Friday 13 December 2019

To have your heart in two places

Vacuuming isn't my most favourite thing to do, but at least it's not my least. I became a bit manic about keeping the floor clean when my children were babies, and mooching around on it, but fortunately I don't have the same daily urges any more. A little bit like my morning lap swimming, passing the aspirator (passer l'aspirateur) actually gives me a long period of time to think, and that's not a bad thing. For some reason, doing the bathrooms doesn't have the same effect.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm not the only one to do a self-twist and contort, manipulating the vacuum head with alacrity, in order to avoid at all costs the effort of moving chairs, coffee tables, discarded clothes...anything... out of the way. But, I'm not here to preach or be educated regarding the techniques of said household chore.

Bent over the machine this morning, my stream of consciousness led me around the dust piled up under the chair legs, around the gaffa taped and sagging seats, across the pock marked table top to the springless dunce in the corner and on to France. Of course, it did. Most things do. You see, we bought this table and chairs from an antique (read 'things old and unstable') store years before our departure from Australia. It was a big deal for my husband and me as it was an actual purchase and not just a scrounge off the side of the road during one of the Council clean-up weekends. It served us and our children exceptionally well and if I look carefully at the table, I can probably see where and when. But, its crowning glory is that it has two leaves and seats a large number all together, just like we like it.

We didn't like it much when we returned to Australia from France. Our tenants had used it for major smash and grab affairs - or perhaps, table top dancing. Either, perhaps both, is a possibility. Even the one ebayer who kindly agreed to take it off our hands, baulked when she actually saw it and went away sans table. Mmm, now I was a bit offended, and decided that this un-loved possession needed to be projected right into the family fold and take pride of place at dinner time. Is it comfortable? No. Do our guests wonder? Probably.

In addition to being the champion of the under-table, there may have been another reason for not heading straight to the trash heap towing dining furniture behind me. At the time, I could not buy anything. Any purchase, no matter how big or small, came to represent another physical barrier to our return to France. In my mind, if we bought anything, it was a sign that we were settling in and finding our place in a new place. It was tantamount to doing the unthinkable, conducting a blatant act of betrayal and ... letting France go. Our deck remained furniture-less and our linen, threadbare; our glassware, non-existant except for a growing collection of re-purposed Vegemite jars and our clothes, very fashionable items from the '80s.

All in the vain hope that nothing coming in meant that we could all go back. Back to France, from where my heart was refusing to budge.

Years have passed and not much has changed. I did eventually buy a second-hand couch for the deck, but not with the goal of providing comfortable seating, more with the thought that it would make selling up quicker and easier.

Ahh. The unforeseen consequences of choosing adventure and saying 'no thanks' to living 'normally': passion, awareness, love, joy, friendships, heartache...and the inability to sit for long.

If you would like to read more stories of our French-Australian life, Kindle and print versions of 'But you are in France, Madame' can be found by clicking here.

Monday 18 November 2019

'N'est-ce pas, Madame?' 16 years and counting...

It has been 16 years now and I have only just learnt that what my son and I have been doing all this time has a name: additive bilingualism. The term was coined, I believe, in 2006 by King and Foley and has something to do with raising a child in a non-native language. (I have requested a copy of the research paper but haven't as yet been granted access.) It was in an article entitled 'Possible, but challenging: Raising children in a non-native language' that I came across the term, and it prompted me to think back over the wonderful journey that my son and I have been on.

And, yes, it has been a wonderful journey ... (previous blog posts on the subject can be found here: 'What I have learnt from the past 12 years speaking French to my son followed by Bilingual Baby - First Steps and Bilingual Baby - Chapter Two.)

