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??

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I love to sail forbidden seas...

... and land on barbarous coasts.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Talk about barbarous coasts! 
Cleaned out the garage. Painted the ceilingS. Painted the kitchen. Cleaned out the office and upstairs ready to place the new home-made shelves for homeschooling. 
Breathe IN. 
Breathe OUT. 
Breathe IN! 

These are just a few of the reasons I appear to have sailed off the end of the world. 

Mayday! Mayday!
Captain going down with ship!!!

 JUST got my last calligraphy assignment in by the skin of my teeth. 
The theme?
Le Voyage

Très apt! In one hour I'm leaving for 3 days at Cap Ferret on the Atlantic Coast. 

Better race off and quickly pack the car. Really, how hard can it be? 4 bikes, swimwear, 3 bottles of rosé and one of champagne. It'll be done in no time!

Happy 11th birthday today to my darling Chickpea! 
Nothing like a few waves to celebrate n'est-ce pas?

But wait!
There's more!
More on the travel theme that is on Thursday morning. 
In a rare display of uncharacteristic organisation I have answered Sharon's plea to explain how I sailed to French shores and even scheduled the post for 9am as at that precise time I hope to be half submerged in salt water by my 3 messmonsters (applause ;-). 

Surely I will make it firmly and resolutely back to the beaches of blogland soon. Help! SOS! Send me a lifeline and haul me back in. You all seem to be drifting off on the currents and disappearing over the horizon as I bob around like a piece of the driftwood I use so often as a canvas. 

I very much hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves on balmy shores.... 
Promise Promise I'll be popping by for a life-saving cuppa soon!

Much love

Monday, August 2, 2010

If you want to draw... must shut your eyes and sing
Pablo Picasso

It's been kinda like that recently. I'm not sure if it's the sunshine that I was convinced had given up on Southern France and taken up permanent residence in Aussie, the messmonsters who gaily go about making more mess for me to clean up or the great friends who've been popping back into my life after long absences ... 
But sing I do! 
And Fling! 
I'm still  a bit overly resentful of my Mac and it's place of residence in our sinister rather dark office which is why my disappearing act has been extended for another season. Methinks a laptop out in the sun could be the solution to all my problems!!

Anyway, back to Picasso's wise words... There's been a lot of singing going on at La Rivière. 

First of all Amelia Critchlow via her Experimental Art E- Course has suggested we take time to fling stuff at the page just to see what would happen. What a delight! HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET ORDERED TO DO THAT?!! Of course, the art course has just finished and I'm finally getting the time to work on it... but I'm hoping Amelia will forgive me for that too.

 Belting out 'I'm Yours' at the top of my lungs, obedient girl that I am, I let fly: Food colouring, ink,  water colour ... more ink ... I don't know why people call going back to childhood 'regressing.' To my mind, being a child is much more fun when you're a responsible adult.
Then there's been the practice for my 40th birthday party coming up in September. I'm forewarning those of you who are coming before it's too late that there's still time to pull out. The voice that hasn't been brought to the public ear since her last high school musical if you don't count the fiasco at my wedding is preparing to make its next appearance to an unsuspecting audience. This means lots of rehearsals as I fling, fling, fling! 11 year old Chickpea told me I was really cool and she was proud of me. She's too young to ask me to borrow the car yet so it must be sincere. If I'm not going to embarrass my 11 year old, I may not embarrass myself either!!

Have I forgotten something important? I was meant to tell you about Wales? You ask about Wales??? What's Wales got to do with singing? Through all the singing and doodling and time spent in my garden, I have finally come up with the most unboring way of telling you about my trip to Wales.  You just have to wait another couple of weeks days.

The messmonsters have just taken their father for two weeks holiday while I 'work.'  Since I started writing this post a week ago, I have painted the kitchen walls and ceiling, and am moving into the dining room. Wednesday (as in the day after tomorrow Wednesday) we start building a bona fide REAL studio for MOI in our garage. Praise the powers that be - my dining room will be set free of its identity crisis and the table will finally be used for presenting food once again!!  Of course, with  all this space and light, I am bound to find the time write more blog posts...

Well possums, I look a bit like a living Jackson Pollock painting (remind me not to answer video chat sessions when I've been painting the ceiling ... it's interesting the descriptions one's friends can come up with) and I can hear the call of my paint pots!


Picasso would be proud of me - I'm sure ;-) 

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