Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nissa Bella

This is it. Our last night in Nice. Julie and I have each taken a walk tonight through the old streets, along the sea, and by Place Massena, the main square. Our time here has come and gone. Tomorrow morning we head home.

When Chloe, Emily and I went for breakfast this morning (Julie needed a little extra sleep), the lady at "our bakery" said, "Bonjour Chloe, comment ca va ce matin?" Each time she does this, Chloe smiles and gives a little wave. It's taken nearly the entire time we've been here for the various people working at the "Grumpy Baker," as we've come to call the place, to acknowledge us a regulars. It started last week. Strangely, our butcher started to recognize us as regulars around the same time. In France, relationships between shop owners and customers begin very much as they do at home, but over time they grow and deepen. You see, it's not simply about commerce, it's about artisan pride and customer loyalty. When I return time and again to the same butcher, to the same baker, we're forming a bond, an understanding, a trust. Now the butcher shakes my hand when I come in, tells me about his day, his latest vacation, whatever is on his mind. I'm a regular. And here we thought, with the children and their needs, we weren't really getting to live in the place. As it turns out, it takes three months for that to start to happen, regardless, and it started to happen right under our noses.

Saleya Flower Market
When I think of Nice, I think I will most often relive my walk through the Saleya Flower Market, along the Promenade des Anglais,  and past the Old Port. It was one of my favourite walks, because it shows Nice in all it's beauty and colour.

Today Chloe was trying to adjust to the idea that she's leaving Nice tomorrow. She said to us, "but we'll be coming back to Nice soon, right?" Mommy told her, "honey, I don't know how soon we'll be back. Nice is a long ways away and involves a time change. You can't go for a short time because it's hard on your sleep." Later, when Chloe and Mommy were walking along the Promenade, Chloe said goodbye to the ocean: "Goodbye Ocean. I won't see you for a while, because if I come to visit I won't be able to sleep."

Nice is a noisy, hopping, busy, and crowded city. It's no simple seaside resort. It takes some getting used to. But the longer we've been here, the more it has grown on us for the same reason. This is a place with its own people, its own culture, its own language, for heaven sakes. So on that note, I'll leave off with a section of Nice's anthem, Nissa Bella. We heard it sung by a group of school students to end Carnaval this year. It seems to be known by a good portion of Nice residents, and in its original dialect. For you, dear readers, and for me, I provide a translation:

O my beautiful Nice
Queen of all the flowers
Of your old rooftops
Will I always sing.
Sing of the mountains
The landscape so fine 
Your green countryside
Your golden sunshine 
Always will I sing
Underneath your arbours
Your sea of azure
and your skies pure
And always I'll proclaim
In my refrain,
Viva, viva, Nissa Bella!
Ciao, Nice
Au revoir, la France

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thoughts turn to home

"I don't want to go back to Aylmer," Chloe has told us on numerous occasions. And who can blame her. With the beach, the playgrounds, the marry-go-rounds and the baked goods all at her door step, why would anyone want to leave?

Chloe: Why doesn't Aylmer have a beach?
Mommy: Well, it does honey, just not a beach like this, on the ocean.
Chloe: Why not the ocean?
Daddy: Because although oceans make up two thirds of the world, we don't happen to live near any of them.
Chloe: Oh.... I want to stay in France.

Of course it's not just the allure of France, of Nice, of the ocean that makes Chloe long to stay where she is. She knows that going home means going back to more mundane routines, like work, daycare, the perfectly good park down the street. There's nothing wrong with going home. At some point most of us have to go home, and Chloe seems to get this. But it's still a little sad having to admit that the adventure is almost over, that the merry-go-round is slowing down.

Julie and I have felt very much like Chloe these past few days. A few weeks ago, we were actually looking forward to getting back to regular life. There's a certain comfort in the mundane after all, especially with two young children. But as we've approached our day of departure, we've begun to long for just a few more days, a couple more weeks, to appreciate where we are.

Of course it doesn't help that Ottawa isn't anything like Nice. Their similarities start and end with population size. Ottawa is the city that never should have been. When Voltaire mused about a few acres of snow, he may well have been picturing what is now the National Capital Region. How a small lumber town became a city - our capital is, of course, a question more of politics than economics or geography, and it shows.

Oh, I'm not meaning to knock Ottawa too badly. "It's a fine place to raise a family" after all. And besides, home is where you live, not where you would live all things being equal. Actually, in the 6 years we've lived in the Ottawa area, the place has rather grown on me - somewhat unexpectedly. It's a young city (even by Canadian standards) that ebbs and flows with the tides of changing governments. But it's maturing all the time, becoming more dynamic and cosmopolitan. To think, before the Trudeau era of big government, Ottawa was a pretty small place.

