15 March 2012


Upon discovering that I live in Aix, someone from the U.S. suggested to me that I am living 'the dream life of the 21st century.'  I like the sound of that!  The south of France IS dreamy.   The fountains and quaint streets and squares of Aix and many other Provençal towns are almost like movie sets, and the light here in the south of France, even when the sun is partially hidden, is surreal. (I see why it has been so popular with artists like Picasso, and why the British come here in droves.)  There are some truly dream-like spots, like the little restaurant I tried today, tucked away on a quiet street in Aix, with its almost-secret garden and sweet decor (the vintage French grocery store look), and we are dreaming of the first warm evening in which we can sit on our south-facing balcony to enjoy a languid meal and glasses of rosé as the sun sets.  And certainly, the fact that we are living and working in Europe is the fulfillment of a mutually shared dream, and in my case, that I can teach online for my U.S. institutions while living abroad is so 21st century.

Apparently, that rêve (dream) is not be shared by all of us though. When I suggested to my pre-teen sons over dinner that we are living a dream life, they gave me disdainful looks that mean I must be out of my mind.  Their so-called dream life just involved a few hours of homework, some of it in French(!), after a long day of school, some of it in French(!), that ended at 16h (4 pm), AND their math teacher signed their class up for a special exam in French(!) to be taken on what is normally their Friday afternoon off.  Pffft! Who was I kidding? 

No kidding, but it's that idea of the social context again.  What looks like a dream life abroad for some or even a vacation paradise to others, is actually a REAL life for us.  It's a bit like the opening to both the book and film The Descendants (one film we were able to see in English in Aix, book by Kaui Hart Hemmings): the main character suggests, a bit more colorfully than I am, that Hawaii is not the same paradise for its residents as it is for visitors.  Similarly, the south of France is where we live right now, and however dreamy it appears to be, living here is full of the mundane realities of daily life. This is just another way of saying that the social context matters in our understanding and experience of things.  A year ago, this was like a dream life, but now that we are here, this life is much more concrete and routine and not always so rosy.  Our social context has changed, and that change colors our experiences and my observations here keenly.  To my sons, France represents hard work (balanced with good food and more independence).  To me, I see contextual relevance everywhere; I've already shared my observations in an earlier post about how the meaning and purpose of water varies in this area (see De l'eau Jan. 4, 2012).  Now, I'm paying attention to social and temporal contexts in even my French lessons, because the correct usage of le passé composé (present perfect) and l'imparfait (imperfect) verb tenses depends greatly on social and temporal contexts.  I say, j'ai été à Lyon, if I tell you that last week I was in Lyon, but j'étais à Lyon if I'm just going to tell you about what I saw or did when I was in Lyon once. It doesn't help that both sentences sound almost the same.  I think I can say, without being too trite, that in my current social context, as foreigner in France, it really will be a dream come true when I finally learn how to use the verb constructions correctly and when I understand someone else who is using them.

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