Postcards from Europe, #1

My daughter (I’ll call her Mademoiselle, but if you’ve read ALL THE ABOVE, you know her name), is a junior in college, and is spending this semester studying in the south of France. She’s living in the same city I did (Montpellier), when I did the same (as a student at the same university*) for a year. Like me, she’s somewhat of a chronicler, and since August, she’s been sending me postcards (cartes postales) via la poste (snail mail).

Just as I’ve been doing with “Pizza and a Movie” posts, and as I’m starting to do with “Wine with Wendy on Wednesdays,” I’m going to do a series of posts sharing her postcards sent from Europe. Notice that she uses the French way for dates (day/month/year):

Voici la première carte postale:

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Bonjour à tous!

Today I visited the Château de Flaugergues, a small summer home built in 1696 by a member of the French Royal Court! Today it has sprawling gardens and the family that lives there makes wine (the rosé is the best) and it’s only 15 minutes away by train! I hope everything is good at home and I love you all!

Love,

Mademoiselle

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Of course, she’s been in touch with me and her father by telephone, text, email, and even the odd photo on snapchat or instagram. But her postcards seem more special, and they kind of link her time in France with mine.

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*The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

How Chapel Hill has changed, on the surface…and below

A few weeks ago, when I was in Chapel Hill, N.C., someone asked me what the town and university was like when I was a student at UNC (before and after my year in France). Was it very different? The answer is yes, and no.

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The Old Well on UNC campus

Back then, life was simpler, more private, and much more dependent on serendipity. On the other hand, some things are much simpler now, like “typing” a paper and doing research. It’s easier to arrange a rendez-vous (“date?”) now, but even easier to renege on one. *

Very few students studied abroad when I was at UNC, and those who did applied for the (young) program through the Romance Languages Department in Dey Hall. Now, there’s a Study Abroad Office and a wealth of information available on the UNC Global website. And when I was a student, college debt was much less, even in “real dollars,” and few students signed up for it – college tuition was much more affordable, and so was a year abroad.

The UNC campus hasn’t changed much, except for many new buildings and, of course, fewer parking lots. The town has changed a bit, though. The Franklin Hotel stands close to the spot where the Greyhound Bus Station used to be. Lots of restaurants have come and gone (see below). Now, you go to the Dean Dome for basketball games (if you can get tickets) instead of Carmicheal Arena.

But the Post Office on Franklin Street remains where it was, and so do the Carolina Inn and Granville Towers. The Graduate Library, Wilson, still stands of course, and so do Morehead Planetarium, Playmakers Theatre and the Paul Green Theatre. If you want to live near campus, you can still find rentals on McCauley Street and West Cameron Avenue. And it’s still a short walk to Carrboro.

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The house on West Cameron Avenue where I lived during my last year at UNC

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When I was a student, I worked during the year to help pay expenses. I was a waitress at Spanky’s, the Carolina Coffee Shop, and at the Country Squire, a steakhouse located on the bus line between Chapel Hill and Durham (important, because I didn’t have a car). Spanky’s and CCS are still in business, but the Country Squire was torn down after I graduated, to make room for I-40.

Like any college town, many establishments have disappeared:

 – Papagayo’s (new when I was a student)
 – the Rathskeller (I only went there once)
– Krissa, a favorite Greek place 
– the Yacht Club (fancy, but in a basement)
– Hector’s
– Sadlack’s (where my husband worked as a student)
– Roy Roger’s
– Harrison’s (another bar is there now, I think)
– the Mad Hatter
– the Shack 
– Troll’s 
– the Porthole, a restaurant in the alley next to CCS
 

But some remain:

– Four Corners
– La Residence
– Squid’s (in a different location now, I think)
– He’s Not Here
 – the Station in Carrboro
– Aurora (moved)
– Breadman’s (also moved, but only across the street, and a bit different now)
– Crook’s Corner (way different, and in a different place)
– Pyewacket (used to be vegetarian)
– Ye Olde Waffle Shop, a CCS competior
– and of course, Sutton’s Drug Store.
 

Below the surface changes, I’m sure that life as a UNC student is different now, but still the same in many, many ways. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Which is a very good thing.

* See my post of Sept. 19, 2012: Call me maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un

How I’m like my protagonist(s)

Remember that scene in the movie ELF when Buddy the Elf gets on an escalator for the first time? When he puts one foot on the moving staircase, holds onto both handrails and drags the other foot behind, doing a semi-split?

