12 August 2007

Hay-on-Wye take 2

– or why you should always take a book with you, even when you go to the Town of Books.

Stupidly, we waited for the rain to die down.

Stupidly, we pottered about in the morning, instead of leaving as soon as we could.

So, stupidly, we found ourselves in the midst of the non-stop pouring rain – and the mayhem that it caused.

Stupidly, I hadn’t taken my camera with me, so all I can provide here is a couple of pictures that I got off Yahoo.com – so sorry... We had already been to Hay-on-Wye (see this post), it was going to be grey and rainy, we were going to be busy looking around bookshops all weekend, so no, I didn’t take my camera. Damn I regretted it!

Some scenes were quite spectacular: going through the deep puddles, water splashing by the sides of the car and soaking the windscreen in a huge curtain of water; a Mini going for it in what looked like a river but then its engine drowning and dying in a volute of white smoke in the cold 10 p.m. air...

Others quite amusing: Monsieur l’Anglais setting a trend by getting off the car and standing on the verge of the road to relieve himself; me NOT setting a trend at all by trying to hide between the driver’s door, the central reservation and Monsieur l’Anglais holding the huge golf umbrella, and NOT managing to relieve myself, so petrified was I, despite the ‘It’s OK, nobody’s looking’, the ‘I’m siiiiiinging in the rain, la la, la la la!’ and the ‘Come on, chérie, everyone’s going to think that you’re having a crap!’ (now that really helped, of course!!...NOT!)

And yet others quite miserable: abandoned cars, flooded cars, sorry drenched drivers walking by, on a mission – but which one? The closest town or shop was miles away, we were in the middle of the A40, about 15 miles away from Gloucester!

But we were lucky. Very lucky. At least we weren’t on the M5 or the M50. Those who were slept in their cars that night of 20th July 2007, a day to be remembered. Instead, we were on the glorious A40. We spent a very romantic 12 and a half hours in our little MG, sometimes a bit worried, sometimes laughing our heads off, sometimes annoyed, sometimes happy because I had taken a book with me (‘just in case’, as I always do – though Monsieur l’Anglais hadn’t wanted to listen to me and was bored stiff a lot of the time!), sometimes surprised that we had already been waiting on the same spot of tarmac for more than four hours, sometimes alarmed at the realisation that perhaps we would not make it to Hay-on-Wye for our anniversary...

But we did make it, and we were in a warm bed in a warm room at 1.45 a.m., 15 minutes after arriving at our little B&B in the centre of town. What a relief!

By 8.55 the next morning, we were up and ready for breakfast (they stopped serving at 9). We had only had a few nuts, a few dried apricots and a little water between 1 p.m. the previous day and 9 a.m. that day! Thank you Me, always ready for the unforeseeable – at least we hadn’t starved!

And then by 10 a.m., we were pushing the door of the first of the 20-odd bookshops we were to visit that day and the next.

Unfortunately, the bad weather continued, so we didn’t even get to go back to The Spot Where Monsieur l’Anglais Proposed. Getting to that spot would have meant going through mud and probably impassable paths, where the rain had lodged itself... I was gutted.

It was an interesting adventure. We will always remember our first anniversary. A rainy anniversary. Ah – a bit like our wedding...

No, I wouldn’t recommend planning anything around 20-22 July in future. It seems to always rain... We won’t any more. We’ll celebrate our anniversary a bit later from now on!

But here’s the remarkable collection of books we managed to buy and bring back from the Town of Books! (Recognise the kitchen counter?!)

A growing pumpkin...

My hope is that this is the first pumpkin that we’ll eat, come the end of September/beginning of October. You see, we’ve been growing all these pumpkins (two plants are yielding, at least, eight pumpkins!), but now we’re going to go to the US... just when they’ll be ripe and ready!!! Gggggrrrrrr! So yes, I really do hope that this little pumpkin will grow quickly enough for us to relish a pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie at the end of September. Fingers crossed!

From this:

To this, in just 10 days!

