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Just like Lightning

Good morning from Anse,

This is our last morning here.  In a couple of hours we’ll drive for the last time through the gates at 102 Avenue de Brianne and start the 3 week trip through France, England, Wales, and Scotland before flying home to Victoria on July 31st.

Bags are packed and in the car.  The Church bells have just rung the final Angelus that we’ll hear.  Boxes of books and winter clothing were picked up by movers and sent home on Monday.  Saturday saw lunch with friends Caroline et Cedric and their boys, then a birthday party for Naomi.  Sunday was our last visit to the Church in Lyon, and then an afternoon with Isabelle, Michel and their three girls each of whom are the same age as our three.  Monday night was a final apéro with our wonderful neighbours and hosts, Aimé, Catherine, Paul et Maguy.  Vivien and Lucas had escargot in Lyon for the last time on Tuesday.  Wednesday was predictably full of last minute trips to here and there to do this or that, and capped by a goodbye to our friends Josée et Thibault.  The girls have spent pretty much every afternoon at their friends’ house in their pool, coming home late in the evening.  Without noticing it until just now, the last week has rushed past us, and it’s now time to leave.  Maybe the bells each hour and half hour were a bit more insistent, warning us.  But it’s now come.  We are leaving.

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The last pain au raisin?
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Alix walking in for her final exam.
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Nai on her way to the second-to-last day at school.
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He (it?) thought they would go away if he (it?) just stayed still.  Little did he (it?) know that Nina and Nai would happily have stayed looking at him for 12+ hours.  This was in our backyard.  We have a number of resident hedgehogs.  The girls love them.
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La belle Vivien, at our escagots place in Lyon.  A bottle of white Maconais is on its way.

The summer is lightning season in Anse and all across France.  When we first arrived last August it seemed like the storms were somehow greeting us, and we’re happy to see them back now.  Perhaps they’re saying farewell.  They are one of the many reminders of what a wonderful year this has been.  It’s had a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like all good stories should, and it’s easier to feel that the has come at the right time when it looks so much like the beginning.

Viv and Lucas were sitting on the windowsill of their bedroom at night a few days back, looking out into the dark sky, watching for the lightning that would come every couple of minutes or so across the Beaujolais hills.  The flashes came so quickly, as they always do, gone before we could see them.  Like all lightning storms, you want to be looking at exactly the right spot to see the flash when it comes.  But you never are.  You’re always looking off to the side.  Just below, or just above.  Viv and Lucas talked about how it was the same with that particular moment, hands on the cool stone of windowsill, warm wind in the night air, some light droplets of rain, birds still singing despite the thunder, light of the set sun still visible on the undersides of the thunderclouds, the sounds of the girls getting ready for bed.  Just like the brief flashes left on the backs of Viv and Lucas’ eyes after each crack of lightning, they knew that this would be all that would be left of that moment on the windowsill – traces of what it was like to be here, in Anse, at night, with a storm passing over.

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You readers of this blog (thanks, btw) are far too smart to not know where this is going.  The analogy is, frankly, ridiculously precise – the lightning comes and goes.  As does a year.  One wants to remember it all.  But everything about it is all so quick.  Every moment passes quickly.  Every hour passes quickly.  And then every day goes, and then the next, and before you know it a year is gone, and you’re left standing, feeling that sand has run through your fingers.

What Viv and Lucas wanted from this year was to experience something new and strange, to be gently pushed out of our familiar habits, to be able to take advantage of not being able to take things for granted.  It was sometime in May that they found that they had unknowingly begun doing so.  They knew when the trains came.  They knew who came to Apprentissage classes late, who came early, who you kissed and who you didn’t.  They knew where and when to buy bread (the pattiserie around the corner is open Tuesdays, when our usual place – the yellow store in old Anse – is closed).  They knew when to avoid the supermarket because the lines would be long.  They knew which friends dropped which kids off at school on which day and at which time.  They knew when the local butcher was open.

[Ed.  No.  We never figured out when the local butcher was open.  He kept worse hours than Canadian banks.  Lovely guy.  But, honestly, WOW, how is he still in business?]

It was clear.  Familiarity indeed had bred a sort of innocent contempt.  As strange as it sounds being in a foreign country, we were now gently asleep in the myriad small habits of familiarity.

This gave a strange sad/sweet taste to the end of this year.  Sad was the first taste – the year was indeed coming to a close.  But then Sweet came quickly too, because it’s clearer now that the year hasn’t ended.  The five of us are coming home, yes, but in trying to picture what it will be like, we know that it we will be coming home to the unfamiliar familiar:  Stores that are open on Sunday afternoon.  Liturgy in English.  Meals without baguette.  Different bird songs.  Sea salt in the air.  The sun a little lower in the sky.  Mornings without the Perfect 5th that both the Nespresso and the Microwave make when working.  Days without the Church bells marking the time.  The five of us a year older, and also our family and friends.  We know that home will be different.  Anse is a gift that will keep on giving.

And so we look forward to a few more months of the unfamiliar.  Of being not quite settled.  Of feeling and remembering:  How strange.  Us.  And in this place.

Next time on CorwinsInFrance:  A final tally of a year in France.

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She may have grown the most this year.  We think perhaps a foot.
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But the gorgeous one on the left isn’t far off.  Here she is with one of her best friends, Eva.
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Lunch on the porch on one of the gorgeously warm summer afternoons Anse is blessed with right now.
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The girls with their 3 quasi-dopplegangers, Eva (14), Lola (12) and Manon (9).  These 6 have spent   A.   Lot.   Of.   Time.   Together.  Elles vont nous manquer beaucoup.
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Epilogue – a Final Tally of Corwins In France

Good morning from Somewhere-That-Is

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Lucas’ favourite view.  Front porch, looking over the back yard. 

-Sadly-Not-Anse.

It’s October in Victoria.  Almost 12 weeks since arriving back in Canada.  Arriving back to things that felt like home, and yet also felt strange.  To wit:  Wow.  No penny?

Something that has truly touched each of us is those off-hand comments some of you have made to us in passing since we got back.  “I read a few of your posts…”  “I browsed a bit of what you wrote…” “We followed your blog…” “I loved what the girls wrote..”  “I read every word of every post with unbridled enthusiasm…” [Ed.  FTR, no one said that last thing.].  So, it appears that some of you actually read this blog.  

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  That you would come and read of the little adventures and stories of our year in France means a great deal to us.  Our first post in August 2015 started with Tom Stoppard’s words, put into the mouth of the Player in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead:  “You don’t understand the humiliation of it – to be tricked out of a single assumption, which makes our existence viable – that somebody is watching…”  Or, in our case, reading.  That anyone actually read our attempt at chronicling the adventure that we five had is very humbling.  Thank you.

And so, we thought we might cap this whole thing off, that year, our experience, and our story, with the following:

A Final Tally of some Notable Transactions in France:

Days spent in Anse:  341

Cups of Espresso consumed during our stay:  1023

Different types of full-fat cheese eaten during our stay: 29

Kilograms of full-fat cheese eaten:  21.35.  And each kilogram was totally worth it.

Kilograms of Butter sautéed:  85.25.  Every good dish begins with 200g of butter.

Litres of crème fraiche consumed:  40, or about 170 cups.  Every good dish finishes with 1 cup of crème fraiche.

Shallots diced:  682

Cloves of Garlic minced:  1,364

Fingers sliced:  21.  Give or take.

Date Lucas applied for permission to remain in France:  September 17, 2016

Date Lucas obtained permission to remain in France:  March 8, 2016

Hours spent attempting to obtain permission for Lucas to remain in France:  326

Kilometers walked through Beaujolais hills (Combined, Vivien & Lucas):  2000+

Bells rung in local Church:  11,268 (29 times per day, plus 3 extra per day, plus 5 weddings and 10 funerals)

Number of Blog Posts posted on CorwinsInFrance:  39

Number of Blog Posts drafted but never posted on CorwinsInFrance:  many (discretion > valour).

Number of Embarrassing Pictures taken of Girls:  1,357

Number of Embarrassing Pictures taken of Girls shared with The Viewing Public:  5

Glasses, Bottles, Litres of Red Wine consumed:  sorry folks.  our lips are sealed.  this between us and our Priest alone.  

 

Some things we learned in Anse:

Salt and pepper your meat before cooking it.  Always.

Start with 200g of butter and finish with 1 cup of Creme Fraiche.  With Everything You Cook.

White wine will make dogs ill.  Red wine will not.  The same rules do not hold true for humans.

Duck fat is proof that the universe loves us and wants us to be happy.

Cucumbers are better in France.

Unions are worse in France.

Greeting friends by kissing them or shaking their hands makes a town friendlier.  And happier.

Canada’s internet access fees are extortionary.

FranceInfo > CBC.  Or at least FranceInfo sounds better.

Saying something in French makes is sound better than saying the same thing in English.

Boulangeries that make their own bread > Boulangeries that do not.

Everything is better with champagne.  And baguette.

 

A random assortment of what we miss.  Every.  Day:

Song birds singing.  All day.

