Here are ten things I have learned while living in France.
1. Cheese is one of the five food groups all by itself. You cannot have any meal without starting or finishing off with a wheel of gooey, smelly yummy fromage.
Even the 2euro cheese quadrants in the supermarket are worthy of a Masterchef finale so there is never an excuse not to have cheese on your table.
2. Sundays are precious! In the little villages all the shops are closed and the families meet together to have six hour lunches outside in the warm sun. Most of the ingredients are organic or better yet grown in the backyard. Time is taken to devour each course and there is no limit to the feasting.
3. Every place in the world has characters worthy of a novel. In Corby, I had two favourites.
# Crocodile Dundee was given this name by Franck the owner of Fouquet's pub, simply because he wore a huge akubra type hat adorned with various parts of animals attached- feathers, teeth or skin. The first time I saw him, he sauntered into Fouquet's commanding attention with every step. Franck lovingly told us he was Australian and called him Crocodile Dundee. He was as French as the Marseillaise and often told a joke or two to keep the adoring crowds amused. He wore the biggest crucifix around his neck and I believe the hat stopped him from falling forward due to the weight of the cross. He had a particular seat at Mass on Sundays and was one of the kissing both sides of the cheeks initiators during the sign of peace time.
#Forrest Gump was christened by me. He lived in our street right across the road from the supermarket. He would wear tight fitting colourful t shirts to cover his beer gut with large baggy shorts down to his knees. Every morning I would see him standing outside his front door having a ciggy or three. His 'bonjour' was loud and proud and he would never miss saying it to us. I often saw him just wandering the streets drinking or smoking and humming his favourite tune but never was the 'bonjour' forgotten. He used to go the Ruby's bar and fill the garbage bags with rubbish for the owner late in the afternoons so I think he was a necessary part of the Corby township. Life was like a box of chocolates for Forrest. We never knew what we were going to get from him.
4. It is amazing how your brain morphs into another culture or another language without you even trying. To this moment, I am still saying, 'oui' to every question asked. It is also amazing that when you start to speak in the tongue of the country you are in, the recipient believes you are fluent enough to understand a whole conversation without full stops. Many a time, a head nod and the picking up of one word amongst a thousand got me through what had the potential of being an embarrassing situation.
5. The bidets in Japan were more superior than any I could find in France and there weren't many.
6. The baguette is a sign of social acceptance and superiority. Around lunch time, if you are seen without a baguette protruding from your shopping bag or pocket, you are deemed a social outcast. The locals of course can tell the difference between a baguette bought in the supermarket and those acquired the local patisserie (the latter being more superlative).
7. Rederies. The word is hard to say but the activity is easy to find pleasure in. It simply is a Picardy ( the region we were living in) word meaning flea market. Everything went for 2 Euros or less and some rederies had up to 500 stalls. There were some bargains and some amazing war artefacts available to be bought I. These markets.
8. The peage ( highway toll roads) were placed around France to enable collection of money for future road works and improvements. Most of the time, they were easy to manage but every now and then, there would be one that would not take a 'go card' equivalent and not take money. Many a time, we used our warning lights and had to reverse out of a payment lane because the machine would not take our money, the boom would not lift or the help button didn't work. We pleased large lines of cars and trucks when we discovered that we were in the wrong lane despite the pictures of Euros placed on top of the lanes and had to reverse out of the entrance lanes with many 'pardons' being uttered.
9. The catholic churches are full of relics from various dead saints. Our local abbey had various skulls and leg bones from holy people like St Collette (Corbie's patron saint) as well as a finger from St Nicholas and a tooth from St Peter. It seems that the holy ones are mere shells in their graves because every piece of their bodies have been sawn off and put into boxes and delivered around the French countryside to the faithful. It had the opposite effect with me. I lost a little faith in understanding why this was so necessary to do. Perhaps this was the early stages of donating your body to the church not to Science.
10. The nights in Summer are bright until 10:30 pm. Because of this, I discovered the reason for the window shutters. In order to sleep, you needed to enforce darkness on the house by pulling these down. Some houses even kept them shut until 11:00 am the next day. Great for security and privacy, warmth in Winter and introverts. Corbie's shutters went down around 6:00 pm each day and then no-one was seen again until the next morning. The streets of this little village were deserted every evening. It was like no- one actually lived there. Even loud Australians were successfully contained within these little houses during the evening hours.
