Sweet and Salty

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But seriously, can we please get back to talking about me? Swoon, swoon, I’m over the moon because this week Finding Me In France was reviewed by Chad Pelley, curator of the book blog Salty Ink. He’s a major award winning Canadian writer and a true Renaissance man (songwriter, photographer) when it comes to the arts. His gripping debut novel Away from Everywhere has now been optioned for a film and his next novel Every Little Thing is set to come out next year.

I’m a huge fan of his, so you can imagine my squealy, hand-clappy reaction to his request for an interview. He normally doesn’t focus on non-fiction, but he said my book was “special” and he’d make an exception. He asked great questions (bien sûr) but he also wrote a killer intro and review. Plus he called me lovely. You can read it here if you’re so inclined (meaning you have to and ignore that weird picture of me that I don’t really like). Feel free to comment and discuss the book, that’s why he does it.

I mean after that how can I be expected to go on with business as usual? How can I get through the door with a head the size of the planet? I’m sure Neil will find a solution for that mess right quick. Who cares I say. What’s wrong with accepting a little praise here and there, right? I’ll take whatever I can get with open arms and a grateful heart. Merci Monsieur Chad.

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The House That Steve Built

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Mes amis, you’re in for a treat today. I’m finally getting around to showing you what might be one of the most interesting houses in France, maybe even the world. It is the home of our friend Steve Plant, a transplanted Englishman with a sharp pen (poet, playwright, blogger), a sharp eye (French flea market expert, king of eclectic design) and a sharp mind (quite possibly the wittiest person I’ve ever met).

I have no idea how to describe Steve’s home, so I’ll let Neil’s beautiful photos do the talking.

Continue reading “The House That Steve Built” »

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Full Circle

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It’s true what they say: time flies when you’re having fun. Rusty and I are closing in on the two year mark here in France. Hard to believe especially since I still speak French like a toddler. Our days are numbered and will be filled with the banal tasks associated with my favourite activity: moving (yet another fine example of the dire need for a sarcasm font.)

But our remaining days will also be filled with the task of saying au revoir. This past Sunday was a particular treat, time to reflect on where it all began …

Those of you who have read the book will recognize this holiday rental house owned by the Farmer (Michel) and the Wife (Patricia). Those of you who don’t have the book, for the love of god step away from the computer and get thee to a Chapters store. This silly post will still be here when you get back. Continue reading “Full Circle” »

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Dear Alice

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People often think psychiatrists are paid to give advice, purveyors of pointers if you will. Not necessarily so. I was trained in assessing, diagnosing, treating and so on. If wise counsel was what you were seeking, you may have been better off with a well-crafted Dear Abby letter than spending an hour with me.

I raise this today because there are people close to me who are navigating very difficult situations just now. So difficult that it’s hard to know what to say or do, especially from such a distance. I’m no advice guru, so thankfully there are others to turn to when the seas get a bit rough.

I’m a sucker for stories of hope and perseverance and triumph over adversity, so here’s Alice—a Czech pianist, former music teacher and, at 108, the oldest living holocaust survivor. She attributes her survival during her darkest days to her son (who was with her in the camp), her love of music and her optimism. She remains committed to her half-full philosophy. So, to those in my life who are struggling (you know who you are), I hope this helps. I think there’s something in here for all of us.

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Raiders of the Lost Book

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Oh that Jean-Claude. He’s a regular Indiana Jones all right. If you’re been around here a while, you’ll know all about my eclectic French neighbour and if you’re new to these parts this will serve as a brilliant introduction. JC is currently at his other house in Morocco. Apparently he brought a little something along for the trip.

“Read this book or I will kill you with this sword!” Moroccan Man looks just thrilled, doesn’t he? But JC must have been convincing enough … Continue reading “Raiders of the Lost Book” »

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The Art of Perception

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How often can we trust what our eyes tell us to believe?

I first saw this man, Jérôme Laureau, at an Easter party and I didn’t know quite what to make of him.