The doves whoo-whooing as afternoon turns to evening.

The frogs and their incredibly loud and insistent croaking.

The Bells.  Every hour on the hour and half hour then at 740, 1205 and 705.  Marking the day for us all.  And marking the days for we mortals.  Ask not for whom….

Carrefour & the wonderful people there.  We saw them more than we saw anyone else this entire year.  Every day.  Lucas misses them.

Aimé & Catherine.  Paul & Maguy.  Isabelle, Michel, les trois filles.  Josée, Thibault, Florine, their lovely dog and insane rabbit (since deceased. RIP).  Caroline, Cedric, their two beautiful boys.  Anne, Christophe, Camille.  Les parents d’Emma.  Les parents de Caroline.  Les familles de la Rue.

The smell of the wisteria draped across the front porch as it bloomed and bloomed and bloomed over during spring.

The creaking of the stairs up to the second floor.

The girls running pell mell to the swing in the back yard, because there are three of them and only two swings.

Everything.

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Aimé et Katherine – our most lovely hosts for the year, and neighbours on the right hand side of our home.

 

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Paul et Maguy – brother and sister-in-law of Aimé, and our beloved neighbours on the left hand side.
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There were tears that morning as the girls said a last goodbyes.

 

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The view out our kitchen window on our last morning in Anse in July.

 

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Yes.  Yes.  We did.  File this under the heading of “Splurge”

 

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Found on our lunch after leaving Anse, and on our way to Jo & Barney’s in the Dordogne.

 

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Nina finally gets it.
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The basilica in Périgueux, on our way to the Dordogne.
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In the Dordogne at Jo & Barney’s.  The ache of leaving Anse was soothed by being with family in a place of such beauty.
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…and also soothed by days spent like this, canoeing down one of the many rivers in the region.
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We took a day trip to the little village where Lucas’ family spent a year in the 1970’s.
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And ate in nearby Saujon, a lovely little town with starlings swooping overhead while we had mussels and a lovely bottle of local white – sweeter than we expected, and wonderful.
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Then we drove to Bretagne to rendevouz with Allison and her two kids.  We stayed in an 600+ year old cottage that came equipped with a family of stray cats – a mum and two kittens.  Our girls were in heaven.
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We had a day trip to Mt. Saint Michel…
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…where we paid for a fantastic tour…
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…complete with a demonstration of how flying buttresses work.
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Les belles filles, Vivien et Allison.

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Then we were off again, back to Chartres, for one last look.  Viv and Lucas did indeed go in for Malcolm Miller’s tour and it was well worth it.  There was a lot of him in his tour, but you cannot deny that he is a wealth of information and it is his life’s work to share it.
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Walking in the streets of Chartres.
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The Cathedral by night.  Don’t be cynical.  It’s beautiful and works.
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Then we were off to Rouen to see the last of the big Gothic Cathedrals that we hadn’t seen.  Gorgeous.  Just as fun was the staircase up to our apartment.
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From Rouen we took a day trip to the Convent in Lesna where we wound up staying for most of the morning and for a lovely lunch with the Sisters.  Ask us for more details if you’re interested. It’s a remarkable place.
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Dieppe.  Our last moments in France…
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…before ferrying away to England.  One last goodbye.
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On arriving in England, we spent a lovely morning with Viv’s cousins Naomi and Lizzie and their families.
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The girls, again, were in heaven, this time with babies and babies and babies.

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Then we were off to Harry Potter Studios just north of London, which was quite incredible.

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Luna Lovegood’s wardrobe
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Harry Potter behind us, we drove to Wales for a visit with more of Viv’s dear family there.

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and where Alix fell in love with the Slanket.  Be still my beating heart.
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We drove north from Wales and spent the next 4 nights with Don in Yorkshire.  Walking over the moors again eased the pangs of leaving the Beaujolais Hills.  But only just.
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We walked lots…
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…talked… about Brexit…
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…and about Brexit…
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…played the world’s largest game of Genga…
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…and engaged in some less than appropriate behaviour in the beautiful Church in Helmsley.
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From Yorkshire we again drove north towards Glasgow, from where we’d be flying home.  Don’t judge us that we had time to visit only 3 things.  First, Hadrian’s Wall…
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…second, the Castle where much of Outlander is filmed…
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…and third, Loch Lomond.
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Flight Day came early.
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Glasgow to Toronto, to Vancouver, to Victoria.
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Home, at last.  July 31st, 2016.   One year and 4 days since leaving on an incredible journey.
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Sunset over the Dordogne.  And over a year to remember.

 

A Year in France, in miniature

Good morning from Anse.

The Guest Guide Book had recommended the walk.

It’s a 45 minute ascent to a beautiful alpine meadow.  Cross the meadow.  Pick up the trail again on the other side.  Then continue another 45 minutes to the peak.  Don’t let the children be discouraged… they may need some encouragement at times.  The view from the top is not to be missed.

And so we set off at 9am, our first full day in Asturias, to clim the local peak.  It was what Viv and Lucas had wanted from the family’s second week in Spain in April – walking, hiking, green, fresh air.  And the owners of our little home were very complimentary about the local walks through the hills and valleys.  The hikes available from their doorstep were one of the reasons they chose to move their young family from England to live in northern Spain.

The Guest Guide Book described many of the walks in wonderful detail.  The one we chose this morning took us through a gorgeous valley floor, richly green and white with tall grass and calla lilies, and then had us start to climb a somewhat steeper but pleasant and winding trail.

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We walked through a thick eucalyptus grove, and Lucas told the girls about their Grandmother’s experience when she, their Grandfather and Lucas took a summer trip down the West Coast to California in the late 1980’s.  They’d also walked through eucalyptus groves during that trip.  Their dried leaves smelled so wonderful on the forest floor, and released the most gorgeous scent when as you walked over them.  Grandmother Joanne was so enchanted with the smell that she bent down and picked up a handful, crushing them in her hands, and inhaled deeply.

And immediately dropped to the ground, blacking out right then and there on the forest trail.  Evidently the scent of eucalyptus leaves is more powerful than she’d thought.

Now, back to CorwinsInFrance (CorwinsInSpain actually, at this point).  We walked past pines, peeking through openings to try to catch sight of the cows and goats we knew were there by the bells echoing off the cliffs.  It was amazing, to hear these bells, clanging so clearly in the air, and then seeing through cracks in the forest cover that they were actually coming from flocks of goats far across the valley, walking happily like nobody’s business across fields that you’d think no one would have any business walking across, let alone graze.

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Off at the top left of the picture is a sliver of a pasture clinging to the side of the mountain, with a herd of goats happily meandering across, bells clanging around their necks. 

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We went up, and up, along the winding trail, and eventually broke out of the trees, and onto a ridge that was obviously heavily travelled by cattle, still following the directions in our hosts’ Guide to go up, and up, and up.

So we went up, and up, and up.

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And finally, we got to the top of a small hill to find a beautiful little alpine meadow in front of us.  On the other side of the meadow we could see the trail start again, heading up the side of a steep ridge which then went off to the left towards the peak which was our ultimate destination.  The directions in our Guide said to “cross diagonally across the meadow, and pick up the trail on the other side.”  Simple enough we all thought.  Simple enough, we thought, as we looked over the meadow.

As we looked over the meadow.  More of a pasture really.  A pasture with a serene looking herd of spanish, alpine-dwelling cows.

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Hmm, we thought together, out loud.  Do all spanish cows have horns?

The herd was perhaps of 15 or 20, both cows and baby calfs, and they looked quite happy, heads down, grazing and more-or-less minding their own business despite the five of us having appeared from the trail up on to the edge of their field.

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“Those are all sows.  No bulls there” Lucas said confidently.  Later, Lucas would admit that he may have seen the unmistakable parts of a few bulls in the pasture.  Why he misled his family in this way is between him and his Priest.

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Nai & Lucas quickly and assuredly walked across the pasture, Lucas first with a determined stride in his step, Naomi hesitating at first, but then also walking quickly across, joining him on the other side of the narrow field.

At that point we heard shouts from below the pasture, off to the right, down at the bottom of the steep side of the hill.  We all looked down, but couldn’t see anyone.  The shouts did seem quite insistent, but the two halves of CorwinsInFrance took different messages from the shouts.  Viv and older girls were convinced that these were shouts of anger, telling us we had no business being on the field.  Lucas looked down, and seeing no one, confidently assured the rest of the family that they were no doubt the shouts of a farmer to his flock somewhere across these hills, and had nothing to do with us.

Lucas’ misguided confidence is a theme throughout this entire episode, in case you hadn’t caught on yet.

And so we stood on opposite sides of the pasture – Viv, Alix and Nina on one side, and Lucas and Nai on the other.  Viv was very hesitant to risk crossing, and kept Alix and Nina closely with her.  She would later say “I felt so foolish… it was just a herd of cows.”  But she was right, and she was wise.  She always is.

At this point the herd was not behaving in a particularly friendly fashion.  Viv and the two girls had backed up to the edge of the pasture, and there were a few bulls that would move determinedly towards them whenever they made to try come forward again to come across to Lucas and Nai.

