Un peu de lecture

Mémé dans les orties

Another thing I love about the fall is the idea of curling up with a book as the temperatures drop and the days grow shorter. Not that I need a seasonal excuse – reading for me is a year-round occupation.

My favourite place to read is also where I write this blog: in bed. Mostly in the mornings. I also read before going to sleep, but my eyes tend to glaze over pretty quickly. I read for pleasure exclusively on paper, not e-books. Besides the fact that screens are not pages to me, anything electronic feels like work. And there is something about holding a book in your hands that I can’t imagine going without.

Although I speak French fluently, I read almost exclusively in English. French often feels like work, and until a few years ago, there were so many gaps in my vocabulary that I was always scrambling to look up words.

I’ve started reading a few French books lately. There was ‘L’élégance du hérisson’ (The Elegance of the Hedgehog) by Muriel Barbery. A couple of novels by Michel Houellebecq. And at the moment, a slice of French life called ‘Mémé dans les Orties’ by Aurélie Valognes.

It’s about a bitter old man who makes life miserable for himself and everyone else who has the misfortune to live in his apartment building. It’s about the pettiness and solitude of everyday life, and, presumably, although I’m only half-way through, how that can all change with the arrival of a few new faces.

I love very human stories like this that combine humour with the bittersweet. Dysfunctional families and quirky love stories. One of my all-time favourite novels is hiding on the bookshelf in this picture. Can you guess which one it is?

By the way, for those who are interested: the title comes from the expression ‘Il ne faut pousser mémé dans les orties.’ I had to look this up as I’d never heard it before. Essentially it’s a way of saying ‘il faut pas pousser’ – or don’t push, meaning don’t exaggerate, take advantage, go too far. At least not so far as to push poor Granny into the nettles!

Do tell me: what are you reading?

La pluie

 

La pluie

It has been a long, dry summer here in France. The earth is parched, the fields bleached by the sun. Normally the final days of August and early September bring a few big storms but so far they have missed us. This morning, the rain has rarely been so welcome.

La pluie is not something we often rejoice over here in France. It is not like the English rain, so light and prevalent. When it rains here, it pours. And generally brings with it a mood that is like the weather – maussade (pronounced: moh-sad) Meaning gloomy, dull, sad.

Perhaps that is why I used to confuse the verbs ‘pleuvoir’ and ‘pleurer’. To rain and to cry. I may have once told my husband that his mother was raining. Things could be stormy when she was around, so it may not have been entirely unintentional.

Long ago I gave up on trying to find the logic behind the attribution of gender in French. No matter how you try, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right. I find you have greater success if you let your instincts rather than your memory guide you. Somehow la pluie feels right. Rain must surely be feminine, just as wind – le vent – is masculine.

I love the smell of rain. I love the way it sounds upon the roof. I love to sit outside on my balcony and watch the patterns it makes across the sky over the Léman, as I did in this photo from last summer.

Perhaps what I love most about the rain is that it forces me to sit inside and ponder it. Curl up and read a book, enjoy the comfort of being warm and dry inside. And some of my fondest memories of childhood are running around outside as the skies opened up after a hot dry spell.

J’aime la pluie.

Et toi?

Cham’ and me

Chamonix, France

We are fortunate to live between two chains of mountains. I awake to views of the Jura, the older, gentler slopes just across Lake Geneva on the Swiss side. In the other direction, to the southeast in France, are the Alps. They aren’t far, although we don’t get many views of the Alpine peaks from here.

Visitors are a good excuse for us to get out and see the Alps close up. That is just what we did when my sister and her family came to visit the other week.

Outside of ski season, it’s easy to forget just how close we are to Chamonix – Cham’ to the locals – home to our highest mountain, le Mont Blanc. We drove about an hour to Valorcine, then parked the car and took a series of chair lifts up. It’s fun to take a chair lift in the summer as you can see all the detail of the green slopes just below. And I enjoy it more when my fingers aren’t frozen.

We couldn’t figure out why so many chairs had spots blocked off but decided it was for all the people with bikes. This is a popular spot for the sport and just below us, we could see mountain bikers descending the narrow dirt trails at break-neck speed. I can see why they take the lifts – riding down must be a lot more fun than going up.

Chair lift near Valorcine

At the top, the views open up to the valley below in a way that soon had us singing, ‘The hills are alive…’ Thankfully no one started yodelling or the Swiss, who share a border just a few hundred metres away, might have changed their minds about staying neutral.

We could see the glacier called La Mer de Glace – the Sea of Ice – and a little bit of the Mont Blanc peak, although there were a few clouds. There were wild flowers and a few mountain cows – although we argued as to whether they were cows or bulls. Do cows have horns? And are there male cows? My daughter the future veterinarian would certainly have a few things to say on that subject.

From the top, we hiked downhill for half an hour to a small mountain refuge that runs a restaurant. This was my favorite moment of the day.

thumb_img_5605_1024It’s enough to make me want to come back and do it again – but don’t tell ZFrenchman, or he’ll soon have me up and out the door to Cham’ every Sunday morning.

 

When was the last time you were in the mountains?

