Ah yet again I am traveling both physically and psychically between countries and worlds. And I wonder... how much effort have I put into being in France? into making things work and coping? And how at ease did I feel back in Michigan these past few weeks? How effortless it was to be respected and accomplished in my fields, to communicate, to be. I was a tad less the outsider that I had so felt last year. I observed, but not like an alien, more in appreciation for what I find so lovely and heart-warming.
Much of the past year, whether in the US or France, I've been observing. It got way out of hand noticing how people dress, what they eat, the level of conversation, how couples seem to work, how children are raised, what daily rhythms resemble, values, goals.... But that's where I've been. Inside and outside at the same time.
While in the US I put on a few pounds -- eating lots more pasta, bread and ice cream, not to mention blueberry and cherry pies than I normally do. Yoga every other day didn't compare to the amount I normally walk each day in Avignon. I gradually left more and more of my elegant clothes in the closet and switched to comfy jeans, shorts and t-shirts. Fewer décolletés, flat sandals, no make-up. I adapted. I read novels and went canoeing. I fed and did dishes and socialized with family and friends.
I visited many -- so often women who are achieving their dreams, making chocolate, making goat cheese, writing cook books, running a fabulous Italian deli.
It felt good.
From a few conversations -- and yes, observations -- I truly do believe that chivalry is more present in Northern Michigan than in Provence. Single women get helped -- with putting away boats, chopping wood, shoveling snow, etc., This is a world that helps he/she who needs it. The Frontier spirit of helping out, and receiving help. Collaborating to survive.
How many times did JP notice that I had to fix my car, work on the house, etc., and simply state that I'd better find someone competent to do that for me over in my neighborhood. If he hadn't the skills to do so, I wouldn't have found that so annoying, nor if I truly had had the funds to hire such people would it have been so hurtful. But, under the circumstances...
Here in Provence in little ways men are attentive -- opening doors, tipping their hats, quick to compliment on your looks, flirt, etc., But for the big things? Well, it's not easy. Most are stressed and over-worked, so, cope on your own. I'm lucky in that Erick still helps out on occasion, and that I've a superb plumber (whom I pay correctly). My neighbor has his moments, but being 'lunatique', i.e. moody, I don't count on him.
What I also truly admired in the US was the level of complicity, respect and genuine admiration and trust I witnessed in a number of marriages. Marriages of equals. It wasn't a game of the sexes, but partnerships. I've not felt that here. Perhaps I've simply had bad luck, or??
Then again, I'm amused by the ease with which many American friends use vulgar language and references, which are just not the norm amongst my French acquaintances. While sailing on a hobi-cat the water surged up through the middle of the canvas. I likened it to a water massage for cellulite (thalassotherapie anyone?). And I heard back the comment more commonly used in this family that it was a Lake Enema. Hmmmm.
There are other examples: my morning ritual includes grabbing a kleanex and blowing my nose; a friend commented that his includes taking a good crap. Oh... did I need to hear that? Yes, I'm a bit shy on these matters, perhaps equally amused and perturbed.
And so as I unpack all that I'd put away for the summer rentals, re-invest my Provence home with my belongings, my photos of my children, I feel a touch of melancholy, nostalgia, and cultural dislocation. A yearly rite of passage, or?