The family was cut in two:  Lucas and Naomi on one side ready to make the ascent to the peak, and Vivien with Alix and Nina on the other side of the pasture, stopped by obviously determined bovines.

Viv and Lucas spoke quickly on the phone (aside:  imagine what has to have happened in human history such that these two parents can talk by cell phone across a pasture suspended 3000+ feet above the ocean in the most rural part of northern Spain).  Topics covered in that short call included:

  • what were you thinking?
  • no, seriously, they look quite friendly.  Well, looked quite friendly.  Want to try coming across?
  • They do not.  look.  friendly.   now.   No.  
  • Nai’s keen to go up.
  • I’m taking the other two down.
  • I miss you.
  • Your life insurance is paid up, right?

They parted ways.  Viv, Alix and Nina were quite content to head back down from the pasture to the trail, away from the cows, and wait for Naomi and Lucas to complete the hike.  This was easier said than done.  It was a hard ascent.  Prickly pears reached up and scratched at Nai’s and Lucas’ legs most of the steep, rocky way.  And the trail was not at all marked or clear, except for being able to see the peak where they were headed.  Sometimes it seemed that they weren’t even following a trail, but instead creeping along thin little paths worn into the mountain by the herd of 15-20 goats that were resident on the ridge.

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On the way up the ridge towards the peak, looking back to where we’d come from.
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The Guest Guide Book said that this little herd of goats lived up the mountain, almost at the peak.  And indeed they seemed to be quite happy and resident there.  No bells, no obvious signs of being anyone’s but their own.  

The climb was specular.  The goats eyed them curiously as they worked their way along the top of the ridge towards the peak.  Lucas could see it all the way as they climbed up, a huge metal cross having been planted at the very top.   They could see the cross from outside our front door way down in the valley.  In fact there was nothing higher in the region than this cross, except for the Picos de Europa to the East.

And then, after perhaps another 45 minutes, holding tight on to each others’ hands, all of a sudden there was nothing higher in the region except for Nai and Lucas.  They’d reached the top.

The view was dizzying.  On three sides there were mountains stretching off to the horizon.  On the fourth side, clouds.  And then the clouds drifted away, and there was the ocean.  “Nai – that’s the Atlantic”.

Words really don’t work to describe situations like this unless you’re Cormac McCarthy or David Foster Wallace, but let’s try.

CM – there was sky.  and there was rock.  the goats were dealing with the only grass.  it was daytime in the mountains in Asturias.

DFW – and so (1) really you were pushed to the inevitable – well, inevitable for you, but perhaps not for other climbers who might be there tomorrow, or who were there yesterday, and really, do you have any claim on concluding anything?  – conclusion that this was about as beautiful as it could be unless you were court-side watching Federer give everyone a lesson in how inevitable events really can be. (2)

Here are some pictures.

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Lucas and Nai stayed up at the peak for perhaps 1/2 hour.  They tried to drink as deeply as they could of the impressions up there.  They spoke briefly with Viv to let her know they were fine and on their way down.  They waved in the general direction of Viv and girls and hoped they could see them waving.

And then they started the climb down.

All the way during the way up, and now down, Lucas reported he was thinking “please help us with the cows.”  This was intentional on his part.  He wasn’t thinking “help the cows not be there” but rather was intentionally trying to keep his entreaties more open-ended.  He wanted to be open to whatever might help.  Because they needed help.  There was no way those bulls were going to let them pass across the pasture this time.  They had made that much very clear in how they reacted to Viv hazarding a few steps in their direction.

Lucas and Nai needed another solution.  And so they came down, all the time repeating silently this entreaty.

And indeed the bulls, cows and calves were still there in the pasture when they got down, and eyeing Lucas and Nai in a most determined fashion.  The bulls and cows were not interested in humans coming anywhere near them or their calves.  There was no easy way of going around the pasture, as it was flanked on both sides by very steep hills, one going down to what looked like a well-worn cattle path, and the other going down and down and down and evidently not really ever stopping.

Making the best of a bad situation, the two began climbing down the steep hill to the left, down towards the muddy path, and without any real sense of how this was going to work out.  But it was the only real option.

They got to the bottom of the hill, turned onto the cattle path, and began walking towards where they figured they might be able to make the climb back up the hill, on the other side of the pasture, and pick up the trail again.

They’d gone just a few steps before hearing a spanish voice yelling from a distance – the same one they’d heard when first trying to cross the pasture on the way up the hill.  “Dad, what should we do?  Is he yelling at us?”  “Don’t worry, baby.  Just keep walking.”

The spanish voice kept calling, at intervals, and insistently.  After a minute or so it was 100% clear that the voice was indeed calling at Lucas and Nai, and to keep walking would be, among myriad other things, rude.  And so they stopped, turned around, looked to see if they could see the source of the insistent spanish shouting, and waited to face whatever was coming.

The man came into view coming around a corner in the path.

Lucas doesn’t remember the exact time at which it became clear that this was not going to be an angry encounter.  But it was quite quickly after seeing the man.

Picture what you think a traditional rural spanish cow and goat farmer would look like.  This lovely gentleman was all of that:  no front teeth, and those remaining in his mouth were tobacco stained.  Lovely wool cap, well-worn pants tucked into well-worn and muddy boots.  Hands like cuts of beef, calloused and with dirt worked so deeply into the pores that Hercules would have refused the task of cleaning them.  And a tall pole in his right hand.  A shepherd’s staff.

What transpired when he reached Lucas and Nai was accomplished absolutely and completely without a single comprehended word exchanged between Lucas and the Spaniard.  And yet words filled the air.  Spanish, French, English.  And lots of gesticulating, and many hearty slaps on the shoulder and smiles directed at Naomi.  Here is, generally, what Nai and Lucas took the lovely shepherd to have communicated to them:

“Dude.  Seriously?  Crossing that field was, like, just about the most asinine thing I’ve seen in my many, many years of farming up here.  Those cows are not friendly!  They are not your friends!  And the bulls are even worse!  OMG.  Dude.  This could have ended very badly.  Glad you came to your senses and came down here, cuz it looked like you were going to try crossing that field again!  Not.  Good.  Look, if you’re going to walk in these parts, you need a stick.  To hit the cows if they start towards you.  They respect the stick.  Just show it to them and they’ll leave you alone.  If they still come at you, then hit them on their flanks.  Like this.  A whack on their flanks.  A whack.  You’ll be fine.  Here.  Take this cane.  Follow this road.  It’ll take you back to the path.  Take this cane.  Hit the cows.  With this cane.  But only if they threaten you.  Go with God.  And take the cane.”

And so Nai and Lucas parted ways with the Awesomest Spanish Cow & Goat Famer Ever, and walked along the road, eventually picking up the path, just like he said.  (Ed.  Just like we think he said.).  With the Awesomest Spanish Shepherd’s Pole, worn smooth along the top half by the farmer’s grip.  And with an indelible memory of the warmest and most genuine encounter with the warmest and most genuine spanish farmer, on top of the peaks of Asturias.

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Here’s Goethe: (3)

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Goethe’s words were what made this year happen.  At some point Viv and Lucas decided that the family was moving to France, and that there was no turning back.  And from that moment all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance came their way and continues to come.

This was the reason why Lucas kept his entreaties open-ended, walking down from the peak:  please help us… because we have to be open to all avenues of assistance that may show themselves.  Otherwise we might miss them.  “You have to work at being open to those sorts of things that would never otherwise have occurred”  Lucas said over wine with his in-laws in the Dordogne a few weeks later.

Viv’s Step-Dad Ron responded:  “Sure.  That said, some people might just call it being foolish.”

Indeed.

Epilogue:

The day after the hike, we relayed the story to our landlords, thinking that they might want the information to revise their Guide.  Their response was quite matter-of-fact: “Everyone knows you don’t go near cows without a cow stick.”  “Oh for sure – avoid them when they’re calving.”

Endnotes:

(1) the etymology of the word “so” is so deep and so wide and so tall that one could lose one’s self in it and in the totality of its breadth in a way that even St. Paul would be impressed by the four coordinates involved in one’s study of it.  More than a passing knowledge of Latin and Greek and the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius would be required to plumb the depths as they do indeed go very deep.  Consider just the letters themselves:  S.   And an O.  So simple.  You’d think but you’d be wrong.

(2) Federer.

(3)  yesyesyesyesyesyesyes WE KNOW there are disputes about whether this is Goethe. That’s.  Not.  The.  Point.

Next time on CorwinsInFrance:  We’re almost at the end now.  Two more weeks, today, until we leave Anse.  It’s beautifully warm in the mornings, with the all the windows in the house open, hot at noonday and in the afternoon, and into the evenings.  Just like when we got here, 11 months ago.  

Asturias, The Cows – A Visit to Spain, Part II

Good morning from Anse,

When we last left our heroes, they had been defeated by heavy rains in Madrid and prevented from seeing the Prado.  They feared the Wrath Of George and mourned not being able to see all the El Greco, Goya, and Velazquez.

