Sunday, July 30, 2006

and we're off

Today Steph and I will celebrate our second wedding anniversary by spending the night at my in-laws' house.

Romantic, huh?

Tomorrow morning, our journey begins with an early train to Paris and will end nearly twenty-four hours later at my father's house. The bags are packed and there's only a few last minutes things to do.

Thanks to everyone for your kind wishes and comments. Things are going to get pretty rough and I'm afraid I may overuse this blog as a place to vent about this new crisis. I am so grateful to have an amazing family on both sides of the ocean and remarkable friends I can turn to, and thanks to the internet, I have your support as well. I can tell you from experience that a kind word can go a long way.

So hang on to your hats kids, we're in for a bumpy ride...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

time stands still

Wednesday Evening
I'm camped out on the couch downstairs in front of an oscillating fan and the television. Despite my offer to unfold the futon couch, Steph insists on sleeping in the unbearable heat upstairs. I'm watching an Argentinian movie with French subtitles when the absurdity of it all hits me: I'm watching a fucking Argentinian movie with French subtitles while on another continent my father is struggling with the fact that his life is swiftly coming to an end. I want to bang my head against the wall but it's too hot to move.

At 2:00 in the morning, an enormous thunderstorm comes crashing through, bringing with it the relief of slightly cooler temperatures. Many areas claim to be the lightning capital of the world, and I grew up in one of them - every summer, the pond behind our house was struck by lightning as frequently as once a week. Even though thunderstorms are much less frequent here (we may get the same number here in a year that we would have seen in a week in Florida), I am always awed by what seems to be their close proximity. Thunder booms with such ferocity that they seem to be manifesting themselves just above the roof of our house. When Steph performs the familiar ritual of unplugging all the appliances, I feel like I'm fourteen years old again.

We drive to Troyes to run a couple of errands. First we stop at our insurance office to ask a couple of questions. I have my own medical drama running in the background, and we wanted to find out what the consequences would be if I have to see a doctor while in the states. The only course of action we can take is to pay everything in full and submit receipts and translations of doctors' notices to the insurance company and hope for some kind of reimbursement. Crap.

Then we visit the travel agency to pick up our electronic tickets. Despite the fact that I've been using them for years and years, this is Steph's first experience with them and I think he's still skeptical. I am ninety percent sure that after we check in at the airport on Monday, he will say something like, "Wow, that works!" After lunch at my favorite crêperie, we head home to find no less than six messages on the machine. JP has invited us for a barbecue for this evening; it will be an excellent opportunity to cook the leftover meat from Saturday and also be a welcome distraction.

It is definitely a welcome and enjoyable distraction. Aside from being assulted by bugs, it is fantastic to sit outside and sip wine and munch on salads and barbecued meat in the company of good friends. At one point I laugh so hard I literally can't breathe - I have to close my eyes because the visual is so hilarious, just a peak would send my chest into crushing spasms all over again. I'm already in need of this kind of relief and I haven't even seen my father yet.

I hate our washer and dryer, if for no other reason than they take so long. It takes me all day to do three loads of laundry. Then I realize that I should just be grateful that I even have a dryer, as many people I know do not. Chalk it up to nerves and stress, because there's just too much to do before we leave.

I have an excellent, albeit frank, discussion with Dad. He sounds the best I've heard of him for weeks. He seems to be dealing with everything very well. We talk about the medicine he will take that is not a cure but merely will help him be able to eat and costs an obscene amount of money. I offer to take him on a road trip; he says he's too far gone for that now. Today he got out of bed on his own and made an egg for breakfast, and this is a major accomplishment. He's prone to fainting and, to be delicate, is coming to terms with the fact that he needs help with washing and other bodily functions. He tells me with a steady voice that the doctor is giving him around nine months.

