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September 26, 2005
Villers-La-Faye, Burgundy - France

Paté – A revolutionary cure for jetlag?

At some point during the first week back it dawns on me that everything is so much easier this time around. Contrary to last August we have a place to live (albeit a place that is only about a third renovated), a car, health coverage, friends to chat with when we drop the girls off at school…in the course of the past year we have somehow created a life.

A 99 year old resident of Volnay -
With wine and age comes wisdom

And I would be enjoying it immensely if it wasn’t for that bête noir of travelers – jetlag.

And oh what a case of jetlag it is this time around! I think having spent over five weeks on the West Coast of Canada (that’s nine hours time difference) and having slept exceptionally soundly over there, we really had some adjusting to do. The girls also decided upon returning to France that that between 1:00 and 3:30am is actually a lovely time to get up and have a snack, watch videos, etc. Apart from a marathon twelve hour sleep when we arrived (that first day we woke up and had breakfast at 2:00 in the afternoon), we either couldn’t fall sleep at all at night, or fell into a dead sleep at around 11:30pm, only to awake again by 1:00am and contemplate the bedroom ceiling.

During those wee hours of the morning, I noticed for the first time that Franck and I had distinctly different ways of dealing with our jetlag-induced insomnia.

When Franck woke up in the middle of the night, he didn’t spend a whole lot of time tossing and turning in bed. Instead, he got up, and generally kicked off his “awake” time by making himself a nice little snack - a lovely tartine of paté one night, some Lindt chocolate another… Then he settled himself down to enjoy the documentaries that French TV shows between midnight and 5:00am. Inevitably he started to feel tired at some point and came back to bed, but one night the TV programs were so compelling that he didn’t even get into bed until 7:00am. He laughed about that, and then fell into a dead sleep for two hours. In the morning he regaled me with tales of the fabulous show he saw on Nepal, and the fascinating bit about pipe-makers in Brittany.

I, on the other hand, only allowed myself one night of such nocturnal pleasures before my North American control instincts kicked in full-force. I have to go to sleep I would tell myself otherwise how will I possibly be able to cope in the morning with work and the kids? I thrashed around in bed for hours, furious with myself. Willing myself to sleep wasn’t working, so I resorted to trying every relaxation exercise I could think of, which only succeeded in leaving me far more agitated because they were so patently not working (by the way, does deep breathing actually work for anyone? Or is it all just a big scam organized by the relaxation gurus of the world?)

As the days and nights ticked by I started to become obsessed with sleep, and my sudden lack of ability to get enough of it. The more willpower I tried to apply to the situation, the worse the situation became. Two weeks after our arrival, Franck and the girls are now over their jetlag and sleeping like babies, whereas I wander around the house in the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out why Franck’s method clearly worked so much better than mine.

The whole conundrum reminded me of the “French paradox” that we read so much about these days – how the French can eat camembert, baguettes, and all of those yummy things, wash it all down with some wine, and end up being thinner and healthier than their North American counterparts. At 3:30am one night I entertained the possibility that perhaps an emphasis on enjoyment, an utter lack of guilt, and above all, freedom from the tyranny of perfection ultimately make for a happier, less angst-ridden person.

I’ve seen it time and time again with visitors from North America, many of whom take a certain perverse pride in abiding by intransigent and at times incomprehensible rules that control their intake of food. No carbs for one, no fat for another, and then no red meat for a third. Food allergies aside, what’s wrong with just eating a little bit of everything, and enjoying it?

Same goes for sleepless nights. Last year when we were renovating La Maison de la Vieille Vigne Franck had what could be called insomnia for a period of several months. He would fall into a dead sleep in front of the TV in the evening, but then wake up in the middle of the night and, worrying about the renovations and all the work that needed to be done, sleep would elude him. He, however, never considered it a problem, and never really even considered it insomnia for that matter.

He would go outside and look at the stars for a while (because as he often reminds me, night is a beautiful time), then he would fix himself a satisfying snack, then go into our home office and set to work for several hours, and actually get a heck of a lot done. He was a bit tired during the day, and fell asleep around 9:00 in the evenings, but otherwise he didn’t consider it a problem. In fact, he was delighted by the amount he was able to accomplish during the peace and quiet of the night.

For me, it is a revolutionary idea. Don’t be so darn hard on yourself, don’t bother trying to control things that can’t be controlled, and, above all, try to eke out the maximum amount of pleasure and satisfaction from any situation. I’m trying. I have a very long road ahead of me in this department, but I suspect I just may be in the right place to learn.

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© 2005, Story by Laura Bradbury  & Photos by Franck Germain - All Rights Reserved.

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