Of course , I learned so much more on my journey. With time, these lessons will reappear as I travel on with life.
One thing is for certain, the road behind me now is laced with joy and learning and I look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation. You don't always need a GPS to guide you through life. Half the fun is taking the challenge to start and finding the satisfaction in being led.
It is true what all the books have said about long leisurely lunches in France on a Sunday.
Yesterday, we were privileged to spend a couple of hours (7 in fact) eating, drinking and speaking Frenglish.
Every morsel of food was grown in their backyard ( except for the meat). Every morsel of food was fresh and delicious and melted in our mouths.
The courses just kept coming and Mike and I are still digesting the massive feast twenty four hours later.
My favourite quote of the day was of course related to water( a topic to close to my husband's heart).
We were discussing and comparing global issues regarding water as a sustainable resource and one of my new French family was heard to say;
"That is why we have wine!"
Simply put but oh so true. And wine they do have in France. Numerous kinds, many colours, delicious to drink- the sort that simply flows down your throat.
Following our first four courses, we walked around the village of Vignacourt and checked out the family's houses in the street along with their glorious gardens. The sun was out ( finally) and the birds were singing. It was exactly as Mary Moody had painted in her French novels. We then returned to the dining room for our final course of home made tarte de citron and tarte de poire with more coffee and wine.
The sun was still up when we left at 7:45 pm and we sauntered home at a French pace wondering if we could ever wear clothes without elasticised waists ever again.
It was indeed a bonjournee which turned into a bonsoiree!
For those who haven't seen the ICG Facebook page- Shame on you!
We have spent the last few days in beautiful Paris and today we went to the Bastille Markets in Le Marais. On the way home, we were serenaded by a fine musician who was begging for money but 'sang for his supper'. We certainly gave him one Euro for his lovely music. Needless to say the man who boarded the train and talked about the ascension of Jesus didn't get a brass razoo from us at all. Please look at the video attached to get that Parisienne feel.
We are now in Corbie in our own little french cottage on the Somme getting ready for the next big project. But somehow I can't get the song out of my head that was playing on the Metro earlier today.
The past week has been one of great excitement and adventure as we hosted the Supporters' tour for the BBC Sanix Rugby meet in Fukuoka Japan.
Now I am an AFL devotee and a Soccer Mum so initially I was a little out of my League( wrong code haha). However I am a clever girl and it didn't take me long to figure out most of the rules and the key players in the team during this international competition.
The boys from BBC played hard and were a credit to their parents, school and country and watching them was exciting. They came second in the comp and from what I hear that was totally unexpected!
The Supporters played hard too and I believe Munakata will never be the same. It was quoted at our last restaurant meal that we didn't eat much but we drank a hell of a lot! Munakata is now a dry town with all stocks of beer and wine severely depleted. The restaurants have returned to being quiet and classy and the Chisun Inn where we stayed is now empty and devoid of loud foreign bodies. All is right with rural Japan once more.
Most of our tour participants have arrived home in Queensland and have gone back to their normal lives again. The boys leave tomorrow and prepare for their formal on Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, the ICG team ( Mike and I) head off to Tokyo tomorrow and Paris on Sunday for the next thrilling adventure.
We have run the gauntlet in both Korea and Japan and now it's France's turn. Stay tuned for the amazing opportunity that is waiting for us. We will launch the next project while we are there.
We touch down in Paris and check out some possible venues for a French school trip we have arranged for 2016 and then we head to Corbie, a small village in the north of France. It is here that we will live in a house and work with the surrounding villages of Villers Brettoneaux, Amiens and Vignacourt to prepare the next ICG instalment. Mike and I are so excited with the potential of this next project that we are busting to tell all but we must mark our time. Firstly, we have to get Asia and the wonderful times we have spent in this part of the world out of our heads before we embark on part three of our journey.
Domo Arigato Gozaimushta Nihon.
Viva La France!
Don't cry out loud. 29/4/15
Just a short entry to tell you something funny that happened to me today.
After my disastrous escapades at Asian boutiques shopping for clothes, I battled up the nerve to try a European chain to see if I could buy myself something nice to wear. The weather has become decidedly warmer jumping 8 or so degrees in a matter of three days. Coats are slowly being discarded for the long sleeve T shirt option.