First cucumber!

Just a quick note to show you our beautiful cucumbers! And they're delicious, too!!! Behind are the pumpkins... (well, the leaves and flowers at least!)

From this:

To this:

To this!

Isn't nature just amazing?!

23 July 2007

Rhubarb, rhubarb

Where I used to live (before moving to Oxfordshire), there was a café called ‘Rhubarb, Rhubarb’. I loved it there. It was also a shop that sold all sorts of objects, mostly very arty, of the ethnic kind, and very expensive, but there was the odd thing I could afford so I bought a couple of things from there. They played jazz all day long, served homemade food, and because there were only a few tables, we all had to share them with one another, which made for a social and convivial atmosphere.

I have always loved the fruit itself, rhubarb, so my love of the café had as much to do with its name as with the décor, atmosphere and originality.

One of the first things we grew with Monsieur l’Anglais was... yep, rhubarb. We put three seeds into three small pots, and when they were ready we planted them out into our vegetable patch. Then we started clearing some of the patch, and what did we find? A very old, slightly sick-looking rhubarb plant! So we now have four thriving rhubarbs!

In April, I harvested our first crop of rhubarb stalks. I was a bit worried that I had hacked everything and that we probably wouldn’t have any more rhubarb this year. I shouldn’t have been: three months on, I have another huge crop. Just look at that!

Tonight, we’re having guests, so I’m cooking an almond and rhubarb cake, of course with rhubarb from the garden. Here’s the result:

I just love gardening when it yields such wonderful results!

Spa day

I have finally ‘spent’ my Christmas present from Monsieur l’Anglais. On Friday 13th, I went with a dear friend of mine who, incidentally, has given me all sorts of baby clothes and nearly all the equipment for our future baby – whenever he or she might arrive, hoping that we’re not tempting fate in this way... – and who is going to go back to France with her husband and three sons, if not in September then most certainly by January. So it was a thank-you and farewell present all in one.

We spent the day in our bathrobes and slippers, apart from two hours at the gym (one in the morning and one in the afternoon).

We started with a free session on a massage chair for 15 minutes each. It was there for customers to use freely because the ‘creator’ wanted to do a trial and to get people’s opinions. I gave it a 10/10 – it was better than a masseur!

I then had a ‘hydrotherapy bath’. It was a bit disappointing. It was like being at home in your own bathtub but with lots of jets of water going up and down your body and with lots of bubbles. I was allowed one essential oil (I chose ‘detox’ because the lady also put seaweed powder, which is a detoxifying substance apparently), and OK it smelled nice, but 25 minutes in the Jacuzzi was just as nice, if not nicer because you can actually relax in a Jacuzzi, which you (or at least I) can’t in a bathtub (it is always two inches too long, I can never reach the end of the bath while resting my head gently above water). Unless I wanted to drown in bubbles and lots of moving water, I couldn’t relax, having to point my toes against the other end of the bathtub in a totally un-relaxed and un-relaxing position.

Then we read a few pages of our book/magazine and at 1 p.m. we had a delicious lunch, very simple, very healthy, but oh so tasty: free-range roasted chicken, penne pasta with pesto, a mixed salad with the freshest lettuce leaves and halves of cherry tomatoes, freshly baked bread, the smoothest butter I’ve ever tasted (yes, even in Normandy!), and finally vanilla yoghurt with blackberries, blueberries and strawberries delicately set on top.

Nicely full, we went to the gym and got some energy back into our bodies, enough to then go for a swim in the circular pool. After that, we relaxed in the Jacuzzi again, sharing our impressions about the books we’ve read recently.

At 5 p.m., we reluctantly left to get showered and changed and to go back home. Just like for my wedding day, I wanted to do it all over again!

New table and benches

At the beginning of June, we bought this lovely table and matching benches. Because of the horrible weather, we were only able to put them up a whole month later!

And because it practically hasn’t stopped raining since then, we have only been able to sit at it three times!

