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That perfect first French morning tea in the park-like gardens of our little wooden home had been replaced by treks out to the nearest McDonald’s hamburger store.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

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Australians in France - Chateau du Jonquay Part 2

Chateau du Jonquay


In Part 1 of Jane's story, which I shared in my last blog, Jane tells us of the stroke of luck that led to the purchase of their beautiful castle, Chateau du Jonquay (above). Here is the beginning of the story again, along with a continuation of our interview.

You have bought and renovated a property in France – Chateau Du Jonquay in Normandy. Why did you choose Normandy for your French home? 

It was more of a case of Normandy chose us! We had visited almost everywhere else in France and never had been to Normandy, when a friend invited us to come and spend a weekend with them and attend another friend of their’s annual party. It turned out the friend was a New York interior designer and his chateau was for sale. So pretty much by the end of the party Steve (my husband) had decided to buy it, as he had fallen in love with it. I liked it too but I thought we were actually looking to invest in an apartment, so it was a bit of a shock! We really did fall under Chateau Jonquay’s spell!

Might there be a renovation story or two that you could share?

Naturally, there are many, many renovation stories! In some ways I feel like we have been continually renovating since we bought it 9 years ago. Initially we had to replace the roof as it was leaking and we added a bathroom to the 3rd level. Then we bought the farmhouse next door when it came up for sale and renovated that. It had been the original stables to the Chateau so it was lovely to put them back as one property. Renovating the farmhouse was loads of fun as I invited 10 Australian girlfriends to come and visit, drop in and paint or restore the garden so I didn’t get lonely. It was in very bad shape, but when I look back I can’t believe how much we achieved in just 4 months. The French tradies loved turning up each day to the babble of the Aussie girls working away, up ladders, stripping back 10 layers of wallpaper, trying to explain to tradesmen that you need a wallpaper steaming machine – I'm not sure I even knew what that was in English!  Our french language improved enormously, particularly the vocabulary for anything to do with renovation! We then decided to do a more major renovation on the Chateau by adding a conservatory, new la cornue kitchen, which then led to refurbishing the whole ground floor. We also added another bathroom, the list goes on. It was like opening a can of worms, literally – once we opened up the walls there were actually small animals nesting in them!

What advice would you give to other Australian families who dream of buying their own special place in France? Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process?

I would try and buy a house that has been renovated, as they are inexpensive to purchase but to renovate is costly. It is way less expensive than Australian costs but it is still better if it has been done. Particularly bathrooms, they seem to be the hardest thing for me. Finding good tradesmen is not easy but once you do the French are wonderful to work with and in Normandy they love Australians. They cannot believe anyone would fly so far to experience living in their country! The purchase process was very easy really, but was greatly enhanced for us as my husband is very good at reading and speaking French.
I would do as much homework as you can, but as a venture I highly recommend it. It has been one of the most exciting things we have done. I would also only buy if it is a secondary property and you leave enough in the budget for fixing maintenance issues, as the buildings are so old the issues are constant. I also think you need to keep a sense of humour about you otherwise you would go mad!


Chateau du Jonquay (sleeps 16) and Petit Jonquay (sleeps 8) are available for holiday rental. How would those who were interested find out more?

They are both available for rent either separately or together. Click here for photos, rates and information.

I also offer an additional service of tailor-made itineraries for groups who would like to stay for a week with restaurant bookings and suggestions of things to do and see around Normandy.

It is also available for parties. We have a lot of people who book the castle for celebrations; however, it is also really enjoyable just for families who love the heated pool is to relax around.  

In addition, I am very excited about a collaboration I have with Radiant Pantry on a project called Fit.Food.France.

Fit.Food.France is a 5-day program of yoga, meditation, hikes, healthy French food, market tours and cooking classes with a live-in health coach.  We have 2 weeks available for 2019. 
For 2020, we are expanding the program to include other interests. For those who would like to know more, join our mailing list via the website to be kept up to date or contact me via the website: Fitfoodfrance.com

Are you working on any other projects at the castle?

I am constantly working on projects for Jonquay, mainly because not only do I love the building (renovating is my passion) but also because I have fallen in love with Normandy as an area. We like the weather as it never gets hotter than 32 and it is very green and lush which reminds us of Melbourne.

