Friday, 4 November 2022

In need


The aftermath of the flood

"You can take more if you'd like."

I lowered my gaze and continued to stuff my new-to-me purchase and packet of day-old rolls into the plastic supermarket shopping bag that I had just been given. 

My soulful tone was in tune with my sincerity.

"That is really kind of you, but I'm OK, thank you." 

Donald Bradman's birthplace

Ten minutes before, I had walked into the Red Cross Op Shop in Cootamundra and folded down my umbrella, which was acting more as a prop than anything vaguely useful, having cut short my six-kilometre walking tour of the town. It had never been anything more than an optimistic venture and I should have paid due respect to the solid black clouds that were readying to tip their warning buckets on me as I closed the front door of my camping cabin. Half-way around, I had not even stopped to go through Donald Bradman's birth house. No, 'Miss-just-do-the miles-me' had charged on, squinting through dark sunglasses at the directions on the paper brochure from the Tourist Office. Uh-huh, I see your quizzically contorted expression. Trust me, I couldn't wear my reading glasses without trip-trapping as I walked, so sunglasses it was to keep my hair from blowing in the wind and rendering me completely disoriented.

They, the sunglasses, however, were completely ineffective when it had come to re-routing the gale and keeping the rain⎯when it inevitably pelted down⎯from pressing my hair to my scalp, glueing my shirt collar to my neck and soaking silently through the unsealed seams of my boots. Did I look bedraggled? In need of care? Hungry? All of the previous? 

"Can I help you?" 

I was taken aback. Was it pity or suspicion that I detected in the voice of the lady behind the counter as I walked into the Red Cross store?

"Oh. Am I able to have a look around?" Perhaps, this was not a place for sales but a donations drop-off point.

"Yes."

I took that as a sign of warm welcome and headed deep into the store, spying a warm duffle coat from the eighties that had to be trendy again. 

"Am I able to pay with my credit card?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"Is there an ATM nearby?"

"Yes. At the IGA a couple of doors down."

Brandishing the one twenty dollar note that I had withdrawn, I re-positioned myself at the counter.

"How funny, each of my last few sales has been for fifteen dollars. I'm not sure that I can fit your jacket in a plastic bag, but would you like some bread?"

Mid shoving - yes, this jacket would fit - I worked my way slowly through the logic of her words and turned to survey the wrapped baguettes, packets of rolls and loaves of bread that were along the bench from me.

My hesitation lasted long enough to avoid the need to reply.

"It's free."

How could I say 'no'? I picked up the packet closest to me, pushing it in with my jacket and turned to go, refusing the offer of more.

Hours later, in an unfamiliar bed and through the haziness of my freshly found sleep, I detected movement and sound nearby.

The knock on our door came next.

"The river has burst its banks and the campground is flooding. You will need to evacuate." The voice was that of a local policeman.

"Now?" my husband enquired.

"Strongly recommended."

I jack-in-the-boxed up, pulled boots on over my sockless feet and threw as much as I could grab into the car with water lapping dangerously at its doors.

The sun taunted us the next morning as it revealed a damaged town in desperate need of every small financial contribution.  I'd happily wear second-hand every day as a choice, but I'm so glad that I put my discomfort aside and went deep into the Red Cross store.


Before the rain

Australian cricket captain walk

Map of NSW and Vic showing flooded areas in blue








Sunday, 4 September 2022

Conversations from France




I made my selection from the box labelled 'tomate ancienne 5,90 le kg.' Three only, but chosen with care and weighing in heavily at just over a kilo. Plus une aubergine. "Merci beaucoup. Bonne journée." I turned to go. "Attendez." And a huge handful of sweet smelling basil was plucked from a basket behind the market stall and tucked in beside my tomatoes. 

                 

It was early but I had already swum in the lake. The water was languorous with the Chateau de Duingt and a brightly coloured hot air balloon visible through the low-lying cloud as I trawled in one direction with the grassy plains of the mountains from our side of the lake soaring up from my water bubble as I turned. 

                                         

We had a few jobs to do in Albertville, 40 km away - but, whoops. How could we have forgotten that French particularity?  Mince alors, the shops were closing for a two-hour pause. But we, too, had a trick up our sleeves.  It would be no hardship to abandon shopping for Coaxial cables at the hardware store in favour of lunch on the terrace of a little out-of-the-way chalet restaurant that we had spied from our backroads mountain passage on the way there.

                                        

I had to work a little harder than usual on arrival, as the role of the lady standing on the terrace of the restaurant vaguely near an opening that could have been an entrance was not clear. 

Me: Bonjour, Madame
Lady waiting: Bonjour, Madame.

OK. Where to now? That didn't help me work out who she was and if I should be asking her what I was about to ask her.

Momentary silence.

