Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Paris Episodes: Only those who will risk going too far...

... can possibly find out how far one can go.
T.S. Elliot

How long has it been that I have been promising you the story of my travels to Wales and why I went there? Actually, don't tell me. Guilt and remorse are pushing me down, down, down into the depths of my paint tin for not having approached my blog since almost August 2nd. Tsk Tsk! Shame on moi!! 

You'll be pleased to know that I can't sink too far into my paint tin as I've painted 4 coats each on the CFH (ceilings from hell) and have very little of the 26 litres of paint left enough to drown in ;-)

En plus, it's nearly time to return to Wales again for my September retreat. Honestly though, first things first. You can't start a story in the middle. Let's go back to where it all began. Once upon a time in France...

Sharon, very talented author from My French Country Home (Yes! Yes! She writes great French/English books for bilingual children that are available here), has asked a few of us to reveal what brought us to the very poised yet paradoxical France as part of her French Settler Week theme. Aside from the trip down memory lane and the kick up the butt I needed to get writing again, I'm hoping that by joining in, I might actually be able to reveal to myself exactly what made a small Kiwi girl say to her young mother back in some obscure year in the 1970's, "When I grow up I'm going to live in France." 

To this day it's still anyone's guess where that idea came from. Fate? A home decorating magazine left open at a random page for an impressionable 6 year old to see? Did New Zealand have home decorating magazines in the 70's? Whatever the motivation, living in France in some distant future remained fixed in my mind as I grew and left NZ for a new life in Australia where five year's of high school French taught me little other than how to make hot chocolate, nutella crêpes ...

 ... and the French lyrics to Stevie Wonder's, "I just called to say I love you." Oui! Oui! There are French Lyrics to this song. Look them up!  "Je t'appelle pour dire je t'aime."

Mind you, as I'm sure you can imagine, they were of little help in making a good impression to the selection committee at TNT Transport when I had to explain why I wanted to be an exchange student to France. Never-the-less, Fate and Stevie must've both been on my side that day for they later gave me a 1 year scholarship to Belgium as few families in France were hosting AFS students that year.  But that's another story... 

A year in a French/Belgian family as an exchange student was just the tip of the iceberg and only kindled the flame rather than dousing the fire and I vowed to finish my degree and return to France indefinitely. Was it a calling? (Oh please don't say that ... I want to leave one day - really I do!!) In any case, it was certainly a fixation with me - in spite of choosing a degree in Chinese and international trade and finance. Yes, I know. She does Chinese - but wants to move to France. Can anyone else help me on that one??? No comment!!  OK - bear with me. Regardless of appearances, it's all linked. Sort of. N'est ce pas?

Fixation. Fixation. Fixation. You know, I have never seen myself as single minded or stubborn. Dam-ned! (as we say in French) But for whatever reason, I just couldn't get that country out of my head. Why not Italy? Why not China? What was it about France, and Paris in particular? Chanel, Avenue Montaigne, l'Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, Père Lachaise, the artists on the Left Bank...

One thing it definitely had going for it was UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.  Of course, I wasn't aware of UNESCO way back when I was 6, but it started popping up here and there as I looked (unsuccessfully) for a position, any position, in international aid work. With none forthcoming for a young woman of my enthusiasm and glaring lack of experience, I decided it was time to give fate a bit of a nudge and find a way of getting back to France. For surely that was where it was all happening.

Have you noticed that about life? Things don't always go in a straight line. Oh I got to France alright, but not doing international aid work. My life-saving job after telemarketing, sales rep for copy and print services, statistical analyst and market researcher for International Medical Statistics was as a conference organiser. Yup! The job that makes you the ideal dinner party companion and allows you to travel the world. At least in as far as  you can organise conferences in a language other than your own. 

After two years locally with the conference organising company, 6 months of socialising at Alliance Française Auckland, practising my new French conversation - you definitely heard right, conversation - with fabulous now EX (see previous Paris Episodes) and two 1 hour interviews by telephone with the Paris office, I was told I had the job, nearly fainted exhaled and promptly sold most of my possessions in the space of one weekend. My birthday weekend, 16 years ago.

16 years ago. I'll be 40 this year! Six months later I arrived in Paris, ready to write my first two-day conference and interview more than 40 potential speakers IN FRENCH on the exceptionally exciting topic of "The corrosion of industrial chemical storage tanks." Yes, well it's getting late and really, the topic is as just as exciting as it sounds. 

Several weeks later, through a chance introduction, I walked through the doors of UNESCO on La Place de Fontenoy and into the start of my lifelong passion for women's and girls' literacy and education.

The person who changed my life in that 'chance meeting' just celebrated her wedding in Sissinghurst gardens, Kent, last week which gave me the chance to reflect fondly on the days when we were so broke that we could only afford a bottle of wine together on the Pont des Arts, or sit up on the roof of her 9m sq bedsit in Avenue du Président Kennedy and watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkle into forever as we made our dreams for the future.

She has since been promoted to Head of Education for a renowned NGO, and here I am ready to leave for India in October on my quest to start a fair trade project with Tibetan refugee women's groups. My how time flies. 

Thanks Sharon, part of the fun of writing this was to see if I could decipher what really motivated me to come to France in the first place.  I still don't know what my original reasons were way back when. They may forever remain a mystery to all of us, both the little girl, her mother and the rest of her entourage (insert music from Ripley's 'Believe it or Not').