But when the sun is out, especially in the morning and in the evening, oh, what blissful minutes and/or hours I spend there, reading my book, writing my novel, dreaming, looking at the red kites above and stroking the cat!

House swap

I can’t believe how natural it was for me to say ‘Yes, it’s a good idea’. What is wrong with me?! I seem a lot more relaxed about a lot more things these days (and no, I’m not pregnant yet, before you ask).

And so I said ‘yes’.

And so in less than three months, we’ll be flying to San Francisco, and an American family from that part of the world will be flying to London and come and stay in our house for... six weeks!

OK, we’ve got the better end of the deal: the two of us are going to stay in a huge detached, 5-bedroom house in an area where there are no floods (but earthquakes), with presumably all mod cons in a BIG way (six-foot fridge with ice-cubes provider, icy-water provider, room-temperature water provider and the like), while the four of them are going to stay in our poky little 3-bedroom semi, with no dish washer, no TV and a tiny little two-people fridge. But hey ho, Mr American is the one who suggested the house swap in the first place – he can’t complain!

I must add that this is all a work thing that Monsieur l’Anglais is involved in and he does know Mr American. Still, I’m slightly nervous, and I know that I will be more and more stressed as October looms...

3 July 2007


I got too excited, that’s what happened.

I got too excited about the two little dark-green leaves that were growing on each of the two sunflowers that I planted two weeks ago.

I didn’t run or anything, but the wood of the decking was so slippery, there was no chance to keep my balance, and BLAM! flat on my arse I was, my right clog three meters away and my right knee in agony.

I screamed so loudly that my cry echoed in the quiet, sleepy town (it was 10 o’clock on Sunday morning).

I then shouted Monsieur l’Anglais’s name so loudly it sounded like I was about to die.

No answer. He was in the living room, the radio on, oblivious to any other noise and to what was going on outside.

Later, he told me that he had heard the racket I had made but thought it was the kids next door playing. As they do most Sundays. Couldn’t blame him.

It took another two long, loud shouts – along with seeing me outside the kitchen window clutching my knee – for him to come and see what had happened.

I couldn’t stop crying. It was painful, but mostly, I think, I had been sooooo scared when I had realised that the step I had taken that was going to get my balance back had been even worse than the previous one and when, in that split second where your mind disassociates itself from your body and you kind of see yourself from above, I had seen that I was unable to prevent a fall on my back, right on the edge of the step of the decking. My hands were also hurting quite a lot. I had used them to ‘soften’ the fall. The base of the thumb on my right hand was the most painful bit.

As we say in French, I think there had been ‘plus de peur que de mal’ – more fear than hurt. We put some ice on my knee, then I massaged it with body oil, as prescribed by my dad who’s a rhumatologist, and I tried not to use my legs too much. Fortunately, it rained more or less all day and I had intended to finish sorting out our wedding pictures, so it didn’t affect my plans. Our first anniversary is in less than three weeks (can you believe it?!) and we want to finish the album by then. It’s nearly done, we just need to add a few pictures of the day before, the day after and the French wedding.

Yesterday, my knee was better already, so I walked into town to run some errands. But I had to walk very slowly. It was nice actually. I realised what ‘slowly’ really meant. I took my time, told myself there was nothing I could do, so I had to be patient, and I made the most of it: I looked at the trees, stopped to find the bird that was singing so melodiously in one of the fir trees in the park (I’m hopeless at ornithology and my eyesight is not brilliant, so I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty!) and took in the busyness of the town, while I slowly wandered around its streets.

I might do that again today, especially since, for now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain so much...

25 June 2007


So at least I look like I could have children.

Well, that’s something!

I’m starting to find the monthly disappointments a bit boring. I’m starting to get impatient... But never mind. At least we’re making the most of our ‘no-children’ life. DIY, gardening, going out for dinner on a whim, reading, writing, watching Desperate Housewives till late without worrying about being woken up at 6 a.m. the next morning. Yay!

