St. Martin de Cenilly, in Lower Normandy, was our home for a week. It is textbook pastoral: roads wide enough for one car and without a center line, villages with more letters in the name than homes, and farmers chugging by on tractors with a few fingers raised from the wheel in greeting. Night meant utter darkness, interrupted only by the occasional pair of headlights passing by the bottom of the long gravel driveway. I'm fine in the city, but my heart sings when the morning alarm is replaced by a waking barnyard. The dairy farm next door provided just the right pitch of moo.
Our 17th century petite maison once was the guard house for and still lives in the shadow of the property's stately manor, connected by a fieldstone wall. Equipped with electricity, a couple plug-in radiators, a wood burning stove, two resident cats who don't take a closed door for an answer, and a fairly skilled fire builder, we stayed cozy despite the bricks-in-bare-ground flooring and lack of insulation. The place was the perfect balance of a Man Cabin and a Lady Cottage, rustic and impeccably charming. I spent nearly every evening chin-deep in the clawfoot tub immersed in a cheesy read (bedankt, Kate O!).
After a week of simple living and minimal sightseeing (quick exploration of a few neighboring villages, two Christmas shopping missions [yes, that's pink-flowered Barbie wrapping paper, the option closest to the checkout line], Omaha Beach, and staggeringly gorgeous Mont Saint-Michel), we stopped in Paris for three nights with no itinerary in mind, except to stay away from the big sights. Quirky boutiques, fantastical parks, a straight-razor shave for the mister in an old timey barber shop, and sunny skies kept us chipper.
Well, sort of. One can't expect much bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed from a pregnant broad lugging half a stroller up and down the Metro stairs, or from a young child with sudden onset of Everything is Terrible. So, what I really mean is: Tony really held it together, and what I mean by it is everything.
We've traveled a lot since moving here. And this is the first trip we really, really weren't ready to come home from. France gets it. The French are astoundingly good at producing (and eating) exquisite food and drink, staving off cellulite, dressing themselves and their children, city design, architecture, preserving an idyllic countryside, and being linguistically able to charm the pants off a marble statue.
Oh, and one last thing. That whole TheFrenchAreRude thing? Yeah, well. Not really. Maybe when compared to the U.S.'s Midwest, the friendly-smile-orgy capital of the universe. But other than that, we've been treated kindly on our visits. And if anyone gets the feeling that the French think they're better at things than the rest of the world, um, they kind of are. If I invented the croissant, shaped my vowels like that, and could lay claim to Paris, I'd flaunt it, too.
Enjoy the show.
p.s. I just realized that basically every other photo is of my child. I could omit them for you I don't like kids types, but, eh. They stay.