I hang up the phone and fall into my husband's arms. For me, there is no question that I will spend the majority of the next nine months with my father, but how can we do it, with my French residence card expiring at the end of August and my own medical drama to take care of? There are too many Hows and Whens and Whys flying around. The toughest decisions of my life will be made in the next few months. Not for the first time, I thank whatever diety is listening for sending me my husband, who is as solid as a rock. I know I have to be strong for my father, and at last I have someone who will be strong for me. I can't ask for anything more than that.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

in between time

the hall
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Once again, the temperatures have risen so high that I must do as much on the computer as I can stand first thing in the morning, because it is unbearable to sit in this room for more than ten minutes after noon. I finally got some pictures on my flickr set of the party and of our walk around Troyes on Monday. Much to my shame, I didn't take any photos after the party actually started, but some family members did, so one day I'll scan them and add them to the set.

The plane tickets have been purchased; we'll be at my father's house on Monday night. He has been released from the hospital and that's about all I know. For now, I'm living in this weird in-between time, where the situation doesn't seem real. Except for my daily phone call to either my sister or my aunt, or even Dad, when he's feeling well enough to talk on the phone, you wouldn't know that anything has changed. Soon we'll be dragging suitcases out of the closets and facing reality. I am preparing myself to meet a changed man and to stare death in the face. More than anything, I can't believe I have to face this again, so soon after losing Mom.

Monday, July 24, 2006

roller coaster

There's so much happening now that I don't know how I'm gonna fit it all into one neat little package here, but I'll do my best.

As you know, last week we were all up in arms, preparing for our French wedding party on Saturday. Friday morning, I received news that my father was admitted into the hospital with some unknown illness. He'd been declining in health ever since he'd come to visit us at Christmas time, so to tell you the truth, the fact that he was getting 'round the clock care come as some relief. I spoke to him briefly after he had woken up from surgery to do a biopsy of his liver, and with the knowledge that the results wouldn't be back until Monday, we did the only thing we could: get on with it.

So off I went to pick up kyliemac, Aimee and Mrs. B from the train station. Due to a cancelled train, they arrived an hour and a half after their expected arrival, so I walked around in the sweltering heat and found an ice cream cone and stayed in the shadows as best I could until they arrived. Then it was back to home base to finish preperations for our party.

We got an early start on Saturday, getting to the hall before noon, and quickly went to work on setting up tables and putting out decorations, while my mother-in-law and sister-in-law went to work on some beautifully done fresh fruit for dessert. At lunch time we wasted a couple of hours by shopping and trying not to sweat through our clothes. At the appointed hour, we changed into our party clothes, Steph fired up the grill, and the guests started to trickle in. Not too long into the festivities, a thunderstorm passed about ten miles north of us, but left us with enough cool air to making sitting outside quite comfortable, even though sitting at the carefully prepared tables in the stuffy hall was too hot to bear. We dined on delicious barbecued meats, along with three different kinds of salad (prepared by me, thankyouverymuch), lovely cheeses, gorgeous fruit salads served in carved out watermelons, and plenty of wine to wash it all down. It was an excellent occassion with most of Steph's family and lots of friends who came from all corners of the country to celebrate with us. I am continually reminded of how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and family on this side of the ocean.

Sunday was another early start, with bringing Aimee and Mrs. B back to the station to get an early train back to Paris. kyliemac has stayed on with us for a couple of days to take advantage of our fine country livin', which is just fine by us. Today we spent most of the day in Troyes, eating lovely enormous salads, visiting only a couple of Troyes' famous fourteen churches, and even got a little shopping in at the end.

Alas, with these highs, it seems lows are never very far behind. My father informed me only an hour ago that the results came back with the worst possible news: terminal cancer. The diagnosis is so new that I'm afraid even he doesn't have any more information right now, though it seems the inevitable is not imminent. Steph and I are making preperations to fly to the states within the week. Obviously, I'm still processing this information, and I have no earthly idea what the future holds. Right now, all I know is that I need to gather as much strength as possible from whatever wellsprings I can find in order to bolster up my dad.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

the heat is on

Yesterday, it was 85 degrees farenheight. In my house.