We know you’ve been hanging on tenterhooks, so we won’t prolong the agony:  All five CorwinsInFrance were able to sneak in a visit, although sadly without Jeanette and Ron.

Sunday was not intended to be a Madrid day.  Instead all seven of us were scheduled to travel to Toledo, Ron and Jeanette by bus and for a 3 or 4 day stay in that amazing little town, and CorwinsInFrance by car for the day and evening before heading off to Asturias in northern Spain on Monday morning.  

Being the resilient and flexible lot we are (Ed.  Cough.) the five of us decided to stay the morning in Madrid and try to salvage a visit to the museum.  Lucas dropped Jeanette and Ron off at the bus station for their bus to Toledo, and then met up with Viv and the girls who had tidied up the rental flat and returned our keys.  

Before taking the short walk from the subway station to the Prado, we indulged in one of the other amazing things about Spain:

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Question:  What’s better than 1000 calories of deep-fried batter and thick chocolate at 8h30am?  Answer:  Nothing.  Churro = Spain’s solution to the age-old conundrum of whether it’s okay to have dessert for breakfast.  It is.  

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Having fortified ourselves with enough carbohydrates and sugar to feed Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow, we made our way to the Prado.  The girls ran ahead as if powered by jet fuel.

We spent the entire morning at the Prado.  What an incredible place.   We’re not sure how or why the stars aligned that day, but everyone was perfectly happy, wandering off and listening to the excellent audioguides in front of whatever paintings caught them in the moment, then reconvening by happenstance here or there, all for several hours.  

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“Why do all of his (El Greco’s) people look up?”  “Is that why they call it ‘Reubenesque’?”  “Look!  Saturn eating his child!  Just like in the books!”  

What a treasure.  The Director, Miguel Miranda, is very pointed in his description of why the Prado is particularly special in the world:  “The collection offers an exact portrait of a Museum whose founding aim was not to present an indiscriminate gathering of works from different periods and cultures but one that owes its excellence and renown to the unique nature of its collections, determined as they were by the personal tastes of the Spanish monarchs and the historical circumstances through which modern Spain evolved.”

…an indiscriminate gathering of works from different periods and cultures…”   Ouch.  Take that, Louvre.

From there it was back to our “locals” lunch spot, before finally getting in the car to head to Toledo.  

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We’re afraid we didn’t do justice to Toledo.  We walked around the old town in the afternoon/evening, found a fabulous tapas spot for dinner, and spent all of 40 minutes exploring the Alcazar (military museum) with Ron and Jeanette the next morning, before leaving for our trip north.   So basically we enjoyed a beautiful apartment in the old section of town, demolished a pretty fantastic octopus, and left town.

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We try not to post pictures of food because, well, it’s pictures of food.  Gross.  But here is an exception.  Pulpo, in a fantastic restaurant our only night in Toledo.
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Walking through the old town at sunset was magical.  Narrow streets, warm wind, blinding sun around one corner, cool shadows around the next.  
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The couple over Nai’s shoulder provided us with no end of entertainment over dinner.  Obviously on a first date, his interest in her was as obvious as a punchline on Network TV, while her interest in him was, well, indeterminate.   Vivien and Lucas – being the good parents they are – took it as an opportunity to talk about how boys should not behave on first dates.  
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Nina is embarrassed by the gentleman’s obvious interest.  
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Alix is mortified at the entire situation.  

And then it was off 600 kilometers to the north, to the tiny hamlet of Fuentes in rural northern Spain, aka Asturias, aka Kingdom of the Princes of Asturias.  This is called “Green Spain” – think deep, verdant landscapes, high, craggy mountains, and flowing creeks.  Driving through the mountains to get there, we could have been in Canada.  Hiking through the Picos de Europa later during our stay we could have been in the Scottish Highlands.  It was absolutely stunning, and over this second of our two weeks in Spain we fell even more deeply in love with the country.

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The highway through the mountains of Asturias.

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We stayed in a beautiful little house, in a tiny hamlet off a narrow, winding road (two way, though with only room for a car coming in one direction).  The house was owned by a lovely British family who decided to move their lives to Spain when their kids were 3 and 5.  They’d been in Spain for three years now and gave us a picture of an alternate universe – what if we’d moved to France for ever?  

Their four cats were much loved and manhandled by Nina and Naomi, who were in absolute heaven, though poor Nai went to bed each night with red, streaming eyes.  

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Just out the back of our house. 

The area was beautifully rural — there was a running brook right outside our window constantly murmuring to us, a fresh spring closeby which provided water to the surrounding neighbours, and flowers shooting out of the ground everywhere.

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Just off to the side of our house. 
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Just outside the front of our house.  

We hiked most days, exploring the local hills, forests, streams, and fields.  We heard bells echoing off the hillsides, rung by herds of cows and goats meandering across impossible pastures painted on the sides of mountains.  (Ed.  The Hiiiiiills Are Aliiiiiiiiiive, with the Soooouuuuund of…. <<SMACK>>  [Sub Ed.  Shut up Ed.])

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Those are the Picos de Europa in the distance.  

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A ten minute walk on our first day took us over a pedestrian suspension bridge to a tiny little restaurant where we had no idea what we were ordering (and it was awesome), and a 30 minute walk the next day took us to a beautiful green valley with a restaurant in an old farmhouse surrounded by, well, nothing at all, really.  Sheep, and cows, and horses.  It was beautiful, and the food was fantastic.

And there was no end to the food either.  In Spain, it just kept coming, and coming.   As a family, we were utterly defeated by every single lunch we ate during our two weeks there.  It was always fantastic, and always too much.  We tried tailoring our orders (Proposal:  “The two of us would like to share an appetizer”  Response:  “One appetizer is too big for two.  Better for four.”) but to no avail.

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Those are appetizers.  Two of them.  We promise there will be no further pictures of food in this post.  

The above is from one day in this wonderful little restaurant 45 minutes from us by foot. More food than we could eat, seafood, lamb, chicken, soup, a bottle of wine, coffee, desserts… ran us 52 Euros (call it $75CDN).  We would have paid twice that amount for the owner/hostess alone, who radiated warmth and happiness, despite evidently running the entire place on her own.

We drove to and hiked the Picos de Europa.  You have to have some pretty spectacular peaks to impress West Coasters, but our breath was taken away.  

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We also visited Cavadonga which has a very special place in Spanish history and in the hearts of Spaniards.  In 722 AD, King Pelagius was holed up in the caves of the Picos de Europa mountain range nearby the tiny village of Cavadonga.  The entire Iberian Peninsula was then occupied by Arabs and Berbers from north Africa, with the region of Asturias being the only place they had failed to conquer.  With Pelagius were the remaining ethnic spanish refugees who had fled north for refuge.

Hearing that his position was to be attacked, Pelagius climbed to little grotto, high up on one of the cliff walls, and prayed to the Virgin Mary.  In a vision, he was told not to worry, and that his army would be successful.  (We’re sure the Virgin was more eloquent than this).

They were indeeed, and the battle of Cavadonga is held by the Spanish to be the first Christian victory in the Iberian Peninsula, and considered to be the start of the 770-year Reconquista.  There is a beautiful shrine and little chapel now in the grotto where Pelagius prayed, overlooking a beautiful pool of water collecting what falls down the cliffs.  The view from the grotto is a bit dizzying.

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The Church holds regular services outside the little chapel, nestled into the cliff wall.  

 

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The Basílica de Santa María la Real de Cavadonga, built out of beautiful pink limestone, right across from the grotto.

We visited a number of nearby fishing towns – Lastres, Llanes, Ribastrella – ate our fill of fresh seafood, and resolved that we will have to come back to this part of the world.

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Spanish Gothic.  

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There have been many, many places we’ve visited this year that have rocked us back on our heels, helping us to think “How strange.  How fantastic.  Us.  And in This Place.”  But none have been as surprising as Asturias.  We simply didn’t know such a place existed.

Which makes it all the more wonderful that Viv took the family there completely on chance.  After Madrid, we knew we couldn’t afford to stay a week in one of the better-travelled and more famous locations in Spain (e.g., Barcelona, Cordoba) and would need to find someplace off the beaten track if we wanted to spend a second week in Spain.  Viv put her formidable research powers to work and found Asturias.  And what magic we found there.

This sort of amazing coincidence of happenstance and planning has repeated itself many, many times this year.  It was, in fact, the plan for this year – to put the five of us in a most different environment, and see what happens.

Which leads to another story of chance  And fortune.  And cows.   And bulls.  With horns. But that’s for the next post.

Next time on CorwinsInFrance:  The family is divided in two by a herd of cows.  Lucas quotes Goethe.  He is called a fool.  Rightly.   

A Trip to Spain

Good morning from Anse,

This is another catch-up post, wherein we try to share some of what’s been going on here, even if those things happened a while back.  Or in this case, six weeks ago.

Long before arriving in France Viv and Lucas resolved to get to Spain as a family, by hook or by crook.  Lucas had spent time there in his 20’s, and we loved the idea of exposing the girls to another foreign experience.  You think you’ve got France licked?  Well.  Just.  You.   Wait.

