The third day in France was busy and kind of astounding. Read on to figure out why…
It started out in the way that much of our time was spent: biking. We took those fun, sturdy yellow bikes over to the other side of town. We biked along the river near the Italian quarter. An industrial neighborhood with plainer architecture, it had more graffiti and a rustling, brown river. The river wasn’t blue or green, but a light murky brown from the silt traveling down from the nearby Alps. The path was fun, flat and full of fit people, lined along each side with heavy trees and grasses.
Now imagine me trying to bike along with my camera in hand and not on the ground, yet out of its case, ready to take shots as soon as they appear to me. At first, I tried to keep up with my brother. He is 6’5″, used to the terrain, the climate, the food, the people, the bike and the unaltered sleep of a not-recently-traveled individual. I grunted and huffed, getting angry, as he just kept going and going. Like father, like son. I decided to go at my own pace. I traveled into my Wonderland as I call it. It is a place where I dream and fantasize about every detail. This scene was new, so that part was easy. Aaron had to travel back and circle a few times as I took pictures. Neener-neener. We stopped at a modern bridge a ways down the river, stretched our legs, and headed back into Aaron’s neighborhood. The scenery of the river was nice but paled in comparison to what came next.
Dennis picked us up at a city square and we started heading out of the town center. More and more green came into view and the little car climbed higher and higher on snaky mountain roads. As I learned the hard way from numerous camping trips when I was younger, I couldn’t exactly look out the window for fear of getting car sick. The road reminded me of the Sequoias a little. Strong evergreens standing resolutely in attendance, flowing down the steep hills. We reached the top and Dennis squeezed the car into a spot. We stood there applying suntan lotion while cows and chickens barely lifted their heads at our arrival. Then we joined the throng of visitors walking up the hill. Most of them had hiking boots, some just had tennis shoes. Even fewer had sandals. The ages varied. Some people clearly had just come to sit outside at one of the plastic tables, reclining with a beer and talking outside the cottages..
The misson? Reach the top and catch a glimpse of the old, but still working, monastery that lies cradled in a ravine between the mountains.
The protocol? Maneuver along the trails and stones that resembled horizontal rock-walls, sprayed upon a hill where real wildflowers did their thing. Somehow, wildflowers to me seem like a fairy tale concept. But there they were in their element.
The challenge? Refrain from blocking anyone or cutting anyone off as you scramble along with the others up the hill staring at the sharp blue sky and sharp green mountains. Try to edit out the worry you feel as you watch the bandaged dog limp down the rocks with his owners. (That is a personal challenge)
Now I shall be quite for a bit, and let you imagine this game in your minds. Here are some pictures to help. I present to you a view of the French Alps in the summertime:
After, we selected a plastic table and chairs near a slim tree. The girl finally brought over thick clear glasses and a cold honey-colored beer. I ordered the same drink Dennis had: a pink sweet drink resembling a Shirley Temple-lemonade. It wasn’t very sweet, and I poured the clear contents of a small glass bottle into the tad of grenadine at the bottom of the glass. I think it was called a Diablo. The beer tasted better, but the sun shone through the pink and the yellow cups just the same. We also ordered the tart. What we received was a flat, chewy bread like cooked pizza dough spread with blueberry preserves.
I joined a few people trying to persuade a brown cow to take pictures with us. The cow obviously didn’t care at all and continued chewing, while hens wandered around and a sheep dog ran around. The cow herd went on the move, mooing and clomping their way through the cars. I think a horse went with them, convinced it was a part of the clan.
We finished our tart and drinks, sat down in the outdated car and headed down the mountain.
I am a girl that has an immense passion for Nature and Animals, but often becomes disillusioned by cyberspace yelling doom into my face. Still, there is light in the world. The “Charming Summit” charmed me back into remembering that.
Bruno, Monique and the Grandkids
We cleaned ourselves up and headed onto a train for what seemed like an eternity. I nodded off, and Aaron definitely laughed at me. I was not sure where we were going. Coming from Southern California, frequent and continual journeys on mass transit are not my usual. Sad but true. When we stepped off the train, and the ensuing bus ride, we were in a more rural area. It was calmer, quieter, grayer. The evening was serene as light grey fog melted into dark grey mountains around us. A smiling, short-haired man hurried up to us and Aaron gave him a hug. I was introduced as Naomi, the sister and Bruno gave me the traditional cheek-kissing hello. I must admit, there is a learning curve to French greetings. We followed Bruno down the sidewalk and into a small cul-de-sac to a tidy house, ringed with green.
There was a small pond filled with Koi fish and a fenced off garden boasting tomatoes. We sat around a table laid out with a few snacks. I met Monique, Bruno’s wife, and we talked as we ate addicting pistachio nuts. We met Bruno and Monique’s adorable grandkids. Blond, blue-eyed and round-faced, they played with a plastic train set and sipped out of juice boxes. Bruno and Monique were watching them because their parents were busy at the hospital, giving birth to their sibling. I couldn’t believe that we were still invited to dinner at that crucial time in a family’s life.
When we moved inside, the grandkids sat at their own plastic orange chairs while we sat at a table laid out with Monique’s hand-made bread and some kind of dipping sauce. Aaron had dined with them before, and they had dined with Aaron and my parents. Now it was my turn. I was expecting the rich, decadent meal Aaron said Monique had made for him before. What we ate was different, but still delicious. It was light. Chicken and tomato skewers roasted with honey, salad, and this rustic layered vegetable dish loaded with herbs. I think I ate 4 helpings of that. And there was a cheese course. I mean, where would we be if not. 3 types of cheese, but the best by far was this flat, soft, slightly sweet one that was a specialty of the area.
I am not around my brother a lot anymore. And I am even more rarely around little kids. To be honest, when I am around them, I get somewhat nervous because I do not know how to act. I retreat a bit to a shyer version of me because little kids are so free and so uncritical of your true self. Maybe that scares me because I am unused to showing that true self. It was clear that the little boy adored the little girl, the little girl adored the little boy, and the grandparents and grandkids adored each other. The little kids kept running around the wall, then jumping back into their grandma’s lap and staring at us gleefully as they tickled each other.
At some point, the phone rang. There was a lot of fast French and the sound of a baby crying. Bruno and Monique’s third grandchild has come into the world! And Aaron and I were there, almost strangers, to know about it. I was essentially a stranger. Aaron was less of one, but he would not have come into their lives if not for his PhD program. It was special.
We moved off into a den area and talked some more. Monique bid us good night. I believe that the little kids were ordered to go to bed, but somehow escaped. Bruno showed us photographs and his DSLR camera. Then a teary moment happened. I remembering smiling that kind of smile that makes your cheeks hurt.
Aaron and I sat there on the small sofa, while Aaron read to the little kids in French from a storybook. They sat on the end of the couch, switching their eyes from the book to Aaron with rapt attention. Bruno took pictures and I looked on, having no idea what the story was about. The kids obviously enjoyed it. They might have laughed at Aaron’s accent, who knows.
I had a glimpse of what kind of person my brother was. I had a glimpse of a scene that I hope to have with kids of my own and their awesome Uncle. It made me really happy to be there, really happy to call Aaron my brother. Really grateful to Bruno and Monique for opening up their family to us, even for an evening. Really aware of how important and powerful family can be in this crazy world.