I stayed downstairs most of the day, dazed from the heat, drinking as much ice water as I could. I even ended up sleeping down there, because it was so unbelieveably hot upstairs. And Steph sat right here, in the computer room, all day, with no adverse side effects of the heat. I think maybe his brain must be at least soft-boiled by now.

The worst part about this heat is that we have guests coming tomorrow and it's too hot to move, let alone clean the house. I'm nearly at my wits end.

The forecast called for thunderstorms last night through tomorrow, and when I woke up this morning, the sky was bright blue. I nearly burst into tears.

Don't know how much more of this insanity I can take...

Monday, July 17, 2006

feelin' hot hot hot

There seems to be some confusion about our party; I've received several emails asking how it was, when in fact it hasn't happened yet. We spent another afternoon in Troyes today, ordering the meat for the barbecue and planning out everything else with our co-conspirators, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. It seems we've got everything planned out and we're gonna be good to go this Saturday.

The other thing we did today was buy a column fan. Honestly, our little office with two computers is so hot, I was afraid I was going to short out the keyboard with my own sweat. So far, with the fan behind us, it's been a huge improvement. We bought it just in time, with the temperatures climbing and no break in the foreseeable future. By Wednesday we'll be smack in the 90's. Y'all enjoy your air conditioners back home, y'hear?

I think it's time for a change for this here blog. This template is really lovely, but I think I'm ready for something new. I don't suppose anyone would be interested in designing something up? Maybe for a French goodie box in exchange?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

nether regions update

I didn't really think it was appropriate to talk about my nether regions on France's national holiday, so I saved that for today. Of course, you may think it's never appropriate to talk about my nether regions, in which case I encourage you to scroll, baby, scroll!

So Thursday I met the newly recommended gyno for checking out the cyst situation. He was really very nice (and spoke a little English: "So, you want to be pregnant?") and very encouraging about everything involved. To make a long story short (and to make it as low on ick as possible), he has put me on dydrogesterone therapy for three months, after which I'll have another sonogram to check the status of the cysts. If they haven't decreased in size by then, I'll have to go to the hospital to have them removed under general anesthesia through an incision in my belly. My translator (and very, very brave husband) didn't quite catch the reason it's not possible to take them out via the most obvious route; something's too thick or too thin. All in all, I'm feeling very zen and encouraged about the whole thing that everything's going to turn out alright. The best case scenario is that the cysts go away on their own and we get a baby in the bargin; the worst case scenario is I get a couple of day's rest in the hospital and I get a really good nap and wake up cyst-free. It's a win-win situation, really.

We're heading out of town this afternoon, so everyone have a great weekend!

Friday, July 14, 2006

bon 14 juillet!

Today is France's national holiday, and we'll be celebrating by... well, doing as little as possible, really. After two days of running errands and doctor's appointments under the heat of a thousands suns (or one insanely strong sun), and an overnight trip tomorrow for a barbecue just outside of Paris, today will be a day of rest, and maybe some cleaning, 'cause this house is simply refusing to clean itself.

Last night we went to le lac d'orient to see the truly impressive fireworks show. I'd planned to video the show on my camera, but the batteries crapped out on my just before the show, in another moment in the string of bad luck I've been enduring lately. You'll just have to take my word for it, it was really great.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

twenty-four hours of madness


6:30pm Head to Eric's house a half an hour away for a barbecue. Eat lots of tasty food in the company of friends. Afterwards, goof around in the garden with a football and laugh at JP's outrageous pantomimes.

11:30pm Head back home, but notice that the car smells very strongly of gas every time it's sitting still. Turn off the vents, roll down the windows, and pray we get home safely.


9:30am Wake up, eat breakfast, etc. Steph takes wounded car to the friendly neighborhood garage.