Additionally, Jeannette – one of the girls’ grandmothers – had a lifelong dream of visiting Spain where she had family roots going way back.  Planning a trip there gave Jeanette and Ron the chance to check this off their bucket list and for us to see them during this year away.

And so the girls fourth and final school vacation (late April, early May) found us driving southwest towards the border between France and Spain on the Mediterranean.  This took us through the Languedoc again, which was wonderful as it gave Viv a chance to see some of the territory that Lucas and the girls had spoken about from their week there in October.

We left Anse on a Monday, and drove to a little town called Bascara for one night in a small family-run hotel just across the Spanish border.  It was very basic, very friendly, and very good.  The hotel restaurant served us baby octopi on the first night (much to Nina’s chagrin -“but they’re BABIES!”), and eggs and bacon for the girls the next morning — or, as they described it breathlessly, their “first real breakfast in almost a year!”   The girls went to bed nervous that first night, seriously thrown off by how much Lucas and Vivien stumbled trying to communicate when we first arrived.  They quickly realized that stumbling in French is a whole order of difference from stumbling in a place where you know next to no words at all.  By the end of the first week however, everyone had settled in to Spain easily, and were quite comfortable to make do with the few words we’d picked up, and our mutual agreement to all just laugh and gesture broadly when we’re at a loss to understand each other.  

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Eating our first meal in Spain. Alix is smiling because just before that, she watched Nina try to chase a cookie wrapper all around the deck. The girls found this hilarious.
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The girls, in the bedroom our first night in Spain.  Because.  You know.  Why not?
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Little Bascara was surrounded by fields of canola at their very peak of blooming.  We took a short walk after our first night in Spain, bathing in the colour, before setting off for a long drive to Madrid.

From Bascara, we drove to Madrid, and a most beautiful, spacious apartment in a bustling area, right by Bilbao Metro station for those who’ve visited.  Madrid itself was a revelation.  Lucas’ memories from 20 years ago were of a dirty and very smoggy place, worth visiting primarily for the Prado and the ham.  Now, however, it’s bustling, lively, clean (cleaner than anywhere we’d visited in France), and absolutely fabulous.  People were relaxed and friendly, the city itself felt amazingly cosmopolitan, and the architecture was beautiful.  Both Lucas and Vivien quickly agreed that – gasp – they actually preferred it to Paris.  

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Walking through one of Madrid’s many, many shopping districts, our first morning in the city.

We spent the first full day in Madrid exploring some of the city and its indoor food markets, finding a little Mexican restaurant in one of them, where we all ate what the owner suggested, and ended up with a fantastic array of tacos, quesadillas and carnitas.  From there, we took the Metro to a little Church away from the city centre, where we saw frescoes by Goya, and his tomb. 

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Smiling with ice cream, just around the corner from our flat.

Ron and Jeanette arrived later that afternoon, and we spent the evening catching up with them.  Thursday saw us head off to Plaza Mayor for lunch outside in the courtyard.  We walked the 30 minutes from our flat to the Plaza, enjoying the sun, the people, and so happy that Jeanette was finally getting her trip to Spain.  

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Strangely, Lucas remembered this very shop from his visit here 20+ years ago.  It seems every third store in Madrid is 1/ a shoe store or 2/ a musée del jamon.
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At the Plaza Mayor.

We spent most of the afternoon at the Royal Palace, wandering around with our audioguides, fascinated by the history of the place.  Each room was more beautiful than the last, and what was particularly striking was how much detail was given about the artists and craftspeople who designed the beautiful ceilings, paintings, and furniture – what a legacy.

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Herewith, evidence of how classy and cosmopolitan we’ve become, sailing smoothly through museums and places of great historical import without calling any attention to ourselves whatsoever.  Pretty sure we’ve been mistaken for European aristocracy ourselves at times.

The girls were being absolute troopers, as usual, and continued to amaze us with their willingness to throw themselves into new situations and try new things.  

It would be hard for anyone not to be charmed by Spain, it’s so delightful.  The people were amazingly friendly, the lifestyle seemed incredible, and even though we encountered very few English speakers – making communication challenging – it was never a problem.  And that’s not even mentioning the food and wine, which were also unspeakably good.  So.  Much.  Seafood!  Both Vivien and Lucas quickly came to the the opinion that it’s a good thing we loved France so much, or we’d have been seriously second-guessing our decision not to spend the whole year in Spain instead.

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The end of our first full day in Madrid, outside the Royal Palace, and about to walk home to a meal of tapas at the flat.

On the following day (Friday) we headed off to Segovia to see its Roman Aqueduct, explore its Alcázar, and try the region’s famous roast suckling pig.  (Ed.  Ahem.  Some of us tried the roast suckling pig.  Some others of us tried to keep the Fast.  Not that they held this against the others.  Honest.)

Segovia is an incredible town, with an imposing Roman aqueduct dating back to the 1st century.  The pictures below only start to give you a sense of its scale, and all of it evidently constructed without mortar.  Had that been the only fantastic sight in Segovia, it would have been well worth the trip – standing beside and then above it was enough to give us a sense of just how remarkable its construction was, and how long it had been standing there, keeping watch over the town.

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From the aqueduct, we walked through the old town, stopping to admire the beautiful Cathedral below, one of what we counted to be at least 8 Catholic churches in that relatively tiny town.  

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Then it was time for lunch – Christine will appreciate the following photo of Vivien leading the group with her trusty sat-nav.  

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(Ed.  It took us a while to find the place. )

One thing we never really quite got used to in Spain were the different mealtimes.  We arrived at the restaurant at 1pm, finding that we’d arrived too early for a respectable Spanish lunch (2pm = respectable.  1pm = “you must be North American”).  That said, we were eventually seated in a cozy dining room and served by a charming waiter who cajoled the children into speaking Spanish to him.  The food kept coming and coming, as did a remarkably good Spanish wine, and we all rolled out of there quite happy.

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Next it was the Alcázar, Segovia’s castle and military base, and apparently the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  Again, we obtained most-excellent audio guides, and were treated to a full exposition about each room. 

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Sitting in a little sun-filled alcove in the Alcázar at the end of the tour.  Sorry – we neglected to take many (well, any) pictures of the Castle.

Saturday was our last full day in Madrid, and we set out with heightened expectations of seeing Two Museums In One Day!  We knew that we needed to visit the Prado (Lucas’ Dad does, you know, go on a bit about how One Really Must Go To The Prado if you’re in Madrid, and it was clear that there would be Consequences if we returned to Canada without having done so).  And we also wanted to go to Madrid’s museum of modern art, El Reina Sofia, which has been the permanent home of Picasso’s Guernica since the late 1990’s.    

We started off Saturday morning with the El Reina Sofia.  It’s a beautiful museum, with an amazing collection.  

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Each of the girls has been particularly attracted to one or another piece in the museums we’ve visited this year.  Nina was immediately taken by the above…
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…and The Bookends to Paul Klee.

Guernica really is the focal point of the permanent collection, with the rooms preceding it giving all sorts of historical context, both Picasso’s studies, as well as other artists meditations on the events leading up to the Spanish Civil War and the War itself.  It’s quite moving.  Vivien, Lucas and Nai spent quite a while in its room, standing quietly either off to the side or at the back of the room, while other viewers streamed through, bustling and sometimes jostling, looking at the piece through a moving sea of heads.  

We left the Reine Sofia at 1:30ish and headed off to a local restaurant, Lucas leading the way this time, very proud of ourselves for planning to eat on Respectable Spaniard Time.  We’d read that the place we were going to was a local favourite, verified by it being crammed to the gills within 10 minutes of our having sat down.  The seven of us squeezed into a booth, ordered octopi, calamari, spanish omelettes, and baked ham, and ate and ate and ate.  The restaurant was amiable mayhem – people packed in, and it was hard to tell who was waiting for a table, and who was eating standing up – and we marvelled at how the waiters pushed their way through the crowds with a constant smile on their faces.  A sweet spanish digestif and special drinks for the girls were provided by our smiling waitress on the house – not sure what we did to merit the extra attention – and we then turned towards the rest of the day.  

Our plan after lunch was for the Prado.  Sadly we were thwarted by the rain.  We’d been surprised by it, none of us had umbrellas, and only a few had raincoats, and as it poured down and down and down as we walked the few blocks to the museum, it was clear this was not going to happen.  (Ed.  George is going to be furious!)  So instead we hustled to the nearest Metro station and headed home, drenched tails between our wet legs.  The next morning we were all off to Toledo – Jeanette and Ron by bus, CorwinsInFrance by car – and we’d missed our window for one of the great museums of the world.

To be continued.

Next time on CorwinsInFrance:  We do indeed make it to the Prado.  We spend a fabulous afternoon and evening in Toledo.  Then we head north to glorious, green, Northern Spain.  Sorry Beaujolais — we loved you once, but you’re dead to us now.