I’ve never done that on an escalator, but I’ve been known to get freaked out on them. If it’s impossible to hold the handrail – if I’m lugging large suitcases or carrying a heavy desktop computer – I almost can’t even get on. Elevators bother me, too, especially if I have to ride them alone; I always fear the thing will break down, and then I’ll panic so much, I won’t be able to call for help – or that if I can, it won’t come.

I’m able to dispel such elevator-fears if other people are riding with me. But then I always think of the fact that we’re suspended by cables, riding through space. Which arouses a whole new set of fears.

Jenny, the main character in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, doesn’t have these phobias, but like me, she’s afraid of heights. Whether she’s in the Swiss Alps, the Medieval fortress of Carcassonne, France, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, she’s afraid she’ll never make it down, or that one false move could be the end.

photo copy 4I’ve always been afraid of heights – that hasn’t changed – so it was natural to let Jenny have the same phobia since MAKE THAT DEUX is drawn from my own experience as an exchange student in France. Facing my phobia hasn’t cured it, malheureusement.

But here’s a list of places I have climbed or visited, in spite of my fear:

1. – 3. Those first three I mentioned above, where Jenny also went: the Alps, Carcassonne and the Leaning Tower;

4. The Colosseum in Rome (not a tower, I know, but it’s high)

5. (the top of) the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

6. Sacré-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre

7. (the top of) the Bell Tower at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (I know, not that high, but still)

8. The “nosebleed” seats in the Georgia Dome and Turner Field in Atlanta, and in Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia

9. The top of Stone Mountain, Georgia (I’ve hiked it several times, once while carrying a toddler all the way)

10. Numerous (steep) hiking trails in Arizona

11. The East Maui Volcano in Hawaii

12. Chateau Eza in Eze, France

13. The Empire State Building in New York

You may ask: What about the Eiffel Tower, pictured above next to the Leaning Tower and the Colosseum?I’ve walked over to it, but I’ve never ascended it. Last summer, in Paris with my husband, we decided it was too crowded to go up in the Tower (a good excuse).

However, I wanted to have a drink with him one evening, nearby or in it (if that can be done), to see it lit up at night. But we didn’t look into the possibility. Next time, perhaps.

I’m like Jenny in many other ways, but not all. Not even most, despite what those who know me might believe. The protagonist in my new novel (to be released later this year) is also like me in some ways. For example, “C” and I are of the exact same mind when it comes to jewelry: what we like and don’t like. And neither of us are fond of flying, though we do it.

But she’s her own person, with her own (deep) fears…

Stay tuned.

Par avion, with a kiss

“So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go.photo copy 4
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
I don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go.”
– John Denver
 

Every couple has certain songs they know by heart.*

Like Jenny, the protagonist in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, I didn’t mind almost enjoyed flying when I was younger…unless I was leaving behind someone I loved.

What once was an event – for which you dressed up – has changed. It’s now just a method of transportation that’s full of hassles and short of comfort, with bags, meals, and even legroom charged à la carte.

But some changes have been positive. No more smoking (if you don’t remember that, watch Mad Men). Better security, if sometimes aggravating. Presumably, better made airplanes. Cheaper flights? I suppose so, in “real dollars.”

The estimated cost of my round trip ticket from New York to Paris in 1979 and 1980 (with UNC’s Study Abroad group) was $385. Sounds affordable, but according to a Consumer Price Index calculator, that’s equal to $1233 today. I recently booked a round trip ticket from Rome to Atlanta for a family member for $1268.

[I know it was $385 because I saved the Estimated Costs information for my Year-in-Montpellier Program (based on 15 students in the group). Academic fees were estimated at $1,646 for the year. Lodging was $450, and ten months of meals totaled $820.]

In MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny travels en avion, en train, en voiture (by car) and en mobylette (moped). She doesn’t hate to go to France, but she does hate to leave someone behind. She does it though, with a kiss…

In my upcoming novel, to be released later this summer, the main character (“C”) travels here and there by plane with the man she loves. She’s older than Jenny, and, like me, she’s not fond of flying. But she gets to travel the way I wish I could: first class, and sometimes by private jet – with a kiss kisses.

