Inspired by those Peter Mayle books I love so much, A Year in Provence, I took a little trip to the south of France ,to just soak it all up in all its glory.

Impressions of an impressionistic place

First, the climate is very similar to Texas. It was hot- 100 degrees each day I was there, in late June . Fortunately, my hotel had a/c.....and lots of German and Japanese tourists staying here. I was the only American anywhere.The land looks like that part of New Mexico around Santa Fe, or Monterry Ca ( where I just was , earlier in the summer - fresh in my mind) . Sort of arid and rolling and scruffy trees and bushes. Rusty red dirt,sage green trees , golden fields of wheat, pink and orange buildings, bright blue sky. It is like a technicolor impressionistic painting.

In Paris, they speak of "the golden hour", around 5pm, when all the white buildings in the City of Light turn golden pink in the dusk. Here in the south of France, the colors are brighter , and everything gets washed with purple and orange as the sun goes down. I took the TGV ( high speed train, I can say it just like the French do , "tay JHAY vay ") to Avignon. Toured Avignon, did all the sites - medieval papal palace, art museums ( 2 : medieval and modern - some very nice Botticellis , lots of Italian renaissance work, brought here during the "Babylonian captivity"), rode the tourist train ( B & B would have been embarrassed for me ) up the hill to the scenic overlook , toured the medieval bridge, the city walls, the cafes, the shops, the theatre festival. (I can understand fairly well what is being said, just can't speak back well.) Have eaten local Provencal cooking and vow to buy a cook book of it, somewhere. Maybe in English when I get back.

Went to the Pont du Gard and walked all along the top of the ancient Roman aqueduct. It was breath-taking; I almost cried with joy. One of my "100 places to see before you die " (Great book; my treat to myself this past xmas. I'm working my way down the list .....may skip some countries; have developed my own personal list.) Also took a tour to see the lavender fields, managed to catch them at their peak season -only 4 weeks a year. The smell is so glorious, you can breathe it in it for miles. Woodsy , flowery , dry and spicy . The lavender are this vibrant, glowing purple color, stretching for miles....it was like the bluebonnets in Texas when they bloom, only it was lavender. Stronger . When you walk out into the middle of a lavender field, it feels like you are in the middle of an electromagnetic force field ; there is this buzzing, faintly , all around you . It fills you and surrounds you. At first, I was looking for power lines , then realized, it was bees -millions and millions of bees, all buzzing in and around the lavender. They don't bother you, too busy gathering honey, but the beating of their millions of pairs of wings generates a palpable flow of energy you can feel. Also saw Senanque, a lovely little monastery, Gordes, a cute little hilltop village, Rousillon, where ochre is mined, and Arles, famous for Roman ruins and where Van Gogh painted . Shopped for Provencal tablecloths, pottery, lavender soap, honey , local liquors.

Everywhere I went in Provence, I met lots of Japanese tourists ,who somehow looked to me to be their interpreter, as they understood nothing of French, could not read signs, find the travel office, the menu, anything -but could speak a bit of English, and I translated for them as best I could - the question in my mind, is,why did they approach me , to begin with ? Is it something of the kindly patient teacher in my face ? Can they tell from my aura that I spent years teaching ESL at the junko in Houston ? I always think I look rather cross.... and they were as crazy about the lavender fields as I was. Who knows why ? Maybe it's like the Cherry Blossom festival at home.

Met the occasional middle age woman, also travelling alone - once she was British, or Australian, once , South African ....struck up conversations, glad to have someone to speak English with. Lots of fun, sharing shopping and eating tips. All of us journeyed alone , leaving husbands and children at home....kids too young to try the food, husbands all universally wanting their tv's and comfy chairs and lacking in the adventurous spirit. All of us, failed romantics somehow, wanting to see and smell and taste the glory of Provence.

Living the Good Life in Gay Old Paree

The Paree part

I've been living the good life in Paris , staying in Bernard and Bill's Montmarte apartment and seeing the sights . Their flat is a light airy set of rooms, large by NYC standards , with high ceilings and crown molding, wood floors, a marble fire place in every room . It sits on the top floor of a building, on top of a hill , on a dead end street, overlooking the Montmarte cemetery, where it catches the breezes as they come through the grounds. The apt. is a beautiful architectural space ( Bernard was an architect , long ago , before the photography bug bit him; he has great sensitivity to these things. ), yet unlike the Beynes house, which is furnished in traditional French country cottage style, almost completely empty of furniture. B & B have a mattress in the bedroom, I have a futon in the living room, and I think I got the better deal. Fortunately, the plumbing is excellent, the shower hot and the toilet whooshes away with great force ( unlike some of my previous European adventures, where the plumbing was somewhat less powerful.)