I went to the gym last night. I nearly didn’t go because it had been raining like mad and because it was getting late, but in the end I went because I had worked for 7 hours proofreading some French revision cards, trying to finish the project (and failing miserably), and my whole body was starting to ache: neck, back, arms, fingers. It was time for a good walk uphill on the treadmill and a vigorous work-out on the so-called transporter.

If I had decided not to go to the gym
and if I had decided to do 10 minutes on the transporter rather than 15 minutes (I nearly stopped at 10 minutes, but then thought ‘Come on, you can do another 5 minutes!’)
and if I hadn’t realised that it was 7 p.m., when the Legs, bums and tums class finishes and all the girls rush to the changing rooms to put their decent clothes back on and hurry home to their Friday-night TV/film/meal
and so if I hadn’t rushed, myself, to be in the changing rooms before the LB&T girls’ invasion
and if I had taken that little bit longer to tie my shoelaces...
I wouldn’t have met this lovely French woman who was coming out of the LB&T class.

Let’s take this further.
I wouldn’t have heard her speak French and would have been none the wiser when I saw her in front of me just about to go out the door. (I probably wouldn’t even have noticed her!)
I wouldn’t have had time to think ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have another French woman in my circle of friends? Or at least someone to go to the gym with?’
I wouldn’t have had time to think ‘Shall I? Shan’t I?’

She was walking quite fast ahead of me. I only had three seconds before it was too late to approach her. I thought ‘What the hell? Why not?’ and then the words spilled out of my mouth:

‘Bonjour, je vous ai entendu parler français, vous êtes française?’

And this maybe was the start of a great friendship. Only time will tell.

Yes, she replied, she is French. In the couple of hundred metres that separated the gym from the car park where, presumably, she had parked her car (I can just walk to the gym, I don’t need a car), we learnt where we both lived, that we were both married, that our husbands were English. She told me that she had just moved from a town 20 minutes away, I told her that I have been in this country for nearly 12 years.

‘My children go to the international school in C.... [10 miles away]. That’s why we moved.’

Indeed, they’re now a lot closer to the school than they were before.

And it so happens that that school is in the same town where Monsieur l’Anglais is going to start his new job next month.

You see? You see the link? SERENDIPITY.

If I had been lazy, I wouldn’t have met this woman! I love serendipity. I love understanding the reasons behind this or that. I love creating my own life, too, and this is a perfect example of life creation, because it was all under my control: If I had stayed at home, if I hadn’t pushed myself a little on the transporter, if I hadn’t looked at the wall clock at the gym... and then of course, if I hadn’t had the guts to talk to the woman who had just spoken in French to another French lady...

When we were about to part ways, French Woman said:

‘Do you have children?’

It always stuns me when people I don’t know ask me that, because I still think of myself as 20 years old and therefore as looking very young, innocent and sooooo unlikely to have children already! Yet I am 30 years old, I’ve been married for nearly a year (can you believe it!?) and we’ve been trying for a baby for a few months, so it’s completely plausible that I could have children. I shouldn’t be so shocked.

‘No, not yet!’ my answer came.

Maybe French Woman and I will be great friends.
Maybe our children will go to school together.
Maybe her husband works where my husband is going to work.

The possibilities that serendipity opens up!

12 May 2007


Weeks and months of my life are now divided into chunks of roughly 13 days. The first chunk is that of freedom and carelessness. I can eat yummy French soft cheeses, pâté, raw meat (not that I want to!) and raw fish, and I can drink my usual weekly half-mouthful of white wine (I told you, I don’t drink! I’m not French [or English, for that matter] like that!)

Then the second chunk, I become saintly, extra careful, a new person, ‘just in case’... I stop all soft-cheese consumption, I don’t even have my half-mouthful of wine, I walk and bend carefully, I certainly don’t run and... I wait patiently, for the next big chunk of my life – the one that lasts a lifetime... Babies aren’t just for Christmas or for 13 days – they’re for ever...

