Chalkboard of Childhood

I remember the dusty black chalk board in my first grade classroom on the second floor of an asylum built in 1857 which had been converted to a private elementary school at the end of WW I. The blackboard was on the far right wall as one entered the classroom, the large windows faced forward on the building overlooking a walled courtyard with a beautiful maple tree at its center. Our desks faced the chalkboard so that our right sides were graced by the sunlight streaming from the windows. I remember mathematic equations on that board, grammatical exercises as well as the occasional art mural formed by placing a cardboard surface onto the chalkboard and covering it in tiny colored papers that had been rolled by our small fingers into little balls and pasted onto the hard paper. The images ranged from a winter scene to a floral display. My fingers were sticky with glue during those projects.

Our classroom was so close to the maple tree in the courtyard, that at times when I glanced out in a day dream during class, it felt as if I could touch its branches. It was as if when building the school, it had been built as part of the tree; a school treehouse. This was the back drop of my childhood for about five years in the early 1970s. Ecole Blanche de Louvencourt is situated at the cross roads of Rue Alexandre Dumas and Rue de Louvencourt in the small town of Marly-le-Roi, France. The school was at the periphery of Old Marly, where one found crooked cobblestoned streets with various slopes and gradients, offering small shops with curiosities and antiques, as well as basic provisions like the Charcuterie where we picked up our meats, or the Boulangerie where we ordered the best pastries and breads, and the small grocer where we could shop for other basics like milk, and cereal and various sundries. This was all found at the top of an incline street which led in the other direction down to the train station and post office, past my dentist and on the way towards the open air market which was my route home from school each day.

Thinking back, I wonder why I always took one route to school, and a different one home.

Each morning, I would walk that other street to school; the one that passed the public elementary school and library tucked into the center of our village’s public gardens, to the corner where one met the crossing guard and then walked the quiet side street leading to my school coming at it from the left side of the school. On my way home, I left the school courtyard by exiting the school taking a right and then an immediate second right turn down the residential street that had this somewhat steep incline and would find myself in the square that housed the post office, train station and a few shops including the bakery. After picking up a baguette of bread for Mother, I would continue my journey cradling the warm loaf in my arms and urging myself not to pull the hot dough out from its center; the smell of the bread taunting me with each step. I would continue by ducking through one of the small tunnels that went under the railroad tracks coming out next to some homes that led to the open air market which was in full swing once or twice a week. Otherwise that market was quiet and the surface of the lot would be littered with debris from the previous commerce transactions, interspersed with puddles of water from the workers having washed up after business was done.  At times, I would play a game of hopscotch in my mind, dancing through those puddles- hopping on one foot and balancing my bread for leverage.

From the market, I would continue a short distance until I came to Chemin du Bas des Ormes – where our family home was stacked into a modern apartment complex.  We had  the luxury of a separate building for our underground parking lot which had a gravel roof that was used for recreation. It was common on a Sunday to find many fathers playing Boules; a game of throwing colored heavy metal balls with the aim to get as close to the small red ball target as possible.  Children would be laughing and running and playing nearby and occasionally, one of the men would call out in a loud shush to make us quiet down during his turn, so that he could concentrate on the task at hand: throwing his heavy boule underhand and with great intention to bop another boule out of range of the small red ball and increase his own chance at a win.


Those are days of fond remembrance. I don’t recall having any heavy burdens back then, nor fears to speak of. It was a time before strains; prior to learning the ache of loss and uncertainty.

Business Travel Share

As I anticipate my next business trip, this time to D.C. for in depth supplier training, I find myself trepidatious about my circumstances for the five days that I will be traveling with a colleague. For these training sessions, the company only allows roommate/share accommodations. And while I like the person with whom I have been paired, my biggest concern has to do with having zero down time whatsoever for the ensuing 120 hours. On other trips, there is this relief at the end of the day when I can retreat to my own space and decompress and completely relax. When sharing, there is always this element of being aware of the other person’s needs and habits. And, my own needs and habits generally don’t mix well. From early morning lunch through many sessions and group meals and functions- usually these events mean that you are “up and on” from 7am until 11pm or even later. The person I am sharing with seems a kind person but really, one never really knows until one has spent overnights with a person. So, we shall see. The bottom line is that my evening T.V. & knitting time will likely be eliminated. My morning shower and get-ready routine will be in someone else’s visual display and for someone who is very private, this can be hard.
The last time I had to share on one of these rodeos was about eight years ago on an extensive trip through France – starting in Paris, traveling through Provence and spending time on the Riviera. This was a “FAM” trip through a luxury tour operator through whom we would book independent itineraries including private villas with butler service amenities. So the trip was a daily real estate tour essentially, through opulent private homes and villas dotting the countryside and coast of France… fabulous. At the end of the day- we would retreat back to some luxury hotel and my roommate and I would turn in. On that trip, I was paired up with someone I did not know- as this was a FAM organized by the tour operator with invitations extending coast to coast. So, my roommate ended up being from New York and within the first day, I realized how very lucky I had been. She was delightful, quiet, smart and respectful of our mutually shared space. We did well with our “turns” in the bathroom and we were compatible. We had common ground with our love for our dogs- she her Cavalier King Charles, me- my Skye Terrier which netted quite a bit of fun dialogue.  Neither of us were overly chatty in the evening and both of us were so exhausted anyway that the thought of reading a book at night or doing anything, was pretty much out of the question.   One knows things went well since we exchanged contact information at the end of the trip, with promises to stay in touch; rarely fulfilled.
That trip was amazing actually.  I stayed at such places as La Mirande in Avignon – an incredible place of beauty with soft elegance and luxurious touches. La Mirande recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary as a hotel; many in the industry doubted that they would make it as they embraced traditional elegance rather than follow the stream of other lodgings that headed towards ultra modern and bare bones decor. No, with La Mirande you find what feels like an authentically French countryhome with the high level soft goods- for instance silk wall coverings, beautifully soothing colors in every room and a feeling like you have stepped back in time. This place is not overdone, not over the top- just perfect. I also stayed at what used to be the Four Seasons in Provence (now no longer run by Four Seasons; now called Terre Blanche) which was a sprawling resort with these little clusters of rooms in a villa style and an amazing spa. The rooms were so comfortable with modern bathrooms and delicious bedding.  Truly spectacular with delectable cuisine and refreshing surroundings, all framed in the beauty of Provence. On the French Riviera, I had the great pleasure of spending time at Royal Riviera in St. Jean Cap Ferrat… wow is what comes to mind. Boutique modern elegance with crashing waves outside my window and excellent service, and only a short drive to Nice, for those who want to be away from the flurry of a city but still have access to all that the coast has to offer- including Cannes and Monaco nearby. And all of this was done in about ten days- with a roommate the whole duration… and it was fine.
So, I remind myself of this and also that my roommate for D.C. is a kind woman, hard working, in the business for decades and she seems one who will share well. And, I too- will be aware of her space needs. My only wish is that I would have some ‘me’ time in there somewhere to read, write and knit. The time will fly by and next thing you know it, I will be on a plane headed home from this training expo and it will all be inconsequential. It’s only five days.  And on the last day, my roomie and I have already planned a full day of sightseeing in D.C., since training ends the night before.   It’s been almost a decade since my last visit and I am looking forward to including some new sites.  Oh, and I must remember to buy a new pair of pajamas- and bring a robe!!