Sunday, December 30, 2007

Xmas in France, la conclusion

After the gift-giving Sunday, we ended up having another huge meal for lunch in the upstairs dining room. This time I had a more interesting seat, as I was seated between two of my 20ish nieces. It was fascinating to talk about their lives and get the perspective of a college students in France. One of the things I remarked with them, that I had observed in many of my conversations was that the French educational system really forces the 'users' to figure out what they want to do with their lives much earlier than we do in the states, having to specialize in their post high school (and often even during high school) education. I leave it for the user to decide whether this is a good idea. I'm sure the corporate world feels like it is a good idea, as they are more than happy to see the lemmings self-organize early on, but I'll save that diatribe for another time.

One of the things I neglected to mention about the previous night's dinner is that my aunt is apparently renowned for the cheese plates that she breaks out during these galas. Well, they are right. Before dessert, they passed around two two foot diameter platters stuffed with over 10 cheeses each. Naturally, the platters made a long stop at my plate as I cut a piece of each one onto my plate. Naturally, this was accompanied with copious amounts of French bread. I have to admit, I do love 'stinky' French cheeses. While you can get many if not most of them in the states, you usually have to go to places like Formaggio's Kitchen in Cambridge and pay through the nose. And you definitely won't have access to a lot of the 'micro' cheeses (similar to microbreweries). Well, they passed the same cheese plate around for Sunday lunch AND Sunday dinner, and I chowed down each time.

After lunch, there were lots of motions to try and get a soccer game up, but these never really came to fruition. So I corralled Gillem, a 19 yr old (or so) cousin, who had been asking a couple of people if they wanted to play tennis, and asked him if he wanted to play. He was psyched to play, so we changed into our sport clothes (shorts for him, T-shirt and sweats for me), and headed out to the tennis court. My brother had brought a couple of rackets, so I picked one of them, made a mental note to razz him about getting them regripped, which was especially difficult in the cold air, and we headed off to the tennis court, which was on the adjacent property. My aunt's husband (yes, uncle) and his two brothers own contiguous properties in the area, all centered around a castle which is owned by one the them. The tennis courts was on the castle property, and we had open access to all of it.

Gillem and I set up camp on the very hard court and starting hitting some rallies. Other than playing against my brother a few times this summer in Rye, I had not played any tennis of note in at least 10 years, and no more than 20 times since I graduated high school (and the high school tennis team) 22 years ago. Ultimate quickly took over and did not leave much free time to keep my tennis game up. We hacked around for quite awhile, and another nephew, Charles-Henri, joined us for awhile, although he played on my side which cut my chances in half... He finally gave up with a bad knee, and Gillem and I hit around for another while before I asked whether he wanted to play a game. He was all for it, so we flipped for serve and I won and chose to serve. Meanwhile, the sun was pretty low in the sky, so he wisely chose to receive in the sun for one game. I won that game, and then we switched sides. By now, the sun was even lower, and directly in my eyes. I had to hold my hand up to try and block out the sun during his serve, and when he tossed the ball up, I always lost it. Fortunately, he always served to my forehand side, so the ball would eventually appear. If he had served to my backhand, it would have never come out of the sun until too late. We had probably 10 deuces in this game before I finally won. I ended up taking the first set 6-0, although we had a number of good points and close games. I won the first game to start the second set, and this is where the wheels fell off. Well, not really. He won the next game to make it 1-1. The games and points were definitely closer as we were both 'warmed up' by now. Of course, as we were getting warmed up, the temperature was continuing to drop now that the sun had gone down. By the end, it couldn't have been more than 35 degrees out there. Despite a number of close games, I eventually took the second set 6-1 and we called it a day as we were actually having difficulty seeing the ball by the end.

We walked back to the compound, and were accosted by various relatives on the way. Gillem sheepishly admitted to his loss, while I mentioned that I had had to defend our generation against the upstarts. Ultimate conditioning definitely made a difference in the game, even if the season has been over for two months. I think it is more of a competitive mindset and willingness to sacrifice your body. I ran down a number of balls, both short and lobs, that I know he was very surprised that I got. It felt great to run again. I should explore tennis a little more in the off season for some cross-training. Of course, that would involve purchasing a new tennis racket, since I lost mine like 15 years ago after playing Jimmy P over at MIT one day. I haven't seen it since.

That night, the conquering hero... well, we all had another great dinner in the attic, I was in another section of young relatives, next to my 15 year old niece Chrystel on one side, and relatively the same age Maelys on the other. They had made sure to set us up boy/girl around the entire table for every meal. It was great fun, and Gillem sat next to Maelys, so we were plying each other with red wine for the entire meal. Of course, I had to offer it to him because my cousin Sophie, his mom, was observing from across the table with a jaundiced eye, but he definitely kept up. Another round on the cheese plate, a large serving from the local bottle of Calvados, and then we were done.

One other sidebar from this dinner. At one point, I have no idea how it came up, but I asked the kids if they could get their hands on a can of beer. This went into a discussion of shotgunning, and I was telling them I could finish a can of beer in under 3 seconds. I never explained how, just that if they got me a can, I would show them. They didn't have any, of course, and we were racking our minds trying to figure out how to get one. Next door neighbors, local gas station. Unfortunately, it was Sunday night of Xmas in France, and Sunday is already pretty closed unlike the states. I eventually said I would show them with ANY can, but we couldn't find one. I never gave them the details on how I would do it. It was funny, they were asking if I meant that I would empty the can that quickly, etc. They were disbelieving when I finally confirmed that I meant that I would actually consume and swallow the entire contents in under 3 seconds. Oh well, something to bring out of the quiver the next time I see them.

There was a lot of game-playing (backgammon and others). Meanwhile, during the whole stay there, I had setup my laptop in the main room with my downloaded pictures from the visit to Tanqueux (the compound) and had it running on a slide show for the entire time. As people passed by, they would watch for awhile and move on. I downloaded a new slug of pictures probably every 4 hours or so and would shift the slide show to the latest slug. It was definitely would be a topic of conversation at times.

Finally, I pack in preparation for my 9AM departure the next day, and we finally turn in around midnight. Up the next morning, get a ride to the local train station (RER) with my brother and mom, and then take it to Notre-Dame/St Michel, switch to another one, fortunately an express to CDG, and get to my plane with plenty of time to spare, although I had to remove a bunch of stuff from my checkin bag to make the weight limits. I also had fun with doing the wrong line because it was a Delta ticket on an Air France flight, but we eventually took off and got in an hour late. Georgia and the kids were waiting for me (Logan finally has a cell phone lot!), and my trip was over. Until the next one...

Oh yeah, and the final picture of the entire clan. I'm on the far left. Grandma is sitting in the middle with my father right behind her.


Blogger Thundy said...

Alex, that's a fantastic picture! Your trip sounded amazing and your aunt's dining table in the previous post was stunning...

Although, I was only surprised for half a second that you were looking for a can of beer :p


11:51 PM, January 09, 2008  

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