Over two years

We arrived in Semur-en-Auxois in December 2019. Winter in this region is gray, damp, and can feel unending, but that first spring was magnificent. Gale and Thomas came to visit as they were teaching, or at least going to teach, in Geneva. Then covid struck. They went home after canceling the class, and we, in Semur, like everyone else in the world, went through a series of lockdowns, curfews, shots, and worries. I think Robert and I were not out after dark for almost 18 months. It was a strange time.

Now, though covid is still an issue, we have finally dropped wearing masks, except for some high-risk places, and people have begun to have dinners and aperos, and get-togethers once again. Semur is a social place and despite the isolation, we have made some pretty wonderful friends. And had a few adventures along the way. But there is one that stands out at the moment.

Last week I went to Paris to pick up my German naturalization papers. This was a process that began before we left the states. I think it was my brother who mentioned to me that Germany was restoring citizenship to those people displaced as a result of World War II. Which was true for my family. I am the only one born in the states. Gary was born in Garmische – a pretty spectacular place that he has not yet seen. Me, in a prosaic American hospital in The Bronx. That said, I think both of us, and perhaps me more than Gary, were brought up with certain sensibilities that were distinctly not American – though my mother – in her post-war trauma state was insistent that we be brought up as American, and speak English. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I studied French (not very successfully, I might add).

Getting the paperwork together was the usual process of tracking down original documents, sending them off, waiting to hear that your request was lost, requesting them again, sending in your fee, waiting, and so on. But finally, I got a notice in February that my papers were ready in Paris and I could pick them up and apply for a German passport on the same day. Thus last week.

While getting naturalization was a practical move at first – with an EU passport our visa process is different -only every five years and far less costly – I found myself feeling emotional as the lovely Eva explained things to me. And in typical bureaucratic fashion, the German government insisted on using my birth name on the paperwork – a name I haven’t used since I was 17 years old. It was an interesting moment for me. Had I been younger, much younger, I might have objected and asked for the papers to be rewritten but instead, I felt a sense of landing, as if I was back in familiar territory. Not unlike how I feel living in France.

We continue the adventure of living in France – and while there are some challenges – it has mostly been the best idea we’ve ever had.

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Swimming Pool

A few weeks ago at dinner, a new friend, S, self-described as “the unreliable bird by the river”, asked me if I liked to swim.  I love to swim but had to admit that I left my bathing suit in England.  She said, “I could probably unearth a bathing costume for you”.  That cinched it.  I would never miss an opportunity to wear a bathing costume.  And our shower hadn’t worked for over a week. I’d been washing my hair and my body in the kitchen sink.  I knew there would be showers where there was a swimming pool.  We made a date for me to pick up my costume. I took the stairs.

On the way I worried about what I always worry about when bathing suits are involved.  Would it be wider enough for my wide parts and have enough fabric to keep me from feeling like my bits were on display.  S handed me a suit.  I held it up and thought,  that’ll do. The next morning when I tried the suit on it seemed okay though the cups may have been a tad large. Okay, two or three tads too large.  They had the conical shape of a 1950’s bra though it wasn’t me making that happen.  Shower, swimming.  I soldiered on.  When I went to pick up S she offered me a pair of socks to fill things out.

We had to sign in.  And make a decision about whether we would get a card for a number of visits or pay as we went.  And what was the best subscription.  And would they take my American credit card.  And S had to translate for me since my French is not good enough to follow all of that. All this while a line of French seniors formed behind us … French Revolution anyone?

Card in hand, I spot a vending machine with goggles for sale. I’ll go without earplugs but not goggles.  I dig around in my purse for coins, plant myself in front of the machine and manage to figure out which are the adult ones and how many Euros I need to shove in the slot.  This also takes a great deal of time and, by now, perspiration on my part.

Entrance to the pool works a bit like a metro station.  You slap your card against a dot on the turnstile.  When it clicks, you walk through.  Unless your card doesn’t quite work yet.  You slap a few more times, look back at the desk and the new line forming behind you, dash more sweat from your brow and pray for intervention.

The offending shoelace.

The dressing rooms are like cabinets.  About 24” wide by 36 inches long.  There is a tiny 5” deep shelf that is supposed to support you as you change out of your clothes and into your suit.  Clever me, I’m wearing my suit. I take off my sweater.  Unsnap my jeans, bend to untie my boots and …. a knot.  I do everything I can to untie this thing and it only becomes tighter.  S hears me mumbling and offers to help.  I start laughing. She steps over, already dressed for the pool and tries to untie my boot, no luck.  Finally she calls over an attendant who very kindly gets a nail clipper for me. I am freed.

