Thursday, 17 May 2018

Marque my words


I am not a brand name person. It has never interested me to pay more for, let's say, an item of clothing just because it is populating the populace, might make me popular or, perversely, more easily non-identifiable. I'd rather stand out, or save my money; simple as that.

Perhaps this comes from being a second child. Perhaps it comes from my non-lavish and threadbare childhood where cents counted. Our family was no different to those around me, so, perhaps, it was just the way it was.

My husband, three children and I took one bag for our planned year-long French adventure plus a small back-pack each for our travel items. For the children, these smaller bags were to double as school bags and for me, as a hand bag. As much as possible, I packed with a practical mind. We were going to France, but I was under no illusions as to my capacity to slide gracefully in amongst the fabulously styled French women whom I was expecting to encounter. And, I chose to interpret the gift of a soft, long white scarf and matching gloves from my Melbourne French friends who farewelled me, as concern for my wellbeing in the cold climate of the French Alps rather than a start on a necessary new French wardrobe.

Fortunately, too, the children at 6, 9 and 12 years old were not at all demanding, and were more interested in having a supply of coloured pencils and their parents with them than the latest brand anything.

Used to wearing a school uniform in Australia, they enjoyed the novelty of being able to choose jeans and a jumper for school and were only momentarily bewildered by the need to wear slippers in the French classroom. But, the eminently practical and suitable back packs set aside for their school paraphernalia did set them apart.


What we discovered was that the younger children were either pulling back-friendly 'wheelie' bags - not out of place at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport - or wearing brand items, such as the pleasing four-euro Naf-Naf one (see left) found at our first vide-grenier.


For the collégiennes, gone was the practicality and in was the style. I had forgotten about these little Vanessa Bruno school bag substitutes until last week, and when I saw them in Mosman at Montmartre Concept Store (see right), they brought back a whole host of memories.

My most favourite of which is that they all seemed to be carried identically, and in a very particular way; let's just call it 'the teapot tip'.

I hope you enjoy this musical interlude by legendary Australian group, The Wiggles, by way of explanation and if you haven't come across Jacqui's French Village Diaries, now is a good time to visit as in this entry, Jacqui herself is performing as a little teapot to groups of very appreciative schoolchildren in her role as librarian.

***Copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.***

"I'm a Little Teapot" is an American song describing the heating and pouring of a teapot. The song was originally written by George Harold Sanders and Clarence Z. Kelley and published in 1939



Friday, 4 May 2018

Le Florion Des Moines - a forgotten cheese


The story of the 'Florion Des Moines'. 
The ancestral cheese of Talloires-Montmin

Once upon a time in the fields and meadows of la Tournette above the village of Talloires lived three farming families, each specialising in cheese making - one made the Reblochon, one the Tome and the third, the Florion Des Moines. In the 15th century, tragedy struck Antoine de Charrière, maker of the Florion. Accused of heresy and witchcraft, he was tried and burnt, and with him died the practice of Florion-making. The two other cheese-making families, aghast at this happening, and out of solidarity with their old friend, informed the monks (les moines, who still wished to be provided with their Florion) that they did not know how to make their mythical cheese. Fortunately, the recipe did not disappear altogether as it continued to be passed on through the Comte de Talloires' family, whose ancestors had been working the fields at Casse and at the Chalet de l'Aulp for generations.



To link back to this prestigious past and in celebration of the 1000-year anniversary of the Talloires Abbey, Pierre Comte spoke with specialist cheesemakers from the region; Monsieur Bastard Rosset from Montmin, maker of the Reblochon and Monsieur Alain Michel from Annecy. As a result of this discussion, the three men decided to bring the tradition of the Florion, this important monks' cheese, back to life.

