We’re in France for Callaghan’s Papy (in memoriam).

A man here on the French Riviera died recently. Men on the French Riviera die as frequently as men everywhere else, but only one was Papy, Callaghan’s grandfather.

Papy was the reason Callaghan came here to visit for two weeks last May/June. When Papy fell into medical crisis, Callaghan hurried to his side, even though it meant flying across the United States, and then across the Atlantic. Callaghan would not have thought twice about going if we lived on the moon.

Five months later, on November 2nd, Callaghan returned to France to work on a project in Normandy. In the middle of his 10-day business trip, he took a day off and flew down south to spend the day with Papy. That trip turned out to be a blessing on a deeply personal level, because within three weeks, Papy’s health declined until coma swallowed him alive, as comas do. Less than a month after Callaghan saw him that day in early November, Papy was gone.

That Callaghan and Papy had one day together recently while Papy was lucid and at home was a tremendous gift. Papy had spent a miserable summer and fall revolving in and out of the hospital for various reasons. Callaghan’s work trip couldn’t have been timed better.

When he came home, Callaghan didn’t need to describe to me Papy’s happiness during that visit. I have a warm memory of the countless times we’d trekked up the eight flights of stairs leading to Callaghan’s grandparents’ apartment: We would reach the last landing and turn the corner to find Papy and Mamie standing at the wide-open front door, waiting patiently with joyful expectation on their faces. Papy’s patience felt alive with anticipation beneath his calm exterior. That was the part about Papy and his relationship with Callaghan that I remember with the most clarity… the ritual and vision of Papy standing at the open door, waiting for his beloved grandson to appear on the landing. Every time, their faces lit up when they saw each other. There was so much love there!

 

Callaghan's Papy, c . 1950, age 25

Callaghan’s Papy, c . 1950, age 25

 

I don’t think I’ve known anyone else as dedicated to a grandparent to the extent that Callaghan was dedicated to his Papy, despite the long distance between them after Callaghan and I moved back to the States two years ago. Their bond reached back to the 70’s, when Callaghan was five years old and his mother suffered a stroke (a shocking occurrence at her young age). Callaghan went to live with their grandparents in the wake of their Maman’s hospitalization… and throughout his teen years, Callaghan continued spending lots of time with Papy, staying at his grandparents’ place at least one night a week.

I’d always been impressed with how Callaghan so resolutely assumed responsibility for his grandfather’s health. He cared for Papy with a gravity unique to their special bond. He cared for Papy like no one else did.

Grandparents are special, especially when they take part in raising you during your formative early childhood and teen years.

 

We walked to Le Jardin Secret to order the floral arrangement for Papy's obseques (service).

We walked to Le Jardin Secret to order the floral arrangement for Papy’s obseques (service).

 

I didn’t spend nearly as much time with Papy, but I got to know him through the many stories Callaghan told. How Papy played the accordion in his youth. How the events of World War II impacted him. How he’d gone on to own his own shop. How he’d enjoyed his daily walks to the center of his village, Cagnes sur Mer, to talk with his friends. How he’d loved red wine, and his Citroën Traction Avant.

 

Papy cherished his Citroen Traction Avant Quinze. It looked like this one.

Papy cherished his Citroen Traction Avant Quinze. It looked like this one.

 

Along with his father, Callaghan will be delivering the eulogy at tomorrow’s service, which I imagine will be difficult; writing and delivering a eulogy for the most important person in your life, for your hero,  can’t be an easy thing. I’m honored that he asked me for help with writing and rehearsing it.

Such as it is that I’m here with Callaghan in France. This time, I had to join him. This is a time for family and for supporting each other. I couldn’t be with Callaghan during his earlier visits, but what matters is that I’m here with him now.

For the night of the ceremony – tomorrow night – Callaghan is planning a celebration for Papy at a favorite old pub. Everyone who will be there knew Papy, because they’re Callaghan’s long-time friends… they knew how important Papy was in Callaghan’s life, and what he meant to him.

Dust mites. (So the house in France wasn’t possessed, after all.)

As I was making the bed yesterday morning, I thought of an article I’d read last week about how beds contain dust mites that eat dead human skin cells. Before you go imagining harmless balls of fluff that collect on the floor under your bed, like I mistakenly did at first, let me clarify that dust mites are alive, outfitted with multiple legs and a mouth that looks like a vagina, and not to be confused with dust bunnies. The article is called “Scientists Tell You Why Making Your Bed Is Disgusting – And Bad for Your Health,” and it was helpfully posted to my Facebook feed by one of my many helpful friends. I wish I could remember who it was. If it was you, thank you.

I read the article and it stuck with me because it’s all about how making your bed enables these vile little beasts to do their dirty work. The article reveals, as indicated in its title, that making your bed may not be the healthiest thing to do.