What remains practically constant during the 26 or so days is all the symptoms I get – you’d think I was pregnant all that time! Nausea (a biggy!), pains in my tummy (ranging from sharp, short ones, to diffuse, long ones), very very very sore boobs (can’t lie on my front at night at the moment, and groan every time I turn around) and increased saliva production at times (like two days ago).

But yesterday afternoon, I had confirmation from my body that ah ah ah, it had tricked me again, yes yes yes, here’s some blood to prove it. And making this the shortest cycle ever for me: 24 days.

What is my body up to?

Oh well, at least I can go on my holiday without a care in the world! We're going to Limoges, Montpellier, the Cévennes and then to my parents' (southeast of Paris), and I will be able to eat all I want! Yippee!

4 May 2007

Norman nostalgia

(This is an entry that should have been posted at the end of September 2006!)

We reached Caen on Friday evening at about 6pm. The rain in Deauville hadn’t followed us and the sun revealed the rich, creamy colour of the stone of the castle around which Caen is built. We parked the car in the Libération car park and walked to our friends’ flat, a stone’s throw away.

Even in their flat in Caen, our friends’ taste and passion for antique furniture was obvious. A few years ago, they bought two flats and converted them into one, and throughout they decorated it with old fireplaces, antique beds and 18th century banquettes and armchairs. The only piece of furniture that was old but battered and ugly was the kitchen table and chairs. ‘While waiting for something better to come along...’ our Australian friend, A., said. Then she explained: ‘Actually, F. [her husband, who is French] wanted me to go and get a cheap table; I got so fed up with the chore of buying furniture that I bought the cheapest and most horrible table. That taught him a lesson.’

We were soon joined by our third friend, D., and an hour later by F., who came back from work and greeted his three children, his wife and his friends with joviality and immense pleasure. Our evening could finally start properly.

For dinner, A. prepared fresh mussels that she had bought from the market that morning, with freshly made... French fries from the local McDonald’s! A Franco-American combination that made the traditional Belgian moules-frites not as delicious as it should have been, but the conviviality of the meal made up for it. We then had a selection of French cheeses and a delicious salad made from proper French lettuce (they just don’t know how to cultivate round lettuce here in England – it just never tastes the same), followed by apple crumble. F. served some divine wine (wine and calvados are his other passions) and I started feeling quite at home.

Oh but hang on a minute – that’s right, I was at home! I was in France! But this is what’s been happening in recent years. I consider myself English and when I go to France, I don’t quite feel French any more. One day soon, I’ll take the test of British citizenship and become a British citizen. How will I feel then?

We spoke a mixture of English and French and I realised, once more, how pleasant it would be if we could do the same at home, Monsieur l’Anglais and myself. But his French is just not good enough. We say a sentence or two, and then have to revert to English if we want to have a proper conversation.

At midnight, after much eating, drinking and laughter, Monsieur l’Anglais, D. and I headed for the car park to drive to our friends’ country chateau, 20 minutes outside of Caen. But the metal doors were well and truly pulled down, our car imprisoned underground. There was no way of getting to our car!

‘I knew it! I should have checked! A 24-hour car park in a small French town? No way, not possible! I knew it! I should have listened to my instinct and double-checked!’

D., who had parked his MG in another part of town, had already left us to our own devices. Luckily, we had arranged to meet up at a crossroads in town, because we didn’t quite know how to get out of Caen to reach the chateau. We waited and waited, and waited some more. I was getting cold, so we decided to call A. and F. and explain the situation rather than wait another minute – who knew how much longer D. would be...

Apologising profusely, I explained the problem to F. – we were stranded in the middle of Caen, waiting for D. who wouldn’t be able to take us both in his little MG. The solution imposed itself: it was half past midnight and our host would have to get out of bed, put some clothes on and drive us to the chateau, after drinking we were not too sure how much alcohol. He assured us that he was fine and that he hadn’t drunk much at all. It was obvious to me that he had drunk well over the legal limit, but we decided to take our chances, since there was no room for us to sleep in their flat. Well, there was, but F. wouldn’t let us sleep on his banquette or floor, ‘Come on!’.