This cheese re-birth will shine a light on the unjustly neglected cheeses of the hillsides on the east bank of the small section of the Annecy Lake. It is true that cheeses from this area are known to have been of quality, but grape growing assumed even greater prominence. The monks, themselves, decided to prioritise grape-growing, being a much more profitable activity than cheesemaking. Given that these days the vines have also disappeared from Talloires Montmin, it is only natural that the cheese should now take its revenge. Thus it was decided that the production of the Florion Des Moines, a cheese of quality from this area should once again take place on site.

If you want to fully appreciate the Florion, be advised that traditionally those from Talloires and Montmin ate it with fresh walnut bread and a good glass of Mondeuse.

Bon appétit!
(photos from Les Fromages d'Alain Michel and translation as recounted above)

As always, copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.







Monday, 16 April 2018

A chat about our French journey

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldjH19EFVGU&feature=youtu.be

The steps: The words - The book - The promotion - The surprises

I have meandered along this path, not altogether blindly, but with only a vague destination, no route map or compass, a very small support crew (my husband) and many passages up dead-ends, steep cliffs, never-ending, unremittingly straight roads, in earshot of the happening parties just out of sight over the next crest.

Thankfully, along the lonely way, people have happened along to say 'hi', including Annette, from A French Collection (above). Both Australian, we connected through my book and her website, discovered that we live only 170 kms apart (not far in Australian terms), have three children each of roughly the same ages and share a somewhat inexplicable attachment to France.

We met up for the first time last week and, after a simple lunch, we sat and chatted in front of the camera. If you are curious, you only need click on the link here, or above, to find out more.

As always, copies of 'But you are in France, Madame', which take you with us on our French adventure are easily downloadable at Amazon, here or send me an email on cb222@me.com if you'd prefer a print copy.

Lastly, let me say a sincere thank-you to everyone who has been a part of this publishing journey to date; your encouragements and heart-warming appearances at the sidelines have kept me going and have motivated me to see how far we can go.




Monday, 9 April 2018

What to do?



You are right; it is not the sexiest, or most interesting, of photos to lead today's blog. In fact, given all the pretty pictures of France that are out there to entice you, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't make it past a quick glance...just like we nearly didn't make it past the silent sentinels. 

I'm never sure whether it is just us, or whether other families have car-moments when unfamiliarity and indecision turn a happy outing into stressful, white-faced, rapid-fire discussions amongst the 'adults' whilst those in the back become unusually...menacingly...quiet. 

Our first such moment, in the Montpellier underground carpark into which our GPS had unwittingly led us, did not get a photographic record. I was incapable of movement, as I waited for our car to bottom- or top- or side-out at every inconceivably tight turn. Parked, I drained myself out from my seat, through a car-to-car gap the size of our keyhole to gaze in wonder at the big 4x4s neatly aligned nearby.

Time we had a-plenty on our second car-moment, as we rounded a corner on our one-way street and nearly into the metal bollards above, before idling quietly to consider our options. There were no other cars around and, other than backing up along a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone lanes and through the afore-mentioned carpark, we had only one way out; forward. Would we glide quietly into the stubbornly unmoving posts, or perch ourselves atop said obstacles, as they disappeared then re-appeared in an untimely manner? Neither, as it turned out. Our angst was unwarranted and, as we inched forward, the posts slid from view and we exited unscathed.

But everyone knows that two negatives make a positive, right? And, FREE seaside parking offered itself up as proof. Let me know in the comments if you know why?

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.






Sunday, 1 April 2018

Bunny with a message


I sent an email to a girlfriend last week. She lives in Melbourne and we were particularly close when we lived there too. I still consider that we are close, despite the fact that we had had no contact for over a year at that point. 

"Well, well, well", came the reply that afternoon, as she stepped off the plane at Sydney airport.

My Scottish grandmother believed that coincidences like that happen, and that they happen for a reason. 

So, what do I make of cute bunny below?

Do you see the difference with exhibit number 1 above?

Bunny number 2 (below) who hopped off the supermarket shelf and into my daughter's boyfriend's basket ... in Australia ... had successfully worked his incognito magic and was indeed a little French one. 

