Friday, September 9, 2011

Smile, You're On French TV

We have a friend who has the habit of getting into adventures.  He'll meet someone for the first time at a restaurant and be invited to play with tigers the next weekend.  His stories have plenty of interesting characters, chance-encounters, and pyrotechnics.  We've often mused over how he manages to get involved in so many tell-worthy things.

"Well, part of it is just that he's Brian.  The other part is that when someone comes to him with an idea, he just says 'yes'."

That was Donnie's explanation.  I think this may have been in the back of Donnie's mind when Science Accueil, the organization that helped us find our apartment, called saying that Channel 3 was doing a story on them, and would he be up for an interview?  He just said "yes."  Another story to tell.

So, Donnie's Friday afternoon was spent with three people from French TV.  He answered questions and took part in staged "scientific" discussions with his boss.  I spent the afternoon wondering if a tv crew would really be descending on our tiny apartment.  You see, it turned out to be a slice of life piece, and they wanted to meet Donnie's wife and daughter and see his apartment (the one that Science Accueil found for him).

What do you do to prepare for a tv crew?   Donnie said they'd come between 4 and 6 pm, but that was all I knew. I hid our more unsightly clutter, put out a fresh table cloth, and put on a bit of makeup.  Maria was in her pretty periwinkle dress.  Around 5pm they arrived.  The crew consisted of two friendly Frenchmen, both named Daniele, and a serious-faced woman named Florance who was so slight that she looked like she would break under the weight of her camera.

The first thing they wanted was footage of us walking around town and going shopping.  We took Maria out in the stroller and tried to act naturally as the camera trailed us to our local bakery.   Our neighbors startled at the sight of a film crew, and we actually held up traffic as the camera person rode slowly in a car beside us.  The girl at the bakery seemed tickled to be on TV, but several of the customers saw the camera, turned tail and left.   We felt a little awkward to be keeping our neighbors from their evening bread and were giddy with the attention. After buying two baguettes we returned to the apartment, where we drank water and mopped our brows--the day was unusually warm and humid. They interviewed us about our impressions of France.  We had only positive and rather vague things to say--we've been here over a month, but it doesn't feel that way because no one else was here during the month of August!   They filmed Maria drawing.  They filmed me peeling some apples.  They left.

So that was our little adventure with French TV--not exactly tigers, but a good time nonetheless!  The show is due to air on October 4, 22:40.  We'll try to get it in digital form to share.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lovely and Local

It's a wonderful things to be a tourist and see famous things, but it's usually the places and sights that are part normal life that stay with us and remind us how lucky we are.

Here are are a few pictures taken about town in Orsay.  

The first are from our local church in Orsay Ville, the Church of St. Martin and St. Lawrence.  The Church is a mixture of many different architectural style, but its bones are very old---its construction began in the 1100s. 

We've enjoyed the two services we've attended at the church.  They were very full and had a good number of children in attendance.  I don't even begin to understand the homilies, the priest speaks earnestly and at length.  The cantor has a sweet energy about him and does a lovely job of conducting in solfege so the congregation stays together during the hymns.

I wish I had a better picture of this window!  It shows St. Martha defeating a dragon.  It's a beautiful and strong image, and ought to be on the cover about a book on the role of women in the Church.

Below is a house on our street.  See the espaliered pear trees growing against the wall?  There was an  evening last year when Donnie was telling me that trees could be trained and pruned in this way, so that they have a small footprint and get plenty of sun.  It seemed terribly exotic at the time, and now it's just down the street!
 Here's another lovely, local sight.  Baguettes are the new Cheerios.  Maria asks for bread all the time, and usually follows up the request by asking for butter and jam.  If we stop by a bakery, Maria expects a piece immediately--it's the ticket to a peaceful journey home.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Looking Back

We're now in September, which means that it's been more than a month since Donnie stepped foot on a plane to come to France. How quickly time has flown! Had things gone just a bit differently, we 'd only be arriving in France this week!

I've been meaning to make a timeline of events leading to our departure from Pittsburgh. It was an intense couple of weeks with some dramatic ups and downs, and I want to remember them. Those weeks were lesson in gratitude and perseverance. Each ugly logistical monster was defeated by the helpfulness of friends, family, and strangers. Despite our bumbling, we got here in August---and managed to do so without becoming impoverished, loosing limbs, or succumbing to bitterness!

I give you the story of our departure:

July 6th--A great day! Donnie successfully defends his thesis. Of course, he has been working intensely up to this point, and when Dada puts in extra hours, Mama does the same. We know that the move if before us and have packed a few non-essentials.

July 7th--We learn that INRIA (Donnie's employer in France) has sent us the "Convention D'Accueil" at last! This document is one of the main requirements for our visa applications. It's more than a month overdue and we've canceled two earlier consulate appointments because we didn't have the document in hand. Julia goes to the French Consulate's website and discovers that the next available visa application appointment is on August 1st, the day Donnie was planning to leave the country. Calls to the consulate's mainline go unanswered.

