This weekend we spent a couple days with Regis, Marie, Anne and Marc in lovely Fournets Luisans. Most likely, this will be the last time we visit their house before they leave for Berlin (sadness). We are planning on visiting them there, hopefully in February and we hope to see them when they come back to visit family in Besancon. And, of course, one day they will come to Philadelphia!
We were supposed to arrive between 10 and 11 on Saturday morning but first had to stop to get some good Comte’ at a local fruiterie. Unfortunately, this stop took about 1/2 an hour (they take their time picking out their cheese, those French)– and then, following Google Maps directions, we got lost and had to backtrack – so it was almost noon before we got there. We had some lunch together. They made a delicious salad in pita pockets – it was made of radishes, red onion, cucumber and cilantro with some kind of dressing – none of the 5 kids would eat it – although both Callie and Anne gave it a try, at least. I was relieved to see it is not just US children that resist veggies! We cleaned up and then headed over to the Saut de Doubs. This is a large waterfall in the neighborhood where Marie grew up – only about 20 minutes away from where they now live. It is interesting how her entire family lives within 1/2 an hour of her house (except one sister). They seem to hang out together quite often. How strange it must be to uproot for Berlin!
One could drive to the Saut de Doubs or take a boat there. We decided to walk there and take the boat back. Here are the kids waiting by the dock while the parents got tickets for return. We told Marie and Regis… “Two hour hike – NO problem for our kids!” The first section was on a pretty road along a river – we saw several blue herons and even got to watch one fly overhead for a few minutes. Griffin and I were a bit behind and got a chance to take a picture of one. I finally scooped him up on my shoulders so we could catch up to the rest of the crew. Zander said, at one point: “They call this hiking? Where are the woods?” I pointed out the beautiful fields and river, but he was unimpressed. We soldiered onward, discovering a few new wildflowers. I learned some stuff from the locals too! First off, they call Poppy, Cocorico – that is the sound a rooster makes – this is because the flower of the poppy is so ephemeral – only surviving one day – and wilts as soon as it is picked. I also learned that Brown Rayed Knapweed (identified in an earlier blog) is more likely Thistle (easier to remember!) The first shot on the left is a flower called Bladder Campion. It is not a particularly common plant – I’d only seen it in this area – Regis told us kids around like to pick it to ‘pop’ the bladders. The first on the right is a white Columbine (Ancolie) much rarer than the purple ones. To the left is a flower that reminds me a bit of red clover – but it is much taller – I thought it might be a type of scabious but I really don’t know. The last one on the right is aromatic – Regis and Marie picked it for me and crushed the leaves – they told me the name too – but I forget and I can’t find it online – probably they will post a helpful comment for me? (hint, hint)
But – by far the most interesting flower factoid for the weekend was the French version of the Daisy game. I’m sure you know it. Pluck a daisy and pull the petals out, chanting “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not” When you pull the last petal – you know where the heart of your true love lies! Well, in France things are not so simple. In Callie’s class they say: “Je t’aime, pas seulement, pas du tout”. This means: I love you, not only you, not at all. BUT Regis and Marie say the saying is actually supposed to be: “Je t'aime, un peu, beaucoup, passionnément, à la folie, pas du tout”. This means: I love you, a little, a lot, passionately, insanely, not at all”. Here is Griffin clutching a few daisies with the Doubs far below as we head up the hill.
We passed so many beautiful things as we walked along. There were many cabins perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the river. I particularly liked this one – the box on the top is a Tuye’ (a little smokehouse where they make their own sausage). But the best sights were of our family spending time with another family. It was fun to see Andre’ interacting with Regis and to see the kids playing together – we spent time with families, hiking etc… all the time in Philly and it was great to see it here as well. They spent about half of the hike avidly hunting for little blue sticks that, for some unfathomable reason, were scattered along the sides of the trail for over a mile. They gathered them up together, working as a team, and ended up with about 200. (Were they from sparklers or a french woodland Sasquatch with blue spikes sprouting from its hide???) The kids really did awesome, we think we covered about 3 to 4 miles. Most hiking trails around here have time estimates (i.e. Saut de Doubs 2 hrs) and we usually add about 50% to their estimates to account for short legs but this time (even accounting for blue stick collection and stones in shoes) we matched the sign estimates – YAY us!!!
Finally, we were at the main event, the Saut du Doubs. Zander took the group photo on the right. It was so funny to see him working it out. First, he asked for the camera, then he busily ran around for about 10 minutes before coming over to me and announcing; “Mom, I’ve found the best location for the shot” He then directed everyone on where to stand (not that any of the kids listened) and voila! He told me that he really needs a camera of his own. One that is almost the same as this one, please (little does he know that is the plan for his 8th birthday!)