Whatever the reason, there seems to be an element of destiny lurking in there somewhere and enough to keep me in this country in the mean time in spite of, or maybe because of all the challenges it offers on a daily basis.  Now Wales and India have wiggled themselves into the equation... But those stories will have to wait until someone else can manage to pull me away from this bottomless paint tin.

Go well everybody. 

PS. And what of LURVE? AMOOOOUUUUUR? Well, I  have three enigmatic things to say about it.

1/ French men seem to be attracted to foreign women. Accordingly, any attempts at passing unnoticed in a sport that you dare to try in your new country ONLY and I repeat ONLY because no-one knows you and you think you can slink off incognito if you're no good, will prove to be COMPLETELY futile.
 (photo from
2/Regardless of whether you think you look like a gasping lobster after your second 2 hour swim training session, the Frenchie who walks up to you as you get out of the pool is not likely to be wanting to collect your club fees.

3/I have a huge debt to the great French transport strikes of 1995 which, even as they shattered small businesses and ground the whole country to a screeching halt,  propelled me prematurely into the boyfriend's apartment which just happened to be conveniently located five minutes walk from my office. Needless to say, I never left. 

Three messmonsters later...

Any questions??


  1. Fantastic Ange! I loved reading this...what a gifted writer you are. This left me wanting more..more...more! All this in your birthday month...Clever woman!

    Can't wait for the next chapter :)

    Jeanne xxx

  2. Love your Kiwi spirit! From a fellow Kiwi and your new follower.

  3. I love the fact that you're so diverse and the winding road of your life. For someone who lives in their place of birth (still), it's awe-inspiring! Missed you, Ange!

  4. Ange, you are such a crack up! And what is this about another Wales retreat?

    Now, please don't move to Wales or India until I have a chance to visit you in France.

  5. Hey Ange
    Good to see you back... love hearing about what propelled you to your current destiny.... trains strikes sound like they are useful!! hahaha...
    You know as a child I wanted to live in Italy.. still do.. but really.. and mediterranean country will do...

    Now... I want to hear all about your retreat... and how you are doing?? Enjoying the last of summer I imagine.. Take care and have a great weekend.. xxx Julie

  6. Oh wow Ange, even as a child you somehow knew the path that would lead to your dreams in a beautifully roundabout way. Your ceiling from hell looks absolutely heavenly I might add. xo ~Lili

  7. Dear Ange,
    It is such a treat to read your posts, I adore each and every word! So nice to have you back :)
    p.s. Are your mess monsters schooling at home this year?

  8. You are a very inspiring woman, beautiful and young too :)

    Thank you for all that you share here as it is much appreciated and enjoyed.

    best wishes for fun and love in all that you do.

    ps... i love kiwis :)

  9. Ok wait a minute, I read this entirely wonderful, humorous and amazing story and still did not find out: "promising you the story of my travels to Wales and why I went there?" did I miss something?

    India, I look forward to hearing about that chapter. It seems like you have grand amounts of energy and vision and the get go to honor it. Yes!

    I have your clay angel charms spread about my wee cabin and they bring smiles and thoughts of you each time I see them. xx

  10. so what you are saying is one needs to find a pool, a new sport, and a transit strike...?
    ...nooowww you tell me...

  11. wow, i LOVE how the journey unfolds. it never ceases to amaze
    transit strikes seem to be of particular interest. hmmm
    ~laura xx

  12. You are a Renaissance woman!
    Nothing is beyond your capability...I just love how you embrace life and all it has to offer!
    :) Laura

  13. I just discovered your blog via My French Country Home and really enjoyed reading about how you ended up in France. I know what you mean about life not going in a straight line - I too had dreams of living in France from a very young age but somehow that dream changed and now I'm living my dream in Italy instead. I'm looking forward to following your blog.

    A bientôt

    Sarah Elizabeth x

  14. My dear Ange,
    I loved reading this!!
    love xxx

  15. Dear Ange, i'm finally catching up with you. What a treat to find this post here this morning!I enjoyed it very much. Isn't it great that we find ourselves where we wanted to be? Now, all i need is a train strike. ;) How is the homeschooling coming along? I've not been around much to keep up with your news. Sadly, my dad passed away in June, so this has been a summer of grieving and reflection for me...and change. Lots of change, which is a good thing. Re-decorating, new projects, and working on a photographic tribute to my dad - a labour of love. I look forward to visiting you more regularly soon. Be well, my friend. :) Lizzy

  16. Energy, incredible energy, and spirit, thats what you have in abundance. No matter we still don't have the Wales or India stories, your wanderings are delightful and I'm sure Wales and India will feature at some point. Great to catchup. xx

  17. Such an incredible journey.. I enjoyed reading it alot. Thanks for sharing..

  18. I've just discovered your blog. It resonates a lot with me as a fellow expatriate living in France, but what made me laugh was this: "I have a huge debt to the great French transport strikes of 1995 which.... propelled me prematurely into the boyfriend's apartment ...I never left."
    Those very same strikes did the same thing for me - only it was the boyfriend who never left my apartment!! Happily married for 13 yrs, 3 kids, living in Chantilly.


Can't think of a famous quote that says 'communication makes the world go round' so you 'll just have to get my clumsy way of putting it instead ;-) Your comments are precious. Thanks for dropping by!