There is definitely a message in there somewhere.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques!

Stowaway French bunny 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Just about us


I could blame my non-existent recent posts on lack of time. Isn't that what busy (read important) people do? But, I'm not...so I can't. Truthfully, I have many blogs ready and waiting to go, which I'll post after they are written...and if I could find a comedic Youtube sketch portraying the things people do to avoid doing other things, I'd upload it here (please share if you have one up your sleeve).

Instead, given that I received notification that my blog was amongst the Top 100 French blogs*, and some of you reading But you are in France, Madame for the first time would be struggling to get a real sense of what this blog is all about, I thought I'd re-introduce myself.

But is Madame actually in France? Read on...

Australian-born, but French-at-heart, some years ago, I persuaded my husband to come with me on a year-long adventure to France. That one year turned into several, a book, the purchase of a house and an ongoing commitment to a place, a people, a language and a way of life.

Our three children, then aged 6, 9 and 12 came along for the ride. They were willing accomplices; completely uncertain as to what they were signing up for and, despite leaving with only one smallish suitcase each and arriving to no family, no friends, temporary accommodation, a new school system, a new language and new food and routines, they thrived. Naturally, we had our down times, our difficult times, our downright scary times but, now back in Australia, they recognise the wonderful gift that their life in France was to them.

Why France? Je ne sais pas. My first French lesson was in high school at age 12 and hooked I have been since. Could it have been Italy, Germany, Japan, Indonesia if one of these languages had been my compulsory first second-language? Maybe, but I suspect not. School French lessons turned into university studies followed by many fulfilling and happy years teaching the language to secondary pupils.

Why did we choose Annecy? This post of many months ago might help to explain.

Why, if we loved our French life as much as I proclaim, did we return to Australia? For that, you'll probably have to read my book, as it has no easy or short answer. As to our choice of life in France, I have no regrets, only pride that my husband and I did not 'do normal' and that that has given our lives a richness for which we are eternally grateful.

Do we return to France? Yes. As often as work, school and other commitments allow, we return to our second home. Each time, I am fearful that the magic will have dissipated. Each time, I try and not count down with sadness the days until our departure and concentrate instead on loving re-living in France.

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.

*Really not sure about this, and so, unwilling to put you all through unnecessary email bombardment from clicking through to unknown links, I will refrain from pasting the pictorial award.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Whatever you feel, really feel.

Path next to the Pont du Diable


Just over twenty-one years ago, I was toughing it out in a labour ward in Melbourne. My mind was firmly on things other than the traffic, visible through a flimsy curtain. Despite my lack of attention to what was happening outside and the agony of what was happening inside, I burst out laughing. Something had caught my eye.

"Don't take pain, take Panadol*" read the advertising on the side of a bus.

It happened again today - not the childbirth, but the distracted awareness of a passing bus. My mood was a lot more melancholic, as I had just finished walking alone along the beach, watching the waves through the mist of the salt spray and conscious of the noise of the cafés which, like the waves, were pumping, full of couples, families, not-a-care-in-the-world groups of beautiful singles.

"Whatever you feel, really feel."

I have no idea what the ad was for. Here's hoping it wasn't for condoms, as that would be completely ironic in light of my previous story.

But, the words on the bus, whatever they were for, legitimised my state of mind.

Three years ago, my husband, son and I headed back to France to finalise the purchase of our first French home. First, not because we have many, but, because a first, just like the child about to be born above, is memorable. The melancholy came from missing them both - France and the family-life that began at that moment; both of which, in the natural way of things, keep changing, keep me guessing, but perhaps most importantly, keep me feeling.

* Paracetamol-based tablets.



