For the love of France
France, the streets may be dirty, the poeple can be rude, everyone has an opinion about this beautiful country… but I loved it… every minute of it.
I travelled into the mountains to stay with my Aunt and Uncle in a tiny village up in the mountains an hour and a half from Lyon. It’s incredibly beautiful there. Due to it being a tiny village, they speak no English, and I speak no French. What a challenge this would be.
When I travelled through france in 2007, there were a few important things that I noted within the first couple of days of being there. The coffee in Grenoble is served espresso, short, dark and black like tar. Everyone smokes, inside and out, while they ride bikes, while they shop at the market, while they push their kids on the swings… They speak fast, words pouring out of their mouths like fountains of gibberish that I could not understand… The toilets in Lyon had no toilet seats and there are vending machines on street corners and shops that sell a large variety of condoms. So what I got from this was, the French community of Lyon love sex, coffee, chocolate and cigarettes and are not all that concerned with toilet comfort.
When I first arrived in France I felt out of my depth, armed with only year 8 French classes – which I never took to seriously at the time. I had a lot of trouble when it came to communicating with the world. The first weekend was easy. I spent it in little Merlas, where my Aunt and Uncle and my little cousins live. I watch Olivier play football and spent Sunday at a picnic for kids who were adopted from Sri Lanka. I realised quickly that I can actually handle the French language if it’s written down.
I spent days trailing around Grenoble, eating pastry and delicious french soups and breads. I rode the gondolas, I was accosted in alleyways by French men insisting that I go with them for coffee. French men have a way about them, and as charming and sexy as they may sound, when being accosted in an alleyway, it’s probably best to refuse politely. I shuffled through art galleries and museums and photographing the beautiful architecture. I relied heavily on calling cards to keep me in touch with the english speaking world – what are these amazing experiences without someone to share them with? I was in awe of how much history was on every corner.
Not being able to read a menu makes decisions easy. For lunch I just pointed at an item and smiled. I don’t know what they are serving, and I just eat whatever they bring, except for Calf Tete. That is where I draw the line. I will not eat offal from inside a baby cows head – delicacy or not. Maybe I’d eat it for a price, but I wouldn’t pay to eat it. No way.
I walked up mountains and through forests and quarries, I ate red cherries from trees and wild strawberries and raspberries from the fields. I relaxed in the Chartreuse monastery. I sat in silence. I drank the elixir of life. I lay on my back in fields of wild poppies and read a book. Beautiful Merlas. So beautiful. I drove into the mountains to swim at a lake that had a good view of Switzerland. I gazed at the sparkling city lights as I drank Chartreuse with Orangina, Beer with Lemonade and Grenadine and I ate… I ate… I ate… Tartaflette in Grenoble, Raclette in Lyon… I discovered that France has somewhere near 400 different types of cheese. And I vowed that I would try each and every one of them.
Bad idea, my friends, bad idea.
I drank with Russians, Ukrainians, Americans and Irish… And I fell in love with every little town I went to. I bought rabbit from the butchers and listened as my aunt taught me how to cook it. I drank wine in the evening with my aunt and uncle in the backyard of their beautiful cottage in the French Alps. I loved. I tasted the air and found my mouth full of poppies and fresh fruit. I laughed and I cried. I smoked and drank strong coffee. I wandered through the streets in the rain and in the sun and delighted in the differences of each place, for the love of France.
I woke up on the morning of my departure, sick. Sick from a serious cheese overdose. I had to cancel my flight. Very bad cheese or very good cheese was the culprit here. I’m sure the copious amounts of wine played its part. But whatever was at fault, I was grounded, not going anywhere. And forced to wait out a week in beautiful Merlas instead of partying for an extra week in London. Thank god. I recuperated in a hammock in the French Alps, strung between two cherry trees. I ate bread and fresh apples and drank sparkling water until the world felt right again.
Je ‘taime France, je ‘tadore.
A few rules of surviving france when you are a non-french speaking traveller…
1. A good History of being made play Charades every christmas eve does come in handy – I knew there was a reason for it… thanks mum
2. A bit of bravery, and a lot of just not thinking about it.
3. Being able to write it down with a combination of french words symbols and stick men.
4. Smiling Oui! Oui! Cava bien. Merci, Auvoir, Bonjour, Salut, D’accord, etc. these words make people think that you know what they might be talking about.
5. Beware of the cheese
6. The pastry is incredible. Eat it Eat it Eat it… don’t think about the excessive weight you are gaining. Eat it Eat it Eat it.
7. Beware of the almost 400 different cheeses. they will suck you in and never let you out.
8. Did i mention. Beware of the cheese?
9. Drink a lot of white, red and rose, it’s all amazing. And it helps wash down the cheese….
10. Enjoy. You can say just about anything, do just about anything, be, think, relax. No one understands you. Your totally free. It’s not scary. Its exhilarating.