L’école buissonière

I played hooky last week. Skipped off school and went AWOL. Or, as we say in French, went to ‘bush’ school.

That’s not really true but it is how it felt. I signed up for a week’s retreat on the remote Sicilian island of Pantelleria with a group called Wide Open Writing (WOW).

It was a chance to go off the path and enjoy a holiday break while devoting time to myself — and to writing. Not the PR work I do for a living, or the blogging I do here, but in pursuit of the storytelling muse that lives inside us all.

For a week our group enjoyed the rugged beauty of this volcanic island that is actually closer to Tunisia than Italy. That did not mean warmer, however, as it was windswept and chilly a good part of the week. But when the sun came out it was wonderful!

All week long we met twice daily to think, write, read our work and share thoughts. The idea wasn’t to critique each other’s writing so much as to give positive feedback. It was an experience at times intense, hilarious, emotional, beautiful and moving. I found a sense of kinship with this group of writers from all walks of life and at different stages of finding their voice. There was also yoga and meditation for those so inclined.

I stayed in a dammuso, the thick-walled stone cottages unique to Pantelleria. They are designed with domed roofs to capture the rain water.

Water so essential for irrigating the capers, olive trees and vines that grow here…and these days also for more leisurely pursuits.

Walled gardens are also part of Pantelleria’s unique heritage. This one in a vineyard was built to protect the precious lime tree growing within.

On our last day we visited the Donna Fugata vineyard where a variety of the ancient Muscat grape called Zibibbo is grown to make the island’s famous Passito, a sweeter apperitif wine, among others.

Throughout the week, we also ate and drank copious amounts of Sicilian food and wine.

This dessert is called bacio pantesco. It’s a kind of waffle pastry filled with delicately perfumed ricotta.

One of the things I love most about living in France is how close we are to so many amazing places. It wasn’t easy to get to Pantelleria, as it involved three flights via Rome and Palermo. The last one on this Air Mistral plane operated by the Italian Post.

You can learn a lot when you skip school, or ‘faire l’école buisonnière’, as the French call it. It was a bit of a splurge, but well worth it. Besides, getting away is good for the soul.

Do you remember skipping school?

Pretentious, moi?

The biopic 'Saint Laurent' is is showing in competition at Cannes
The biopic ‘Saint Laurent’ is is showing in competition at Cannes

Last night was the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival.

I love Cannes. More than anything, I love watching the red-carpet moments of the festival, when French journalists decked out in penguin suits scramble to catch a sound bite from movie stars as the paparazzi flash away.

I especially love hearing them ask questions in heavily-accented English, and then watching the expressions on the faces of the American stars as they struggle to come up with an answer. (‘What was the question?’)

Okay, it’s mean. And it’s petty. But I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of French arrogance long enough, I figure they owe me a few moments of fun.

I also love the live edition of the Canal+ talk show, le Grand Journal, hosted every year from the Croisette, with its star-studded line-up of guests. And where you can expect some unexpected and embarrassing moments. Last night Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth were on the set when ‘les intermittents du spectacle’ (contract workers in the French entertainment business for which there is no equivalent in English), staged an unexpected appearance – interrupting the live broadcast with a political message.

What I love less about Cannes is the pomp and circumstance of the festival. They take their cinema pretty seriously over here. Quite frankly, I rarely watch the film that wins the coveted ‘Palme d’or’ or Golden Palm, the top prize at Cannes. Who can stay awake?

French-Irish actor Lambert Wilson, who hosted last night’s event, said in his opening remarks to the gathered international glitterati that the French were universally thought to be the most arrogant, pretentious and rude people in the world.

I’d love to be able to crush that stereotype. But you and I both know that’s not gonna happen.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of crossing the Channel to take a 3-day writing course in London: John Truby’s Anatomy of Story Master Class, primarily for screenwriters but incredibly useful for anyone who writes stories and wants help with structure. He really knows his stuff and he gave a great course.

The thing about Truby is that he is the Hollywood writing guru – a script doctor from LA who’s worked on major studio productions in film and television. He’s there to tell you what works in commercial terms, to teach the craft and give writers the tools to succeed. He is not there to provide an existential analysis of the art form or to explore the film-making techniques of Lars Von Trier.

