Monday, November 28, 2011

A Canadian Thanksgiving

The Frenchies love Canada!

We just had ourselves a very merry [Canadian] Thanksgiving... 

Last Thursday, while many friends and neighbors were busy preparing for Turkey day, this family headed North, crossed the border, and landed in Vancouver B.C. for the long weekend.

The French don't celebrate Thanksgiving... or do they? 

Over the years, we have been invited by generous friends who have introduced us to this great American tradition: Sharing a delicious meal, laughter and stories, with loved ones. Feeling grateful for the good things and the good people in our lives. It seems everyone in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving!

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want (1943)
Mickey, Minnie and their friends
The Simpson family
[A very] Modern Family

This got me thinking: Whatever the origins of Thanksgiving may have been (giving thanks for a plentiful harvest,) the meaning of that very special Holiday seems to have evolved over time, and if that meaning is the one I just described, then the French celebrate Thanksgiving too. In fact, while I was growing up in France, Thanksgiving was simply called "dimanche" (Sunday.) Every weekend, without fail, several generations would gather around a large table for lunch. There was scrumptious food; there was lively conversation and laughter; there were heartfelt toasts honoring hosts and special guests. Who says the French "don't do Thanksgiving?!"

Giving thanks the French way...
Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (the Boating Party) - P. A. Renoir (1881) 

If the French give thanks on a regular basis, isn't it logical, then, that our family should be tempted to take off and make the most of the long Thanksgiving weekend? This is not France, after all, and time off is like [American] turkeys in November: an endangered species!

So, once again, our family turned down several generous invitations and left town. Personally, I was looking forward to a break. It has been a hectic fall, and you may remember morale was low just a few days ago when we received an impromptu visit by les Bad Men.

Vancouver B.C., our old friend, was waiting.

What's not to like in that gem of a city? It is scenic and cosmopolitan, surrounded by water and mountains. The urban vibe is very much alive, but nature is just a few minutes away. I don't think anyone could take a bad picture of that spectacular city! It also earns a high score in my book for being eminently walkable, and for its excellent public transportation system. Over the years, we have visited often, and have come to love the Canadians' hospitality and laid-back style. 

A [young] boy in the [big] city
Vancouver: The Old and the New
Canada Trust Building reflecting the Vancouver Hotel
In Vancouver, the sea and the mountains are never far away

As far as I can tell, British Columbia only has one drawback: Its weather. Its long, wet winters. That is one thing at least, Seattle and Vancouver have in common. 

Better be ready for Vancouver weather come November!

This is clearly not a California or Florida store window!

Undeterred by the weather, this family enjoyed a très French celebration on Thanksgiving day. We had dinner reservations chez Jules, our favorite bistro in town, in the old Gastown neighborhood. Great food. Great atmosphere. Fair prices. We did not miss the traditional turkey, opting instead for more Gallic fare...

Junior enjoyed two servings of les escargots! 
The famed Gastown steam clock is nearby
There were sun breaks too, and on Friday, we woke up to a beautiful, crisp fall day. Lucky us: Vancouver offers endless opportunities for outdoor activities. A local favorite, Capilano suspension bridge, was just a short drive away. Built in 1889 and 230 ft. tall, the wobbly old bridge is flanked by majestic evergreens as it stands above Capilano river. There is also a Treetop Adventure, (a true Northwest nature walk,) and the brand-new Cliffwalk, a thrilling journey on a suspended walkway, 300ft above the ground. 

Capilano Suspension bridge
Not for the faint of heart!
On the brand-new Cliffwalk

Fighting Northwest Giants!

We did not meet many "Banana Slugs" on the way: They knew about 
our encounter with les escargots the night before!

Driving back into town, we decided to stop at another local favorite for lunch: Granville island. The Granville Island market is the big draw in the neighborhood, but there is so much more to experience. Fun, eclectic boutiques; restaurants; and let's not forget boats, a lot of boats. During our first visits to Vancouver, many years ago, we always stayed at the Granville Island Hotel and spent hours exploring the area. Junior's favorite place was the Toy Market (you can guess why.) 

And voilà the perfect transition to the end of my story. Boats. And the people who love them.

When Le Husband and I first moved to Seattle, back in the 1990s, we met a young couple from West Vancouver. Like us, they lived away from home. Like us, they were child-less in Seattle. Like us, they owned a great dog. Like us, they spent their weekends boating. The pets and their humans became instant friends, and for several years, shared many adventures, on land or on the water.

Finn and Shadow a.k.a. "Salt and Pepper"
People, boats and dogs: Those were the days!

An unusually elegant breakfast in La Conner, WA (Tulip Country)

Brave girls swimming in the Puget Sound!

Fishing buddies

Long walks...

Happy July 4th!

Exploring small towns in the Puget Sound area...
(Roche Harbor, San Juan island)

Then the children came. Our friends moved back to Vancouver. But we stayed in touch;  visiting now and then; spending the occasional vacation together. The boats, and our wonderful "salty dogs" are long gone. On Saturday evening, reunited once again in Vancouver, we toasted them all. We always do. And that, my friends, is our tradition, not just for Thanksgiving, but year round. 

A bientôt.

West Vancouver, BC (summer 2011)

Monday, November 21, 2011

From Chanel to Lord of the Rings in one post...


This post is not part of the French Icon series. In fact, you may find this story somewhat surprising. It was born out of unforeseen circumstances; some drama; frustration and stress. It may be R-rated. I apologize in advance for the occasional bad language. It felt good to use it when I wrote the story.

-- French Girl.

Last week, as I was out celebrating a girlfriend's birthday down the street, Bad Men broke into my house and ransacked most of the upstairs rooms. Loot in hand, they took off after less than 30 minutes (according to the police,) leaving behind a huge mess, and many hours of heartache and headache for our family. 

This was not our first "residential burglary." Fifteen years ago, a few weeks after we arrived from France, other Bad Men stole most of our belongings-- except for clothing (they were not into French fashion it seems.) We never retrieved them. This was an unforgettable way of starting our new life in America. Welcome to the United States, Frenchies! But we, immigrants are a tough breed. We endured (our insurance policy helped a lot,) we thrived, and we are still here. 

Other resilient immigrants (and I bet they did not have insurance!)

Funny how one does not forget going through such an experience. As soon as I entered the house last Monday, and noticed the dog was outside on the back deck, (where I had not left her,) and the unlocked patio door, I knew something was up. I went through the moves methodically; checked the house was empty; and called for help. That 911 deal is great invention, by the way. You can guess what I have been doing since: talking to the police, the insurance company, calling pawn shops, digging out old receipts, telling the neighbors and friends about the incident, so the same thing does not happen to them.

The Yellow Dog was barking outside... outraged!
(old family photo)

I also had a long talk with my 11-year old son when he came home after school. As an empathetic and caring child, he had a hard time understanding why people would do such a thing (he lost, among other "treasures", his brand-new bike and his favorite art kit.) I realize Junior, like many kids in this neighborhood and this country, leads a privileged life. Most of what he lost can  - and will be - replaced. Still, for a Montessori kid who spends a few hours each week doing community work (just this month, knitting hats and scarves and doing some woodwork for a local shelter; collecting food and clothing for Hopelink,) it is hard to put your head around the concept of "evil." 

So I got mad. Very mad. The Bad Men did not just steal things. They stole a little bit of my kid's innocence. They stole my photos, beloved memories of this year's summer travels when they took my laptop because I had not backed-up my data since then.  If you have been following this blog for a while, you know what that trip to Nice meant to me. The Bad Men took Heaven (or as most people know it, Eze-Village) from me. Fun times on la Côte d'Azur only exist in my head and on this blog now. They took all the costume jewelry, twenty five years' worth of family gifts and souvenirs from my travels. The watch my parents got me for my 30th birthday? Gone. The vintage earrings I found in Sarlat? Gone. 

I know, I know. How materialistic of me. Some people have nothing, and here I am, moping over pieces of costume jewelry? I am FRENCH, people! Of all the stereotypes I hear in this country about my countrymen, one, at least, is true: French women know and love accessories. So sue me.

Since there was no sign of forced entry, and the Bad Men went past the Yellow Dog, we started suspecting all the people knew how to get inside the house. A house-sitter. The cleaning service. Contractors. The police wanted names, and phone numbers. That is probably the worst part about this, right? Making you suspect people you used to trust. Giving their names away. That made us even more mad at the Bad Men, or as Le Husband and I have been calling them for a week: "Fu-@$#%^&*@#" - in French and in English. We are bilingual, people. We can be creative when swearing. At times, we both looked and sounded a bit like this guy...

Captain Haddock, the Adventures of Tintin (French version)
Captain Haddock (English version)

Getting back to the burglary, we think les Bad Men, whoever they were, went past this ominous sign first - Wait, they did not speak French of course! Besides, could they even read at all, les morons?!

Then, they somehow got inside the house, with all doors locked but no alarm on (my mistake - won't happen again -) sneaked past the dog and kicked her outside. Some of my neighbors are afraid of the Yellow Dog and would not have attempted that manoeuver! 

"One step forward and I will lick your face off!"

Come to think of it, they probably scared the living daylights out of the cat, too.

Lucky for them, Felix, aka "The Puma" was out for the morning. I almost wish he had been there. When he gets miffed, even the dog and Junior stay out of the black devil's way!

Merde, Felix, where were you when I needed you around?

There is another little soul living in our house. His name is Hammy. Junior keeps him close by, in his bedroom. I ran upstairs to make sure the Bad Men - or Felix-the-Puma - had not tampered with his cage. Surely, this sign would have protected him...

I need not have worried. Hammy was doing what he does best when I arrived...

Sleep tight, little friend. The Bad Men are gone now!

Once I knew all our furry friends were safe, I started inspecting the damage. You could hardly step inside our bedroom and bathroom... there was stuff all over the floor, open drawers, etc. It was a dismal sight, and my heart sank. The police arrived a few minutes later, and the whole circus got in motion. It has been a whole week already.

On the bright side, (let's focus on the positive, shall we?) our friends rallied up once again. They brought us dinner on the night of the burglary; breakfast (and flowers) the following morning. There were offers to go and visit pawnshops with me. We received many phone calls, emails and messages. Merci, les amis.

Once the dust settled, we tried to identify all missing things. I learned a bit more about the Bad Men, a.k.a. the "Fu-@#$%^&$#@" 

I learned that they were likely young men, desperate for quick cash. I know there was no woman in that group, because even though they lucked out when dumping my costume jewelry collection in a large bag, taking away two sets of Chanel accessories, they still left without noticing other valuable items. I was dumbfounded to find my most prized possession, a Chanel evening shoulder bag, still sitting inside its gorgeous box, in the master closet. Now, it is not the fanciest and most expensive bag out there, but what happened? Were they trying to add insult to injury, or were they too stupid to spot what is, after all, one of the most recognized logos in the world?

You have good taste, Michka Barton!

I have to admit I realize I am not a good Christian because I have thought of many ways to punish the "Fu-@#$%$^#&;%" over the last few days.

A favorite would be to let "Mademoiselle," a.k.a. Gabrielle Chanel, deal with them, since they blatantly ignored my handbag, thus insulting the great "Coco" and her creations. I know she could take them down without even breaking a single one of her impeccably manicured fingernails.

Do not mess with Mademoiselle!

Wait... What do you mean "Old Chanel is dead and she can't harm a fly?!" 

Well, how about I ask her successor, Karl Lagerfeld, to deal with the little scumbags? Would you get in a fight with this famously talented [but cranky] egomaniac?

My name is Karl, and I am a badass!

Non. That would be too easy. We need to make a bigger statement. After all, how many lives have the "Fu-@#$%^&*@" disrupted already? How many more before the year is over?

My friends know I watch A LOT OF movies. Life situations, either tragic or comical, always - always - remind me of a movie.

Truth be told, when I look at that cute little Chanel bag (the one they left behind,) I feel maternal and entirely too possessive... a little bit like Gollum with his ring. Do you remember Gollum, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy?

"Precious, my Precious..."

So here is what I wish for all of you, "Fu-@#$%%^&@":

May the evil eye of Mordor fall upon you, today, tomorrow, or next week.

May you be brought to the Dark Lord Sauron's land of Mordor; dumped into the mines of Monia where you will slave away, watched over by cruel Orcs; and finally dropped into the fire of Mount Doom. 

Should you somehow, manage to escape, stay away from the peaceful Shire I live in. You are not welcome here.

The Shire will be well protected from now on. Aragorn and Legolas are standing guard. Only fools would defy them. 

Oh, and beware of peaceful, gentle, fun-loving hobbits. There is no telling what they will do when their friends, families or homes are threatened...

A bientôt.

January 2012 update: R.I.P. Little Hammy. We will miss you.