A fish for April

Have you ever walked around with a paper fish in your back ?  If you are in France on April 1st, you might!  When I was a kid that is what we would do:  cut some fish shapes out of plain paper, add a string and some sticky tape.  When we would greet someone and pat them on the back, we would (sneakily) stick the fish between their shoulder blades… and to our great excitement, they would walk around all day, with a fish in their back !!!

Did you use to play pranks on April Fool’s Day ??


A Botanical Disappointment.


As I was driving back from a week in the desert spent studying medicinal plants, I remembered this true story I wrote 10 years ago:

            A few more hours of pedaling and I would arrive at my destination.  I enjoyed the exercise; in those days I lived on my bicycle.  I rode it to school and all through Paris, preferring the fresh air and the slaloming between cars to the stench of the crowded metro.

Now, on a crisp spring morning, I cycled on one of the myriads of little roads between Paris and Burgundy.  I had set out to see the most beautiful sight of the season: a whole vineyard in blooms!   My eyes filled with visions of an ocean of alabaster flowers, rolling over hills and circling farms.  The whole Burgundy countryside, as if blanketed in a late snow, undulated in the gentle wind.

I had anticipated this event for several months and had given strict instructions to my winemaking friends, to alert me as soon as the vines were starting to flower.  I knew it was a quick process, and I did not want to miss it.

They called me two days ago, and I left Paris on a brisk Saturday morning, before the sun rose.  Two days to cover 350 kms was ample time for a seventeen year old.

I carried a tent and a sleeping bag, sandwiches, and all the topographic maps I needed.  I intended to follow the ancient little roads that went from village to village.

I traveled, at a moderate pace, enjoying the solitude, singing to the cows who lifted their heads in surprise, waving to men on tractors and women standing in the mist of fluttering sheets.  A multitude of scents formed a map I could have followed with my eyes shut: fresh plowed earth as I skirted the fields, pungent manure when I neared a farm, moist decomposing leaves when entering the forests. The odious blend of wine, beer and urine as I approached a bar in a village was unmistakable!  The sweet scent of a croissant fresh out of the oven whispered to me of a nearby “boulangerie” hidden but very present…mmmm…

I pushed on, toward the carillon of the next village.  Today was Sunday; I would soon see people of all ages, freshly bathed, walking to church in their best outfits.   I stopped by the fountain and drank some crystalline water, rinsed my face, and sat for a while, my feet in the spring.  After I ate my sandwich, I whispered a few words of thanks to the gods above for keeping me safe on my journey, then jumped on my bicycle and flew down the hill, leaving the village and its churchgoers behind.

The narrow road was all mine; I felt free and full of life.  I belonged here, on the road, in the country.

As I neared Montelie, row of vines appeared on the horizon.  My excitement grew as I pedaled faster in expectation.  A sea of newlyborn chartreuse leaves, stretching as far as the eye could see, soon surrounded me.  I stopped and put my foot down: green, nothing but green.  No white flowers, no carpet of snow! The vines had completed their efflorescence, and I had missed it altogether!

Disappointment and sadness filled me, and all energy drained out of my body.  I saddled once more, and slowly covered the last few kms to my friends’ domaine.  They were not home.  Probably working in the fields somewhere.  The sun was still high, and I had pedaled for two days.  I suddenly felt exhausted and weary.  I leaned my bicycle against a stump, and laid on the dirt, in the shade of an old oak tree.

I quickly fell in a profound sleep.

Some time later, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a woman’s voice called me:

“Isabelle !  Isabelle !  Did you see ???  Did you see the flowers ??  Aren’t you excited??”

What was she talking about??  What flowers?  I had missed them!

“ I thought they were finished!  I did not see any flowers!

“Come and have a look!”

We moved closer to the grapevine, and my friend’s mother gently lifted a few leaves, revealing the tiniest, smallest little flowers I had ever seen. White, spindly, homely, unpretentious, they stood hidden, millions of them, each one waiting to transform into a berry.  A far cry from the spectacular blooms enveloping cherry trees in the spring!

I stood up, smiled at my friends’ expectant gaze and burst out laughing.

When GrandPère Jacques met Namie and Papa

I’ll never forget the day GrandPère Jacques met Namie and Papa: the three grandparents were coming to Napa for Nathalie’s christening.  As GrandPère Jacques was already in the US, Dad drove GrandPère Jacques and myself holding Nathalie to the airport.

Now, you know how French people tend to pay quite a bit of attention on how they dress:  On the classic side, a lot of navy blue… even when they wear jeans, they do look crisp and stylish.

