Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘Lorraine’


In European Union, France on November 22, 2009 at 1:46 pm

A week tomorrow and we will set foot on U.S. soil again.

We’re excited to be returning. But, it’s just gotten to the point where we have even more understanding … well it feels like that. I’ve felt my French has been through two step changes. The first was when I got numbers. The second was when less stuff just started going wrong in conversation. The second took me a while to realise, but it’s started.

It’s compounded by a third change, which is that we’ve just started to develop people with whom we can have conversations. Our epicer is one. The other day we went into his shop to get some pain industriel and a bottle of wine (what more do you need for a meal when you have cheese and meat at home?). We paid the 8 euros, actually we paid the 8.04 euros but he only asked for 8 which was kind of him. And then I said that I didn’t like the little 1 euro cent coins.

So, in response he asked me “when is England going to join the Euro” which wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind for a conversation. I understood that was what he asked. Then I started thinking about all the things I would like to be able to say (this is a political conversation of course, but the French like to have political conversations… and why not, it does have the nice property that then politics gets discussed as opposed to being reduced and processed down to trite positions). But somehow, and together, we managed to keep the conversation going. We learnt that despite the inconvenience of the currency, our epicer liked London (and Sandwich and Cantebury), enjoyed the global diversity of restaurants, and didn’t find it as expensive as he’d be told it would be. He bought his daughter over to join in the conversation. Luckily she was shy, I still find it a little embarrassing when an 8 year old can very soon outstrip me in terms of my language skills.

Then a customer, we think, also joined in. He walked into the shop and helped himself to a coffee behind the counter. I’m not really sure what type of relationship our epicer has with that person, customer, store help, friend, probably all of those and some more that I don’t know. He too had been to England, and so it was a trip around the Isles all from the warmth of the epicerie.

In addition to the newly talkative epicer, I think it takes the French a while to warm up to etrangers, the two ladies in the post office are now getting more friendly… (and of course they know where our mail goes and that we’re not from these parts…). One loves to use English words (I won’t call it conversation, that she prefers to do with us in French), but she recently wished K “a very very good day” and told us that she would give us “beautiful” stamps (for England, unfortunately it was the usual Marianne for the U.S.). The other one, who I have had more interaction with smiles now when she sees me. This is because I am well trained to say bonjour to everyone and au revoir on the way out. Shopping is not an exchange, it’s a social activity. And not social in that “store greeter” manufactured way, it’s actually really social. Authentic social, before the chains drove civility out of business.

We have a few bar/restaurants that we like. One that takes courage is run by a man who is passionate about wine. He also offers just one plat du jour. The plat du jour is of course in French and frequently not written down, so you have to get it by comprehension. He also happens to like game birds, (when I learnt French meats in the UK curiously we did not focus on them, opting for the four-legged meats over the two winged ones). So, it’s an adventure every time we’re in there… but one that’s getting easier. A good thing since the menu is 9euros, very reasonable, and the man pours a generous serving of wine. I’d tell you what the name of the place was if I knew it, the sign just says Vins. Very reasonable indeed.

Then there’s Autour du Zinc. It’s a husband and wife operation if I had to guess, perhaps with the help of one of their parents in the kitchen. The lady knows we’re Engligh speaking… We went there for the nouveau Beaujolais tasting. I think we discovered that that is always accompanied by free plates of food… so she told us about the buffet, and then so did her husband, so she told him that she’d already told us and that we understood. I understood that. It’s nice to have people watching out for you.

Next door but one there’s another small place that serves wine by the glass and free snacks to customers. There’s a lady in there who has dealt with us a couple of times. I decided to order a Haut Cote du Nuit, which I wanted to try and pronounce properly. Unfortunately it’s either pronounce it in real-time badly or pronounce it better and take as much time as a table of 8 ordering a 4 course meal. I made another joke. I explained. I had two types of French. Fast and not good. And not fast and not good. She laughed, and not in that pained way when someone makes a joke. I think she genuinely thought it was funny. And I was glad. Sharing a joke, even if it is at your own expense, is part of what makes connections.

