Saturday, May 28, 2011

border in the backyard

with judith, marie and agathe lepoutre and emily

with veronique, cedric, pera, camille and manon lepoutre

another weekend of adventure and discovery!

last night the van peteghem family (the family of the director of the department in which we work) invited us to spend the evening with them in tournai, belgium, a little border town. the funny thing about crossing the border into another country (especially a european one without controls or stops) is that it feels like you are just crossing into another state. I will always remember what a friend told me about a certain tradition in their family when they drive into other states. they say, "hello nevada! goodbye california!"
as simple and perhaps silly as that tradition seems, I somehow found myself thinking last night,
"hello belgium! goodbye france!"

the countryside didn't change, the language on the signs did not become foreign to my eyes and the side of the road we drove on did not suddenly switch. nonetheless, I felt as though, at that calm moment of crossing, I was fulfilling a ever-present aspiration that I have had for many years: to see the world.

we meandered about the cobblestone paths of the main square in tournai taking in the sights of towering cathedrals (no less than three within a few hundred yards vicinity) and sidewalk shops until the rain and night pushed us into a cafe called tam tam (a name which reminded me of a certain unforgettably delicious brand of cookies from my mission). we ordered immaculate looking drinks (all non-alcoholic) and somehow I made a funny blunder in the process. when m. van peteghem ordered a pina colada, I commented by saying something to the effect of "you're going to Miami tonight with that type of drink" (okay, that sounds bizarre, but it made perfect sense in context). I guess the man taking our orders heard me say "Miami" and thought I was ordering the Miami drink (another not so non-alcoholic drink as we found out soon afterwards), so when the waitress came with her tray of drinks and asked who had the Miami, we were all quite confused until I realized my mistake. oops...

we were invited to the home of cédric lepoutre (another work collegue) and his wife today to have lunch with their family and take a bike ride in the countryside. I love how much the people here want to help us experience their culture and their country. The lepoutre's live in the outskirts of lille in a small french village. once at their home, I was shown around their secret garden-esque backyard. as I was introduced to their numerous flowers and berry plants (raspberries, red currants and black currants) cédric pointed over the hedge to a house down the street and said, "by the way, that house right there is in belgium."

the entire lepoutre family was so kind and welcoming to me. the youngest girl jumped on the trampoline and played hopscotch with me as véronique prepared lunch. during the meal, I noticed once again how different american eating habits are compared to those of the french. when we have family meals chez the cummins family, we prepare all the food, place it on the counter, take our plates from the table and then serve ourselves in a cafeteria-like fashion. there is no separation of salad and meat, dessert and potato casserole; all genres of food are welcome to mix and mingle on our plates. the french, however, take it one step at a time: the salad is placed on the table and served. we eat the salad. when all have finished, the salad is taken away. the entrée is then placed on the table and served. we eat the entrée. when all are satisfied, the entrée and plates are whisked away. we receive dessert plates. the dessert is on the table and served. we eat the dessert. we talk for an hour longer. we then clear the table. the process is slow but progressive and is enriched by conversation, storytelling, and laughing.
I love it.

after our meal, I was taken out into the countryside and given a personal bike tour of the area. every turn of the head, as we roamed through farmland and woods, rewarded my eyes with sights of green pastures, wildflowers, and ancient brick homes.

"You belong among the wildflowers,
You belong somewhere close to me.
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free."









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