathetic” parent the blackest look ever… How the tables turn.
Fortunately, The Princess reserved her two hysterical screaming fits to nappy changing time in the bathroom. The first time, the well-meaning stewardess who was holding her while I mixed her bottle, told me she thought she’d heard some butt thunder. There was nothing but pee but The Princess was still outraged at being dragged into that tiny bathroom and placed under those bright lights and boy did she let me know it.
The next morning, just before breakfast we really did have a Code Brown on board. Of course, it would be one of those Code Browns that had smudged all the way up The Princess’ back and soiled her vest, so we had to do a full clothes removal and re-application. NOT a happy princess.
That aside, though, she really behaved well. I was too terrified to “abandon” her in her little bassinet as I was certain that would produce screaming, so she simply slept in various positions on my chest all night and I think the two of us actually got a fair amount of sleep. She must’ve sensed her mommy was panicked and that she needed to behave.
When we finally got our bags and met our transfer company, the idiots hadn’t sent a safe baby seat for The Princess, so we were off on our next adventure: The Princess’ first train journey aboard the Gautrain. The Princess is strictly a one-poo-a-day girl but on very, very special occasions she has been known to poo twice a day. Today was one of those occasions. With ten minutes to spare until the departure of the Gautrain, we had our second Code Brown on board. It was too bad, though. There was no time for a nappy change. We had a train to catch. And so it was that The Princess, Charity and I, boarded the Gautrain with a monumental whiff wafting about us, for the final leg of our two week adventure.
Twenty minutes later, we were home AT LAST. And what fine weather we have come home to! Summer is upon us. The Princess and I celebrated by taking a stroll to Tasha’s in all our summer finery. Long may it last!

Cement for our Marriage

The French are so funny. You cannot throw a stompie and hit a French person who doesn’t smoke. In cafes, in the street, they’ll blow their smoke right on top of your baby without batting an eye. They’ll smoke all over your fragrant, Provencal plate of food. Chefs and restaurant owners will sit down with regular patrons and smoke on top of you while you try to savour the taste of their wondrous French fare. You can also bring your smelly mutt to most restaurants and to many hotels.
But God forbid you should pollute the environment by misclassifying your recycling.
For the latter, hefty fines are apparently imposed. You are also, we just learned last night, not allowed to poison rodents in your own home. According to our landlord, Steve, this might just be illegal – he’d have to check but he certainly did not look impressed when we called him over to introduce him to the rodents that have been rudely interrupting our dinner for the past ten days. Steve informed us that these were neither rats, nor mice. Rather, they are “harmless” rodents known as “mulots”, indigenous to the South of France. Sort of like field mice, he described, only bigger.
Much bigger, I’d like to add.
Just one of the South of France’s many contrasts…
That said, we still dream of one day owning a holiday home here. The Husband has decided that inland in the countryside there are “too many insects”. I’m not sure if this means that we should rather be setting our sights on Beijing if we want a holiday home that’s insect free, but we’ll see…
So far we’ve determined that our next French adventure will be on the coast. To this end, we explored the little hamlets of Agay and Antheor, close to St Raphael and just west of Cannes, the other day. Agay was cute but it was Antheor that was really spectacular. A less up-market version of Clifton with cliffside houses overlooking a pristine, turquoise sea. With The Princess perched in her pouch on The Husband’s chest, we descended the 130 steps (I counted on the way up to try and keep my breathing even) to one of the many mini beaches. It is nearing the end of high season now so things are still busy but thankfully the masses have gone home. Because of this, we were able to enjoy the beach with just a few other people. It made our day when we could just overhear a woman near us remark to her partner that The Princess was “magnifique”. We were basking in pride!
The Husband has become rather caught up in the romance of the French language and as such is making an attempt to learn it. The method at the moment involves us lying in bed with him painstakingly reading Tintin in its original French version and me translating. I have to say that he’s learnt quite a lot. Although he still gets confused with his basic Spanish and will find himself asking for “la cuenta” in restaurants instead of “l’addition”.
His love affair with the French language, however, is mild compared to his ongoing love affair with cycling. Over the years as I’ve seen his sporting obsessions go from rock climbing to mountain biking to road cycling, my view has always been: “Have fun, honey, just don’t torture me.” This has worked pretty well for us until two days ago when he drove three and a half hours to summit the famous Tour de France climb of Mont Ventoux. There he overhead a South African accent and proceeded to meet a 66 year old teacher from Cresta who had just ascended Mont Ventoux on a tandem, with her husband, a retired butcher.
“She took up cycling when she was 43,” he told me afterwards, “so there is plenty of time for you!”
I explained what he already knows, which is that when two people both like to be in charge, a tandem is not a good idea. He said he’d asked the teacher whether a tandem hadn’t perhaps negatively impacted her relationship.
“Not at all!” she replied emphatically. “It’s like cement for our marriage!”
I was thinking it’d be more like quicksand for ours, but the next day we went to the nearby Lac St Cassien – a beautiful, azur body of water just 20km from Fayence. Because The Husband can’t sit still, we hired one of those pedal boats. We climbed on, started pedalling and i found that my feet were just going around and around without any effort at all. I asked The Husband if he felt the same but of course it turned out that he was doing all the work.
“You see, baby, it would be just like this on a tandem!” he said.
Now we’re talking…

