Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Beautiful Provencal accommodation - Part One


Night falls over the village of Cabrières d'Avignon
I spent a long time looking at possibilities for our summer holiday in the South of France, knowing that any one of hundreds of little, extraordinarily beautiful and tempting villages would have made us happy. I was aware, though, that unlike our previous holiday in the area, this time we would be there pretty much in peak tourist season. I did want atmosphere and access but I didn't want interminable queues and contrived quaintness. Cabrières d'Avignon is small with a limited nightlife (one restaurant), a single bakery and small épicerie (with very expensive but fine goods) but, after a week in a much bigger village, it was exactly what I was hoping for.

And, then there was our accommodation...rather sumptuous... and with a pool and parking, just wonderful for chilled early evenings after our hot summer's days. 

So, let me show you around.


Come on in

Cute balcony. Perfect for one's first cup of tea of the morning




A gorgeous old house, lovingly restored and filled with a special something. Ambiance, I guess, which doesn't require a lot of commentary.

In my next post, I'll take you inside.

In the meantime, if you'd like to read about our early years of French living, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available here in both print and digital versions.
A bientôt!

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Tour de France tales




Our first Tour de France seems like a long time ago. Then, as Tour novices, it was exciting, colourful, loud, hot, fun...exactly as it was this year. And judging from the ages, stages and antics of those around us, we are not the only ones to feel like this.

It is as much the rhythm of the season, the return of a good friend, the thrill of the catch and the allure of a day out as it is the cycling. Roadside and pre-arrival of the cyclists, the holiday vibe is as taut as the faded lavender still swaying sporadically in the Provençal fields, and the jingles, carried poorly through the loudspeakers on the floats in the advertising caravane, work just as magically as any smooth, slinky nightclub sound. In tune with the mood, we dance, wave, cheer and dive manically for the must-have sachets of laundry liquid and mustard sauce or the key-rings, pens, hats and, crowd-favourite, Haribo lollies thrown at us by young, pretty and pretty resilient Tour girls and boys.




Just a smidgen of competitiveness infiltrates the good-natured event:

"Ils sont à vous, Madame?" I was queried after Monsieur-across-the-road scurried to join me and my advantageous position, and eye off my pile of goodies.

But no fear of fashion faux-pas. We all slip on the oversized t-shirts and slap on the one-size-fits-all polka-dot caps, unconcerned that they make of us a giant, manipulable, cost-effective advertisement. Excepting perhaps the hot-but-not-bothered policemen and the two suave individuals who draped their t-shirts elegantly over their shoulders after having carefully undone and checked the top button of their shirts...after all, the television cameras were everywhere.

For more little excerpts and images of our French life, you can find me on Instagram @butyouareinfrancemadame or here on Amazon (print or ebook available for purchase)













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