Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Brushes with fame

Sightings of and brief conversations with: it has been a big week for celebrity in my family. Nothing too deep and meaningful, but they have kept our little family group chats animated.

By far my favourite encounter came about as a result of my husband travelling for work far, far west of the Eastern coast of Australia. In fact, in a monster of a day, he left for the airport at 4 am, took two planes, rented a car, drove 350 km, did some seriously onerous labouring, got back in the car and rang ahead to a hotel to let them know that he'd be there by midnight. He didn't make it and fortunately had enough good sense to pull over and sleep rather than trying. The only comfort was the knowledge that the cramped sleeping quarters in the car, not terribly dissimilar to the hotel room he had optimistically booked, cost nothing and were not booked out, plus the fact that he was not attempting to outrun a fierce storm, as he had been the week prior. Bringing his numb feet back to life after a couple of hours of roadside slumber, he raced to the airport to take a 6 am flight and was back in Sydney by early afternoon. Distance travelled: over 2600 km...one way. Time away: 34 hours. Time slept: approx. 2 hours.

But, back to celebrity brushes:

"You've got a rather famous name."

"Yeah, but I'm better looking and can cook better."

Flash, real name Gordon Ramsey, was also a real outback character with a gloriously gravelly voice who, having lived in his remote patch of Australia for many decades, had more than a yarn or two to tell.

Truth, it appeared, was an unnecessary hindrance to many of his delightful anecdotes.

These are the stories and the people that excite me. I'm guilty of the occasional glance at the vacuous tabloid celebrity articles, based on nothing more than the sound of a good headline. I'm also guilty of skim reading whilst champing at the bit to get to my next task, spending far too long flicking through screen posts and neglecting both the pleasure of slow reading and the wonder of debate, conversation, disagreement and acknowledgement.

"Start an argument," I said to my daughter.

She looked at me quizzically.

"No," I laughed. "Not with me, right here, right now, but with your friends, over dinner. See what their opinions are, what they have to say and enjoy the thrust and parry."

Still, she looked bemused.

"Be French," I grinned. "Just, don't forget to close the conversation and leave as friends."

PS I didn't actually use the words 'thrust and parry' - that might just have produced its own, non-sought-after argument...but you get the drift.

I wrote about the contrasts between our French and Australian lives in a previous blog (wow, nearly four years ago). Click on through for some more beautiful photos taken by my husband (who can be found, if you are interested, on Instagram @rustymarmot)

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

That New Year Hump

It hasn't been an easy start to the year here in Australia. So much so, that the well-intentioned, somewhat compulsory sharing of 'Happy New Year' or 'Bonne Année' good wishes has stuck in my throat. It has somehow felt sacrilegious (which I inadvertently initially spelt scar..ilegious) splashing around smiling goodwill at a time when the world feels dark. I know that I should be mature about this and sensibly declare that that is exactly the reason why I should be emanating joy, but I'm here to declare that I'm a bit over doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

In a moment of clarity this morning, I also realised that one of the downsides to my restless need to keep moving cities/countries - and contributing to my mood - is that I miss my friends. I know. Melodramatic. Churlish. Childish. But there it is. The good old ones who have been with me... and stayed through my yellow tracksuit and permed hair phases. I do miss them, their closeness, their 'sureness'.

In my second revelation of the morning (see, life is looking up), it also occurred to me that friendship happens differently now. And, as if to put a boldly underlined 'point final' to that thought, a message has just popped up on my Instagram feed. 'Coucou ma belle' writes @frenchwithnicole in response to my message on @lostinarles post. I have never met either of these ladies, but I had just admitted that, when it comes to social media,  I am still hiding a little too far along the safe end of the ‘open and honest’ continuum.

Puzzlingly poignant.

Pertinently positive.

And a reminder to be forever grateful to every single person who has stopped by and set up a borderless chat, to all those who have shared their stories with me as if I were a trusted confidante, and to those who seem to, I don't know, care for me, despite having never met and having no shared history.

... just taking time to shake off those New Year blues, I guess.

... time to let go and see where the year takes me.

PS If you have just found your way here, to my blog, welcome. Another story with a similar theme 'Words and friends in a French life' and to read more about our French life, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available in print and Kindle by clicking here.

Friday, 13 December 2019

To have your heart in two places

Vacuuming isn't my most favourite thing to do, but at least it's not my least. I became a bit manic about keeping the floor clean when my children were babies, and mooching around on it, but fortunately I don't have the same daily urges any more. A little bit like my morning lap swimming, passing the aspirator (passer l'aspirateur) actually gives me a long period of time to think, and that's not a bad thing. For some reason, doing the bathrooms doesn't have the same effect.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm not the only one to do a self-twist and contort, manipulating the vacuum head with alacrity, in order to avoid at all costs the effort of moving chairs, coffee tables, discarded clothes...anything... out of the way. But, I'm not here to preach or be educated regarding the techniques of said household chore.

