09 December 2007

Try to remember

Sometimes I stop myself and ask, "Why exactly did you start this blog?"

And guess what — I do remember. Back when I lived in cities in France — Aix-en-Provence, Rouen, Grenoble, Metz, and, mostly, Paris — I made my living working as a teacher and, incidentally, a supervisor of American study-abroad programs.

Winter sunrise, 08 December 2007

I taught English in France, but in the U.S. and even once or twice in France, I taught French to American students. Grammar, vocabulary, verb conjugations, and pronunciation. Or syntax, semantics, morphology, and phonology, if you prefer. And also culture. As we said back then, both Culture (high-brow) and culture (everyday life).

As a very young man, I ended up living in France for seven years between 1970 and 1982. That means I also spent five years in the U.S. during that period, most of them in graduate school in Illinois preparing advanced degrees in French literature and linguistics, working at the headquarters of the national association of French teachers, and teaching French to university students.

New day dawning

Sitting out on the prairie in Illinois, then, back in the late 1970s, I would sometimes dream of a life in which I lived in France permanently — ideally in Paris — and in which I would supplement whatever income I had by being being a kind of "foreign correspondent" for American teachers and students of French.

I thought I might write and somehow distribute a weekly or even daily column or article describing current events in France, cultural differences between France and America, and interesting language tidbits. Back then, the time lag between events and trends in France and the time they became known in America seemed years long. Students needed the motivation of fresh news and information from France. That was before personal computers and the World Wide Web existed. In fact, it was a luxury just to have a telephone in France back then, and I lived without one for years.

The cluster of old houses that is the core of the hamlet
called La Renaudière, near Saint-Aignan

I did end up living in Paris for three years at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, but I never became that foreign correspondent. Distribution of the information was the show-stopper. I had to move back to the U.S., to Washington DC, to accomplish my "journalism" goal, and then I was writing about American culture for an audience of French-speaking Africans. Unfortunately, I had never set foot in Africa, and the focus on America wasn't what I wanted. Not only that, but I had to adhere to the Republican party line, since I worked for the federal government while Ronald Reagan was president and right-wing ideology was king.

Callie among the vines

Two years ago, Walt and I had been living in Saint-Aignan for two years already. When he discovered and told me about blogging, I set up Living the Life in Saint-Aignan immediately. I think that old idea of sending real-time snippets of French life, language, and culture back to the U.S. was still in the back of my mind. Of course, the audience I had in mind for the blog was old friends in California and other places in the U.S., including my family. But I figured other people would soon discover the blog — and many have. I'm up to close to 50,000 visits in a little less than two years of posting.

Problem is, I don't live in a city any more. I live out in the middle of the country. I don't interact with very many French people. I'm way outside the mainstream in many ways. I don't work for a living, so I don't have work events and interactions to write about. I don't travel much.

The people I do interact with here in Saint-Aignan with are friends and acquaintances who might know about the blog, and I don't want to violate their privacy by talking about the details of their lives and the quirks of their personalities on a blog.

A little house at La Renaudière

So here I am, executing on an old plan and wondering why. That's all. And here are some more nature shots of my days in the vineyard. Can you stand it?

What made me think of all this, in part, was a telephone conversation last night with our old friend Cheryl in California. I was describing some recent people and events to her, and I realized once again that many of the most interesting people and events all around me are ones that I just can't feel comfortable about describing on the blog.

One more picture of that sunrise

I'm still aware of the huge differences between life and people in France compared to life and people in the U.S. But how to describe them? I guess if you could easily explain such things, there wouldn't be much point in living through them.


  1. This post really got through to me, Ken. I have been thinking a lot about my days as a French teacher in the USA and the huge lack of information...and also about how interesting people think my life is here, yet how workaday it often seems.

    I also didn't know you had all of that professional background in university programs, etc.

    Maybe we need to get out a little more? I find myself getting so very ensconced in life in and around Rodez...