The pool was grand, the shower even better.

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Adapting to Europe

We stayed in Kent, England for a month before getting to Semur-en-Auxios, France. Some of the challenges of living in a new place became apparent. The realization that we in the States do things differently than other places came home to roost.

Celsius vs Fahrenheit comes to mind. There is a formula for this conversion (T(°C) = (T(°F) – 32) × 5/9) but I barely passed Algebra 1 after 3 tries and that was 45 years ago. I try to remember that 0 Celsius is 32 Farhenheit and work my way from there. 8 weeks later I still can’t tell you what the temperature is – cold, coldish, not bad, are my terms.
Then there is the oven. It’s been years since I’ve burned anything I’ve cooked. 148.89 °C is 300 °F – I guess from there. One night while I was helping with the Traditional Sunday Roast cooked in an Agga – and that’s a whole other world unto itself – I nearly incinerated Nigel’s homemade and delicious Yorkshire puddings. 😟

I manage with Pound notes though the coins still confuse me. I would drop the coins into my palm and hold it open to the cashier and they would sort through them, counting as they went. 

Yesterday in Semur, we bought a few things at what amounts to the corner store. The owner and his wife have been kind and friendly to us. When I went to hold out my coins I received an impromptu lesson in counting. I was delighted. I often feel like a younger version of my self trying to learn French,  which I don’t mind too much though I think the effect on others can be disconcerting.

There is a free French class that will begin again sometime this month – I’ll be going to that. I try to do a lesson every day on Pimsleur though it feels a little out of context to me if I don’t get to use the skill right away. Given that situation, I’m looking for people who are willing to listen to me stumble with French. I’ve got a massage table. I’m offering trades.

My younger, much younger self.

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London and Harrods

If you are a consumer of British novels as I am, you have heard of Harrods. These days, it takes up a full city block of London real estate. From its inception, it’s been where elite schools sent their students for their uniforms, and those with luxurious taste went to indulge themselves.

Robert indulged me on a rainy London afternoon by agreeing to have lunch with me at Harrods. Oyster card conveniently pocketed, off we went.

Christmas lights and decorations, trees everywhere and a floor of designer collections that left me feeling dowdy and nearly breathless at the prices. My explorations stopped too soon, I think. But hunger was the greater motivator. We stood on a line that snaked its way past a pastry case that enticed with beautiful cakes and puddings. Robert got sucked into an enormous waffle with whipped cream, chocolate, caramel, and coffee flavoring. The women sitting next to us, forget about British reticence, oohed and aahed over it. I had the soup which was delicious.

That sounds a bit pathetic placed against R’s waffle, but here’s the thing. The hot chocolate. We both ordered hot chocolate. When we were in Moscow we discovered the wonders, the comfort, the pleasures, of hot chocolate.

Note the little cookie with the distinctive H. The thick, glistening, cup of luxury that was swoon-worthy in its deliciousness had to be eaten with a spoon. Had I known this I might have skipped the soup and ordered two.

So here’s my suggestion on a rainy day in London. An Oyster card, Harrods for the hot chocolate and visual indulgence, then take a double-decker bus back to where ever you are staying so that you can sightsee on the way.

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We’ve done it again.

Packed up yet another house. Sold what we could.  Gave Goodwill a massive haul after an unsuccessful attempt to give away all that we didn’t want to store for shipping at a later date.  I sent some bags ahead (thank you Sendmybags.com) and dragged a few behind.  And now, we are in England.  

For the first two weeks, I stayed wrapped in a number of layers and sat in the wing back chair next to the fire.  A seat conceded to me by Nigel – gentleman that he is.

We’ve eaten incredibly well since we got here – Beouf Burginion, Moules et Frites, the best breakfasts and a few pub lunches.  If we keep walking to the pub I may be able to stave off the inevitable but the cider – well, there’s that.

Last week I went to Rye with a friend to Merchant and Mills an incredibly lovely fabric store with great basic patterns. This week on Monday we went to Cambridge.  The architecture was breathtaking, especially in the rainy evening – interior lights shining through windows – limning out intricate ceiling decorations, doorways and occasionally a human occupant.  I was spinning stories like mad and want to spend a day or two the next time to really fill my head with visions.

I didn’t get to say goodbye in person to as many people as I wanted to.  My plans for a Bon Voyage party fell through and the final days of packing took about every last brain cell I had.  My biggest fear is when we are finally reunited with our stuff – those things I could not get rid of or give away – I will think, “What on earth was I thinking?  Why did I keep this?” 

