Crows-en-Provence Has Been Reborn

About a year ago I suspended crowsenprovence.wordpress.com to concentrate on writing a book, tentatively entitled Saved By Provence. The first draft is done, and I’m into the heavy editing now. To support this book and my writing career, I have launched my new website, WilliamCrowWriter.com. Please check it out and subscribe so you’ll get an update when I post new stuff.

If you liked crowsenprovence.wordpress.com, you’re going to love WilliamCrowWriter.com.

I hope.

Bill

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Filed under Adventures, Aix-en-Provence, Cultural Musings, Europe Travels, Exploring Provence, Life on Sabbatical, Misadventures

Au Revoir, Crows-en-Provence

Faithful readers will have noticed I haven’t been blogging lately. Most others will say, “Oh ya, I think Billy used to do some sort of blogging thing; I wonder what happened to that? I hope he gets a real job.”

The blog was never meant to be an ongoing thing….it was just a way for our family to chronicle our experiences in France for our family and friends. It morphed into my writing platform, and through this evolution I finally made the decision to ditch my legal practice and write full time. After 35,000 views from 90 countries (sounds big, but really isn’t), crowsenprovence has served its purpose…after all, I was the only family member still writing it and we don’t live in Provence anymore. Writing the blog several times a week was getting in the way of my real job, which is writing my book, tentatively entitled “Saved by Provence.” So instead of simultaneously writing the book and writing blogs which won’t be in the book, I have decided to end crowsenprovence and start a new blog, “saved-by-provence.” It will be excerpts of what I am currently writing for my book, so it won’t take any extra work. And I can hear your opinions on each instalment, if you are kind enough to comment. Saved-by-provence isn’t running yet, but I will send out a notice when it’s ready. There will also be links to crowsenprovence so you can re-read all your favourite posts!

I’m working hard on my book every day. I have solid orders for about 25 copies. I only need to find 999,975 more buyers. You could be one of them.

– Billy

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Two Scarves Are Better Than One

Considering the importance of scarves in Aix-en-Provence, there really should be more words to describe them in French. Scarves are much more vital to the culture and lifestyle of an Aixois than, say, snow is to an Inuit (ha, you thought I was going to say “Eskimo” right there, but that’s now considered a derogatory term in Canada). And we all know that the Inuit have 100 words for snow (linguists have been working on this one for a while, and the current wisdom is that the Inuktitut language doesn’t really have more words for snow-related things than English does). Regardless, the French have just two main words for “scarf” which you must know before going shopping in the Place des Prêcheurs market in Aix.

Une écharpe is a heavy scarf made to keep you warm in winter.

Un foulard is also a scarf, but it’s lighter and just there to make you look good. Which means you’ll see the Aixois wearing intricately wrapped foulards while working in beauty salons, while jogging, while roaming the sidelines coaching soccer matches, and in summer matched with wife-beater t-shirts while clubbing. And that’s just the straight guys.

Don’t get me started on why une écharpe is feminine and un foulard is masculine. Can’t a scarf just be a boy or a girl?

– Billy

P.S. if you want to learn how to properly tie an Aixois foulard, go to https://crowsenprovence.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1456&action=edit

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Lost in Provence

Most Saturdays, for ten months, our family got lost looking for soccer pitches in little towns around Aix-en-Provence. Devon had a game every Saturday, always an away game, and usually in a Provençal town I’d never heard of before. Parents and players congregated at Devon’s team’s practice field in Aix and the coach told us which town we were about to drive to, as if we couldn’t be trusted with this information until just before the match. As all the parents climbed into their cars to ferry their children to some tiny town in the countryside, I always had to ask the coach where in town I could find the soccer pitch (assuming I found the town). Every time he replied with, “There’s only one stadium. It’s easy to find.” That was patently false.

One sunny October morning we drove into the small town of Peynier, and unsurprisingly, the soccer pitch was nowhere to be found. We crisscrossed all the town’s major streets to no avail, and finally stopped an old woman pulling a cloth-covered shopping cart with a wonky wheel.

“Excuse me, madame, but do you know where the soccer field is?” I asked.

“The soccer field?” she said, as if soccer was an obscure sport, like Quidditch or hockey. “There isn’t a soccer field around here. The only field is down that way, about halfway to the next town.”