I will miss Metz. It’s not the buildings but the people. Good people, and very very generous. I can’t really think of a bad experience I have had people wise. A few embarrassing moments, but not anything intentional.

Notes from a Larger Country: A goodbye to France, for now

In European Union, France on November 18, 2009 at 7:42 am

This is likely one of my last posts from France. I prepare now for an imminent return to the United States, to my home and life in Atlanta Georgia. There are things I am looking forward too, my house, my colleagues, some of my stuff, etc… but I am going to miss France. Here in no particular order are some things.

International Travel: Highly Recommended.

I’ve done quite a bit of international travel, and lived abroad for the majority of my life. International travel, and especially time living abroad I would be the first to claim is mind-opening, and also a test of one’s character. It takes a type of courage, an ability to feel OK with failure (not an academic’s natural skill set I sometimes think 🙂 But, I already thought I knew those lessons, I’d done them both at least once, going to the United States. But France is another new place, and each one teaches me more… I know, for example, that my French is not good enough to live here without the considerable scaffolding that Georgia Tech provides here. At the same time I’ve learnt that my French is functional enough for me to manage in shops, restaurants, and other settings. I also know that over time it has improved.

And then there’s France itself.

The French care about food and regionality. I understand that De Gaulle once asked “how you manage a nation of 264 cheeses” (people think the number of different types cheeses made in France is higher than that: current favourite Tomme Brebis, although Rocamadour is hard to beat, and then there’s Camembert). And I now understand why a person credited with the establishment of the 5th Republic said that. Probably not in entirety, but food is a window into how much the French care about the regions of France. France, I now think, is a delicate balance of centralized nation state, and highly individualistic regional cultures. And how they pull that balance off is something I can imagine a foreigner spending a life time finding out. Food is also a great lens for understanding French agricultural business, as a family business and not always agro-business. I like that supermarkets have two Bread sections, Pain (i.e., Bread) and then Pain Industriel (Industrial Bread). There’s local made and then their’s argo-business bread (which as best we can tell is used for Croque Monsieurs). Food not only tastes good, it’s a wonderful lens through which to explore France.

As a Brit.

It’s easy to see the history of France and Britain as one of conflict over considerable periods of time. And that is one very reasonable take. But, it took me living here to also see that same history as one that makes perhaps us more similar than I had really thought about before. I’m not sure I can point to particular examples (shared affinity for cheese perhaps 😉 but it’s not as different as I expected.

And France is beautiful.

The American West is beautiful. I’ve been lucky to see much of it, and wow, it’s an amazing natural landscape. France is also a stunningly beautiful country. Not perhaps in quite the diversity of geological beauty, although it’s hard to argue that the sight of the Pyrennes from the A61 around Carcassonne, while looking out over a deep flat valley (with the Mastif Central to the other side) is not spectacular. France has a lot of beauty. And its villages frequently add to that beauty, rather than being located within it. We travelled during the Fall break, so we also got to see a country whose countryside was turning a myriad of shades of yellow and red. So, I understand why so many French families vacation here, we’ve just scratched the surface and it’s a country that screams come back and visit me again. France has endless beauty it feels, from the winding rivers and streams of the Dordogne, to the flat river shores of the Loire, dotted with Chateaux, the rolling fields of the East, the mountains of the Southeast, and the valley of the Rhone.

And then there’s France within Europe.

Metz is a unique place from which to begin to think about Europe as a vision and now a reality. It is just across the river that one of the architects of the European Union, Robert Schuman, lived and is now buried. It’s easy to drive in 4 countries within a couple hours from Metz. Now passing deserted checkpoints and customs stops because they’re all members of the Schengen countries.

We were here for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It happened on Nov 9 1989, and interestingly France commemorates Armistice Day on Nov 11, remembering the huge loss of life that was the result of a war often on French soil between Germany and France (and others of course), World War 1. Two countries share a boundary near here, and a history of warfare. Metz itself has switched hands 3 times since 1870. Here then on a contested edge, it seems clearer what a stable peaceful Europe means. It means that Metz, a place where German language, food culture, and names (many people here have French-German name combinations) are a part of what makes the city and people French, and proud to be so. France and Germany had such a history and out of this they have crafted and frequently lead the architecture of a stable Europe. And here that makes so much sense.

