Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You can't go home again

Thomas Wolfe, I am sure, did not have my friends or me in mind when he wrote his novel, but it sure comes to mind when thinking of how much life changes and attempts to regain the past fall, at times, into futile vanity.

I am not going to write about gardens today. I have neglected whatever reading public is out there for this blog while I have been dealing with unemployment, reconnecting with family and hosting a French family in my house. For many weeks I have dealt with the Blog by giving my take on historical information already out there in other places. As a friend, pointed out, (I paraphrase) you need to put yourself back into the blog and deal with your thoughts and emotions. I suspect a Blog is read voyeurism!

Here goes all.

Unemployment will come to an end one way or another soon enough. Talent and willingness to work are two things that I have and they will manifest itself in real and concrete ways once again.

Reconnecting with family in Florida was a lot of fun after ten years of separation. I got to visit my cousins and see all the things that we shared as kids in Cuba and how far that has carried us. We managed to play together as adults and have a little fun visiting new places or taking on an unexpected adventure. We have made the best of a difficult situation by being pulled out of our country of birth and dropped in another to figure it all out. To all our credit we have managed and even succeeded in adapting and laying claim to successful happy lives. It would be crazy if it were otherwise given that we have now lived here in the United States longer than anywhere else.

My trip also had another quest: Whether or not to move to Florida? As I drove through the neighborhoods around Tampa Bay I could see myself in a beautiful tropical setting where I could develop a new garden. For now, the life that I have developed in New Jersey is the one I plan to live. I have worked so hard to fit out my home to my every need. I have developed a garden that I take a great pleasure in seeing it grow. Most of all I am afraid of that the amount of energy it took to get it all done and the ability to keep starting anew.

Sometime last fall I rediscovered (through the magic of Google) a girlfriend from my youth while at the University in Montpellier, France. I was delighted when she informed me that she and her family were coming to the States to visit and see me. Maybe in translation I failed to understand that they were just coming to visit me and extended and open invitation to stay at my house for as long as they wanted. I was later informed that they were coming to stay for 24 days. We corresponded and exchanged information on places to visit and where they might go. I also offered to serve as travel guide and take them around to a few places as it would be difficult, with job hunting, to do more. I had thought the first week would be spent around Philadelphia, week 2 around Washington and New York City and week three we would visit upstate NY and Niagara Falls. I also figured they would travel some places on their own; I figured wrong!

The wonder of their visit quickly vanished when they set up housekeeping as though they would never go anywhere but just sit and chat and take in the odd site here or there for the duration. Our first fiasco occurred when I took them on day 4 to the Statue of Liberty and it was crowded by the usual mobs that cling to tourist site here and abroad. My old friend found herself a little uncomfortable with a very demanding husband who expected three French squares a day and had little interest for culture. Her 16 year old daughter had left a budding romance back home and she was only concerned with emailing him as often as possible. I understood this side of the French because they love good food and come from a country filled to capacity with culture so seeing Museums and built landmarks tend to have a lesser impact on them than with other cultures. For this reason I had thought that Niagara Falls was the site around here where they would enjoy themselves the most.

In reality, week one had gotten off badly after the Statue of Liberty. Other outings to natural sites fared better but it was becoming obvious that New Jersey is not France (just in case you wondered!) We had bad bread, expensive wine and expensive food. Everything as a matter of fact was expensive unlike France where they give it away! Nothing was like in France. To top it off a visit to a favorite outdoor dining restaurant was well received but put to a test when the husband wanted to stiff on the tip because in France it is included. I explained the differences and how the servers are paid little and live off the tips to little reception from the husband.

My friend had done the minimum of research but the others had not. There was no collective idea of what to do or visit or a budget for travel. It became clear that we were going to have a bad time if we did not alter the program. Week two became a test to find an escape for them where they could be together as a family without me. This, after much contemplation and budget analysis became even more difficult. I still did manage to find a respite by getting them off to Atlantic City where they spent three days and two nights.

My friend Julia, a trooper if ever there was one, who had hosted them over the 4th of July and on another occasion had already made arrangements to take them to the Barnes Foundation where we had not been and thought they would enjoy visiting with all the French art. My friend was thrilled at the opportunity. An artist, herself, she was looking forward to the visit. At last moment it was announced that the husband and daughter were not going to join us which I thought was great so the adults could have a day away from the children. Little attention was paid to the difficulty and the cost of getting tickets by our visitors. Many of you in Philadelphia would have probably wished you could have joined us in such a pilgrimage that is going to the Barnes.

The worst, however, was not over. Week three lay ahead and by this point I no longer found it charming or colorful what lay in store for me. Against, better judgment and advice I drove eight hours to Rochester where I proceeded to have a horrendous fight with the husband over tipping and other lack of courtesies and culture. I apologized profusely to my dear friend RJ who would host us for three days and who had gone to great lengths to plan a Bastille Day Party for the visiting French and his other friends and, alas, was surprised by the boorish behavior. Still we managed to continue the trip and visit to Niagara Falls that appeared to soothe our visitors.

Returning home from the trip I wavered in what I would actually do. I had told my friend that upon returning I expected them to move into a hotel for the remaining three days of their trip, but I feared all the extra work it would entail for me arranging it. Somehow, more of the same cacophony already demonstrated continued and I found myself going home to explain to a very dour friend that she and the others would need to move into a hotel. Needless, to say, I felt like shit in this request but it was more than any one person could tolerate. The next morning I apologized to the daughter who explained to me that I had only stood it for 21 days. She explained that she was "saturated" from similar behavior since her mother had married the man five years ago. I deposited them at the hotel they had chosen. No one said thank you, they just turned their backs on me and walked away.

My friend Vori had sent me an article that was timely enough. Apparently, Reuters Paris had run an article on July 9 that was carried by a variety of newspapers across the country and the world claiming the French to be the worst tourists. They cited lack of language skills, little interest in other cultures, poor tipping and spending habits and a list of other significant complaints by over 4500 hotel owners. I want to state categorically that it was 4501 who felt that way. I am sorry for my poor and charming friend, but we live the life we choose. Please don't tell me about Mark Twain and how fish and house guests stink after three days...I know, already!


I want to clarify one point that I failed to make about my house guest fiasco. My comments about the French was more a comment on ill behaved and socially uncouth people everywhere. I know lots of fabulous French who know what bad manners are and who are gracious and elegant! I question my own manners writing about this but will simply say this is a blog entitled: Once Upon a Garden Blog, garden experiences learned and the surprises along the way. I believe this qualifies as a surprise along the way!


  1. So it sounds like, by French standards, they had a great trip!

  2. Anonymous22 July, 2009

    Look at it this way, without conflict there is no drama and, honey, you've got the makings of some kinda horror movie here!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Anonymous31 July, 2009

    how to spoil a good blog with a narcisit text