Living in a foreign country can make you inordinately proud of small accomplishments. For example, the sight of my laundry hanging to dry on the clothesline I rigged up myself made me very happy the other day.
The process of arriving at a “situation régulière” is protracted battle here, and every tiny step forward counts for a lot. This weekend we took a giant leap forward when we successfully installed our internet and landline connection. But karma won’t allow consecutive triumphs so I had to scratch today’s plan to pick up my bank card and buy a new SIM card; I had forgotten that almost everything in town is closed on Mondays. Rebuffed on one front, I was surprised to find how happy buying earplugs and lip balm at the pharmacy made me. But considering how essential both these items are to life in Barcelonnette, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. You may be thinking, “yes I can understand the lip balm part since she’s up in the cold dry mountain air, but the earplugs?!” Just one trip on a bus to or from Barcelonnette, listening to the driver’s soccer-centric radio programming, would probably convince you of the importance of these small bits of foam.
Besides various bureaucratic concerns, one of my main topics of reflection so far has been what to make for dinner. (What else is new, right?) My favorite day of the week is without a doubt Saturday, when Michela and I go to the market and buy tons of produce from our (now) favorite farmers. Of course we ruin the pastoral idyll by heading straight from the market to the European version of Wal-Mart. In Carrefour’s defense, they do carry a good number of local products. I was excited to find yogurt and milk from a dairy collective here in the Ubaye Valley. Despite its enormity, however, Carrefour still suffers from a pathetic spice selection. Everything comes pre-mixed, with labels that yell “cuisinez à l’italienne!” or “cuisinez à la méxicaine!”. I’m looking forward to my next trip to a big city, where I can find some exotic ingredients.
This past Saturday we did more than our usual share of shopping because we were expecting guests. Four language assistantes from Digne had responded to our invitation to the assistants in the region to come to Barcelo for the weekend, and so we planned a party at Mariangela’s and Francesca’s house. Fearing that the gender ratio would be wildly out of balance we had gone out to “Les Choucas,” the main bar in town, on Friday, looking for boys to invite. The two lucky boys we played pool with on Friday night found themselves on Saturday night at a table with eight girls, two vegetable pot pies, two salads, and an apple pie–a seemingly simple feast that counts as a major achievement since it came from my miniature oven, stove, and fridge.
Whether the day consisted mainly of achievements or failures, walking home through the crisp, wood-smoke-filled air of Barcelonnette while admiring the orange-tipped mountains can be refreshing, especially if it is accentuated by the appearance of one of the town’s many independently-minded dogs, most of whom seem to have border collie blood. Since I miss Spring I always want to make friends with them, but how does one talk to a French dog?