I went to ZARA here in Fukuoka, one of my favourite shops originating in Spain.. I thought that European fashion might understand the middle aged muffin a little better than the Asian clothing chains.
Found three shirts all L(European sizing)!! Yeh good for the fudoopers and muffin of a middle aged Aussie woman.
I went to the dress stalls to try them on. Can't possibly take the chance in this part of the world with just holding up a prospective shirt in front of the mirror.
I was quickly given a number 3 and an odd looking material bag to take into the stall with me. Now I have lived in Japan and I know that in most shops you have to take your shoes off before you enter the dressing room. I was mentally prepared for this major inconvenience! There was no entry bar to the room which usually lets you know that your shoes have to remain outside the dressing shed so I assumed that the shoes had to go into the strange material bag I was given. Being the good girl, I took my shoes off when I entered and put them into the bag and placed them at the entry to the dressing room. This is not a easy task when you have a 1m x 1m room and a muffin to contend with. Thank God the mirror was reinforced. I fell onto it a couple of times while wrestling with my shoes. Anyway after a major sweat broke out, I was finally ready to try on my shirts. It seems that ZARA takes into account the Japanese body type in some of its designs sold in Nihon because there were moments of me needing six more arms to help me strip off the shirt that was L but not enough for my LLL breasts! I considered buying the shirt 'cause I couldn't get it off! After numerous body movements and noises worthy of a champion Sumo wrestler, I became victorious and managed to remove the Spanish/Japanese cotton shift shirt and decided that T shirt material would be kinder to my full bodied form. The orange T shirt did fit and I must admit that the happy dance I had in the dressing room must have given the security camera pervs a laugh.
Anyway I left feeling so up myself because not only had I managed to avoid an embarrassing moment of having to ask the gorgeous size 2 assistant to help me surgically remove a cotton shirt from my torso but I had finally found a shirt to fit my voluptuous curves in Asia! I also had conquered the shoe thing and used the material bag correctly by putting them in it while I tried on my clothes. Success all round. WINNER!
As I walked out the door, the Japanese assistant asked me how I went. I unashamedly told her that I had found a shirt and that my shoes never touched the ground! She smiled (obviously not understanding my exceptional Japanese) and said in perfect English,
"How did you go with putting the bag on your head to stop your make up from getting on our clothes while trying them on?"
Another lesson learned.
Have you ever had an inner voice nagging you to jump from the everyday ordinary to the absolute extraordinary?
Well, Michael and I have for about 15 years now since we first toyed with the idea of starting a small family business which introduced our love of travel to the world. The voices got so loud that they were hard to ignore and so we both dragged ourselves to the top of a spiritual precipice and have launched ourselves into the clouds of the unknown below. This blog will tell you of our adventures over the next few months as we both come to terms with changing our employment situations to meet the challenge to fulfil our true destinies despite the fear of the unknown.
This blog is about the journey therefore not the destination. It is about my journey within and the travels we take on outwardly. Enjoy being exposed to the unusual places and happenings which are unique and different- like the Fiechtners really which ICG promotes in all of their tours and experiences as our philosophy. There are also a couple of surprises up our sleeves that we will reveal as they become more real. Some of these are amazing opportunities in foreign lands but we will keep the suspense until they happen.
11th April. In Tokyo to find the final blooms of the Sakura or cherry blossoms waiting for our arrival. The blossoms start around the end of March every year and travel up Japan with each day that passes. Tokyo is one of the last places that proudly displays their beauty before the April showers help the petals fall silently from the trees. If the weather is kind, they can last for a short two weeks before they disappear for another year.
Arrival in Fukuoka in the afternoon and drive down to Munakata where ICG will be hosting the Sanix supporters' Rugby tour at the end of April. Sanix invites a group of international schools to play Rugby. This year Brisbane Boys College was invited to represent Australia as the only school. The comp will be held in Global Arena 20 minutes outside of Munakata. Hence our destination. We will spend the next few days checking out the local sights and sounds for our upcoming tour. We have never been to this part of Japan before but the nicest thing about Japan is that it feels like our second home (after Toowoomba)and it is very familiar to us. We love to show this amazing culture and its people to others especially if they have never been here before. Strangely enough, the four Fiechtners feel very comfortable in this quirky land. Living here for a number of years has certainly helped us feel this way.
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