La fin

IMG_3724With summer’s breath still warm on our necks, the first fumes of wood smoke tickle my nose. As the leaves on the trees begin to change, I realize with regret that it’s time to put away my sandals until next year.

Fall has always felt like a fresh start to me, with its back-to-school rush and the energy of cooler days. Other than November, that dreaded dark month, autumn is the season I love best. Only three months until Christmas! Time to get on that to-do list!

But this year we have had such a glorious summer, it is hard to see it pack its bags. The first true hot summer weather in years, du début jusqu’à la fin. It got nice early in the spring and stayed that way throughout July and August. We were able to enjoy long evenings on the deck, drink and eat outside all the time. I complained, of course, that it was too hot. After all, who feels like working when the pool beckons?

But it’s time to let go. This past weekend I packed up all my summer clothes and sorted through the fall and winter ones before making the semi-annual switch. This is something I do twice a year, partly because I don’t have enough closet space to keep everything in circulation but also because it’s good to sort through what you haven’t worn lately and make a cull. Sometimes it’s an excuse to go shopping. “Out with the old, in with the new!” The charity shops enjoy it, too.

I am not a huge fan of endings. I find most things start out better than they end. When deeply enthralled with a book, I often skip ahead and read the ending so that I can relax and enjoy it without the suspense. Sometimes I get two-thirds through a film and can’t be bothered to watch the rest. But I love the bittersweet time of transitions – endings and beginnings. Summer’s end means the beginning of fall, and a new year just around the corner.

I guess that change is in the air. My yoga teacher announced that today would be our last class. She is a very good instructor and an inspired soul who puts a lot of herself into teaching, but she’s having too hard a time making a living at it. She told us today that the fall season is deeply associated with change, that it is a time for letting go. I guess that means it’s time for me to accept that all good things must come to an end.

C’est la fin de l’été.

IMG_2569How do you feel about endings and beginnings? Do you embrace change or go out kicking and screaming?

Fermeture annuelle

Anyone who has spent time in France is familiar with these words: ‘Fermeture annuelle’ or ‘Congés d’été’. Usually on a scrap of paper stuck behind a closed shop window. Most family-run businesses in France close for an annual month of holidays in July or August, which can leave tourists gasping in astonishment.

The epitome of frustration for me was discovering the August closure of Berthillon, the most famous ice cream place in Paris. When an ice cream vendor closes in the summer, presumably its busiest period, it becomes clear that they are not in it for the money. Or not just for the money. Quality of life and the sacrosanct summer holidays are of at least equal importance.

This takes some getting used to, especially for North Americans. The idea of a shop closing its doors for an entire month is inconceivable to our way of thinking. The loss of business for the owners, the boon for the competition, the complete lack of concern for its customers. None of these things seem to worry the French. The customers will be back in September – meanwhile, the beach beckons.

But, as has been pointed out to me, I have been in France for a very long time. And I’ve discovered that a summer holiday is good for the soul. This year I’ve decided to take a blogging break. I’ll still be around – reading, reblogging and dropping in from time to time, but I’ll give my regular updates a rest for the summer.

In the meantime, let’s hear what you are up to this summer. Ant or grasshopper?


Juilletiste ou Aoûtien?

Juilletiste ou Aoutien?If one thing is sacrosanct in France, it’s vacation time. And when the schools close in July and August, it’s more than just the summer holidays: these are les grandes vacances.

Ain’t life grand? Everyone, but everyone – goes away. It’s not enough to simply take time off from work. Il faut partir. The question on everybody’s lips is – “Vous partez? Où?”

A question of only slightly lesser importance than ‘où’ is: ‘Quand?’ When you are leaving is almost as vital as where you are going. And as with any question of faith, there are different schools of belief. The two main camps are those who go away in July – les Juilletistes – and those who wait until August – les Aoûtiens.

Les Juilletistes – These are people who just can’t wait to get away. They long to be first and to come back tanned and relaxed while everyone else is still stressed. And they look forward to a second break when they return during the dead weeks of August. No traffic. No line-ups at the lunch counter. Hardly anyone haunting the office. Not surprisingly, Juilletistes are viewed with suspicion and perhaps a hint of envy.

Les Aoûtiens – They are the traditionalists, the moral majority. Also the self-employed (moi). They are the worker bees. They cannot afford to take off before the half-year financial results have been put to bed, the president has spoken to the nation on the 14th of July, and it is safe to assume that France has rolled up its sidewalks for a long summer’s sièste.

I’m normally an Aoûtienne. Not just for the reasons above, but because I’ve always found it unbearable to be coming back to work when everybody else is on their way to the beach. But this summer is different…this year we have decided to stay put.

We’ve been intending to do this for years. Ever since we entered that enviable bracket of those whose kids have flown the nest and are no longer required to stick to le calendrier des vacances scolaires. When prices often double in France.

For once, we decided to be smart and enjoy the summer in our own backyard. Then take a break in the lower season when most people are back at work.