Me: A table for two, please.
Lady waiting: You haven't booked? (Yes, let's put a negative into the sentence wherever possible...very French) 
Me: Umm. I wasn't sure if you were the owner or a guest ... (slightly awkward smile as my voice trailed off) ...but, no.
Lady waiting: I addressed you with a "bonjour" didn't I?

Ouh là (expression of my surprise - thought, but not uttered)

Lady waiting: En terrasse?
Me: Yes, thank you, that would be lovely.


And, we followed her to a partly shaded table with views up and down the mountain range, Savoyard flags fluttering, the chatter of French voices and the spectre of cheeses roaming amongst the diners. Some could say - and I did - to the best spot.

A beautifully tattooed, smiling lady approached with menus.

"Here are your menus. Oh. Pardon. Firstly, Bonjour Madame, Monsieur." (Ah yes, let us not forget that nothing but nothing should precede that most important of salutations.)
 
"My husband will have les pieds de cochon (3 half pig's trotters 😨) and I will have the very non-adventurous croûte au fromage. 

                     

"Excuse me for disturbing you, but would you mind if I took a photo of your raclette machine? I asked the  oh-so-French and oh-so-gorgeous couple sitting along from us.

"Not at all. Come this side so you can get the food into the shot," the monsieur answered with a wide smile through his carefully trimmed beard.



Delightful. All of it. 

And home, to close the shutters against the heat of the day and indulge in an afternoon siesta.








Sunday, 31 July 2022

Belonging

Our village of Talloires

The name of my blog, book and social media accounts might be misleading. After all, I am not always ... in France, Madame. But, now that I have become known as "But you are in France, Madame," I am loathe to part with this identity. I like it. And, figuratively, it is true. But, Catherine, you might remonstrate, it is a wordy title: one that is hard to remember correctly. Yes, you are right, but if people want to find me, they do.

So, where am I right now? Not France. I am an hour and a half outside Sydney. For those of you who have followed me since the beginning, you would know the twists and turns of our path since leaving France. Briefly ... Sydney, buying our beautiful French home in Talloires on the Annecy Lake, an unexpected and lengthy Covid lockdown in Sydney and our recent delayed move to the Blue Mountains.

New discoveries in the Blue Mountains

We still have our French home and we visit when we can, but our long-term future there is not as clear as when we left. Back then, we presumed that we would have a two-year hiatus in Australia before resuming our full-time French journey. It hasn't turned out like that and so we have sought interim adventures, challenges and destinations. 

Our French home

I have turned onto enough new paths to know to expect joy, reinvigoration, beauty and amazement each time ... loneliness, too, plus discomfort and weariness. That comes with navigating the unknown and the quest to belong.

In the months following our arrival in France, our first smile from the bar tender at Le Café de la Place in Menthon, an invitation to morning tea with the mayor's wife in Giez and bumping into someone who recognised us in Annecy were steps towards feeling like my husband and I were not just extras on the periphery of French life, being swept along in a fast-flowing current of change. Those interactions felt good and we deliberately sought out more. Sub-consciously, we knew that if we were feeling more confident about our new life in France, we were in a stronger position to help our children adapt and thrive.

Our first home in France - Giez

I am still looking for my signs here in the Blue Mountains. Our dinosaur shenanigans in the street brought one neighbour out for a friendly chat; we have been invited for afternoon tea and lunch; are refining where we can buy a good baguette, sit for a while over a coffee, pick up op-shop treasures, walk or ride, and collect firewood (with a permit) to avoid another astronomical heating bill. But, at the post office with my latest book packaged for a customer, I caught the eye of the girl behind the desk. There was a glimmer of recognition and a return smile. The hairdresser, too, today asked me when we were heading back to France. Very soon, I was able to tell her, happily - but my point is, she knew to ask. 

Small steps.

Thank you to all of you who have supported my latest writing project. A book with readers is like its author - much happier.



Here again are my three books. Clicking on the links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.







Wednesday, 6 July 2022

And now ... first review for "With bare feet and sandy toes"



I have said on many previous occasions that connecting with people around the world has been the best part of my writing journey. Readers have (mostly!) been supportive, encouraging and generous. And, despite being competitors in one sense, authors that I have bumped into virtually or in person have been keen to share successes and eager to chat about improving our craft and untangling marketing strategies.

Reviews are critical to remaining positively visible in bookstores and on Amazon, but waiting for them to drop after a publication can be tense. Mardi understands this as an author. But, we have a lot more in common than writing and the rollercoaster emotional ride that it engenders, as she explains in her review of "With bare feet and sandy toes" (below). It can be found on her blog along with information about her books, details of her cooking classes, her newsletter etc.

