Saturday, 20 July 2019

Getting a flower - and a whole lot more

I knew I was being sweet-talked - a much kinder word than conned - and if you have watched the most delicious film of Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals' you would recognise my own rascally version of would-be wooer-of-mother sea captain. This mother (me) was equally as un-wooable but my eye-patched, larger-than-life character still managed to make of me his customer.

We had just had lunch - not under the tonnelle in the Grain de Sel restaurant  (we had not booked) - but inside (relegated but seated) although still with glimpses of the Provencal countryside.

"Oh my God"

Turning my head, and seeing just an empty bowl as the new addition to the table, I furrowed my brow, which my son interpreted correctly as 'what was that all about?'

"You just have to get ready," he replied.


I burst out laughing. The getting ready to which he was referring was the impending arrival of his moules, and the empty bowl and little sachets of hand wipes was the signal to get ready. I really need no other little anecdote to describe his appreciative attention to the details, the rituals and the flavours of food: his Frenchness really.

But back to my bandit, oops sea-captain, I mean painter...

Having raced through the very pretty little village of Ansouis to procure our lunch seats (no use waiting until you are hungry), with bellies full, we strolled. And came upon a church, beautiful and cool. And came upon an open art gallery (entrée libre, Madame). It was a colourful exhibition and a couple of paintings had indeed caught my eye (they always do) but mindful of our budget, we were readying ourselves to step outside (hats, sunglasses, energy) when energy itself burst through the door carrying a large plastic bag. He caught my eye and, stripping down the plastic, entreated me to come and see his colours. Of course, I did.

"See how when you walk backwards, the shadows under the olive trees become more defined."
And, dutifully,  I stepped backwards and nodded. As did the other two curators in the room.

"I didn't do that on purpose!" (guffaw, guffaw)

But, somehow, seduced I was and ten minutes later, we exchanged money for colour on a smaller version of our original fascination. Just a little slice of Provence with a big serving of sun-filled afternoon. I am not going to reveal to you how much I paid. No, no. But, I can tell you that I did not have enough in my pockets and yet here I am, home with my new memory...and a flower. You see, as he told me, " Je vous fais une fleur." I got a bonus...and he didn't seem to mind a bit.



For more of our French stories, 'But you are in France, Madame': print and digital versions of the book available.



Friday, 14 June 2019

Cute...again


My family would tell you that my ultimate goal was to not give away that I wasn’t French, at least not as soon as I opened my mouth. At times, I was rewarded with being given almost-French status by my French friends and acquaintances. But, on other occasions, merely uttering the single word “Bonjour” would confirm that I was a foreigner. At this point, seeing my crestfallen face, the person with whom I was speaking would tell me how cute my accent was, and that I should try very hard to keep it. Hadn’t anyone ever told them that cute had been a somewhat pejorative adjective, reserved for teenage girls like me, growing up alongside beautiful girls? I did not like the word, not one little bit. 
(excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame')


Indulge me.

Actually, I'm not going to wait for your permission...


For those of you who know me personally, you will be familiar with the saga of the yellow tracksuit and how it shaped (scarred) me.

For those of you who don't, I'll keep it brief. As I inferred, it left a lasting...colourful...impression. They were on sale, our yellow tracksuits (no need to wonder why), at the low-cost store Target. Cleverly, my mother snapped up three bargains and had thrown in a few free years of fashion misery for two of my sisters and me (my youngest sister was spared the indignity as the only colour in her size was the passably acceptable navy blue). Let me confirm for you that in one's early teens, it is NOT cool to be dressed exactly like one's siblings... in anything... least of all badly form-fitting canary yellow.

Whether directly related to this experience, the era in which I grew up or my innate 'me', beauty and I have had a particular relationship. I have never had a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, a massage, an eye-brow shape or a consultation with a stylist or a beautician. I don't know anything about make-up, how to use it or what is age-appropriate. I sometimes wear clothes from decades past and get my hair cut at the fast-hair-cut salons with no pampering; just an in, cut and out. Yes, I have had leg waxes (with seriously undesirable effects), I did have my hair highlighted (my daughter burst into tears when she saw me) and I have to admit to sporting a perm, flared jeans and leggings (not simultaneously). I can't say it helped to pull off a girl-of-the-times look.



