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Living Abroad

The summer is here …

In case you are wondering where I have been, the family has traveled back to Maine and New York to visit with family this summer and will return for the new school year in September; Kale will start 4eme (8th grade) & Madison will start CM1 (4th grade).

The kids finished school in July and did well. Look at their faces the first day, very nervous and see the change, very happy and confident.

The beginning of their school year

and the end

Have a nice summer and the journey will continue in September…

Tara

Living Abroad

Photos from the past and VE Day.

A look back at the past…

In the local “Bar du Centre” or the “Tabac” as we like to call it, Pierre, a local retired music teacher befriended us. The local bar is the place where the whole town goes to socialize and you can procure a quick coffee, smoke, gamble or a beer.  Pierre knew that we were American and one day he mentioned, “Disembarkment Day” or “D-Day

(Journee du DD95desimbarkment).  When he was a child, he lived through WWII.  He helped organize, in Percy 1994, a 50th Anniversary reunion of allied forces.  He had photos he wanted to share with us from that reunion.  He asked us to schedule a rendezvous, to meet up again, at the local Tabac and drop off the photos to  us.

Bill was completely thrilled to be able to peruse these photos or little slices of history.  One of the reasons why we have ended up in Europe is due to my husband’s time spent in the United States Army.  He was stationed in Pirmasens,

Germany in 1980. Besides helping him pay for University, this experience gave him a love for travel and also history.  I call Bill a hobby historian.  From my angle, it was great way to expose Kale and Madison to a valuable history lesson.  Also, to see photos, from one of the last Pilgrimages back to Europe for these veterans, many who came from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and France, was a tremendous gift. When I had worked for the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, I had helped plan USO-type event for veterans commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during WWII.  It took place in the Ardennes region eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg and hence at the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, we planned an event.  I remember how much it meant to the Veteran’s coming back.  I remember the comradery and strong bond these former soldiers had with each other.  They told the most amazing stories!  Those Veterans/ Soldiers have been called the “Greatest Generation” for their selflessness, bravery and honor shown.

The photos Pierre showed us were touching!  We thanked him for his desire to show us and his friendship.  He told us that the allied forces, especially the Americans, would be forever in his heart and now he was also forever in ours for the kindness shown.

 

May 8th is called VE Day or Victory Europe Day in France.  It’s a public holiday commemorating 8 May 1945, to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War  II, of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. VE3 Today, we stumbled upon the celebration, mostly because the Ville was completely shut down.  It started at the Mairie (Mayor’s Office) and ended at the Cathedral in Percy.  In the Cathedral, there are photos inside that showed the war damage to the church that happened June/July 1944.   Today we saw the Mayor, who arguably could pass as President Emmanuel Macron’s brother or twin because he looks just like him, and a whole parade of people, including a small delegation of French Veterans (small because a lot of them are no longer alive).  We spoke to one in particular.  VE1He was attending with his daughter and he had a medal on his lapel; he was 90 years of age.  He had recently fallen but he joked with the kids (in French) that he liked to pretend that his canes were his  guns blazing (like those from the war). He had such a quick wit and an infectious smile.  I thought to myself that the key to longevity is a sense of humor and purpose. It truly was my favorite part of today, to have spent a small slice of time with this Veteran, who must have fought so bravely at approximately 16 years of age.  He sang a French song to the children.  He mentioned it was a song he and other soldiers sang to each other while marching.  These are the priceless memories made, in such a region so rich with history. As we walked with the children back home, on “Route de la Voie de la Liberte”, or The Route of the Voice of Liberty, VE9I thought of the meaning of today, for the people of Percy, and the people of France.  A pang of sadness also resonated with me, as I wondered, when these great men are no longer around, will these ceremonies still happen?  Will they be remembered?

 

Living Abroad, Uncategorized

WWII History in Avranches

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What a beautiful small seaside town!  Avranches is a town of contradictions, old neo-gothic church, built in the 19th Century, and exquisite old architecture, a wealth of history, which has been turbulent at times.  I could not help but to notice that there are a plethora of young people walking about and sitting in cafes.  The town has a young vibe, a young heart and an old soul, about it because of a prominent Lycee (High School) and University and the old buildings.  It has an approximate population size of 8,000 and it is one of Normandy’s oldest towns.  It is a hop, skip and jump from the famous Mont St. Michel Abbey over the bay.