If you have not yet come across Mardi on  FacebookTwitter, Instagram may I recommend that you take a look at what she does. Right now, she is completing the final day of a six-year journey (not full-time) along the Camino de Santiago. Following her as she has walked has been a true joy, and prompted many a daydream. 

This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be sharing book recommendations –  a series of “not just cookbooks”.

For Summer Reads this week, I’ve got another story that’s close to my heart!

Catherine Berry of But you are in France, Madame, and I have a lot in common. We’re both from Adelaide and both love  (and have lived in) France. A few years ago, I happened across Catherine over on Instagram (she’s also Our French Village House – another thing we have in common, rental properties in France that we operate from afar!) and downloaded her book, But you are in France, Madame and read it in one sitting. I loved that part of Catherine’s story (because I found out we had even more in common than just Adelaide and a love of France) – you can read my full review here) – and equally loved the follow-up story, Weaving a French Life: An Australian story which came out in 2020 (you can read my review here) where she describes the very delicate balance of loving two countries at the same time – something I know all too well about!

You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered she had written a memoir all about growing up in Australia in the 1960s and 70s – what a PERFECT summer read and a trip down memory lane for me!

I read this book in one sitting thanks to jetlag, but also because it was so “more-ish” – each chapter had me nodding my head in recognition. Written to be read either as a stand-alone book to the first two or as a prelude, I’d say all the books make you want to read the others. This one completes the trilogy of Early Life – France – Australia (with her heart in France).

This book really transported me back to my childhood – the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in Adelaide. I had to smile at SO many memories – from the warm milk “enjoyed” in the lunch “shed” at primary school, trips to the beach in summer, being subjected to confession at a Catholic school, and watching Test Cricket matches (sometimes over 5 days!) on the tv to the absolute wide-eyed wonder of a first trip to Europe as a teenager, there was SO much in here that I related to/ remembered.

Life really was simple when I was growing up in Australia and this is a very accurate depiction of that time. It’s a delightful breath of fresh air as Catherine remembers her hopes, dreams, and fears growing up in a more innocent time. For anyone who has happy memories of a simpler life as a child (wherever you grew up), who wants a book that will put a smile on your face or who wonders what life “down under” looked like 50 years ago, this is a PERFECT beach, couch, porch, backyard, plane or train read for the summer!

Thank you, Mardi and congratulations on your Camino journey. One day to go ...



Here again are my three books. Clicking on the links should take you to where you need to go wherever you are in the world to make a purchase.

Merci et bonne lecture


Thursday, 30 June 2022

Book 3 ... published

 


Alex and I were married on December 30 ... a few years back now. It is a lovely time of the year to celebrate our anniversary as we are often with friends and, if we are extra lucky, in France. There, the seasonal festivities are layered with extra cosiness as we watch the snow fall, cradle beakers of hot wine with our gloved hands at the Christmas markets, rug up properly to go on cheek-reddening walks and indulge in our French mountain meals.

Making the trip from Australia, does; nonetheless, add a degree of difficulty to gift giving. But, my husband is ingenious and romantic - he always has been - and our last anniversary in France was no different to any other. His gift was a painting, or a little photo of the painting, that would hang on our wall when we returned to Australia after our Christmas holiday.



We had come across artist Robyn Rankin before heading to live in France and the first of her works that we purchased was the delightfully titled "To dither a daisy and lots of love too." It featured our two girls. No, it wasn't a commissioned piece but it could have been as it exuded joy and gave us happiness: just like our girls. Even the physical characteristics were not too dissimilar. 












As for my new gift "She just knew her toes were magic," it took me back to my childhood: that magical period where, if I had managed to kick my feet just a little bit harder and swing a fraction higher, I would have flown and joined all the other dreamers gambolling in the clouds. 

When I was thinking about a cover for my newest memoir With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s, I reached out to Robyn to see how she would feel about her swinging girl - my special anniversary gift - being my cover. 

Robyn thought it was a splendid idea and together (and once again with Alex's design help), we have come up with a beautiful book cover ... don't you agree?

I invite you to head to her website for details of both the artist and her paintings. 

And, of course, if you would like to continue to journey with me as I revisit my early years, I would love to have you along for the ride.


Here again are my three books. Clicking on the links should take you to where you need to go wherever you are in the world to make a purchase.

Merci et bonne lecture








Monday, 6 June 2022

With bare feet and sandy toes


Being watched as I write

I have just sent my third book to the printers and am waiting for my author copy to be delivered. When it gets to me, I will have that moment of awe, amazement and pride, then I will proof it ... again. How do I feel? A little lost, to be honest. My days, nights, dreams and conversations have been consumed with this project. What is interesting is that, when I talk with other writers, this after-writing time is almost universally hard. For fiction writers, their characters become part of their lives: they create, communicate and live with their characters for months and it is hard for them, ultimately, to say good-bye to that closeness and familiarity. It struck me that, as a memoir writer, the same applies to me. Perhaps it is even more difficult. After all, each time I write, I reconnect with a person from my past and that person happens to be me. And during those months that we are together, I reminisce, I cringe, I puff up with pride and I laugh. I cry too. 

