*The following is an email I wrote to my friends summer 05 while in France for a month.

It all started Thursday morning the 14th-the French 4th of July (Bastille Day) for those of you who don’t know. I was supposed to drive to my great aunt’s country home with my uncle and aunt who I’m staying with here in Paris. They were bringing stuff down for their son’s wedding in August so I was told I would just have a tiny place in their tiny car. So I crammed my life into a tiny backpack, but unfortunately it and me weren’t small enough (its all the damn cheese I’ve been eating I tell ya!) so my aunt quickly said to “throw me on the train and have my great aunt pick me up on the other end!”
Now, remember it was the national holiday so half the roads in Paris were blocked off, and we only had 40 minutes to get to the train station. Has anyone ever been in a high speed car chase? Anybody? Yeah, I have now. With one cousin  driving and the other navigating I experienced one of the most scary rides of my life! “Quick pass him on the left, cut right! Stop! Go go go! Right! Left left! Shit! Shit!” I tried to keep my eyes shut and my body straight in my seat belt so when we crashed I wouldn’t be in a weird position. By some miracle we made it to the train station in one piece and as fate would have it-the train was 45 minutes late in leaving so I sat there sweating in the train car for 45 minutes not understanding what the problem was.

Then for some reason I kind of expected there to be a lot of people at my aunt’s house, like all her kids and grandkids. And I thought there would be people my age and we would hang out. Nope! Just my great aunt and great uncle, two of their sons and their wives and although both sons have children my age only a 13 and 4 year old were there. And that was it. They were all really impressed with my only having one tiny back pack. They said “your sister had a big suitcase-all Americans do” so that was one point for me!

Once I got there everyone suggested I shower after the train- I think I probably stank pretty badly what with sweating in fear through the car ride and then from the heat on the train. This house is very old so the shower was installed recently-and in the closet. Yup, right in the closet! I guess it’s called a water closet for good reason. Then I was still thinking other people were in the house so I kind of wandered around until I finally realized there weren’t going to be people my age there all weekend-fantastic. I earned myself two more points at dinner by thoroughly enjoying my great uncle’s wine and cheese selections. Then instead of watching fireworks he turned on the French president full blast and yelled at him on the TV. So I went to bed …

 The next morning I spent playing make believe in French with the 4 year old. Luckily he was the person I could understand the best. We played fishing with sticks which doubled as whips for our horses. Then we had lunch at a smaller house on the property for the other grandson’s 13th birthday. They all decided it was an occasion for champagne (I really got along great with their liberal use of the wine cellar) even though the birthday boy wasn’t going to drink any of it. I earned myself another point by drinking the coffee. They keep reminding me “it’s not Starbucks, its real French coffee”.

 Then came one of the highlights of the trip- my swim in the pond. It took me a long time to realize “etang” meant “dirty little pond we love to swim in” and they all seemed to want me to go (only the 4 year old was sitting out because he was too little). I was worried though because I just had two bikinis with me. Now that would be fine for a swim with friends or even people my age but everyone there was my parent’s age so I felt really self conscious and like a slutty American. Well I was super worried about my suit but finally agreed to go. But I was warned that unlike my other aunt’s house there is no place to sit there, just the lake. So I put on my suit, drove with them to the pond, got out, and suddenly I remembered one tiny fact I had forgotten… I can’t swim. OPPS! Yeah, I’m not kidding, I can’t swim. It’s not a problem for the ocean cause I just tan or frolic in the waves. It’s not a problem for pools because I can hold the edge or use a floaty and with that I’m fine. But a pond with no edge-no way. I didn’t know how to say “hey guys I’m an idiot and forgot I can’t swim can you get out of the water and drive me back to the house? Thanks I appreciate it.” Besides they were all worried about the 13 year old who has physical and mental disabilities so for the 22 year old to chime in and tell them I might be drowning too, it really wasn’t appropriate. Oh and sitting on the dock was out of the question because there were mosquitoes and biting flies. So I hung onto the ladder in the water for quite some time contemplating my options and the likelihood of my drowning and how guilty I would feel if I did. Finally it became obvious to everyone that I wasn’t leaving the ladder for more than 2 seconds at a time so they asked if I could swim, and they nicely lent me one of the floaty noodles. But I think that subtracted a lot of my points…

That night we had guests for dinner; coworkers of one of the sons. But of course nobody told me people were coming. I sat in the sitting room with my aunt while the guests got a tour of the property (I never got a tour). And another fun note about this house-it’s covered in flies. Yup, covered. And if any of you have ever seen my reaction when something buzzes in my ear- you know it’s not pretty. So I’m trying to have a nice conversation with my grandfather’s sister but every 5 seconds I skitz out when something buzzes in my ear. But she thought that there was something in my hair and kept checking my hair for lice or something. I think she was getting really sick of me at that point. And because I am the youngest person allowed to eat at meals I’m in the lowest seat and supposed to be helping out with serving. But of course I don’t know exactly what it is I’m supposed to be helping with because they have so many courses to their meal and so many rules! And I was sitting next to the guest who was supposed to be served first so I kept having to pass the steaming food across myself to her but not serve myself until everyone else had been served and there was nothing left. And when the 4 year old came down crying because he was scared to be sleeping alone my aunt suggested he ask me to sleep with him. Thanks a lot (luckily I didn’t have to). Then when we took our coffee outside after dinner there weren’t enough chairs for me so I sat on the steps, shortly thereafter I noticed that there were spiders crawling all over me, at that point it was suggested I go read or go to bed and I took the chance and ran to bed. The next day was much the same except the swim in the pond was replaced by a tour of an old chateau. The tour was neat, but the grandson really was more interested in the rooms that were closed off and we had to stop every few seconds.

The final day (Sunday) they said I could go to church at 9:30 or 11 so obviously I choose 11 and while the others were at church I played wih the 4 year old. The poor kid asked me to read him a story but he quickly realized he wasn’t going to understand a word I read. I had started a story, but after a page or so he looked up at me with this confused look on his face and asked me to stop. Then it turns out everyone had gone to mass early and there was nobody left to take me at 11 so instead I had to watch it on TV with my great aunt. Only she chose to watch a mass in Florence that was half in French; half in Italian, but the TV translated the French on top of the Italian so I understood nothing.

Then we had more guests for lunch and I got skipped on the wine serving-that got me mad, luckily one of the daughter’s in-law noticed and poured me some. Food I could do without, but wine? No way.

Then that evening I drove back to Paris with one of the son’s family (along with the rest of France returning to Paris after the long weekend).