This is the fireplace I’ve been snuggling up to. This part of the house was built in the 1400’s. Take that Mayflower.

A street view in Rye where the fabulous pattern/sewing store is located. This place is a real design experience.
Can’t you see the Bennets preparing for a walk across the fields?

We’ll leave for Semur in a few weeks.  As soon as we land we need to begin paperwork (inevitable paperwork) to extend our stay past the first year.  Given our experience thus far, beginning right away will not necessarily ensure that we make the deadline but should increase our chances.

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Working on it

We managed to return our car to Dijon last Thursday. Whatever we paid to return it to a different location was worth it to not drive back to Paris. There’s a bus at the train station (number 119) that travels through the back roads to Semur. It takes about 75 minutes and costs 1.5 Euros. It’s a wonderful ride through villages, fields with white cows and that day, impressive storm clouds.

It got cool in the evening and then this happened. It was a spectacular moment of light, crisp cold air and loveliness.

We continue to talk about the adventure of living in France for a few years. I like the challenge of learning, or at least trying to learn, a new language. Time feels different here. The break in the afternoon, how long it takes to buy bread at the patisserie, the closing days of various shops, all feels slower and easier. I am challenged by food shopping. I puzzle over whether I am buying a familiar product or making a leap into Vegan yogurt territory. It can feel exhausting but if you time things right, that is allow enough time for the puzzling, it’s quite nice.


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Week Two

My bag arrived. After a week-long vacation to unknown places. Its keeping mum about its experiences. I can only speculate about how life on the road felt to my clothes and toiletries. There was a lot of confusion about where and when one bag was to be delivered. Then the second bag entered the mix and the mix became messier. But the arrival of both bags on the same day was like Christmas and a birthday rolled into one. Even R, who has been contained about our lost luggage did a little dance of joy at having his own razor, socks, and trouser choices. Today we bask in sartorial bliss.

My bag after a week away.

I have a suggestion for BA. Never get between a curly haired woman and her hair products.

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Getting to France

We made it to O’hare on time – but then left late due to the weather.  Arriving on time (how do they do that?) to Heathrow but unable to land we missed our flight to Paris.

When we deplaned there was a nice gentleman standing at a table with tickets booked on the 3:50 flight to Paris.  We got our tickets feeling happily cared for by British Airways.  Ah, but then …. we were bused by two different buses to Terminal 4 which feels like the back of beyond.  Once there we had a coffee, put sim cards into our phones and waited for the gate to be announced for our flight.  It was a closely held secret until 5 minutes before the boarding call. We found our gate – where there is already a long line of pissed off people waiting to board.  We are told that while they booked us on the flight there was no guarantee of a seat if we did not go to the Air France desk.  Huh?  No one said we needed to do that.   We were only told to wait for the gate number.  We missed our flight.  Our luggage was not loaded. We take the bus back to Terminal 3 while I try talking to BA by phone to figure out what is going on.  I’m on hold.  For 15 minutes and then disconnected.
We arrive at the desk and I am snarkily met by a young woman who tells me over and over again that if I didn’t check in it was my fault. But they never said we had to check in, they simply said that we should wait for the gate and then go to the desk.  Alright, we are rebooked, I am pissed and we have now missed our train to Montbard where we are to be picked up.
We finally arrive in Paris – wait for 45 minutes in the passport line – go to get our bags, no bags. Not even a hint of a bag.  So I put in a report.  More snark.  Official bits of paper with no guarantee of anything good ever happening again.
We look for a hotel at the airport.  $673.00.  $830.00.  $523.00.  Okay, that’s not happening.
We’ve missed the last train.  We find a car rental desk.  We rent a car.  Sweet Katie Hopwood makes a reservation for us at a hotel 65 kms from Charles de Gaulle.  We are in a Fiat 500.  About the size of an American phone booth.  If we still had phone booths. I’m driving because I cannot bear to navigate.  Takes us three tries to get out of the airport.  Oh, and two tries to get out of the car rental parking lot.
It’s dark.  It’s raining.  It’s a challenge for me to see at night.  We begin.  Traffic is horrendous.  Motorcycles speed past us on the dividing line between one lane and the other.   One grazes my mirror.  Or at least I think he does. The bikes have their hazard lights blinking and that makes it okay.  They are traveling at twice the speed limit. Or perhaps the speed of light.  It is terrifying.
We drive.  And drive.  But finally, the traffic thins out.  The road is wet but we are not being chased by demon motorbikes.
There are tolls on this road out of Paris.  We stop to get a ticket.  And slap our hands all over the doors, the window, even the roof.  Neither one of us can find the button or handle to open our phone booth windows.  Robert steps out, walks around the car – it takes two steps, grabs the ticket and manages not to get skinned by any passing vehicles.
We arrive at the hotel, have a glass of wine and a beer and climb into bed.  Exhaustion does not lead to a peaceful sleep.
A great breakfast.  Off to Semur.  Katie meets us.  The apartment is lovely.  Really comfortable and pretty and sweet.  We go to the equivalent Walgreens – the Intermarche and buy some basics.  Underwear.  Pajamas.  A clean shirt for me, t shirts for R.  We get them home.  They smell like fish.  Yes, nasty fish.  I hang the flannels bottoms out the window and wash the other stuff and hope it dries overnight.  It does.
R’s bag is found.  Mine is not.
I got a text a while ago that says my bag is on its way from Bremen, Germany to Charles de Gaulle.  And after its lovely vacation should arrive around 7:50 this evening.  It then, once customs has pawed through them both and taken what they’d like to own, the bags will be sent down to Semur.  Sometime.  Someday.  We do not know when.
We drive to Germany tomorrow to visit friends.  We will be home on Friday night.  We may or may not have luggage.
Our first 48 hours.
We are fine.
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Edible vs. amuse bouche

