December 22, 2009 suesbent
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Seduced by the title, with the keen hope that Isabel Huggan could shed some light on this psychological dilemma, I have almost finished reading this 2003 publication. It fails to be an analysis, discussion, or prescription on the notion of ‘belonging’. Instead it succeeds far beyond expectation with this collection of rambling, eloquent descriptions through memory and observation.

It is set in France where this Canadian lady now lives. She does not claim to be a Francophile, nor even wish to ‘belong’ there. Surprisingly she finds her “at home” epiphany in Hobart Tasmania Australia.

Her descriptions of France stir those feelings I had last year when I was finally in France after years of longing. I find her words moving my stomach, my heart, my soul, until I am reminded, with a real physical sensation, of the bliss I experienced while wandering around the streets of Beaune. I remember feeling as though my head was literally in a fluffy white cloud and I was truly and deepy ‘in LOVE’, and my whole body was cocooned in a bubble of bliss. Never before had I felt that way. And I had longed to go to France since I was a child for some unknown reason.

It is fashionable now to be a ‘francophile’ and it is a little of a relief to be able to name the condition and discover others who are similarly afflicted.

I am Caucasian Australian by birth, family, history, place, type, lifestyle, language, and appearance – whatever that means in today’s diverse multicultural world. My ancestry is rooted in Australia for many generations, but has genus in England, Scotland, and France. The link to France is through the name of Colet, who apparently fled France during the French Revolution and settled in England. This is a well known turn in history, but the family link is by shared verbal story and unsubstantiated in genealogical research. It is a myth. Yet one I choose to hang on to as some possible explanation for my yearning for France.

I knew that visiting France briefly last year would not cure me, or help me. I knew I would need time to assimilate and intellectualise the experience. My experienced bliss was too totally fulfilling. And my inevitable departure too quick and too heart wrenching. My daily existence is here in Australia; too far away; too remote in every way. My hidden sadness is a grief like the loss of a loved one (but not quite as painful). I needed time to get over my visit, my epiphany, before I could discuss it.

Now, 18 months after my trip to France, I can allow myself the luxury of remembering, and perhaps once again attempting to create a little of whatever it is about France, in my own life here in Australia.

It feels impossible. It is a different culture, landscape, history, language, lifestyle, architecture, philosophy, and environment. All attempts by many Francophiles to create this here in Australia are futile and failed.

Reading “Belonging” reminds me in a tangible way of how I felt in France. Isabel Huggan’s descriptions take me there. I feel transported to Saint Paul de Vence. The names of the towns ring harmoniously in my ear. I see the streets, hills and shops.

In reality I have relocated to a seaside location in Victoria Australia. I don’t belong here any more than I felt I belonged for the last 24 years living on the Mornington Peninsula. I have never felt like a typical “Aussie”. The “Aussie” culture surrounds me and it grates on my nerves like a metal spade on concrete. It is echoed in the screeches from the flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos fighting in the pine trees outside my window every morning.

Despite reading Isabel Huggan’s beautiful book about belonging, I feel no nearer to understanding this dilemma, but encouraged to hear about the similar struggles of others.


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