Walking through Avranches, we stumbled upon a Patton Memorial located on Place du General Patton.  It’s in the middle of a roundabout of all places.  We battled traffic to get to the monument with a massive tank with tank tracks, a bronze bust of General George S. Patton and abelisk-type monument and a time capsule.  I could picture in my minds eye, the bombing, the tanks rumbling into Avranche and soldiers marching. As I read the monument with the history the children’s faces lighted up as they listened closely. As I looked at my own children, I thought about the children that lived in that time and how scary it must have been.  I started telling Kale and Madison about the history of the liberation of Avranches during WWII, led by General Patton that began on 31 July 1944.

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The text on the obelisk:

DU 31 JULIET AU 16 AOUT 1944
REALISANT LA PERCEE D’AVRANCHES
DANS LE VACARME DE SES BLINDES
EN MARCHE VERS LA VICTOIRE
ET LA LIBERATION DE LA FRANCE
A GLORIEUSE ARMEE AMERICAINE DU GENERAL PATTON
A FRANCHI CE CARREFOUR

Translation:

Between July 31st and August 16th, 1944
the glorious American Army of General Patton
passed this crossroad
accomplishing the break-through at Avranches
with the thunder of his armour
on his way to the victory
and liberation of France

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What powerful words inscribed on the Monument!

After a reverent pause, the children starting playing around the monuments and I could not help but to think, these are the moments that are teaching moments and you can’t replicate this in a classroom.  The World is our Classroom!

I am looking forward to bringing the children to the D-Day Beaches, Omaha Beach, Normandy Beach, Utah Beach and reading more history.

“Peace and Love”  – “Paix et Amour” 

by: Tara Magaw

Living Abroad, Uncategorized

Festival du Lait in Percy

Festival du Lait, Percy-en-Normandie:

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A pleasant surprise, while walking into our local bank “Credit Agricole“, we had won a free cooking class from the very prominent Chef Helie, of Restaurant de la Gare.  We were very excited and then we though of the most perfect idea! Madison, our 9 year old,  has told us that she would like to go to culinary school in Paris and own a restaurant and a farm, so that she could create delicious food with her fresh produce.  We decided to give Madison the cooking lesson.  It was to be held at the “Festival du Lait” or the “Festival of Milk”. Since Percy is very agricultural, there are so many farms and beautiful fields just ripe for growing, it is a festival that showcases all of the cheeses, milk, yogurt, ice cream, chocolate, wine (its not a milk product but I was pleasantly surprised to see it!), cider (Normandy is known for its cider) and beer carts too.  The producers all considered themselves artisans in their craft and their products truly were unbelievably delicious.  Outside the tents were the biggest tractors and cows, goats, sheep, donkeys and ducks.  I think they took some liberties with the animals, not all were milk producing.

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The culinary class took place under a very high tech and large white tent.  It was equipped with a stove, freezer, refrigerator and all the sound and lighting equipment needed.  At first, Madison was a little intimidated, but the kindness of the Chef and his staff soon made her warm up to the idea of working some culinary magic.

They ended up preparing a two-course meal, where the main course was fileted Dover Sole resting a bed of green beans and tomatoes with a buttery sauce infused with citrus flavors.  Dessert consisted of a crème based pudding with local fresh berries and citrus fruit as topping. The Chef’s reward, at the end, was to eat what they created.  Bill, Kale and I snuck into the Chef’s work space to eat some of the delicious food.  It’s only fair, since we sat and watched for three hours.

Bon appetite! 

by- Tara Magaw

 

Living Abroad

Poisson Avril – Happy April Fools- Happy Easter 2018

Kale ran through the Gite, with a paper fish surreptitiously taped on his back, as Madison giggled under her breath…

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The taping of a fish, on a person’s back, is the joke for April 1st in France and it’s a very enjoyable tradition. “Poisson d’Avril” (or April Fish), Madison yelled and Kale realized the joke was on him.  “Happy April Fools Day”. In downtown Percy, there were a plethora of bakeries and chocolatiers that made the most art-like and “delicieux” fish shaped pastries and chocolate.  It was an added bonus to see the Easter chocolates of eggs, bunnies, crosses, that were almost too beautiful to eat!