We hung around for a bit having a snack by the waterfall. Here are Anne and Marc on a boulder near our snack site. Then we hiked to another location closer to the actual waterfall – it is about a 27 meter drop. This seemed pretty impressive to us but Regis and Marie assured us it is much better in the winter or early spring when the water is higher. They also recommended another visit when the autumn colors are out. So much to see, so little time!!! The firm that Marie works for (she is an architect) made the path leading up to the cascade much easier to navigate and is also building a new ‘visitor’ center near the boat dock. She gave us a tour through the unfinished construction. I think it is so cool that, driving around her neighborhood, she can point to so many places she had a part in designing. I remember, as a child, having so much pride when my father (an ironworker) would point to a building or a bridge that he helped to build. I would tell others about it as well. I remember, one time, he was featured in a newspaper article finishing the last screw on a bridge and it was clipped out for us to look at. Marie is hoping her new building will be a central location for all the tourist traps that abound around the cascade. It was quite funny to see the switch. For over two hours, we were wandering through a deep wood, with little people or traffic, but, once we got near the cascade, we were in tchotke land! All along the last 10 minutes of the walk there were tourist trap shops, filled with junky “authentic” French souvenirs, which, as Regis said, were mostly made in China. The funniest thing, for me, was how every ‘cow’-themed item was featuring black and white Jersey cows – while the cows here are mostly Montbeliards – brown and white – I have also seen ones that are all white – but Jerseys simply don’t live in Franche Comte'! OK, I admit it, I want a cowbell. But I want one made in France (preferably also formerly used by an actual French cow)
Then we crossed over the river to Switzerland for a few minutes. That’s right – the Doubs is the border at this point of France and we could just walk right over to it. The bank was low and accessible so we could spend time throwing rocks for a few minutes. I noticed Regis has similar stone skipping skills as Andre’. Perhaps this is a shared trait among computer people? Left, the boys are tossing rocks in the river and right you can see Marie, Regis, Anne and Marc contemplating France from Switzerland – you guys had better get used to being in another country! Andre’ couldn’t resist tossing stones from one country to the other. We were literally, only a stone’s throw away (That is, if you can throw really, really far). I’ve always wanted to visit 4 corners in the US – where you can have a part of you in 4 states at once.
Here you can see us heading back over the bridge toward France to catch the boat. As you can see, Griffin is in Marie’s arms. They really got along well – he made her a picture before we came as well – a sure sign of true love. I loved seeing him getting some affection from an adult other than me or Andre’. So, to get to the bridge, we had to walk on Chemin de Moron (Path of the Idiot?). Apparently, the word moron does not mean the same thing in French. We found it amusing though, according to Regis (a fountain of local knowledge) that the village of Moron (for which the path was named) was was destroyed after the construction of a local dam. Moronites – you are no more! Underneath the street name you can see an example of an odd French sign. This means (I think) that no motorcycles, mopeds or cars are allowed on this path- but we did see 5 and 6 year olds riding ponies along – so cute.
Then we waited for the boat – which came about half an hour later than we thought it was scheduled for. It was a lovely day and we stayed out on the deck in the back. It was cool to see the river from a different perspective – it was fun to see how the houses on the river’s edge had steps down to the water or even boat garages. Some other kids on the boat had bubbles and Callie and Anne had a great time popping them. Bubbles are such a great toy – good for any age (I include myself, I love them).
Then it was back to the house for dinner and bed. Zander had planned to sleep outside in his tent. It is quite a bit colder in Fornets Loisans than in Besancon since the altitude is so much higher, but he was determined. He took out 3 sleeping bags and fell happily asleep, until about 3am when he got too frozen and ended up in bed with us. The next morning the kids watched Mamma Mia. I went to see the show on Broadway with my sisters for Melodie’s 40th and, when I saw it on sale at the grocery store recently, couldn’t resist having a bilingual version. Well, it turns out that my kids, all three of them, LOVE this movie and the music. We have been listening to ABBA all the time around the house as well – it is so funny – even Griffin loves it!
Sunday was to be the birthday party for Marc and Anne and we wanted to get them something special. I asked the kids what they thought was their ‘best’ going away gift and they voted for the portable CD players Aunt Melodie gave them and wanted to give some to Marc and Anne (with all the Mamma Mia music on them, of course). Andre’, our techno guru, vetoed the idea of CD players and we got them little MP3 players instead, loaded about halfway full with ABBA plus all our other most favorite hits! We also got them the movie so they could watch it and the songs. I was a bit worried because the music would be in English but the kids really enjoyed it and Anne LOVED the headphones. We hope it will also be nice for Regis and Marie – something small to pack that will distract them during long drives back and forth to Berlin!
We got to have lunch with them and several relations (both sets of grandparents, and some aunts and uncles as well as various cousins). Lunch started at about 1pm and (I’m not exaggerating here) did not end until past 5 pm. There were appetizers, a main dish, cheese course and dessert. I found it amusing to view some French customs at work. There were 2 kids tables, one with the boys and one with the girls. Even at the large, adult table, the men were all seated on one side and the women on the other and, for the most part, conversations were not happening across both sexes. I also noticed that, during the cheese course, the grandparents ate their chosen cheeses with a knife and fork and the younger generation broke it with their hands. Those youth just have no standards! There was a very long pause between each course while we chatted (or I should say, they chatted and I felt like Linus listening to his teacher on this video)
Really, this is a bit extreme. It is just difficult when so many conversations are happening simultaneously and I can only catch a word here or there. I was comforted to hear that Andre’ still finds it difficult to know what is going on during lunch with his co-workers. Luckily for me, on occasion, Andre’ would get a chance to translate and Marie’s sister, a teacher, was very kind to me and we chatted quite a bit about the differences between French and American schools (Topics included: how kids count on their fingers, raise their hands, and write in script!) After the cheese course, everyone took about a 15 minute walk around the neighborhood to help their food settle before the dessert. We saw other people doing this as well. Marie very kindly made the birthday cake out of gluten free flour so Griffin could eat it. It was delicious, everyone enjoyed it, except for Griffin who ate 3 bites and announced he didn’t like it. He drives me nuts – I tried making rice pudding for the first time last week since I realized it was gluten free – everyone loved it – but him – pain in the butt! On the bright side I had baked chocolate chip cookies and made some real popcorn (like with salt and butter – not sugar!) and it was a big hit. I even gave out a recipe.
Soon after dessert we headed for home. Before we left I got an actual big, strong, hug from Marie. She has become a dedicated follower and remembered I was missing hugs. Yes, tears came to my eyes. Don’t leave friends!