Friday, 14 June 2019

Cute...again


My family would tell you that my ultimate goal was to not give away that I wasn’t French, at least not as soon as I opened my mouth. At times, I was rewarded with being given almost-French status by my French friends and acquaintances. But, on other occasions, merely uttering the single word “Bonjour” would confirm that I was a foreigner. At this point, seeing my crestfallen face, the person with whom I was speaking would tell me how cute my accent was, and that I should try very hard to keep it. Hadn’t anyone ever told them that cute had been a somewhat pejorative adjective, reserved for teenage girls like me, growing up alongside beautiful girls? I did not like the word, not one little bit. 
(excerpt from 'But you are in France, Madame')


Indulge me.

Actually, I'm not going to wait for your permission...


For those of you who know me personally, you will be familiar with the saga of the yellow tracksuit and how it shaped (scarred) me.

For those of you who don't, I'll keep it brief. As I inferred, it left a lasting...colourful...impression. They were on sale, our yellow tracksuits (no need to wonder why), at the low-cost store Target. Cleverly, my mother snapped up three bargains and had thrown in a few free years of fashion misery for two of my sisters and me (my youngest sister was spared the indignity as the only colour in her size was the passably acceptable navy blue). Let me confirm for you that in one's early teens, it is NOT cool to be dressed exactly like one's siblings... in anything... least of all badly form-fitting canary yellow.

Whether directly related to this experience, the era in which I grew up or my innate 'me', beauty and I have had a particular relationship. I have never had a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, a massage, an eye-brow shape or a consultation with a stylist or a beautician. I don't know anything about make-up, how to use it or what is age-appropriate. I sometimes wear clothes from decades past and get my hair cut at the fast-hair-cut salons with no pampering; just an in, cut and out. Yes, I have had leg waxes (with seriously undesirable effects), I did have my hair highlighted (my daughter burst into tears when she saw me) and I have to admit to sporting a perm, flared jeans and leggings (not simultaneously). I can't say it helped to pull off a girl-of-the-times look.



It did take a long while before I could see that that was ok. In fact, more than that. I discovered that I liked not conforming and it suited me better to sit on the edge of whatever was trending. Even in France, I boldly declare, whilst striking my Joan of Arc pose, in that birthplace of chic, where beauty and style are synonymous with 'any French girl', and where I observed that putting on snow boots to go out in the snow was logical but overrated, where rash vests for sun protection at the beach were not only overlooked, so were the bikini tops, where one scarf could magically be eight fashion items, where make-up was perfect and invisible, where underwear was more than a couple of pairs of solid Bonds items... even there, I was not intimidated. Non, non, non mais non.


Ok. Just a little bit.

Cute...again.









Tuesday, 21 May 2019

#BalanceTonPorc

My daughter called me over to listen to a song. Distractedly, I glanced at her phone screen and within a couple of notes, I was transported... back several years and to a McDonalds in Epagny on the outskirts of Annecy. 
Let me recount it to you as I told it in 'But you are in France, Madame'.   
That perfect first French morning tea in the park-like gardens of our little wooden home had been replaced by treks out to the nearest McDonald’s hamburger store. Neither my husband or I were lovers of the food but they had free Wi-Fi. We would order coffee, which was surprisingly drinkable and affordable, and work hard through our list of 'things to do'. Sometimes, if we didn’t have a lot of things to research, we would just sit in the car park outside the store for a few minutes and hook into the network from there. Of course it felt wrong. We had gone to France for the family-run village cafés with atmosphere-inducing French background music and where the menus would reflect the seasonal produce; not fast food, bright lighting and English pop songs. 
On one such visit a sweet-sounding song came onto the radio blaring through the loudspeaker. It was soothing and I was a bit pent up with coping with our new life so I stopped what I was doing and leaned back momentarily on my bench to let the words flow over me. “La, di dah di dah, fuck you, la di dah di dah.” My head jerked up and I looked at my husband. “Did she really just sing what I think she sang?” I asked. How appropriate! Lily Allen was singing for us and sweetly saying what we felt like yelling out loud every time we were told that what we desperately needed to do was not possible. I felt quite elated. Somebody out there understood what we were going through and I found myself humming her tune frequently. I am not good at remembering words to songs but in this case I only needed to know two. 
Just 6 km - not the full marathon - but super proud, I was
This time, the song 'Balance ton quoi'  by French singer Angèle that my daughter had invited me to listen to was similarly sweet, similarly initially deceptive and equally message laden. She may have brought it to me to follow-up a conversation that we had just had. With the Paris marathon in the news, I had been recalling that this was an event from which women had previously been banned. We had watched together the black-and-white footage from 1967 of the first woman,  Kathrine Switzer, to run the Boston marathonas she was physically man-handled (yes, by a man, the race director) as he tried to stop her from competing. Naturally, our conversation had continued on it's oft-feminist course as we wondered, yet again, about past and current gender inequities around the world.
The #MeToo movement in France goes by the much more aggressive hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (out your pig - expression coined by New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller) but it would seem that the movement has not been seen or followed there in the same way that it has in other parts of the world. In fact, right from the beginning, there was an attempt from some quarters to allow the sexual harassment and abuse of women by French men to continue, with justification that it was 'just part of the French culture'.
In this article of May 19, entitled In France, The #MeToo Movement Has Yet To Live Up To Women's Hopeswe read that
Today, France is still coming to grips with how to acknowledge and prevent sexual harassment and abuse of women.
Where women's equality is concerned, the country presents a mixed picture: Studies suggest France has the highest percentage of women in the workforce in Europe and the country seems to set women up to succeed.
Mothers are able to go back to work if they choose, because of the country's good day care system. And universal public schooling begins at age 3.
Yet the gender pay gap persists: French women earned 15.2% less on average than French men in 2016, according to the European Union's statistics agency.
Overall, many women in France feel the #MeToo movement has fallen short of what they hoped for.
But, back to sweet-sounding sounds: I applaud Angèle for continuing to raise the issue of sexism and for working to not allow the #MeToo movement to simply disappear and for past behaviours to resume. But, as can be heard in this interview, when asked about the clearly sexist (and abhorrently explicit) lyrics in rap music, she was hesitant, still preferring to adhere to a platform of free speech. 
Yes, there is still a whole lot more to be done.
PS I have been trying to write this blog for a few weeks now. I did not want the issue to be reduced to a flippant one-liner, but I was not sure that I could quickly do the subject justice without losing your interest. I was a bit lost, too, to know what photos would support the text AND encourage readers to click on, and read, the blog. In contradiction to my theme, please-look-at-me photos won out. Sigh.
PPS Words to Angele's song 'balance ton quoi' in French here





Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Shame, really, as it was Paris



I was probably more concerned with pick-pockets, not losing my children, working out where to go and how to get there plus general mustering duties (dispensing anti-bacterial hand lotion pre-café and post-public transport, rounding up and keeping my little group tight and compact, making sure that they looked left not right before stepping out onto any road...) than taking in the beauty of the city.

Shame, really, as it was Paris.

Sometimes, I wonder if I appreciate my travels more in hindsight; through photos and stories retold around the dinner table. Then, the dangers are in the past and the experiences, good and bad, have been lived, resolved, exaggerated and added to our individual histories.



Our visit to Notre Dame was but one part of our very busy first day in Paris, which included climbing the Eiffel Tower, riding on a bateau-mouche, visiting the Jardin des Plantes, hopping in and out of the métro and choosing somewhere to lunch (not straightforward with 5 to please). I, hand on heart, did not know that I was jumping the queue when we got in so quickly to Our Lady of Paris. Truthfully, I hate being where lots of other people are (difficult in Paris) and I would have loved to be in the same space during a religious service or choral performance in order to sit, reflect and enjoy. Instead, I am pretty sure we looked up, down, around, did a quick circuit behind others doing the same, avoided the souvenir shop and headed out.

Crumpled. It has been with me, in my bag, since that day. 
By the time we got to the Sacré Coeur several days later, I had calmed down substantially and accepted that this was a first time in Paris for my children, that they could not possibly see and do everything, and that they would have many more years to explore and do.

Funny that, how we think that things will stay the same.

Yesterday's events in Paris prove that that is not the case. I don't have any personal photos to share with you of us at Notre Dame but think that the article (below) might be a lovely way to fill in some of the past (particularly with your children or if you are learning French) whilst talking about the present (and future) of this beautiful Parisian landmark that seems to have defied the odds over and again.

PS To read the rest of the Parisian chapter in our French story, take a look at 'But you are in France, Madame' for print and digital copies.






Thursday, 4 April 2019

Say NO to service fees

Garden at Le Cormoran in Talloires
 

Disconnected, but surprisingly in synch. Not infrequently, I notice that bloggers whom I follow (principally French oriented) offer thematically consistent posts. Education, the weather, festivals, politics, Brexit (who isn't talking about this?), observations about life in France... appear almost as set topic of the day. Much like the lock-step schooling that my children witnessed/endured/enjoyed/encountered (select as appropriate) in France, the memo regarding uniformity seems to have continued into this blogging world.

View from the upstairs bedroom at Le Cormoran

It happened to me yesterday. I had contemplated an article based around our home in Talloires, which we have on holiday rental. I had it planned out in minute detail in my mind, just like I have at various points in my life planned out exactly what I would say to the bullies who have stood over my children if ever I were to catch those bastards in action. (Hmmm, that is ambiguous, but, no, I am not referring in the latter part of that sentence to my offspring but that small subset of students otherwise known as weak, slimy cowards). You see, the platform (HomeAway grrr) on which we have our home advertised frustrates the hell out of me and occasionally it does me a whole lot of good to vent in writing.

