Mary’s summer 2008

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Sometimes I think I’m drafting new chapters in the book our daughter Mary will surely write some day. Others have made a living out of writing about adventures like hers. Why not us?

We were supposed to spend several weeks with her, during August, but circumstances kept it from happening. I had to enjoy her vacation vicariously, and from a considerable distance.

Here’s the deal: Europeans put together schools offering skills other people (read, Americans) need, ranging from cooking and art to language and music, to name a few. If your employer approves, sometimes you get a stipend for your participation, but most likely all you’ll get is a tax deduction. Which is not bad, believe me.

There are classes in the morning and students may spend the afternoon sightseeing or just gazing at the countryside from the balcony. Accommodations are in some old chateau or perhaps a farmhouse close by, or may be a renovated barn the children have grown up and left. The cost is usually less than that for a bed and breakfast, and the room or loft is simple.

By way of explanation, Rainer (pronounced RYE-ner) is the second oboist in the orchestra at Gelsenkirchen, near Duesseldorf in north-central Germany, where they live. Mary is the rehearsal pianist at the Mannheim Opera an hour or two south of Gelsenkirchen by train. She has a small apartment there but goes home as often as she can.

I should add, a rehearsal pianist is also responsible for training singers in a foreign language so that the words are pronounced correctly when sung.

“Hi! We got home OK. Rainer is back at work and I am doing two weeks of French in Heidelberg….

“At you can see where we stayed in Italy, under ‘where we are.’ They’ve only been in this farmhouse for a year and a half, and things look a little unfinished or rustic. The view from the back terrace was the best thing about our apartment. We were outside for the Italian lessons.

“The husband cooks, has completed a course for the ‘Flying Chefs,’ where you fly in your cook for an evening, and adheres in part to the ‘Slow Food’ movement that originated in this area, using local foods, quality stuff, etc. Had the best steak of my life from some local white [breed of cattle].

“The chateau in Roanne, France, you can see under The house dates from the 17th century, but has been redone with 20 or so rooms with bath. It has been sold, and they are moving in the fall. So they had special stuff for us as one of the last groups, including a singer and dancing and a special menu on the last evening.

“Since business has fallen off with the bad exchange rate, it will be a smaller operation in the future. Mostly Americans, many repeats.

“A man in my course has been there with his French-teacher wife for the last seven years, and spent 1,000 DOLLARS for TWO people [Mary’s emphasis], nine mini-courses plus wine, in one of France's 3-star restaurants in Roanne, for their 40th wedding anniversary.

“He studied business, has an MA from Harvard and a PhD from Berkeley, where he now lives. They both sail their 10-meter boat in the San Francisco Bay. She is quite fluent [in French], although her accent was appalling.

“Then there was an interesting lawyer from Dallas with her teenaged daughter; a cook and wife from Chicago, a medical doctor working in Paris from England, and one German girl...

“The school has its own chef and offers cooking classes, and none of this Haute Cuisine stuff. I gained a kilo a week this vacation, almost like being in America.

“Between the weeks of classes, we spent a week in three places, starting near Lyon, moving into the volcanic Auvergne [region], and coming back up to Clermond-Ferrand, now famous for Michelin tires and travel books.

“They have a cathedral there, made of dark volcanic rock, and as they say in the book, the only thing white is pigeon s__t. Fantastic windows, big organ. I read a sign saying [Jean-Phillippe] Rameau was an organist there for many years.

“At seven minutes before closing at midday, they rang a bell, and people started to leave. I went up towards the info table to see whether there was a CD of organ music. Before I got anywhere close, a man started yelling at me to leave. The clock (with automated figures I wanted to see) was a little ahead, but I wasn't about to argue, and rushed out.

“Saw the man afterwards, in a wheelchair. Still no excuse for yelling.

“Bought a Grisham novel at the bazaar at the library and am dying to read some more.…

“Got a check from US Treasury for 300 dollars, ‘economic stimulus.’ I thought it was a joke at first. I thought I was getting a bill like my friends.”

Then she added, “My friend Axel Kober, who is number 2 conductor in Leipzig, has gotten the general music director position in Duesseldorf/Duisburg…. I'm to teach his two younger sons piano. We'll see whether I can teach….”

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