Friday, 8 September 2017

What the hell are we doing?

8 September - Five go to France

Some dates, usually related to stress-inducing health check-ups, make me jittery. This morning, I had nothing medical marked on my calendar, but I was on edge. I took the dog for a long walk and, in my please-don't-recognise-me-and-try-and-say-hello clothing, I marched around the Plateau. By rights, I should have at least registered the view. It is spectacular and the long stretch of beach on one side of the peninsula, the lake on the other and the natural vegetation in between is deserving of at least a glance. But, I trudged on, eyes averted under my brown fisherman's hat.



I only worked out why when I was drying off my hair afterwards. Just over eight years ago, I was standing in front of a different fogged-up mirror doing this same mundane task and somewhat angrily pointed my hairdryer towards the glass. I fully expected it to crack. We had been planning our year in France for years, and nothing, but nothing, was going right. And yet, come September 8 of that same year, five of us, against the odds, went to France.

That's why I was agitated. It was the anniversary of the start of a period in our family life that was unique, special, and to which I return constantly. Not physically, but emotionally.

This morning, one of my girlfriends (thanks, Kylie) shared an article. Despite it being one of those, for me at least, dreaded introspective articles, I read it. Entitled, 'The Difference between Healing and Changing', it didn't go far enough for me to truly appreciate the article, but it did make me stop and think...that, now, back in Australia, I still have not managed to move on from our French life.

Writing 'But you are in France, Madame' was helpful albeit unintentional, and our changed location, where we live, is undoubtedly spectacular, but if I could be heading to the airport right now to start our adventure again, I would.

Coincidentally, this morning, on another doddle around my usual web links, I landed on a winery in Provence, Mirabeau; created by a family of five, who left a busy corporate London life in August 2009, just like us, and headed to France, just like us. Strange how different lives, inspired by the same objectives, are led in parallel.

I console myself by reminding myself that I was in France, Madame, and can be again.




Monday, 28 August 2017

My default position...



... is to expect nothing in return. Self-preservation dictates this. I used to send out letters and emails, and leave phone messages and suggested contact times, and then happily await responses. Not so, these days. I am inordinately joyous if an editor replies with a negative, as long as it is still positive.

My most scathing reply to a submitted article was along the lines of ‘we only accept well-researched pieces, not short, bitty ones’. OK, no beating around the bush, even though it did take me a couple of prods to get those few words. Honestly, was the submitted article worthy of such ‘ouch’? Probably. At least, I got something back. But, I’d still be curious to work out how one can be on the job pile one day and dish out such delicacies the next. What is the timeframe for editors and publishers to go from being generous, humble and supportive to condescending and indifferent?

I’d come across this attitude previously, in circles other than publishing. My medical specialists’ secretaries have always been particularly good at giving me the brush off, defending at all costs their partner-by-association superiors and unaware of how much more important kindness and compassion are following unsettling consultations.  

Living in France, I learnt that it was easier to start something expecting a ‘no’. Before attempting to do anything administrative, I’d mentally rehearse all that needed to be said; prepare and sort all the documentation that I figured would need presenting; take a few extra bits of paper for good luck; expect a long wait to be seen and subsequent parking fine; and practice simultaneously clenching and rolling my tongue between my teeth in an attempt to stop the tears that would start to spurt when being told that what I had come to do would not be possible.  


Fortunately, there are still some kind-hearted, generous people out there: Amongst others…established authors (#patricialsands) who started following me on Goodreads when there was not much to follow; fellow Instagrammers and bloggers (#eatlivtravwrite) who chose to buy and review my book despite being sent postboxes full of free ones to review each week; interviewers (#thebookpodcast) who feature known, prize-winning authors…and me; store owners (#frenchcargo, #languagebookcentre) who not only stock my book but promote it enthusiastically; blogger/authors (French word-a-day and An Accidental blog) who listed my book on their sites and did not ask for anything in return and everyone who has purchased our family story 'But you are in France, Madame'. To all of you, 'thank-you'.


...and, if you haven't already purchased my ebook and would like to do so, it would be lovely if you used the link in Mardi Michels article, as it is part of the Amazon affiliate program...just a small way of showing your (and my) appreciation - and it costs you no more. If you would prefer a print copy, then another affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. Again, a purchase here would be so very much appreciated by us both. Merci beaucoup.




Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Summer Reads review


A recent review of 'But you are in France, Madame' touched me as, despite never having met, knowing nothing about me other than what the reviewer had read in my book, her words show that she has really grasped the essence of who I am. She focuses her review on our respect and love for the French culture, in spite of (and sometimes (with teeth gritted) because of...) the difficulties of living in France. I am sharing an excerpt of her review below and for the full article, click here

"Catherine is an evocative writer and paints a picture with her words which will whisk you away to her life in France as you read each chapter. But perhaps even more than Catherine’s way with words, what I loved about this book was the family’s utter respect for the French (language, culture, people) and their surroundings. Instead of complaining about the mind-numbing pace at which things sometimes move, the quirks of #lifeinFrance and the frustrations that go along with all that, Catherine and her family seek to integrate fully into life in their new home, questioning things, for sure, but mostly wanting to make sure they are doing the right thing, even if sometimes (often) life in France is difficult. As Catherine says, despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the stories she shares, the family really did love everything about their life in France. The book is also just as much an exploration of French culture (with a bit of history thrown in for good measure) as it is a story of an expat family living in the French alps."

If you haven't already purchased my ebook, it would be lovely if you used the link in Mardi Michels article, as it is part of the Amazon affiliate program...just a small way of showing your (and my) appreciation - and it costs you no more. The article is part of her Summer Reads series...and while you are there, have a look around at Mardi's blog Eat. Live. Travel. Write.

PS If you would prefer a print copy, then another Affiliate link is to be found in Kristin Espinasse's French word-a-day blog. Again, a purchase here would be so very much appreciated by us both.

Merci Beaucoup...

Monday, 7 August 2017

Monsieur Vélo rides again - Cycling the Galibier

France Today - Monsieur Vélo rides again

For those of you who are new to the blog, let me introduce you to Monsieur Vélo.

His first appearance 'Just say it's Monsieur Vélo' was the result of a chance meeting whilst out on a bike ride, at the top of Semnoz, near Annecy. On this occasion, he was treated to French warmth and hospitality.

In today's France Today article, Monsieur Vélo is once again on his bike, and once again, the kind recipient of French generosity.

For my family and I, living in France, this French welcome has also overwhelmingly been our experience and for that we say 'thanks'.

Welcome to 'But you are in France, Madame' and bonne lecture!



Thursday, 20 July 2017

Climbing and rambling

* (see translation below)

I suspect that today's blog is going to be a rambling affair. But, give me a rambling rose and I am, figuratively speaking, plunging my nose into soft, velvety prettiness; talk to me about your ramble in the woods, and my lungs will fill with imagined fresh air and my head with Enid Blyton adventures, pop up a real estate ad on the sidebar of my computer featuring a 'large, rambling country estate', and my happy day-dreaming seriously encroaches on my output for more than the time of a brief, non-distractable glance.

No, an implied lack of order does not always have to be a negative. Einstein, and some probably trendy young guns (researchers) releasing themselves of the necessity to ever conform to an old work paradigm stood (and stand) by the value of a cluttered work space.

In fact, researching the difference between a climber and a rambling rose, I discovered that a rambler, of the rose variety, has unique qualities; that it is more flexible than a climber (the result of the contortions necessary to support the weight of the determinedly-upward non-rambler?), is more vigorous, has very few thorns and usually only flowers once throughout the year. As a rambler, then, I can and do bloom, I am wise when it comes to the retraction of my barbs, I have stamina and energy...taking the analogy too far?

Reasonably, both order and disorder are necessary for maximum and complementary outputs. However, what if disorder implies creativity, and order, convention? As Head of School in days gone by, I was required to undertake Myers-Briggs personality tests. Supposedly an introspective self-reporting questionnaire, it was never an exercise in discretion. Rather, a point-scoring opportunity to flaunt one's (supposedly better) creative and extrovert leadership qualities.

Ahh - take a look at my desk and tell me who I am.




