Monday, 21 September 2009
This is my last blog posting for MancinFrance. It's almost eight o'clock on our last day and we're exhausted after days of packing and cleaning. Still we managed a final walk to the lake and lunch on the terrace in the sun. In the first posting - back in freezing January, I asked why we were here - [appropriately existentially n'est ce pas?] and so now I suppose, is the time to see if I've discovered any kind of answer. The best I can come up with is that I wanted to change - not too much, but a bit, to rearrange the molecules, to give myself the shock of the new. I think it's hard to change by will, by decision alone, so you have to change your situation, and let it change you.
Has the shock of the new thing worked? Yes, a bit, I think. My French is better - I can now understand about half of what people say to me - as opposed to about 10%. I've had three of four conversations in French in the last few days and didn't panic or gawp, open-mouthed, just carried on blagging Frenchily and hoping for the best. It seems to work. When I walk through the village in the late afternoon, I say bonjour to more people. Dogs still bark but not as loudly. I've written a lot and sent a lot of stuff off to competitions/publishers.I do feel a bit braver, fitter, younger. I've walked hundreds of miles. I've swum in a lake. I've shot lots of rapids on the Dordogne.
Something else I've become more interested in as the year has gone on - nationality. Here I feel more connected to Europe, yet not exactly European. Englishness/Frenchness - what does it mean? If I'm English - and I am - how do I know? If Englishness is about place, home, language, history, familiarity, what can we be proud of? What should we celebrate? What should we love?
And now I'm finding it hard to end - to finish writing - to leave. I hate long drawn out goodbyes. So here it is. A short sharp one.
Goodbye to all of you who've read this - thank you so much for being with us here. If you want to say goodbye too, it would be good to get a final comment from you - to know you were still there. I'd love to know what you think about this Englishness/nationality business.
Goodbye to our petite chatte, Cleo, who won't be coming home with us but who loved it here.
And goodbye to beautiful La Roche Canillac. To all the kind and friendly people we've met.
Goodbye to the trees, the birds, the mists in the valley, the brilliant stars.
- a bientôt.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
This is not the last blog, but it is the last but one. As the two or three of you who've kept up with me so far will have noticed, I've slackened over the summer months. Summer visitors, swimming, walking canoeing. But now the weather is really changing - west winds, swallows gone and going. Time to come home. Why, you may ask, indeed as many people have asked, particularly ex-pats and French people. As I said a blog or two ago, French people understand the concept of love of country extremely well, they just find it hard to understand how anybody can love any other country but France. Seulement une petite joke, mes amies. And ex-pats have something to prove. That they made the right decision.
Anyway. We are coming home. Libraries. Films. Radio 4. It's our country. We love it. We speak the same language. Our family and friends are there. It's beautiful. Weather is just weather after all.
We're trying to fit in all the things we've wanted to do and haven't managed - last weekend a trip to Toulouse. Lovely city - sunset on the river - all the students back and rampaging around - begging from idiot tourists [yes we gave them money] because c'est un tradition donner l'argent aux l' etudiants as they are tres pauvre - or, as we say in English - for extra beer money.
A group of students were singing socialist songs [imagine!] in the Town Hall courtyard, in front of an exhibition about Jean Jaurès an academic and politician, who campaigned for peace before the first world war and was assassinated in 1914. The city felt full of energy and radicalism - and also artistic advertising - a field of paper flowers sponsored by Kenzo Perfume. We loved it all.
This week canoeing, more walking, looking out of the window at the turning-brown trees. Saying goodbye- not just to the place, but to this year, the idea of a year as a break in the onward rush, the too-fast pace of a life. One of the odd things is that I feel younger than I did when we came last September. I can't really explain it, but maybe the truth is that I had been beginning to feel old. It could simply that I feel fitter - all the walking up and down hills - or that cities are places where you're constantly reminded of your age. Probably the sun has addled my inner metabolic clock- thingy. A good dose of Manchester autumn and winter weather should knock that right out of me.
However - here's a verse of a poem which kind of links trees and France (Finisterre) and the British Isles. And it's by Manchester's [adopted] own, Carol Ann Duffy. A secular prayer with Radio 4 in it. What could be better. Another reason to come home. A woman poet laureate.
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre
Monday, 31 August 2009
There's a powerful sense of community and shared history in this site, not least because the larger national and international events although implicit, are kept in the background. You only need to remember the history of France in the 20th century to see the classes of 1911 and 1935 - the children's ages ranging from tiny tots to eleven year olds - in a very different light. And yet the ordinary life of the village goes on, and in the class of 1942 while war roared around them, the kids looking as lively, as naughty, as shy, as always - and inevitably there's one with her finger up her nose.
The other thing that strikes most strongly though, when you look at these pictures, this history, is not only the terrible change that war brings, but what has probably been the greater transformation in the last century - depopulation of the countryside and the move to the cities. The photographs and videos are full of fun and energy - showing the pride and beauty of this place - children, weddings, and of course, this being France, a page showing menus from the auberge and restaurant. On the 10th July 1926 they had Polarde Henri IV and Canard aux Olives. But they also record decline - loss. There is an elegiac feel to the photographs and films - look at what we had, they say, look at how we were. There is no auberge now, no restaurant, the school closed a few years ago and the few children are bussed elsewhere.