Souriez, c’est la rentrée!

Frenchie smiles

It’s that time of year again. Drum roll, please…

C’est la rentrée!

Time to get back: back to school, back to business, back to the grind that is French life. Although you might think this would mean long faces, around here it seems that getting back to work gives us a lot of reasons to smile.

I’ve posted before about how this is my favourite time of year. And it’s not just for the school kids. Although I still have one (mostly) mature student under my roof, la rentrée is the start of a whole new year on many different levels.

First, there’s la rentrée des vacances. The French are back from vacation and they are smiling, at least for the first week. We did not go away anywhere this summer. Instead, we took shorter breaks in the spring, then lounged around all summer while everyone else took off. Although we live in an area that is a draw for tourists, we still feel the deadness of the summer season. Shops close, streets are oddly empty, anything administrative gets lost in an overflowing inbox. We began feeling the first signs of life again last week. Traffic reports went from green to red, tanned faces appeared in the shops and long line-ups sprouted in the grocery store.

Then, there is la rentrée politique. This means that the brief lull in rhetoric is over. My ears had barely stopped ringing from all the noise over Brexit and Trump’s latest antics. And with presidential elections in the offing next spring, French politicians are back with a bang. Nicolas Sarkozy broke the silence by officially announcing his run for a spot on the ticket in 2017. Since he declared his Republican candidacy with a proposed France-wide burkini ban, he will not be getting my vote.

Today is la rentrée des classes. It’s back to school for the kids, which means we will see a lot of freshly scrubbed faces and bright new backpacks on the street. It’s been awhile since my kids were small, even longer since I went back to school myself, yet that buzz of newness and energy still gets me.

The teachers have been back for a week already, having completed la rentrée des professeurs ahead of time to get things ready for a new crop of students. This means new security measures in schools, although I doubt they will be enough to reassure everyone after so many terrifying incidents in the past two years.

I have been enjoying the rentrée audiovisuelle this week. My favourite French access-to-prime-time talk show, C’est à Vous on France 5, is back. Next week will kick off a new season of Le Grand Journal on Canal Plus. And I’ve just learned that Les Guignols, those political puppets extraordinaire, who were banished from the show last year having crossed some sort of line, will be back.

In a week or two it will be time to sign up for activities: yoga, zumba, choir…I’m still debating what to make time for but have decided there will be at least one thing that gets me out each week!

It seems there are lots of reasons to smile. The summer sun is still with us, yet there’s a chill in the morning air that heralds the change of season in a few weeks’ time. I love the fall, and I feel energized at the thought of getting back down to work again.

What’s your favourite thing about la rentrée?

Burkini beach

Burkini beach banThe New York Times has called it ‘farcical’.

The Guardian has suggested there are many good reasons to wear the ‘wet suit with a hood’, and not just to annoy the French.

In Rio, burkini-clad athletes competed alongside others in skimpy bathing suits.

As our long, hot summer continues, the ban on the burkini by the mayors of several French towns has me hot under the collar. And this photo of police in Nice forcing a woman to remove her cover has me in a cold sweat.

What’s all the fuss about the burkini in France?

It’s about fear.

Fear of losing our national identity. An identity that has more to do with the freedom of topless sunbathing than it does with religion.

It’s about Islamophobia, another form of fear. Fear of terror attacks by those purporting to defend Islam, even while we understand that ISIS has nothing to do with Muslims.

It’s about the secular state, which is highly valued in France despite the fact that we march to the Christian calendar. It’s about fear of foreign ways and wanting to feel ‘chez nous’.

It’s about politics, plain and simple. In other words, when French prime minister Manuel Valls says he understands the mayors of several towns who have banned the burkini, it’s a smoke screen. It’s fear mongering, and it’s keeping the otherwise vocal French quiet.

To be fair, the French have always been somewhat hysterical about public swimming pools. Men: do not attempt to enter a public pool in France wearing swimming trunks or longer shorts. ‘Le caleçon’ is traditionally forbidden in pools here for so-called reasons of hygiene. The only acceptable swimwear for men in France is the ‘slip de bain’ aka the noodle bender.

So by extension, I can accept that, by the same logic, the burkini might be forbidden in public swimming pools. But on the beach? Alors là, non! It is just ridiculous. What does it mean for those who wear wet suits, people with sun allergies or those who are just plain shy? Can you imagine these cops asking a nun to remove her habit?

While I disagree with the fundamental principles that lead these women to cover their bodies, I will fight to the death for their right to do it. However misguidedly, and for whatever reason, religious or otherwise. The way we choose to dress is an essential right and freedom that should not be dictated by any government.

I love the fact that the French ban has sparked sales of the burkini. It is an innovative piece of clothing design by an Australian-Lebanese woman, one that enables an otherwise-excluded segment of the population to enjoy the pleasures of swimming. In her own words, it is meant to liberate women, not enslave them.

If weren’t so damned hot, I’d probably wear a burkini myself out of solidarity. I’m a shit disturber at heart, especially when I believe that something is full of it.

And the French, for all their dislike of political correctness and respect for private life, are just plain full of it on this one.

Et toi? What do you think about the burkini?