Bent over the machine this morning, my stream of consciousness led me around the dust piled up under the chair legs, around the gaffa taped and sagging seats, across the pock marked table top to the springless dunce in the corner and on to France. Of course, it did. Most things do. You see, we bought this table and chairs from an antique (read 'things old and unstable') store years before our departure from Australia. It was a big deal for my husband and me as it was an actual purchase and not just a scrounge off the side of the road during one of the Council clean-up weekends. It served us and our children exceptionally well and if I look carefully at the table, I can probably see where and when. But, its crowning glory is that it has two leaves and seats a large number all together, just like we like it.

We didn't like it much when we returned to Australia from France. Our tenants had used it for major smash and grab affairs - or perhaps, table top dancing. Either, perhaps both, is a possibility. Even the one ebayer who kindly agreed to take it off our hands, baulked when she actually saw it and went away sans table. Mmm, now I was a bit offended, and decided that this un-loved possession needed to be projected right into the family fold and take pride of place at dinner time. Is it comfortable? No. Do our guests wonder? Probably.

In addition to being the champion of the under-table, there may have been another reason for not heading straight to the trash heap towing dining furniture behind me. At the time, I could not buy anything. Any purchase, no matter how big or small, came to represent another physical barrier to our return to France. In my mind, if we bought anything, it was a sign that we were settling in and finding our place in a new place. It was tantamount to doing the unthinkable, conducting a blatant act of betrayal and ... letting France go. Our deck remained furniture-less and our linen, threadbare; our glassware, non-existant except for a growing collection of re-purposed Vegemite jars and our clothes, very fashionable items from the '80s.

All in the vain hope that nothing coming in meant that we could all go back. Back to France, from where my heart was refusing to budge.

Years have passed and not much has changed. I did eventually buy a second-hand couch for the deck, but not with the goal of providing comfortable seating, more with the thought that it would make selling up quicker and easier.

Ahh. The unforeseen consequences of choosing adventure and saying 'no thanks' to living 'normally': passion, awareness, love, joy, friendships, heartache...and the inability to sit for long.

If you would like to read more stories of our French-Australian life, Kindle and print versions of 'But you are in France, Madame' can be found by clicking here.

Monday, 18 November 2019

'N'est-ce pas, Madame?' 16 years and counting...

It has been 16 years now and I have only just learnt that what my son and I have been doing all this time has a name: additive bilingualism. The term was coined, I believe, in 2006 by King and Foley and has something to do with raising a child in a non-native language. (I have requested a copy of the research paper but haven't as yet been granted access.) It was in an article entitled 'Possible, but challenging: Raising children in a non-native language' that I came across the term, and it prompted me to think back over the wonderful journey that my son and I have been on.

And, yes, it has been a wonderful journey ... (previous blog posts on the subject can be found here: 'What I have learnt from the past 12 years speaking French to my son followed by Bilingual Baby - First Steps and Bilingual Baby - Chapter Two.)

But first, let me share with you a few lines from Gerald Durrell's exquisite read 'My Family And Other Animals'. Believing that he was running too wildly and in need of some proper education, Gerry's Mother set up French lessons for him with the Belgian Consul. Only, in this excerpt, she comes face-to-face with her own language limitations:

"For some inexplicable reason the consul was under the impression that Mother could speak French, and he would never lose an opportunity of engaging her in conversation. If she had the good fortune, while shopping in the town, to notice his top hat bobbing through the crowd towards her, she would hastily retreat into the nearest shop and buy a number of things she had no use for, until the danger was past. Occasionally, however, the consul would appear suddenly out of an alleyway and take her by surprise. He would advance, smiling broadly and twirling his cane, sweep off his top hat and bow almost double before her, while clasping her reluctantly offered hand and pressing it passionately to his beard. Then they would stand in the middle of the street, occasionally being forced apart by a passing donkey while the consul swamped mother under a flood of French, gesturing elegantly with his hat and stick, apparently unaware of the blank expression on Mother's face. Now and then, he would punctuate his speech with a questioning 'n'est-ce pas, madame?' and this was Mother's cue. Summoning up all her courage, she would display her complete mastery over the French tongue.

"Oui, oui!" she would exclaim, smiling nervously, and then add, in case it had sounded rather unenthusiastic, 'OUI, OUI.'