Anyway, F. and I arrived at the chateau, unscathed, 20 minutes later, and Monsieur l’Anglais and D. another 15 minutes later (D. is a bit of a slow driver, and things haven’t changed since he bought the MG a few months ago!).

What I had only been able to imagine these past three years suddenly came to life in front of my eyes. The lighting was subtle, the night very dark outside the huge, floor-to-ceiling windows, but I could tell that I was in truly special surroundings.

‘I don’t see it any more – I know it’s beautiful, but I don’t notice things any more,’ said F. when I uttered a few words of wonder, amazement and awe at the old windows, the original stone fireplace, the shiny parquet and the wood panelling.

‘It’s all 18th century. Even the parquet. I managed to find just enough to cover the floor in this room.’

The bedroom we would sleep in for the next three nights was also 18th century. It was pale yellow with hints of pale green, from the fireplace to the wood panelling to the windows, right down to the bed frame. By comparison, the adjoining bathroom was ultra-modern, but even there, there were hints of history – the tall windows, the antique mirror, the imposing wooden cupboard.

I felt like Marie-Antoinette must have felt when she first entered Versailles.

Monsieur l’Anglais and I slept soundly through the silent night and woke up at 10, after opening our eyes briefly at 8 and thinking that it was far too early to get out of bed. Getting up late is so unlike us, I couldn’t believe we had overslept so much! The sun was shining and it was a very mild air that meandered its way into our room when I slowly, carefully drew the curtains and opened the large, 17th century windows. We were going to have a fabulous weekend!

We had a cup of tea on the terrace next to the kitchen, then Monsieur l’Anglais and D. left in the MG to go back to Caen and collect our own MG from the car park, which hopefully would be open by then and be able to release our little car.

F. disappeared somewhere in the huge grounds that surround the house to do a spot of gardening, while I... set off on an exploration of the park on my own.

I started with the orchard, populated by 5,000 apple trees. In my search for the best pomme for my breakfast, I got very wet feet and trousers but I enjoyed the silence, the low sun rays on my skin and the fruity smells all around me. I ate three apples during my walk, and gathered a few for the men.

When I went back to the house, I took off my drenched shoes and let them dry on the double staircase at the front of the house, which the sun splashed with its rays. I then went around all the rooms in the chateau and relished looking at such gorgeous walls, furniture, paintings and floors. Rameau’s harpsichord music, which F. had put on in the living room, resonated in the whole house – perfect melodies to accompany my tour.

It was so peaceful, I nearly didn’t want Monsieur l’Anglais and D. to come back. As it turned out, they didn’t for another hour, during which I discovered the literature of Anais Nin. Our Australian friend A. had one of her diaries stashed away in the library corner of our bedroom, and I found out a thing or two about this amazing writer. Her diaries will sure be part of my next Amazon order! I had vaguely heard about her, but didn’t know who she was, nor that she had actually spent some time in France. I can’t wait to read her books now!

A scrumptious apple in one hand, the delectable book in the other, I settled myself on one of the front stone steps and let my trousers and shoes dry in the sun and gentle breeze. I was in heaven.

When my husband and D. finally came back, I had a hot shower and delighted in changing my clothes (in which I had spent 8 hours sitting in the car and another 9 hours sleeping in the bed – the heating wasn’t on in the chateau because the weather was still mild, but not quite so mild at night as to sleep with nothing on!). Half an hour later, the three of us were in a little town 5 kilometres away and sitting down at a table in a typical small Norman restaurant. Although D. is English, he is treated like a local when he arrives in that eatery. He has, after all, been coming to the area for 15 years because he also owns a chateau 5 kilometres away, though in the other direction. A place I had been longing to see for three years too and couldn’t believe I was roughly two hours away from discovering.