Among our group of writers, actors and producers from all over Europe, there were two people who continually interrupted with questions that challenged the legitimacy of the approach. Who looked down their very long noses intellectually at what they apparently considered to be ‘formulaic’. Who clearly thought they knew better than the expert himself.

Guess where they were from?

There are times when I am embarrassed to be French. Even by adoption.

‘Nuff said.

So, are you a fan of Cannes? Is your eye on the red carpet or the silver screen? I hear that Grace of Monaco, which is showing at the festival but not in competition, is terrible. But there are some entries, like Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall and Turner from Mike Leigh that I will be eager to see. How about you?

Liebster Award: And the nominees are….

liebster_award‘Liebster’ means beloved in German, so it is fitting that the award that bears this name requires you to share the love. I am hereby nominating the following blogs that enrich my life as a reader:

  • 365 things I love about France – This blogger finds so many positive things to say about our fair land, I am truly ashamed…yet written with humor and realism.
  • Life on la Lune – I enjoy reading this blog about a British writer’s life in France, which  seems strikingly similar yet very different from my own.
  • One French Word – A beautiful food blog that also make it easy to learn a lot of French culinary terms!
  • Taste of Savoie – Another delicious blog with a lot of interesting tidbits about places to go in our corner of France.
  • C’est la vie – A newcomer deals with her frustrations and family life in France.
  • Long View Hill – I love this writer’s frank approach to sharing her fitness and life challenges.
  • Scene by Minerva – Absolutely beautiful photographs of flora and still life captured through this talented photographer’s lens.
  • Aimée Cartier’s Blog – Only recently started following this blog but her voice and humor hooked me from the get go.
  • Wife After Death – This blog deals with the painful road back to life following the loss of a spouse. Her writing is so good I want to be there for every step!

Fellow bloggers, I know that not everyone will have the time or inclination to participate. Your mission, if you accept, is to follow the Liebster Award rules as outlined in my last post.

Here are your questions:

  1. Blogging takes so much time that you could be spending doing something else. Why do you choose to blog?
  2. Who are your favorite writers?
  3.  If you could have any talent, artistic or otherwise, what would it be?
  4.  Do you ever dream of moving to another country and if so, where?
  5. Where and when do you write?
  6. What is your preferred form of exercise or sport?
  7. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  8. What household chore do you least like to do?
  9.  Picture yourself in a perfect moment of happiness: where are you and what are you doing?
  10. Let’s raise a toast to your continued to success with blogging – what are you drinking?

Santé!

Stories that go the distance

Foreign and Far AwayI am pleased to say that a short story of mine has been published in the Writers Abroad 2013 Anthology.

Foreign and Far Away is the fourth anthology published by Writers Abroad. Exploring the relationship between people and the landscapes and settings they live in, it’s an eclectic range of writing that evokes the diversities, similarities, connections and misunderstandings of life in foreign places.

My own short fiction entry, Le Choix du Roi, was inspired by the birth of my daughter at Hôtel Dieu in Lyon.

Author Amanda Hodgkinson, who has lived in Southwest France since 2002, has written the foreword. Her award-winning debut novel, 22 Britannia Road, was published in 2011. Penguin Books will publish her second novel, Spilt Milk, in February 2014.

Following a call for submissions, Writers Abroad received 219 contributions of which they selected 94 for the anthology. The anthology includes 38 short stories, 37 non-fiction articles and 19 poems. The work to produce Foreign and Far Away was carried out online.

Book Aid International will benefit from the proceeds of this year’s anthology. This charity increases access to books and supports literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa. They provided 543,280 new books to over 2,000 libraries in 2012 and have sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954.

Foreign and Far Away is available via Amazon at a price of $10.99, £8.99 or €9.99 from 21st October 2013:

Foreign and Far Away – Amazon.com and Foreign and Far Away – Amazon.co.uk.

To find out more and for a complete list of contributions and authors, please go to the Writers Abroad website, www.writersabroad.com