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What was in store for us on Easter Sunday afternoon?  A giant Easter Egg hunt with friends.  The clues were planned and treats were placed by each clue.  I think it was the best East Egg hunt I have ever attended!  There were 6 children, all ranging from 6 to 13 years of age, but they all stayed in a pack, like wolves,  and followed each clue together to their delicious prize. Each clue had 6 sweet treats on them (one for each child) and then on to the next clue.  We had beautiful weather in Normandy on Sunday, which is very lucky, because the weather here can change instantaneously, hence we travel with rain poncho’s everywhere.

Paris-Acadia

Traveling to Paris to meet up with Madison’s Friend Acadia was a welcome trip.  I think there is always one child that might be a little more homesick than the others.  I always thought that Kale would be the one to be most affected but it was my daughter Madison.  One of her best friends from Maine was making the trip to Paris with her mother, Joy, so we decided to make the trek to Paris.  It’s only approximately a 3-hour drive, from Percy-en-Normandie,  so it was no big deal.  It was a quick trip to see a friend from L’Ecole Francaise du Maine and a trip to the Eiffel Tower or “Tour Eiffel” as the French call it.  I have taken the tour before to the top of the Tour.  In our estimation, the best location to take photos near the Eiffel Tower is the Trocadero metro stop.  This time we brought our Yorkies, which slightly cramped our style, because we could not bring them up the Tower.  There was a big sign that showed, “No Dogs Allowed”.  Not to worry, the kids went up the Tower with Joy and Acadia, while Bill and I found a Café right on the Sein River and had a couple glasses of “vin rouge”.  Most restaurants in Paris allow dogs however if you want to do some serious touring like the Musee du Louvre, Sainte-Chapelle de Paris, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, I recommend leaving the pooches at home.

Oh, excellent news!  I found an American Dentist in Paris.  Since I am a  little shy about my French, I am going to give Dr. Jane Matkoski, 12 Rue Saint-Denis Julien, Le Pauvre, 75005 Paris, a call. Fingers crossed.

by: Tara Magaw

 

 

Uncategorized

Yes, I am a Foreigner in a Foreign Land…

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Ouch…I have a terrible toothache!

First off, I hate aging.  I know I need to show my children, through example, how to age gracefully but here is a little secret, I don’t like it one bit!  I didn’t have a cavity until I was 30 years of age and now, here we go again.  I think I have a tooth abscess.  Part of acclimating to your surroundings, is figuring out where do I shop, where do I find basic necessities, and yes, where do I find doctors and dentists?  The people of Percy are very kind.  It’s not like Paris where, just like New York City,  you can find people with attitudes (disclaimer – I am allowed to say this because I am a New Yorker).  I am having a difficult time finding a dentist and it really is upsetting being so far away from home.  In a past life, before kids, I worked in Luxembourg, for the U.S. Embassy, and we were given local doctor’s contact details  that spoke English.  Here, in Percy-en-Normandie, I am completely on my own to figure this out.  I have found a great Dr. here, Docteur Pascal LOREILLE, who is very kind and speaks English really well. I was able to get some antibiotics from Dr. Loreille, to cure the infection, however I still need to find a dentist and possibly an oral surgeon. I found that even though I have private health insurance, a requirement of having a temporary Visa, doctors really don’t know what to do with you unless you have a “carte vitale” . I am told that the French Health Care System is one of Universal Health Care, it is largely financed by the French Government National Health Insurance. I have read that the World Health Organization, has ranked France as one of the BEST health care systems in the World, but, and it’s a BIG BUT, you need to have access to it and you need to be able to communicate.

You will get where I am going with this thought in a second – – I will always have empathy for foreigners or immigrants in the United States, I know that my Government (the U.S. Government) right now, is not pro-foreigner, but the U.S. was a Country founded by Immigrants.  France is very similar to the United States, in that the French People, just like Americans, are very proud of their Country, Culture and Language. I am a foreigner right now in France!  The “French” very much believe that you need to speak their language.  I have tried to call a few dentists to no avail.  I have left numerous messages, all in French but granted very sophomoric French, in what I am sure is a less than perfect accent.

