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