Quelle Chaleur

You know it’s hot when you leave your phone lying out in the sun and it says:
 
Temperature Warning: I-phone needs to cool down before you can use it.
Since we arrived at our little pad in Fayence in the Var region of Provence, I myself have often felt as though I need to cool down in order to function. The Husband mentioned that perhaps we shouldn’t visit the south of France in August because of the heat, but I totally dismissed his objections, thinking that anything was better than winter. Boy, was I wrong. It is just too hot. It’s hot from about 8am in the morning and it often feels as though it has barely cooled down in the evening. And then there are the mozzies. I thought Africa had mozzies but I’m starting to think we have nothing on the South of France. They pounce at dawn, at dusk and throughout the day. I haven’t had this many bites since our trip to the Amazon. Not to mention wasps and horse-flies. The Husband was literally hunted by a horsefly last night when he went for a swim. He ducked under the water to try and avoid being stung but the buzzing b*stard was waiting for him as he surfaced. And that’s not all. Last night we were finishing dinner when some sort of creature ran across the shade-cloth over our heads. It sounded kind of thunderous so The Sister and I looked up, a bit concerned.
“It’s a bird,” announced The Husband.
“Ah”, we replied.”
But when “the bird” scrambled off the shade-cloth into the tree, I noticed he had a pretty long, skinny tail. It was a mouse. The next thing his buddy went running across to join him.
I swear, it’s the wild west out here.
On the bright side, however, our villa is a gorgeous Provencal style house with beige stone walls and blue shutters, overlooking a much-needed and magnificent pool. One needs to dip in the pool every twenty minutes or so to avoid overheating, like an I-phone. And so The Princess has had her first swims, although she knows that this is not quite the same as her bath so she’s a little cautious and clingy.
Yesterday, for some glitz and glamour we went to Juan Les Pins, next door to Antibes, where The Princess swam in the sea for the very first time. She seemed to love it, although she did cling tightly onto her daddy’s ears, just in case. I love the beach set-up on the French Riviera. It’s SO civilized. You hire your sun-lounger with super padded mattress, you rent your fluffy white beach towel and you snap your fingers to get the attention of the “plagiste” (the very tanned, muscular “beacher” dude) who brings you drinks and an extra umbrella, should you so wish. Of course, you pay through your nostrils for all these privileges, but it’s so worth it. Not least because of the excellent people watching the Mediterranean scene affords one. If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to be too tanned, it most definitely is. I have never seen such over-fried Caucasians in my life. They have literally turned themselves into the colour of mud. And I’m not just talking about prune-faced, bejewelled old grannies who were born in an era when no-one knew the dangers of the sun. I’m talking about teens, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings… all turned pitch black from the sun. At the moment, The Princess has a definite tinge of red in her hair and her skin is absolutely lilly-white. Her daddy is much the same and her mommy is not exactly olive-skinned so the three of us are happy to stick to the shade. The Sister, on the other hand, has been working hard at trying to turn her English rose complexion a darker shade. Charity, The Princess’ nanny, thinks that anyone who deliberately lies in the sun in this heat is deluded. It’s been so hot, that she has gone from being utterly terrified of the water to wading out into the shallow waters of the Med and hanging out in the shallow end of the pool.
The Husband, however, has not let the heat distract him from his cycling obsession. He was delighted to learn that a Tour de France climb went right past our villa’s doorstep and wasted no time getting on his bicycle to emulate the routes of cycling’s greats. Right now, as I type this, he is off on his longest ride ever: a 200km epic. And this is by someone who often refuses to sit outside at restaurants in Joburg in summer on the grounds that it is “too hot”. He is officially mad. I just hope he doesn’t come home dehydrated.  And that about sums up our little sojourn in the South of France for now. I think I need to take my Mac indoors before it issues me with a temperature warning…