I didn’t think this would be a problem. I’m a real homebird and looked forward to enjoying the season in our parts for once. We’re lucky enough to live in a beautiful region that attracts a lot of people on holiday. We have a lake nearby and a pool. And this year, this idyllic location has attracted quite a few of our own family as visitors. So we’ve been busy.

But I have to say it feels wrong somehow not to be going anywhere. Last year it was Corsica and the year before, Dubrovnik. Both of which were beautiful. Now, without a trip in the offing, I’m feeling a little antsy.

There’s an expression for this in French: ‘Il faut se dépayser.’ You need to get away, discover something new, have a change of scene.

Don’t you love the fact that the French have specific words to describe the need for a holiday? And for different summer vacationers?

What about you? Juilletiste, Aoûtien or not at all?

For those who read French, this article from Le Figaro drolly explains the entire philosophical debate around the choice.


Faire mouche

Faire moucheThe heat of summer is upon us and with it, the hordes of unwanted guests. I’m not talking about visitors who’ve flown in from foreign parts, although we’ve had our share of them this year. Family is always welcome, at least for the first week.

No, I’m talking about the winged creatures of the Muscidae family, or common housefly, who set up camp chez nous each summer. Who soil my windows by day and shorten my nights with their blasphemous buzzing.

There are two schools: either you are someone who is not particularly bothered by such things, casually shooing when they get too familiar; or you turn into a veritable Kamikaze fighter when anything flies in your face.

I have two Frenchies (bulldogs, that is). One will look lazily at les mouches and simply twitch his ears. The other jumps to attention then tries to bite the intruder, repeatedly and unsuccessfully. It’s a personality thing.

My husband, when prompted to action, usually by me, is a fairly ineffectual swatter. Either he doesn’t have the killer instinct or his aim is off. Bref, his swat inevitably misses its target. Leaving us with a fly that’s on the alert and several marks on the walls or furniture.

I, on the other hand, will not be so easily foiled. I have perfected my fly-swatting technique to an art. If the little f—r is on a delicate surface that I don’t want dirtied, I perform a downward slash, then move in for the kill when he’s down. If he’s on the kitchen counter or another wipeable surface, I simply come down swift and hard. Always followed by an apology, of course: ‘Sorry, fly.’ In true Canadian style.

Despite these efforts, a seemingly endless troupe of understudies is waiting in the wings, as it were. As soon as one is down, another magically appears. The fly is actually quite an amazing little creature, as I discovered in this TED talk.

Every summer, I lament the fact that French houses don’t have screens. Yet, when we had a new house built two years ago, we didn’t put them in. Guess I’ve grown accustomed to the freedom of French windows, and the indoor-outdoor living that just wouldn’t work with screens. The fly swatter continues to be an essential part of my French summer survival kit.

‘Faire mouche’ means to attain a target, or achieve a goal. Mine is to make my home a no fly zone.

A votre tour: What’s your pet peeve about summer?


Bon voyage!

The French travel rather well.The French tend to holiday in their home country, especially during ‘les grandes vacances’ of summer. After all, why go anywhere else when you have so much to enjoy at home? Between the invigorating coasts of Normandy and Brittany, the beauty of the Alps and the sunny beaches of the south, there is something for everyone.

But since the low-cost airlines opened up the skies of Europe, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to discover the world beyond our borders. Living in France, we enjoy taking off for the weekend to neighbouring capitals like London, Lisbon, Barcelona or Berlin. And when we do, lo and behold, we find them. Sitting at the next table or right beside us on the bus. The very people we thought we’d left behind.

Les Français. They’re easy enough to spot when they’re not at home: the quiet ones who tend to keep to themselves. Who mutter in French to each other, usually things like: ‘Rien compris’ (I didn’t understand). Who clutch a French guidebook, usually le Routard or Lonely Planet. And who always look a little hungry.

As a native speaker, I am instantly at home in any English-speaking country and can travel to most parts of the world with the confidence of knowing that someone will speak my language. This gives me an unfair advantage over my compatriots, one that I shamelessly exploit. When abroad, I enjoy going undercover and observing the French as they struggle to adapt to my world. It’s payback time.

I watch them studying the menu board outside a restaurant so intently, trying to determine whether the food will be remotely edible. Queuing politely to buy tickets and timidly trying out their English. Putting their best foot forward in every way.

They’re like fish out of water. But the fact is, the French are great travelers. They’re well-read, knowledgeable about their destination and prepared to walk its streets. They explore, adapt to local customs, try the special foods. They’re budget-savvy and know how to find the best deals without dropping needless cash on bells and whistles.

In fact, when they’re not at home the French are much more endearing than they are in France. (Unlike certain other nationalities who shall remain nameless on this blog – I’ve already offended enough sensibilities.) I guess that’s because when they’re not on home turf, they don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi – no, actually I do: arrogance. Yes, folks, the French can be humble. And it is a lovely thing to see.

Last week we were in Scotland visiting our wee lass and there were a great many French-speaking tourists in our midst. The combination of the Scottish brogue and the French r-r-r’s made for some challenging communications. But overall, I was quite impressed at how well everybody managed to understand each other.

Seems a little humility goes a long way.

So, where are you going this summer? Home or away?