The next project is our 400-year-old cellar under the castle, that was uncovered during the last renovation. Oh, and we have a few windows to replace!

Thanks so much Jane for sharing your story. Bonne continuation and good luck with fit.food.france. Let us know how it all goes.

Click here if you'd like to read Part One of Jane's interview or here to purchase a copy of my
family's French story, 'But you are in France, Madame'.


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Australians in France - Chateau du Jonquay Part 1



Last December, I travelled to Melbourne to do a book talk at the Alliance Française de Melbourne.  For those of you who have been following me for a while, you would know that it was in Melbourne that our French adventure really began as that is where the dreaming, the planning, the packing and paper work and, eventually, the departure took place. So, alongside book-related appointments, I treated myself to lots of lovely, overdue catch-ups with old friends. Some new ones, too, as I met Jane for the first time. Another Aussie in France, we shared a few hours and lots of stories...

Jane, thanks for participating in our occasional series, ‘Australians in France’. Can you tell us a little bit about your family and your French connection? 

We had been travelling to France every 2 years or so for around 20 years and then in 2010 with the GFC and the exchange rate being so good we decided to realise our dream of owning a property in France. My husband’s family were real francophiles so our passion for France had always been there. Plus, we both enjoyed the language in school days and had lived in England when we were younger and developed a keen love for travel and Europe. 
We also wanted our children to understand how large the world is and how wonderful travel can be for experiencing different cultures and understanding others.

You have bought and renovated a property in France – Chateau Du Jonquay in Normandy. Why did you choose Normandy for your French home? 

It was more of a case of Normandy chose us! We had visited almost everywhere else in France and never had been to Normandy, when a friend invited us to come and spend a weekend with them and attend another friend of their’s annual party. It turned out the friend was a New York interior designer and his chateau was for sale. So pretty much by the end of the party Steve (my husband) had decided to buy it, as he had fallen in love with it. I liked it too but I thought we were actually looking to invest in an apartment, so it was a bit of a shock. We really did fall under Chateau Jonquay’s spell!

You spend part of the year living in Australia, what do you most look forward to when you return to France? 

The thing we most look forward to is actually spending time with the French friends we have made in our town. We feel so lucky to have been accepted by them. Not surprisingly, I also look forward to the food and wine, but love having a base that makes travel to other European countries easy. It is a great feeling to have a “home” to come back to and we are always amazed at how it really does feel like home. 

How have you adapted to life in your village and your village to you? 


We have loved making friends with our local community. We were particularly surprised at the power the mayor has in each village. Basically,  we were told our renovation approval would take a minimum of 3 months but it only took 3 weeks. When we asked 'why', we were told the approval came through so quickly because the mayor liked what we were doing and it only needed his approval. We often make the comment to ourselves “only in France”! 

If you can’t live in France, what do you think is the best time of year to visit? Apart from your special place in France, do you have any favourite French places that you would recommend to other families?

I like the spring and the summer so anytime from April through to October. Having said that I also like December and January in the snow! Arcachon and Provence are favourites, but not in the height of summer as it is very hot and too touristy.

I talk frequently with families who feel that their French would not be sufficient for either living in or buying in France. What are your thoughts about the level of language required?

I think that having a basic understanding of French is fine as long as you are prepared to learn more. Speaking French is one of the joys of buying in France as we were hoping to make friends with the locals and immerse ourselves completely in village life. Everyone in our region expects you to speak French, they rarely speak English, but we like that. I think you should probably only buy if you are prepared to enhance your language skills, but our experience has been that people are very friendly if you try. They don’t expect you to be perfect and they love the fact you are trying.


In Part Two, Jane will take us for a little look inside the castle. Or, for a sneak preview...

PS Links here to catch up on previous 'Aussies in France' posts, where we have met Jodie, Tahnee, Meredith, Fiona and Annette.

'But you are in France, Madame' is our French story and is available in print or Kindle by clicking here.















Monday, 4 March 2019

Dejected


Despondent, let down ... a few other words come to mind right now.

Back in January, I wrote a post here that began with frustration and ended with optimism.

Today, I can't muster optimism.