Bernard says he chose to buy this place when he first saw it , because he knew his neighbors would always be quiet. (i.e., the cemetery.) The view out of several windows is just tree tops and birds. If you peer through the leaves, you can see the tombs - stone sarcophagi, above the ground, similar to those in New Orleans, down below. Other windows have this magnificent view of the Paris skyline - just breathtaking at sunset. A few blocks away is Place de Clichy , Place Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, if you look on a map. It's a nice neighborhood, off the beaten track from tourists and the trashy nightclub atmosphere of Place Pigall only a few blocks away.

There are a few small bistros around the corner , "the local", where we eat quite often. Lots of cafes, bars, stores on the main drag nearby. One night Bill and I sat in a cafe, facing the intersection of 5 streets, and just drank wine and watched the traffic and the street scene while the sun set...it was like a giant life sized tv. I have been in a bit of culture shock, surrounded only by French people speaking French. Few tourists, no ice, McD's, or coca-cola, taking the Metro, shopping at various local boulangerie for grocery items. Contrary to most stereotypes, native folk are friendly and patient with my attempts to converse in halting, broken, horribly accented French.

The good life

Every day, we get up, eat breakfast ( toast, yogurt, pastry, coffee , juice, fruit) , and head out to do something fun in Paris. I've done all the touristy things, as well as quite a bit that's off the beaten track. Seen ALL the museums, one per day, shopped, eaten out, walked around, lived the cafe life. Been to the Paris markets, shopped in quiet little streets 200 years old , dropped a penny in the well at Shakespeare Books (where Hemingway borrowed books when he was to poor to buy them ) , attended a Vivaldi concert at St Chappell and the Pointilism exhibit at the D'Orsay impressionist museum, strolled through gardens, walked along the Seine. As well as all the traditional stuff (Eiffel tower, Louvre, Champs-Elysees , Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, etc.) .

Took a day trip to Chartres and heard a world famous British scholar, some professor who has devoted his entire life to only studying Chartres, give a guided lecture tour. He was like a character out of a Henry James novel . Fabulous eyebrows.

Eaten out rather a lot - had Tunisian, Lebanese, Thai, Spanish, as well as lots of French food. On the 4th ofJuly, we celebrated by eating at a French restaurants' idea of an American restaurant , called Le Buffalo Grille, and toasted the Unis Etats.

One night, we went to a 5 star gourmet spot , Flora, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting Paris, and I ate rabbit in a 5 course meal that ended with lavender peach ice cream. It was to die for. The wine list was serious and we all took notes in little notebooks we keep, recording various vintages , flavors, etc, as we ate, here and there. Bill is a bit of a gourmet, and Bernard is a wine aficionado, so we are working on my education in this area . We've had wine with every meal , tons and tons of it - at the local bistro, you can order a small pitcher of it for 1 Euro 60 (currently less than $2.00 ). I'm quite spoiled now and may never drink California wines again.

The gay part

I did get to do one thing that , I daresay, very few middle class moms from the middle of suburban America have gotten to do - watched the Gay Pride parade in Paris. The first weekend I was here was "Pride"weekend ( it's generally around June 20 in the US, seems to be a week later in Europe, perhaps so all the guys can participate in both locales.....) . Bill didn't want to go, he normally shies away from the festivities, yet as we were out and about shopping, we kept running into hordes of hot looking young men strolling about - in various costumes or states of undress....saw an almost naked Elvis impersonator at the Sephora on the Champs d'Elysee, with his Las Vegas lounge suit only painted on him, while "Love MeTender" was blaring on a loudspeaker...this , next door to the Disney Store, the one time I did see American tourists, all there to buy stuffed animals , and their children were completely agog at naked sexy gay Elvis, swivelling his hips - anyways, we got lured, like Odysseus and the sirens, into following the excitement / young men, ended up where the parade was . Watched floats come rolling by, full of men and women, dancing to oldies, really mild compared to what I imagined it would be, no one was naked or drunk. It was all rather fun, actually. And this is how I'm spending my summer vacation.
Don't tell my mom.

12 Days of Christmas

We are approaching my biggest "hate season" of the year.............the week before the kids get out of school for the holidays.

I absolutely positively LOATHE this time of year.