See their website at http://www.laclauzure.fr/
Sadly, we'll be leaving soon - but you could come - for a week, a month, maybe even a year!
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Re the England-hating, I went to a Vide Grenier [car boot sale] last week, and as I gazed at the French country tat, I overheard English voices behind me. Two couples greeting each other after one couple had been on a visit back to the UK. The following was the gist of the conversation:
'We're so glad to be back. It was terrible, crazy.'
'I know. I know.'
'It's gone completely mad now, the whole country.'
'I know. You're absolutely right.'
'We hate going back now. It's awful.'
'So do we. But you've made it in one piece.'
'Thank god. Whew!'
You hear this kind of thing a lot from ex-pats. I can't imagine French people ever being so negative about France. We need to change the record.
Back in the village, in this summer heat, there is still what passes for a local holiday crowd. There are ten to twenty cars lined up by the lake, people swimming, canoeing, lying on the grass. If last year is anything to go by they'll all be gone in ten days, the campsite will close and the village will go back to its sleepy silences. I used to think it was a bit odd, maybe over-rigid, the way many French people stuck to fixed, holiday periods: Mid-July to mid August - but now I wonder. Perhaps more French people actually like their ordinary lives, their houses and streets, families and friends, and don't need or want to go away for weekends and half-terms and short breaks, as much as the English. I could be romanticising here - it might be money, for instance, and there are probably plenty of other reasons.
Still, the French do seem to like their country and to be proud of being French. Before anybody leaps in, I know there is racism here, and that patriotism et cetera can lead to hatred and anti-foreigners. Of course. But it doesn't have to, and most of the people we've met are as moderate and tolerant as most English people, or at least, like us, they mainly keep quiet about their intolerances. They just seem to like who they are better than we English do. Maybe it's because they [and their media] don't keep banging on about how awful their country is.
Things that are brilliant about the UK:
- The language
- The people
- The countryside
- The rivers and lakes
- The coast and sea
- The books
- The arts
- The food
Of course, most of these are just the same things that French people love about France. That's the point.
A third of France has better weather than we do, I give you that, but only for some of the year, and anyway, not having much, we appreciate the good weather more than the French do. We also have funnier stand-up comics - oh and fish and chips. I knew there was something.
Thursday, 6 August 2009
For the past 10 days we have had three delightful teenagers and their Mum here, so it's been full-on swimming, canoeing, walking, barbecuing, mountain-biking, high ropes, computer games, eating and sleeping. The adults have done the first 6 and the teenagers the last 3. Only joking! [a bit]
And today in London our daughter has had a baby girl so I'm off off to London while R is staying here. The village is full of people on holiday. All the houses are full. There are kids and dogs everywhere. The lake is a beach. Life's a beach.
More in the unforeseeable future.
Monday, 27 July 2009
There was a village event on July 14th - a Repas Champetre, which seems to mean a meal in the fields. Actually it was in the square near the Salle Mille, which is a community centre. Everybody brought food and drink. Tables were laid out under a big tree and the Conseil Municipal donated aperitifs and drink. Lots of ex-pats as well as local French people and French holiday makers. Yet again, I was struck by the lack of officiousness, nobody seemed to be in charge, or giving orders, or getting flustered, but the tables and chairs got put out, the food turned up: salads and quiches and pizzas and pies; cakes and flans. It was lovely - we sat between a French couple and an English family on holiday, and managed to negotiate a meal long conversation in two languages. Very enjoyable - all it needed was some music but R wouldn't sing . Spoilsport.
In honour of the holidays we went canoeing on the Dordogne - 20 kilometres from Argentat. We'd been on the water about 10 minutes and R., my very own qualified canoeing instructor [qualification extremely out of date I might add], directed us across the river to a place where we'd avoid weeds. As we headed back towards the main stream, I pointed out that we were heading for rocks. Hitting a rock isn't serious, he said, as we hit it and capsised. We both fell out, into the [quite] fast-flowing water, and then had to man handle the boat, half-full of water to the side. As I am smaller than R, I was in up to my ribs. He nearly lost his paddle. I actually lost my temper and almost my nerve. There were tears. There was shouting. But I got back in. And we had a great day. From now on, he's going to wear his glasses in the boat.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Saturday, 4 July 2009
Still, visiting the Gironde, so different from Correze: younger, richer, more urban and urbane,has made me think that there maybe are some aspects of French culture that are shared and, if not universal, at least more emphasised than in England. I don't think this is to do with 'being French' genetically or nationally but in the values and ideas of the whole society. Perhaps it's to do with Catholicism and Protestantism. Or the weather. Or wine rather than beer. Or a bigger country and fewer people. Anyway here's a very tentative list of my perceptions:
I know a lot of English people believe these things but here they seem embedded in the culture - central not peripheral.