Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vive le Catalan

It's the first Saturday of Christmas break, 9 am here, and a fluffy snow falls. Small groups of skiers and snowboarders drift past on their way to the pistes. One trail comes straight down to the back of our apartment building and then slopes right to avoid colliding with it, and ending at a restaurant just to the right of the supermarket/our apartment building. When I walk down the stairwell, I can see the skilift out the window.
Today, apparently, hopefully, the first wave of Christmas tourists will arrive. The next two weeks will be pretty non-stop but I don't go downstairs to start my day at the store until 11h30, so I thought I'd take advantage of this moment to check-in; there probably won't be another moment like this for a little while.
So, so much to learn, see and do here, but here's a brief mishmash of what I've learned so far about this Catalan culture and Pyrenees life I've parachuted into...
Where I'm living was a part of Spain until 1659 when a royal marriage between prince whoever of France and princess whoever of Aragon (who said history was in the details?? sorry the precise factoids escape me) shifted the border and we became part of France. Regardless, this is Catalan, folks, and we've got the red and yellow striped flag, the funny accent, the cerdagne dance, and most important, the sausage, to prove it!
Catalan has existed a long time. ("long time"--a historical measure) The first written documentation of the existence of the Catalan people goes back to Clovis, who was ancient (466-511 A.D., thank you Google)
It's a region with a sense of mystery to me--the Cathars, the Black Madonna of Montserrat. And according to my colleague Claude (you will hear much more about him later, as he is a jewel), there are unexplained Celtic symbols found in the region and a history of magic. Much to explore.
Meanwhile, the forests apparently hide bears and wolves. Claude showed me photos of bear prints taken near his home. I'm currently reading a guide book of the local herbs and wildflowers of the region that I found in our little library. Apparently, the geographic isolation has favored the development of many species of flora and fauna unique to the region. I look forward to sun-soaked summer days of hiking.
The larger region as a whole, Languedoc-Rouissillon, also creates 50 percent of France's wine. And our little superette stocks many local wines from vinyards in the region.
Many, many different trails of discovery in the time the meantime, au travail (to work!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time Warp

Ca y est!! I'm here and 11 days later, I am experiencing my first hour of internet at my new home. So I just took a peek here and want to say thank you to all for your good wishes and responses posted on the blog.
It's been a joyous, hectic, exhausting arrival.
As I type, Guillaume and I are camped out in our new apartment, surrounded by little piles as we unpack five years of our history together, suitcases from the U.S., and boxes that have laid sleeping in Paris and Normandy. We are listening to the news on the radio, and the wind, which is ramping up after two or three gorgeous days here. Gorgeous days are bad news during ski season. So, the prediction that we will receive the front that has swept through the U.S. is welcome.
Too tired and too long to give all the thousand details, surprises and discoveries of these first days, at least right now, but here is a little portrait of our adopted village...
Today, Guillaume and I had the opportunity to walk around a bit. La bibliotheque (the library) was open, so we stepped in. The library is probably about 10 x 15 and presided over by a madame who is a reservoir of information and best guesses, a true character. "Applying" for a library card consisted of letting her know that we were new in town and were year-rounders, and filling out a form that consists of name and address, no ID, no proof of address. She then gave us the petit tour of the library, her opinon on Barcelona (fabuleux), the region (magnifique), the village (if you don't mind the cold and making less money than in Paris, there's no reason to live anywhere else) and personal relationships in a small town (soyez prudent! be careful who you befriend, take your time) and other helpful hints. We chose three books on the region and she "checked out" the books--meaning she wrote down the titles in a little spiral notebook. As we turned to go, as an afterthought, Guillaume asked when the books were due. Her response, "Ah, we could say two or three weeks. And if I run into you and you have a problem because of your work , then you can let me know and I can open up for 10 minutes at other times... (The library is only open 8 hours total throughout the week)......

Guillaume has gone downstairs to do store closing. We live in a residence above the superette, so going to work consists of walking down a flight of stairs, exiting the lobby of the residence and entering the superette next door. If we are scheduled to work at the epicerie (which I pretty much never am), we have to walk 5 minutes "uptown"...Last night we were listening to the radio news, which was announcing a partial strike on the RER in Paris. Guillaume and I passed a silent raised eyebrow between us and then both burst out laughing. La vie est belle!
We have two huge windows in our apartment, which look east and most mornings, we are greeted by a sunrise like a lava flow.
Much more and fotos to come in the days, weeks ahead. Much love to all...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Between Two Coasts

Tonight I watched a French film, I've Loved You So Long, starring Kirstin Scott Thomas. A light film about a woman recently released from 15 years in prison for the murder of her son. How I miss France...
I joke but indeed it brought up some mixed emotions about my semi-adopted home....Watching the film, I felt a thrill watching the way people looked, dressed, walked, interacted, the cafes and architecture. And appreciated the primer--little expressions that reimpressed itself on my tres rusty francais or new ones jotted down. I felt a surge of--yes, I am so ready to be back.
Scott Thomas is a British actress (known for example for her role in The English Patient) but has lived in Paris since she was 19, was married to a Frenchman, and speaks fluent French. Not just her language, but her way of being seems somehow more French than British to me. And yet in the film, they need to create the subterfuge that she is a Franco-Brit, with a British mother, because even Scott Thomas can't really pass. You either are or you're not.
When in France, I'm often reminded of the joke about the New Yorker who has transplanted himself to Maine. He asks one of the taciturn "down-Easters", "I know I'll never be considered a real Mainer, but how about my children, who will be born here?" The response: "If a cat gives birth in the oven, do you call the kittens muffins?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Les Angles in the Fog

I'm still here but Guillaume sent me this photo of the village in fog. Last week Les Angles received 30 cm of snow (about 11 inches), but now temperatures have climbed significantly and everything has melted. Guillaume, Gregoire and Lydia are waiting somewhat anxiously for the big drop--of temperatures and snow and the true beginning of high season...It's like being a farmer in the sense that your livelihood depends on the climate....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Leaving for Les Angles

Well, actually not quite yet...
Three weeks from today, I'll be on the plane, on my way to a new life.
For those of you who haven't heard yet, Guillaume and I are moving to the Pyrenees, to a village of 400 called Les Angles. In the 1960's, this village re-invented itself in order to survive as a family ski resort and now welcomes 15,000 tourists at a time at high season.
Guillaume's brother and sister-in-law have bought two small grocery stores there and have asked us to join them in this new adventure. Guillaume actually left a month ago and I will join him/them right after Thanksgiving.
We are situated about a mile high, 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean and about a 30 or 40 mintue drive to Spain. Apparently, a large percentage of the visitors to the ski resort are Spanish, and of these, many speak Catalan first, Spanish second.
Guillaume tells me there is already snow on the mountain and they expect to open the season sometime in the next 2 to 3 weeks.
So here I go, full of optimism and hope and questions into a new life, and although still in France, in some ways, i think a new culture as well. So I've decided to start a blog to share my impressions of my new life and surroundings.
So stay tuned here if you're interested....