Tuesday, 6 February 2018

We made it to February 5

We made it to February 5, our day of departure, and against all odds we were ready. Busy until the very last minute and with the pressure of being the only responsible parent, I had no time on that last day to give in to excessive emotion. The children on the other hand cried through the morning, again on the bus home from school and as I turned the key for the last time in our beautiful old wooden door before hiding it under the stone in the corner of the garden bed near the barren wisteria, and taking my seat in the car. This time our suitcases, like us, were well-travelled and worn; this time the excitement of our departure four years previously had been replaced by a dullness, and this time, it was not the rain but the snow, which had stopped falling to make possible our departure, which started falling in earnest the next day. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

It is hard to believe that five whole years have passed since our return to Australia. I look at the photos of the castle above, as we looked at them every day and in all seasons from our balcony in France, and the emotion is still there. I was weary, exhausted actually, from packing up a whole house, three children...our entire French lives. Some items, I sold on the French equivalent of eBay, le bon coin; some things I gave away; I sorted and packed boxes and boxes to be shipped back to Australia; our travel suitcases had to be carefully packed to include items that we would need immediately upon return; utilities had to be cancelled; the house had to be cleaned; friends had to be farewelled and normal everyday cooking, shopping, washing and mothering had to be fitted in, too.

We arrived back early in the morning to a hot summer's day. On the other side of the world, we had been suitably dressed in jeans, jumpers, thick coats and scarves but sweltered uncomfortably through the long customs queues in Sydney. Fragile and smelling less than desirable, we emerged into the Australian sun where underneath the animated chatter of our reunion with my husband we were silenced by the different light intensity and the sounds and smells that were no longer familiar.

The following day, I ventured into an Australian supermarket feeling lost and decidedly out-of-place. I wandered aimlessly picking up, putting down and picking up again a packet of Hot Cross Buns from the shelves, needing the comfort of my favourite bun despite wanting to resist the judiciously placed display for an Easter still far away. To these I added a few items that I thought I could use for making up the long-forgotten-about school lunch boxes, wincing at the copious layers of wrapping that enveloped all of the easy morning options. That was enough, I had to leave. Passing through the checkout, I realized that I only had one little foldable bag with me, a grabbed souvenir from the roadside throwaways on the Tour de France and apologized to the male cashier as I was trying to squash everything into it as quickly as I could. He looked at me and asked kindly if I was ok packing my own bags. For a brief moment, I had no idea what he was talking about and then realized that that was no longer how things were done. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

For many of you who have been following our adventures through this blog, or who have read our story, you will know that the adventure did continue. But, in both directions, I still make mistakes. It takes time before I remember to take our re-usable bags to the supermarket when we return to France, to say 'bonjour' before beginning a conversation, to find the right words once everything is properly back in French, to anticipate the shops shutting at lunchtime, or to hop into the driver's seat on the right side of the car in order to remain on the right side of the road. Despite the passing years, the emotion is still strong. Our last week in France is always hard, as I countdown not only all the jobs that need to be done to restore our house to perfect holiday rental conditions, but the days left to savour morning walks to the bakery, throwing open the shutters to greet the day and the mountains, unashamedly sitting idly by the window watching the snow fall, anticipating the treasures that I will find (not necessarily buy) at the permanent second-hand stores, perusing the lunchtime set menus and knowing that there is no need to schedule further afternoon activities, catching up with old friends, walking and skiing amidst the grandeur of nature...

To finish, let me share some village news. Jean Sulpice, head chef and owner at Le Père Bise in Talloires has just been awarded two Michelin stars, which is another excellent reason to visit our special place in France. Click here to read the full article from L'Express

I am again linking up to All About France. Head over to read other French-themed stories.

Or, as always, if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame' please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com or click on the following link for a Kindle copy

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

A snowy Christmas lunch and The Book Podcast interview

In a previous post, I mentioned an interview that I did with Rosemary Puddy of The Book Podcast. It was still Christmas here in France when the interview was posted and was a lovely way for me to finish the day, which had in fact been a little different from start to finish.

