The Poor Vacation

photo: normandy farmhouse
This is the short side of the big, former farmhouse.

Going Wrong In Normandy

Paris:- Wednesday, 12. August 1998:- One year we thought we were poor, so we stayed home instead of going away on vacation. We figured the place we live in is as good as some places we've had vacations in, so it was good enough for us.

This was a big mistake. When you stay home so does your head and it knows you aren't 'on vacation,' so it doesn't have one either. You can't pretend to have a vacation. It is a trick that doesn't work.

Another reason it doesn't work, especially in France, is just about everybody and their dogs and cats go on vacation in August, so if you stay home you are there with the all the other people who are too poor to go away, the police and the burglars.

The other people who are too poor to go away are so ashamed of it that they hide for a month. The result is a pretty sorry crew; one that is just not up to any sort of carefree chit-chat. In fact, it is like being on fake vacation in the village of the living, but hiding, ghosts.

We weren't really poor of course; we merely thought we were. If you think you are, it is about the same thing so I'm splitting hairs here.

How we got this feeling, was the broken lampshade. It was one of several in the house we rented in Normandy.

When we took the house, we were told about the lampshades and how they were made by some secret old Norman process, which sort of took some part of a cow and made it look like parchment. Thisphoto: bath houses, trouville stuff made quite rustical-looking lampshades, sort of to match the ships-in-bottles and the brand-new brass door handles.

In our family, before we got kids, valued things had a tendency to break. After getting kids, this tendency turned into a long-term trend. I looked at these valuable and rare lampshades and calculated their odds of survival. If I could have bet with myself I would have won.

I think it was the before-last day, the bigger kid did in one of the lampshades. It was like the dot on the exclamation point of a disaster, and I just couldn't pull myself together to spend the remaining time hunting high and low in Normandy for a replacement.

House or apartment insurance covers these sorts of mishaps, so I wrote to the owners to say what had happened as well as mention a couple of other damages I was aware of. I suggested tophoto: fishing on beach, trouville the owners get everything fixed and send me the bills so I could get some of the premium money back from the insurance company.

The curt answer I got included a list of some things I wasn't aware we'd broken, but I accepted it. There could have been any number of things I hadn't noticed.

The problem was, the owners never sent the bills. We still owe them!

But back then, by the following summer, it made us feel poor so we didn't go anywhere. Our kids stayed home and broke our stuff.

That holiday had started out with high hopes. The house was an old farmhouse a little way out in the country from Honfleur, on a big patch in the middle of some lush, green fields full of Normandy cows.

Above the main floor, the house had a lot of room. Like in a French film about holidays, I had invited a lot of people to come and stay with us. Luckily, fewer came than invited, as I expected, and they were about the right number and the right people.

The weather was good, it was clear and it was warm. There was a big level gravel terrace in front of the house and it turned out to be perfect for having really big, rowdy dinners - with no close neighbors other than the cows.

The year before, we hadn't gotten further than the beach at Honfleur, and this year we found the much better beach at Trouville - and we found Trouville too, and its fishmarket, and its whole non-chi-chi atmosphere. We might have to park across the river in Deauville, but the walk back wasn't too much.

So we had our place and we had our guests and our fishmarkets, we had the local boulangerie in the closest village for fresh croissants every morning; and on top of this we had beautiful summer weather. It was perfect.

Then something happened. On the evening before one of the 'singles' was departing, my old buddy was in an especially good mood and this resulted in an especially good party - a bit like one of those wild and crazy days in the '70's.

I must have missed something because I've never been able to figure out what happened. The next morning the 'single' got off - a bit later than he intended. But there was no sign of my old buddy.

His wife said he was feeling unwell. He stayed unseen and unwell for days. This was not good for several reasons; one of which was because he was the cook.

I mean, there are a lot of people who 'cook' because they have to, and there are a few people who cook because they like to, and these are usually darn good at it. My old buddy was veryphoto: girl with bike, trouville good at it, especially if it was seafood, because he came from a waterfront town and because he'd worked in a restaurant in Majorca for a time.

So we kind of moped around, driving down to Trouville to the beach there; knowing that we'd probably have ordinary food later for dinner. And this with the buddy's mini-stereo sitting there silent, with all these fantastic new CDs he'd brought to listen to. We just played the five I'd brought.

I'd been looking forward to this occasion because we were great gabbers and we had, then, about six or seven years' worth of gab to catch up on. By the time he resurfaced there was no more time for it, but we did hit the fishmarket in Trouville, and did get in one last feast. But there was some sort of 'break' on it, and it wasn't the 'especially good evening' like the one we'd had a bit over a week before.

They left to go back north and the trio from Berlin arrived. The weather was no longer magnificent, but the company was lively and the fishmarket in Trouville was raided again with enthusiasm.

After a few days they left and the weather got even greyer and cooler - it was August. With no one around except the cows it was dismal.

So the lampshade got itself broken. It had to happen. Itphoto: fishing in river, trouville was eight years ago I think. At the time, it was so depressing that we couldn't afford to go anywhere the following year. We've never been back to Normandy.

The photos don't tell the story. They show Honfleur as it is normally - sort of grey. They show Trouville as it seldom is - very sunny. But they do not show what went wrong.

I didn't take a photo of the broken lampshade.

After the following year of our poorman's non-vacation, we rented a garage for three weeks down south. Look, if we'd known in advance it was a garage, we wouldn't have done it.

It wasn't a lot better than no-vacation, but the weather was pretty good and it would have been a lot better, except for the garage part. The following year, we got a deal on a house in Brittany and it was good to see that part of the country, but we didn't fall in love with it.

Maybe that was it in Normandy too. We shouldn't have been there in the first place. We shouldn't have been trying to have 'poor' vacations. They aren't worse than none, but they are pretty close to it.

Except for opening photo, all others shot in Trouville. Erickson©1998
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