I think it’s clear now just how much I love Edgar and Gabrielle – I voluntarily went on a 4 day vacation with them two weeks ago! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with little adorable people who assume the third pedal in the car is for going in reverse (makes sense, right?), or dance around in their underwear playing air guitar, or who don’t yet know what Facebook is and need it explained to them (so refreshing!)? I loved riding the train back with them, playing hangman and letting them draw pictures in my journal.
Their grandmother (hereafter referred to as “Mami”) was generous enough to host the two little ones for a week in Normandie for their school vacation, where her and her husband’s country home is located, while the parents stayed in Paris to work. I joined them early Tuesday morning and stayed until Friday. I was technically working, but it was very vacation-y. We would hang out and drive around in the mornings so I could see the region, come home for lunch, then drop Gabrielle off to ride ponies and Edgar to play tennis on the beach for the afternoon. I was free in the afternoon to hang out alone, then we would pick up the kids, go home and have dinner, and go to bed. I was always exhausted from all French, all day; it really really takes it out of me sometimes, plus all the sun and kid-herding made me tired. By the end of the 4 days I had picked up a lot more French – it was great!
Normandie, a region in the northwest part of France, is a mixture of Mendocino or other northern CA countryside, Santa Cruz beach town, and France! There are tiny country roads, pastures with cows and horses and sheep hanging out [who create the high-quality and well-known dairy products such as crème fraîche and great local cheeses], and huge chateaux everywhere, but not ten minutes from all that is the beach, as well as little town centers complete with boulangeries, boucheries, etc just like in Paris. They live in Deauville in a beautiful country house surrounded by green fields and trees. They could totally turn it into a charming bed and breakfast or wedding house.
My favorite little town we saw was Villerville. It was RIGHT on the beach, with tiny little roads meandering around and a few bars and restaurants. The tiny roads ascend up a steep hill, with long trails on the small country roads that would be perfect for running, and great ocean views. It would be a great little honeymoon spot, or a fun place to rent a house with a group of friends for a relaxing vacation. Other towns we explored were Honfleurs and of course Deauville.
The houses in Normandie all have a specific look to them – they remind me a lot of my sorority house in college. What I gathered from Mami’s lecture was that they make the bottom half out of brick, and the top half is made with wood stripes with some sort of cement mixture in between. Because it rains so much, the wood sort of soaks up the water, and that’s why it often looks bent and crooked, because the house will bend, but the brick part keeps the foundation from rotting and collapsing. (Anyone who knows more about architecture than me, which is everyone, can chime in with more information here if you have it!) Anyways, Mami told me that many people in the area build or rebuild their houses in the same way to keep with this classic style. I did see several construction companies advertising this.
Another thing I saw signs for everywhere was Calvados! Calvados is an apple brandy – it’s strong and tasty. On my last night there, Mami and I watched Mère et Fille (a film set in a beach town on the east coast of France featuring Catherine Deneuve, my mom’s fave actress) while drinking un trou [a shot] of Calvados. She was eager to inform me of the following: a true Normandie-raised person or waiter will bring you hot water mixed with Calvados if you request a l’eau chaud [hot water] in someone’s home or in a restaurant; it is usually served in between dishes in Normandie to help digest the heavy, cream-based meals they often serve here; and finally, it is also made into sorbet in the summer. Yum! It was so cool to hang out with her and learn things about the Normandie culture.
Mami was also nice enough to buy me a French book to help me improve even more. It’s called L’Amant de la Chine du Nord by Marguerite Duras. Apparently, the author lived in Deauville and we even saw her house on the beach! She has a simple writing style so Mami was enthusiastic about me reading it. I am always looking for books to read, and I’m excited to read my 2nd French book this year!
Hanging out with an older French woman is a great diet strategy; if I even so much as looked at the gelato, gaufres, and crêpe stands lining the pier on the beach where we picked Edgar up every day, she would exclaim, “No Madeleine, la villaine!” So, I had no “evil” snacks until my trip to Italy immediately following my stay in Normandie, (even though I was on vacation Mami!). Check back here in a few days for a post about the rest of my vacation!