If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

Round, wooden thing that you put cheese on


Should you look inside one of my kitchen cupboards, you'd see a large range of drinking glasses - mostly recognisable as former jam, pickle or Vegemite pots. Open another door and a plastic bag, bulging at the seams, will not launch itself at you, as it has been solidly packed with flimsy supermarket shopping bags, ready for their second and subsequent uses, and wedged against the cupboard hinges. Look closely at my right summer sandal and you might detect the faint marks of the clamps and glue used to reattach the strap to the sole, and if you flick through family photos of a decade ago, you won't see those sandals, but you might see the jumper, jeans or dress that appear in my recent holiday snaps. I am not a hoarder (my children's memorabilia and my teaching books aside), so that's not the reason for such peculiarities. It is; however, one of the reasons that I adore everything about the French vide-grenier.

These joyous community events give pre-loved trash and treasure the opportunity to begin afresh, just like my array of glassware. Up and down village streets on vide-grenier day, I wander, intermittently aware of the friendly banter, good-spirited bargaining, occasional loud-speaker announcement or distant chimes from the cows and goats in the surrounding fields. The excitement does not leave me until I have perused, assessed and walked past each stall, picked up and cradled several items and made eye-contact and subsequent small talk with one or two stallholders, deserving of my attentiveness after a night of minimal sleep and maximum preparation to enable my colourful, visual tableaux.

Unsurprisingly, such events are not as frequent in winter. So, there is no alternative during these months, but to head further afield and discover more beautiful country routes and picturesque hamlets. Hardly a chore, this is exactly what we did recently and which led me right past the subject of today's blog - cheeseboards.

I hadn't paid much attention to the details of our destination. I didn't know the village, but knew that the drive through the Bauges would be possible, as the big dump of snow predicted for the week would not yet have impacted easy circulation. Usually, it is enough to note the name of the village, type it into our GPS and, when within a two-kilometre radius, follow the line of people walking from make-shift carparks to vide-grenier central. This time, we parked in front of the church...easily, which was not a reassuring sign, and, stretching from the drive, looked around. No crowds, no sounds, no tempting hot oil smells from the barquettes de frites.

Avoiding eye-contact with my own tribe,

"I might have got it wrong. Perhaps I misread the date, but let's go for a walk."

It took as long to get dressed - hats, scarves, gloves and jackets - as it did to check out the village. There was a sign on the school fence saying that a case of chickenpox had been confirmed at the école, but, whether directly related to this or not, there was no-one there.

My family are kind. They made no fuss, pretending that this crumbling wall on that ancient barn was an excellent reason for an hour-and-a-half in the car.

After fifteen minutes of sustained, deliberate looking, I turned to my husband,

"What if we were to actually look up the address?"

And, lo and behold, we were in the right village, on the right day, and nearly-the-right place, with fifteen minutes before the event was due to conclude.

We raced back to the car.

It looked promising from the road. With each newly sighted piece of bunting, van and trestle table, my spirits lifted.

Leaping out of the car, not bothering this time with careful dressing, I raced to the first stall, noting that there was a flurry of newspaper at the three alongside. Yikes, they were packing up and I had not even begun my slow browse.

A chipped Ricard jug caught my attention. I'm not opposed to chipped anything, but searching for the price, my eyes slid downwards to a circular piece of pock-marked wood.

"What do you think?"

"Get it", said my husband.

"Mmm, do you really think so?"

"Yes."

Interpreting my cautious decisiveness as a reluctance to pay the price, the stallholder offered me a five-euro reduction.

"Plus the jug?" I asked cheekily.

He nearly went for it, too, but outsmarted me by proffering another, even more battered than the first, and suggesting that I pay for just the more expensive and get the two.

"That's ok. Thanks anyway. Bonne journée, Monsieur."

Grinning happily, I thanked my son who, taking the board from me to carry it back to the car, allowed me to fit in a quick, unencumbered lap of the Méry event.

If you would like to read more stories from our family's French adventure, please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com for a print copy of 'But you are in France, Madame' or click on the following link for a Kindle copy.






