Thursday, 20 September 2018

Like a version

Pyjama-clad with coffee brewing -  this morning's view

There was no alternative but to go shopping yet again. We could almost see the grins on our Australian friends' faces, as they would email slyly from a safe distance on the other side of the world, 'what are you and hubby doing all day?’ They would have been disappointed to hear the truth. For a long time our days were most unromantically consumed with shopping, waiting in queues to try and solve our telephone or Internet or transport or banking problems and ferrying the children to and from school four times a day. In particular we were struggling with getting a ‘justificatif de domicile’. This was something that confirmed that we had a fixed address and we needed it in order to open a bank account and get a RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire or chit with our bank account details). We needed the RIB to give to the car insurance company and we needed the car insurance before we could collect the second-hand car that we had far too quickly paid a large deposit on. It was a frustrating circular conundrum.

That first perfect French morning tea in the park-like gardens of our little wooden home had been replaced by treks out to the nearest McDonald’s hamburger store.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. (excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame')

This morning, my view was different; literally and figuratively. Standing in my pyjamas, listening to the cockatoos and kookaburras (and the golf course lawn mower), I was on familiar, comfortable territory; making my own coffee and choosing my own music. But, something was the same. Lily Allen was back in contact.

Friday mornings on Triple J radio is a bit of a weekly personal highlight (please don't judge). The morning crew of Ben and Liam invite musicians to chat on air before performing one of their own songs plus a cover. Cleverly named 'Like a version', I have never heard a bad segment. Lily's radio time with the hosts this morning was no different. She performed a rather melancholic, stripped-back track, 'Family Man' from her newest album and an equally soft and evocative version of 'Deep End' by an unknown-to-me artist, Lykke Li.

Her voice took me back to France. I could see myself bunkered down in a little McDonald's booth with my husband, felt the pressure of not knowing how things should be done, recalled the precariousness of staggering forward trying not to alarm our children with my lack of control, the solitude of knowing no-one and the complete uncertainty of whether we had done the right thing in heading to France.

I know what happened next. And, this is what gave this morning's melancholy a beauty. You see, difficult does not only make for bad memories.

I will leave you today with a newspaper extract. Here you will read that a self-published, Amazon-only distributed book has made it onto the long-list for the Renaudot Prize, a highly valued French literary prize - and the reaction of one bookseller.

She is highly indignant and, taking the opportunity to generalise, makes it clear that from her perspective, Amazon is a menace. As for me, I'd rather that bookstores just said 'yes' to my book without having to loan them my third born. I know, too, that readers love a bargain, so much so that even .99c is sometimes too high - which for those who have laboured in the production (authors) is hard to swallow. Not all groups can be pleased simultaneously, and as this is a competition, it makes sense to simply judge the book by its story...and whilst we are addressing the subject, maybe even acknowledge that Indie authors aren't by definition pariahs of the literary world.

Kindle copies of 'But you are in France, Madame' available here
Kindle deal for US readers running all week. Many thanks for your interest and support.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Great. You're famous. Now, let's go.

"Great. You're famous. Now let's go."

No, not me, but overhead yesterday.

My husband and I were on our way to Canberra where I was to speak at the Alliance Française. As usual, an event like this took a fair bit of behind-the-scenes preparation, not the least of which was packing for our 15-year-old son who was to stay overnight at a mate's place. Should I have let him pack for himself? Most definitely, but...clean socks - meh, two school shirts? (oh, one for today and one for tomorrow), name on trumpet (but I won't lose it...mmm). Loveable, loving and loved, by me, capable of indulgently tolerating the not-so-niceties of his teenage years. Other Mums - let's just say, I was taking precautions.

But, back to my eavesdropping en route...We had stopped for lunch and an obligatory browse up and down the main street of the country town. I read a blog recently, written by a French visitor to Australia, where the main streets of non-big-city destinations were described as flat, colourless, lacking interest and rather run-down. With the exception of the shop outside of which I was window licking*, she may have a point. This shop was bright, attractive and filled with gorgeous fashion creations of decades past. And, apparently, these had belonged to my female pavement companion.

