Last weekend, I visited my French Family after 15 years. I was a fille-au-pair for a family of 5 that soon became 6 from January 1999 – August 1999. Granted, 5 out of the 6, visited me in Canada a few years ago, but the visit back to growing children – young adults (ahem!), and house renovations certainly felt like time did march on, yet froze at the same time. Hard to explain. It was fun to see the view from my old room I had daily when I lived there for 8 months, the relatives I met back then, to the mural I painted as a teen (which, to my surprise is still there!). I was visiting for the weekend to celebrate the youngest’s (child #4) Holy Sacrament of Confirmation and have a little reunion!
The journey to Alsace began earlier than expected when a declared National Train Strike interrupted my carefully planned… leaving on Thursday, bought – 2 months ago, 1st class, free wifi, on-sale, solo seat, with no rescheduling in sight,…trip that was, as you can only imagine – cancelled. I urgently went into creating a back-up plan, researching other ways to get from Paris to Mulhouse, Alsace, then to Sierentz. I found a seat riding with 2 other passengers plus driver through Blah-Blah’s covoiturage system (Blah-Blah actually exists, I’m not making this up), and finally booked a seat in the car for Friday, arriving in the afternoon. We met early in the morning, loaded up the car, and after I finally took my seat behind the driver, the other two men kindly decided their placement and we were off! After 7 hours (took a while to get out of Paris), in a non-AC car (I was stunningly beautiful upon arrival), I was picked up at the train station and brought back to the house, to hang with two out of the four kids who were feet taller than I. Quite the change from when they were 1 ½ and 4 years old. We toured the house and made conversation about the changes, talked about life, and even saw some old pictures including one of my ‘Masterpiece’ and I, a mural I painted in the last month I lived in Sierentz (August 1999). More on that later! So the 2nd oldest and I made crepe batter, sweet and savory. I should re-phrase. I mean, I supervised making crepe batter. We had a joking Chef Ramsay thing going on, where I was the chef, and he the sous-chef. “We” even made fresh raspberry sorbet for dessert. Oh, and because the crepes were good, apparently I got the credit even though I didn’t touch them, but it was made clear that if they were bad my ‘sous-chef’ would get the blame – doesn’t seem fair ;). Soon we were ready, van packed up with all the equipment and we raced to the choir rehearsal where my flute would make its come back appearance after many moons. Not only that, but I was delighted to play with my fellow seat partner from 15 years ago when we were with the Orchestre de Sierentz. The idea of full circle, was continuously flashing in my mind.
Once rehearsal was over, it was back to the house for a little World Cup Soccer, oh excuser moi, Le Foot, to watch the rest of the Netherland/Spain game. Very fun. So after rising at 4:30 am to get to my covoiturage meeting spot, by midnight, it felt more like 3am and it definitely time for bed. The morning came too soon with the church bells at 6:30am playing many, many minutes of the Call to Worship – a longstanding tradition that I really don’t remember from 15 years ago. How did I forget that!? It’s not quiet and subtle – it’s an up and at ’em’ sort of thing. Once I was up and a little coffee hit the system, it was off to food shop with the eldest where we caught up a little, then back to the house for prepping, and eating, more prepping, organizing, and then dashing to change quickly before leaving for one final rehearsal before the Confirmation. It was a lovely ceremony and although not my most flawless performance on the flute – I had fun reliving that ‘thing” when you play with a group/ensemble. Some pieces really evoked much passion and unity, for which I had many goosebump moments. Sidenote, they remember me translating ‘goosebumps’ in French back then, and the final result apparently involved the word chicken and points – really?. How did they remember this – how!? We all had a good laugh. The ceremony came to a close and we were headed back to the house for le fete. On route, walking back to the house, a young lady asked me if I remembered her, and I was sad to say that I didn’t. She was afterall 5 years old when I met her the first time. She remembered me teaching her and the eldest child how to make rice krispie squares. My mom’s staple at birthday parties. She remembers that vividly. How cool is that!?
Upon arriving back to the house for ‘le fete’, I made a quick wardrobe change as the wind picked up with gusto and on the deck with the aperos, my skirt plus wind did not create a great Marilyn Monroe moment, so luckily I quickly dashed off to save my reputation.
Although quite cold in the cool wind, we all hung out for a long while, which coincidentally inspired dialogue by a couple wanting to discuss Canada’s weather, well, our reputation for limited degrees of heat, to their knowledge. You can see where I am going with this. So, I dispelled many a myths about ‘Canada’ and our COLD. I tried to keep it light as innocent questions about living in freezing temperatures for most of the year, on a country wide spectrum were asked. I kindly said that Vancouver/Victoria varies from say, Montreal (IN THE WINTER, especially), and how, although I finally have some decent bear stories after last Fall (serious I do, I befriended 3 bears daily for a week!), that we Canadians don’t typically see or defend ourselves from bears daily. Well, at least from my city experiences.
Soon, a lovely dinner was served and some chatting about this or that happened until the wee-hours. It was fun being in a tri-lingual crowd and feeling like I could understand German at times. Or maybe my experience as a wild arm gesturing half Italian has truly paid off and I’m now an arm reader. I’m going with the latter.
The next day, we all gathered at the house again for one last meal together, relaxing outside on a slightly warmer day. With the train strike still in full swing, it was hectic making and re-making alternate arrangements for some, while my ride back to Paris via Fountainbleau to Bry-sur-Marne was set. Before leaving, a family member happened to bring his violin and asked me to join him and the two middle boys to play as quartet. We were 2 violins, 1 piano and moi, la flute! I had fun sight reading two classical pieces and goofing up, but it was lovely to ‘jam’ and create yet another memory over this short weekend. Before leaving, the boys thought it was imperative to recreate the photo of me and my oeuvre from 1999, (when I get the ‘15 years later photo’ – I’ll attach both pictures) and so they moved tables and chairs, plants and whatever else they could move to reset the stage for a 15 year later shot. I was deeply touched that they went to that trouble to make that happen. In fact, they told me that my painting is still a topic of conversation all these years.
I feel incredibly blessed to have connected and stayed in touch my French family, when I can assume this is not the case for many fille-au-pairs and their families. I am part of a success story, a truly amazing connection that still has me in awe. We have stayed in touch over the years which helped bridge our official reunion in France. I still feel like I am a part of their family, and they apart of mine.