It did take a long while before I could see that that was ok. In fact, more than that. I discovered that I liked not conforming and it suited me better to sit on the edge of whatever was trending. Even in France, I boldly declare, whilst striking my Joan of Arc pose, in that birthplace of chic, where beauty and style are synonymous with 'any French girl', and where I observed that putting on snow boots to go out in the snow was logical but overrated, where rash vests for sun protection at the beach were not only overlooked, so were the bikini tops, where one scarf could magically be eight fashion items, where make-up was perfect and invisible, where underwear was more than a couple of pairs of solid Bonds items... even there, I was not intimidated. Non, non, non mais non.


Ok. Just a little bit.

Cute...again.









Tuesday, 21 May 2019

#BalanceTonPorc

My daughter called me over to listen to a song. Distractedly, I glanced at her phone screen and within a couple of notes, I was transported... back several years and to a McDonalds in Epagny on the outskirts of Annecy. 
Let me recount it to you as I told it in 'But you are in France, Madame'.   
That perfect first French morning tea in the park-like gardens of our little wooden home had been replaced by treks out to the nearest McDonald’s hamburger store. Neither my husband or I were lovers of the food but they had free Wi-Fi. We would order coffee, which was surprisingly drinkable and affordable, and work hard through our list of 'things to do'. Sometimes, if we didn’t have a lot of things to research, we would just sit in the car park outside the store for a few minutes and hook into the network from there. Of course it felt wrong. We had gone to France for the family-run village cafés with atmosphere-inducing French background music and where the menus would reflect the seasonal produce; not fast food, bright lighting and English pop songs. 
On one such visit a sweet-sounding song came onto the radio blaring through the loudspeaker. It was soothing and I was a bit pent up with coping with our new life so I stopped what I was doing and leaned back momentarily on my bench to let the words flow over me. “La, di dah di dah, fuck you, la di dah di dah.” My head jerked up and I looked at my husband. “Did she really just sing what I think she sang?” I asked. How appropriate! Lily Allen was singing for us and sweetly saying what we felt like yelling out loud every time we were told that what we desperately needed to do was not possible. I felt quite elated. Somebody out there understood what we were going through and I found myself humming her tune frequently. I am not good at remembering words to songs but in this case I only needed to know two. 
Just 6 km - not the full marathon - but super proud, I was
This time, the song 'Balance ton quoi'  by French singer Angèle that my daughter had invited me to listen to was similarly sweet, similarly initially deceptive and equally message laden. She may have brought it to me to follow-up a conversation that we had just had. With the Paris marathon in the news, I had been recalling that this was an event from which women had previously been banned. We had watched together the black-and-white footage from 1967 of the first woman,  Kathrine Switzer, to run the Boston marathonas she was physically man-handled (yes, by a man, the race director) as he tried to stop her from competing. Naturally, our conversation had continued on it's oft-feminist course as we wondered, yet again, about past and current gender inequities around the world.
The #MeToo movement in France goes by the much more aggressive hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (out your pig - expression coined by New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller) but it would seem that the movement has not been seen or followed there in the same way that it has in other parts of the world. In fact, right from the beginning, there was an attempt from some quarters to allow the sexual harassment and abuse of women by French men to continue, with justification that it was 'just part of the French culture'.
In this article of May 19, entitled In France, The #MeToo Movement Has Yet To Live Up To Women's Hopeswe read that
Today, France is still coming to grips with how to acknowledge and prevent sexual harassment and abuse of women.
Where women's equality is concerned, the country presents a mixed picture: Studies suggest France has the highest percentage of women in the workforce in Europe and the country seems to set women up to succeed.
Mothers are able to go back to work if they choose, because of the country's good day care system. And universal public schooling begins at age 3.
Yet the gender pay gap persists: French women earned 15.2% less on average than French men in 2016, according to the European Union's statistics agency.
Overall, many women in France feel the #MeToo movement has fallen short of what they hoped for.
But, back to sweet-sounding sounds: I applaud Angèle for continuing to raise the issue of sexism and for working to not allow the #MeToo movement to simply disappear and for past behaviours to resume. But, as can be heard in this interview, when asked about the clearly sexist (and abhorrently explicit) lyrics in rap music, she was hesitant, still preferring to adhere to a platform of free speech. 
Yes, there is still a whole lot more to be done.
PS I have been trying to write this blog for a few weeks now. I did not want the issue to be reduced to a flippant one-liner, but I was not sure that I could quickly do the subject justice without losing your interest. I was a bit lost, too, to know what photos would support the text AND encourage readers to click on, and read, the blog. In contradiction to my theme, please-look-at-me photos won out. Sigh.
PPS Words to Angele's song 'balance ton quoi' in French here





Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Shame, really, as it was Paris



I was probably more concerned with pick-pockets, not losing my children, working out where to go and how to get there plus general mustering duties (dispensing anti-bacterial hand lotion pre-café and post-public transport, rounding up and keeping my little group tight and compact, making sure that they looked left not right before stepping out onto any road...) than taking in the beauty of the city.

