Of mice and Marseille…

January 30, 2009 in Europe, France, Travelogue

My childhood was spent in log cabins. From the little tiny one with the logs running vertically in the forest on Brule Lake, to the first one I “helped” build when I was five (my job was making PB&J for the work crew most days for lunch) to the log palace with a curved roof that we built the summer I was 13. The thing about log houses is that they leak. They leak wind. They leak water. They leak mice. No matter whether you chink them with mud, or black tar, or that high-tech expandable foamy stuff we used on the last house, they still leak all three of the above. One of my favorite pictures of myself, at about three, was taken in front of the first log house. It must have been winter because my fir rimmed hood is pulled tight around my chubby cheeks and I’m proudly holding six mice up for the camera: three in each pudgy fist, held by the tails. When the house began leaking mice, it was my job to run the traps in the morning. It was also my job to take a little ball of steel wool and use a flat headed screw driver to poke it into any cracks between the logs that light showed through. I took my job seriously. I still remember the slightly raw feeling my fingers would have after playing with the steel wool and the squeaky sound it made as I squashed it into the cracks… to keep the mice out.

We’ve been stuffing steel wool of a sort into another kind of gap this week. It seems we have a hole in our website somewhere and some mice of the anti-Israeli, anti-American variety have been getting in. We trapped them twice and threw them out on their tails. Now Tony has a ball of steel wool and a screw driver sitting next to the computer and he’s been quietly stuffing the cracks behind the scenes in hopes of “critter proofing” our site. If you’re one of the folks who’s been shocked by the mice, we apologize, and we’re working on it… it’s part and parcel of managing a digital log house.

It has been just over 24 hours since we arrived in France. We have an average baguette consumption rate of 1 every 4 hours, so far. Needless to say, the bread alone is worth the trip. Thankfully, the 26 hour ferry ride was less eventful than the trip from Italy three months ago. That is to say, there was no barfing, for which Mama is inexpressibly thankful. In fact, the crossing was reasonably pleasant, in a cabin, instead of Pullman seats (truly, it’s worth the money NOT to be in those seats on an ocean ferry passage… they’re better than the deck passage my parent subjected us to as children… the only thing I think I need therapy for… but not much better… I digress.) We all slept like babes rocked by the waves and awoke to the impressive cliffs and mountains rising out of the sea that are the northern coast of Mediterranean France. Elisha was duly impressed.

Having inadvertently overstayed our Schengen visa last year by a scant four months, we were a bit twitchy about passing through the douanes in Marseille. Happily, no one seemed to notice and the lack of a centralized computer system played in our favor. We’ll pay closer attention to our visa stamp this time, we promise. It was with great joy that we pushed our bikes out under the french blue skies and braved the streets of Marseille. Did I mention that everything in Marseille is uphill? Truly. I don’t know how this is possible and those among you who are sticklers for details and physics will send me notes explaining that I’m exaggerating and that it is IMPOSSIBLE for EVERYTHING to be uphill… but that’s just because you haven’t been here. If you had, you’d know. Everything is uphill in Marseille. This is most noticeable when hauling a hundred and fifty pounds of gear topped by a wiggly six year old after having basically NOT ridden one’s bike in three months. It was a long 2 km.

The apartment is all we could hope for. Gabriel (who did 30 days straight of dish duty for some infraction in Tunisia) noticed immediately that there is a dishwasher. The kindly proprietor was only slightly shocked to note that we indeed do have four kids, and he had the grace not to count them overtly, like most Euros do. He even helped us carry our gear up four flights of spiral stairs and get us settled into our new digs.

The children, who summarily LOVED Africa, are delighted to be “back” in a country they’ve never been to… but on a continent they’ve come to love. We were more than our usual spectacle in the grocery store last night, cooing over pork shops, drooling over the ice cream case (Tunisian ice cream is truly horrible and does not actually approximate ice cream… more of a chemical sludge) and adding “real chocolate,” potatoe chips, cookies of various missed varieties, and, joy of joys, cold cereal, to our basket. I laughed out loud when I looked up to see Tony tenderly cradling a 2 L bottle of red wine (in a plastic water bottle) like it was our fifth child. Maybe we’ve been in the muslim world a little longer than was healthy. Either way, we’re delighted to be in France. Hannah’s lament, “We only have two weeks here before we have to go to Spain.” Poor kid. My sympathy is waning.