Yesterday, I received a registered letter from the Italian Consulate (yep, they did not want me to miss it) dated Feb 26. Not sure, why it had taken 6 days to get here, but that is relevant to the story. The letter was in Italian and even though I have been super diligent with my Italian lessons (not a day missed since I found out 43 days ago that I needed to learn Italian), I could not fully understand it. To add insult to the injury I was just about to receive in writing, in trying to download the free Google translate app, I inadvertently downloaded a paying, subscription-based app. Not off to a good start.

The letter advised that I had ten days from the date of the letter to present a certificate to the consulate showing successful completion of a B1 level (not beginner's) in Italian, or else my request for citizenship would be definitively rigettata and, yes, the rejection was in bold AND underlined.

I felt so cheated. After all, I had submitted ALL the documents that the online submission form had requested. It had taken me months and nearly 1000 dollars to convert the mumbo-jumbo of the convoluted process into understood outcomes and then collect the required documents. At my January interview in the Consular offices, I was asked for yet another $100 and was told to go and learn Italian, as this was a new, undocumented requirement, about which no details were yet available. Off-handedly, I was also told that the period I would be required to wait for a response to my application had changed, just like that, from 2 to 4 years. "See you in 4 years", she had said.

As you know, I was never opposed to learning the language of the country whose citizenship I was legally allowed to obtain. To the contrary. But, I have 3 days remaining to do so and provide proof of said learning. Failing that, and I will fail, I have to start the whole costly process again.

Should I pay all this money again and wait more than five years on the off-chance that my application will by then be viewed favourably?

Addio Italia.  Right now, I need to turn my head and look for my sunshine elsewhere.

PS If you feel like cheering me up, reading 'But you are in France, Madame' would help. Many thanks in advance.




Monday, 25 February 2019

Rue la-di-dah-di-dah-di-dah


I am usually on the ball when it comes to our French anniversaries (leaving Australia, returning from France, the days prior to both, holidays, visitors ...) so to realise that I did not remember the day four years ago that we signed the final papers on our French home comes as a bit of a surprise.

Opening the door of our French home for the first time
Admittedly, on Sunday, which was the anniversary of this event, I was rather pre-occupied with making new friends around the world thanks to the kind invitation of the FB group We Love Memoirs to be in their author spotlight. Even posting THE photo of me opening our French front door for the first time did not trip my memory.

Following that joyous occasion, and it was just that, we had less than four weeks to create a home for ourselves and our holiday guests. Our first quickly drawn up to-do list grew hourly and we discovered that metre-thick stone walls are not easy to pierce, that old houses with oddly shaped rooms are difficult to carpet, that you can return from a holiday more exhausted than before leaving and that our son's appetite for visits to the hardware store is limited.


Our home away from home


No spoons? Luckily, we had a salad server on hand.














He maintained good humour despite his self-proclaimed kidnapping by mimicking the GPS voice as it attempted French street names with a strong English accent. Rue la-di-da-di-da-di-da, though, was the ultimate in distortion and had to be re-driven just so that we could take the edge off our all-consuming house set-up with a good belly laugh. After all, the first time, surprise had got the better of us.




Not really that funny, except to two stressed parents trying to find 'squiges' and 'thingamyjigs' in French in above-mentioned hardware store, the following conversation between lost woman X and passer-by womanY:

Woman X: I've lost my husband.
Woman Y: Make the most of it.


Mine hadn't lost his wife. I was taking just a minute to stop and sit down.


To read more of our French adventures, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available as both Kindle and print options here.

To find out more about our holiday rental click here at ourfrenchvillagehouse 

PS Linking with #allaboutfrance. Head over for your dose of French inspiration and stories.







Monday, 11 February 2019

You are mine until ... what?

Not Sicily - Monopoli


I had made it to Sicily by train and the journey had already had all the hallmarks of 'one of those trips' that would be recounted and exaggerated with each telling. There was just one more ferry ride across the water to Malta and my final destination, but my boat was not leaving until after night had fallen and that was hours away. My unwieldy backpack was heavy plus it was relatively warm despite the winter season and I had not slept properly for days, so I sat on one of the chairs outside a wharf café hoping not to be noticed immediately and gazed out to sea.

I was not alone for long. He was up for a chat but we didn't really have a common language. The words of Italian that I knew were fewer than the bits of French that he was trying on me but the gestures, the intention of his regard and his intonation were clear. Humour was my first dissuasive tactic. That didn't work, but neither did long silences, a firmer tone or suggesting that my boyfriend could be along at any minute. Despite the daylight, I was becoming more and more uncomfortable, but grabbing my hand and declaring that "my blood is boiling for you" had me guffawing uncertainly, snatching my hand from his and standing abruptly.