After our delicious but simple meal, we went to the borough where D.’s chateau is. It is not even a village – it’s just a cluster of five houses, and then it’s fields and national forest all around. While there is a 1-kilometre track to get to A. and F.’s chateau, there is no such path to V..., D.’s chateau. Nonetheless, the view is no less spectacular. It is an imposing mansion, very long and quite high, at the bottom of a grassy slope that you have to negotiate with care when you drive an MG as the path is uneven.

But inside! Inside! I was shocked! D. and his partner have had this chateau for 15 years and practically nothing has been done. Well, everything that has been done is invisible – the electricity, the plumbing, structural work, the taking-out of the mud and soil between the beams in order to relieve them from the weight bearing on them from one floor to the other, and of course, the roof. But there are still rooms with no floor or no ceiling! It’s all still an empty shell, anxiously waiting to be filled with all the things that D. and his partner have bought over the years, themselves waiting patiently in storage.

I soon made myself at home, however. I just ignored the naked walls, the dirty floors, the dusty shelves and furniture items, and sat down next to the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, on the 18th-century rocking chair. Once the fire got going, I stopped shivering from the cold and started relaxing properly.

Soon, it was dark and the fire was roaring, echoing our laughter and D.’s lengthy diatribes about French taxes, the United States (one of A.’s friends there was American) and the awful European laws. We left at 8.30 p.m. and then ate pain perdu for dinner at A. and F.’s, a typical French dish (which I believe translates as ‘French bread’, ironically!) that you usually make when you don’t know what to cook – a mixture of eggs, milk and sugar, in which you soak slices of (usually stale) bread, which you then cook in a frying pan until golden. Absolutely delicious! Because of its unhealthy, fattening quality, my mum never made it for me, but my nanny had a few times, in the many years I had spent at her house, between the ages of 3 and 10.

On the Sunday, we got up at 9 a.m. and joined D. at his chateau at midday. For the next two hours, we prepared bowls of lettuce, some vinaigrette, a kilo and a half of green beans, small potatoes, a two-inches-thick côte de bœuf and the fire to cook it over – an indoor barbeque of sorts!

When guests started to arrive (the American lady and her French husband, A., F. and their children), I felt quite at home cooking, boiling, tossing, marinating, cutting. I was the lady of the house and assumed my role quite seriously. I also took a few pictures. The one of the dining room, with the low rays of the sun illuminating softly the long 17th-century table and benches, is my favourite and became my computer background as soon as I came back home.

The ensuing lunch and afternoon were just heaven. I felt completely at home and realised the chasm that separates the English culture from the French one. Even with English and American people in the house, the simple fact of being in France changes how people eat, act, interact and think. We were truly living how the French live – how I used to live when I was in France full time. I felt so relaxed and so happy, yet at the same time I longed for the possibility of doing this in England and wondered why it just wasn’t possible, even in my own home. It’s all down to the produce (no English butcher will ever sell you a piece of meat like the one the French butcher had sold D.; the green beans do not look, let alone taste, the same [although I have since found some excellent ones at Waitrose, exactly the same as the French ones I’m used to!]), but also, I believe, to the conviviality of the French style that tends to be copied while in France – because it would be an offence not to live as the French do, even when you are a foreigner. The American lady had even made a macédoine de légumes, just the same as I used to have at the school canteen, with a little home-made mayonnaise. You can’t get more French than that!

I felt incredibly good but also incredibly nostalgic. I was this close to wondering why I have lived in England for the past 11 years when life could have been this good all along, in my own country... A bad case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ – of the Channel in this case. Literally, the grass is greener in England, because of the weather – but metaphorically? Sometimes I’m not so sure...

8 March 2007


Finally! Blogger seems to have solved whatever the problem was: I can now include pictures in my posts, hurray! I've started attaching a couple, but I hope to add a photo to nearly every post that I've written so far. It's going to take a little while. Not that I've written much in one year - that's not what I mean. Just that I don't have a directly relevant picture for each post in my 'My pictures' folder, so I may need to take pictures specially.

I'll start with a photo taken on our honeymoon in the Maldives (where we spent three days, before going on to Sri Lanka). Just because.