*If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

If you would like to see the product of my decidedly (and proudly) orderly book 'But you are in France, Madame', click here.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"I've noticed that people who know how to eat are never idiots." (Apollinaire)



"I've noticed that people who know how to eat are never idiots" (Apollinaire)


Guillaume Apollinaire (not his original name) was born in Italy to a Polish mother. In his short life, which ended nearly one hundred years ago, he seems to have done and said pretty much whatever he wanted to. Still, today, the interesting people around me have this capacity. In this noisy 'me', 'me', 'me' world, they are the oft-silent ones who can be confrontational without confronting, whose ideas make me think, whose words are not drowned out by the inane, trivial conversations around us. Sure, they are sometimes arrogant so-and-sos who can upset by their unflinching honesty; in my case, only saved by their genius and my gratitude at being taken out of my daily humdrum. I probably would have enjoyed a tête-à-tête with Guillaume, but, the truth of it is that I don't know how to eat.

Table etiquette: which fork/spoon/knife to use, elbows off the table, no slurping or burping and how to place one's cutlery at the end of a meal - I've got spades of that. I come from good English stock. The mechanics of eating; clearly, that is not a problem either. But (and here's the rub), I am never the one to salivate prematurely over the duck stuffed in the turkey stuffed in the chicken (or however the turducken is prepared although I concede that my method appears unlikely). I am never the one to order my steak 'saignant' (let alone tartare), I skip lunch often and snack on Weet-Bix or handfuls of muesli and, dinner for my children and I, when my intelligent husband is away, is often not pretty.

That said, I'd like to think that I am not an idiot either. My defence might look something like this:-

If A equals 'people who know how to eat' and B represents 'not an idiot'

And

A=B  ⟺A⊆B and B⊆A

But, if

A⊆B and B⊈A then A≠B

Ah, we are not talking equality at all. Good, I can still legitimately keep company with my other half.

Actually, I digress. This post was to have been about baking bread but I got side-tracked by stumbling upon the aforementioned quote in Cooking for Claudine by John Baxter, a gift from Lulu (thanks, Lulu, and I hope to hear soon that your French trip was a great success).

I'll aim to get back to my exemplary bread knowledge in my next post. In the meantime, there is a chapter in 'But you are in France, Madame' entitled 'Mon péché mignon' and it is all about bread. If you would like to read more, here is the link.



A la prochaine...






And once again, joining in with the AllAboutFrance link-up, sharing posts with a French theme. Bonne lecture...

Friday, 9 June 2017

David Pujadas, I'll miss our daily get-togethers...


Thirteen years ago, we still lived in Melbourne, my children were very young, living in France was just a dream, but David Pujadas was already well-ensconced at the helm of the evening news on France 2. I'd had plenty of flat tyres, flat hair days, flat days tout court, but, for our family, flatscreen viewing was many moons away. Our television of the period had to be backed into a corner, so big was the tube. But, it did the job nicely enough and allowed me to get to know David through the news (or was it the other way around?).

My children, young as they were, became familiar with the French news presenter's name and the time of his appearance on SBS.

"Mummy, David Pujadas is on", called with a beautiful French accent down the corridor and I'd come running.

And, this morning, I shed a few tears. In my sitting room in suburban Sydney, as David said his good-bye on the set, surrounded by his colleagues who have also become household names, my emotions surfaced. It is hard to believe that the end of an era could affect me so much. Granted, the world is all over the place at the moment and, possibly because of this, the loss of a familiar face in my day is as real as any other loss. True, too, that David accompanied our nights when we were living in France. By 8 pm, the children would have finished with their goûter, homework, dinner routine and I would sit with at least one of them, usually my youngest, and take in the news of the day. Maybe, I was crying for that time past, too?

David was professional, analytical, warm, serious, humorous and kept me up-to-date on world events in a manner which I appreciated enormously. I'm sure that we'll meet again on some screen at some point in the future, but in the meantime, "Thanks, David".

Friday, 19 May 2017

Falling in love all over again

Market day at the War Veterans residence

I fell in love yesterday. With Arthur.* And with Jean, Mabel, Audrey and George.

Arthur was buying clothes at the market stall next to mine. The jumpers, socks and casual shirts for seniors were laid out neatly on two trestle tables and there were a couple of clothes horses displaying long, printed flannelette nighties, loose-fitting jumpers and pants with elasticised waists on coat hangers. It was not obvious that there was a ladies' and a men's side, so when Arthur started looking through the women's pants selection, he was gently guided to the other rack by the lady in attendance.

