Monday, July 13, 2009

Where do I belong?

I arrived in Northern Michigan Friday evening, just two days ago. It is beautiful. My children are happy as munchkins, blending in with their cousins (Leo has now scorned his smaller French bathing slip for the preferred American-style shorts, or jams as they were called in my day). They are most happily adjusting to the rhythms of tennis in the morning, pancakes or muffins by Gramma, outings to the dunes or on the lake, and large, boisterous family dinners around pork roast, barbeques, spaghetti and lots of pies and ice cream.

And it is wonderful to be here. So why do I find myself out of sync? I adore my cousins. With them the conversation flies, stimulating, funny, cogent. We cover the quite a range: politics, life experiences, good books, dogs, horses, kids. We listen, we share. It's just neat to be together again, whatever generation we belong to. It is when I leave the family compound that I feel askew, awry, out of sorts. Part of me is thrilled to be at the local mac store, with these super-helpful and very bright young folk helping me sort out my difficulties (alas, no, I cannot correct the country code lock on my Macintosh DVD drive by purchasing an external DVD drive. I can no longer watch American DVDs with this machine). Ditto the downtown book store with their warm home-made scones, their piles of books by local authors, signed and awaiting purchase. It is a friendly and marvelous place I've come to. I adore the local organic coop -- and am planning on picking up some more organic cotton socks there this year.

But, I am startled by the sheer size of so many people walking down the street (sorry!). How politically un-correct of me. But it is startling to see so many large bums in pastel shorts; so many bellies overhanging their jeans. My eyes are startled, and my ears are adjusting to the different range of accents. Have I become so European? Back in Provence, I feel soft and chunky. Here, I'm as slim as they come (well not like a young girl of 12, but still, for 43, I'm doing ok).

Back in Provence, when things are a touch too much, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I've romanticized this corner of North America: Its wineries, great restaurants, beautiful outdoors, great organic scene, numerous green, energy-efficient homes. It is a place I hunger for, and I entertain the possibility of moving her, for a year? for more? But the huge roads, the huge trucks, the abundance of over-sized ice cream portions, the pink fluff served on French toast, the French named restaurant which has decisively misspelled its name (Amicale). Yes, I'm a bit freaked out today. I've only just arrived. So, I just need to take it slowly, right?

I'm way psyched about the Michael Moore sponsored Film Festival at the end of the month. I'm adoring the quiet of the woods, the family tennis, the books, the chance to simply chill. Other years, I've taken advantage of the outlet malls to get clothes for the kids. But for some reason, I'm feeling overwhelmed by the extra-friendliness of everyone. Gosh but they're all super-nice here. It's almost surreal.

Sometimes you forget what an alternative "normal" feels like.


nathalie in avignon said...

An interesting post as always, Madeleine. We haven't finished exploring the issue of multiculturalism, have we?
Enjoy the holiday and the family anyway. That's so precious!
Cheers from "back home" !?

Madeleine Vedel said...

thank you! and yes, it is a lovely holiday, and we world travelers are layers upon layers of beings, non? have fun at the festival!

Leila Jun said...

I can so completely relate! I am French (Clermont Ferrand) and have lived in Michigan for four years, and will start my third year in Boston in a couple of weeks. I know what that out of sync feeling is. I feel French in the US and American in France. Thank you for making me feel normal for a moment.