10:15am Steph returns with a car which isn't ours. Turns out the gas line to the engine is about to disintigrate and is not drivable. Our friendly neighborhood garage has lent us an ancient but very drivable replacement for the interim for free, we just have to fill up the tank. Our car, which will also have an oil change and two new tires, will be ready either Thursday evening or Saturday (Friday being a national holiday).

10:45am Head to Troyes.

11:30am First stop: the park where we will host our big party next week. Steph and I never had a wedding reception after we moved here, so we decided our second anniversary would be a good time to have it. We're calling it "Mieux vaut tard comme jamais" (translation in the comments box). Today we did a final check of the hall for what will be available in the kitchen and what we'll need to bring with us (everything).

12:00pm Lunch. Buffalo Grill. Yee-haw.

1:30pm Grande surface shopping for first round of party supplies (cups, plates, plastic champagne flutes, etc.) and ordered the cheese platters.

2:30pm Book shopping and party favor idea shopping across the road at Cultura, my favorite place to drop money I don't have.

3:15pm Come-to-Jesus meeting at the unemployment office. Speak French like a four year old on a sugar high and talk about the same things we always talk about (improve written and spoken French). Walk out with the usual job notices for bilingual secretaries. Will now have to endure one of these "enlightening" meetings once a month until I find a job or I go stir-crazy and Steph has to put me in an institution.

4:30pm Arrive back home, pick up shopping bags and take off with the car. Pick up package from my sister at the post office (thanks, Junior!) and do shopping that will theoretically last through the weekend.

5:30pm Sling food into the fridge, melt on the kitchen floor from enduring 90 degree temperatures in a car with no a/c.

And tomorrow we get to do it all over again!

Monday, July 10, 2006

pain, frustration and despair

Well, there's an uplifting title!

I haven't been updating simply because I've been feeling so crappy. Thursday I had a sonogram and discovered I'm carrying around three cysts in my nether regions. Steph had a look at the results while we sipped a coffee at a cafe we like in downtown Troyes, and exclaimed, "This one's as big as a apricot!" I don't do anything by halves, you know.

Saturday we helped Steph's little sister and boyfriend move into a new apartment. C. was already in the new apartment so I waited with her and we had a good chat while the rest of the guys loaded up the trucks. She's six months pregnant and already looks like she swallowed a basketball and is completely adorable. When the trucks arrived, I carried a couple of boxes but started getting really strong cramps so I stopped, much to my disappointment. Nothing bothers me more than sitting on my ass while other people work. I guess I'll have to pass on the Benevolant Dictator job.

Last night we watched the World Cup final. We actually missed the first ten minutes, because we thought the match started at 9:00, so we missed France's goal. We were more shocked and disappointed with Zizou's headbutt than losing the match. Steph said, "All the kids at school look up to him and this is their role model?" I cannot imagine what could have been said that was so ugly that he could forget himself like that.

This morning we went to my follow-up doctor's appointment. Apparently the cysts are too large to be treated with medicine so I've got an appointment to see a (new and recommended) gyno on Thursday. It seems they'll have to vacuum them out. Steph offered to do it himself to save us a trip but I think I'll let this professionals handle this one.

Despite feeling like I've been hit by a bus, we've got some fun things happening this week, including a barbecue tomorrow, preparations for our big party next weekend, and a picnic in Paris on Saturday. The weather is staying relatively cool and it's been lovely here, and summer is rolling along just the way I like it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

france goes to the finals!

If you had walked by our apartment last night while Portugal was trying for a goal, you might have thought someone was being murdered inside. Everytime the ball soared just over or just wide I screamed like a banshee. Thank god for that penalty kick we got, because I don't think we would have been able to fend off the Portuguese for another thirty minutes. Hands down, that was the fastest-played match I've ever seen, the Portuguese just never let up!