From the comfort of my desk today, I was transported back in time and to this Italian port scene.
And, here is why...

Not once



but several times,



I had to translate this passionate statement from Italian to English, English to Italian and repeat it aloud over and over. I know that I don't yet know much in Italian and that finding creative, new sentences can be a challenge for an educator, but I did wonder if this were really a necessary addition to my beginner's repertoire?

Perhaps it is just a precursor to Valentine's Day?

I suspect not. Actually, it is quite liberating, quite exciting and in contrast to the conservative, polite nuances of my growing up in English.

PS I was struggling with grasping the word finché (translated as until) followed by the word non until I looked up the Italian-French translation which read 'aussi longtemps que'.... You are mine as long as I am not dead.

She shakes her head.

'But you are in France, Madame' available in Kindle and print here

Monday, 4 February 2019

What you don't know



Cosa non sai... What you don't know...

I can swim far not fast and even though I have been told that my style is questionable, it gets me through the water and unquestionably helps me to feel better about both myself and the day.

I dropped my son at the bus stop this morning and headed to one of the three ocean pools within a couple of kilometres of home. Arriving when I did, just after 7am, I was hoping to beat the majority of the early daily lap swimmers and find myself a quiet little lane. Out of luck, and concentrating on avoidance, I didn't get my usual self-induced, contemplative session. That is probably not the only reason, though, that I am still a bit out of sorts. This day, February 5, like September 8 and a few others in June and July for different reasons, always starts with some melancholy.



My last year's February 5 post explains why in more detail.

Coincidentally, this beach, where I swim now on a regular basis, was the first that we came to after our return to Australia. We were pale, hot and disoriented and, as it had been on arrival in France years before, I was concentrating so hard on working things out in an unfamiliar environment that my goal was more about getting through each day than relaxation and enjoyment.

The day after this first beach visit, my husband suggested that we head out for dinner in Manly to celebrate my birthday. I was reluctant, probably still jet-lagged, and definitely still emotional from the exercise of packing up and leaving behind our French lives, but agreed all the same.

I dressed as I would have to go out in France; nothing too fancy, but when we arrived at the beachside restaurant strip, I felt horribly conspicuous. I wasn't wearing a sundress and thongs or shorts and a t-shirt and when I opened my mouth, the only words that wanted to come out were in French. I don't remember if the food tasted good and was well-presented, nor if the waiters were friendly and attentive. On the other hand, I do remember registering that the food was amazingly expensive compared to our French menus du jour.

Time helps with reconciliation, and I have grown to appreciate, even love, the coastline that we are lucky enough to live next to with the opportunities that it affords us. Sometimes, though, it takes a different perspective to click me out of a self-imposed mindset. One of my moments of externally prompted introspection came recently when in Melbourne. I caught up with a girlfriend who was a big part of my life before we left for France. We talked at speed as we had a lot to catch up on, but it was when she commented 'that the pre-France Catherine would be so pleased if she had known to anticipate the ten-year-down-the-track Catherine' that I teared up. Maybe I could have done more ... done differently, but her words remind me that what I didn't know, has ultimately helped me to grow.

After swimming recently, I took a few extra moments to look around. Amongst the surfers, the walkers, the swimmers, the sky and the waves, I noticed this trio of ladies. They were engrossed in the complexities of politely pouring each other a cup of tea. That's it. Simple things done together. That's what I needed to know.

But you are in France, Madame available here



Friday, 25 January 2019

I began three days ago

Monopoli in summer. Next time I am here, what will I be able to say?

I have been learning French for a long time and despite thinking that choosing maths as one of my Uni majors (maths and French) was wise given the dearth of maths teachers at the time that I graduated, it has always been the French that has got me the next job, onto the next adventure, living in the next place and meeting new people. I am competent in French, there is no doubt, but I continue to learn, and enjoy my language learning, every day.

