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January 2016

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The Royal Order of Marvelous McQueens.

Let’s face it, there’s probably nothing more comical than family dynamics, except maybe the divine right of kings… and these two things have a lot in common. First, both are rife with good material as Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and HBO well know. (The divine right of kings is a doctrine started by Europe’s medieval kings, essentially proclaiming that God had chosen them to rule so therefore they could do as they liked, were answerable to no one, expected total obedience, thus rebellion against them was both a crime and a sin.) In my role as a mother, I’ve tried this idea out when times have been tough. You know, Mother, crowned with authority over the kitchen, common room, and overlord of the laundry.

Through the years, I’ve scripted many laws onto parchment, like:

My dinner menu shall not be subject to criticism.

Disturbing the sleep of elder’s shall be regarded as a crime.

Let all know the dog shall be walked.

Woe to any who leave wet towels on bedroom floors for they shall incur wrath, or mold and mildew.

Value thyselves and thy rich interior life.  Or to put it another way – put down that device and do your homework!

Stuff like that. Of course, it never works. Our family dispositions are four people of naturally high drama. And our dog is no better. She is as highly tuned as the rest. Thus, I often envision myself as the Grand Poobah, (from the comic opera, The Mikado) an impressive title with limited influence, a lone conductor, waving the wand, trying to insure harmony.

This past week required special attentiveness. So, I made a pot of garlic-y kidney beans, and worked my magic. After all, I’m a Southerner, and we know how to tune in. Z headed into exam week, and all that entails in the British educational system, which is enough for any philosopher teenager to ponder on. Brain empowering kale smoothies and a new phone to txt her friends about the nastiness of tests. The youngest full of determination to paint her nails, to be in charge. We chat. As soon as she steps out the door from school, it’s always been that way, but now, more than ever, we peer closely, scrutinize and analyze relationships in our lives.  And of course throw in the essential sleepover, popcorn, and a movie with that. Nights communing in Paris ‘garrets’ with friends and colleagues, political parody shows, and emails with some comedic value or new way of doing things to Andrew because things in the world right now, well, could use a bitta’ that.

Family is a transitional work, made up of many parts, the needs, dreams of people mixing and colliding in one space, called home. I like to think of our Parisian family life as ‘performance art.’ While I zip off emails to schools, to committees, to clubs, to tour guides, I whisk the cornbread batter, fend off another argument about who drank all the Volvic juicy, bite my tongue while assuring Andrew I remembered to mail those packages to Texas. The dog is barking again at someone walking down the stairs though I’ve explained to her numerous times that other people live here too. She just doesn’t seem to want to believe it. We all sit down to dinner.

We’re now taking offers from Disney.

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Classic winter rue.

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Paris in January, it gets dark around 5:30pm, so by about 7pm, you’d swear it’s time for bed. I’m sure you know what I mean – it’s cozy in the house, it’s pitch black outside, common sense says, “Stay in. You’re sleepy. It’s the right thing to do.” Only thing is…. two weeks ago you told so and so, you’d be at such and such…

Sound familiar? There is a pattern of social behavior common in winter when the future seems hazy and far away, the thing sounds fun, only to find when the time arrives, the weather sucks, you’ve got the bloats, and you’re now pissed with yourself for rallying so easily. But way back…

Three weeks ago, Monday or Tuesday morning, the sun was out, weak though it was, you’d finished a book club book or completed long pending negotiation with a business colleague, or secured the source on materials for a big project. Whatever it was, you were feeling good about it. So, what did you do, while you were still feeling lofty, warm and generous wanting to share the good times. You said yes to things, that’s what you did. So that invitation to hear your friends band?

The evening rolls around, it’s 8pm, you’re still in your sweats, avoiding the thought of sticking back on those skinny jeans, doing something with your hair, and getting the glam back on to traverse the grey misty city. What..!?!

This happened twice recently. I’d said I’d be there. So, I’m gonna be there.

Cafe Le Gymnase to hear my friend sing. I love hearing her sing, but there was a cold rain throwing down making the heart sink a little, but, I was supposed to meet up with an out of town friend, which I was T O T A L L Y excited about, though it was unclear when she’d get off from working a long movie production day. So it was one of those I’m fretting, but I’m excited too, kind of scenarios. Dreading the rain in my boots, and a bit tired but trying to be lively… What happened? Friends played beautiful music, we met some of their friends (even a French diplomat!) then we’re all chatting and laughing, then a group of 10 or so Scottish in full kilt regalia joined the tables next to us, kidding and cajoling ensued, my friend arrived to full tilt (kilt – ha!) fun. We closed the cafe down.

