Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ah, Summer in the Country

Back from three weeks with the in-laws in the Southwest. Doing the summer thang, French style. Which, if you are married, generally consists of going out into some idyllic French countryside where inevitably there is an old house that once belonged to great-great-uncle Gaston’s cousin’s niece. Up until somewhere in the 20th century, the French population was overwhelmingly rural, as the economy ran on agriculture. This means that if you scratch your average Parisian, and he or she will shed farmer blood. I was once at a dinner party with some friends and we started talking roots and it turned out every person at the table came from farming or winemaking families. And then there was me with my grampa Meyer, the hat-maker from Kiev.

I don’t know if this is really the reason why so many French people seem to gather at an ancestor’s house in the country, but it seems like there must be some good reason why otherwise intelligent people would subject themselves to long, juicy stretches of summer vacation filled with endless visits with psychotic cousins, screaming kids, grumpy grandfathers, and dubious family friends. Naturally, there’s an up side: you get to eat long, leisurely meals of good old-fashioned food, which in France is no small thing. There is always a quorum of at least 10 around the dinner table, which makes for a festive atmosphere, particularly if there are several bottles of good wine on the table, which is usually the case.

“But who makes all that food?” you ask. Now, that’s a very interesting question. In general, if you happen to have two X chromosomes, you are on 24-hour call for kitchen duty. Mami might plan the menus and hand out the recipes, but she is much too old to actually do all the cooking and cleaning, and who can blame her, you’d have to be Superwoman to be able to handle feeding 10+ hungry mouths morning, noon, and night for weeks on end. So you help. You chop, you simmer, you set the table, you take the clean stuff out of the dishwasher. The least you can do, no? After all, you are not even picking up the bill. And then there are all those kids. Your own, the crazy cousin’s, the friends. Who’s going to watch them in the pool? Suddenly, everyone is busy doing other things (sleeping off lunch, primarily). Anyone with any sense has delicately left the scene because they know what is about to ensue. That leaves the idiotic American daughter-in-law who has read all those articles about pool safety.

And so, the afternoon drones on, with the delightful screeching of young voices bouncing off the water and into your ears. Slowly, the others come out of hiding, stretching and yawning, looking for a good game of scrabble. By this time, the Pool Watcher is so stressed out she’s ready to bite someone’s head off, especially when one of the Nappers starts going on about how peaceful it is here in the country and how nice it is to catch up on their sleep. But all things come to and end. The crazy cousin, as usual, storms off after someone inadvertently insults her, taking her noisy offspring with her. The kids’ lips start turning blue and after much coaxing, come out of the pool. The Pool Watcher finally has a chance to soak up some sun in a lounge chair.

But by then its almost time for dinner.

Now I’m not complaining (OK, a little). I know that most of my American friends would kill for a week in some lovely stone house in the French countryside. Or two. But definitely not three. Oh, no—definitely not three.