|Patricia outside her garden wall in l'Houmeau|
Another bright, glorious day! Phillip had to get Sinclair to the university early again this morning, but was able to come back and share breakfast with us. Sinclair does not yet have a driver’s license but is working on it, and hopes to obtain one by June. The whole licensing process is convoluted and seems to take a long time to complete—like everything else in France!
Phillip’s description of French workers’ rights and his own employment situation further demonstrates the inscrutability of this unique society. As department chair in a state-run university, Phil teaches only one class a semester. As delegate to the teacher’s union, he gets additional pay to attend to union duties three days a month. As coordinator of educational exchanges between his university and a sister institution in Morocco, he gets paid to visit North Africa a couple of times a year. Another of his auxiliary responsibilities is to work with all the international students at his school, making sure they complete required forms and procedures. For each of these various roles and functions, Phil is entitled to be paid for a fixed number of days—whether his duties require work on that many days or not. Bottom line: He seems to have a very cushy job, bringing home a modest salary for not a whole lot of daily work. This morning, he actually did have some official duties to attend to, so we had to bid him an early farewell.
|Michael dans le chambre principeaux|
For all of Phillip’s French family, the formation of the European Union has been a mixed blessing. After listening to them debate the merits of membership while complaining about losing uniquely French customs all weekend, our own assessment is that the French face the same struggle we do in the U.S. regarding states’ rights and local control versus the expediencies of federal programs. There are benefits to having common procedures and national (or international) standards; but in order to achieve convenient unities, one has to give up some local prerogatives and even some of those features which make each community unique. For all of us, it’s a hard balance to strike.
Our short walk to the village took us through a park where a manmade hill tries to hide the remains of a World War II bunker, and past a building that was once a religious seminary but now is home to an institute of marine studies. Back at home, we made ourselves some sandwiches with the not-as-fresh-as-it-used-to-be bread, and packed our Ryanair-compliant bags for the flight back to Dublin.
|The back of the house in l'Houmeau|
Before we left, we took a last look around Phillip and Patricia’s home. Since we were there for that memorable Christmas when all our children were young, the dining room has been enlarged, the bathroom expanded, and an entire floor added upstairs. The house has changed a lot, but it retains all the charm of the provincial cottage it once was. In centuries past, Patricia’s family had been wealthy landowners, with vast vineyards and several residences scattered around western France. After the Revolution, when the nobility began struggling along with everyone else, the family’s holdings inevitably shrank. About twenty years ago, Beaunant, the small château where Patricia had spent many happy summers as a child, had to be sold because of enormous maintenance costs. It was a heartbreaking decision, mitigated somewhat by the fact that Patricia and her mother saved as many of Beaunant’s antique treasures as they could and brought them to the little house in l’Houmeau. They even dug up prized flowers and shrubs from the garden, transplanting them where they could remind the family of past pleasures. Patricia—like her mother, an accomplished artist—has beautifully decorated their home with handmade draperies, chair coverings, and painted flourishes that complement the priceless heirloom furnishings and museum-quality artwork. As much as any castle we have toured on our trip, this home is a monument to the enduring heritage of an ancient family—and the people who live there today are no less noble than their ancestors.
|This life-size head of Louis IX, patron saint of|
La Rochelle, rests in Phil and Patricia's living room.
(His sister-in-law, Sancie of Provence, inspired
the name of their granddaughter)
|The view from our bed at the Pembroke Townhouse|
Our new room at the Pembroke is at the front of the building instead of the back, with eight-foot-tall windows overlooking the street. The view from the bed is even more spectacular; the ceiling must be sixteen feet overhead. We have a chandelier, and our own private stairway leading to a loft with a comfortable little sitting room. It’s quite the place!
|Asian serenader singing Don McLean in Dublin|
|Many Dublin pubs were decorated for St. Patrick's Day, but we had|
the feeling that they were doing it mostly for the benfit of the tourists