Being reduced in number, my husband and I decided that a snow walk and lunchtime picnic would be fun. On the drive up to our starting point at the Col des Aravis, we could have been forgiven for thinking that it was just any ordinary day. Epiceries, boulangeries, cafés, restaurants, magasins de souvenirs et de vêtements were all open for business. In fact, my daughter pointed out that we struggle to find anything open on a regular Sunday in the year in France, but on Christmas morning, everything seemed open.

The snow had fallen in abundance, unlike last year, when all those who had booked holiday ski chalets were severely disappointed with the lack of skiing and the changed festive ambiance. Additionally, the sun was bright and the sky a stunning blue and Mont Blanc was cleary visible. We were not the only ones out walking and, on reflection, it would have been a good way to shake out the cobwebs for those families that had celebrated in traditional French style on Christmas Eve.

Not completely forgoing Christmas traditions, our dinner menu once we were nicely tired out and back home was nearly exactly what we had seen posted on the boards outside the Col des Aravis restaurants - smoked salmon, chapon and bûche de Noël with a little coupe de champagne.

We were out in the snow again today much closer to home doing our own post-Christmas exercise with a little tobogganing when the cloud rolled over. It was a good reminder to us that the mountain weather needs respect. Even knowledgeable of a certain walk, the fog can disorient and be dangerous. No worries, though, for us today, as our tobogganing slope was roadside.

I hope that your festive season has been what you were hoping for.

If you would like to listen to the interview that I recorded with Rosemary on The Book Podcast, click here to listen.

If then you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame' please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com or click on the following link for a Kindle copy  here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy

And finally, for more French-inspired stories, hop over to this month's link-up at All About France

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Thanks for nothing ... or the invisible man

For a long time, I refused to subscribe to Facebook, Instagram or any social media. I hated the thought of having to put forward a perfect public image, because, no matter how many people tell me that that isn't what happens and that people post themselves warts and all, I don't see it.

We've been back in France for less than two weeks. For those of you who follow this blog, you would already know that our trip here was less than perfect. But, since then you would have seen snow, Christmas markets, skiing, restaurants, delicious-looking French food, nature walks and smiling, happy family pics. Now for the underbelly...four doctors visits, five trips to the chemist, weigh-you-down jet lag, cancelled trips to the CERN facility, which was to be the highlight of my son's first week, postponed social events due to illness and the thought that this year we will be celebrating Christmas as a reduced family troupe of 4, not the raucous extended family gathering of 15 of last year. But, still our FB and Instagram posts look pretty good.

This morning, my husband and I were at the supermarket. I was calm, strolling the aisles, reminiscing fondly about the time a few weeks after our first arrival in France (long before But you are in France, Madame) when my husband, knowing not much French, swiped a massive jar of cornichons (gherkins) off the shelf. With a resounding crash, it ended up in a puddle and it was only thanks to my daughter's robust lack of fear of making mistakes that the whole affair was sorted in her developing French.

He, my husband, on the other hand, was subject this morning to the invisible-man phenomenon...again. I'm non-plussed, but he can be standing in front of the yoghurt, cheese, wine or canned tomato displays, obviously making his selection, when frequently he will be forced aside as someone (usually a woman) will weasel her way into the narrow gap in front of him, to reach for her product. No 'excuse-me', no 'sorry', just a slide, grab and body contact exit. Today, though, two days before Christmas, the aisles were a parking lot of trolleys and trolley-pushers. Caught in a jam, he felt the first nudge from behind, turned, spied the woman behind the offending trolley and turned away, patiently waiting his turn to move forward like those he was jammed up against. He felt the second jab. Same trolley, same woman. Surprised, yes, but still with nowhere possible to go. Third jab from behind the laden trolley and incomprehension. It was very lucky that he is a veeeery patient man, otherwise her Christmas may have gone off the rails just like her trolley was attempting to do to my husband.

Some years ago and still living in France, we were showing friends around our special patch. We went into a gift shop, had a short browse and, with a chorus of overly grateful 'mercis', we turned to exit. "Thanks for nothing", in good-enough English, came back at us. I was horrified, mortified. I was a French devotee, doing all that I could to win people over to my side, taking them out, proud of where I was living and what I was doing. This was a personal affront, one which to this day remains with me and prevents me from ever stepping back into that store.