"Look. In the window. My dresses!"
"Great. You're famous. Now, let's go," replied her male friend.

I love moments like these. They make me laugh, they make me reflect and I love bringing them up in conversation as they invariably lead to shared stories.

My author talks are like this too. They are not always big affairs; after all, I'm an incognito in the literary world, but those who come, do so to listen to our story and share their own. I meet travellers, mothers and fathers who are contemplating their next move, students who are garnering the courage to study overseas in a foreign language, readers, teachers, language lovers and, as was the case, with last night's event organiser, Elodie, French students, here in Australia, to explore the world down-under.

Let's shop. Paris, not said country town.
Despite our exchanges being warm, light-hearted and friendly, Elodie and I spoke in French, politely using the 'vous' form. It struck me that even after all these years of living and speaking French, this cultural difference still sets me apart. I wanted constantly to use the 'tu' form. Despite my comparatively advanced senior years, I didn't feel any hierarchical need for distance, my instinct was for a rapprochement and I felt a degree of discomfort with my inability to quickly broker the gap between stranger and acquaintance.

I've just returned from a meeting of a different kind. There, I wasn't expecting a reception in French. I got it, though, and it was diffident, officious and remarkable coming from the first point of contact in the organisation. It put me on the back foot, and reminded me yet again, despite how much I know about France and French living, how much I will probably never quite get it. One might say, "But you are in France in Australia, Madame"...

A big thank-you to the Alliance Française de Canberra for your welcome last night, especially to Elodie for helping pave the way for our event. It was lovely to meet you all.

*faire du lèche-vitrines - window-shopping (but literally to do some window licking)
**For Kindle copies of But you are in France, Madame, click here **

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Aix marks the spot - Part Two

In previous blogs, I have introduced you to other Australian families who, like us, have been so drawn to France that they have up-ended their 'normal' and headed there to live. What is interesting is that each of us has a very different story. Of course, there are similarities (from the simple - markets, fresh food, administrative hurdles... to the complex - profound emotions) but our stories - what we have each done, what we hoped to get from our experiences, how long we stayed and where we stayed - have varied quite significantly.

In Part One of Aix marks the spot, we met Sydneysiders Meredith, her husband and their two children as they readied themselves for departure followed by their early experiences in Aix-en-Provence.

Today, in Part Two of 'Aix marks the spot', Meredith relates a funny story, which I enjoyed so much that I thought it was deserving of a Friday blog of its own. 

One of the most amusing things about living in France at that time was the fact that my husband bore an uncanny resemblance, in both age and appearance, to a ‘très connu’ (well known) French policitian, fondly known as DSK.  Dominique Strauss Kahn seemed to acquire more and more notoriety throughout our stay due to  his involvement in several financial and sexual scandals. 

Highly intelligent, charming and sophisticated, DSK was the Head of the International Monetary Fund and was tipped to become the next President of France until a lurid sex scandal turned him into a total pariah.  Even his wife of 20 years threw him out.  His career and political aspirations came to a rather spectacular end on 14 May 2011 when, in high international drama, his Air France plane was stopped on the runway, he was escorted off by the US authorities and arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a New York chambermaid. Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper dubbed him ‘le grand séducteur’ (the Great Seducer).

So, whilst DSK had a monopoly over the world stage and the front cover of all the local french newspapers, for sexual assault and general bad behaviour including orgies and pimping, Colin and I thought nothing about attending the local Set Club for a summer cocktail party.  I was quietly sipping my rosé, chatting with some friends I played tennis with, when friends of their friends started showing up.  I noticed they were laughing and pointing at my husband who was about 15 metres away:

Oh mon dieu… Regarde là-bas!  C’est DSK!”.
(Oh my god.  Look over there.  It’s DSK)

I chimed in :
"En fait, c’est mon mari”. 
(Actually, that’s my husband).

When I walked over to share this with Colin he declared loudly in their general direction:
“Ce n'était pas ma faute. J’ai demandé le service en chambre, c'est tout”.
(It wasn’t my fault, I asked for room service. That’s all”….)

To find out what Meredith is doing these days, head to the following sites.

For Kindle copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', click here