And then there’s France for the French.

I can’t claim to understand the French. But, I’ve enjoyed living among them and learning from them. The French make me want to know more French, so that I can learn more. When I encounter French people who don’t switch to English even when my French gets pretty rough, I know it’s not because they’re trying to be difficult (I’m not sure I ever thought that, although I understand it’s a common interpretation, I was just perplexed) it’s because they want to encourage people to try their language. They’re proud of it, and it’s a nice language, and it sounds great when spoken by the natives (and rougher when someone with a mid-atlantic accent, and a lack of command of the genders and tenses speaks it). So give it a whirl! There’s very little to lose except that feeling that it ought to be better, and maybe that’s quite a reasonable feeling to have.

For me then.

I’m European. And very proud to be so. But, I knew my Europeanness as a political reaction to England’s lack of interest. I now understand it as something that’s not a reaction, but as a place, a people, an entity in its own right. I learnt that in Metz.

I learnt that should keep practicing my French, despite all its flaws, I need to keep just trying. And I wish I had longer because I’m just beginning to see signs of improvement. And I shan’t forget the feeling that it ought to be better, that’s accurate, and that’s a part of understanding the limitations of my Anglophone world. (I leave with a lucky surprise, that learning German young I have a working knowledge that I can’t explain but doesn’t seem to let me down in quite the ways that my French does).

And I’ve learnt that France is a country I want to explore in more detail. I want to understand the regions better, I would like to better understand the whole made from these proudly different parts, and continue to learn about how this country leads in Europe. How for example, did the French decide to leave their Franc (a very old currency) for the Euro?

I suppose that what I’ve really learned is how much more there is to learn. But I have better questions, thank you France.


In European Union, France on October 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Today I decided to go to Metz city centre, well I needed a baguette for dinner and after two months here I’m feeling more comfortable cycling through the city with sticks of bread. In fact I feel like a local when I do this.

But today was the day when the cereal and meat farmers joined the milk farmers to complain about an EU Agricultural policies. The complaint took the form of a nation wide strike in which people drove their tractors to places and set things on fire, or in the case of Metz drove their tractors around the city in a very effective attempt to prevent all car drivers from entering the city. And the city centre was very quiet.

I encountered the strike on my cycle route into the city. I was glad to be cycling. I stopped to watch. I took pictures. A kind French man told me that today in Metz there were 1003 tractors who had formed a long line and they would drive around Metz. And I watched at least 200 of them drive by.

Several things struck me. France is not a place of agri-business, it can’t be. I wonder if the same strike was to take place in Georgia, USA or Norfolk UK, whether they could find 1003 tractors in the local area. I don’t think so, because I think there’s been a move towards agri-business. By contrast France is a nation of agricultural families and small, local, businesses. They care about their food. Food is more expensive in France, but it’s better tasting. Even Cora, which is like Walmart has food that tastes like food, food that has appellations (i.e. is regional specific and has to work hard to be given a certification — this came from wine regions, but it is applied to food). This orientation to food requires a style of farming that agribusiness does not readily support.

France is also a nation of young farmers. In the protest I noticed signs from the Jeunes Farmers union, (between you and I have trouble with young and yellow–jeunes and jaune–but I figured that it would be odd to have a yellow farmers union). And looking at the people driving the tractors I saw so many young people. And this struck me as odd. I don’t think of farming as a career for the young.

What I think is at stake is a way of life that still exists here, not exactly because of the marketplace, I suspect that there are subsidies involved. But a change in whether those subsidies occur, whether farming practices are local farmer friendly has huge consequences for France, and for the region I’m in if the number of tractors, the number of people who are young enough that they would be out of a job and have to retrain, implies.

On the other hand, I wonder whether some consolidation may have to occur. I’m not quite sure why, but again I was reflecting on how such a small place could find 1003 tractors worth of people to protest. That’s a lot of people.