But first, let me share with you a few lines from Gerald Durrell's exquisite read 'My Family And Other Animals'. Believing that he was running too wildly and in need of some proper education, Gerry's Mother set up French lessons for him with the Belgian Consul. Only, in this excerpt, she comes face-to-face with her own language limitations:

"For some inexplicable reason the consul was under the impression that Mother could speak French, and he would never lose an opportunity of engaging her in conversation. If she had the good fortune, while shopping in the town, to notice his top hat bobbing through the crowd towards her, she would hastily retreat into the nearest shop and buy a number of things she had no use for, until the danger was past. Occasionally, however, the consul would appear suddenly out of an alleyway and take her by surprise. He would advance, smiling broadly and twirling his cane, sweep off his top hat and bow almost double before her, while clasping her reluctantly offered hand and pressing it passionately to his beard. Then they would stand in the middle of the street, occasionally being forced apart by a passing donkey while the consul swamped mother under a flood of French, gesturing elegantly with his hat and stick, apparently unaware of the blank expression on Mother's face. Now and then, he would punctuate his speech with a questioning 'n'est-ce pas, madame?' and this was Mother's cue. Summoning up all her courage, she would display her complete mastery over the French tongue.

"Oui, oui!" she would exclaim, smiling nervously, and then add, in case it had sounded rather unenthusiastic, 'OUI, OUI.'

This procedure satisfied the consul, and I'm sure he never realised that this was the only French word that Mother knew. But these conversations were a nerve-wracking ordeal for her, and we only had to hiss 'Look out, Mother, the consul's coming,' to set her tearing off down the street at a lady-like walk that was dangerously near a gallop.

Let's do our own waltzing... back to the present.

I am a native English speaker but I speak French to my son. He, mostly, replies in English. It has always been like this and I'm wondering now if it will always be like this. Not just the English-French mélange, but the forever bit.

The gist of something that I read recently was that, at 5 % prepared, just throw yourself in. If you wait until you are 100% ready, 100% knowledgeable, to do whatever it is that you are contemplating, you will stay still. This was not my guiding principle back then, but it certainly describes what happened. I had very little idea of what I was doing, from both language and methodology points of view, but somehow, together, my son and I managed to push through the awkwardness, the doubt, the difficulties and the lack of resources to an understanding that complements - no, makes magical - our communication.

He is tolerant of (or should that be tolerates? ) me. When I get myself tied up in knots, searching for the words to describe something that does not exist in French, he listens, with an indulgent smile and waits for the excruciating description to finish. He used to cut me off half way. After all, he knew where I was going and didn't need the sentence to be finished to understand. Maturity, and a certain wicked aptitude for teasing, have brought about his new indulgence towards me.

He reminds me, too, when necessary (usually when I am suggesting that he go and do his French homework) that he didn't learn French. It's different for him, he tries to get across to me. French is not his second language. It just is. And that, as beautiful as it is, is hard for me to truly get... both as the mother who has guided him through this - and as a French teacher. I still learn. Every day. And that is something that I don't think researchers have really got. The benefits of additive bilingualism - for the child - are without doubt. The benefits for the parent are all of that and more... 'added additive bilingualism' or some such term.

Sure, like Gerry's Mother, I have been known to scuttle into doorways, or cleverly melt into lamp posts, in an attempt to avoid more nerve-wracking language ordeals than necessary, but this somewhat unintentional social experiment with my son has worked (she shakes her head, still in mild disbelief).

The full title of King and Foley's paper is 'Bilingual parenting as good parenting: Parents’ perspectives on family language policy for additive bilingualism.'  

Our journey, my journey, this additive bilingualism, has never been about good parenting. But, boy, has it added soulfully to good living and good loving.

PS Part of our journey took us to France. Find our story here on Amazon for a Kindle or a print copy.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Words (and friends) in a French life

La Plage du Mugel

A couple of years before we took off on our much-talked-about French adventure, a friend sent me a present. I love happy mail. This was amongst the happiest - a book from a special person. It came wrapped and openable (and not just at the click of a button), it promised lots of precious, quiet moments and it was about life in France. But, and here was the icing on the cake, not only was it a series of little French family anecdotes, for the language teacher such as I, it had the added bonus of exciting little linguistic forays at the end of each chapter.