Let me share the title of my latest book: With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s and 70s. In a divergence from my previous memoirs, I don't head back to France. I go further back than that.

My cover is special, but I want to wait just a little longer before I share it, and its story, with you. In the meantime, here is the quote that I use in my front matter, which gives a little taste of the story it precedes.

Overhead in the Paris sky
Two airplanes fought it out one day

And one of them was my whole youth
The other was my days to come

Guillaume Apollinaire

In yesterday's Instagram post, I reflected on being a writer. Ali, whom I met serendipitously, posted a photo of the street in her French village that inspired the cover of But you are in France, Madame. I commented that connections like the one that I have with her have been the most surprising and rewarding aspect of my publication journey.

And, to demonstrate more completely how fulfilling and global my conversations have become, I want to share a beautiful e-card that was sent to me on French Mother's Day by a friend whom I have met through my books. I was so touched by the thought and today happens to be a most appropriate day to look at it again. It is Noah's birthday but, for the first time, I am not by his side to give him a cuddle and celebrate. He is studying for exams at university in Canberra and I miss him⏤and my most cherished role: Mum.


I cannot get the link to work, so let me describe it for you. Music plays in the background as an empty vase fills with flowers, each with its own little gift (see below*):

The message at the end reads:

Hello, Catherine, 

Reading your second book now, and I am once again so impressed with your honesty, your determination, and your love for your amazing husband and children. So universal, and at the same time so personal for those of us who are all French at heart! 


This is partly why I write but if you'd like to throw a little bit of luck and self-belief my way as I step out once again on this solo memoir-writing path, I'll look out for it. 

And if you'd like to dip into my first two books before number three is released, here are the links:


*
Tulip: there is sunshine in your smile
Cosmos: harmony, peace
Lily of the valley: return of happiness, humility 
Allium: unity, humility, patience 
Lilac: first love 
Lily: birth 
Poppy: pleasure 
Jasmin: grace, elegance, modesty 
Rose: love, simplicity, happiness



Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Give peace a chance


I was sitting on the front porch drinking coffee. ‘5 Ernest Hemingway passages that every gentleman should know,’ Alex read from his phone. “Only gentlemen?” and I raised my eyebrows, already put off by the over-used, formulaic title. But I had taken the bait. See, the marketers do know their stuff. 

The first was a banal everyday scene set in Paris, which for some enables any prose to transcend the ordinary without undue effort. 

The fifth passage was from ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ 

Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed. 

At that moment, a cockatoo flew towards us, its wings wide like the spread fins of the male fish. Not striped lavender; pure white. The bird landed on our fountain, slurped, cocked his head and grinned. I’m sure it was a grin. It looked for all the world like he was seeking praise. “Ok. You’re clever,” I acquiesced as I turned my gaze coyly, alighting on a geranium standing tall. I had worked the ground in that spot yesterday, denying the sprawling lavender its unfettered claim, and clearing a space for the hedge it was using for support to push through.

The open face of the lushly red geranium was looking straight at the cockatoo. 

“I can’t fly but I have strong roots and, if you stay by my side, I can stand my ground.” 

 Could it be that nature was sending me soothing messages after my disturbed dreams last night?

Please world, give peace a chance.




Sunday, 6 February 2022

It's ok, Mum. I've got this.

Ready for adventure. Noah, age 6, on our way to France

On this day, nine years ago, we put our French life on hold for what we thought would be a couple of years and flew back to Australia. My little boy was little and my three children all still at school. In a few days time that will change. The littlest, Noah, is no longer little and, like his two sisters, neither will he be living at home. 

I know that at this juncture of family life all parents have to say something of a good-bye, and perhaps the emotions of one's last child to leave home is different...more raw, strangely physical. But, Noah is champing at the bit to discover what life has in store for him and it is with pride that I will watch him go. 

He is a dreamer who sees himself sailing the seas, wandering barefoot, playing his guitar campside, exploring the depths of the ocean (with his brand new SCUBA certificate en poche), wearing his Indiana Jones hat (passed down from his father) under the scorching daytime sun of distant archeological digs and debating the mysteries of time and space - in English, in French or in any language born of mutual comprehension - at night. 

Another family member that will miss him


My son, I know that you will be kind, loving and generous whilst living your adventures. 

Ah yes, I see that smile in your eyes and hear the rising chortle that precedes your quip in response. And, in translation, I know that it is saying, "It's ok, Mum. I've got this." 

Cold, wind-blown, but special walk in the mountains