The other thing that struck me while I stood there watching the tractors go past (well in addition to marvelling at the sheer variety of makes and models, I thought John Deere was a virtual monopoly, today I was reeducated about the state of tractor machinery) was that they care. What has happened to the strike culture? In a way, it doesn’t matter to me whose right and whose wrong, the point is that they care about what they do and are willing to tell people that they care. Perhaps you can have to much of a strike culture, but I’ve lived in the U.S.A for 20 years, and I’ve yet to see a reasonable strike. Do we not care about the work we do? Faced with change do we just go, oh well, never mind. I can’t help feeling that a strike is a way of saying, no this is not acceptable and I want you to know that. And, today I saw a lot of young farmers, and some older ones, who all told me quite clearly that these policies are a threat to their livelihoods, and they may have to deal with that, but they are not happy. And most importantly they care enough to fight.

Commuting and Every Day life at the half way point

In European Union, France on September 30, 2009 at 9:22 am

Apparently we’re almost at the half way point. Wow, hard to believe it’s half way over.

So, I’m trying to reflect on things. Not unsurprisingly, I’ve lost some of the newness that made me aware of the mundane.

The flyers continue to show up at the house, and it no longer seems odd to me that they advertise uncooked meat. The continued desire to furnish your home with products that have the Union Jack on them does seem bizarre to me. Actually it caused me to notice that France like Italy flies a considerable number of flags. (Also like the United States). What’s nice to see in France and Italy is the national and the European Union flags together. It goes a long way to making me feel like I’m at home to see the EU flag. When we visited Veuve Cliqout, they flew their flag, and the flag of France and the EU. I feel very grateful to France that they’ve invited me to join in their Champagne heritage. The flags you fly say a lot about what you identify with, so perhaps it’s now more noticable to me how little a) Britain seems to fly the flag by comparison, and b) how you never see the EU flag when a flag is flown. While I actually like the relatively limited flag flying, I wish that the UK would embrace the EU. But I’ve spent my entire life wishing that, and I suspect that I will continue to spend the rest of my life wishing that.

Back to mail. We share our house with three other families. But our apartment is not numbered. Surnames and mail boxes outside with surnames on them, do the sort. Apartment numbers are irrelevant.

Surnames are capitalised here. I am not Beki Grinter, but Beki GRINTER. Mail is addressed to the sender on the front and the from address is on the back of the envelope rather than at the top left corner. I still do it the U.S. way, and no one’s told me off. By contrast I always wrote my seven’s the continental way, complete with the line through them, and so here I’m finally in the right script society. (The stroke through the seven is to distinguish it from the one, which if you see the continental way of writing it makes more sense).

I am also Madame here. The use of a prefix is far more prevelant here. It’s impossible to purchase tickets with my name, I need a form of address too. And it’s used. In those greeting cycles, it’s always with an address as well as my name, when the latter is known. Hello or Hi is not enough, it’s accompanied by my form of address.

I’ve always been used to au revoir for goodbye. I have heard far more use of bon voyage since being here. Particularly when I am potentially leaving and the other person is not. Cora is a good example, it’s always bon voyage. Which used to stump me, it’s silly to say bon voyage to someone who is sat behind a check out counter, but now I feel comfortable saying au revoir and merci.

I’m used to the routine of seeing signage and for K&I to start deciphering what it means. At first, it was a combination of survival and novelty. Now it’s almost a form of French practice. What are they trying to tell you? Yesterday, again at Cora, we learnt that “Now at prices you’ve never seen before”.