I won’t say where she and her boyfriend (“R”) go, or what happens while they travel together. But in an instant, everything changes…

*What are some of “your” songs? Here’s a few more of ours: “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina; “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones; “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers; and “Rescue Me” by Linda Rondstadt

Encore: “From the Author, and Behind the Scenes”

My friend Rachelle Ayala featured me and MAKE THAT DEUX in her BookChat post of April 9, 2013 in Rachelle’s Window

Two sections in particular offer some insight about why I wrote the novel, and what was going on in my life while I did…

From the Author:

A new world of adventure and romance opened up to me during my junior year of college when I was an exchange student in the south of France. Instead of living with a French family, however, I shared a beach apartment on the Mediterranean Sea with two other American girls, and I left my boyfriend behind in the U.S., unsure of whether our relationship would survive the time apart.

We three girls bought mopeds (mobylettes) to drive to and from our college campus in Montpellier, France, and we spent the year learning French, traveling and doing everything else that college girls do…

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The year we shared made a big impact on me, and the three of us have stayed in touch since, even as our lives have taken different turns. When my children began growing up and moving out, I considered my long-held dream to become a writer. I decided to draw on my memories of my experience in France and write a novel set in the time I was there.

I felt that Jenny – with her innocence, naiveté and idealism (and that of her two roommates) – could be a fresh character in a literary world sometimes crowded with cynicism. While not everyone would identify with the girls’ belief in “The One,” many would relate to Jenny’s feelings dealing with a long-distance relationship, especially when other appealing men enter her life.

Through Jenny’s story, I wanted to show that even (and maybe, especially) for young people on the threshold of adulthood…

…love is possible and important, and that it’s okay not to want to “do life” alone, and to want to go through life with – and to love – another.

Behind the Scenes:

Lots of things happened while I wrote the book…

I got lots of feedback on different drafts of the story from my Writers Critique Group, several beta-readers, and some interested literary agents. I took all their advice to heart and revised the novel many, many times. I connected with one of the readers, who turned out to be the most helpful, through the friend of a friend.

Before I finished the novel, though, I took a break from writing/revising because one of my sons, age 19, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2010. He had two surgeries and 5 weeks of radiation therapy and was able to go back to college as a sophomore that fall. His second surgery was performed at Duke University Hospital by the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Allan H. Friedman.

My son faced his illness with courage, strength and hope, and cheered me on in my writing. He is now cancer-free and involved with raising funds for cancer research at his university, and he will graduate later this year.

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Just before I published MAKE THAT DEUX, I traveled to France to celebrate a milestone anniversary with my husband. 

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We did a tour of the south of France, visiting Montpellier and Palavas, where I had studied and lived, as well as other lovely spots, then spent several days in Paris. I was thrilled to go back to visit the place where I had spent my year in France and to show it to him.

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When we returned, my mother was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. She moved in with us and had chemotherapy and radiation last fall, and she shared my excitement about publishing my book. Her cancer responded to treatment and she moved back home (a few miles away). She is now cancer-free.”

photo 2Mom and me at her college reunion in fall 2011

Une interview de 5 questions avec Rona. Merci, Madame!

My friend Rona Simmons has posted her recent interview with me about my novel MAKE THAT DEUX!

You can find mes reponses to her questions on the Review and Interviews page on her blog Write, Write, Write! Here’s part of Rona’s intro:

“As a member of the Atlanta Writers Club — purportedly the largest writer’s organization in the United States — I have had the opportunity to come to know a number of emerging and established writers and to read their works covering  every genre, voice, and style and providing a wealth of innovative, insightful, and interesting reading.
A few weeks ago, I read a novel by fellow member Julia McDermott.  A fun romp, the story follows the college age protagonist as she confronts a number of trials and tribulations during her Junior Year Abroad.  Having learned that Julia herself spent time abroad, I was interested in exploring how much Julia drew from her own circumstances.  I learned this and even more….”

Merci beaucoup, Madame! Voici les questions (cliquez sur son blog pour mes responses, s’il vous plaît): 

1. Describe your book and why you chose to write it

2. What is your favorite passage and why?

3. Can you share the evolution of a few sentences of your writing … one that you labored over, revised and revised, and revised until it was just right and one that flew off the keyboard in final form, why did you make the changes you made to the first one and why did you particularly like the latter as it was?

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4. How did you edit your manuscript, assuming you did at least some editing yourself?  Did you read it aloud?  What do you think, if you did, reading aloud does that reviewing on screen or in hard copy does not?

 5.   Would you share a favorite passage from one of your favorite authors? What makes this passage special to you?

 
 

A (baker’s) dozen little-known facts – about me

Look for my BOOK TRAILER to be released soon for MAKE THAT DEUX!

