One thousand, five hundred and fifty photos.
I guess that’s what happens when you have four people and four cameras snapping hungrily at everything in sight, lest a single detail be forgotten.
It was an epic trip. Meeting Bruno’s family for the first time, visiting his childhood and teenage haunts, my parents finally meeting their son-in-law, visiting medieval villages and towns… With so many photos and special moments, a single blog post about my five weeks in France is utterly impossible.
Hence, I present to you the “France By…” series – a trio of photo essays about my trip to France – featuring family, food, and tourism. Enjoy!
France by Family
The entire purpose of going to France was to meet Bruno’s family. We’d been together over two years and married almost one, and the only person I’d ever met face to face was his niece, Lucile. Arriving and departing from Geneva and spending a few weeks along the Mediterranean would allow us to see just about everyone. And believe me, there were a lot of people to see.
Cast of Main Characters:
Pierrot and Annie – Bruno’s parents
Rémy and Nathalie – Bruno’s eldest brother and his wife
Yoan, Loic, and Lilian – Rémy and Nathalie’s boys (aged 12, 10, and 7)
Micheline and Patrice – Bruno’s older brother and his partner
Romane – Micheline and Patrice’s daughter
Elodie, Julien, and Léo – Patrice’s daughter, her husband, and their 3-year old boy
Lucile and Niko – Micheline’s daughter and her boyfriend
The meet-and-greet began with a bang in Divonne-les-Bains, a little French town on the Swiss border, twenty minutes from Geneva. Since Bruno and I were in town, Lucile and her boyfriend, and Elodie, Julien, and Léo all came for the weekend. We were a full, happy house of ten with a jam-packed weekend schedule – a 3rd birthday celebration for Léo and a 70th birthday luncheon for Micheline’s vivacious mom, Tula. I felt immediately at ease with everyone, and enjoyed playing cards, going on walks while Léo tried out his first bicycle, and of course, eating and drinking a whole lot (more on that in France by Food).
In any case, if I hadn’t felt comfortable at first, I would have after I was christened in the swimming pool! It seemed to be a ritual here to throw unwary individuals into the pool. I thought I would go unnoticed – and indeed I did for most of the afternoon – but eventually I found myself clung to a leg of the pool table holding on for dear life. Apparently dear life wasn’t enough, as I was eventually thrown in. Twice. Thanks Elodie!
An easy train ride brought us to Agde, an old town in the Mediterranean region of Languedoc-Roussillon. Here, I met the two individuals I’d most been longing to see – Bruno’s parents. With welcoming hugs, triple cheek-kisses, and my first of many glasses of French champagne, I was welcomed into the family. I spent the next few days getting to know Pierrot and Annie and resting in their home as I recovered from the cold Bruno so generously gave me!
Next to meet was Rémy and his family. Their home is only minutes away from Bruno’s by the beach, so we spent several afternoons swimming, walking on the beach, practicing magic, jumping on the trampoline, and playing basketball, ping pong and boules (also called petanque). Boy do those boys have energy!
Bruno and I also made a bit of time for some of his extended relatives – like his aunt and uncle, Chantal and Etienne, and cousins Dimitri and Yannick – family friends and neighbors, and closest childhood friends. One afternoon, we had his old work friend Sherazzad and her baby girl for lunch, and later, a group of his childhood friends for dinner. It was so wonderful to finally meet the friends that Bruno has spoken about for two years, and heart-warming to be “adopted” by them, as Anne-Marie put it to us the next day.
Before we knew it, October 1st had arrived at we were off to Agde train station to pick up my parents, have them finally meet Bruno, and integrate them into the Caumette family mix. We did manage a bit of tourism during their ten days on the French Mediterranean (see “France by Foot”), but truthfully, most of our time was spent sharing meals with Bruno’s family (see France by Food for a description of some of the most amazing meals).
That first night, after we’d shown mom and dad their temporary home on the beach, Bruno’s parents came over for dinner. A bottle of champagne was opened, toasts were made (in French – yup, even dad!), and the two families were officially united. I went to bed that night as giddy as a little girl, and my head spun with happiness all night. Our parents had gotten along spectacularly and the evening had been fun, easy, and natural.
That dinner set the tone for the rest of the family meetings. Mom and dad got along naturally with Rémy, Nathalie, Natalie’s mother, and the kids. Nathalie brought mom to tears when she wove a beaded necklace and matching bracelet for her, and dad turned into a kid again with the boys. We watched him in the swimming pool with three kids piled on top of him, laughing like he’d never had this much fun. Loic read us a story in English, and then Rémy and the boys taught dad how to play boules. One afternoon, Pierrot and Annie joined the mix and we all sang old songs as Natalie accompanied us on the guitar.
Mom and dad quickly fell into step with Patrice and Micheline, too, when we spent several nights in their family home. Dad taught Romane some pool tips, and Lulu and Niko came for the weekend again. I would have loved to introduce my parents to Elodie and her family, but we have to save something for the next trip!
Micheline and Patrice served as amazing tour guides, taking us on a day trip to the eastern edge of Lac Léman to visit impressive hillside vineyards, quaint Swiss villages, and the awesome medieval Chateau Chillon, set stunningly on an islet on the lake with the Alps in the [not-so] distance. We had a big family lunch in the lakeside town of Vevey, where we sipped Swiss white wine from the aforementioned hilly vineyards as I devoured rosti, a Swiss dish of grated then pan-fried potato.
Ever the persuasive tour guide – and a firm believer in the “I’ll rest when I’m dead” philosophy – Micheline took a day off work to bring us on a day trip to Annecy (see “France by Foot”), and then convinced my parents to stay the following day, see us off to the airport, and then visit Geneva with her. I can’t comment on how their final evening in Divonne went, but I can say that when I left them at the Geneva airport, it was with a mixed heart – heavy because it was goodbye for now, but full because I was happy our two families would still be together after our departure.
In fact, my heart was full because of more than just that. It was full to overflowing with love. I’d finally gotten to meet Bruno’s family, and to experience their warm welcome and amazing generosity. I’d finally gotten to introduce Bruno to my parents and to see them get along famously (almost scarily so in the case of dad and Bruno…). And I’d gotten to introduce my family to Bruno’s and watch them mesh together like cocoa powder in warm milk.
Yep, my heart was – and still is, though I’m now thousands of miles away – full of love. Of family. Of happiness. Thank you, France, for being the backdrop to such an amazing family [re]union.