Now that I live in Europe I have an actual car commute, and for the first time I can really complain about traffic. (ha ha ha, sorry, just think it’s funny I had to come to Europe to experience wretched commutes, at least some of the time). Metz is under construction, so commuting can be exceedingly tedious. Some days I commute in while K works from home, and when I drive alone I enjoy turning on the radio and singing along. Well I think I’m just turning on the radio, but it turns out that in fact also usually sing. It just happens. Here though it’s caused some amusement. Just today for example, I was listening to Virgin radio which plays a good mix of French and English language music. Lilly Allen’s Fuck You (yes, really) is huge here — and it’s frankly very weird to hear it being played in some places, like in the local sommalier’s shop while selecting wine . Anyway, this was an 80s tune, I can’t remember who and I was singing along (I am no great singer, but it turns out that singing along to an English language song, in English, with the windows open, really gets the attention of the person in the car next to you at the intersection. I got a compliment. I don’t sing along to the French songs.

I also don’t sing when I am being followed by a van full of Gendarmarie. I’ve noticed that the French police seem to hunt in bigger packs. I’ve seen van fulls of gendarmarie several times now. Then there’s the local Metz police (I actually don’t understand the categories of French police, but there are categories, like in the U.S. where every entity appears to have its own force, I still don’t understand that). So the local plod tends to hunt in packs of three. They drive peugeots and renaults with two in the front and one on the back seat. In the US this would not be possible because the backseat is where the felons travel. It makes you wonder where the French put their felons. In the boot (trunk)?

I also don’t sing on roundabouts. Roundabouts have a very unique place in my driving history. I learnt to drive in the UK. I probably drove about 200 miles in total in the UK. Then I moved to the United States. I’ve driven across the country once (3500 miles), around the West multiple times (10000) and so forth. The net result is that I have order of magnitudes of practice of driving on the right. Except for roundabouts. The US doesn’t have them (well there are a few, but you have to work to find them). So, now in France, the one thing that really has taken some practice is the French roundabout. I’m used to getting on from the left and proceeding in a clockwise direction, and instead I enter from the right and go counterclockwise. And then there’s the use of the two lanes, inner and outer, along side with understanding the entry and exit protocols. Some of the lane usage and the protocols are once learnt never forgotten, but flipping them around to cope with the different directionality is novel. And critically it comes for me at a time when I don’t think of driving on the right, or switching from a EU to a US system as being novel. So it’s like this blip, I notice that the degree of attention I have to pay at roundabouts is much higher than anywhere else.

Well this is already quite long so I’ll save how I confused the archeological dig outside the Maison d’arrete (the stopping house, aka prison) for large moles or possibly graves. And perhaps eventually I will do the appropriate length post on cheese. De Gaulle is famous for saying “how is it possible to run a nation that has 264 different types of cheese” to make the point about the challenge of being a nation when the local/regional is so well established in the cultural psyche, and he was right about everything but one thing, there are far more types of cheese than that. Over 300 I believe, perhaps as many as 350. France a nation of cheese.

Updates from France

In European Union, France on September 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

The amount of postings to the blog has definitely gone down in the last few weeks, I think there are several reasons for it.

France is beginning to take on an air of familiarity. I don’t think my French has improved any, but I’m finding the rhythms of what to expect here easier. I have gotten better about making sure, for example, that I do a complete set of greetings with the lady at the supermarket checkout. A greeting, an exchange of information (in which she discovers that I don’t have a chip and pin based credit card, sigh… it appears that the rest of the world has gone that way, but as AMEX “the traveller’s card” told me, we’re American express, so we don’t do that, wow, thank you Amex how globally oriented of you, how thoughtful in your treatment of foreign relations… )… but back to that supermarket transaction: a greeting, an exchange of cards and information and then the goodbyes.

Work is also beginning to build up. It’s important to note that while Metz is a wonderful change of pace, it’s not quite the same as a complete escape. You make up for some of the escape by going far away, it’s more of an escape because you’re six time zones away, a continent away, etc… but it’s not like sabbatical, and so teaching remains in place (and all the preparation that that requires) and connections to Atlanta remain in place. And then of course, there’s a sense that if one is going to come back after only being away for a semester then it’s going to be hard to retain the production that’s required for moving the old Associate to Full case. So you stay connected anyway. And of course there are your students, the one thing I would have elected to stay close to being away. My students are all very independent, which is good for them as well as me, …

I think that explains why there have been less updates.

So recently what has happened.