While I wait for the finishing touches on it, here’s some trivia about me. My family (and relatives) know most of these faits peu connus (some of which are a bit embarrassante), but the rest of the world may not:

1. When I lived in France for a year as an exchange student, I didn’t (yet) have a driver’s license. But it wasn’t necessary to have one to drive a moped (mobylette). Phew!

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Not my mobylette, but the same color mine was. (Why didn’t I take a picture? Because cameras – and film – were expensive!)

2. Since my birthday is October 20, I was always one of the oldest in my class growing up (when I started 1st grade, you had to be 6 years old by Oct. 1). In 9th grade, I set out to finish high school in 3 years, which I did, tying with another girl for 1st in my class. When I started at UNC, I was 17.

3. I was 2nd-runner-up in my high school beauty pageant (“Miss Tiger”).

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4. I worked at the Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street (and other restaurants) when I was a student in Chapel Hill, and I once waited on Alan Alda. I don’t remember getting a big tip…

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5. I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 26 years old and pregnant with twins, & I’ve never had another ear piercing (or any other kind).

6. One of my sons is a brain cancer survivor and was operated on by a renowned Duke neurosurgeon.* My son is doing terrific now & is involved in Relay for Life at UGA, which helps raise funds for cancer research.

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7. I don’t wear bracelets or turtlenecks (though I used to wear both, but only once in a blue moon).

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As a college freshman, wearing one of the two turtlenecks I remember ever owning.

8. I’m a slow reader, and always struggled to make A’s in English (which I did in high school, but not in college…Oops!)

9. Maybe because I’m very nearsighted (and my parents didn’t realize that until I was 12), I didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until I was 10 years old. I couldn’t see the ground in front of me!

10. I don’t get seasick, but I do get migraines occasionally.

11. My hair is naturally curly, and while my kids were growing up, I experimented with many different hairstyles and lengths.

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Me when my third child was a toddler and my twins were in 1st grade

12. I left the promising field of computers and technology in the mid 1980s to stay home and raise my 4 children for 20 years, during which my family moved across the country 4 times.

13. I don’t know how to cook (much)…actually, that’s a well-known fact about me!

 * Dr. Allan H. Friedman, Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Duke University Hospital; the same doctor who operated on Senator Ted Kennedy several years ago.

Les Oscars ’13 and ’80, et une connexion

Some people who attended the 85th Academy Awards last Sunday night also attended the 52nd Academy Awards in 1980: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Steven Spielberg, and William Shatner (cette fois, sur la vidéo).

Thirty-three years ago, Johnny Carson was the host of the show, presented on Monday night, April 14, 1980. About six weeks earlier, Jenny, Lisa and Kim* go to the Cinéma Gaumont Montpellier to see the movie, just released in France, that would win 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay:

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Cinéma Gaumont in 1979:

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The film Argo is set in 1979-80, the same year that Jenny and her friends spend studying abroad in the south of France, and the year that moviegoers flock to theatres to see Kramer vs. KramerArgo won this year’s Meilleur Film award and 2 other Oscars: Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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I loved both movies, but for different reasons. Because my novel MAKE THAT DEUX takes place during 1979-80, the connections between the two films seem coincidental, and ironic. Kramer vs. Kramer was released in the U.S. in December 1979, not long after the American hostages (including the ones whose story is told in Argo) are seized. Both movies tell gripping stories that kept me on edge until the closing scenes. And though much is different in the world since 1980, some things haven’t changed that much, at least politically.

Back to Les Oscars. It’s changed in many ways, but not all. For example, the gowns: In 1980, Sally Field won Best Actress for her role in Norma Rae, beating Jane Fonda, Bette Midler, Jill Clayburgh and Marsha Mason. A much younger Ms. Field wore a fairly simple dress that night:

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Last Sunday night, she was nominated for her role in Lincoln, a part she was perfect for and played very well, à mon avis. But my favorite nominee, Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Linings Playbook, took home the Oscar.

Sally Field at this year’s Academy Awards:

slide_282842_2146056_freeLes robes have changed a lot over the years, and so have the hosts, but some things have stayed the same: The show is très long, and the speeches can be (too) long, too. But usually the show is entertaining and has its funny, unscripted (and weird) moments.

Just like life. C’est la vie!

* Three characters in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX....Kramer contre Kramer was released in February 1980 in France.

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