In her article, Ms. Harper reports that “each bed contains more than a million Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus – the scientific name for dust mites.”

Somehow this surprised me, but I guess everything alive has to have a scientific name.

“…feeding off of your dead skin cells and pooping (yes, pooping) out an allergen that can trigger asthma-like symptoms.”

 

Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.

Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.

 

Apparently, dust mites can’t do their things in an unmade bed because an unmade bed is exposed to daylight and circulating air, which are lethal for dust mites.

Dust mites are basically microscopic vampires who can only thrive in the dark. Exposure to daylight kills them. A bed that’s made is their coffin. At night, they feed on your biological matter.

(Okay, they’re not pure vampires, since vampires feed on living blood while dust mites prefer dead skin cells. They’re more of a hiding, creeping vampire-vulture hybrid.)

These findings aren’t new. Ms. Harper explains that the research she references was published in 2006. Then she recounts other research findings that suggest a correlation between making the bed and better mental health, including benefits such as lower stress and higher productivity. She points out that we have to decide which is more important to us: the mental well-being that comes with making the bed, or the knowledge that by not making the bed, we’re destroying the carnivorous creatures who feed on our dead, discarded skin cells at night.

So yesterday morning I was making the bed while re-thinking what I was doing, hesitating for the first time. After some serious consideration, I decided that for me, the benefits of making the bed outweigh the benefits of not making the bed.

See, I was hardwired to make my bed every day before I joined the Army. When you join the Army, if you’re not already hardwired to make your bed every day, you come out programmed to do so, and I’m talking bounce-a-quarter-off-the bed kind of programming. For me, the consequences of not making the bed would be more disquieting than the consequences of turning the bed into a hovel for skin-devouring dust mites, but it’s not a sense of threat that propels me to continue making the bed. It’s more of a reflex, more like how it feels wrong to put on your right sock first if you’ve always put your left one on first. It’s a deeply ingrained habit. To stop making the bed would mean putting forth effort to break the habit, and it would challenge my mental health to see the bed all messy and unmade every day. (Not to mention that our unmade bed would end up covered in cat fur.)

It wouldn’t be worth it, especially since we live in the hot, dry desert, where our dust mite problem is minimal compared to other places we’ve lived. As stated in this other article I found, “…if the humidity is under forty percent dust mites don’t live well so that is why parts of the southwest don’t suffer from this problem.”

I now know that the raging skin problems I’d endured while living in France were probably due to dust mites. That second article also states: “Some people will have an allergic rash reaction of eczema. This is similar to the situation with food allergies: Some people get respiratory types of reactions and others will deal with the problem via their skin by having a rash response.”

Mystery solved.

In France, I suffered constantly with horrible, rash-like outbreaks all over my body, front and back, from my feet to my legs to my torso to my arms. Callaghan never had anything. It was an infuriating mystery, and we couldn’t solve it. While the problem persisted on the French Riviera (when we were there, it was more often overcast and rainy than bright and sunny, and being on the coast, it was never dry), it was much worse when we were up in la Région Rhône-Alpes.

We figured I was having a reaction to some kind of insect. I’m severely allergic to insect bites; they wreak 10+ times the havoc on my skin than on Callaghan’s, so it would make sense that if we had dust mites in our always-made bed in the perpetually dark, damp wilderness of our little mountain abode, I would have this reaction, and Callaghan would not. I’d often wake up with one or several itchy bumps that would erupt into a horrible rash that would burn and itch uncontrollably. If I’d scratch the slightest little bit – even lightly – bruises would form.

All of it vanished once we moved back to the States and the sunny, arid Southwest.

I was going to supply a photo here (one of many) of the strange bumps, scabs and bruises that I constantly had all over my body, but I decided to spare your eyeballs because “what has been seen cannot be unseen,” as we all know. (You’re welcome.)

Spaces Where Things No Longer Reside

Though we’ve been busy with moving-related business, we did get to relax in Valence over the weekend while Chantal was here. It was nice. It was our last time hanging out in Valence, since we sold our truck yesterday and are now officially without wheels. Yes! We’ve made it to the stage where the “lasts” are piling up.

 

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

 

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

 

So, the movers are coming today, and then we’re going back down to the French Riviera for (another!) last visit with family and friends before we leave. And after we get back, we’ll sit here in the forest with no car and no stuff and try to sell everything that’s not going with the movers today.  Or we might give stuff away, if people would be willing to come out to the boondocks to get it. Here’s a picture I took of our house when we went for a hike with Benedicte (when she came to visit) a few weeks ago:

 

Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.

Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.

 

Little House in the Rhone-Alpes! (Just imagine the accent circumflex over that “o.” I don’t have my French keyboard with me right now).