A post from Alix

(This is a blog post by me (Alix). I did photos, and writing, so if dad tells you otherwise, he is lying.)

Bonjour a tous!

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Opening my “Fruit Shoot” in Yorkshire visiting Grandpère.  I had no idea what it was, but it turned out to be a kids drink, made for like 3 year olds.

This blog post is going to be mainly about school, because given all the work we get, I don’t really have the time to do much else that I would write about!

Last Tuesday, I wrote a french proficiency test, called the DELF (Le Diplôme d’Étude en Langue Français). Mom and Dad told me I was very prepared. My teachers told me the same thing. Even Nina and Nai told me I’d be fine. I’d like to say that I believed them, was super confident going in, and aced it, however it didn’t exactly go like that. In reality, I had my Will prepared, I’d sent messages to loved ones, and I had laid out the outfit I wanted to wear in my casket. I was sure I wasn’t going to be coming back from the Collège. But, considering that I am here writing this blog post, my family and teachers were right (but don’t tell them I said that).

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Walking up the hills of Anse on the first warm day of the season this year.

On the Monday evening before the test, Nina and I were feverishly trying to cram every last bit of french into our têtes. After Mom kicked us off of the entire downstairs floor, we moved upstairs to begin feverishly gathering ever possible thing we thought we would need for the next day.

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Getting out of my kayak, in Brantôme, soaking wet thanks to Nina’s inability to paddle a kayak.

“Do we need our math notebooks?” “YES!”

“Do we need brooms?” “YES!!”

“Do we need this lucky statue of a duck?” “YES!!!”

After a while, mom had convinced us that in fact we didn’t need a broom or a lucky statue of a duck, and that we should just stick to list given to us by the administration at our school that contained practical things, such as passports, and school identification.

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On the hills of Anse. Yes, I am wearing pants.

When we got to the Collége, one of our teachers met us there, and after longer than I’m proud to admit, we left dad at the entrance, and buzzed the buzzer. * side note: here, the schools are like jail. You have to buzz in, and you need your carnet (school passport / bible / timetable / angry notes from teachers book / teachers are away alert the press books) to leave the school * Anyway, after about an hour’s wait (we got there VERY early), we said goodbye to the teacher, and the morning part of the test began.

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Smiling with our ice cream in Madrid.

The written test consisted of an oral comprehension, written comprehension, and the production of a story. I didn’t find any of them too difficult, but I definitely didn’t ace them either.

Then we had lunch. We got to eat before any of the students, so while envious tweens looked on, we entered the beautiful cafeteria where we were served – by very nice looking cooks – the most disgusting chicken you have ever tasted.

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Missing from this picture is the VERY awkward first date we witnessed in Toledo. That was in the restaurant however. Outside the restaurant, they proceeded to make it awkward for everyone else.

Then, we had the afternoon part of the test. When I first arrived at the classroom, I was asked to pick 2 different subjects for the oral part of the test, and the go down to another classroom to brainstorm for 10 minutes. Then I went back up the original classroom, and the test began. It wasn’t easy. The teachers knew the exactly which questions to ask, and unfortunately for me, those questions happened to be the ones that make your entire stomach do flip flops. MANY TIMES. My stomach might as well of been walking the beach during the entire 20 minute exam. However, after the hardest walk of my life, (and Dad’s taken us up the hills of Anse. I honestly didn’t think it got harder than that) I was done.

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Nai and I were happy. Nina was mad.

When I got home that afternoon, I was so relieved to be finished, but that feeling flew out the window the minute mom uttered the dreaded words:  “Homework time!” (I put an exclamation point because for some reason, she loves homework time).

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McDo.

You see, I wasn’t finished with exams for that week. I had another 3 exams called the ‘Brevet Blanc’ that were a “mini” version of the actual exams I will have at the end of the year, which are called le Brevet.

The Brevet Blanc went pretty well, and while I didn’t get the greatest marks in the world, I was pretty proud of myself.

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Walking to school for the first time. Missing was the panicked look on Nina and my faces.

This year has been really interesting because it’s made me realise that I’m not always going to be at the top of the class. Here, the teachers read you your marks out loud, but there’s never any embarrassment. At home, when a teacher gives you your test, they might as well be handing over the secret plans of Area 51. I’ve also realised that getting 86% on a test at home is actually really good. Here there’re people who try so hard, yet never get over 50%, and that prevents them from getting into the high school that they want to. Here marks aren’t everything, whereas at home there has always been that pressure to get 100% on everything, and to get the scholarship, and to be the most athletic possible. Here, if you get 70% on a test, you might as well have met the queen, and that has been super nice.  Mum and Dad told us at the beginning of the year that getting good marks wasn’t the purpose of this year.  And so school should have been easier here for me than at home.

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Eating our first meal in Spain. I’m smiling because just before that, I watched Nina try to chase a cookie wrapper all around the deck. It was hilarious.

On the contrary, this year has, for some reason, been more difficult than at home. I understand one side of this, which is that it has been an entire year in a foreign language. On the other hand however, the pressure to get good marks isn’t there, so one would think that one wouldn’t worry as much. I wish that was true.

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I honestly have no idea why I was dressed like a cat. Or maybe a dog. Perhaps a bunny. I really have no idea.

In November I think it was, mom and dad started noticing that there was a lot of hair all over the house. It was especially in the bathtub, but surprisingly, only after I’d taken a bath or shower. We originally thought that it was just because I wore my hair up a lot and so it was breaking.  But when I started wearing it down, and it didn’t change anything. So we then went to a doctor who referred us to a dermatologist.

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Walking with Grandpere during Christmas Vacation. It was like -5 degres. We were cold, hence the scarf

When we got to the specialist, she examined my hair and skin, and immediately ruled out thyroid problems, as well as a few other things. Then, she asked us when we arrived in France. When we told her, she asked when I started losing my hair. She then nodded, and said “That makes sense.”

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Watching Harry Potter for the gazilionth time

As it turns out, when someone is thrown into a stressful situation, about 2-3 months in, extreme stress can start to take over their body. The person can start to experience many symptoms, such as Insomnia, stunt of growth, or hair loss. I had been suffering for extreme stress, and my hair had started to fall out! The doctor then recommended 2 different types of medication. 1 was a multivitamin for strength, and 1 was for iron, because while it’s not dangerous, my iron level is a little lower than normal.

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In the background you can see the Domain of Chantilly, which is a gorgeous horse stables

I’ve never thought of myself as anyone who would ever suffer from extreme stress, or any sort of anxiety, and given that this year really didn’t change too much in terms or a homework or house routine, I never thought I would. The funny thing is though, I never really felt really stressed. Sure I felt a bit of anxiety when at school, or when doing homework, but I never felt downright stressed. It’s incredible how the human body can function normally, when something so big is going on. I now realise why, before a big test, or before exams, I begin to get less sleep, and I also now realise, just how much pressure I put on myself to do well.

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I have no idea what I was laughing about. Probably one of the MANY tourist jokes mom made in Spain.

I’m so thankful that we’ve had this experience, because I don’t even want to think about what would have happened in university, or even during exam time in high school, if this year hadn’t shown me how much pressure I put on myself, and how much I stress about little things. I feel like for the first time, I’m able to breath properly, because there’s never that little voice inside of me saying:  “What happens if you fail?  You can’t fail. It’s not an option.”

Now I know that if I fail, the world will keep spinning, and I’ll live.

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Nai and I were happy. Nina was mad.

Dad keeps asking me what I’ll remember about this year. I’m honestly not sure. It has been the experience of a lifetime, and I have no idea how I’m going to say goodbye to the people I’ve met. Everywhere we’ve gone, Dad has said:  “Look around girls. Try to put every detail inside your head, because this could be the last time you ever see this (monument, castle, church) like this.”

I’ve never really understood this, but now I think I do. While I will definitely return to France, and I’ll try to visit everywhere we visited, it won’t be the same experience at all. I’ll be with different people, and I might even have a family of my own by then.

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Our first photo with the selfie stick given to us in Paris

So the next time dad asks what I’ll remember about this year, I’m going to say,

“Everything.”

I honestly think that I will remember every happy and very sad moment I’ve had this year, because I think that this year is a year that has helped me grow, more that I could have ever imagined.

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One of my favourite photos from France. It was our first morning in Chartre, and we had just ate our first french breakfast of the year.

   

And on Thursday, we were Eagles

Good morning from Anse,

This post has been a while in the making.  Seven months as a matter of fact.  It’s about the trip we took to the bottom left-hand corner of France during the two-week school vacation in October.   The region is called the “Languedoc” or the “Pays-doc”, the word “doc” referring to a particularity of the linguistic dialect still spoken there. 

This was the first of four, two-week school vacations that the girls had throughout this year, and very early on Viv and Lucas resolved to use these little breaks to see as much as we could of different places in France, England, and Spain.  

Viv’s first business trip to Calgary coincided with the first week of the October break, and so it had been left to the four remaining CorwinsInFrance to determine how best to spend that part of the two week Fall vacation.  After dropping Viv off at the airport in Lyon, Lucas and girls headed to the Languedoc region in France – the southwest corner of this beautiful country, down by the border with Spain. 