Again last week. I had to take the girls to two different arrondissements involving walking long windy rues on a Friday night before I hit the Pompidou to see an exhibit of a big-name modern artist. I dreaded it! But once there, up the modern tunnels to the 6th floor, we walked along the glass corridor overlooking the city (it’s one of the best views) then our guide lead us thru the bright white enormous rooms in front of the enormous canvases explaining the artists exploration of his culture thru mythology, his story unfolding… warm and fascinating. 

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Friends of Kings.

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Henry of Plantagenet, aka King Henry II, ruled England and a great swath of France from 1154 to 1189. Though he lived in medieval times, a lot is known about Henry and his long reign over this large empire. There were always problems, unrest and disagreements within the kingdom, especially in the French territories, which required that for much of his life, Henry lived on the road, traveling back and forth across the Channel, ships, horses, a weighty entourage of knights and the necessities of court in tow. But Henry was driven by the successes of his forebears, his grandfather King Henry I and great grandfather, William the Conqueror, these figures playing much in his mind as influential images. He saw himself as a great ruler. He was determined to be a great King.

I took an interest in Henry when we were in the Loire Valley over Christmas roaming around his old lands of Anjou and the capital city, Angers. On a sunny windy day we walked all the way around the ramparts of his castle, looking over the city and the river Marne. Walking up and down steps to the various lookout towers, around one corner of the rampart was something you rarely see high up on a defensive wall – a rambling medieval garden and a small vineyard and bee-keeping shed.

We also ran into Henry because his tomb is at the Abbeye de Fontevraud along with his wife.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was Henry’s wife. She is, of course, part of what makes the character of Henry II interesting – that he married the most powerful, richest woman of the high middles ages is testimony to the mans appeal. Because when Henry met Eleanor, she was married to another man, who just happened to be the King of France, Louis VII. Eleanor was famous for her intellect, beauty, her rich lands of Aquitaine, and her determined character. In her warm southern lands, she surrounded herself with troubadours who flocked to her feet singing the love of the chivalric code. But it was Henry that she wanted. Henry, with his red hair, rugged looks and most importantly, his power and his passion. Yes, instantly enamored, Eleanor, true to her strong-willed character, eventually convinced the Pope to annul her marriage to Louis and married Henry. She went from being the Queen of France to the Queen of England!

They were both fascinating people. The more I read, the more I wanted to know.

Henry claimed the English throne, restored order after the chaos and civil war under the reign of his cousin, King Stephen. He reformed the judicial system, regularly riding out into his lands to insure the strong support of his nobles, brought back stability to England, so once again people could travel the county roads without fear of outlaws and could feel safe in their village houses. He is credited with establishing a powerful central administration and bringing to England the practice of common law.

And all this with the help of his once upon a time best friend, Thomas Becket. Thomas Becket, the man of elegant intellect and wit, who would become the kings most trusted confident and adviser. It is said that Henry always wanted Becket by his side. Becket driven by commitment to ideals of truth, justice, honor. Henry driven by his determination to establish a State more powerful than any before. History tells us stories of their riding out together into the fields, both fired by a love of the land, a love of hunting.  But Becket would eventually be betrayed by his king Henry and murdered on the alter when he was Archbishop of Canterbury by the Kings knights. The Pope would name him a Saint, Saint Thomas. Pilgrims would flock to his tomb. The destination of Chaucer’s pilgrims in the “Canterbury Tales” is to Becket’s shrine. And King Henry would forever mourn the loss of Becket, whom he called his only true friend.

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Time-keeping.

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Running this morning with a friend, we got to talking about New Years; she made the polite inquiry, asking if I’d listed any new resolutions. Resolutions? Ooph. I already had to kick myself out of the apartment twice weekly to go run this 5k, had to reign in an affection for chocolate, not to mention, slogging along the writers path. I shook my head, and said I tried to avoid anything that required my suddenly becoming a marathon runner or loving to spin wool. Though I appreciated those who resolved to switch up their lives in quests for better fitness, tidier homes, knitted socks, all that.

But I liked her answer to the same question. Three simple things. All about keeping in the moment, laughing more, giving attention to those around us.

When we were a slow agricultural society, our concept of time was linked to the natural rhythms of the earth. Days were light, nights were dark and you acknowledged time by witnessing the waxing and waning of the moon. Where the stars were in the sky told when to plant the fields, when or not to sail your boat. Each month began with the sighting of a new moon. You knew old sayings like, “when the Pleiades are rising, don’t go sailing.” The appearance of the star constellation, the Pleiades, meant that winter was coming!

The New Year calls our attention to the division of time that shapes our lives, orders our days. It gives us a chance to review the past and ponder the future, (while striving to be in the present!)

That magnificent tree in the photo above is a Cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard of the museum of arts in the town of Tours, France. I happened upon it the other day waiting for the train back to Paris. It was planted in 1804. Imagine all that passing of time.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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