My methods are tried and true - watching the French news (a whole lot easier now given that I can replay episodes on my computer, phone or television at any time), getting French email alerts (franceinfo) day and night, reading in French (a random choice of whatever I can lay my hands on from the libraries), communicating with my French friends (I never did think that Instagram and Facebook would work for me but they have proved me wrong) and being alert to any and all expressions, discussions and articles that would make my language more correct, more colloquial, more authentic. I also continue to speak French to my son, which keeps me on my toes but has become such a habit that I'm not sure we'll ever change our ways.

I have loved my role as a French teacher (no, I am not writing a cover letter although re-reading this it looks that way) and this too has continued to reinforce my own skills.

So, becoming a learner of a new language is exciting, but strangely disconcerting. I know how far I have to go, I know how much time and passion I will have to dedicate to my learning and, if I am honest, I am slightly trepidatious that it will impact my French (change my accent, interfere with my fluency) even though I know exactly what I would respond to someone voicing this fear to me.

In my last blog, I recounted the linguistic surprise that I received at the Italian Consulate, which resulted in me having to take a much quicker journey to speaking Italian than I was expecting.



I began three days ago...

by heading over to Duolingo. My teaching sensors were on high alert from the very beginning...why was I being taught this, what could the pattern be that I was being exposed to by repetition, would I learn which word needed il and which la without a list of masculine and feminine nouns by my side, would the lack of grammatical explanations hinder or help my progress...? It is so very different from the classroom text books which mostly start with simple greetings and progress so very slowly. In the first five minutes of Duolingo I was writing, repeating and putting together sentences.

I then headed to Babbel. Just the faffing around with setting up the microphone was a hint that it was not going to be the right fit for me, but confirmed when I was made to repeat Grazie, Ciao and Buona notte over and again in the same time that I had put together Io mangio il pane (I am eating the bread) on Duolingo. But, this is not to knock Babbel. I suspect that the rapid introduction of new words and grammatical ideas (without them being explained explicitly) over on Duolingo would be off-putting to many complete beginners.

Some of what I have completed so far: 

conjugation of parts of a few verbs (eat, cut, drink, be...but I don't yet know the infinitives), introduction to a couple of prepositions (nel, ai), making a sentence negative with a single word 'non' (in French you need two words), not noticing initially that 'no' and 'non' were different and used differently ('no' when you mean 'No' and 'non' to make a sentence negative), the use of gli (not i) to make an article plural when you have a noun beginning with a vowel (eg gli uccelli), the pronunciation of the 'c' in forchetta (not ch), discovering that some words are great fun to say (cuochi, bicchieri, burro, aglio), finding that my ear is not tuned into the difference between il and un when said quickly in the middle of a sentence and using il (French) for he (instead of lui) and wanting to pronounce un as I would in French...

Fingers crossed I can keep it up... what if this were just the universe's way of letting me know that my next adventure will be more verde, biancho e rosso  than bleu, blanc, rouge?

PS I love the photo of my son and I, which seemed to fit today's blog ... in Italy and reaching up, up, up.




Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Io scrivo un libro and other linguistic tales



Io scrivo un libro ... I am writing a book.

No, this is not an announcement or something that I've been keeping from you. I have to learn Italian - and not just a few random words, or sentences that will get me a shot of coffee in the morning.

Let me hasten to add that this was always my intention BUT it would have been nice to have been forewarned before I spent hours preparing my application, paying copious amounts of money getting all manner of certificates and having them apostilled and translated, filling in forms and then paying even more money into foreign bank accounts that a B1-level language test would be mandatory before I could be granted Italian citizenship. Was this information anywhere to be found on the website detailing the process? No. When did this new rule come into play? Early January ... this year!

So, just for good measure...

Io mangio una mela - no, actually I am not eating an apple, but I am pretty happy with that phrase

and

Io sono una donna - but a pretty worn out one at that after this latest revelation.

We did have some success, though, at the Italian Consulate Offices this morning where I was greeted with this new linguistic challenge - four new Italian passports for my husband and children.

It takes me back ten years to the very up-and-down period before our departure for France. Re-reading the small excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame' (below) never fails to make me want that all over again. The busyness, the tiredness, the trepidation, the worry that our passports wouldn't come through on time or that we wouldn't have enough money, the awareness that I would need to step up as the only real French speaker, the uncertainty over housing, schooling, work ... I'd take all of that again in a heartbeat knowing what I know now. If you are even semi-seriously contemplating a family adventure like ours, do it ... just do it. And, if you are hesitating and need someone to bounce ideas off, send me a message. I'm always very happy to help.