But - I was also at the doctors this morning - for the third time in 9 days. He may have been taken-aback initially by our presence, but laughed when I asked him as we were packing up to go, if he was "Le Père Noël". Not unkindly, especially when I elaborated that, as he was the village doctor and the village mayor, plus I had seen photos of Father Christmas at the village school that resembled him, that he could feasibly be 'him' too.

Off to the chemist and business concluded, I was asked if I had yet been given a copy of the store's Christmas calendar. "No". But, how lovely. I walked out with my festive tube. A quick chat with the friendly waitress at the coffee shop and it was starting to come back to me. That was what I missed. Not the pushy trolley pusher, not the distrust for any English speaker (who actually spoke French), but a sense of belonging. Living alongside people with whom I could share light-hearted moments, who acknowledged me, accepted my family and I as part of the community and who appreciated that we were there to give, not just to take.

Wherever you are, whatever you do at this time of the year, I wish good things for you.
Thanks for being a part of this virtual community. If you haven't already done so, but would like to read more of our family story, "But you are in France, Madame" here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy

If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

I can get satisfaction

 Not quite as snowy but still magical with the twinkle of the Christmas lights.

It was a last minute decision to go up to the market in Thônes. We didn't stop to have breakfast at home as the BMW IBU WORLD CUP BIATHLON is taking place at Le Grand Bornand this weekend in excellent snow and we knew that this would mean heavy traffic on top of the general Saturday ski crowds; so best to be away early in an attempt to get a jump on everyone else.

Talloires is at lake level and snow had fallen here this morning, but it was colder with a much thicker cover just up the hill. Despite the passage of the snow plough, roads were icy and as recently arrived left-hand drivers, we took our time winding up through Bluffy and beyond.

On the way to the market
Due to the snow, the market was smaller than on a regular Saturday in Thônes, and whilst we would normally shop and then stop, today we opted for breakfast first. Tempted to return to a familiar café, we nonetheless headed into an unassuming little place facing the church. The slightly overdone wood and check Savoyard mountain decoration helped us feel at home straight away.  Unsurprisingly (you are in France, Madame), there were no croque-monsieur available despite the 'Croque-monsieur à toute heure' sign, but the coffee and croissant were fine substitutes, the service was friendly and the snow flakes thick and luscious outside. We were the only guests, but the barkeeper, deep in conversation with a friend, headed towards the door to continue talking out of earshot. Clearly still worried about our possible indiscretion, the ladies headed outside to stand in the snow and continue conspiratorially.

With the arrival of another gentleman, it was back to business. Madame la serveuse realised at this point that the music had stopped. Was Monsieur there to sing for her, she called out, laughingly.
Tomme de Savoie


I was too far away to attempt to eavesdrop on this conversation, and too shy to zoom in and get a clear photo, but would have loved to be a part of this tête-à-tête (which then technically would no longer have been a tête-à-tête).



Back in Talloires with blue skies trying to wipe the grey slate clean.

A perfect culmination to a market visit is displaying our produce and making our lunch selection.
Personally, no fancy restaurant necessary, I can get my satisfaction with what you see below. 

PS If you are thinking that there is a lot of cheese on this lunch table, you'd be right. Promise that the wheel of tomme fermière, the log of goats' cheese and the two wide wedges of Comté and Beaufort made it through more than just lunchtime.

Soup, bread, cheese and ham

As always,  if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame', here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy.
If you would prefer a print copy, an Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. A purchase here costs no more and would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

My Johnny story

"On a tous en nous quelque chose de Johnny"

"We all have a bit of Johnny in us..." wrote Emmanuel Macron this morning after learning of the death of French rock star Johnny Hallyday.

Even me, from a country far, far away.

I encountered Johnny on my first visit to France as a young, impressionable assistante d'anglais. Everything in that year was new, challenging, exciting and terrifying in equal measures. With no money to my name, buying CDs was out of the question, but I was aware of this icon of French music. I had no real idea whether I was supposed to admire him or not, but listen I did.

My favourite song was Laura, written for his daughter in 1986.

In 2009, it was the turn of my husband, and my three children to return to France with me and prior to our departure from Australia, I introduced them to Johnny.

Today, like so many, I react with sadness and say chapeau Johnny.

PS Johnny himself used these words in relation to Jacques Chirac in 1988. A neat way for Macron to politically salute Monsieur Hallyday.