Avec La France

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We’re going to Bordeaux, France, in a couple of weeks’ time for a one week getaway. We’ve rented a holiday house on the coast. I am looking forward to it immensely partly because I’ve already decided the city will feature in the new book…. and getting details on the ground there is a bit like “location scouting” for a film. 😉

France has been a major part of the backdrop – in case you have somehow missed this – for what I’ve written and write about thus far. I make no claim to being an “expert” on it; but I’ve visited various parts of the country and spent quite a bit of time there over the last nearly thirty years. (OMG, did I just write THIRTY?!) All told, it is by far where I’ve spent the most time in my life after here in Britain.

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]
Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]

What drew me to the country initially was a she-accident. Then in our mid-20s, the most serious woman in my life up to that time (it was well before my wife) was French. And, at the time, I really did also feel essentially this way about it all:

Excerpt from "Frontiers." Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Frontiers.” Click to expand.

Before meeting her, I knew standard generalities and stereotypes about her country, but that was about it. A Benjamin Franklin witticism about a foreigner [man] best learns French courtesy of being involved with a Frenchwoman definitely had some validity in my case. Often she’d unexpectedly burst into French to me and insisted on me speaking it back to her. Once, before arriving at a party in New York, we’d pre-planned that she would speak French to me for a while and what she would say: I “amazed” the friends there with my “increasing fluency” and at the end we walked out having a huge laugh between the two of us. The alcohol probably helped, too. 😉 (She also knew Italian and spoke it with my grandmother, which was a gigantic WOW in my family at that time.)

What I’d absorbed from years with her, her family and many friends, led me to feel almost part of her country even though I knew I wasn’t. She was always asking what I thought about this or that regarding France and took my opinions seriously. (As if what I thought mattered in the slightest?) In turn I was treated to answers to questions I had: for example, if you’ve read Passports, you’ve seen this already:

Excerpt from "Passports." Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Passports.” Click to expand.

All of that was back in the now increasingly long ago 1990s. Losing my head at one point, I’d asked her to marry me. After some wincing, puffing, and shaking her own head, she said “No.” She tried to let me down gently by saying that we were both still far too young and had so much more to do….and why did we need marriage, etc., etc.

At the time, I had thought my whole world had fallen apart. Looking back from decades after, however, I know she was correct. It probably wouldn’t have worked out between us.

Glancing out over the 15th arrondissement of Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]
Glancing out over the 15th arrondissement of Paris. [Photo by me, 1994.]

I suppose I can take that “detached” view now given I’m of a decidedly, ummm, more mature and sober “middle-age,” and happily married. After our relationship petered out, I remained interested in the country and obviously I still am. France in 2016 needs extra-support from its foreign friends, and we should all do our small parts to help, even if that means only visiting and just spending some money.

Have a good Thursday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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