Saturday, June 26, 2010

My blog seems to have had plenty of rock and roll, lately. But today we just have rock. Lots of rock:When this rock was dumped in front of our house a few weeks ago, I was VERY happy and relieved. Our errant local landscaper (his previous exploits prominently featured here) had left us in somewhat of a lurch.
After industriously removing all cover off the slopes around the edge of our driveway, he made the bare slopes steeper....
.....and then disappeared again.

I was really beginning to worry that he'd taken our advance money and scampered off, never to be seen again in this life..
He'd signed papers when he took the money, of course, but I was beginning to envision a lawsuit. And the idea of initiating a lawsuit in France, against a guy who is the son of our ex-neighbors who live in the village, made me quake in my bottines.

I'd call him and ask when work would start and he'd assure me that the rocks would be delivered on a certain day, say Tuesday. Then I'd call the local rock and gravel place and ask if it was true.
Or if he'd even called them at all.
And it turned out it wasn't and he hadn't.
Then I'd call him and hear the most unlikely fantasies unfold...Well, they were lies, really, but why be mean about it?
He told me, for example, that the reason the office had no trace of a call from him was that he hadn't called the main office at all , but just talked to the owner's son.
Well, I CALLED the boss's son...and he said that he hadn't heard from the guy.

When confronted with this, my creative landscaper told me that the fellow had been DRUNK when they talked and must have forgotten.....

I felt like I was living in an alternate universe - a particularly nasty one inhabited mainly by compulsive liars.

And meanwhile, the dirt kept washing down the driveway.

But finally, this happened:
It was a huge relief to finally have the key element, which we'd already paid for, present.
I was finally able to start sleeping well at night again.
Not that all is a bed or roses, or even rocks, now.
The pile has now been sitting there for over three weeks. When I call the landscaper, I hear more creative fabrications that might even be entertaining ... if it weren't all so frustrating...

My yard is still slowly eroding down my driveway and into the Menoge River at the bottom of the valley, though.

Which kind of sucks.

But I do have rocks AND I'm going to be in the USA in one week! So, I have to say that I'm relatively happy, despite my small miseries....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My older kids aren't the only ones getting public attention.
The twins are getting lots of press lately, too.

First, there was their fleeting (but impactful!) appearance on the national news here in France.

And now just yesterday, their dance recital Saturday night was covered in "Le Dauphiné Libéré" It's a newspaper filled with tons of regional news- there's plenty of accounts of village jumble sales and church choir concerts......but this was INTERESTING:
Mallory didn't make it into any photos, but Alexa is not hard to spot. She's the gorgeous one right in the center of the trio in the lower right photo. (I know you can't see well, but trust me-she's gorgeous!)

Here's the short article in a rough translation:
There was a crowd at the Chateau Rouge attending a recital of the ballet school association of Annemasse, given by Pirouette Dance School (located in Fillinges). On stage, several scenarios were created by Corinne C. with the theme "Our Hippie Years". It was a return to the 1970's organized around the songs and music of Gainsbourg, Bardot, ...(etc...)... A remarkable and notable evening.

Weird theme for the show, non?

I have to admit that it was pretty funny sometimes. For example, at one point, all the children came on the stage, waved their arms and started singing the old Baez song "Here's to You":

"Here's to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts

The last and final moment is yours

That agony is your triumph "
they warbled cheerfully.

Why anyone would think it was apt for a bunch of French children to sing a tribute song to two anarchists executed in the USA in 1927 is anybody's guess...

I know it was popular in 1971, but so were many other songs...
How about "Joy to the World"? It's cute and contains no mention of "agony". Just frogs and fish. And kids like animals, right?

Or "Proud Mary"? That's a classic.

Anything would have been better, really...

Just not "Mr. Bojangles".
I HATE that song with a passion most people reserve for Nazi war crimes. It's one of those songs that makes me reach out and switch off the radio so fast that I'm in danger of fracturing my wrist.
Also "I Shot the Sheriff".

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bad news.
The music festival yesterday was called off on account of the rain. That means no film and no photos.
I feel like a Bad Mom that I didn't do better at their last concert. I can't imagine how I LOST the video off my cell phone.
But I guess that's just how I roll....

Today I've been busy setting up things for our trip to the USA- we leave in 13 short days!! The last time we were there was in 2007, so everybody is pretty excited.
I've managed to get JP's visa sorted out. (He's currently in Ouagadougou, melting in the heat and enjoying only sporadic internet access.)
I've also booked and paid for our campsite in South Dakota.

Now I'm looking at rental cars. I often end up on sites written by French people, advising fellow citizens on their upcoming USA trips.