I didn’t speak to him that day but I did hear how upset he was at the arrival of an intoxicated guest. Apparently he didn’t think that was what Easter was about. He thought it entirely disrespectful to the hosts and inappropriate in light of the many children present. Hmm. Curious. I had to know more. Continue reading “The Art of Perception” »

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Romance Language

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I don’t have a whole lot to say these days. Not much going on over here unless you’d like me to bore the arse off you with the mind numbing details of Swiss health insurance. I tell you it’s painful. If I did have a lot to say I wish I could say it in French. I have completely abandoned the study and, not surprisingly, my French is shockingly poor for someone who’s been living here for almost 2 years. It’s becoming quite embarrassing.

I just can’t seem to get motivated to hunker down and get on with it. Lazy? Overwhelmed by the difficulty of it? Self-defeating rebellion against study due to years spent in classrooms? Oui, all of that. But mostly it’s likely that I romanticized learning a new language.

See how easy it looks? Watch enough of these sweet videos and you can picture yourself becoming an interpreter at the UN in just 5 easy steps. My plan is to enroll in French class once I get to Switzerland. I need structure, imposed discipline, a teacher who will ask to see my homework and frowns on my husband as translator strategy. AHA!! I knew it. Like always, it’s his fault. If he wasn’t such a smartypants I’d be able to parlez-vous with the best of them.

Oh I’m just kidding. It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I take full responsibility for my inactions. And I accept that I fell prey to the romance of the idea of living in a foreign language. There’s nothing remotely charming about verb conjugation and indefinite article usage and it’s much harder than I expected.

So, it’s your job to make me feel better. Tell me something, anything, that you thought would be easy and wasn’t. You’re not allowed to say marriage or bikini waxing. Tell me something I don’t know.

 

 

 

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Clearing the Air

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Jaysus god alive, what a week. Now I’ve probably mentioned this before but gratitude is the antidote for almost everything that ails us. I’m grateful that this mess is breaking…

Today the forecasted high is only 27 degrees which will feel downright frosty after the heat wave we’ve been having over here. Hot enough to fry an egg on my arse, there’s a fun visual for you. At any rate, as the heat and humidity lift I need to bring a cool breeze of my own.

My mother tells me that everyone and their chien in my homeland are puzzled, even saddened by my decision to leave France. “I thought she loved it,” they say at the supermarket and hair salon (nice to know that I’m actually a topic of conversation in some parts of the world). Plus, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails asking me what went wrong. In one, feeling cheated by my defection was mentioned (Cynthia, you crack me up).

So let me go on the record. There’s nothing wrong with France (okay maybe the obsession with cheese and verb tenses is a little off). I love France (when it’s not hot enough to melt my face off). But bear in mind that it was never my dream to live in France per se. I just wanted to do something unexpected. I wanted to simplify my life and I wanted to live in a foreign country. I hope y’all see the irony in that. Continue reading “Clearing the Air” »

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Family Values

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Marriage is one big crap shoot isn’t it? I mean everybody starts with the best intentions. At least I assume so. Maybe there are people who stand at the altar after paying a trillion dollars for a puffy white dress, 2 tons of baby’s breath, a rubbery chicken dinner and sketchy DJ who has multiple versions of the Macarena and know that it’s a non-starter. I doubt it. I think we all go into battle expecting to win, ignoring the rising divorce rate and positive that we’ll be part of the 45 percent who will live satisfactorily ever after.

Of course most of us don’t just marry one person though do we? There’s a big mess of baggage that becomes yours the minute the words “I do” leave your mouth: the in-laws. Back when I was paid to listen, I heard more in-law horror stories than I can count. Stuff that would make the most devoted of lovers call the whole thing off. You can’t do much about where you come from but you can be choosy about where you end up. If you ask me, not enough people consider this before their nuptials.