I grew up in the 60’s.  Graduated from high school in 1970 so I’d be hard pressed to say I didn’t do my share of drug experiments.  But I’m not current on these things.  It took me awhile to figure out that “edibles” was not the equivalent of an amuse bouche.  I know, I know – I didn’t know what an amuse bouche was until I went to an incredibly pretentious restaurant on the Capitol Square a few years ago and was handed a tiny little porcelain spoon with an elegantly named but not so much tasting, soup. The waiter’s sneer was classic 50’s French though I’d guess he was from Stoughton.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was having breakfast with my friend in yet another cool and trendy diner type place on Pearl Street Mall.  We were talking about Boulder and the culture of drugs.  I knew what an edible was by then – you just do if you spend any time in Boulder.  In my day it was brownies.  Grassy tasting, cud like, chocolate squares that stuck with you – and stuck with you – and stuck with you.  My friend handed me a little packet, hermetically sealed with a square shaped red jelly bit inside.  She told me it wouldn’t help me sleep so not to take eat it at night.  These days I’m always looking for ways to get a full night’s sleep.

I tucked it into my bag.  And forgot about it.  Until I was in the Green Ride to DIA a week later to return home. edibles I was tired and barely listening to the chatty driver. In the illogic of public transportation we spent 25 minutes picking up another passenger on the other side of town before stopping at a hub and getting on a different bus.  The two were happy chatting to each other which allowed me to daze out and not be rude.  The driver was talking about the tourists  who are reminded by signs in their rooms that  the drugs they buy in Boulder are not supposed to leave Boulder.  It appears that maids and other hotel employees are cleaning up (yeah, I know a pun) because of all the purchased goodies that have to be left behind when tourists go home.

Something penetrated my foggy brain.  “Oh, shit!”  I began to dig around in my bag.  The other two characters began to laugh.  I found the packet and held it up.  The driver stuck his hand back between the seats, saying, “I’ll help you out with that”.  I passed it forward.

I was imagining being stopped at the always long and mildly intimidating line that snakes through the security check point- the one with the German Shepherds tacking back and forth, sniffing at pant cuffs, tote bags and pockets, led by TSA guards in mirrored sunglasses herding us into single file lines.  Triggers something in me.  Some visceral, atavistic angst that makes me more law abiding than one would think.


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April 21, 2016

I turned 64 today, right around the time that I was testing an electric bike at Lenny’s E-bikes. The bike ride was grand; whooshing along, up little hills, around curves. Enough fun for me to think about selling my beautiful Electra for one of these babies. I have to remember it’s bicycles that I like not simply the Electra.

It’s been an interesting year. I’ve said goodbye to some friends and missed the opportunity to say goodbye to others. I’m struggling with my usual mess about institutions – their purpose, value and integrity. It doesn’t escape me that the struggle is as much about my own purpose and integrity as it is about the institution but, hey, it’s my birthday, give me a break.

Birthdays awaken my desire to assess what I do with my time and energy.  It’s been clear to me for a while that I need to shift my attention a bit, spend more time doing creative work, refocus my attention on ways to teach movement work, explore some new ways of being. That’s my focus this next year.  That and reconnecting with friends and loved ones.

While it was really fun and touched me deeply to get all those facebook birthday greetings nothing is better than seeing, hugging, laughing with friends and you can’t do that on social media…yet.


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