Here's one that I enjoyed that really gives a feeling for the differences between driving in France and driving in the USA. (I'll translate for you, but you can see the original here, which was written about Arizona):

"Coooool! Firearms may be freely sold here, but it's no problem- Americans are very respectful of the law. It's one of the paradoxes of this great country.
Forget about your latin driving. Here we've never hear a horn honking. And it's not because the light is green that you're not going to let a pedestrian cross.

In the city, you'll have the impression of seeing a film in slow motion. And in front of a school, slow-motion slows down even more.
And everyone respects the speed limits! Forget about passing 'à la Français' and "yes, but the light was orange". Try that on a cop over here and see how far it gets you...
The sign below perfectly summarizes the sense of humor of cops in the USA:

Interesting, huh? From what is said about the USA, you can derive a pretty precise picture of what driving in France is like.

In a word: insane.

People pass on blind curves like they (and everyone else on the road) are protected by magical powers.
And it's open season on pedestrians. Moms pushing strollers containing adorable babies, cute kids walking home from school- everyone is fair game....

And it isn't just me and the internet "authorities" that think so. Every anecdote I've heard from every French person I've ever met that has driven in the USA says the same thing: Americans are polite and sensible drivers and the French are maniacs.

I still drive like an American (safely and kindly) and make the other drivers here a little crazy- especially when I stop to let pedestrians pass, rather than running over their toes as they try to get across an intersection with their lives intact....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

You know how when you were about 10 years old and your grandma bought you a groovy pink and purple flower-covered diary with an adorable itty-bitty padlock and matching tiny key? And how at first you swore to yourself you'd write in it every single day? And how you did, at first?
But then how you slowly slacked off until you realized that eight months had passed and you hadn't written a word? And how it seemed hopeless to start up again because you'd missed so many vital events and catching the diary up would have been too gargantuan a task to contemplate?
Remember that?
Never mind.

But I have to say that I find myself in a similar situation here. My beloved (by me, anyway!) blog has sat here unattended as I hosted hoardes (nice hoardes!!) of houseguests, played tour guide, and did some fairly blog-worthy stuff.
And now I have to get it up to date.
Where to begin?

On Friday (June 11th!), as the Auxillary Twins neared the end of their stay with us, three fabulous new guests had to be picked up at the train station. MLW was arriving from NYC, via Paris, with her 18 year old niece and two year old daughter in tow.

(I haven't asked if they want to be pictured on my blog. So all you get today is a back view of Possibly The World's Cutest Toddler.)

Then on Saturday, the parents of the Auxillary Twins arrived. They'd pushed up their trip by one day so as not to miss the concert that Valentine and Sev's band were to play in that night. I thought it was so lovely that they were interested and made the effort! And SO encouraging for Tya, who was quite, quite nervous by then.

Just as these new guest pulled up, JP was off to pick up Tya's godmother and her husband in Geneva. (They are real city-folk and neither one drives) So, the support crowd of fans for The Boxmen was growing by the minute.

I whipped up a little dinner for 15 people (ha!) and then we headed off to the concert, packed into two cars. We would have made the Shriner Clowns proud- we had seats for 12, but 13 people needed to go, so we just piled in and made the 10km drive up the valley, hoping not to see the police along the way.

The concert was primarily for the younger students of the "School of Rock" of our little mountain valley and was held in a small community hall. When we walked into the crowded, tiny building , we easily found the 13 seats at the front that the band had reserved for us at the very front.
As I sat down, Sev came over to me and informed me that he would be SINGING with another band that night.
"Just one song" he said with a feigned casual air. "They asked if anybody knew "Smells Like Teen Spirit", so I tried it with them and it worked. Gotta go now." And he stuck his iPod earphones back in and wandered off.

Talk about surprises!

First the younger groups played (5th and -6th graders). There were a few of my English students from last year. SO cute!
Then the older groups went on. Most of them were pretty decent, music-wise. The only problem was the singing.
Not good. At all.
One young woman's version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" sounded more like what they must play just outside the gates of Hell.

A certain amount of smirking and groaning went on in the crowd, which I thought was dreadful. Yes, much of the singing was American Idol crazy reject bad, but these were just nervous kids. I smiled from my front-row seat and tried to send mental waves of encouragement and kindness.

And I hoped someone would do the same if my kids or their friends messed up...

