Monday, 4 February 2019
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
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
My husband woke me this morning with a cup of tea, and opened the curtains so that I could see the snow falling. It had started snowing again last night after I had gone to sleep and in a few hours had left a thick cover on the ground. As always, a fairy-like world had replaced the dreary greyness of last night’s landscape. It was a lovely romantic surprise, as today we celebrate our wedding anniversary.
Sixteen years ago, I was in the final happy hours of preparing to get married. Being summertime, we had planned a five o’clock church ceremony followed by a reception dinner. It meant that the whole day could be spent indulgently ‘getting ready’. I had woken early in the hotel room in Saint Kilda that I had booked for my three sisters and myself and, leaning on the windowsill with my chin in my hand, I remember looking out over the deserted beach in view, for a long, quiet moment. I was the last of my sisters to get married and I was looking forward to the adventure. I knew that I would be pampered and in company all day, but for a few moments, contemplating the distantly silent waves, I was alone with my thoughts.
I wore a traditional white wedding dress. After all, I figured that it was a one and only opportunity, so why not? Plus it is hard not to be swept up in the euphoria of being the bride. Marie Stuart was apparently the first to choose white when she married Francois the Second, son of Catherine of Medici in 1559. Amazing to think that since that time many of the same wedding traditions; carrying a bouquet of flowers, being attended to by a bridesmaid, receiving guests afterwards for a meal and giving gifts to the bride and groom, are still adhered to despite the vastly different lifestyles that we live.
Here in France the main difference from my own wedding experience is that the official marriage ceremony is held in a mairie (town hall) and is performed by the mayor. It is the compulsory legal declaration and signing of a union and although many couples choose to have a second ceremony some time after with a priest in a church, this is not necessary.
Friends of ours got married a week after us in England, which gave us time to fly across the world to join them. Coincidentally, my girlfriend and I had announced our engagements at the same time, independently planned our weddings for the same time of year and then, some years later, our children were born on the same day, minutes apart. We had shared all the joys of the planning of the two wedding celebrations and both nearly came off without a hitch.
She and her husband-to-be had chosen a magnificent old stately home as the venue for their wedding day. We arrived the night before in the dark coldness of an English January evening and fell under the spell of the sizeable grounds, lushly carpeted and decorated reception rooms, thick walls, gaping fireplaces and quaint bedrooms with odd-shaped bathrooms, added years after the mansion had been divided into rooms. The staircase was majestic and wide, quite worn down in places and I for one felt like I was a princess at home in my castle.
The beginning of my girlfriend's wedding day was full of vigour and happiness. All of the guests breakfasted together before we made our way to the registry office for the first official joining of the couple. A loud, informal lunch in an English pub next to a warming open fire followed. Back to the manor house, my enduring soundtrack to the pretty church ceremony that had been organised in the mansion's chapel remains the enthusiastic pre-ceremony song rehearsal, where unfortunately twenty plus the priest does not a choir necessarily make. Any mild discomfort was chugged away with multiple, generous cups of afternoon tea in the drawing room before we retired to our rooms in order to prepare ourselves for the wedding dinner; the meal de résistance, carefully planned and orchestrated from Australia. Early evening, and dressed in our gowns and suits, we met again for elegant apéritifs in the suite of the bride and groom. Responding to a call for dinner, we made our way to the staircase.
A happy end to the day it was not to be. The bride fell, broke her leg and did not make it to her own wedding dinner. After being operated on, but still in hospital later that week, she heard a couple of patients discussing the unfortunate ending to a bride’s wedding day; her’s. Her wedding cake comprising handcrafted flowers, flown over as part of her hand luggage, had been divided amongst the hospital staff and the skiing holiday, planned as the honeymoon, cancelled. We jokingly put the blame on another of our girlfriends who had written a telegram to the happy couple, finishing with a theatrical ‘break a leg’. Curiously, and despite much agonizing over this unfortunate coincidence, the telegram had never actually arrived.
We had planned to go out and eat in a restaurant at lunchtime today with all the family but ended up having soup and bread together at home after a long walk in the snow and rain.
I didn't share this story at the time of writing, and a further seven years have passed as, once again, my husband and I are celebrating. This time, the sky is blue, the shutters are drawn, the cricket is playing on the television and, outside on the deck, I am being chorused by a very loud contingent of cicadas. We have returned from our morning swim at the beach where the water was a deep, silky green. Not for the first time, did I feel that I was swimming through a Tim Winton novel.
In many respects, it is a day like any other, just encased in lovely reflections and extra personal attentions. Of course, our anniversary falls at the very end of the year, which possibly contributes to the sustained looking-back. Where will I be writing to you from next year? Where will you be? What will our conversations sound like? I hope that they will be interesting and informative, kind and generous, peppered with humour and lightness. Happy new Year. Bonne Année.
For more of our French story - Kindle or print - click here But you are in France, Madame