“Merci, madame.” This information would have been helpful when I specifically asked the coach where in town we could find the pitch. We were now late and Devon was becoming quite agitated that he would miss his game. Scouring the roads between the two towns, we were ready to give up and drive back to Aix when we came across a game of boules (bocce, for you Italians). Like all games of French boules, the players were mostly ancient, smoking men, with high-belted pants, ratty sweaters and cock-eyed cloth caps. This was a serious game for squinty-eyed competitors, mouths set in bloodless sneers. I was deathly afraid of interrupting this crowd with my stupid question in my stupid accent. But I love my kid, and he wanted to play soccer that day. I mentally prepared my question in French. And then I chickened out.

“Carol, I’m driving the car, so you go ask them,” I said.

“No, Billy, you do it. You’re way better at French than me.” I hated when she said that. While true, her statement successfully extracted her from making linguistic errors in front of car salesmen, immigration officials, doctors, the optometrist, the telephone company, the cleaning lady, the school board, the mayor’s office, and many other people working in industries where knowing all the French words related to hockey (as I do) is useless. Carol spoke good French, and she was absolutely capable of asking directions in French. Naturally, I got out of the car to confront the boules players.

As I approached, the game immediately stopped. All of the players and spectators looked at me, not moving a muscle. Ten people standing still as stone, unsmiling.

“Hello, everyone,” I began. “I’m very sorry to interrupt your game. I’m trying to find the stadium near here. My son has a soccer game starting in a few minutes.” Blank looks all around. No one was happy that I had barged into their boules game.

“Where are you from?” asked one old woman.

“Aix-en-Provence, madame.”

“No you’re not,” she replied. “If you were from around here, you’d know where our stadium is.” That witticism garnered laughs all around. “Americans,” the woman added, under her breath. More laughter.

“Well, we live in Aix now, but we’re from Vancouver, Canada.”

A light switch must have been turned on somewhere as the woman broke into a bright smile and said, “Canada? Céline Dion? I absolutely love Céline Dion! You have a cute accent just like her!”

Not again! I despaired for my country. Why does everyone in France equate Canada with Céline Dion? Can’t we do better than that? I felt that this was an inopportune time to mention that Céline Dion is my most detested public figure, music division, in the world. I had quite enough of her anguished theatrics when I lived in Québec City.

“You like Céline Dion?” I said, faking enthusiasm. “We have the same birthday!” This was a true statement, to my everlasting shame. My disgrace was almost cancelled out by the knowledge that Vincent Van Gogh was in the same ignominious club.

“Lucky man,” she said, and proceeded to give me perfect instructions to a soccer pitch in the middle of a forest, covered by a Klingon cloaking device.

Once at the stadium, I was very happy to see there was a bar.

– Billy

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Friends For Life

When our family moved to Aix-en-Provence, I expected to make lots of really close French friends, people who would be friends for life. I figured I would make these friendships with the parents of our kids’ school friends. We’d have lots of long dinners in our new friends’ country manors and they’d come to visit us when we moved back to  Vancouver.

We visited a total of zero country manors for wine-soaked dinners with the parents of our children’s classmates. My dreams were a bit misguided, as there were very few manor-owners sending their children to our kids’ school in Aix. It was a public school in a working class neighbourhood. But I still had great hopes that these parents would seek us out as the exotic new additions to the school. Every day, as Carol and I lounged around the school gates, waiting for the bell to ring at 430 so we could collect the kids, small groupings of very friendly parents (towards each other) kissed their way through the crowds. We were universally ignored, although I later learned that everyone knew we were the Canadians, and that our children were the only two in the entire school who could speak English. When we spoke to any of the parents, we were politely, actually, overly-formally answered, but the conversations quickly died. I could not understand this attitude. If our roles were reversed, and a French family moved to Vancouver, I would have made a beeline over to them to hear their story. I expressed my disappointment to one of my few French friends, Geneviève, who was a teacher at the school and also my neighbour.

“I don’t get it, Geneviève,” I said. “Why won’t anyone talk to me? My French isn’t that bad.”

