Sunday, October 28, 2018

one last shot of Maman and Papa

Maman and Papa took good care of me during my two weeks in France: Maman picked me up in Niort after my long walks; she also dropped me off at the store when I needed to go shopping. On top of that, she cooked a series of amazing lunches that I'm going to miss (which reminds me: I need to get her recipe for confit de canard). Papa, meanwhile, was the font of historical knowledge that he has always been. I doubt I've retained even a tenth of the things he talked about, but he's always fun to listen to, whether it's a discourse on church architecture or a meditation on old conflicts that took place in the region.

Papa's macular degeneration means he can't see well enough to drive anymore. He says there's a large, dark, fuzzy spot right in the middle of his field of view; he can see more or less fine around its edges, but staring directly at something offers him almost no visual information at all. He's been undergoing therapy (going by the sinister-sounding term séances de rééducation, or rehab sessions), and according to his therapist, his vision has been improving. He used to be completely unable to read starting about a year ago; since then, he can now struggle through progressively smaller fonts even with his one not-so-good eye (the other eye is apparently useless because of a car accident a couple years back). One interesting therapeutic exercise had him reading a string of text that curlicued all over the page like a roller coaster; this tested not only his ability to focus on small letters, but also his ability to keep his eye tracking something no matter where it led.

Papa keeps busy at home, doing his bricolage (handyman stuff) and his gardening. There are always things needing to be done, especially with that large of a house and property, and he keeps a positive attitude despite the ravages of age and use. As long as I've known him, he's been as healthy as a horse; back in 2007, when we were desperately trying to get me a ticket so I could catch a train to Lausanne, Papa—at 70—sprinted faster than I ever could despite also holding some of my heavy baggage, just so I wouldn't miss the train to Switzerland. (It almost seemed as if my bags would get to the Alps before I did.)

The point is that Papa, for all his optimism, is frustrated by the growing signs of his mortality. Much of the lunch-table talk at his house was about his eye problems and the infirmity that comes with being in one's early-to-mid eighties. But the Ducoulombiers have always been blessed with genetic robustness on both sides of the family; Dominique's maternal grandmother Olympe lived to be 101, and his uncle Charles, although retired, is doing his own repair work and bricolage up in Normandy—quite alive, and still kicking. I think Papa and Maman will be around for quite some time yet—time enough to see at least some of Dom's kids get married and perhaps have kids of their own.

I had a lump in my throat on Friday evening when I said goodbye to my French parents. There were no American-style hugs, nor even any French-style kisses on both cheeks (which are given in salutation, not always in valediction). Our goodbye was warm but somewhat formal—sort of like the above pic (I had hoped Papa might lean in and kiss Maman, but that might have been asking for too much). I hope I can come back to France before too much more time passes, but much depends on the demands of my job. Koreans take a dim view of people who seem to be on vacation all the time.

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