The Languedoc is a very different part of France.  It feels closer to Spain.  The accents are sharper.  There are Catalan items on the menu.  The menus are often written in Catalan, causing the girls much consternation.  Road signs are in Spanish.  There are cactuses.

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Little Mailhac has a “Rue des Remparts” as well, just like Anse.  It must indicate the Roman roots of the town.

It’s a place that is so full of history it’s dizzying.  All of Europe is like that, of course.  You could spend a decade researching the history of a small town’s church.  Like many have done for our small church in Anse, and like we described briefly a couple of posts ago.

And so, on this brief trip to the Languedoc, we dove headfirst into french, spanish and italian political and religious history.  It was indeed dizzying. 

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Our three beauties outside our little flat in Mailhac.

Saturday took us from Anse to our little rented flat in Mailhac (pronounced “My-yak”), which is a pretty little village of wine producers and olive growers.  The owners greeted us warmly and hosted us to a little aperitif on their back porch where we stumbled through conversation.  Being early in our year here in France, we couldn’t really hold up our end, nor could we understand much of what our kind hosts were saying to us… the accents in this region are thick.   That said, they seemed to enjoy our vain attempts to converse with them, and clearly enjoyed showing off their little village, beautiful house and marinated olives – a local speciality.  

After settling into our flat and then walking a bit around the town, we closed the day off eating dinner while watching french cooking shows, thinking about what the rest of the week would hold.  

On Sunday we visited Carcassonne, a beautifully-restored medieval village not far from where we were staying.

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Girls – just a thought – I think the thing you should be pointing at you is behind you.

Monday saw us driving back to Anse for an early-Tuesday morning appointment at La Prefecture in Lyon, all in the pursuit of keeping Lucas legally in the country, then driving back to Mailhac that afternoon.  15 hours in the car in total.  But the appointment was a success, and all the time in the car gave Lucas the opportunity to introduce the girls to the Pantheon of Rock.  Perhaps this merits a separate blog post.  Leave a comment if you’re interested.  

Safely back in the Languedoc for the rest of the week, we continued our vacation Wednesday by visiting the town of Beziers.  Each region of France bears its own historical scars from various instances of religious conflicts, but the Languedoc seems to have been particularly afflicted.   For example, we spent an hour in the church on the steps of which Arnaud Amalric said those famous words during the Albigensian Crusade:  “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.”  We saw churches that had been burned to the ground in the 12th century during the rebellions against the Pope.  

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A mural inside the church in Beziers, showing (if memory serves) the murder of Pierre de Castelnau inside same church by parishioners of the town.  Castelnau was a Papal legate, charged with suppressing the Cathar heresy in the Languedoc region.   Things did not end well for the town and its townsfolk after the events portrayed above.

That said, we also walked up and down nine incredible locks on the nearby canal, talking about the roots of invention:  who and how did they think of bringing boats from up there to down here?   We also saw many churches rebuilt to into incredible splendour within a scant 100 years of having been destroyed.

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But our favourite day was Thursday. 

Thursday we were eagles. 

That day we visited two castles commonly known as “Cathar Castles”.  You can do your own research in order to figure out whether this is an accurate description.  Volumes have been written on this evidently.  Dig deeply and you will never see the light of the sun again. 

So, dealing with facts, we visited two castles.  The first is was named Queribus, and the second Peyrepertuse. 

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The girls, and Queribus behind them, before our ascent.

There are no easy ways to describe these places.  The best way is to imagine that you have wings and have been flying for a long time.  A very long time.  So you look for a place to stop and catch your breath.  You’ve been flying very high, which means that you’re not looking for trees in a valley, or along the roadways.  Rather, you’re looking for the highest possible perch.  A spike into the sky.  Something up high where you already are.

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That is these places.  Queribus.  Peyrepertuse.  Castles perched on the tops of mountains.  You would look at these mountains from down in the surrounding valleys and think to yourself “nope.  too high.  no way I’m climbing there.”  And yet people climbed there.  And then they built castles.  The castles hang like gargoyles, off cliffs and crags. 

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Lucas and Alix and Nina and Naomi decided they would climb up to them.  Lots of people do, evidently, although given our experience, it was hard to figure out how this is the case.  The wind alone was unlike anything we had experienced before (a short video is on YouTube – let us know if you want access).  Going up towards Queribus Lucas had to yell at the top of his voice to the girls, over the wind, to hold on to each other and onto the ropes leading up the winding staircases towards the castle, for fear that they would be blown off, particularly Nai.  Going through a particular doorway, the wind funnelled through like a torrent.  We had to wait, holding onto the walls until it died down before passing through.

The girls were amazingly brave.

We looked over the most incredible vistas.  We could see hundreds of miles into France to the north and west.  And then with a turn of our heads we could look hundreds of miles into Spain to the south.  We could see across the valley to the castle of Peyrepertuse on the mountain to the north.  We talked briefly about how that was what we were going to climb next.   

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And then we climbed down, and we drove to that next place, and then did the same thing over, climbing, climbing, holding on to each other and gazing over more incredible vistas. 

We came down, legs shaking from the climb and from the vertigo.  Climbing into the car we decided to drive to Perpignan for the afternoon, eat lunch and walk around. 

The drive away from the castles took us along a single lane highway with hairpin turns.  At one point we saw a line of cars stopped, looking in the opposite direction from where we were coming.  Turning around to see why they had stopped, we could see Queribus, perched on its crag, suspended in the air.  These cars were all stopping, mid-road, looking to where we had just been.

Lucas said to the girls:  “Make sure to say goodbye to Queribus, girls.  You may never see it again”.   They asked why and he responded simply:  that they may never see that sight again… they may never come to France again.  Savour every moment. 

This is a recurring thought here.  How are we supposed to approach these days, knowing we may never see their like again?   Many of the experiences this year have been incredibly intense – Queribus and the wind, Notre Dame de Paris before sunrise, the Picos de Europa and angry cows (more on that later, c’est une promesse), El Greco at the Prado, escargots in Lyon.  But then they end and the intensity slowly fades.  

Trying to remember the colours of what we saw, what the air smelled like, how the stones felt to touch, whether our feet hurt, or hands were cold, whether we were hungry – trying to remember each of these things seems to help to give each of these moments their due.  Sometimes the events themselves help by being a bit blunter, helping cut through our dull senses.  For example, New Year’s greetings in France were so wonderfully complex here that it’s impossible not to remember our various encounters with people, and to remember that this was absolutely, without question, a one-time thing… New Year’s only comes once a year, and we’re only here in France together, like this, this one time.  It comes, and then it’s gone.  Every day is like that for us now – each comes and then is gone very quickly, eaten up by the little daily habits and patterns that have slowly developed around us here.  There’s only 36 more of them now until we leave our beloved Anse to begin the trip home.  

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A post from Nina – the lost Elliot

Good morning from Anse – it’s Nina writing (Ed. – actually, Dad typing, and editing, after Nina dictated to him, honesty being the best policy.  Given we have no pictures of the events described below, herewith some unrelated images of beautiful Nina.)

I want to write about a very worrying thing happened the other day, and about the wonderful resolution that came at the end. 

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One of the housecats in Asturias this past March.

Elliot is Aimé’s – our landlord’s – dog.  He is a wonderfully friendly and happy German Shepherd.  Aimé has raised him since he was a puppy, and Aimé loves him a lot and Elliot loves Aimé.  And everyone.

A few weeks ago I was in Alix’s bed because we were sleeping together that night, and we heard Catherine – Aime’s wife – talking with Dad outside our house.   Dad had gone outside to speak to her, having seen her walking around the yard a lot.  She had asked him whether any of us had left the gate open that day, because Elliot had gone missing.  Dad told her that we hadn’t.  She looked very sad, and told us Elliot was lost.  She was afraid that he had left through gate and was now off t

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Studying last Fall, with silvery sunlight coming into the living room during the afternoon.  

he property somewhere, walking around Anse. 

We had eaten dinner outside on the porch earlier that afternoon and had seen Elliot.  He had been friendly, as always, but that was probably because we were eating chicken.  Dad told Catherine that we had seen him earlier. 

I wasn’t sure what to believe, so Alix and I just went to sleep.

I found out later that Aimé and Catherine had spent the entire night looking for him, driving around town, trying to find him.

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On a weekday morning during the winter, getting ready for school. 

The next morning, when Nai and I were going to school, Mum told us that if we found Elliot that morning we didn’t have to go to school, so, of course, we tried to find Elliot. 

I was really worried about Elliot, but also liked the idea of having a day off from school, so Naomi and I looked for him that morning. 

Naomi asked her friends at school, Hilaire, Auxance, and Castille.

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Let’s travel all the way to Spain, and then read Harry Potter.  Sounds like a plan.  

I saw Aimé on the way to school, looking for Elliot and so I knew that he was still lost.  He had told the Mairie that Elliot was lost, so that the town workers could look for him as well that day as they worked around town.

