It’s hard to be unhappy when the sun is out and it seems as though just about everyone in the world is on vacation; but Francie has found a way. I should probably chalk it up to exhaustion; we had to wake the kids at four AM in Seattle to get them on the plane to JFK and then we all took an overnight flight to Nice. I ought to, but unlike some of us (ahem), Francie actually slept on that overnight flight. But change is hard, even when you’re changing from cloudy weather to brilliant sunshine and abundant crepes.
We tumbled out of the taxi in front of the apartment we rented — Villa St. Henri — which the landlord swears was once a villa belonging to a Russian princess. It is now divided into small, sparsely furnished units. I saw historic, quaint, romantic. Francie saw dollhouse-sized rooms, teensy towels, and chipping paint. She looks at me and says, “Where’s the hotel?”
We do a fair amount of traveling and we’ve stayed in all sorts of hotels and rentals. But for some reason when Francie heard France she did not picture a nineteenth century building with a smattering of structural issues. “Let’s leave” she said, as she examined the minute shower-bath and separate toilet, which screams a little too much nineteenth century for her taste. “It smells in here.” I gave her a glass of water and told her how lucky she was to be here at all, but I soon realized that was the wrong tactic. She didn’t feel lucky. She took a sip and spat out the water.
“This tastes like dust. Where’s the American water?” She furrowed through our travel bag and pulled out a bottle of water purchased at JFK. “I’m drinking this one,” she announces. Since that first sip of dusty French water, she has refused to drink anything but that rapidly diminishing bottle of Smart Water. I don’t know what we’ll do when it runs out. As the day wore on and she grew more tired, jet lagged, and heat-exposed, her mood went from annoying to nuclear. She has spat out every bite of food, and even the food we brought with us has apparently started to “taste French”. She and her sisters melted down royally, rewarding us for our colossal stupidity for thinking a walk into town in the heat of the day would be anything short of disastrous. At one point,Fiona was lying down on the sidewalk (in a puddle of water I had poured over her in an attempt to cool and calm her down), the baby was howling, and Francie yelled, at the top of her little American lungs, “I HAAAAATE FRANCE!”
She eventually calmed down, but still refuses to take off her shoes. I don’t know why, but I think in her little mind, if her feet touch the floor, it will means she actually has to stay here and eat dusty food forever. She went to sleep in a pair of Crocs. When she brushed her teeth before bed I told her that she could close her eyes and pretend she was in her bathroom at home, brushing her teeth with the same toothpaste, same toothbrush. She burst into tears.
She’s asleep now. She snuck out with us to the corner of our street to watch last night’s firework display, which was rather dramatic, and which I hope makes her hate France a little less. I suspect a few food nights of sleep might be the real balm.
As for me, I have been up since 3.30 with Fiona and Bennett. They are huddled around the TV in Bennett’s bedroom/family room. I told Bennett he could read a book I brought for him, but apparently he’d rather watch television he cannot comprehend. He’s stopped complaining that all the Olympic coverage is of French teams (Michael Who?) and is so desperate he’ll watch just about anything. He is currently riveted by some chefs who have stuffed a creamy dessert into the innards of a green apple.
I’ll bet THAT doesn’t taste dusty.