The final weeks before setting off disappeared in an exhausting madness of attempting to keep the lives of our children relatively normal, while completing the ever-expanding list of things to do. The children themselves, aged at that stage 6, 9 and 12, were in a blissful state of incomprehension about their future in a far-away, friendless, non-English-speaking environment and caught up in the excitement of having unusually indulgent parents—both of whom were constantly behaving rather erratically, forgetting to put them to bed or into the bath, and saying weird, unheard-of things like, “Help yourselves to whatever you’d like in the pantry”. And then distractedly, “Certainly”, to their quizzically opportunistic, “Including the lollies?” follow-through.

Even the full shelf of lollies, left over from the interminable round of ‘parties with party bags’ that the children had attended, was fair game. Surprisingly, my furtive nightly raids on their bags had not contributed to a significant reduction in the mountain of Minties, Smarties and chocolate bars. The children were obligingly happy to help change that and equally as happy to have packets of chips or spaghetti out of a can for dinner, with an ice cream chaser for dessert. How lucky it was that I could escape the healthy-eating, good-parenting critics, as it all took place in complete anonymity.


Our arrival in Geneva - after years and years of planning.

PS I'm not a McDonald's fan, but the billboard next to the bus stop, on the way home, was an emphatic full stop to the whole morning's linguistic story. 

"Cheese burger, anyone?"
"Quelqu'un veut un burger au fromage?"

Hmm, now what might that be in Italian?

And, why, you might ask, am I even going down this Italian passport route? One unfriendly-to-me word - Brexit.




Wednesday, 16 January 2019

It is always a race when there are two boats on the water

The Derwent Hunter - our tall ship for a day



We had all been given bright yellow rain jackets to put on; the sort that I wore decades ago over my school uniform but under protest. Visibility was a little further than the railing on the boat, but not far enough to take in the Jurassic Park-lookalike islands, hiding out there somewhere in the fog and slanting rain. Instead, from my position under cover, I focussed on shaping the stiff, brightly coloured material, which I had stretched over my knees, into channels, and watching the water gush through them before cascading over my bare legs and onto the deck. 


We were in the Whitsunday Islands and, when booking our day's sailing and snorkelling adventure, I had had to put aside my fear of being in the water with deadly jellyfish and sharks, by focussing on the white sandy beaches in the publicity material, the Great Barrier Reef that I would get to see before it whites-out completely and the anticipated pleasures of a gentle breeze in my hair, the sight of an occasional bird and the singing and sighing of the tall ship. I hadn't envisioned dreaming of a hot bath at 8.30 in the morning.



She had a history this girl and I was impressed. Could the moral of my story be that experience counts, I wondered, as I listened to the crew distract us from the elements by recounting The Derwent Hunter's exploits? Lovingly, and expertly, crafted, she had survived mountainous seas, a trip to Antarctica, racing in a tall-ships' Sydney to Hobart, an inglorious period as a television-series prop and, intriguingly, running packages that probably could not have been posted at a regular post office. Her maker had seen 83 years before he began work on her and, would that he be alive, to hear of her 70-odd-year journey and know that she had surmounted each and every challenge that had been put before her. I know that I felt proud of her achievements and I had nothing to do with her conception.


The nearly all-female crew, too, had me beaming. Is it because I am a Mum, is it because I am a teacher or is it just what we should all be delighting in...but for days afterwards, I could not stop talking about the friendly, personable, efficient and knowledgeable way in which they guided us through the day.  

In the middle of the 'show-and-tell' session on our way back to harbour after snorkelling and lunch, the clouds lifted, the sun shone and, when all sails were hoisted, the engine was switched off. Calm, peaceful, warm, blue...until we spotted another tall ship. 

"It is always a race when there are two boats on the water."

I laughed and leant back to enjoy the spectacle, surmising that so often life's lessons come at you in the most unexpected moments. 

PS We are not in France this Australian summer and, as much as I miss Annecy, the snow and rugging up against the cold, this beach life, I have to admit, has been a lot of fun!

If you are a new reader of this blog, and would like to discover how we lived our French family life, here it is - 'But you are in France, Madame' (available in print or e-book).

The sun desperately trying to peek through the clouds. She made it.