Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gullible's Travels pt huit; the mother of all tantrums

There are times where the frustration of not speaking or understanding the local language is a blessing. One of those times might be when you're carrying your shrieking, thrashing, beetroot-faced child through a peaceful village plaza in Spain. Said plaza being filled with locals who have, mouths agape, downed all utensils, coffee cups and glasses as they watch in stunned awe- the mother, father,sister and brother of all tantrums.

If tantrum throwing was an Olympic event, Lucie would do her country proud.

Lucie: "This is Hayla she's a REAL Barbie with lotsa lotsa hair."
I could blame the 'hangrys'* or I could blame over- tiredness, I could blame her linguistic frustration at having Spanish thrown into the mix, or I could blame the box of toys on sale outside a shop with a cheap nasty barbie-doll copy, front and centre. Personally I believe it was all of the above.

Regardless, I was absolutely NOT, going to include in the mix of new toys purchased abroad, a cheap nasty pretender whose arms would fall off in a day and had the hairline of a monk disguised with a Donald Trump comb-over. Even if it was only €2. Unfortunately I told her that.
Try defining the expression 'cheap and nasty' to a four and a half year old.

So. I staggered along to the carousel in the next street, my ears literally ringing from the screams of "she's NOT NASTY! She's KIND and NICE! I'm really GOOD at cop-ying, mummy! PUT ME DOWN! LET ME GO, WAAAAAGH!" (insert screaming crying various coughing, gagging and wailing noises punctuated with mummy person's attempted explanations, distractions, under-breath curses)

Two rounds of the carousel and five long minutes in what I can only describe as an inflatable, floating hamster wheel, and my cheerful cherub had returned from the dark side.

I always thought giant hamster wheels would be a great idea for kids...

We'd been taking a stroll around Ribes de Freser, a very cute village on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.

Staying with good friends from Barcelona, they'd scored for us, excellent accommodation in a beautifully restored and converted 15th century grain-mill in the tiny hillside town of Campelles. And who would have thought a grain mill built in 1413 would ever boast of WiFi?

Everything had been going swimmingly up till then, with three young girls between us, there was plenty of play- time and paddling in the little creek for Lucie, albeit all in French. But she seemed quite happy trying out her shaky second language skills. However, four days is a little challenging to get onto Spanish time, where waking and meal times are about three hours later than we're used to. It's especially so, when your child - getting to sleep each night at 10-10:30pm, still wakes at 6:45am.

Yup- theres you recipe for disaster right there.

The next day, following tantrum day, which is what I'm naming it because it was sooo epic it wiped my memory of everything else that happened that day, we went to Nuria, a winter ski resort.
Nuria in summer, apart from spectacular scenery and a bloody-old and gorgeous church, offers pony rides, a lake full of row boats and grass toboggan runs, among other great stuff. Lulu and the girls rode ponies together, bounced their brains out on trampolines and spent way more time than we'd paid for on the toboggan runs.

When we got back to Ribes, the Daddy person suggested we take a walk around the town. He'd been provision shopping the day before and was therefore AWOL during the 'epic nasty' or he may not have suggested it.

But hey it was Sunday, the shops where all closed, what could be safer? We ended back at the carousel again and sandwiched between this and the giant hamster wheel was a sort of sideshow game a bit like a shooting gallery but with ducks swimming a circuit which you had to try to hook as they pass. Well to cut a long story short, Lucie showed herself quite the duck-catcher and guess what her prize was?

Yup, you got it, the cheap nasty copy barbie doll.

Furthermore, this morning her left arm came off;

And what has Lucie named her? "cheap copy Barbie" of course


So two days on, the arm-off incident seems to have illustrated my point partially at least. So 'cheap copy barbie' yes that's her name, gets waved in everyone's face with Lucie, before she even says hello, exclaiming; "this is cheap-copy-Barbie! She's NOT nasty, she's really NICE".

Lucie is for now besotted with this piece of plastic junk which may win the thing a stay of execution, but I swear she and a couple of others will be making a one way trip to the charity shop (if they last the distance & don't make it to the bin instead).
Look who's gone to the dark-side now...
some serious girlie time..

