Monday, April 21, 2014

Mille Quatre Cent Vingt Neuf Jours a Sceaux (1,429 days in Sceaux)

Hmmm...yes...400 days since my last post...

It is cloudy here (normal), misting a bit of moisture, "Easter Monday" in France, and my birthday.  I also found out last week that my days in France are rapidly coming to an end.  I requested a move in December 2012, but finally got the type of job I wanted and the salary I wanted just last week.  It's all good, not to fret, as I knew it would take time.  I should be home in Texas by the end of May, 2014, pretty much exactly four years since I moved into what I call "the hermitage at Sceaux".  Of course, to my guests, few and precious they have been, it is "Chez Mark".

I only had the one post in 2013, yet, 2013 was full of events.  I guess the ease of automatically loading photos to Google+ and Google Events made me feel blogging was not as important.  Yet, I know there is more to communicating than posting pictures with a caption or two.  Before I recap the last year and change, permit me to share current random thoughts and reflections.

I am finally getting a handle on the language.  It has been tough, as my experience here has not been immersive.  I work at headquarters with 37 other people representing 20 nationalities.  We talk with our teams throughout the world.  Our language at work is English.  The French, and I say this respectfully knowing it is their culture, are socially closed.  They do not welcome strangers readily, and never totally embrace them.  Yet, they can be kind and helpful and appreciative of your presence, just never expect to build a social network from French people, unless they have traveled abroad themselves.  The point is, the language has been very difficult because I have no humans on which to practice, other than stores and shops.  In those places, the focus is on getting for what you came, paying for it, and letting them serve the next person in line.  Most of my French skills are limited to utilitarian exchanges, and very simple conversation, such as the one I had with a taxi driver in Pau recently.  It was then that I felt I was making some progress on the language, and now I am moving.

Some of you might think being here is charming, that every weekend is a tourist adventure -- and it could be.  I am here solo, and eventually, one gets very tired of doing everything by themselves.  I have a buddy from work with whom I sometimes hang, unless he is heading back to his home in Biarritz.  It is wearying to be here solo, and though I do force myself to do things, I have done much fewer such solo adventures in the last year or so.

At the same time, the emotional weariness has taken its toll on my running.  I know, running is cheaper than therapy, but sometimes one has a difficult time doing something positive and healthy.  I am getting back into it.  I want to keep running as one of my therapeutic elements, as it is a good one for me.

Shifting gears to more positive things, I continue to experiment in cooking, and you can follow my efforts on Pinterest.  I have found that preparing my own food, as opposed to eating packaged, prepared foods, is also a form of therapy.  It keeps me busy doing something positive, I am more food-aware in terms of what I am eating and what it does for my body, and it gives me an outlet for creativity and experimentation.  I enjoy it, and it is an interest Pam and I both share.

Guitar playing is another positive in my life here.  I spend a lot of time playing guitar.  To tell you the truth, it gives me a "real-world" point of contact as opposed to the "virtual-world" that is the Internet.  To be sure, the two have gone together, as I have bought and often downloaded many useful lessons, tips, and helps.  Practice means stepping away from the computer, putting the guitar in your lap, practicing, and playing.  I have learned a lot about music theory, guitar techniques, and ideas about playing.  This is a life-long pursuit, just like running and cooking.  I hope to use all I have learned to teach my grandchildren, if they desire to learn.

In the course of my stay here, I have become a bit of a wine expert, in as much as one can be without doing it professionally.  Nonetheless, I can hold my own in such circles, having judged in three of the large Paris shows.  The newbies transferring into the office are often pointed my way for help in understanding and selecting French wines, and I had the good fun of being the "wine guide" for three young couples at the most recent large show in March (over 500 producers were present).  The wine world has also been a good cultural point of contact, as I have had the good pleasure of getting to know many of the families who are both first- and multi-generational winemakers.  These are hardworking people, salt of the earth.  To know them is to also know their land, so they have become destinations for me as well.  Fortunately, the wines I like best are from the Mediterranean regions, so visiting there is always pleasant.

In addition to traveling to vineyards, I love traveling to Morocco.  I have been there on three trips, to Tangiers, Asilah, Kenitra, Mehdia Beach, Casablanca, and Marrakesh.  I did a day trek into the Atlas Mountains, also.  I would like to do a multi-day trek into the Atlas Mountains, and do a caravan from Fez to Marrakesh.  I love the Moroccan tagine, and one cooks now for my evening meal (slow cooked beef and lamb, with a Moroccan blend of 30 spices, onions, garlic, olives, potatoes, nuts and raisins).

I will continue this blog concerning my travels in 2013 on another page, just so you can take a break.  As I part from this page, and prepare to depart France, the answer is "Yes", I will miss a few things about being here.  I will miss walking to the market, the bakeries, the cheese shop, the butcher -- the small shops in general and the people who run them.  I will miss traveling at will to the Mediterranean or Morocco.  I will miss the handful of French I have gotten to know, and certainly, I will miss the very close camaraderie we share on our team at work (it is rare to find it as good as we have had it).  But there are things I will not miss, like the distal nature of the French toward people they do not know, the lack of human connection outside the office, the bureaucracies of any entity larger than shop, and the generally lower quality of goods and services.  Nonetheless, it has been a rich experience.

A bientot!