Ten million phone calls, all while I am trying to eat dinner ( yes, I don't pick up................but I still have to return them, later) . Dozens of notes home from the kids' school, all on separate crumpled pieces of paper that I have to fish out of their backpacks, line up, and make a list to do all the things I am supposed to make / buy/ cook/ bring/ pay for. Four or five stupid meaningless activities each day - either at my work, hubster's work, or the kids' school, or via our extra-curricular activities, that purportedly address "family togetherness" and "the real meaning of Christmas", and all of which require ME- the mom- to go to a store, a different one each time, stand in a long line and deal with rude people in the parking lot and buy some useless crappy ugly item, always a specific one .

Son #1 needs a brown turtleneck for the school play, ( not black, not white - BROWN. Searchd every where, they don't make them in kids sizes. Had to order women's small from LL Bean. ) Son #2 needs red grapes for a class party, (when we first moved here, difficult to find in this small town, in the middle of the country, in Dec) , hubby has a work related party for which we are trading ornaments of the world, I am forced to join the "Secret Santa" gift giving for a total stranger at work. Bah humbug ! All of these purportedly "family " activities actually TAKE me away from my family ! Here's the thing: I don't begrudge the folk who want to do this stuff. My personal friends at work and I do exchange small gifts. What I dislike is being forced into doing this, for a total stranger, all in the name of "community spirit". When you start to total up the sums of money - for my work, husband's work, school "Secret Santa's" for the kids.....it starts to add up to a lot of money. For people I don't know. For crappy gifts no one wants. Don't get me started on the "Please donate $10 or $20 to this cause.....that cause....the other cause".....at my work, hubster's work, the kids x2......it's not that I don't want to help others. I just want to choose the causes that are important to my own belief system.

On Tues of this week I cancelled everything (piano lessons, karate lessons, football practice, ceramics class, cub scouts) and just stayed home and snuggled and talked to my kids and read books. That's how I want to spend my family time. So to cope with all my stress, I wrote a song :

Only 12 days till Christmas, and a message left for me
Said , could you bring a dozen cookies ?
They're needed for the school party.

Only 11 days till Christmas, and a note came home to me:
We need 11 dollars for the teacher's "angle" tree.

Only 10 days till Christmas, and my husband said to me
Please buy 10 books of stamps and mail gifts to my family.

Only 9 days till Christmas and I got a note at work that read
We need 9 more faculty to "volunteer" for our holiday spread.

Only 8 days till Christmas and my checkbook had to say :
Only 8 dollars left to plan your holiday !

Only 7 days till Christmas and a UPS man left for me :
Seven giant boxes to drag inside and put under the tree.

Only 6 days till Christmas and a message came to me
Please donate 6 serving platters for the teacher's appreciation tea.

Only 5 days till Christmas , my "to do " list says to me :
Finish shopping now !

Only 4 days till Christmas and my son came home and said
Mom I need 4 books to swap - ones I haven't read .

Only 3 days till Christmas and a phone call said to me
Please bring some cheese cubes to your son's school party !

Only 2 days till Christmas and I got a note that said
Please bring two loaves of your special bread.

Only 1 day till Christmas and I hear my phone start to ring
So I threw it out and haven't done a thing !

10 Reasons Summer in Texas is Like Winter in Maine

1.)The weather is so inhospitable to human life that no one goes outside for weeks at a time........streets are empty of cars, yards deserted of kids, dogs

2.)Tans accrued early in the season are faded away midway through, and everyone is pasty white toward the seasons' end

3.)People especially prepare their homes, yards, cars, etc, just for this season : weather stripping, solar panels, patio covers, awnings, mulch flower beds, double-hung windows, ceiling fans, window units, soaker hoses for foundation protection, car covers, thermal curtains, plant trees on the west side of your house for shade , install mister machines on your patio, build carports, add extra insulation in the attic, undergo energy audits to see where you are leaking a/c, etc -----all to keep the heat out and cool air in

4.)You must purchase and maintain a special wardrobe/health items just for this season : all cotton (synthetics are to be avoided at all cost), underwear , pajamas (or sleep nude), cotton or linen shorts/shirts, hats, baseball caps, fanny packs with water bottle holsters, sunscreen, sunscreen w/bug spray, aloe vera lotion, a wardrobe of different types of sandals/sunglasses for different occasions (dressy, casual, sporting, etc.)

5.)Everyone watches the weather reports constantly to see the latest weather alert, which warns you to stay inside (heat warning days, ozone action days), and to see the latest weather records being set/broken...........how many days w/out rain, today's highs, no. of days over 100, etc.