We do look forward to going home. The region in which we live is beautiful, even with the long winters, and the community of Aylmer is hard to beat. We love the culture and the people on the Quebec side of the river - our wonderful neighbours, for example, who are looking after our house, and we miss family and friends. We long for the familiar, for a place that we know through and through. We long to get back to our life paths, wherever they may lead. And Chloe wants to get back to her friends, and to playing with others (lately she's taken to trailing kids at the beach like the paparazzi).

Nonetheless, it's always hard to leave the beautiful places in this world. The allure of the exotic meshes with the longing for the familiar, and when we head home it will not be with regret, yet with a heavy sigh.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Child's Play 6 - Chucky goes to France

It started Tuesday night. Both kids were in bed, I was talking on the phone, and Julie was tidying up in the kitchen, when we started to hear moaning. "Is Chloe awake, I asked." I was puzzled, because Chloe usually sleeps soundly, especially during the first part of the night. "I think so," Julie responded. Then, suddenly, we heard banging, as if someone were bumping into the walls. Julie rushed into Chloe's room to find her sitting on the floor, still asleep, on the opposite side of the room. She put her back into bed (she didn't wake up), came out of the room, and said to me, "Sean, I think she was sleep-walking." Oh, well, I thought. We'd heard of this happening. Maybe it would only be the one night. Little did we know, our night's adventures were just beginning.

Around three in the morning, we were awakened to terrified screaming and crying from Chloe's room (o.k., Julie was awakened first - I had ear plugs in).  Julie went in and I soon followed, but Chloe was impossible to console. Eventually, we learned that she'd had a terrible dream, and that she was absolutely terrified of going back to sleep in her room. "I want to sleep in the living room," she kept repeating. "I won't have a bad dream in the living room." We kept explaining to her that she can't sleep in the living room, as there isn't even a bed there, and that it didn't matter what room she slept in when it came to dreams. But she got up, walked out of her room and plopped herself down on the living room floor. I finally managed to coax her into our bed, where she tossed and turned without sleeping the rest of the night (as did we).

When morning came, we reassured her that what she'd had was just a dream and that she'd be fine. She seemed to be in better spirits now that morning had arrived, and we proceeded to start to get breakfast ready like we do every morning when suddenly she broke down in tears again and yelled, "no, not baby. Get rid of baby." She'd obviously seen baby on the table. Julie and I looked at each other, alarmed and curious. "Honey," I said, "was your bad dream about baby." Yes, baby was ripped, baby is broken. I don't want to see baby." "O.k.," I said, "we'll put baby up in our closet for now."

We're not sure what happened with her doll in her dream, but baby's days in our home turned out to be numbered. Chloe wouldn't go anywhere near the closet that held baby, and always wanted the door to the closet kept closed. Then, after seeing baby in the closet by mistake once, she wouldn't even go in our room. This is, of course, the same baby that she's taken everywhere with her for the past 4 months. Eventually, with Chloe's fear so palpable, even I started getting scared of baby. A couple of days after the bad dream, and with Chloe still afraid to go to sleep at night, Julie and I decided it might be better if baby were put out to pasture. But we didn't want Chloe thinking that what had happened in her dream was real, so we brought baby out for Chloe (who immediately started going into hysterics), and carefully showed her that there was nothing wrong with her - that it had just been a dream. "But, we said, "if baby reminds you too much of your bad dream and you want to throw her out, that's o.k." "Throw her out," Chloe cried, "throw her out."

So, without ceremony or further thought, baby was tossed in the trash yesterday. Chloe was so anxious to see her go, that she kept asking me to take the garbage outside, because she could still see baby in it. I explained that it couldn't be taken out until evening. And her first question this morning? "Is baby gone now. Did the truck take her away."

I'm not one for superstition but I'm happy to see that doll gone too.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shit my kid says - April

Chloe comes out from her bedroom with a pen hanging from the top of her shirt (as if she has a pocket in her shirt) and a big grin on her face.

Chloe: Mommy, Daddy, guess who I am. I'm Great Grampa Sutton.


Daddy (singing a teasing song): Chloe bear's got no hair....

Chloe: Yes I do have hair Daddy, see?

Daddy: Oh sorry.... Chloe bear's got no eyes, Chloe bear's got no eyes, no eyes

Chloe: Yes I do have eyes, Daddy!

Daddy: Alright.. Chloe bear's got no tail, Chloe bear's got no tail, no tail.

Chloe: Yes I do have a.... no, I don't have a tail.