Even the laundry was gorgeous

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gullible's Travels pt sept - je ne comprends pas

Ssshh, I'm hiding. Lucie's coughing heard through the monitor, interrupted dinner and I volunteered to go check on her. Now I'm doing a bit of extended checking -also known as hiding out upstairs. In fairness it was her 'I'm about to puke' cough, but in all honesty I just need a break from nodding and smiling and laughing when everyone else does, not having a clue what the joke is.

Je ne parle pas très bien le français! Thats a fact.

After three semesters at Alliance Francaise and seven of eight CDs by Michel Thomas, (he's the Guru) I can shop, I can order food but I cannot converse in any meaningful fashion.

At a table of nine animated native speakers -I haven't a snowball's chance in hell- je comprends rien! And I mean nu-thing.

Its no-ones fault but my own- the Frenchie and I have been together for 11 years now. Epic fail on my part I'm not fluent in his mother language, but it slides off me like fried eggs on a teflon pan for some reason.

His parents have been learning English half the time I've been learning French and making embarrassingly better progress. They worry like hell about their accents but take it from me a perfect accent isn't always a good thing.
I am told I speak French with no foreign accent at all, so when I do open my mouth to utter one of the half dozen phrases I've mastered, the response is inevitably a barrage of dialogue I cannot hope to fathom. And the one useful simple phrase I cannot seem to master is "sorry I'm not French & I don't have a clue what you just said". So I end up just taking the cowards way out and asking "do you speak English?" in English.

So why didn't I do French at school like everyone else, you might ask? I went to a school that didn't have languages as electives, instead we had motor-shop, woodwork & metal work. I know what twin SU carburettors look like, I'm a dab hand at soldering, and I have a kick-arse selection of power-tools that I can actually use, but I remain the only member of my family who didn't do French at school! And of course the only one married to a Frenchie. Bugger.

So here I am hiding out in the rooms over the garage pretending I'm settling my daughter who's long gone to sleep, and dealing with the associated guilt trip by way of this confessional.

Bugger, I've been sprung-Mr Frenchie has come looking for me..

(sounds of phone hitting the floor)
I'll find it later..

Mr Frenchie if you read this
(a) I'm sorry I hid from your family tonight, and
(b) thank you for noticing my extended absence & coming to see if I was ok xxx
you're so lovely, happy birthday!

Gullible's Travels pt six - mon chien me manque :0(

Buddy as Rapunzel
Translation: I miss my dog. Has it been only 4 weeks? Really?

Now if you're not a dog lover you'd better tune out now, 'cos this post is dedicated to my buddy, Buddy.

In this ever-so canine inclusive environment watching those swim-suit clad dachshunds, and greedy little terriers with their restaurant platters piled with entrecôte, even when I step in dog-poo ( which in France is unavoidable) I just get this overwhelming desire to bear-hug my pup a l'orange.
You see, to steal a line from Jerry Maquire, he is " my ambassador of quaan".

The orange fur-person, who held all of the little pieces of me together for the tougher post-miscarriage months. My fuzzy, licky, nudger. He thought I'd died, I'm sure, when I didn't come back from an unscheduled hospital visit, turns out, with pre-eclampsia. He'd spent the week prior with his head glued to the back of my legs, only removing himself to sniff the toilet after I used it - he knew something was wrong.
6 months old

So tonight four weeks into our family holiday, showing my French nieces some photos of Lucie decorating him and film of them playing together in the park back home, it hit me with a wallop. I miss my nagging, soulful, needy, greedy, neurotic, emotional sponge of a mutt so bad it's like a stitch in my side.

Buddy's first interaction with a human puppy - here with our friend Darcey

When I think back of all the articles & pregnancy books I read that advised dog owners to distance themselves from their pets prior to the birth. (This is to avoid jealousy and any resultant negative and potentially dangerous behavior towards the new bundle of joy, from the four legged bundle of joy).
I was constantly tactfully reminded of this during my pregnancy, while sprawled on the rug with Buddy alternating between tummy rubs, ear tickles & bear hugs. My answer for nine months was "I know...I'll stop cuddling him so much, um, starting tomorrow.."

As it turned out, I never stopped cuddling him so much.

The 'experts' also advised taking items of soiled baby clothing home from the hospital to "get the pet used to the new baby smells" Buddy was not remotely interested, his first whiff of my hospital clothing however sent him into a frenzy. I was alive after-all.
And when he saw me, baby or no, it was business as usual.

