Showing posts with label friends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label friends. Show all posts

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. 


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Letterboxes and benches


My daughter’s friend from school eats with us every second week on a Thursday. When she is due to come for lunch my usual routine involves picking my son up from outside his school at 11.30am, walking him home, driving in to wait for my daughter and her friend outside their school gates at midday, racing them home, feeding them all a three course meal, cleaning up and then dropping them all back at school between 1.20pm and 1.40pm. Through my Australian parent eyes I would no doubt have scoffed loudly at the idea of children going home for lunch, considered it to be unfeasible for working parents and an unnecessary pampering of the children. Dare I admit that last year they were coming home twice per week to eat plus they were home for lunch and all of Wednesday afternoon?

It certainly puts me under pressure but it does seem to allow us extra time to talk about the perhaps otherwise small details of the day that might be lost in the after-school activity, homework, dinner, bath, bed program that we used to work to in Australia. The children seem more relaxed, smile more and laugh more with each other than I ever remember them doing before.

For my daughter’s friend, who goes home for lunch every day, there is nothing unusual about what we do. She is quiet and easy-going, never fusses about what there is to eat and sometimes comes up with observations that make us realize that in so many little ways life is different here.

One such example was when we were letting ourselves in through the front door. She noticed the letterbox on the wall and asked whether it was indeed the letterbox. “Well, yes,” we replied wondering how that was not obvious. “It is just that you do not have your name on it. How will the postman know where to post your letters?” I had to stop and think about letterboxes in Australia and struggled to remember all the different ones that we had had in the past. As they resurfaced in my memory in all their various shapes and sizes the one thing that they did all have in common was that there was no name on any of them. Wasn’t it enough that the address was on the envelope and that the house number was visible?



Out walking later I looked around and sure enough all the letterboxes were labelled with the occupants names. To me it was like a sign to burglars declaring how many people lived in each dwelling and it felt strangely unsafe. Many houses in the villages here have no front yards and their front doors open directly onto laneways or footpaths. In Australia there is often a no-mans-land between the front door and the letterbox, which somehow seems to provide a barrier of security. But, even as I write, I reflect on the fact that it was in Australia that we had our house burgled, the car stolen from the road in front of the house, the windows of our flat egged and the car vandalised in our own carpark. Maybe we should have put our name on the letterbox?

Practically, though, it makes sense to provide more details for the postman, as houses are not set out in a regular pattern. In our little hamlet, we are very close to other houses but there is no rhyme or reason to the lay-out of the streets. Moreover, what looks like one big house from the street can in fact be divided into several apartments. I’ve often surmised that this lack of regularity and boundaries between houses leads to a more open, friendly relationship between neighbours.

As my husband and I were walking home today up the hill our always-beaming neighbour was coming out of her shed with a bucket of freshly peeled potatoes, turnips and carrots in water to stop them turning brown. We stopped, exchanged kisses and then had a long chat. As we were saying good-bye and she was once again gathering up her bucket of vegetables to go in and prepare her soup another neighbour came up the street. Down went the bucket, more kisses were exchanged and another conversation ensued.



The carpenter from the village has made a bench, wooden of course, which he has slotted into the wall in front of his house, which runs along one of the laneways into the village. It is a good-looking bench and he has affixed a sign near it which reads ‘Banc des amis’ or ‘a seat for friends.’ My neighbour also has an old-fashioned slatted garden seat near the road in her garden. It is next to her shed and when the season is right it has perfumed red roses hanging above it. Hers is not labelled but clearly does not need to be to gather her friends around.