Friday, July 18, 2008

Fireworks, sand, and a candle

When we leave the house now, whether for a week or just a weekend, we carry more equipment than Napoleon's army on campaign. Last Saturday morning before leaving for Troyes we were frantically assembling all the items on The List. I'd made a spreadsheet. There were fifty-five items, plus the baby.

We left late, naturally. I've learned a few things since becoming a mother, and one of them is to readjust my idea of an on-time departure.

I could care less about the complicated logistics or the slipped schedule, for it was The Big Day. Le Petit was a year old. We'd survived the first year! Was this walking, babbling, happy little person really the same as that tiny, loud, beautiful and incomprehensible newborn I'd met for the first time a mere twelve months ago?

I learned this year that the inconvenience of a July 12th birthday in France is that absolutely everyone is out of town and unable to celebrate. With grandparents and other family on vacation far away and a three-day Bastille Day weekend before us, we decided to head to Troyes where we could at least enjoy having the family house and garden to ourselves.

We stopped in the medieval city of Provins on our way. We waited out a rain shower with an improvised picnic in the car and then climbed up a narrow street through the ramparts to the oldest part of town. Le Petit learned what it feels like to touch a stone wall and a wooden wagon wheel, and how his voice echoes in a vaulted church.

We bought a decadent cake from my favorite chocolate shop in Troyes, a fruit and almond mousse creation that le Petit couldn't possibly eat but would be perfect for a photo op. We placed a candle in the middle and I held it in front of him while I grinned as widely as I could and tried to keep him from grabbing a handful.

On Sunday, we put together a picnic and took le Petit to a nearby lake. He decided to walk, holding firmly onto Daddy's hand, all the way to the water's edge. We let him dip in a hand and grab some pebbles, and soon we were letting him splash around up to his knees. A detour to a real beach was in order.

The beach at Géraudot on the Lac d'Orient is hardly the Côte d'Azur, but no matter. We have finally found something more marvelous in le Petit's eyes than a patch of grass. There was plenty of sand and clear, calm water, and surprisingly few people for a long weekend in July. Le Petit held onto our hands and splashed and jumped and flirted with a lifeguard.

Later, driving back from an evening stroll around downtown Troyes, we found ourselves blocked in a side street. While I fumed in the back seat and worried about missing le Petit's dinnertime, the local gendarmes, firemen, politicians and veterans marched by with trumpets, drums, and French flags trimmed with gold. We were fools to stay in the car, for when I finally hopped out with le Petit in my arms he was fascinated by the tanks, motorcycles, horses and fire engines and I realized I'd almost deprived him of his very first Bastille Day parade.

There were fireworks later. We heard them somewhere beyond the apartment building across the street, and we craned our necks in the garden to get a glimpse of them, hoping they wouldn't wake up le Petit, who was asleep in the attic bedroom.

A late, improvised, lonesome, happy, rainy and absolutely perfect first birthday weekend.


Inki said...

Happy birthday Le Petit! Sounds like a great weekend!

caramama said...

Happy Birthday Le Petit! And happy Bastille Day to you all.

Sounds like you had a great time. I'm so jealous!