Tomber amoureux

To fall in love translates perfectly in French: tomber amoureux. Perhaps it is the same the world over.

The expression is apt. ‘Falling’ implies giving up control, abandoning oneself to love. You have to let go, give up a bit of yourself, to love another. Whether it is a person, a place, or a way of life.

My adventure in this country began many years ago, in my hometown Toronto, with a chance encounter in a bar. It led to a long-distance relationship, then my first stumbling steps in French, a wedding in Paris, then, a few years and a young family later, a transatlantic move.

I can’t say that falling in love was what drove my choices beyond that first encounter. Over the years my relationship with France, with the language and its people, has been as often fraught as loving. There has been frustration, connection and (mis)understanding in varying degrees, laughter and learning. But isn’t all love like that? A tapestry of emotions, each thread woven together with passion and patience to ultimately render something that is rich and nuanced, neither perfect nor uniform, but a beautiful whole nonetheless.

I don’t remember exactly when it was but some time early in my life here we visited the region we’ve called home for the past ten years. The lake that stretches between France and Switzerland was on our way to and from the mountains that my Frenchman always managed to convince me to visit on holiday, even though I wasn’t a great skier and at best a reluctant mountaineer. Lake Geneva, Lac Léman to locals, has a wide plain on the French side, an area called le Bas Chablais. I know nothing of geography but I think it was carved out by the Rhône glacier. What it means is that you have a backdrop of mountains on either side and the lake in the middle, which makes for a stunning combination.

“This is more like it,” I said to my husband when we first stopped here. We stayed for a few nights in Thonon-les-Bains, visiting nearby Evian and venturing into Geneva on the Swiss side. There was swimming in the lake, pleasure boats and restaurants on the waterfront. We came back again some years later and stayed in a small medieval town called Yvoire, with cobblestone streets and an artsy feel. I fell in love with the area.

Later, when work offered up a job in Geneva, I snapped at the opportunity. My husband was already ahead of me, having relocated his business and working with clients on the Swiss side. For four years I commuted back to our family home outside of Lyon each week. Then, with both kids moving on to university, we decided to move closer to work. We looked for places to live on either side of the border, flirting with the idea of living in Switzerland. But I wasn’t ready to leave France. And when we found a lot with a lake view in the Bas Chablais, it was a no-brainer. We would build our house here. We were head over heels.

I remember the year we spent waiting for our house to come out of the ground. We’d rented an apartment in a development just behind so that we could walk over and check the construction daily. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Could this magical place really be our home?

After a few years though, the thrill began to dim. I’m not sure exactly when I fell out of love with our house, or the area we live in. But something shifted.

Not the place itself. It is still beyond beautiful. But living on the border means that you are never entirely there. You live daily in the awareness of the contrast between two places — and one begins to feel a lot more attractive than the other. And our house, while I’m proud of having built something so beautiful, needs a lot of love.

Fortunately, I did not have to cheat in deciding to leave it. My first love agrees with me. In fact, I think he fell out of love with his home country way before I did.

What is it about France? When did the dysfunctional side of things begin to weigh more heavily in the balance? Just watching the news the other day and seeing the riots and looting (yet again!) on the Champs Elysée after a win by the football team PSG. I feel beyond disgusted and discouraged.

Like you do when you fall out of love with someone, and their every fault, every flaw becomes unbearable.

Funny there is no expression for that, at least that I know of. In French it is just, ‘on ne s’aime plus.’

Forgive me, chère France.

Perhaps when I leave you, I will be able to love you again.

Bises.

27 comments

  1. Liz · August 22

    This is a great piece Mel! I thoroughly enjoyed it….. Liz xo

    • MELewis · August 22

      Thanks, Liz! It feels cathartic…

  2. Kiki · August 22

    Mel, welcome in my (thinking) world! Same here, totally, utterly…. Only, your situation is far better than ours as we’re unable to sell our house (even at roughly half the cost we paid for it and the renovations) and your husband has surely a very well paid position (or else you couldn’t afford to live in CH….). We ARE Swiss and although we get weekly invited by our many French friends to visit them at any time, I think it will take time to fall in love again. We still look forward to visit again as ‘visitors’, speaking their language as well as anybody living there, we never had a communication problem, we always understood the people – but the heat has dwindled down to a few sad sparks over the past 12+ years. So let me welcome you again to my country and let’s hope it’s going to be a lasting success.

    • MELewis · August 22

      Glad to hear I’m not alone, Kiki! It has been a long road, but I am looking ahead to our new life. Thank you for the Swiss welcome! x

  3. Becky Ross Michael · August 22

    This is so artfully written! All places have their faults, of course. I hope you’ll be very happy where you land!

    • MELewis · August 23

      Thank you, Becky! Nothing is perfect, of course, and I can already imagine some of the things I’ll be complaining about soon. But sometimes a change just feels right. 😊

  4. Susanne · August 22

    I love the way you ended this wonderful story of falling in and out of love. Distance will probably bring perspective and with time there might even be some nostalgia. All the best in your move, MEL.

    • MELewis · August 23

      High praise coming from you, Susanne. Merci! There is already nostalgia simmering on the back burner.