1) I’ve been enjoying the fact that when people discuss socialism here they actually mean a discussion of socialism. Socialism is used in the U.S. as a catch all term. It’s most frequently evoked by people who use it to potentially mean a whole variety of political possibilities, only some of which Socialists would likely identify with. In France there is more care in the discussion of socialism and not all things that are not socialist are right wing. I like the nuance. More generally, I like politics that’s argued by people who talk in detail about a particular policy, and how it meets or fails to meet the goals of a party. I’m so tired of discussions that involve ludicrous analogies and examples (like Stephen Hawking who would have died in the UK, and the death panels of the NHS). I increasingly think that political discussions are a reflection of a country’s values, I don’t mean the sides, I mean the rhetoric of the debates themselves, and well it says a lot doesn’t it.

2) Reims, say “Rance” with a hard a, is home to many champaign houses. It is also home to St Remi, who crowned some of the early Kings, including Clovis, in Reims cathedral. Reims is an ancient city that was sadly largely flattened during the Second World War. So it has an amazing old cathedral, a old Basilica, and then not so much else. It reminds me of Ely a bit, seems to be about the same size, with the Cathedral dominating the view. (It’s bigger actually, there’s few places quite as strange as Ely in terms of the size of the cathedral and the size of the city).

3) We visited Auchan. Auchan is a different hypermarket store, although I think it and Cora are owned by the Auchan company. Auchan was doing a special, 500 good wines. So Keith and I went to broaden our horizons. We’ve developed an interest in Lussac St Emilion, which is an appellation in the Bordeaux region. We’re now working on the appellations a cote (next to) it to see whether we like their wines too. To help us we have purchased a Hachette, which is the French guide to French wine (they have a section on foreign wine, but that appears to only include wines from countries, and parts of countries very close to France).

4) We went to St Avold, home of the largest WWII American cemetery in France. On the way there we saw a small fort in the Maignot Line. I can’t help thinking that the Maignot line was an example of just how much war changed between WWI and WWII. It might have protected against a war that was like the first, but built after it, it had little imagination for the tanks, weaponry, and so forth that would be a product of WWII. And St Avold is the result of a different set of causalities, those of the American allies as they slowly retook France and ultimately Germany. While those who died during the D-Day battles are buried in Normandy (a cemetery which sees 1.5 million visitors per year), St. Avold where those who fought for the Rhine (another very significant battle) are buried. It is larger than the cemetery in Normandy, but only 70,000 people come per year.

5) More generally, it’s impossible to escape from the two wars, not to mention the war of 1870, around here. Metz changed hands multiple times. For example, Robert Schuman, who grew up around here, was born French, became German (not by moving, but by this area changing hands), and then later became French again. No wonder he was such an advocate for the European Coal and Steel Community. I’m glad to be here, glad for Robert Schuman, and for his vision. Without him, who knows what would have happened, and all I know is that I like being European. I am glad for its citizenship.

Assumption Day, a day for consumption and adventure

In European Union, France on August 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Today is assumption day.

It is also a beautiful Saturday. Imagine the scene. We are sat at the kitchen table, it is a farmhouse style one, seats six. The windows are wide open, and the windows are at least 5ft high. There’s a cool, refreshing breeze drifting in, and in the distance we can hear bell peels, perhaps reminding folk that it is assumption day. We also hear voices of our neighbours engaged in conversations.

In France this day is celebrated on August 15th. Unfortunately it is a Saturday this year, otherwise we would have gotten a holiday. But of course for most people here that’s likely not a problem since all of August is a holiday!

And apparently the thing to do is to head into the country for a picnic, a feast, to celebrate. So how fortunate, we’ve only been here a week, and we’ve already got an excuse to eat even more bread, cheese, ham, fruits, etc… but instead Keith and I went to Nancy, the next big town south of Metz. We would later learn that when Stanislaus the former King of Poland, whose daughter married the King of France so consequently he became the Duke of Lorraine (and Bar I think) Stanislaus decided that he would make Nancy into a city, so it received a Cathedral.