Shame, really, as it was Paris.

Sometimes, I wonder if I appreciate my travels more in hindsight; through photos and stories retold around the dinner table. Then, the dangers are in the past and the experiences, good and bad, have been lived, resolved, exaggerated and added to our individual histories.



Our visit to Notre Dame was but one part of our very busy first day in Paris, which included climbing the Eiffel Tower, riding on a bateau-mouche, visiting the Jardin des Plantes, hopping in and out of the métro and choosing somewhere to lunch (not straightforward with 5 to please). I, hand on heart, did not know that I was jumping the queue when we got in so quickly to Our Lady of Paris. Truthfully, I hate being where lots of other people are (difficult in Paris) and I would have loved to be in the same space during a religious service or choral performance in order to sit, reflect and enjoy. Instead, I am pretty sure we looked up, down, around, did a quick circuit behind others doing the same, avoided the souvenir shop and headed out.

Crumpled. It has been with me, in my bag, since that day. 
By the time we got to the Sacré Coeur several days later, I had calmed down substantially and accepted that this was a first time in Paris for my children, that they could not possibly see and do everything, and that they would have many more years to explore and do.

Funny that, how we think that things will stay the same.

Yesterday's events in Paris prove that that is not the case. I don't have any personal photos to share with you of us at Notre Dame but think that the article (below) might be a lovely way to fill in some of the past (particularly with your children or if you are learning French) whilst talking about the present (and future) of this beautiful Parisian landmark that seems to have defied the odds over and again.

PS To read the rest of the Parisian chapter in our French story, take a look at 'But you are in France, Madame' for print and digital copies.






Thursday, 4 April 2019

Say NO to service fees

Garden at Le Cormoran in Talloires
 

Disconnected, but surprisingly in synch. Not infrequently, I notice that bloggers whom I follow (principally French oriented) offer thematically consistent posts. Education, the weather, festivals, politics, Brexit (who isn't talking about this?), observations about life in France... appear almost as set topic of the day. Much like the lock-step schooling that my children witnessed/endured/enjoyed/encountered (select as appropriate) in France, the memo regarding uniformity seems to have continued into this blogging world.

View from the upstairs bedroom at Le Cormoran

It happened to me yesterday. I had contemplated an article based around our home in Talloires, which we have on holiday rental. I had it planned out in minute detail in my mind, just like I have at various points in my life planned out exactly what I would say to the bullies who have stood over my children if ever I were to catch those bastards in action. (Hmmm, that is ambiguous, but, no, I am not referring in the latter part of that sentence to my offspring but that small subset of students otherwise known as weak, slimy cowards). You see, the platform (HomeAway grrr) on which we have our home advertised frustrates the hell out of me and occasionally it does me a whole lot of good to vent in writing.

Looking down on Talloires and Le Cormoran

Then Lise from Let's Speak French contacted me. She was preparing a blog about Australians who own holiday-rental properties in France (ours included) but her angle was FAR more positive. She wanted to encourage her language students to picture themselves in various corners of France practicing their French language but take some of the stress out of their travel booking experience by providing them with solid, reliable links WITH NO BOOKING FEES. Ok, that last bit was added by me and so you get an inkling of my angst with the above-mentioned platform who, yes, charges EXORBITANT service fees for NO extra service. At least, nothing more than they used to give pre service fee. I was going to mention the FaceBook group Book your Holiday Direct with the Owner and implore readers to use it (objective achieved - tick), do a bit of not-so-subtle advertising of my own property (tick) and hopefully feel better by receiving loads of comments in the comments section from like-minded readers about the injustice of outrageous and unnecessary holiday rental service fees by booking companies who provide no commensurable benefits.

Our French village - Talloires on the Annecy Lake

PS Here is a link to Lise's blog and if you are the Australian owner of a holiday rental property and we haven't come across each other yet, feel free to send me a message (cb222@me.com). It'd be good to get to know each other.

The Annecy Lake glorious in all seasons