GrandPère Jacques was a bit old fashion in his manners, always proper and following etiquette…

Arrived at SF airport, we had descended on the airstrip and were waiting at the foot of the plane… It was a warm sunny day for March.

Of all the passengers, Papa appeared first in the airplane’s doorway… he was completely dressed in Irish bright green: a WHOLE tailored suit in  GREEN ! Shirt, tie, hat, even the shoes !!  ALL GREEN ! It was St Patrick’s Day ! My mouth dropped… I took a quick side-look at my father, he had a little smile on the corner of his mouth.  Oh, I would have liked to be able to get in his brain and read what he was thinking !!  He never said anything, acted as if all was as usual, but he must have wondered what kind a family I had married into !!  :)

Follow the mood

When you recal something you want to share with your folks, do not hesitate, put it down it writing right then and there.

Do not think that you will do it later, when you are writing the phase of you life it should fit in…
– one reason is that you might not remember well.
– the other thought is that when it suddenly comes to you, that memory is vivid, exciting, meaningful. There is a reason why it came to you at that moment. If you keep it for a later time, it will have lost a lot of its life, its essence. It will be much more controlled and constraint and as a result, will not resound as true…

There will be time when you are done, to shuffle and re-arrange all your stories, put them in the order you decide… Right now, just write… as the remembrance comes to you.. in any order. Follow your spirit. Follow your mood. Write what feels good to write at the moment.. Do not censure by insisting on a certain time frame.. Just write…

A Fairy or a Mouse ??

Who took care of your fallen tooth when you were little?  For my kids born in the US, it was the Tooth Fairy.  I grew up in France: it was a mouse that came at night and grabbed the tooth from under my pillow…  Now I don’t remember if she left anything…  Better ask my sister!

Do my kids know this ?  I doubt…  May be I should tell them…

How was YOUR tradition ?  Another creature ?  Tell us ?

Shoe Polish

My son was going to a dance and asked if we had any shoe polish.  It surprised me very much, as we never shined our modern shoes.

When he opened the old tin which he had found in the garage, its unmistakable scent filled me.   I suddenly saw myself, a little girl in navy blue uniform, just arrived from school, sitting on the tile floor in the corner of the kitchen.  I was polishing my shoes, as we all had to do, the minute we entered the front door, after a day at school.
It was a ritual, a calming moment to transition between two worlds, school, and home… a moment to rest from the long walk from the school. I would then step in my felt slippers, and slide on the waxed wooden floors with my brother.

After all these years, the polish still had its calming power on me, and I looked up at my son, a big smile on my face.

Writing daily

  Perhaps the most effective habit to acquire while you set out to write your memoir, is to commit to writing daily.  It does not have to be hours at a time, but best if  a minimum of half an hour.  Get up earlier if you have to.  It is amazing how fresh the mind is when we first wake up.  Writing in the evening brings closure to the end of a busy day and has a calming effect on the brain, getting it ready for a night’s sleep.

Go ahead, set a specific time in your daily schedule.

“What if I am not inspired?” you might ask: even if we are not in “the mood” to write, it is crutial that we do write daily.  It spurs our creativity.  Start writing, no matter what… even if what you write has no worth whatsoever… keep writing…. You might not keep this day’s words, but you will have exercised your writing skills and opened the flow of creativity.  By the next time you sit at your computer, your fingers will run on the keyboard.

More often than not, you will be amazed to see how within minutes your attitude has changed, and what started as ” I don’t feel like writing today” will be  “Oh, I wish I had more time, I don’t want to stop!”

A teacher once told me “It is the time you spend at the wheel that will make you a potter.  Even if you put your pots back in the mud bucket at the end of the session, you are still learning when you are having a “bad day.” ”

It is the same for us: It is the time spent on our keyboards that will make us writers.

What is your chosen time of the day for writing your memoir ??  Post a comment, let me know…  It would be interesting to see if most of us write in the morning, or the evening.

First Post on writingyourmemoir.com !

This blog is a tool to help all of you who are writing your memoir.  I will give you ideas, tips and writing strategies in the form of a weekly post.

I will not tell you how to write, but give you writing prompts, suggestions, so that you continue to write your stories.

Writing one’s memoirs can be exciting, energizing, but also daunting or boring at times.  We need all the help we can get.

This is to be used in conjunction with the system provided when you sign up with “writingyourmemoir.com“.

I hope you will find it useful and interesting.  Do leave comments !


Onward, then !!