Groundhog Day France

It feels like ages since I have written any kind of update on the “life of Marieke.” I think this is mostly because all I have to report feels a bit like Groundhog Day with the twist of the “delights” of living in France as a foreigner.

Instead of seeking out a furry groundhog to predict when spring will arrive, I sit on my couch day in and day out and try to keep myself from screaming at the top of lungs. I rage against the crazy slow state of our internet, along with the very slow motion of French bureaucracy and the even slower unveiling of the vaccine across the country.

A couple of weeks ago, we went into a third period of lockdown in the north region of the country where my husband I live and just the other day the lockdown expanded to include the rest of the country. At this point, my rage level start pinging off the charts. Having exceeded eight miles of walking as my daily record high since going outside and moving is one of the healthier ways to reduce my stress. Red wine, whiskey, and a “chill pill” will also do the trick, but they are less “yogi”. My husband and I have gone on many long walks around the farm fields, posing with WWI bunkers and collecting “Iron Harvest” remains from the war. There are signs of spring with flowers blooming, skylark fluttering impossibly high while singing endless melodies, and northern lapwing moving in aerial mating displays and making strange sounds reminiscent of 80s video games. At home, I vacuum and clean to try to reduce stress and my husband periodically spends time chipping away at the buildup of dirt in the chunks of shell he has found on our walks.

Our Groundhog Day has also included daily long discussions along the theme of “Should we stay or should we go” with regard to returning to the United States. Last year, we were thrilled by the opportunity to stay in Europe for another year, especially after seeing the way the virus was being “handled” in the United States. Now the tables have taken a complete 180 degree turn, and we are scratching our heads over how the rolling out of the vaccine steams to have gotten mired some kind of thick, mucky swamp. I picture an old, wooden horse drawn carriage full of vaccines with wooden wheels sunk halfway down into the sticky mud and the drivers standing next it, scratching their heads and smoking.

I wrote a very long post called “The dream of France” and decided not to post it. I have been refraining from posting overmuch on social media either since I prefer to share things that are uplifting and with my current propensity for frustration and screaming I haven’t had much that was positive to write about.

I recognize that I am privileged and there is actually quite a lot to be thankful for. The fact that we have internet at all, for one. My family and fur babies. My stuff. Music and creative projects. Writing. A roof over my head. My health. Yadda yadda yadda.

Side note: I just wrote heads plural at the end of the sentence “a roof over my head” and wonder what my unconscious is trying to communicate to me?

It seems like it could actually not be legal to leave France after not having frequented any restaurants.

I picture my husband and me with passports in hand as we check-in at the airport.

How did you enjoy your stay in France? the staff person will ask.

We will be good US Americans and sugar coat our response. I will even refrain from screaming or laughing.

We loved it apart from the two lockdowns and not being able to visit a restaurant.

An expression of horror will replace the false smile on the staff person’s face.

But this is not possible. We simply cannot allow you to leave, monsieur madame.

A security button will be pressed, and two large gendarmes will quickly escort us to the most recent Michelin star appointed restaurant, where we will be gifted a multiple course meal before being returned to our gate. We will, of course, have also been moved to a later flight because no real French meal takes place in under two hours.

In the end, we did decide to return “home”. I hesitate to describe any place as home since I seem to always have one proverbial foot out the door. The air strip in the small town in bush Alaska was one of the few places where I have first set foot somewhere and felt instantly at home. I think to some degree I create a sense of home anywhere in the world in which I find myself, in no small part since I am an utter magpie for inanimate and animate objects. Everywhere I go, I collect things that remind of that place. It’s as though I know I will eventually be leaving.

France is not different. We may be living in a tiny half of a farmhouse (called a gîte in French and pronounced jeet), but I have still found a way to add many odds and ends to the space in a vain effort to make it feel less temporary and more like home.

This collecting drives my husband batty (he literally threatened divorce when I suggested we adopt a kitten for our husky Atticus). I wonder if it is a remnant of my heritage. I am descended from European Jews who fled their homes with only what they could carry. Perhaps, my strong attachment to all of the things I bring into my fold has to do with my ancestors having to let go of everything, including loved ones who were killed or left behind or left behind and killed. Very little remains of my Eastern European family roots, and now here I am back in Europe, collecting possessions (on their behalf?). I am starting over in the mother land. I have wondered at times when we have gone to a brocante (French flea market) if any of the items might once have belonged to a family member who was killed in the Holocaust?

Suffice it to say that I hold on tightly to most of my belongings and to most things in life, in general. When it is not possible for a person like me—aka, one who is accustomed to be nearly always in motion—I do what I can to try to maintain some level of normalcy in an increasingly bizarre existence.

Screaming does help to relinquish this hold and it was even prescribed by my therapist, but it is something I do only infrequently because I don’t want to alarm anyone or damage my vocal chords. I did some good screaming a couple of weeks ago when the wind was blowing something fierce and could diminish the sound of my rage. I felt an instant lightening in my step after I screamed two times for several seconds each.

So here I sit, on my couch (well, the couch that belongs to the gîte). There will be no holiday in the south of France, no visits with friends in Belgium or far away Bretagne (Brittany). There may be a return to the United States, though my husband and I joke that something could happen to change our plans. Given that this time last year, we had our flights and animals reserved to fly to Seattle and then a global pandemic hit, I suppose that anything is possible.

I may or may not purchase a second antique sled. I suppose it depends on how much I want to push my husband over the brink of sanity…

2 thoughts on “Groundhog Day France

  1. Hi dear Marieke, I enjoy reading about your life and experiences. Would you be able to comment on the attached photos?
    Love,
    Carol
    Sarasota, Florida

    1. Hi Carol! Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely message! I am happy to share more information about the photos in the post, of course! The first is of my husband holding a piece of an old WWI shell, which he found in the ditch beside the farm field. We find these pretty often, and apparently there is a division in France that collects over 9 tons of what they call the “Iron Harvest” remains from ordnances from WWI. The contraption in the next two photos if for stringing up wires for hops that are grown for making beer. This is just around the corner from us. The house is the little half of farmhouse or “gîte” in French where we are currently living. And the bunker is one in the middle of a farm field close to the Belgian border that we often walk by on our long weekend walks around the farm fields where we live. 🙂

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