I thought a lot that day about whether I could have left the gates open.  But I remembered shutting them.

When I got home in the afternoon, no one had found him.

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With her best friend from the College, Caroline  

Dad and I went to local market to shop for dinner, Carrefour.   I asked him whether he thought we would find him.  Dad said that he didn’t know.  He said that there was a chance that he’d been hurt, or perhaps he was just going around to say hi to people because he’s so friendly.

I remember thinking he’d show up in a few days with a big grin on his face, happy that he’d met new people, because that is Elliot. 

I told Dad that I wouldn’t leave France without finding him.

Later that day Naomi and I were home and sitting on her bed, when suddenly we heard Dad say “Aaaaaaand He’s Back!”

Naomi and I ran downstairs and found Mum, Dad, Alix, Aimé, Catherine, Paul and Maguy all out on the porch, laughing and watching Elliot run aroun

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In Nice.  The water was surprisingly and happily warm.  

d and around the yard.  I’d never seen him run so quickly.  He had a crazy grin on his face.  He was so happy.  He ran back and forth between his water bowl and the trees, peeing a lot, and drinking lots and lots of water

It turns out that he had been locked in Paul and Maguys’ garage overnight, locked up when they parked their car and closed the doors for the night.  He hadn’t eaten, or had water, or peed or barked because he’s such a well trained dog. 

He was so excited to be out.  He ran around and around.  Aimé would kneel down, and Elliot would jump into his arms.

And then Aimé brought out a 10 year old bottle of wine to ce

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Walking along the flower-lined roads leading into Le Bois d’Oignt (just try to imagine how that’s promounced) in the Beaujolais.

lebrate.  He sat down on our porch with Mum and Dad and Paul and Maguy and Catherine to toast Elliot while we went to our rooms to play.  Mum says this will be one of her favourite memories of France.

Aimé told us that his parents had a dog in this same house and it had escaped once and been hit by a car on the street just outside.  He also said that we shouldn’t make a lot of drama about it, because they’re dogs, and they like to meet new people.  But it was clear how happy everyone was that he was back. 

I’m really happy that he’s back.  He’s always happy and likes to play and is one of my favourite parts of being in France. 

Thanks for reading. 

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At our little Gite in the Languedoc, in October.
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In Yorkshire, over Christmas. 

A post from Naomi – Classe Decouverte

Herewith a post by the youngest CorwinInFrance, Naomi.  As we don’t have many photos of the adventure she describes, we’ve instead posted a random series of images of her from the last 8 weeks.

Hello everybody.  It’s Nai here. (Ed. with Dad transcribing for quick typing purposes)

I would like to tell you about the other week when I went on Classe Decouverte.

Classe Decouverte is a trip that I went on with my class from school.  This year we went to Balsièges, which is by the city Mendes.  The region is Languedoc-Roussilion / Midi-Pyrenèes.  We left on April 3rd and came back on April 8th. 

Before we left I was excited and nervous.  Excited because I was going to be doing a lot of fun things and nervous because the whole week was going to be in French.

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Nai being dropped off at the school before her trip.  

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When my parents dropped me off, I met up with some of my friends (Naïlla, Manon, Lizon and Louna).  We got our luggage into the bus, figured out who were were going to be sitting next to, said our goodbyes, then go into the bus and left. 

We were in the bus for about 4.5 hours, pausing for a little snack around 4:30 or 5ish, then got back in the bus and drove for another half hour or hour. 

When we got there, after looking around the building we were going to stay in, we figured out which room we were in, and who we were with.  After that we went up to our room, brushed our teeth, put on our pyjamas and went downstairs for supper. 

After supper we went upstairs again to go for bed.  All of us got to bed pretty late, because although we were all nervous, we were also excited about what we were going to do.

In the morning we woke up, and went downstairs, had breakfast, went upstairs, brushed our teeth, got dressed and went downstairs into a classroom. 

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Getting on the bus with two of her closest friends – Manon and Camille (who is waving absentmindedly to her no doubt worried and loving parents standing out of camera sight).

For Classe Decouverte we had a different teacher than we usually have at school.  His name was Christophe and he reminded me a lot of our neighbour in Anse, Aimé.  After talking about what we were going to do that day in the classroom, we got our coats on and went outside to figure out who was going to go in the mini bus and who was going to go in the big bus.   

I was in the mini bus with Cassiopée, Ilisa, Manon, and Lizon and Louna and Theo B (there are two Theo’s in our class).  Then we drove up to the mountains where we got a very close look of the windmills.  After drawing them, figuring out how they worked, we headed back down again where we had lunch and then went into the classroom to find out what we were going to do that evening. 

I can’t remember what we did.  But after we finished we came back, had showers, played games, had dinner and played another game with everybody and went to bed around 930. 

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She built a house for a family of balloon animals.  The animals were pleased.  

Things I remember most about the rest of the week and that were my most memorable experiences were caving where we had little flashlights, but if we turned them off it was pitch black – it was like closing your eyes – you couldn’t see anything.  After our teacher told us that only bats could live in the caves because they use sonar and are blind, we wriggled into holes the size of my waist and wriggled through tunnels on our hands and knees and sometimes on our backs, got a lot of clay on our cheeks, and then scrambled out of the cave again. 

Another most memorable experience was when we went to what is called a moulin in French.  In English this translates to a mill.  It was really cool because we saw a lot of different machines, all made out wood using no electricity at all and watching one machine make another machine work make another machine work make another machine and finally they produced flour and grain.  It was also really cool to see how the mill worked off the water.  It went so fast and it was really cool.

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There is a disagreement or conflict brewing here.  

Another memorable trip was when we went to a big farm with lots of cows – lots and lots and lots – where after using the cows for gas they killed the cows and sold their meat.  We didn’t see the gas but saw these ginormous bubbles that were holding all the gas.  What was really cool was that at the same time as doing all of that they were also using the methane to heat their house.  Of course all of this cost a lot of dollars, as we saw on the bulletin board that had all of this information.  But they get some money from it too for selling their cows. 

We also did rock climbing and i made it up to the tallest wall which had a curve around the middle.  I made up that wall three times.  There was also a course d’orientation which is almost like a scavenger hunt except we had to run all around the building looking for little clips which each had a different design and when you punched it into a paper it made a different design.  The piece of paper which you pushed the clips into had a map of the building and its surroundings and there were little bubbles with numbers on them placed all around this map.  The bubbles signified the clip which each had a different number on them and we each had a different order of doing the numbers.  After we had found all of those, we could do a ropes course with rock climbing rocks, and a zip line.  It was very hard but fun at the same time. 

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In Beaune.

Dad asked me what I wish I remembered more of.  I wish I remembered more about how the wind mills worked and more information on the methane farm. 

On the way back home to Anse we were a little late because our teachers were supposed to bring a snack from the building but they forgot it, so if any of us had granola bars or anything to eat for the snack on the way there we stopped at a gas station and we had to share it with others.   In the end, for my snack, I had half a granola bar and one skittle and a little bit of water. 

So when we got back to Anse we were all very hungry and tired. 

When we entered Anse we all noticed a difference – in the courtyard of the school when we left there were absolutely no leaves on the trees.  When we came back they were bursting with green leaves and flowers.  The same thing with all of the trees that we passed on the way home. 

When we got off the bus mum had walked here and Manon’s mum offered us a ride home.  When we got home I was very happy to see my family, very happy to eat, and very happy to go to bed.   The dinner when we got back was mussels and pasta so that was even better. 

My bed felt… well it was easier to get to sleep because no one was whispering, and no one was asking me questions as soon as I tried to get to sleep.  In the morning I was very tired but surprised to wake up in my own bed. 

Than you for reading this blog post.  Have a good week.  Good bye. 

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Nai’s Agenda for “Sister Fun Day”, a title she coined for special days she plans for the 3 girls.  Note the emphatic footnote:  “No fighting whatsoever!!!”  Next time on CorwinsInFrance:  we tell you how that turned out.
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Visiting the nearby town of Oignt with Aunt (Sister) Dara during her visit in March.  3 guesses for which one is Nai, and the first 2 don’t count.  
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Nai, in the process of dictating this post to her Father/Transriber, in Northern Spain (Catalonia)
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Unknowingly camouflaged.  
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She could – and has – eaten fruit and fruit alone for breakfast, lunch and supper.  One can feel the longing seeping out of her in front of this stand just outside our front door in Madrid. 
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In Toledo.   In the background, Nina negotiates petting rights with a stray cat.  
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Pseudo-planking at the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, in Madrid.  She later stood for a good 20 minutes, looking at Guernica.
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Lunch, just around the corner from the Museo Reina Sofia, in a cozy hole-in-the-wall spot.
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But I wanted the octopus!
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WHY DON’T THEY HAVE THE OCTOPUS!
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Octopus forgotten.  
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At the summit of the local peak in Asturias, having made our way past a herd of angry cows. 
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On our way back down said summit, on way to a rendezvous with said herd of angry cows. 
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With her cousins, enjoying a feast of cheese and chocolate fondue on Pascha. 

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