At that point, I had to turn to my own affairs and did not see Arthur head off, but with both of us customer less, I started chatting to my market stall neighbour. I had observed her earlier, helping her elderly clients and I wanted to tell her how much I loved the way that she was interacting with them. At this point, Arthur returned. He was still an old man, but now he was an old man wearing jeans. They were slightly baggy, slightly long and were possibly not often teamed with a felt hat with finger-length dimple, soft scarf, v-necked jumper and jacket. But, boy did he look swell. The price tag was visible at his waist line, but oblivious to this, he handed his own pair of pants back to be put in a plastic bag and said that he would just keep on going wearing his new pants.

"They are really good quality. They will last you for, (nearly imperceptible pause), a long time."

I don't think Arthur heard. He had already moved on to my stall, where he asked about my book, said slowly and regretfully that perhaps he wouldn't buy it straight away, took one of my brochures, no doubt to not let me down, and, bypassing the hand-bag stall, moved on to the lady selling jars of jam. My heart followed him.

Jean bought one of my books, but not before she had told me several times that she had honeymooned in France, where she and her husband had hitch-hiked to get around, and checked several times that the book was mine; that I had actually written it. She eventually decided that even though her birthday was a long time off, she would treat herself. I don't know whether she will remember from one day to the next what the book is about, but sincerely hoped that each little chapter would take her back to that happy place and time when, just married, she was in France.

George and his wife also stopped for a long chat. He looked not a day older than 60, but confided in me that he had already celebrated his 80th birthday and that Audrey and he had been together for 45 years even though many had predicted that their 13-year age gap would be their undoing. There has been much ado recently about age gaps in relationships. I wouldn't have known, guessed or even given it any thought.

* - not real names

PS. I'm linking again with Phoebe at #allaboutfrance. If you have come across from Phoebe's blog, then welcome, and if you are curious about our story, click on this link to read 'But you are in France, Madame'. In advance, thanks for your comments and interest in my book.


Saturday, 29 April 2017

A most audible option


Click here to listen

I wanted to have a reading done of 'But you are in France, Madame' as soon as it went into print. Initially, I believed that it couldn't be that hard and that I could just do it myself. Despite being the person most intimately associated with my story, my reading was never convincing.

Recently, Rosemary Puddy (The Book Podcast), contacted me to ask if I would mind if she did a reading of the first few chapters of my book for her podcast, which celebrates Australian women writers. I was delighted!

I received the link to Rosemary's reading last week-end. It was an overcast Sunday and I was not in a hurry to get out and about, so clicked 'play' and sat down to listen. In a scene somewhat reminiscent of the days when a family's evening entertainment was to gather around the radio and listen to the next instalment of a radio series, my family gradually all joined me. Variously, leaning on the kitchen bench, sitting cross-legged on the stool next to my desk, standing no doubt with the intention of listening in for a couple of minutes, we remained for the entire 30 minutes of the reading.

It was good. In fact, it was lovely. Our story, my children's story, read as if it were a proper piece of literature. Regardless of how it is viewed in reality, that is how it felt. Afterwards, came the memories. Thank-you, Rosemary!
If you have a spare 30 minutes to listen, make yourself a cup of tea and then follow this link to episode number 9 (you will need to scroll down the page).





Saturday, 1 April 2017

A quick trip to France with your Book Club?




I have been asked recently to provide some ideas for book club discussions of 'But you are in France, Madame'. Where possible, I am happy to attend your book club meeting but, if you live too far away (outside the Sydney area!), I hope that the flyer (above) that I have put together might promote lots of fun and lively discussions. Contact me on cb222@me.com and I will send you a pdf for printing or distribution to your book club members.

A reminder, too, of the different purchase options (see below) for 'But you are in France, Madame'. 

Print Books.