He's been fabulous, we knew he loved kids from the way he behaved with our friends little grommets. But the time he took on an enormous male bull mastiff on our account I was truly impressed. Bud, (Doberman crossed with a smaller orange mutt) is 29 kilos of lean muscle, but this thing had at least another 20 kilos on him and it was running at me (with Lucie strapped to my chest in the baby bjorn) like a freight train. Bud had been mid-pee on a bush about 50 meters away when he saw this thing coming at us. He took off like an olympic sprinter out of the block angled across this monsters trajectory and hit it full pelt in the flank knocking it off its feet.

The 'Mona Lisa' smile
He was our hero. Even though it turned out the thing was an overgrown pup, just 2 years old, more interested in the ball thrower balanced on my shoulder than anything else in the park. I was still mighty relieved he didnt get to jump up on me and my teeny tiny passenger.

Buddy used the same technique a week later to rescue a female Doberman puppy who was being mauled by a big mongrel. We were about to get into the car after a long walk when suddenly there was this terrible shrieking and yelping. Bud flew across two rugby fields to hit the savage dog, like a torpedo, in the shoulder. The mongrel staggered to it's feet and took off in fright while Buddy stood nudging and licking the puppy's neck where she'd been chewed.

He's a good dog.

Other heroics include removing his best friend Aldo (a feisty Jack Russell) from the jaws of an insane Staffordshire Bull Terrier. That was one of the two times I've actually seen him really fight.
The "can't-I- come-on -the -sofa -too" face
And breaking up several pack fights, just by waltzing into the fray & giving the combatants a meaningful look. Each time the dogs disperse I wonder what it is he says or does in dog-speak that makes 'em quit & head home.
He does the same when I Lucie & I have a bust-up; as soon as the shouting reaches a certain pitch, in comes the orange peacemaker, shoving between us giving us both that 'meaningful' look...
Except I have no idea what it means.

So yeah, he's a needy, greedy, frizz-bee obsessed, cuddle-mugging, licky nudger and a colossal emotional sponge but he's also my zen-master and I miss him to pieces.

Saturday morning walks along the harbor
His new winter Dryzabone


Monday, August 6, 2012

Gullible's Travels pt cinq -" une autre verre de rose!"

Two of the most disturbing events in the last week, besides the daily gasper that is my first morning look in the mirror at my un-made-up face "[GASP] oh that's me";
One- walking into L'Orangerie restaurant in jardins public a bordeaux and seeing a waiter setting down a china plate of entrecô front of a small terrier. :0I A platter piled with sliced rump steak for a dog? I wanted to slap the dog's owner across the face with a brochure for World Vision. I'm a clear advocate of canine inclusion but even I have limits.

Two- up-flushing toilets. You know the ones, they have a lot of them in Asia; the bowl fills up and up and up & just before it hits the rim it all gets sucked down ( hopefully). Try explaining this to a four-year-old who thinks her pooh is climbing out to get her.
As a result, Lucie is very reluctant to use any toilet outside Grandma's house - "it's too smelly mummy" and mostly they are.
This situation has developed an afternoon ritual of choosing a very modern (read expensive) cafe to take a glass of Rose, and a tour of the 'facilities'. I suspect that the horrid sate of public toilets in this country is financially supplementing the restaurant trade.

Speaking of food, glorious food... I LOVE this country if only for that, ( but not only).

For under €15 in Carrefour supermarket you can score a good bottle of wine, a jar of pate, a crusty baguette, 200g beaufort and a whopping great saussison! A veritable feast that would cost a bomb back home- if you could even find these goodies. We did find a suppler in Sydney who imports genuine saussison; $15 for half that size... and we feel blessed.
I also love the salads here; my favourite is 'salade des landes' it's packed with duck: pieces, gizzards & foie gras. Rich & fatty.. Oh yeah.

We are in culinary heaven :0)

Bordeaux is a beautiful city, the mayor has spent a lot of money on infrastructure and general beautification and many of the best and prettiest shopping and dining streets have become predominantly pedestrian. In the 90's the country's President also became Bordeaux's mayor & lo and behold funding was accelerated and the neglected city was scrubbed and buffed within an inch of its existence and a fabulously modern tram system was implemented making getting about even easier.