The next band consisted of three adults. They played a couple of songs and then Sev came on stage with them, looking hugely tall and gawky in that way only 14 year old boys growing too fast can manage.
But as for stage presence? Chatting with the crowd? Getting a laugh? Sev was all over that. Then he launched into a parody of the famous Nirvana song!
It was so funny- it's really a shame that most of the people there didn't speak English!
"Now I'm mumbling, and I'm screaming and I don't know what I'm singing!"
I'm not saying that he sang it completely in tune. But then, does melody really count in a Kurt Cobain song?
I was just amazed that he was so at ease. And the crowd seemed to love it, despite the language thing. (Most of the groups were singing in English anyway, so everyone was pretty used to not getting the lyrics....)

After a couple more decent groups, The Boxmen came on. And that's when my normally somewhat shy Valentine showed us all that she was born to front a rock band.
I was completely astounded!They sounded GOOD! Really good! Like about 1000 times better than anyone else there. Their music was great, Tya's singing was impressive and they seemed to have FUN! You could really tell that they all like each other and enjoy being together.

"The crowd went wild", as they say. Everyone really seemed to appreciate them and the compliments afterwards were...vastly gratifying!

The best compliments came from their teacher... he was, obviously, SO, pleased with them. He pointed out to me that The Boxmen members are not the youngest kids in the association and are by far the least experienced. Max and Sev (guitar and bass) had never touched an instrument before September! And the drummer only had one year of experience.

On top of that, all of the other groups had been playing together for at least a year or more. But somehow The Boxmen blew them all out of the water. Their teacher is expecting great things next year!

Yes, I did film it.
No, I cannot show it to you.
The recording seems to be lost.
Can't find it on my camera!!!!!

But here's the thing- their great performance earned them a spot at the village music festival! And that's today! And for the event, I've borrowed a decent camera from a friend. So, maybe I'll be able to show you something soon...

It's lucky they're able to go perform today...On Tuesday, their drummer made a wild leap off a picnic table at school, trying to grab cherries off a tree (a common pastime for bored high school students at their lycée (high school), or so Valentine has informed me). He hit the ground, dislocating and breaking his right shoulder.
He's ok now- has to have his arm in a sling for a month and a half...and may need surgery. But at least he didn't break his neck....Could have been worse, as we like to say back in Nebraska.

The Boxmen have recruited their teacher to play the drums, just for this last gig.
And hopefully their drummer will be fully recovered by September...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Guest Twins (featured in previous posts) have adapted well to life in a French/American household.

Maybe too well.

We seem to have gotten them hooked on "Nouvelle Star" (The French 'American Idol' spin-off)
They've been watching it with us for the last two weeks and are now plotting a way to get their parents to let them watch the final show next week. They are pretty optimistic, as they'll be staying in a hotel and presumably have access to a TV....

(Here I'll just insert a hearty "sorry" to the parents of the Guest Twins, who probably would rather their children do something else during their dream vacation in France than watch TV)

But I have to admit that I love this show.
Yes- a year ago, I hated it, but now I adore it.
I guess I'm becoming more French? I even think it's better than American Idol, which has been getting saddder and more disappointing with every season. Somebody needs to stick a wooden stake, Buffy-like, in that thing and mercifully let it crumble into dust.
And then gather up all the dust and launch every molecule of it into outer space.

But NS is still fresh and interesting and manages to get some really unique talent. And this season, the show has boasted my favorite candidate, ever! She's a quirky, incredibly talented and lovely 20 year old from Montpellier.

And last night, she sang one of my favorite songs, ever.
You've got to hear this!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A few posts back, I mentioned that my twins (along with their whole class, of course) were going to be on French television.
Well, the show was finally aired today on the national one o'clock news on TF1 (the most popular channel, if you recall)

JP and I were at home and saw it on our big screen TV. When it finally got to the classroom scene, it was all I could do not to get all Mrs. Bennet and shriek "I was sure she could not be so beautiful for nothing!".
I only just restrained myself, but when you watch the video for yourself, you will notice that the camera person seemed to like Alexa's looks, as did the editor of the piece. She gets a close-up early on in the school scene and then again at the very end of the program.

Besides seeing both of my adorable younger daughters, you'll also get a look at the region where I live. It's even prettier than it looks in the show.

The segment (which you can see here. After the advertisement is over , click the "chapitres" button if you don't want to watch the whole 30 minute program. Go to chapters 11-19. Then click on the third picture from the end. it's a little photo of the girls' class. Can't miss it. ) is part of a series that TF1 is doing this week about the 150th anniversary of the annexation of the Savoy into France.