6.)Now is a good time to clean those closets or start sewing Christmas craft items , clean your guns or catch up on your reading/scrap-booking/sock darning..........people esp like pouring over catalogs, dreaming about what they will do next season, when the weather cools off

7.)Children go stir crazy and need special indoor toys/activity to amuse them - games, videos, tv, etc-and trips to air conditioned indoor playgrounds where they can burn energy-the mall, Chuck E Cheese, McD's play land, rollerskating, bowling

8.)You put off that trip to the grocery store or mall until there isn't a single item left in the house to wipe your butt with, all b/c it's just not worth it to crank up the car and head out into the weather

9.)When you do venture out, you have to go through a special 10 minute ritual involving getting your car started------this involves setting the a/c on high and cracking the windows till all the hot air blows out, and sometimes using a rag or towel to touch the steering wheel or seat belts so they don't burn your fingers..........this , of course, after you were esp careful to park your car in the shade in the first place (not to mention, no one owns black/dark cars -only transplanted Yankees) .You drive an extra 15 minutes, circling the mall till you find that one spot with a little bit of shade from some scraggly pitiful 5 foot tall stick of a "tree".

10.) You look desperately forward to the next season, getting a kind of special summer
S.A. D., feeling depressed staring at the walls of your home , longing for the time when the cooling air/weakening sun/shorter days brings with it some sign of life and hope that life will go on......as the days drag into September, and the car seat still burns your bottom when you get in, you ask yourself, "when will it EVER be fall ?"........and the opposite season, winter, is actually fun and pleasant and you go outside and play sports a lot in the pleasant sunshine.

P.S. To all my friends who are not from Texas....it really doesn't look like the photo at the top. That's a joke ! And another whole story.......as a co-worker in NYC once said to hubby # 1, "if Texas is next to California, like Arizona, how come it isn't a desert?"

Texas Moms

Texas moms, God bless 'em. .....so colorful, so unusual.....I attend a bazillion school, social, and neighborhood functions with my kids - sports events, plays, festivals, carnivals, volunteer as class reading mom, volunteer work day, class parties, concerts, family picnics, summer camps , teacher-appreciation-luncheons and, the ubiquitous"invite-the-entire-class" birthday party - just this past weekend we had THREE of them - all at the skating rink or bowling alley or gymnastics or ice-skating or Main Event or Chuck E Cheese, horseback riding or with a clown or a pony- and all have the same kids opening all the same gifts and the same parents standing around gossiping and everyone eating pizza and chocolate cake.

My husband and I attend these parties along with that rare bird, the Texas mom. You don't see this species in New Jersey, California, NY, or Washington DC. , or any other place that I have lived . (Granted, they have other species there - took me months to figure out exactly what a guido/guidette were). But here in Texas , you have your basic types, all easily distinguished by the type of vehicle they drive and the way they dress :

I swear to God I am not making this up- I saw all of these this past weekend , and it struck me as kind of funny (see if you can guess which one I am-a bit of one, some of another......)

1)The North Dallas Special - Your basic and most commonly found species. Often, but not always, a stay-at-home mom. Bleached blond hair with lovely streaks - it takes a real artist and an expensive salon to get them just so, either puffy or pulled back in a cute ponytail. Always well- groomed, manicured nails (bright red or French manicure), perfect teeth, tanned, slim, and perky. Drives some kind of huge SUV. The wealthier ones drive Lexus, Mercedes and Range Rover SUV's - the more middle class ones drive Suburbans. Like Barbie, she comes with "costumes", depending on what mood she is in this day : 1)"I just came from tennis"(cute little outfit, tanned legs, no sweat, full-makeup, lots of big diamond jewelry, i.e.tennis bracelet), 2)"I just came from the gym"(silk matching windbreaker sweat suit, lots of gold jewelry, full makeup, no sweat), 3)"I'm the All-American mom"(designer jeans, tight little t-shirt exposing those perfect C-cup firm forever-young plastic-surgery titties, full make-up, lots of jewelry , and cute touches like hair bows or socks that invariably match her daughter's. Cell phone in pocket. Knows all the gossip about everyone and who is a good plumber/mechanic/piano teacher, etc. Takes her kid to eat at Chili's or Outback b/c she thinks it is hip.Thinks her child needs tumbling/gymnastics/dance lessons.