At the time, I noted that the author had a blog but, knowing very little about such things, didn't look it up, and when it was suggested that a blog of my own would be a good way to keep in touch once we were in France, I gave that a pass too. After all, I was a private person, with lots of stories to tell that I thought would be of little interest to most.

Arriving in France, I did write, but they were not creative moments. The short bursts in front of my computer were haphazard and, with very little available time, my goal was simply to create a record, something that would help us all to not forget.

Somewhere in the ether, it had been predetermined that our French adventure was to be tinged with the sadness of a personal health struggle. I mention this only because if there was any good to come from my sickness (and I remain unconvinced), it was that after treatment, I started to write differently. Personally. Reflectively. And years later, many of these creative moments made their way into the complete story of our French living in my book 'But you are in France, Madame'.

At the time of publication of my book, I concluded that I needed to toughen up and hop onto the social media platforms. Having published a memoir, it might seem strange that this was difficult to do, but it was, and I vividly recall my extreme hesitation before publishing my first blog entry.

Hats off

In a wonderfully serendipitous way, the risk was one worth taking as this is how I met Kristi, the author of my past present, 'Words in a French Life'

We caught up last summer and shared a few hours together. Yes, we talked about words and writing but my old friend gave me so much more all those years ago -the gift of a new friend.

Hats on
On Kristi's recommendation, we headed down the coast from La Ciotat to La Plage du Mugel for lunch. Right on the beach, we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. My son chose 'moules frites' (his favourite), a 'salade niçoise' was my not-very-adventurous choice and my husband selected the fish of the day, straight off the boats. Keen to show off his de-boning skills, the waiter was surprised, even vaguely upset, when my husband said that he'd be ok to do it himself.

After lunch, what does one do when one is right on the beach? Why swim, of course. 

Just one more beautiful day in a French life.

moules frites
salade niçoise

loup de mer or sea bass
la plage du mugel

Sunday 22 September 2019

Beautiful Provencal accommodation - Part Two

Summer holidays seem a long time ago now. In Beautiful Provencal accomodation - Part One, I took you to the very pretty village of Cabrières d'Avignon, which as the name suggests is not far from Avignon and indeed, not far from a whole swathe of walks, markets, villages, exhibitions...perfect for a busy break with plenty of distractions. I was particularly enamoured with our lodgings and having already shown you around the outside, today I take you for a wander inside. It was a hot week, the hottest in France, qualified as a 'canicule'.

By definition:

Pour être en canicule, deux conditions sont requises :

les températures doivent être plus élevées de 5 degrés par rapport aux normales de saison, le jour, comme la nuit,
et cela doit durer au moins pendant 3 jours et 3 nuits.

To be a heatwave, two conditions must be met: the temperatures must be 5 degrees higher than normal for the season both during the day and at night
AND this condition must persist over 3 (consecutive) days and 3 nights.

To read the article in its entirety, link here

Despite the rest of France - and us too, on our daytime excursions - feeling uncomfortably hot, we were very lucky to have a small pool outside, which helped to cool us off and the thick stone walls of our accommodation kept the temperature down inside.

Would you like to take a look with me?

Front door to the left, entry vestibule and formal dining
A selection of photos showing the amazing transformation/renovation of the home
No need to turn on the air conditioning in these cool rooms with thick stone walls but I can imagine how cosy it would be with the fire lit in winter.
Dining room with kitchen to the left. I loved the quirky barn door/mirror idea
Kitchen with traditional tomette tiles
One of the views from the master bedroom
Twin bedroom on first floor with doors to the right leading out to a balcony
Other side of the first-floor twin bedroom
Double bedroom first floor
Master bedroom and bathroom

I love our village of Talloires, our region, our lake and mountains, but it was a real pleasure to explore a different part of France.

For details of our own holiday rental accommodation (not as pictured here!), click here.
To read our French story, 'But you are in France, Madame', click here.