July 8th--Julia reaches someone in the consulate's visa department. The situation is worse than feared. Not only are there no appointments before August 1st, but it will take at least a month to process the paperwork, so no leaving for France until the beginning of September. Hand-wringing ensuse. This could mean no salary, no health coverage, and no apartment for a month on top of ticket change fees and the additional cost of buying new (more expensive) tickets. Plus, the certain discomfort of flying while 37 weeks pregnant and the risk of having a baby over the Atlantic. Donnie emails his advisor, our landlord and INRIA. We learn quickly that Donnie can stay on as a post-doc for the extra month, and our landlord will allow us to stay another month---phew.

July 12th--We hear back from INRIA. They are pulling out the stops, but are not optimistic about Donnie receiving the visa in time for his August 1st flight.

July 13th--INRIA asks Donnie to send scans of our documents to the Science and Technology attache at the French Embassy. Meanwhile, Donnie is working furiously on thesis revisions.

July 14th - Bastille Day. The Consulate is closed and our attache contact takes a long weekend.

July 19th - Still no news from the Embassy. Maria has a mysterious fever with no other symptoms.  We're tired from the suspense and aren't sure whether to pack or dig in for another month.   We have a frank conversation---it seems highly unlikely we'll get to use our tickets.  Best to resign ourselves to leaving in September.   We're still nervous about arriving so soon before the arrival of the baby, but grateful to have one more month with Pittsburgh friends, and to have longer to prepare for the move.

July 21st - At 3:30pm Donnie receives a call from the attache. Can we make an appointment in DC the next morning? Donnie says yes. Julia calls Jennie to see if she will put us up the night---she says yes even though she has an early shift the next morning and will need to stay up to let us in. The Wrights' generously lend us their car and we rush off to DC. We arrive in DC at 1 am and are greeted by Jennie.

July 22nd - We arrive at the Consulate at 7:45 am. The day is astonishingly hot. Our appointment goes well. We bum around the Alexandria Mall waiting for the Consulate to reopen to we can give them a self-addressed express envelope to mail us the visas. We leave DC still not knowing how long it will take to process the documents. During the drive home, we receive a welcome call: we'll have receive the visas by Monday, July 25th.

July 23rd - Julia's 28th birthday is spent at work. Donnie heads to CMU for more thesis revision and Julia packs. The Wrights once again come to the rescue and have us over for a dinner complete with birthday cake!

July 24 - Donnie is still working furiously on thesis revisions and we're still in suspense about when his adviser will sign off on them. (As my Dad says, advisers have a way of getting kooky just before their students leave!) Lynn and Kate come over to pack boxes and move furniture.

July 25 - New crisis! Julia discovers that there are no moving vans to be rented within hundreds of miles, if not in the whole country. Luckily, she finds HELP-U-MOVE. The only drawback of the service is that we need to secure parking for an 28' trailer on our crowded urban street. Oh la, la! Brian brings his work truck and Donnie, Brian and Moirin disassemble our couch (which had be sawn in half to fit into our apartment) and bring it to Moirin's.

July 26  - Donnie's adviser signs off on his thesis--hallelujah! We manage to reserve all the parking spaces on our block--thank you kind Pittsburghers! We have our last Movie Night, sans movie. We serve pizza to our friends then ask them to pack. Luckily, we're too busy to become nostalgic--otherwise there would have been mopping to do!

July 27 - Moving Day. The trailer arrives right on time, shortly followed by Brian, who takes the morning off work to help us. Julia packs while the guys move. A little later, Fr. Mike comes with Br. Paul to do more moving. Donnie goes to CMU to pack up his office and take care of some administrative chores. Donnie returns and Mom and Dad Sheehy arrive. Lunch, then more packing and moving. Around 4:30, we're told by someone at HELP-U-MOVE that the driver is on his way to collect the truck and we need to "button it up." David arrives and we spend a frantic half hour throwing things into the truck before getting another call saying the the driver won't arrive until 8pm. At last we finish. We shower and head over to the Wrights' for a farewell cocktail party. It's a beautiful party and we say goodbye to our wonderful friends.

July 28th - The Wrights come over and we pack everything that won't fit in the car and take it to the post office. At last, the apartment is empty except for a thriving population of dust bunnies and a few bits of furniture that friends will remove after our departure. We say farewell to the Wrights and to our dear city and head East.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who helped us move! These transitional experiences teach a person the quality of her community. There were many times when I needed all my energy to keep myself from panicking and Donnie had his hands full finishing his thesis. Meanwhile our friends and family were packing boxes, carrying furniture and doing what needed to be done to get us on our way! We are in your debt.