Today's installment was about the regional dialect of the area. And as my girls are in a Savoyard class in school, they got to be on the news.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Yesterdays's shopping spree was great fun, but today hasn't been so shabby, either. We spent the day in Geneva.
Our Guest Twins were particularly keen to go, as they'd never been to Switzerland before.
All the girls had a great time shopping and doing all the usual tourist stuff:

From the photos, you'd guess it was a perfect day.
And it was, mostly.
(Except for the part where Mallory vomitted in the back of the car and got it all over her pants, obliging me to immediately buy her a new pair at the H&M. And then when the parking ticket machine short-changed me 30 Swiss Francs and the attendent said I'd get paid back "eventually, probably".)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Today I have something for you all that is much better than dirt and rocks.
I bring you this:
The short version is: Mallory won a 200 euro shopping spree at the shopping mall!

Here's the longer version: Our pals from Portland came early this week and left us their twin daughters (who have already featured heavily in my blog, back in our Ouagadougou days).
So, for the next two weeks, I have four 12 year old twins ..which is kind of fun and certainly unusual.
Today, they got out of school early. I'd pre-arranged it so that the guests could attend school with my girls. Mallory was begging to go swimming, but the local pool isn't open yet. So, I proposed to take them to a nearby shopping mall.
We jumped into the car and made the 15 minute drive to the rather small facility. In the 16 years since it was built, it's lost a lot of it's luster. And, as a general rule, France cannot compete with the USA in terms of shopping malls.
I'm not saying that's good or bad.
I'm just sayin'....

The main attractions the place holds for Mal and Al are the H &M and Claire's. After these two sites were thoroughly examined by the four twins, we decided to do a circuit of the mall (which would take about three minutes, tops) and then stop for a snack.
Alexa and I lagged behind the other three. She was showing me choice stuff in a jewlery store window. (That girl does have taste. Her budget runs more towards Claire's, but she likes the expensive stuff.)
When we caught up with the others, they were in line at a stand that had been set up. People were being given little cards. When the nice hostess inserted said cards into a big machine, annoying music ensued. Then the machine printed out the "prizes", which mostly seemed to consist of coupons for 10 percent off at various shops in the mall. Which was ok, but not exciting.

What was exciting was when Mallory's card provoked a printout that was worth 200 euros! I couldn't quite believe it, but when the bald guy with the microphone and crazy pink tie came up to interview us, I began to believe!
Mallory had one hour to spend 200 euros in any one (or two, max) of the shops in the mall. She ended up getting a portable dvd player, a digital camera (which has been her dream for the last year!) and some goodies from Claire's for herself, her twin and her two friends from the USA.

I feel guilty saying this, but the shopping spree was fun...a lot more fun than getting the cash and dutifully putting it in the bank. Mallory and the other girls had a blast!
What a great way to end the week!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The title of today's post is: More Than You Could Possibly Ever Wish to Know About My Front Yard. (Catchy, no?)

So, below is a shot of the major problem we are dealing with. As you can see, there is a newly-poured staircase squatting right in the middle of a dirt-covered slope. The dirt in question constantly crumbles off the slope (as dirt tends to do) and ends up on our nice, newly-paved driveway.
Now, the whole point of paving the driveway was....wait for it.....NOT to have a driveway full of dirt.
So, we've got a problem.

Our answer to this problem was to hire a local landscaper to fix up the situation. I will not, because of my love and affection for my readers, go into the gruesome details of this. All I will say is, that if you knew what I've been through with this guy over the last month and a half, your brains would explode.
I know mine have.
Suffice it to say, we paid an advance in mid-April and he just finally showed up YESTERDAY to start working.
The idea is that he's going to dig back into the slope and then put boulders along it. Then he'll fill in with dirt and plants to make it look spiffy.
Here he is (finally!) industriously digging away:
It just so happened that I was out taking a few pictures for my blog (and for JP, who is in Bamako right now and is missing all the fun), when there was almost a Tragic Yet Hilarious Incident.
There he was:

When suddenly:

The backhoe took a nosedive off the top edge and down towards the pavement. It looked like it was going to tip right over. I don't have a close-up of this moment, as I was more concerned about having to call emergency services (What's the number for the paramedics again? 18? Or is that the fire department? Or poison control? 17? 15? Oh merde! )
but the guy's face had a look of deep concern that one might venture to have called "pure panic".
Somehow, though, he managed to get the bucket into place in time and push himself back up.
If I would have had a video camera with me and the thing had gone over, I SO would have sent it to "France's Funniest Home Videos".
Or at least YouTube.
Despite his entertaining and clown-like antics, he did manage to make some progress:
And he's back again this morning, attacking a few other problems we have in our yard (which you'll soon be well-acquainted with, don't worry). The backhoe is rented for just a couple of days, so he'll get all the digging done today and then start in on the other work by Monday.
So, expect more thrilling photos of dirt very soon...and maybe there will even be some big rocks to go with it!