“No, no, your French is fine,” she said. “We’re speaking French now, aren’t we? What you don’t understand is that the parents already have all the friends they need. They don’t want any more. You have to remember that what you call kindergarten in Canada, la Maternelle here, starts when the children are two years old until they are six. So all of the parents have been friends, through their children, for four years before they even get to what you would call Grade One. They will all be friends forever, and they are quite happy with that. On the other hand, everyone knows your family isn’t from Aix, and you won’t be staying in Aix. There’s no reason to work on a relationship with you, because you don’t share their background and you’ll be gone soon. Don’t feel too bad….I’m from a different part of France, so they don’t want to make friends with me either.”

Once I realized this was a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation, I didn’t stress over my failure to connect with the locals. I realized that the people I most wanted to concentrate upon while in France just happened to be living in the same house as me. I used to joke that Carol and I were moving to France to save our marriage, but nothing could be further from the truth. We were already embarrassingly in love and well-suited for each other.  Taking a year sabbatical in France, spending almost twenty-four hours per day together, is only great if you like your spouse (I was lucky). But as strangers in a strange land, we drew even closer together. The kids were also part of our team, and outside of school hours our family was tighter than ever. For the children, everything in France, a country they didn’t want to move to, was new and foreign. New friends, new food, terrible television, and an educational system based upon by screaming and humiliation. The only constant in their lives was the family unit. It was the four of us against an alien landscape of suicidal drivers and teachers’ strikes and calf livers in the school cafeteria. We called our familial solidarity Crows Against the World, “CAW! CAW!”

– Billy

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The Search for Brangelina

Despite the abundance of movie stars and rock stars owning homes in Provence, none of them hung out at Café Le Verdun; I didn’t meet any while I lived in Aix-en-Provence. But I did have one Sisyphean road trip with my sister Cathy to see the castle and vineyard owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I saw on the news that they bought Château de Miraval, which was about seventy kilometres from Aix, outside of the small village of Correns. I didn’t expect to see Brad mowing the lawn, but I thought my sister would like the drive and looking at the huge estate. It would also be cool for me to see the 35-room château where Pink Floyd recorded The Wall. After ninety minutes driving winding country roads from Aix, we idled the car beside the ditch that Google Maps indicated was Château de Miraval. All we could see were modest country homes, dirt roads and scraggly bushes. I don’t know where the château was hiding, but no amount of driving up and down every country road surrounding Correns yielded a clue. I felt that I was looking for the good wizards’ clubhouse in The Order of the Phoenix…all I needed was the right spell, and two adjacent fields would start to grind away from each other, revealing the secret vineyard and castle hidden from the Muggles.

Having failed in our quest, we headed home. I guess there is another way to look at our failure: my sister and I, who live at opposite ends of Canada, had a lovely drive on a sunny day along country roads in the south of France, and once back in Aix, shared some excellent rosé on our terrasse while Carol made one of my favourite meals,  suprême de volaille rôti en persillade et poivronade, a crispy chicken breast on a colourful bed of peppers and tomatoes. And that made it a pretty good day.

– Billy

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Heaven

When I was in Grade 1, we started every morning at our Catholic school standing beside our desks. We would sing “O Canada” and then recite the Lord’s Prayer. This was an excellent time to just let my mind wander. One part of my brain, the small part, would sing and recite the required words on auto-pilot. The fertile side of my brain would simultaneously get into some serious thinking. I would often try to imagine my life in the future….how it would feel to be standing beside my desk the next year in Grade 2, and every year after that. What would high school be like? I also calculated how old I would be in different arbitrary years; once I worked out my future age in the year 2000, which was a number almost inconceivable to me (correct answer: 42). Quite a bit of time was spent mulling over what heaven would look like. I wasn’t overly obsessed with the afterlife, but our teacher had asked us in religion class to imagine heaven, where you could do whatever you wanted, for eternity. I concluded that heaven was a place where I could play baseball with my friends, all day, every day. Forever.

For adults out in the real world, no one seems to have the time to think about what a perfect eternity would look like. There are too many emails and new iPhones and mortgages to worry about. Fortunately for me, scrapping my law practice left a welcome vacuum in my life. This space had to be filled with something, so all sorts of possibilities and ideas just started to pour into it. During my year living in the south of France, with ample thinking time, I decided what heaven would look like to me as an adult. It would consist of writing, riding my bike, drinking wine and coffee, reading, and doing stuff with Carol and the kids. Hey, wait a minute, that’s exactly what I do every day now! Maybe I would add one thing: if I could just arrange for my beer-league hockey team to play a game every day (rather than once a week), I would truly be in heaven.

– Billy

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