Thursday, July 26, 2012

Farewell, Ferney


When we returned from our Bulgaria trip, we spent 10 days sorting, discarding, and packing our belongings. How did we accumulate so much in 10 months?  Assorted books bought, some clothes purchased, several household items acquired at Ferney’s community-wide garage sale in September, a half dozen black stones laden with fossils picked up from flat dry land (remnants of a prehistoric sea) in Morocco during our Christmas vacation, two diminutive art pieces obtained at Lyon’s Sunday artisan market, miscellaneous French food items that are pricey in California… These acquisitions and others added to the mass of items we had brought to France: suitcases of clothes for 4 seasons for 3 people; books to read and tour guides to use on trips; our computers and cameras; art supplies; Spouse’s bike disassembled and packed in a secure, stout, durable black plastic bike box.  We ended up with 9 suitcases to take with us on the plane, 8 boxes and the bike crate to ship air freight, and 4 boxes of books to be sent through the post.

We made trip after trip to Spouse’s CERN office to store the suitcases and boxes because our apartment lease ended on June 30, and our tickets back were for July 6.  We stayed 5 nights in a hotel.

Storage at Spouse's CERN Office

Our final day in the apartment was sunny, humid, and the hottest of the summer: 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 Fahrenheit.  With no air conditioning, working nonstop to finish packing by 6 PM, then cleaning the apartment, we were exhausted, sweaty, and tired.  But that evening we attended a community-wide festival, La Fête à Voltaire, held on the grounds of Voltaire’s chateau.  Blue, violet, and pink lights shined at different times on the chateau and church (which Voltaire had built).  Different civic organizations from the area sold food and drinks.  Not only could we buy traditional French fare, like crepes or champagne, but we also could purchase food from clubs of immigrants: Ethiopian, Moroccan, Haitian, Spanish, Russian, Tongan, West African and others.  On one stage a group of costumed folk dancers and musicians from Bourg-en-Bresse, the largest city in the département (province), performed and then taught dances to attendees of the festival.  And a community chorus of adults sang a cantata by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), a contemporary of Voltaire.  In fact, Voltaire had written a libretto for one of Rameau’s operas, Samson, but it was never performed because Rameau feared that Voltaire’s criticism of the Church would create public discord. 

Voltaire's chateau in violet light

Between “La Fête à Voltaire” on Saturday night – which seemed to be a suitable and sad adieu to Ferney - and our departure the following Friday, we dined with friends we had seen throughout the year and we toured places we hadn’t seen – a cheese factory in the Jura Mountains and a medieval town with an interesting religious history, both of which I’ll write about in the next few months.  

Cheese factory in the Jura Mountains

I drove around Ferney taking last-minute photos of scenes I wanted to remember, such as the statue of nude lovers which is located near the apartment where we lived, on a corner by the main road that connects Ferney-Voltaire to Meyrin, Switzerland.  We passed that statue at least twice a day when I drove Spouse to and from CERN.   Whenever I saw the sculpture, I assumed that Americans would ban from public display such a carving of a couple embracing in the buff, and I thought, “Vive la France!”

Embracing Nudes in Ferney-Voltaire

The day before we left France we took the boxes and bike crate to an air freight company at the Geneva Airport.

Our air freight load

And then on July 6, the three of us, with our 9 suitcases and carry-on pieces, bid farewell to Ferney. 

CERN Wife and luggage at Geneva Airport

Although we didn’t spend an entire year in Ferney-Voltaire, we are fortunate for having had 10 months to live in France.  CERN Wife, however, will continue to write about French culture, which has been the subject of this blog.  But from now on, the blog posts will be written in Oakland, California.  France from not France.  Now that’s interesting. 


  1. Oakland for a while I hope? My husband and I traveled a lot-17 different countries in 23 years; we lived in Russia, and 1990-1993-Russia travel to Siberia, Ukraine, Live in Ukraine and then Belarus - minsk 1991-1992-very busy; luggage loads I identify with. best wishes

  2. Yes, we're in Oakland indefinitely, back to the same house which now needs a lot of work (new floors, painting, etc.). I love traveling to other countries, and that I'll miss. California is on the other side of world from Europe, which makes getting there time-consuming and expensive. How fortunate you are to have lived in so many countries.

  3. I've never lived in another country but imagined it many times. The photos of suitcases, freight, and all the work involved tarnished some of that fantasy :). I'm eager to hear your experiences.

    In a month I leave to travel for 30 days in Normandy and Paris. Voltaire's chateau in violet light is now on my must see. Do you have any "must remember to take" to Paris and "must bring back" from France ideas?

    1. Yikes! What to take to Paris...hmm...of course, an umbrella, closed toe shoes for the days it rains, a small English-French dictionary, camera, a good guide book (I like Lonely Planet books), clothes for cool weather and clothes for hot and humid weather. What to bring back? I wish I could have imported their healthcare system, but couldn't get that through customs. What you can really bring back: cheeses, if you get them vacuum-wrapped (sous vide); chocolate (try Nestles in France - totally different from Nestles in the US); soaps (even the inexpensive ones from the supermarket); herbal teas (great choices in the supermarkets). At Picard you can buy great lavender-colored fold-up shopping bags for 80 centimes (around $1) that you can put in your purse. I love the supermarket Carrefour, but in Paris they're tiny. And if you see the store, Maison du Monde, stop in there for good prices for household accessories. Clothes: Eurodif for inexpensive ones. Clothes in France are usually pricey. Have fun!

  4. Wonderful, busy and hectic! The pics with luggage are really overwhelming! I can just imagine the pressure.
    Hoping all the works on your Oakland house will work out fine and in time before the winter :-)
    Will mail you. I want to mail you a long message, that's keeping me from doing it :-)
    Mariya Koleva

    1. It took longer to pack the boxes and suitcases in France than to unpack everything back here. But all the little souvenirs (such as antique bed-warmers and vases and Moroccan tea glasses that I bought at a flea market in Ferney-Voltaire) that I see in our house in Oakland remind me of those glorious 10 months in France.

  5. Fantastique!j'avais vu les valises et quelques boxes sur skype mais je ne m'etais pas immaginee que vous en aviez autant!!
    Nous partons bientot en Turquie mais avant nous serons sur Fontainebleau.
    A bientot sur skype

    1. Quand tu vas en Turquie? Est-ce que nous pouvons "skyper"?

  6. I cannot imagine how many you have sorted that it took you 10 days to finish packing. I wish you had your friends came to help you pack. Though, you must be used to sorting and packing because your spouse's job requires a lot of traveling. Entrusting our possessions is not easy, especially if it's your “entire house.” Make sure that your choice of freight company is legit, so your possessions will reach its destination safe and complete.


  7. Bonjour, I stumbled upon your blog while researching living in Ferney-Voltaire. My husband starts his new job in Geneva on Monday so we'll all be down there this weekend looking for a new home. I hope all is well in fair Oakland. I'm from SF and miss it dearly but we'll be there on holiday next month. I hope you get a chance to come back to France someday soon!