When the match ended and I could finally breathe again, we sat out on the stoop, enjoying the cool breeze that three spectacular thunderstorms had brought over the last twenty-four hours. Steph cracked, "So, the finals will be between a team of old men against Italy's third division." We laughed, but even Steph is excited enough to yell at refs and celebrate with a loud "Yes!" At the end of our lane, vehicles streamed by on the main road of the village. Cars, minivans, a random bicycle, hoisting French flags, stuffed with passengers yelling "Allez les bleus!" and "Zidane!" and something about the "Italiens!" People leaned out of windows to cheer them on, and firecrackers popped in courtyards and parking lots. It would be difficult not to be swept up in the exitement the French are feeling this week. Their energy is tangible and they pass it along with a whoop and a smile. Then at midnight, the celebrating stopped, like so many pumpkins.

For the final match, I've asked Steph if we could try to see the final in one of the bars in the village. Even though he hates crowds, he agreed. This kind of excitement is too good not to pass up.

By the way, can anyone tell me why the crowd went crazy everytime Ronaldo came near the ball last night? Even if he passed the ball and was in possession for two seconds, the whole arena erupted into cat calls and boos. What was up with that?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The year-end concert

Friday night was our last concert for the year. We were all meant to arrive at 7:15 for a final walk-through, since there were quite a few soloists this year and different combinations of ensembles to take the stage. The director wanted to sing through a couple of numbers, including the one song I was still a little nervous about, a beautiful Italian song in five parts by Montiverdi. Unfortunately, this number was only second on the program and I was the only one in my section present when we sang it. I warbled through it as best as I could, still messing up the same phrase I've been stumbling over all along, much to my shame.

After the walk-through, I huddled over my music, pencil in hand, scribling last minute notes all over that phrase, when someone asked me what I was doing.

"I'm revising," I replied.

"Why?!" she asked, incredulously.

Because I couldn't think of how to say "Because I don't want to fuck it up again!" I just shrugged and smiled. And tried not to throw up. I was a nervous wreck by the time we hit the stage.

Thanks to either divine intervention or my practically shouting "and a ONE and a TWO" when the dreaded phrase came up, we sailed right through it. I nearly skipped off the stage after that number.

The turn-out was pretty low, but I guess most folks were more interested in staying cool at home than roasting in the oven that was the performance hall. Afterwards we celebrated with a dixie cup of champagne and some munchies before heading home. Even though the audience was small, and no one knew what I was experiencing on stage, I felt like I won an Oscar that night, because I was suffering an internal struggle with confidence and mind over matter, and I won.

In other news, it's HOT here. Yesterday it hit 90 and it should hit 90 again today. Lots of ice water and laying on the cool floor is the order of the day. I was looking at my blog entries from a year ago, and this weekend last year, we were cheering the Tour de France flying through Troyes, comfy in jackets and long pants, since it was a cool 60 degrees. Funny, I don't remember complaining about cool temperatures in July!

And finally, Happy Independance Day to friends and family back home! Eat a hamburger and send up a firecracker for me!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Allez les bleus!!!

What an amazing match last night! The French ran circles around the Brazilians; Brazil's star Ronaldho jogged in a circle all night, and I finally saw the Zizou that everyone has been raving about - unbelieveable control and play-making extraordinaire! After Henry tipped the ball into the goal at the 57 minute mark, my heart was in my throat for the next thirty minutes! After that display, it seems really possible that France could repeat it's victory from 1998!

Even here in the middle of nowhere, cars raced up and down the main drag of the village, honking horns and screaming in delight. I can't imagine the chaos in Paris, or even in Troyes! How exciting to be here when the French are on the cusp of winning the World Cup!

I come from a family of true sports lovers - from my grandfather who played professional football (and also had a PhD in Education - so much for dumb jocks!) down to my generation, where I and all of my cousins played some sport or another growing up. I always wrote off soccer as being boring and too long, but if my fellow Americans saw the game I saw last night, I don't know if they could keep that opinion for long. It was fast paced and tense, like a roller coaster, just how I like my sports. Now baseball and football seem never ending in comparison. Watch out, I think I'm turning into a convert to "real" football!