Looking down on Talloires and Le Cormoran

Then Lise from Let's Speak French contacted me. She was preparing a blog about Australians who own holiday-rental properties in France (ours included) but her angle was FAR more positive. She wanted to encourage her language students to picture themselves in various corners of France practicing their French language but take some of the stress out of their travel booking experience by providing them with solid, reliable links WITH NO BOOKING FEES. Ok, that last bit was added by me and so you get an inkling of my angst with the above-mentioned platform who, yes, charges EXORBITANT service fees for NO extra service. At least, nothing more than they used to give pre service fee. I was going to mention the FaceBook group Book your Holiday Direct with the Owner and implore readers to use it (objective achieved - tick), do a bit of not-so-subtle advertising of my own property (tick) and hopefully feel better by receiving loads of comments in the comments section from like-minded readers about the injustice of outrageous and unnecessary holiday rental service fees by booking companies who provide no commensurable benefits.

Our French village - Talloires on the Annecy Lake

PS Here is a link to Lise's blog and if you are the Australian owner of a holiday rental property and we haven't come across each other yet, feel free to send me a message (cb222@me.com). It'd be good to get to know each other.

The Annecy Lake glorious in all seasons

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Australians in France - Chateau du Jonquay Part 2

Chateau du Jonquay


In Part 1 of Jane's story, which I shared in my last blog, Jane tells us of the stroke of luck that led to the purchase of their beautiful castle, Chateau du Jonquay (above). Here is the beginning of the story again, along with a continuation of our interview.

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!

Might there be a renovation story or two that you could share?

Naturally, there are many, many renovation stories! In some ways I feel like we have been continually renovating since we bought it 9 years ago. Initially we had to replace the roof as it was leaking and we added a bathroom to the 3rd level. Then we bought the farmhouse next door when it came up for sale and renovated that. It had been the original stables to the Chateau so it was lovely to put them back as one property. Renovating the farmhouse was loads of fun as I invited 10 Australian girlfriends to come and visit, drop in and paint or restore the garden so I didn’t get lonely. It was in very bad shape, but when I look back I can’t believe how much we achieved in just 4 months. The French tradies loved turning up each day to the babble of the Aussie girls working away, up ladders, stripping back 10 layers of wallpaper, trying to explain to tradesmen that you need a wallpaper steaming machine – I'm not sure I even knew what that was in English!  Our french language improved enormously, particularly the vocabulary for anything to do with renovation! We then decided to do a more major renovation on the Chateau by adding a conservatory, new la cornue kitchen, which then led to refurbishing the whole ground floor. We also added another bathroom, the list goes on. It was like opening a can of worms, literally – once we opened up the walls there were actually small animals nesting in them!

What advice would you give to other Australian families who dream of buying their own special place in France? Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process?

I would try and buy a house that has been renovated, as they are inexpensive to purchase but to renovate is costly. It is way less expensive than Australian costs but it is still better if it has been done. Particularly bathrooms, they seem to be the hardest thing for me. Finding good tradesmen is not easy but once you do the French are wonderful to work with and in Normandy they love Australians. They cannot believe anyone would fly so far to experience living in their country! The purchase process was very easy really, but was greatly enhanced for us as my husband is very good at reading and speaking French.
I would do as much homework as you can, but as a venture I highly recommend it. It has been one of the most exciting things we have done. I would also only buy if it is a secondary property and you leave enough in the budget for fixing maintenance issues, as the buildings are so old the issues are constant. I also think you need to keep a sense of humour about you otherwise you would go mad!


Chateau du Jonquay (sleeps 16) and Petit Jonquay (sleeps 8) are available for holiday rental. How would those who were interested find out more?

They are both available for rent either separately or together. Click here for photos, rates and information.

I also offer an additional service of tailor-made itineraries for groups who would like to stay for a week with restaurant bookings and suggestions of things to do and see around Normandy.

It is also available for parties. We have a lot of people who book the castle for celebrations; however, it is also really enjoyable just for families who love the heated pool is to relax around.  

In addition, I am very excited about a collaboration I have with Radiant Pantry on a project called Fit.Food.France.

Fit.Food.France is a 5-day program of yoga, meditation, hikes, healthy French food, market tours and cooking classes with a live-in health coach.  We have 2 weeks available for 2019. 
For 2020, we are expanding the program to include other interests. For those who would like to know more, join our mailing list via the website to be kept up to date or contact me via the website: Fitfoodfrance.com

Are you working on any other projects at the castle?

I am constantly working on projects for Jonquay, mainly because not only do I love the building (renovating is my passion) but also because I have fallen in love with Normandy as an area. We like the weather as it never gets hotter than 32 and it is very green and lush which reminds us of Melbourne.

The next project is our 400-year-old cellar under the castle, that was uncovered during the last renovation. Oh, and we have a few windows to replace!

Thanks so much Jane for sharing your story. Bonne continuation and good luck with fit.food.france. Let us know how it all goes.

Click here if you'd like to read Part One of Jane's interview or here to purchase a copy of my
family's French story, 'But you are in France, Madame'.