  2. I just had the internet in Nov.07. I discovered your blog in BLOGGING IN PARIS. Little by little, I'm reading all your past messages to get to know your fascinating life in Saint-Aignan. You describe it very well sans trahir the privacy of your neighbours.The photos are remarkable,your cooking is fabulous. I always try to repeat it...Collie is the icing on the cake! And that sunrise...Keep on, and thanks! Claudia, from Toronto.

  3. i think the fact that u live in a more rural setting (non-bustling?) makes living in france seem more attainable for those of us lusting after being there......it's the every day tid bits that keep me coming back!!!

  4. Ken (and Walt too, but this is Ken's topic),
    You realize you are blogging for dreamers, don't you? I am one who dreams of spending more time in France, though perhaps not on a permanent basis. My bluff was called once before. Before the last US election I swore I would leave the country if a certain person won; he did, but we didn't go. I hope the situation doesn't repeat itself.

    I realized one thing that would hold me back (other than finances and legal issues) is the lack of free reading material in English.
    I read a lot, daily, and reading in French is slow for me.

  5. There is a world of "free" reading material in English on the Internet. The main requirement is that you live in an area that has DSL available, like Saint-Aignan. But being comfortable in French really makes a difference in your ability to enjoy life in France.

    Betty, you are right. We do get settled and a little isolated in these lives, don't we?

    Claudia and Melinda, thanks for the kind comments and encouragement.

  6. Ken, I love my little visits (via you and Walt) to France each day. I've learned so much about the country, and about the ups and downs of living there as an expat.

    I wish I could visit France much more frequently than is possible right now, but in the meantime, reading about Saint-Aignan makes me pretty happy.

  7. i love your accounts of every day life in france, like buying your cask of rose, was it? and filling your own bottles.
    i'm also fascinated by country life in france, the vines, the country folk, the oldness of things.
    the pictures are always beautiful, today's of the sunrise and of the red dog behind the red vines were wonderful.
    i find that setting myself assignments to blog about -- entailing expeditions and photographs and talking to people about what they're doing always yields a great post and a really good time.

  8. the idea being, like a good reporter, you can blog about people you "interview" if you have their permission.

  9. Ken
    I know exactly how you feel about writing about the neighbours - Susan and I feel it would somehow be wrong to tell the world about Mme la Telegraph (still the quickest way in a French village to spread your secrets) or M. Le Danser who is in his 70's, plays the trumpet all day, and drives a big flash Mercedes convertable and who is the first port of call for all gossip if you're a man.

    Gradually, no doubt, we will be able to work out a way of incorporating these people into our blog - but if you find a sloution first, let us know??


  10. I just love blogs--at least the ones where I feel a connection with or interest in the subject matter of the blogger. Sometimes reading a blog is like reading someone's journal or autobiography which have always appealed to me.

    Somehow you have the knack for making everyday life interesting, Ken. Those sunrise and sunsets photos (among others) are fun to enjoy with you and those of us who reply.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos with your fans here.

  11. As a former student of French, I think you're doing a wonderful job of keeping your readers informed about the food (my personal favorite topic!), daily life, and political pulse of France. I found this blog through my mother and have enjoyed keeping up with what you have to say whenever I can. I enjoy seeing your world through your camera lens as well.

  12. This is my lunch time (or procrastination time) reading every day. I check here, Walt's blog, and blog of a B&B owner near Chartres, Fodors, and Slow Trav. Each is my escape from Waco, Texas to France every day. I appreciate the time you devote to allowing me and other to indulge in this guilty pleasure. Thank you.


  13. Ken, I think it's not so much what you write about as the way you write about it. Like Chris, I look forward to our daily chats -- you in your blog and me in my comments or sometimes just in my head (does that make me a dreamer, too?). I think about the house and the neighborhood and those of your friends I've met, and I picture you puttering in the kitchen. Say, what's for lunch?


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