BEWARE – Serial Plan-Ruiner Running Amok in France

I can’t believe it’s already April. I can’t believe it’s already April fifth. The last time I wrote here, it was still March, and it doesn’t even seem that long ago! But there’s a lot of craziness going on right now. I’ll come back to that later because what I’m sharing with you right now is a story per Callaghan’s request. Last week, we went down to visit his family and friends on the French Riviera via covoiturage ride-sharing, and afterward, Callaghan was all, like, “YOU HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS.” (The last time I wrote about covoiturage, I praised it for its entertainment value.)

This is our story about being epically late because of someone else.

The idea behind using covoiturage for transportation is that a driver can get you from Point A to Point B because he’s heading the direction you’re going. It’s basically hitch-hiking, but you organize the ride in advance, online. Passengers are picked up and dropped off at designated points along the way, and the whole thing is based on scheduling… if you’re driving south to Cannes and you want to make a little money, you post on the covoiturage site that you’ll be cruising through Valence at 2:20 in the afternoon. If anyone in the area wants to catch a ride, they can meet you there.

So this guy said. And we replied, “Sure! We’ll meet you in Valence at 2:20pm! We need to get to Cannes.” We chose that particular guy’s ride because the time he’d advertised was going to be perfect for getting us to the birthday celebration dinner on our agenda.

Maybe we brought the shenanigans upon ourselves when Callaghan pulled up the posted photo of the vehicle, and we laughed because it was a white van that looked like it should have the words “serial killer van” painted on the side in black block letters. And when we found the photo of the driver, we laughed again because he looked like he belonged with the van.  Do not laugh at the photos of your driver and his vehicle. He will know, and he will get his revenge.

As it turned out, the driver wasn’t hiding bodies in his van. But he was three hours late.

There were four passengers already in the van, and they were all alive. The front seat held a rat (in a cage) and a girl, who were not together. In the middle row sat a woman and a young guy – they weren’t together, either. Callaghan and I climbed in to sit in the back. (We were together. Ha!) We settled in and cracked open our iPad to watch Zombieland again, which seemed strangely apt for the circumstances.

“C’est le Magic Bus!” said the driver, whose name was Alex. Magic, indeed!

The first passenger to depart was Middle Seat Lady. Instead of dropping her off somewhere along the route, Alex exited the highway and meandered around to a specific bus stop in Le Teil. Callaghan was furious.

But since we still weren’t late enough, there was the second passenger drop-off. Front Seat Girl was moving back in with her mother. We exited the highway again and pulled right up to her mother’s doorstep in the middle of Aix en Provence.

This was now looking more like a limousine service than covoiturage. It was also looking like a house-moving service. And like a van with undead people in it. With a rat in a cage, and a driver who’d only gotten two hours of sleep the previous night (true story).

In Aix en Provence, Callaghan and I stood back on the sidewalk to stretch while Alex, the girl and her mother unloaded her things into the house.

The third passenger off the van was the rat, who had come down from Paris. This one was okay… Alex cruised into a rest area in Fréjus, where an old couple sat waiting in their car. (They had my sympathy, because by then, it was 10:30pm. I know I’d be annoyed if I had to sit on the side of the highway at night for five hours, waiting for someone to bring me my rat.)

And half an hour later, Alex took Middle Seat Guy to his stop in Mouans-Sartoux.

That left us. Callaghan, seething mad, asked the driver to drop us off in Grasse, instead of in Cannes, as planned. We’d missed our restaurant celebration, and we were by then entitled to our own special drop-off request. Plus, there was no one left to inconvenience, so it didn’t matter.

We got down there a total of five and a half hours late.

The next day, Callaghan checked the covoiturage website and found an explosion of negative driver reviews for Alex from the hapless passengers of the last two days. People were furious. For two days, from Normandy to Nice, Alex had plowed down through France in his white serial killer van, scooping people up anywhere from three to five hours late and pissing them off. There was only one good review, and that was from the girl he’d helped move to Aix en Provence. She was thrilled with the service she got – as well she should be, since she got personal door-to-door moving service for practically nothing!

I still think Alex might be a serial killer, though, since something about him did kind of set off my serial-killer-dar. Or maybe I was just imagining it because I’m watching The Following right now, and I’m obsessed.

Joyeux Noël

Merry Christmas, everyone! We spent the holidays visiting with family and friends scattered around the French Riviera. The weather was gorgeous. We enjoyed two days of great times and merriment and family drama. (What are holidays without family drama? Incomplete!) Everyone is in good health and doing well, and that’s the most important thing. I hope you can say the same thing about your loved ones.

Here’s some traditional French Christmas cake for you:

christmas cake 1

Christmas cake 3

Christmas cake 2

And some flowers:

Christmas flowers 1

Christmas flowers 3

Christmas flowers 2

Enjoy!