Daddt: Who has a tail, Chloe?:

Chloe: Oliver has a tail.

Daddy: That's right.

Chloe: Not me, not Mommy, and not Emily. Oliver has a tail... and you have a tail Daddy.

Daddy: ahh...., I do?

Chloe: Yeah, when you go pee.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I threw up on Grandpa in the Verdon Canyon

A few weeks ago, we decided to take a day trip to the Verdon Canyon with Grandma Pat and Grandpa Ron. We'd been told that it rivals the Grand Canyon in Arizona, so we thought it was worth the trip despite the logistics headaches. So with a rented station wagon jammed full with 4 adults and two kids in car seats, and me singing the theme song from European vacation, off we went on a 3 hour drive to the Verdon Canyon.

The trip started off relatively well, with only the odd grumble about hungry tummies and squished legs, but slowly Chloe got crankier and crankier. We wound our way through beautiful mountains and valleys and along beautiful cliffs until, finally, we were entering the canyon. By this time, Julie and Pat were not feeling so well, so I was taking the curves as carefully and gently as I could. At the same time, Chloe was complaining constantly in this half moan / half cry that usually means she's really tired and can't cope. We started to put it together that Chloe might be feeling the same car sickness as Mom and Grandma (apparently it runs in the family). We asked Chloe if she felt sick, but got no response. I started to look for a place to pull over, but on a narrow road full of twists and turns, this is not an easy feat.

Suddenly, we heard it, that dreaded noise we all hate to hear, that can only be one thing. Chloe had started to vomit - just a little at first. Ron was sitting beside her and Pat quickly passed him a towel to protect himself and the seat. But when she started to throw up again, instead of getting the towel in front of her, Ron reacted by pulling the towel back with a "oh, oh no" and the rest is the making of great family trip stories.

Vomit was everywhere; all over Chloe, some on Ron, a little on Pat and all over the seats. The stench was foul, and the rest of us had a difficult time keeping our own cookies down. I managed to pull over on a narrow patch of grass and everyone quickly vacated the car.  Julie lowered her head and said, "Lets just go home. We have no change of clothes for Chloe, the car stinks so much we can barely ride in it, and Dad's been thrown up on too." I looked up, imagining our 6 hours of driving being all for naught, and the spirit of Clark Griswald suddenly came to my aid.

"We are not going home now! We're already here. Let's put a coat on Chloe (she was sitting shirtless on the side of the road playing happily with rocks), use the towel to clean everything up as best we can, and drive with the windows down. We came to see the canyon. We're here, so let's have a good time."

So off we went to see the canyon. At first, we cringed at every stop sign, as the fumes would once again surround us. But eventually, the puke dried, the smell dissipated, and smiles returned to our faces. After all, we were on a great family adventure. No little bit of car sickness was going to stop us.

The canyon was gorgeous and so was the weather that day. We had a wonderful time. And we'll always remember having to explain to the waiter at the restaurant why Chloe was the only one on the patio wearing a coat zipped to the collar on a warm and sunny day.  Ah, memories...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"We'll meet you at the beach with a picnic"

These were my words to Sean this morning as he left with Chloe for their morning adventure, and I stayed home to put Emily down for her morning nap. We'll meet up for a picnic lunch on the beach (how French!). We've become real beach bums lately, and it's not hard to understand why!

The weather has been amazing here lately. It's been 17 degrees and sunny (but feels much warmer, particularly on the beach). Chloe has even been enjoying putting her feet in the water, filling up her little watering can and splashing in the waves. Yesterday, she even wore her bathing suit. Emily loves watching the waves and the other kids playing on the beach. She even laughs at the pigeons who waddle by! Sean and I, while we need to watch the kids, don't have to provide the constant entertainment that we do in other situations. Everyone is happy, and we can truly relax as a family. Add a picnic, and everyone is even happier! We've realized that parenting is much easier on a beach. A good friend of mine has told me in the past that "there are no vacations when you're a parent, just trips". I think though, that the beach comes the closest to a real vacation as you can possibly get with young children.

I think when I look back on our trip, some of my favourite memories will be of just hanging out on the beach as a family. While we've had a fantastic time visiting new towns and tourist attractions, the most relaxing, fun family time we've had has been the beach time. And let's face it, 3 months of spending every day on the beach would get boring very quickly!

Yesterday at the beach we were preparing Chloe for the fact that we would be leaving this paradise at some point. She said "why do we have to say goodbye to the ocean?" and "why is the ocean not in Aylmer?". I would have to agree that it will be the hardest part for me to say goodbye to as well.

Okay, better get that lunch packed :)