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...



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


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

One sip at a time. Learning to live in Provence - Book review


At 192 pages, this is a quick read that will be appreciated by all who live a French life, dream of French living or who are intending to travel to France. Interspersed with pretty line drawings, the chapters could stand alone as short tales or blog entries from three of Keith's visits to France. The anecdotes are told as they were lived and will draw a wry smile from those who have experienced the rigidity of French rules and the mountains of paperwork that accompany their application, the insouciant flaunting of road speed limits in France and the uncomfortable transformation of sleepy Provençal villages into tourist nests in July and August. 

No barn is bought and no marriage break-down is lamented, which in itself is slightly unusual in this genre, but it is clear that Keith has an affinity with the French lifestyle and is determined to make a success of his visits. As a French language teacher myself, it was lovely to read both of Keith's determination to learn French and the way he went about this. The last section of the book is a set of resources for learners of the French language and includes how to find language partners and helpful websites, newspapers and television programs.

 "Voyager, ce n'est pas seulement changer de pays ; c'est changer de voyageur, se transformer" (R. Sabatier). I like this and I think Keith would recognise himself in this quote. On a more frivolous note,  I really like the dedication that Keith's wife Val received and about which he wrote. 

 To find out more, you'll just have to go to Amazon here to read the book!
Keith's blog can be found here


Friday, 10 February 2017

My husband cycles. I don’t...







February 10 was a big day last year too. After a bit of persuasion to go down the ebook route, I succumbed and listed on Amazon. This year, it was the hottest February day on record in Sydney and France Today published an article that I had written. It was my birthday, too...but that's an annual, less unpredictable event.


Thanks for reading and sharing!


Thursday, 2 February 2017

We made it back to France



It is hard when you live in two countries. It is harder still when they happen to be nearly 17000 km apart, require on average 30 hours of travel time and several months salary to pay for the family to get there, knowing all the while that you are setting yourself up for certain mind-numbing jet lag and seasonal confusion. Without careful thought, what you wear to board your plane at one end can severely compromise your comfort at the other (think stepping out into negative temperatures in shorts and t-shirts or stripping off jumpers, coats and scarves to combat 35-degree heat). Living in Australia, that's what French love is all about.

We had planned our long-awaited family return to France for the beginning of December, taking a few indulgences regarding the school calendar (which officially released the children on Dec 17) in an attempt to prolong our time away and escape the harshness of peak peak-period Christmas tickets. We nearly didn't make it to the airport.



Bags on the side of the road. Car smoking.


Fortunately (used somewhat advisedly) we noticed the smoke drifting from the car bonnet before we hit the traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you have never visited Australia, I'm sure that you will; nonetheless, empathise with being in this predicament and creating chaos and discontent from the middle of such an iconic structure. Again fortunately, we had found ourselves a lovely housesitter who had kindly offered to drive us to the airport (a good hour-and-a-half drive from home). In an extraordinary display of good humour, our housesitter, having calmly alerted us to the smoke, offered to wait for roadside assist alone and waved us onwards in the back of a family sized taxi. 









Strangely, after a few casual pleasantries, the taxi driver smiled and told us that we had been lucky. What did he know that we didn't? How does breaking down on the way to the airport, where time is of the essence, constitute 'lucky'? When we nervously asked him to elaborate, he just smiled again, nodded his head slightly and said, "You'll see... in about 10 minutes." Yikes!

And ten minutes later as we sailed past cars rooted to the spot in our free-to-go-like-the-wind taxi and bus lane, we grinned back at him.






A lesson? What appears to be a curved ball can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. I must moralise with myself more often...



PS For two years now, I have seen reference to the All About France links and have at times tried to paste the image to my post in order to be able to join in. Clearly, I haven't managed or simply haven't tried hard enough. Trying again now.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A long-overdue post

En route to the Christmas markets in Annecy. Wild, striking sunset.


We returned to France at a time of year when festivities are in full swing, evenings can be spent around an open fire or strolling the Christmas markets, where weather app reading becomes a daily addiction and snow watching, when it does decide to oblige the amateur weather forecaster, can last for hours. I had thought that this would give me plenty of inspiration for writing happy, uplifting blog posts.  I've been inspired, no doubt about that. I've also been way too inclined to enjoy whatever celebratory cheer has been on offer, which has meant no writing at all. Zilch, zero. Nothing to show. 

Fortunately, Jacqui from French Village Diaries had something up her sleeve that might just get me off the hook. Please enjoy my interview with her here


Backyard bliss. Snow, sun and mountains.