Saturday 7 September 2019

Ten years ago - Not holding back on the emotion

I knelt down in the garden and looked back towards the house. It was empty of all furniture, all personal possessions, almost all traces of our precious family life. We had packed up for a year but instinct told me that we would not be back and that our one-year French adventure would in fact take us further, and for longer, than we had planned.

This morning, I was again out in the garden, a different garden, absentmindedly pulling out weeds and thinking back to that day ten years ago when our departure from Melbourne finally became a reality. As a family, we are pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to marking milestones, but with a bit of luck all of us were able to be together for a few hours over breakfast.

Of course, we did reminisce but the question of where we would be in another ten years was waved away. Back then, a family movie night involved making a selection from the DVDs on the shelves of the video store down the road; my cool new flip-open telephone let me make phone calls and not much else; our cameras were separate, heavy devices to our phones; Facebook was a few years old but Instagram not yet invented; emails were still popular and effective ways of communicating and when it was suggested that I blog about our experience, it didn't even occur to me to take this as a serious suggestion. We had one computer for the whole family which, although technically portable, weighed a lot and had limited storage. How is it possible that that was only ten years ago? I haven't even touched on all the personal changes. No wonder we were a bit reluctant to project forward another ten years.

What I can say, though, and here is where my emotion really ramps up, I wish that I could flick a switch and do it all again. If you have read our story 'But you are in France, Madame', you will know that it was not easy. You will know too that our one year did indeed turn into several and that our French life was not at all what we had thought it would be. I don't want to do it again to get it 'right'. Truthfully, I'd love to gather my little ones around me, hold their hands to run to the playground or walk by the Annecy Lake, discover snow and skiing with them for the first time, hear them becoming little French people joking and singing in their new language and watch them learning joyfully about themselves and their world.

It was good to be together this morning.

PS I am once again linking this post with #allaboutfrance and other French-inspired blogs.

Thursday 29 August 2019

A shimmering jewel in its mountain clasp

It is very nearly ten years since we first arrived in Annecy. We will celebrate the day hopefully with a family gathering, but definitely with a touch of nostalgia as we are not the same family anymore. I don't mean that in any sort of outlandish, sensational way. Time does what it wants and children of 6, 9 and 12 need their parents in very different ways to children of, well, you can do the maths.

But, the maternal emotion of that memory can wait for another post.

Today, I remember instead the magic of seeing what was to be our new home for the first time. Even through the fog of tiredness brought about by the long journey across the world hot on the heels of the mammoth job of packing up our entire Australian lives, the Annecy lake sparkled; an inverted diamond in its mountain clasp.

I remember asking whether one day I would take the beauty for granted, not notice the mountains, or care not whether the light on the water was starkly reflective or announcing the cacophony of an approaching storm.

"No," was always the answer, accompanied with a look sometimes quizzical, sometimes stern.

They were right. The beauty of this lake and mountains will not fade like that of this ageing mother.

Nonetheless, like mother and child, we took time to get to know and love each other. We walked, climbed, skied, photographed, swam, water-skied...played together and the bond became stronger, even though we knew instinctively that one of us was always going to have the upper hand. As such, the climb to the top of the highest mountain around the lake, La Tournette, took on a bit of a mythical turn in my mind.

I made it this summer. And the photos of that day are the ones that I want to share with you.

Would I do it again? (am I talking of our original journey to France or the climb, I ask myself)
Yes. I know now that I can . That bit of fear that accompanied me would still be there, but it would not be the fear of the unknown, just a healthy, cautious instinct relating to my own capabilities.

Ten years, though. A reminder to just do it. As clichéd as it is, maybe this post will make you re-think a goal, a dream, a possibility...I hope so.

For the first part of our French adventure, as re-counted in 'But you are in France, Madame' (print or e-book) click here.

And, if you do click and purchase - thank-you.

Finally, I am linking today with #AllAboutFrance - another opportunity to travel vicariously, prepare for your next French holiday or just enjoy reading All About France.

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!