This procedure satisfied the consul, and I'm sure he never realised that this was the only French word that Mother knew. But these conversations were a nerve-wracking ordeal for her, and we only had to hiss 'Look out, Mother, the consul's coming,' to set her tearing off down the street at a lady-like walk that was dangerously near a gallop.

Let's do our own waltzing... back to the present.

I am a native English speaker but I speak French to my son. He, mostly, replies in English. It has always been like this and I'm wondering now if it will always be like this. Not just the English-French mélange, but the forever bit.

The gist of something that I read recently was that, at 5 % prepared, just throw yourself in. If you wait until you are 100% ready, 100% knowledgeable, to do whatever it is that you are contemplating, you will stay still. This was not my guiding principle back then, but it certainly describes what happened. I had very little idea of what I was doing, from both language and methodology points of view, but somehow, together, my son and I managed to push through the awkwardness, the doubt, the difficulties and the lack of resources to an understanding that complements - no, makes magical - our communication.

He is tolerant of (or should that be tolerates? ) me. When I get myself tied up in knots, searching for the words to describe something that does not exist in French, he listens, with an indulgent smile and waits for the excruciating description to finish. He used to cut me off half way. After all, he knew where I was going and didn't need the sentence to be finished to understand. Maturity, and a certain wicked aptitude for teasing, have brought about his new indulgence towards me.

He reminds me, too, when necessary (usually when I am suggesting that he go and do his French homework) that he didn't learn French. It's different for him, he tries to get across to me. French is not his second language. It just is. And that, as beautiful as it is, is hard for me to truly get... both as the mother who has guided him through this - and as a French teacher. I still learn. Every day. And that is something that I don't think researchers have really got. The benefits of additive bilingualism - for the child - are without doubt. The benefits for the parent are all of that and more... 'added additive bilingualism' or some such term.

Sure, like Gerry's Mother, I have been known to scuttle into doorways, or cleverly melt into lamp posts, in an attempt to avoid more nerve-wracking language ordeals than necessary, but this somewhat unintentional social experiment with my son has worked (she shakes her head, still in mild disbelief).

The full title of King and Foley's paper is 'Bilingual parenting as good parenting: Parents’ perspectives on family language policy for additive bilingualism.'  

Our journey, my journey, this additive bilingualism, has never been about good parenting. But, boy, has it added soulfully to good living and good loving.

PS Part of our journey took us to France. Find our story here on Amazon for a Kindle or a print copy.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Words (and friends) in a French life

La Plage du Mugel

A couple of years before we took off on our much-talked-about French adventure, a friend sent me a present. I love happy mail. This was amongst the happiest - a book from a special person. It came wrapped and openable (and not just at the click of a button), it promised lots of precious, quiet moments and it was about life in France. But, and here was the icing on the cake, not only was it a series of little French family anecdotes, for the language teacher such as I, it had the added bonus of exciting little linguistic forays at the end of each chapter.

At the time, I noted that the author had a blog but, knowing very little about such things, didn't look it up, and when it was suggested that a blog of my own would be a good way to keep in touch once we were in France, I gave that a pass too. After all, I was a private person, with lots of stories to tell that I thought would be of little interest to most.

Arriving in France, I did write, but they were not creative moments. The short bursts in front of my computer were haphazard and, with very little available time, my goal was simply to create a record, something that would help us all to not forget.

Somewhere in the ether, it had been predetermined that our French adventure was to be tinged with the sadness of a personal health struggle. I mention this only because if there was any good to come from my sickness (and I remain unconvinced), it was that after treatment, I started to write differently. Personally. Reflectively. And years later, many of these creative moments made their way into the complete story of our French living in my book 'But you are in France, Madame'.

At the time of publication of my book, I concluded that I needed to toughen up and hop onto the social media platforms. Having published a memoir, it might seem strange that this was difficult to do, but it was, and I vividly recall my extreme hesitation before publishing my first blog entry.

Hats off

In a wonderfully serendipitous way, the risk was one worth taking as this is how I met Kristi, the author of my past present, 'Words in a French Life'

We caught up last summer and shared a few hours together. Yes, we talked about words and writing but my old friend gave me so much more all those years ago -the gift of a new friend.

Hats on
On Kristi's recommendation, we headed down the coast from La Ciotat to La Plage du Mugel for lunch. Right on the beach, we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. My son chose 'moules frites' (his favourite), a 'salade niçoise' was my not-very-adventurous choice and my husband selected the fish of the day, straight off the boats. Keen to show off his de-boning skills, the waiter was surprised, even vaguely upset, when my husband said that he'd be ok to do it himself.

After lunch, what does one do when one is right on the beach? Why swim, of course. 

Just one more beautiful day in a French life.

moules frites
salade niçoise

loup de mer or sea bass
la plage du mugel