Well, I am doubly blessed matrimonial-wise. I snagged a great significant other and a great set of in-laws, or in-loves as I like to call them. They are smart and supportive, the whole lot of them, and they have great taste in books (and hats).

These are Neil’s parents (who will celebrate 50 years of murder-free marriage this October), responsible for raising three fine children, including Andrea, my lovely sister-in-law pictured here. Even my peripheral in-loves like Andrea’s husband Kris and Scott’s wife, also named Kris (the convenience I tell you!) are blessings. Boy Kris took these pictures as he should. He’s a screenwiter and director and he’s even made an awesome feature film called At Home By Myself With You, check it out some time. Continue reading “Family Values” »

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You Eat With That Mouth?

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A while back, a book club in my hometown chose Finding Me in France as one of their summer reads. So I did a Q & A by Skype with the group, great fun indeed. One of the questions was aimed at discovering my biggest faux pas in France. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that there was no one large calamity, rather a series of smaller humiliations strung together like perfectly shaped pearls; little piles of merde forming one big pile of merde known as my life in France.

But today I stand corrected. To Lori and her gang of bibliophiles: I have a new answer to your question. Let me set the stage a little. I have the mouth of a fishwife, meaning I have an ever so slight propensity toward the profane. Oh not here on the blog as you all know. No, here I can censor myself, unlike my speaking life where every thought that pops into my addled brain spews forth without so much as a passing glance from decorum and dignity. I learned this from Neil, or at least that’s the story for our purposes. Continue reading “You Eat With That Mouth?” »

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Annetastic

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When I look back over my life so far, I see the faces of all the wonderful women I’ve known and I feel profoundly blessed. They give my life meaning and purpose and there is no measure of what I have learned from them. How I got so lucky I’ll never know. I’ve learned to never question my fortune and to simply absorb as much of their grace and wisdom as I can.

Now I’ve mentioned my friend Anne before, both here and in the book. She is the American who left the ‘civilization’ of Illinois in the ’60s to carve out an extraordinary life with her Swiss husband in rural France and she’s never looked back. She is a wife, mother and grandmother who grows her own vegetables (as I write this I’m eating green beans and yellow zucchini pulled from her soil this morning), knits fabulous capes, hikes in Nepal and lets Canadians stay in her apartment in Switzerland. She is smart, kind, loving, supportive, extraordinarily beautiful and, oh yeah, just a tad talented.

Today I’m taking you to her atelier located just behind her stunning French farmhouse.

Yes, this is her office. Incredible right? She makes jewelry and while I’ve seen her pieces before I’ve never seen her in action until now. Continue reading “Annetastic” »

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In Good Company

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Now this is exciting for sure, well, it is for me. Joanna, a beloved former student of mine (I taught her a little about child psychiatry, she taught me a lot about Chanel bags) sent me this photo on Sunday…

Oh my, the joy of this table. Yes, of course I’m thrilled to see FMIF so prominently displayed at a big Chapters store in Toronto celebrating the birthday of Madame Julia Child, but to be placed right alongside Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift, the most beautiful book about France I have ever seen, le swoon.

I loved Julia Child, I still love Julia Child, how could I not? A giantess and late bloomer who loved food, France and her charming husband, a kindred spirit if ever there was one. Never in my wildest dreams, my little book stacked in such a place of honour.

So a big merci to Joanna for taking this photo for me, otherwise I would never have known the marvelous company I keep. And a toast to these great women, Vivian and Julia, two Americans whose love for France lives forever on the page. I’ll drink to that.

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The First Au Revoir

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Of course a bunch of good-byes are headed my way but I didn’t count on any this soon. Ah well, we come and we go in this life. Saturday past Neil and I sat with our French neighbours extraordinaire, Jean-Claude and Jacqueline, for what will likely be the last time in a long while. Now if you’ve read the book, you’ll remember JC—the larger than life, previously fantasized to be a shady character (in reality anything but), man about Semur. They are off to their home in Morocco for a few months and by the time they return, I’ll be unpacking boxes at the Peace Palace (better suggestions anyone?).

