Breakfast: (Picture Books)
I can remember a time, before I drank coffee and before my son was born, when I didn’t like mornings. Now when I’m woken by a chubby, blond baby boy patting me, smiling, and saying, “Eh! Eh!” excitedly, I find mornings irresistibly joyous. Our morning routine, when we’re not working, involves installing L in his high chair, making toast and coffee, and reading, sipping, and eating for as long as we possibly can. L is not of the age yet to sit still with me and enjoy books, so I read to him when I have him captive: strapped into the highchair and distracted by food. Eventually he’ll learn to listen, but for now I just want him to hear stories, words, vocabulary, poetry, and to see glimpses of beautiful pictures on page after page….
I’m absolutely enchanted by this series of three books by Laura Purdie Salas:
The illustrations are dreamy, and magical…and I love the wonder sparked by looking at ordinary natural objects through new eyes. I put off returning these books to the library for as long as possible, and read them to L over and over.
L and I have a new commute that involves the world’s best freeway: 280. When we lived in LA, S would always wax on and on about the great 280, and I always wondered privately what was so very special about it. But now I live here, now I know, and now I am the one to rhapsodize the glories of driving on this curving river of a road that wends its way from San Francisco to San Jose, hugging the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains and providing alternating vistas of the gleaming San Francisco Bay, the golden East Bay hills, and the green woods of the peninsula.
Well, anyway, we drive the 280, our spirits soar in the open spaces of sky and mountain, and—of course—we listen to books. Right now we’re working our way through the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell. It’s not a series I would’ve ever picked up on my own, but it came highly recommended by my youngest sister who has never steered me to a book I didn't like. Also in its favor: the books are brilliantly and comically read by David Tenant of Dr. Who stardom. There’s some middle school boy fart/snot/body humor, which is not my favorite but remains surprisingly tolerable, and I must admit, I’ve grown quite attached to the unlikely hero: a scrawny Viking named Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III with a fondness for natural history. As a plus, every book has managed to make me laugh out loud at least once with an unexpected situation or an unusually clever line.
There are twelve books, we’re on the fourth. We’ll see what comes….
I have an incomprehensible (to me) obsession with France. At times I’ve even been tempted to hire a psycho-analyst to explain to me why it is that I love France so devotedly. Whatever the reason, I read everything about France that I can get my hands on, and I finally stumbled across a copy of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong at the Friends of the Library Bookstore. It was the book I didn’t even know I needed—reading it has been like picking up a guidebook to your favorite topic and suddenly have the scales fall from your eyes as understanding dawns and mysteries are unraveled. Here we find the ancient and mysterious French people and culture explained, clearly, charitably, and not with any heavy-handed attempt to justify or critique cultural differences, but strictly to present the facts objectively in an effort enhance cross-cultural understanding.
When we were in France in 2015 we were absolutely appalled by what we perceived as a complete lack of customer service in every store we entered. The authors, Barlow and Nadeau, explain that in France, the public and private dimensions are drastically different than those in North American culture. French culture experiences the store as a private domain, belonging to the owner and the employees, and when a customer enters, it is similar to entering a person’s home. Well, we would never barge into someone’s home without saying hello or begin a visit by asking for things or making demands. The French custom, therefore, is to enter an establishment respectfully, to call out Bonjour!, thereby acknowledging that you are entering someone else’s personal space, and then—chances are--customer service will be similar to being entertained politely in the home of a friend or acquaintance. Of course, it goes without saying that in North America the store is a public domain, the space slanted much more in favor of the customer who is “always right”. The point isn’t to argue which system or mentality is better, but simply to acknowledge that this difference exists and to behave accordingly. When we’re in France this summer, I will make the effort to say Bonjour (something I seem capable of uttering in French without horribly mangling that elegant language) and when I walk into an establishment I will remember that, in essence, I am walking into someone else’s private space.