**Je voudrais in rendez-vous pour in abces et une douleur dans ma dent.  C’est URGENT!!!!!

Navigating the whole medical system can seem a little overwhelming!  I am still looking for a dentist.  I might fly back to the States in a few weeks.  I have been told a few times, that “the dentist is not accepting new patients” however there is this nagging feeling, in the corner of my mind, that is saying, the real issue is I am a foreigner or that my French is less than perfect.  I have read, that there is a shortage of dentists in the Normandy region and that the government tried, in 2011, to create incentives for doctors to move to the Normandy region.  Maybe I am wrong and its not personal that I am being rejected. Here is to crossing my fingers that I sort this all out! 

Being abroad, it makes you very conscious, of staying in touch with family and friends.  I have been using “Facebook Messenger”, to keep in touch.  I did gain a local phone number, via the company Orange, but Messenger is free and I can also do video conference calls. My Mom and Dad have helped with my adjustment and sending care packages, my brother Will (in Med School) has been helping me navigate the medical system, my sister’s Ali and Abby, have been great “listening ears” for my occasional depression, and my Sister-in-Law, Debi, has taken care of our house and sending medicine, mail, etc.  Gregory West and Family have taken care of the house too and friends, Joy and Tamara, have sent my kids care packages too! I am truly grateful to them all! MERCI!

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At the Gites de Jonquille, it is a magical place.  Deborah Powell absolutely loves animals!  I have told her she should have been a Veterinarian. She has bought ducks and chickens to raise as pets and they are very spoiled.  They are fed “evening tea” (evening supper) and it is warmed up in the oven.  These little chickens and duck can be picked up and pet on their feathers.  I never knew that if you raise them from infants, they loved to be picked up and carried.  They follow Deborah, David, Amelia, Victoria and my children Kale and Madison, all around the yard. It seems apropos, on Easter weekend, to see these little creatures run around the lush garden.  Easter means “Resurrection” or “Rebirth”.  Being here in Normandy, feels a little bit like a rebirth.

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For Easter, Bill, Kale, Madison and I will go to the most lovely church in the center Percy called the Eglise Saint Jean-Baptiste.  In Europe, the little “villes” and villages, are often built around these gorgeous churches.  In this particular church, there is incredible stain glass but also this incredible heat lamp chandelier, that emits the most comforting, warm heat during a chilly Spring day.  Even though the church is enormous, it is very cozy inside.  Madison had her first Trumpet concert this week.  The acoustics in the Church were absolutely incredible. After the concert, they served “vin chaud” or hot wine, back at Madison’s school, to keep everyone warm in the night air.  It was an amazing experience!

Happy Easter and Joyeuses Paques!  Next time, I will tell you about “Poisson Avril”.

by: Tara Magaw

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Uncategorized

Driving to Percy-en-Normandie…

The Drive to Percy-

We drove in on the A84 from Paris excited to see our new home.  Still jet-lagged but full of anticipation, we drove from the “City of Lights” to the quaint country side.  I noticed right away the lovely, lush and green agricultural area.  As I glanced around, I thought that my father would love this because he always wanted a farm and would love this stunning farmland.  As we drove into Percy-en-Normandie, we made our way, with the GPS google maps, to our new home. The meandering road brought us to a lovely stone farmhouse, sectioned in three; each section had it’s own door and character overflowing.  We had arrived! Kale and Madison eagerly jumped out of the SUV and ran down a cobblestone path.  We were greeted by the warm and welcoming Powell Family and Gites owners, Deborah, David, Amelia and Victoria.  They knew we were still jet-lagged, even though it was only a 3-hour drive from Paris, and gave us the keys to our end Gite (guesthouse).  It struck me that even though it was January, there were flower window boxes full of flowers in bloom.  This was so different from the feet of snow we left behind in Maine.  It was much warmer here in Normandy.  We opened the door of the Amelia Gite, named after the Powell’s eldest daughter, to a lovely house with a wood burning stove roaring away in the corner and flickering candles creating a beautiful and comforting ambiance, it was so nice and toasty warm. Our new landlords and friends made us feel very welcome in Percy!