And, like always, he and the Madame came bearing gifts, this time a cold bottle of excellent champagne and photos. Mon Dieu!

Continue reading “The First Au Revoir” »

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Together At Last

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Lisa left a comment here the other day, “The stars align!” about this move to Switzerland. My friends, she speaks the truth. I did a last minute pop-in at a Vevey grocery store before the drive back to France and there it was.

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while or if you’ve read the book, you won’t need any German skills to know what this is. I haven’t tried it yet as I have chosen to keep the dream alive. For now I choose to believe that it’s tangy and sharp and delicious on any food that will hold it, that these little plastic pots will be a very large part of my new life. Oh yes, dream big I always say.

 

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Walk Softly and Carry a Big Bag

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It’s all so bizarre, a good bizarre, but bizarre nonetheless. This business of finding a place to live has made me realize just how much my life has changed over the last 2 years. Every time I turn around I’m doing something I never imagined doing. It’s a bit like eating salad all the time — you know it’s good for you but all you really want is a medium rare steak, greasy fries and a big-ass chocolate cake for dessert.

Certainly the process of dealing with bureaucrazy and apartment hunting has offered me the wonderful opportunity to do battle with my worst character trait: impatience. So far, it’s a losing one I’m afraid. I’ve never been so impatient in my life. The other day we saw an apartment that was acceptable as long as we were granted the profound privilege of putting my beloved washer and dryer in the kitchen. (Sidebar: the Swiss rarely have their own machines and rely on common laundry rooms with a strict schedule. I’m a free spirit baby and restricting myself to Tuesday mornings for washing is not on, nor is getting rid of my swanky machines less than a year old).

So. We went to the agency to ask if this would be possible. We couldn’t get past the receptionist (as usual) to ask anyone this simple question. You apply first, ask questions later. Then she told us she would mail us an application, we’d have to mail it back and then we’d begin the long, drawn out mess of being considered. That was it for me. Last straw, meet camel’s back. We walked out deflated yet again but this time I was annoyed. Up came my ego, I mean sweet Jaysus, we’ve bought and sold like a million houses. I cannot take this foolishness a moment longer.

But it’s not all bad news. If you’re going to be frustrated you might as well do it where they have vineyards that look like this…

And benches that look like this…

There may also be more good news. I don’t want to say too much in case I jinx it (clearly the transformation from psychiatrist to psychic is almost complete), but an agency has decided to actually put us in front of the owner of an apartment we applied for a while back. This is a big step but no guarantee of acceptance. Frankly, I’m running out of steam.

Here I am, a full grown (freakishly grown) woman fretting over what I should wear to beg a guy to bestow upon me a tiny, expensive apartment that 2 years ago I wouldn’t have even remotely considered as a home for us. One toilet, which means the risk of divorce is high. Almost no closets, unless you count the kitchen, and yet I feel like if we don’t get it, it will be a tragedy of epic proportions.

I cannot for the life of me explain my thoughts and actions of late. Moving to Switzerland is complicated, it’s driving me bananas, it may even be ill-advised, but it’s a sticky notion that will not be unstuck. I must rise above my petulance and sense of entitlement and go through all the motions with a calm and peaceful mind. I must be gentle and polite and speak in hushed tones.

Alors, I’m off to the meeting. If you read news about some poor Swiss man beaten to a bloody pulp by a sweaty woman with a giant nylon bag full of immigration paperwork, you’ll know how it went.

 

LIVE UPDATE FROM IMMIGRATION HELL HEADQUARTERS: BREAKING NEWS

This just in: Swiss landlord offers lease to giraffe-woman and a man called Rusty. The agreement in principle includes the promise of a fully renovated kitchen with space for a washer and dryer. All details to be finalized at document signing on Monday morning. Giraffe and Rusty were too busy dancing and high-fiving to comment. Full story in Monday’s edition.

 

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