We went on the train. We decided that we needed to master our train skills. Actually we’ve taken quite a few trains in France, but there’s always an adventure. The adventure on the way there was that we couldn’t find a machine that would stamp our tickets. But the conductor didn’t seem to mind, he was busy dealing with a customer who had a military ticket (very very cheap) but no military ID. When we arrived in Nancy, he was greeted by two armed policemen who weren’t smiling.

Nancy is beautiful. This Stanislaus person really put some money into building. It also has a beaux arts thing going on with lots of attractive buildings. But it was hot, and that made it tiring. So we walked around the square through the cathedral and then settled into a cafe for a white wine and Perrier. Then back to Metz. That was where we encountered an official who asked us about our unstamped ticket. He quickly started asking for our passports. He wasn’t happy when we had neither a stamped ticket or a passport, but eventually I think he decided that we should go on, and we were grateful. But, it took the edge off. In Nancy I had managed to crack my first French joke, nothing terribly brilliant, but it did the job, and then I was plunged back again into a world of “not being from here” and “getting it wrong.” There will be more of those, many more I am sure, but it is a bit dis-spriting in all honesty.

Ah well, back home, where dinner awaits. And then the Camembert taste off, which one will win, what will the criteria even be. All those questions and more, and alas dear reader, this is where I depart.

Settling in

In European Union, France on August 12, 2009 at 5:50 am

Last night I slept the classic sleep of someone who is adjusting to a European timezone after living in the U.S. which is to sleep very hard for the first few hours, exhaustion after the really long travel day, and then to wake up and be unable to sleep for a while because you’re trying to sleep at 6pm US time. Then finally to sleep again, only to need to wake up because well it is gone 9am and if you don’t you won’t break that habit.

This has now finally abated but the fact that our house has shutters means that the room is very dark, so this morning I accidentially slept until 11am. I love the shutters. Not only do they keep the light out, they also really fend off the heat of the hot day, keeping our place cool even while it is warm outside. I wonder why we do not have shutters in Atlanta. The shutters are fairly modern, they are automatic, little switches (Arret and Marche and up and down arrows) control them. Seems to me that shutters would help me in Atlanta keeping my AC bills down, and if I could get them I probably would. But, …

The apartment is in an old house, well not that old by French standards, but old enough. We have the entire ground floor, which may not sound like much, but three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and several sitting rooms seems pretty good to me. I think that’s probably larger than some of the other faculty apartments in Metz. It’s also quiet which is nice. This could partially be because we suspect our neighbours and most of Metz has gone on holiday. It’s August, it’s France, and not surprisingly only the Americans (and those affiliated with them) are working. As we walked home yesterday evening from the city several notices on shop doors let us know that people were on holiday and their shop would reopen the last week of August. And some of the brasseries were shut. And I realised two things. First, that I’ve never spent any time in a French town that doesn’t have a substantial tourist industry (like, for example, Paris, Bayeux, Avignon), which might keep things open more systematically during a month like August. Second, because the French still have many family owned businesses (which in its own way is a treat) how do they take holiday if they don’t just shut, so the nice thing is that everyone shuts at the same time. There are still supermarkets to rely on, but everyone knows that this is the time when local businesses shut. So I think it’s quite nice even though I’m rather disappointed that the speciality butcher is shut, but perhaps that’s good for my waistline.

So, for those of you who know me, I’d like to think that you know that I’m pretty punctual. When it says 10 o’clock, I tend to show up roughly at 10 o’clock. I know where this comes from, and yet again, I do not. It comes from my parents, but fortunately I don’t have their version of punctuality. It began with their arrival, which they thought would be 11am. Of course not, it was closer to 10am. And this morning they told me that they would leave at 9am, of course they were out of the house by 8:06am. And I have the sneaking suspicion that if they didn’t need the gate opening key they might have not even woken me up to say goodbye. But they’ve told me that they’ll be back (I wish I’d written down the date), but like the French they are away on their two-three week holiday, so I’ll expect them back when the speciality butcher opens, and roughly an hour before they told us that they’d arrive.