Blurb Online Books: CLICK HERE
Amazon: CLICK HERE

Kindle Editions

Amazon USA:  CLICK HERE
Amazon Australia:  CLICK HERE
Amazon UK:  CLICK HERE
Amazon France:  CLICK HERE

Other Formats

eBook fixed page format for iBooks and iPad via Blurb: CLICK HERE

Or

Contact Catherine on cb222@me.com 

$30 to have a print copy sent within Australia (includes postage)
$20 print copy - collected in person from Catherine in Sydney


Finally, if you would like to continue discussing my book, bilingual education, purchasing in France or moving with your family, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Just say it's Monsieur Vélo

Article in  France Today magazine

Let me fill you in on the back story to my latest contribution to France Today magazine, which is less 'travel piece' and more 'story'. 

One of the best decisions that we made when living in France was to move from Giez to Menthon-St-Bernard. That's not to say that we didn't love Giez. It is a beautiful little village with a castle, a golf course, close to the Annecy-Albertville cycling track, not far from the Annecy Lake and close enough to the shops of Faverges, plus we had started to make friends and were slowly discovering the village rituals and get-togethers ... but it was just not close enough to the children's schools. 

As is often the way, our circle of friends in our new village of Menthon started to widen as we were introduced to the parents of our children's friends. Some of these friendships took time to form, after all we could have been the Australian blow-ins; there for just long enough to scoop off the best of French living before skiddadling out again. Others springboarded from the first morning drop-off on the day of la rentrée, where a couple of Mums came straight up to my husband and I standing rather uncertainly on the edge of the courtyard, introduced themselves and started chatting. 

Years later, one of these mothers, who by then had become a special friend, attended a dinner at the Abbey in Talloires. Seated randomly, she quickly discovered that the person next to her was Australian. Good, something to talk about...me...also Australian. One thing led to another and ultimately to an email conversation between my friend's dinner acquaintance and myself. 

And no, it didn't stop at an email conversation. Let me introduce you to M. and Mme Vélo in the article above; new friends, fellow Australians and equally enamoured with Annecy, the lake, the mountains and new beginnings. 


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Le Fabuleux Village des Flottins


In 2009, newly arrived in France and knowing no-one, we consulted our guide books regularly for ideas on what to do and see. At the time, the name Evian made me think only of bottled water. I had no idea that Evian-les-Bains was a sizeable village (approx. 9000) on the Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and very close to where we were living. Funnily enough, it was not rated highly in our guide book and was even considered particularly dull in winter. Prompted by an ad on a bread wrapper, similar to the one below, we went anyway.



It was a cold winter's day, so cold that the spray from the lake had set solid on benches and around the tyres of cars and created dramatic temporary sculptures. It was definitely the sort of day where sitting by a fire or inside a café would have been more comfortable than strolling outdoors. Except that we were not just in Evian, we were in the Village des Flottins in Evian, where we encountered live elves and mystical (human) beings hanging out with enormous inanimate driftwood creatures. Legend has it that these warm and hospitable creatures, who arrive each year and set up their village in Evian, rescued Father Christmas and his reindeer after an altercation amongst the reindeer on a training run meant an urgent landing for Le Père Noël and his party in the waters of the Lake. He now stops in to see them annually as he is passing by.




These photos are from this year's festival, the tenth, which now includes old-fashioned games for the children such as the ones that you can see in the photos below; the closest is a recycled dancing marionette; the second, made of wood has a pull-back lever which when released propels a ball up an inclined wooden chute and where the aim of the game is to get the ball high enough for it to fall through a hole in the chute.


The parent-powered merry-go-round was popular with the young children. They sat in metal bucket seats and circled in a slow, leisurely fashion: a far-cry from the roller-coasters and mechanical fairground rides of today.


Ten years ago, there were twenty sculptures. Now, there are more than 650. These days, the festival mobilises the whole community. They gather the driftwood from the lake shore, dream up the ideas for the sculptures and then help with the fabrication. Schoolchildren and their teachers compete to invent creative sayings to write on the shopwindows in the village. All is done with the most pure of ecological intentions.


Happy to have ignored the advice of our guidebook the first year, it has now become a must-do on our Christmas calendar. If you happen to be in or near Evian in winter, pop past to enjoy this event, which proudly differentiates itself by not being a Christmas market. 
In fact,
 "Ici, rien n'est à vendre. Tout est à rêver et à imaginer".

Bye friendly flottins.
Until next year...
Linking today with #allaboutfrance