For the most part, major land marks and parks are all within walking / cycling distance. But for Lucie, the single most important land mark is the water mirror opposite place de la Bourse along side the river Garonne. Designed by the French landscape architect, Michel Corajoud, the water mirror effect is created in two centimeters of water over granite tiles that reflect the gorgeous 18th century building facades. On a timer, the water is drained periodically and replaced with fountains of mist and in summer the entire 3450 square meter mirror surface is covered with laughing wet children and smiling shoeless parents.

If you think Paris rocks, you'll love Bordeaux and its hard to describe this enchanting city without sounding like a travel brochure. But c'mon: the incredible fountains, the architecture, the historic roman ruins sandwiched between ordinary homes, and of course the shopping!

Bordeaux remains my shopping mecca - all my best leather boots came from San Marina (shoe heaven), Lucie's most colorful & original outfits came from 'Du Pareil au Meme' (conveniently next door to Petit Bateau- always worth a look of they're on sale).

Rue Sainte Catherine has all the majors like H&M, Zara, & FNAC (kind of Dick Smith meets Borders) & Galleries Lafayette. Kind of a more spectacular French version of Melbourne's Chapel street or Sydney's Pitt street.

So, or 'alors' as the say here: after a heavy day of accidental sightseeing while shopping and eating and generally splashing about in the landmarks its back home via a short stop on the carousel.

Did I say short? Another seven rounds later....

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gullible's Travels: pass the paracetamol

Buckingham Palace's gates are opening and the police are herding the spectators to either side. I say, "quick Lucie the Queen is coming!"
Lucie; "but I'm busy! I'm looking at the ducks now, mummy"
As it turned out she had the right idea, a cavalcade of shiny expensive black cars came & went and that was it-Riveting stuff. 
Meanwhile the ducks where having a bust-up in the Victoria Memorial fountain (two boy ducks fighting over a girl): and lets face it-they put on a better show. 
Daddy asks " isn't the Queen more exciting than ducks?"
Lucie, emphatically; "Nope."
It took an ice-cream to finally dislodge her from the fountain side anatidae  melodrama.

Ok so paracetamol can alleviate the achey feet, (must take some more) but it doesn't do a thing for bone-weariness. 

Since we arrived in London we have walked and shopped our legs off. Heaving that stroller up and down every stair of practically every tube station between East Finchley & Soho. Believe me thats a lot of stairs. 
Begs the question, what the hell do disabled people do?
Ok so London isn't so small-child-friendly: Lucie even copped a painful head-swipe from a heavy Prada handbag with a world of buckles on it, poor little pet and those were some tears we could have done without.

Conceptually she was very excited about seeing a real palace where a real Queen lives, but to a 4-5 year old,  in reality, it's an easy thing for monarchs to be upstaged by  a bunch of noisy ducks. So a visit to Regents Park was another winner. She fed the geese  the last of the brioche then  we played hide & seek -a game she is just terrible at I might ad; If she's not totally peeking while she counts, she's 'hiding' in plain sight. 
A water-fight, Lucie started in the rose garden fountain, was just what we all needed considering Ol' Blighty  recently turned into Ol' sweaty . 

Shopping highlights involved:
:0)  a ten quid pair of jeans for me that make me look two sizes smaller :0)  an hour in Hanley's exiting with yet another Barbie
:0) H&M kids' shoe department where Lucie chose a pair of rockin' pink sandles resembling a pair of Louboutin Pink Ruffle shoes I saw on SATC's Carrie Bradshaw.

It's been fun, but exhausting:

We took a well anticipated visit to the museum of natural history to see the life-size T-Rex, who we named Mavis to make her seem less scary...yup that worked a treat. Despite visiting Mavis 18months ago, this time we had to exit through the exhibit entrance because Lucie decided she was completely horrifying no matter what we named her. :0(

We competed daily in our own logistical olympics of; exhibits, meeting up with many friends, falling foul of bus-stuck-in-olympic-traffic family hostage situations (there's an hour of my life I'd like a refund on), and too many -'oh my god is it 6.30 already?' emergency happy-meals consumed.

All on limited sleep because it's bloody broad daylight by 5am and the bloody birds start screeching 30 minutes before that.  Gaaaaah

Time to head back to the in-laws for some serious R&R.