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Postcards From The Edge

26th November 2017

Last time I updated you all on France-life, we were vomiting and coughing up fur-babies and cursing the Sky Daddy. It feels a long time ago – the school vacation could not have come any sooner.

That two weeks break restored us all. We had a fabulous few days in Barcelona – I took a cooking class with my big gal, which was so fun, and we loved the Picasso Museum and had a wonderful long lunch with our Catalan friend Juan who helped us understand the fight for independence. It was an amazing time to visit. Catalan flags hung everywhere and change – if not revolution – was in the air. On the drive home we detoured to the beautiful town Cadaques, home for thirty years to Salvador and Gala Dali. His house has been turned into a ‘house-museum’ (my absolute fave tourist trap). You have to buy tix online and in advance – they are sold in 10 minute slots and sell out months ahead. Of course, we barely made our timeslot due to a child throwing up along the windy mountain roads. (A theme is emerging. A terrible, terrible theme.)

But oh my hat, the house: so good. Such beautiful madness. So inspiring.

Home for ‘la rentree’: back to school. The kids trotted off with smiles, which made us so proud and so relieved. They are making friends and stepping up to the challenge, and the child I was most worried about is doing great, which is heartwarming.

I am settling in too. I have started French lessons at the Calade, which is a sort of neighbourhood centre staffed by volunteers who help new citizens settle into France. I am in love with the Calade. The teacher shakes hands with the class, person by person. People bring food to share, and we break at eleven for black coffee and super-sweet tea, which the Arabic women stir with little bunches of thyme that they unwrap from foil packages. The room feels thick with stories, like all of these humans collided in this classroom at a pivotal point of our lives. It is warm and supportive, quite formal yet very funny. I feel incredibly grateful to have landed here.

My fellow students are from Morocco, Albania, Iraq, Ecuador, Brazil, Bulgaria, Thailand, Chile…and I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple. The French is almost all above my head but I fumble through. We discussed the different words ‘seule’ (alone), sel (salt), saler (to salt) and salle de bains (shower) yesterday. I put them together: ‘Alone in the shower, I salted my chicken.’ The class laughed and then ‘No, no,’ my teacher said. ‘Oui!’ I said ‘C’est moi!’

Toujours le clown. To crack a joke in French is my dream, but that chicken is about as champagne as my comedy can get in this new language. This is the part that is hardest for me; the struggle to express myself. At the school gates I am either silent, trying to understand the mostly incomprehensible babble around me, or I am contributing dudley points to the conversation. My mum-friends here are so nice. They endure my limping efforts. ‘The sun today – yes! But no wind. Yesterday is big wind,’ I say. ‘Oui’, they nod kindly to their stupid Australian friend. That’s right! Yesterday was big wind! There is little so difficult, awkward or anxiety-inducing as standing in pained silence with another person, unable to temper the air with any talk, whether small or large.

It is, in fact, an amazing experience,to be made mute like this, and while I always thought that this aspect of France life would be character-building for the children, I didn’t realise it would be the same for me. It’s hard, and some days I really wish I didn’t have to work so hard to speak to anybody. But it is wonderful.

There are technical issues. Most upsettingly, my blog has been infected with a horrible virus and I’ve had to shut the whole shitshow down. I have a lot of faith in Keith’s skills, but it’s a long-term fix trying to retrieve and scrub all my content, and rebuild a new and better website. The dishwasher isn’t worker, the electricity keeps shorting out, and now the washing machine has thrown in the (wet and stinky) towel. I actually fell off the French ‘detachable’ toilet seat, in a sophisticated display of poise and grace. And once down the stairs too, which hurt more, but at least I had pants on.

I’m still writing; working on my manuscript about motherhood, and making lots of notes on French life. I’ve sold a couple of pieces to Australian magazines. (I’ll tell you when they’re published. I think Nudist Lover runs quarterly but Dog Fancy publishes a lot more often).

We’re busy. Keith is up at 5am to talk to Australia, and in bed at nine, absolutely buggered. I’m up not long after him in the morning to try and get in a little writing time before the school runs begin, and in the evenings after dinner we pick our way through all the homework before watching Friends, our current family obsession (the girls do an excellent Janice: Oh. My. God, etc and we are all constantly saying Phoebe’s ‘Oh, no.’) My French classes at the Calade run over two days and fit in around the school schedule, and I run the house and fit writing and general fart-arsing about (you can take the girl out of Australia…) in around the alarms that go off on my phone every couple of hours to tell us to do the walk down Rue Taillade past the now-familiar shops and locals. You say ‘Bonjour!’ the first and ‘Rebonjour” when you see people for the second time. After that, it’s the usual slightly awkward menu of nods, shooting gun-fingers, tipping imaginary hats, etc. At the gates it is a frenzy of triple-cheek kissing.

Autumn arrived abruptly – one day we were in t-shirts, the next in puffy jackets and mittens. But ‘it’s not cold yet’ we’re told. I’m worried: how many more layers can we add? I have to remember to pack tissues for the constant streaming noses and now to ‘where are your shoes’ I must add ‘and your hats, beanies, gloves…’ The Mistral, a fierce wind that famously drives folk crazy, blows like the dickens. It nearly blew me off the bridge last week as I crossed it towing my Nana-trolley on the way to the Intermarche (which is either quite a French image or just a portrait of a dickhead. Wherever you go: there you are.)

I’m loving the Croix Rouge (Red Cross) shop, Katia’s almond croissants and a little bar called the Bar du Nord where old men play cards and drink wine first thing in the morning. In fact I am loving everything about Sommieres. We have been taken to the hearts of some beautiful people. They have embraced us and our children, invited us to their homes, delivered goods to the doorsteps and showed such kindness. Even though we are the Stupid Family, they love us anyway.

We are planning a holiday over Xmas in the Auvergne,the ‘green heart’ of France. I’m really looking forward to a few days of quiet puzzles, games by the fire, long baths and naps-with-added-dribbling. We have promised to try and find some snow for the children. Then a road trip up to Brittany and back, before term 2 and the real cold weather kicks in.

I feel far from home, I wish the washing machine would work, and I miss my Mum and Dad, but we are happy, growing some new brain-bits and thriving in the smells, sounds and constant wonderful confusion of this new home.

Love to you all. X

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