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The next day we unpacked. The second half of the day, or the apre-midi, was organized by the Powell’s to help us acclimate to our new surroundings.  In the evening, they brought us to a larger town near Percy, Villedieu, where there was a small movie theater that usually ran movies in French but as luck such have it (and planning by the Powell’s) we watch Paddington Bear in V.O. (voice original).  As we walked out of the theater, with the beautiful architecture as our backdrop, it occurred to me once again (because I had lived in Luxembourg before), that I loved the detail of the buildings in Europe, the stone and brick lit up with lights and the night sky. You can just feel the history in each glance.

The First Day of School in a Foreign Land!

The kids, even though they had been educated in a French School in Maine, were understandably nervous.  The night before, I don’t think they had a wink of sleep and truth be told, I did not sleep very well either.  They woke up early, they had set their cell phone alarm clocks on and clothes aside the night before; they dressed quickly that morning.  We cooked breakfast but I don’t recall them eating very much because of “new school jitters”.  I remember their little faces were somber with no traces of a smiles.  I remember I tried to make them feel upbeat, however I felt a twinge of sadness, when I looked at them and how nervous they were.  “What have we done uprooting these children?”  I tried to remind myself that this would be such a growth period for them and they were gaining a unique experience.

We dropped Kale off first.  We waited in the dark of morning because it was a rainy gloomy day.  We had to meet the Director of the College (College is like our Middle School).  The Director came out and shook our hands, showed us around and spoke only French.  I nodded as he spoke but I only caught half of what he was saying.  The building looked very modern, it had student areas with Fussball tables and speakers to listen to music, lockers (which was new for Kale). It was also new to change classrooms for courses.  We were shown a Technology classroom with lots of computers, a Music Amphitheater, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, French, English, Spanish, German, History classrooms, Gymnasium, a huge outside sports complex and a lunchroom (where the students scanned their fingerprints and the bill would be sent to the parents at the end of the semester. Tres Tres Cool!).  We met the Chef and she told us about the 3 course meals they would be served.  I made the joke that maybe I would stop by for lunch but I don’t think they understood or liked my American humor.  Everyone in school was very hospitable.  We were told that there was a website, with passwords, so that we could email the Director of the school or teachers, we could see what Kale had for homework and what events were going on in the school. Also we were told that parents had to wait outside and could not enter the building, this was new for us.  Essentially, when the doors locked, I got the sense that the students were considered school property and when they left the building, they were again ours.  This school / ship was going to be run tight.  We said “good bye’ or “au revoir” to Kale.

Next was Madison’s drop off.  Madison’s eye were Big and Wide!  I could tell she was nervous.  The Elementary School she would attend was up the street from Kale.  She was greeted by the Director of the school too.  We were lead to her classroom, they collected all paperwork, mentioned that she also would have 3 course meals cooked by a Chef.  Madison would be staying in one room with Madame DeFoy, except when she had Gym, Music (learning the Trumpet) and swimming class and field trips (i.e. Mont Saint-Michel, Caen, Avranches, Saint-Lo trips, museums, horseback riding).  The little girls, in Madison’s class were very warm and welcoming.  To Madison’s bewilderment they gave her two sweet kisses, or “La Bise” or as I call it, “Bisou Bisou” (Kiss Kiss).  At first, this custom made Madison a bit uncomfortable. She would not give the “bisou bisou”.  She said to me, “I am a Maine Girl Mama, we don’t kiss”.  I do think that Madison has realized now its a greeting to friends.  Occasionally, she partakes in this tradition. A bit of advice that Madison has given me about the French culture is — ” You don’t wave hello Mama, you just nod, that’s very French, or say Bonjour Madame, Monsieur, as you walk by quickly.”

…When we picked up Kale and Madison from school, they were both smiling.  What a huge relief!  They had made some new friends and to all children, that’s the most important thing, to feel accepted and apart of the gang!

My new favorite routine, we have started a new tradition after school, where we stop at the local Patisserie, for a delicious treat on the walk home.  It is on that walk that Bill and I can hear about the children’s day.

à bientôt! Until next time! Bisou Bisou!

by: Tara Magaw

 

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