  5. pedmar10 · August 22

    Nice story even if sad ending…My story was meeting my French wife in the Champs Elysées near where her office work was. 1989 and then married in 1990 in Daytona Beach FL as convince her to come to live there. Well eventually she convince me to come to live in France in 2003! Best decision ever, had opportunities even in Geneva but no way France is for me. I wrote a bit piece early in my blog as have my life history here: https://paris1972-versailles2003.com/2010/11/30/versailles-france-i-have-arrived/
    Best of luck there you may come back as it is so close. I always do for visits! Salut

    • MELewis · August 23

      What a fascinating life story you share, Pedmar. I always knew we had a few things in common but now I see you and your French wife had a similar story to ours. I am glad that you have found your home country in France and continue to show it so much love. Your blog is a tribute to many travels and places you shared with your late wife and I admire your courage and generosity in continuing to blog about them. Long may you continue! 🤗

      • pedmar10 · August 23

        Thanks so much. And best of luck in Suisse!

  6. George Lewis · August 22

    Nice blog,, beautiful writing.. Still do not understand your rational, except for your week long separations from Stephan. I am sure you will find that Switzerland has as many warts as France. Hope you love your new home. Dad

    • MELewis · August 23

      Glad you enjoyed the piece, Dad. Obviously the work side of things is a big part of it. I hope we’ll be as happy in our new place as you and Peggy are in your house and garden.

  7. CompassAndCamera · August 22

    Powerful writing! I can relate, being the U.S. right now, having returned after 8 years living abroad. In some ways, I hardly recognize my country but hope to love it again someday. Hope your new home brings you renewed joy!

    • MELewis · August 23

      Thanks! I guess it doesn’t always come down to a choice of ‘love it or leave it’. Hopefully things will change for the better soon, both at home for you in the US and globally with the pandemic so that you can get your wings back!

  8. Colin Bisset · August 23

    What a beautiful post. My best friend talks of things ‘moving through’ us – like the love we hold for a person or a place, settling for a while and then moving on, its job done. So often we cling to what we know and don’t let things move through us. You sound so ready for your relocation because – of course – it is more than a physical relocation and also a mental relocation, and that’s as exciting and frightening as all change is.

    • MELewis · August 23

      That’s it exactly, Colin: a mental relocation as much as the physical part. As much as I have loved this house, it has felt like a stone around my neck for the past couple of years. We are also taking advantage of the move to get rid of a lot of stuff — baggage too, I think. Thanks so much for the warm words.

  9. margaret21 · August 23

    Ah! Lucky that as you began to fall out of love a new prospect was in view. We too began to fall out of love with aspects of France, but England too is becoming a nastier place, inward-looking, insular and racist in a way I believed we had left behind years ago. But it’s not just England… the world seems to be changing, and not for the better. Good luck in this next chapter.

    • MELewis · August 24

      Thank you, Margaret! Interesting that you have found similar things not to love in France and England. To be fair, our decision was kind of a chicken-and-egg thing: we allowed ourselves to imagine another alternative which fed into our souring feeling for France.
      You are right: the problems you describe are worldwide trends and we will have to deal with them wherever we go. There is a strong anti-migration move on the far right in Switzerland too.

  10. Al in France · August 23

    In my mind it is ‘normal’ to fall in and out of love with places, but as they say, I’ve been around the block a few times 🙂 Born in the UK, I moved all over the country before I found wanderlust. It took me to new ‘life’ in various parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and France. Perhaps I’m ‘home’ now as the years progress, but I have come to learn that everywhere has good and bad points and that there is no perfect place. Happy landings 🙂

    • MELewis · August 24

      Wow, you have been around the block (globe) a few times! I can’t say I’ve ever truly had wanderlust but the desire to make a fresh start on a solid base. There is no perfect place indeed but perhaps when we move on we are able to see ourselves in a new light and make changes for the better. Time will tell. Cheers! 🤗

  11. acflory · August 24

    Ah. So you were both well and truly ready to move on and away. I hope the new permanent house/apartment will give you the thrill of falling in love again. 🙂

    • MELewis · August 26

      Thank you, Meeka. The decision has been a while in the making so I do feel ready. But we’ll see whether we feel the love like when reality sets in!

      • acflory · August 26

        Fingers crossed for you. 🙂

  12. Joanne Sisco · August 26

    A beautiful piece of writing, Mel. It brings to mind the expression that familiarity breeds contempt. It is as you say that every flaw starts to become magnified. It doesn’t help when the misbehaviours of our countrymen are highlighted.

    I hope your love affair with your new home is a long and generous one! I’m confident that France will always hold a soft spot in your heart 🙂

    • MELewis · August 26

      Thank you for the kind comment, Joanne! It’s funny with that expression: the first time I heard it, I thought it was ‘familiarity breeds content’. It made sort of sense to me as I’m someone who likes the familiar. But as you point out, it can shift. I won’t say contempt is how I feel but the change is certainly welcome. And I’m sure you are right about my feelings towards France! 🥖

  13. Pingback: Tomber des nues | FranceSays

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