1)b) North Dallas Subtype, "The New Orleans Hooker" Mom- Not as many of these, but outstanding due to their unusual plumage . This type wears lots of leopard prints, fur, heavy make-up, garish eye-shadow/lipstick, big jewelry (tennis bracelet with rocks the size of marbles), and puts together skanky outfits like black tights (no pants, short or skirt), fur vest that does not cover butt, spike-heeled shoes and puffy bouffant hair. Often dresses 6 year old daughter exactly the same. Drives the largest SUV with monster-truck wheels. Shows up in this costume at 10 am on a Saturday morning for a four year old's birthday party involving Hobo the Clown. Looks around nervously to see if dads are noticing. The dads all stand in a cluster, pretending to ignore her, talking about sports, so their wives won't yell at them later.

2) The Career/ Professional Working Mom - Lots of these around, too. Thin or chubby (no time to work out), tired, haggard. Bad skin. Make-up wore off 6 hours ago. May or may not drive a luxury sedan or else a sensible car like a Toyota. Takes kids to eat at McD's, or orders pizza, or Black Eyed Pea when feeling guilty, b/c it has vegetables. Cell phone and palm pilot in briefcase, expensive neutral purse, sensible shoes, sensible watch, pager, etc. Often wears drab suits. Minimal jewelry. Misses everything at school and knows no one. Often, the husband does the stuff at school, the mom is a phantom. Seen in her car to and from everywhere, cramming in the french fries and talking on the cell phone.Thinks her child needs computer and music lessons and to play a team sport like soccer.

3)The Artsy Mom - Similar to # 2, but wears a lot of black, a lot of leather, and has spiky short hair and large funky silver-colorful earrings. Wears Dr. Martens. Either drives a lime VW Beetle or a black Saab or Miata convertible. Cell phone with a funky colored face plate.Brings her own personal sushi chef to the school cultural heritage festival. Often owns own business or works weird hours, so she volunteers a lot at school. When her kid is in the school play, orders a real pair of leiderhosen for him from Germany. Seen in restaurants, grocery stores, movies, etc, constantly talking on the cell phone. Thinks her child needs martial arts lessons.

4)In a town with universities, we also have The Collegiate /Educator Mom. Short no-fuss hair, little to no make-up. Slightly funky clothes but not as funky as #3. Can dress up (Peruvian hand knit sweater, Balinese Batik dress) , or down (jeans and a sweatshirt). Can be a real slob on occasion and does not care if having a bad hair day. Chubby or thin. Cheap purse, no purse, fanny pack or backpack. Wears Birkenstocks , sneakers, clogs, or sandals. Jewelry is either a macaroni necklace painted in primary colors by her child or a hand crafted native design she got on vacation in some 3rd world country.Uses palm pilot and computer more than a cell phone. Drives a minivan, conversion van , station wagon or sensible car like a Toyota or a really "out there" car like an orange 69 Karmen Ghia. Orders Chinese take-out. Thinks her child needs music, art, and foreign language lessons (the kid is already fluent on the computer). Has a fish symbol with little feet that says "Darwin" on the back of her car.

5)The Lesbian mother pair (several kids at my kids' school have two moms). Very short hair, often with a little braided rat tail or fringe in the back. No make-up. Either tall and thin or short and fat but whatever, both partners will look like each other. Both partners work, but both have some kind of flex schedule so they can both volunteer and spend lots of time at school and go every where together. Wear jeans and vague sort of LLBean outdoor gear type clothes .Drive pick-up trucks or fire red Jeeps with bumper stickers that say things like "Mabel Peabody's Beauty Parlor and Chainsaw Repair" with a picture of a rainbow. Wear silver jewelry with purple triangles (earrings,wedding rings, etc.) Take their daughters or sons to eat at The Texican Grill , think their kids need to study theatre.

6)The Fundamentalist Christian Mom - Often, slightly over weight. Wears cute country style clothes, little patchwork vests, t-shirts, jean skirts, etc with flowers and angels and cute sayings on them. Drives a minivan. Long or short hair, sweetly styled with puffy elements, lite make-up. Does not work. Volunteers constantly and can be found running the school bake sale or spring carnival. Knows everybody in town and is the nicest, sweetest person you ever met. Does not drink alcohol. Voracious garage sales and Christian book store shopper. Watches Oprah, but always feels compelled to say, "I like her, even though she is Black." When you have a conversation with her about anything, she will invariably go into her personal religious beliefs and tell you how to live your life accordingly. Plays soft Christian rock on the radio .Carries her Bible with her everywhere in a little "Bible bag" that is specially designed (pictures of angels or Noah's ark) and sort of resembles a purse . Has a fish symbol on the back of her car and a bumper sticker that says "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned".