Putting together a list of items 'to be missed'

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Carol Prentice French Lessons

I am sitting in the La Civette Bar in Angers enjoying a last cup of café creme fully aware of how much I will miss these moments. In this combined bar, café, tabac, presse (newsstand), I am known (if, indeed, I am known at all) only as the non-French middle-aged woman who stops in daily for a coffee to write in her notebook or to read the International Herald-Tribune. For a few moments each day, I am no one's mother, wife, or employee, and I can linger in a suspended state of anonymity absorbing the French conversations and the smell of coffee. This I will miss, like Dorothy's scarecrow, most of all.

Other items on my "To Be Missed" list are:

1. The French scarf thing. There is a fetish-like quality to the prevalence of scarves in Angers. I quickly adopted the practice and soon felt indecent without a scarf secured about my own neck. People might talk. Men, women, boys and girls all wrap their necks until the temperature surpasses 60 degrees. The most common method is the "loop and scoop." Simply double the length of the scarf and wrap it around your neck, scooping the loose ends through the loop. Voila! You look more French already.

2. The French hair. How is it that a 50-year old woman in France can dye her hair magenta and look sophisticated rather than just plain silly? Or blond with red streaks? Never have I seen such an array of hues on locks. Heather, my fashion-astute 15-year-old, and I have noticed, however, from the particular vantage point offered by a third-floor apartment balcony, that many of these same women are very thin on top. I always knew there was a price to pay for vanity.

3. Being forced to walk. I am to the Juneau Racquet Club what healthy people are to insurance companies. I pay the dues but rarely use the service. However, since my desire to get places outweighs my disinclination to exercise, and the only method of transport available to me is walking, I manage to put in several miles a day. Of course, the true importance of this is that I can eat what I want and not have to buy the next size of clothing, which brings me to number four.

4. Carbohydrates in all forms. Sweets I can give or take but oh, la, la, the bread! From that first apple pastry in the morning to the baguette sandwich at lunch, to the still-warm country bread at dinner, I have learned that I can thrive on bread alone. I doubt if my grapenuts and 1 percent milk will ever bring me the same pleasure.

5. The pace of life. I, along with many of my friends in the States, long for a life that allows time for breakfast, lunch and dinner without eating in the car. Time for the occasional two-hour lunch, time to read the paper and discuss current events (preferably at an outdoor café), time to walk and to window shop (the translation in French is "window licking") with no particular focus. All of these seem possible in France.

6. Fruits and vegetables, and I include wine, beer, and hard cider in this category. I grew up in an agricultural community and life in the Loire Valley reminds me how much I miss that. I am allergic to wine (such a pity, I know, being in France), but the locally brewed beer and, particularly, the local ciders are heavenly. I can only imagine that the wine is equally excellent. The ability of the French to enjoy pleasures moderately is enviable. White asparagus, artichokes, sweet clover-like greens and fist-sized melons help diminish the Protestant guilt that accompanies the bread and cheese.

Items on my "Not to Be Missed" list are:

1. The local laundromat. It hasn't been that many years that our family has had access to a washer and dryer that didn't require quarters, so the idea of schlepping wet clothes (we had a washer in our Anger apartment but no dryer) down the street to be dried mechanically holds no particular appeal.

2. Dog poop in the street. As I have written in previous articles, the French love their dogs, which are allowed to do their business in the streets. The fact that I see no French people with pooh on their shoe tells me that they have mastered the art of avoiding the piles. We have not. Progress is being made on this front: There are green metal dispensers throughout Angers (like we have at Sandy Beach) with free plastic bags and a depository identified as "dejections de canines." I can't help but picture an array of dejected dogs stuffed inside the green metal cans.

My final "to be missed" is writing these articles. It has been a true joy to try to capture on keyboard and screen some of the richness of life in France and to offer it to our community in Juneau for these past 12 weeks. Thanks to those of you who have enrolled, voluntarily, in French Lessons.

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