Tuesday, 6 February 2018

We made it to February 5




We made it to February 5, our day of departure, and against all odds we were ready. Busy until the very last minute and with the pressure of being the only responsible parent, I had no time on that last day to give in to excessive emotion. The children on the other hand cried through the morning, again on the bus home from school and as I turned the key for the last time in our beautiful old wooden door before hiding it under the stone in the corner of the garden bed near the barren wisteria, and taking my seat in the car. This time our suitcases, like us, were well-travelled and worn; this time the excitement of our departure four years previously had been replaced by a dullness, and this time, it was not the rain but the snow, which had stopped falling to make possible our departure, which started falling in earnest the next day. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

It is hard to believe that five whole years have passed since our return to Australia. I look at the photos of the castle above, as we looked at them every day and in all seasons from our balcony in France, and the emotion is still there. I was weary, exhausted actually, from packing up a whole house, three children...our entire French lives. Some items, I sold on the French equivalent of eBay, le bon coin; some things I gave away; I sorted and packed boxes and boxes to be shipped back to Australia; our travel suitcases had to be carefully packed to include items that we would need immediately upon return; utilities had to be cancelled; the house had to be cleaned; friends had to be farewelled and normal everyday cooking, shopping, washing and mothering had to be fitted in, too.

We arrived back early in the morning to a hot summer's day. On the other side of the world, we had been suitably dressed in jeans, jumpers, thick coats and scarves but sweltered uncomfortably through the long customs queues in Sydney. Fragile and smelling less than desirable, we emerged into the Australian sun where underneath the animated chatter of our reunion with my husband we were silenced by the different light intensity and the sounds and smells that were no longer familiar.

The following day, I ventured into an Australian supermarket feeling lost and decidedly out-of-place. I wandered aimlessly picking up, putting down and picking up again a packet of Hot Cross Buns from the shelves, needing the comfort of my favourite bun despite wanting to resist the judiciously placed display for an Easter still far away. To these I added a few items that I thought I could use for making up the long-forgotten-about school lunch boxes, wincing at the copious layers of wrapping that enveloped all of the easy morning options. That was enough, I had to leave. Passing through the checkout, I realized that I only had one little foldable bag with me, a grabbed souvenir from the roadside throwaways on the Tour de France and apologized to the male cashier as I was trying to squash everything into it as quickly as I could. He looked at me and asked kindly if I was ok packing my own bags. For a brief moment, I had no idea what he was talking about and then realized that that was no longer how things were done. (extract 'But you are in France, Madame')

For many of you who have been following our adventures through this blog, or who have read our story, you will know that the adventure did continue. But, in both directions, I still make mistakes. It takes time before I remember to take our re-usable bags to the supermarket when we return to France, to say 'bonjour' before beginning a conversation, to find the right words once everything is properly back in French, to anticipate the shops shutting at lunchtime, or to hop into the driver's seat on the right side of the car in order to remain on the right side of the road. Despite the passing years, the emotion is still strong. Our last week in France is always hard, as I countdown not only all the jobs that need to be done to restore our house to perfect holiday rental conditions, but the days left to savour morning walks to the bakery, throwing open the shutters to greet the day and the mountains, unashamedly sitting idly by the window watching the snow fall, anticipating the treasures that I will find (not necessarily buy) at the permanent second-hand stores, perusing the lunchtime set menus and knowing that there is no need to schedule further afternoon activities, catching up with old friends, walking and skiing amidst the grandeur of nature...

To finish, let me share some village news. Jean Sulpice, head chef and owner at Le Père Bise in Talloires has just been awarded two Michelin stars, which is another excellent reason to visit our special place in France. Click here to read the full article from L'Express

I am again linking up to All About France. Head over to read other French-themed stories.

Or, as always, if you would like to read more of our family story, 'But you are in France, Madame' please don't hesitate to contact me on cb222@me.com or click on the following link for a Kindle copy