Posts tagged ‘France ‘




Every day in Tuscany

I wish I wrote like Frances Mayes. More than that; I wish I lived like Frances Mayes – Every Day in Tuscany.

Her ability to observe and describe is unmatched amongst current authors, I think. The way she crafts her sentences, surprising us with the unpredictability of passage. She is a Wordsmith and obviously honours and delights in the images she conjures.

The art, the food, the lifestyle, the landscape, the produce, the community, the history, the language, the trendy Italian flavours of Italian life, are all stamped onto her pages like a three-dimensional collage. It is the now-popular craft-art of scrapbooking minus the glue and scissors.

Her quest for beauty I share. While she succeeds and excels, I fail. The richness of the Italian culture lies to extreme of the sparse Australian life that is mine. I search but cannot find any stone-built monasteries from the 15th Century. There is a notable lack of Renaissance art around me. Deciduous trees dripping harvests of nuts and fruit do not fare well in the Aussie bush. Aussie slang spoken between thin closed unmoving lips is spare with words and emotion, by comparison to the dramatic, curvaceous, embellished opera of the mere Italian “hello”.

Reading Frances Mayes books make me feel like a starving person reading a cook book. Yet to not seem ungrateful for my lot in life; I am far from starving and can read. I am keenly aware of my lucky rich Western educated life in a free land.

Two years ago I was in Italy and did not like what I saw. Fully expecting to love it, I did not. My stay was brief and fleeting. As a passing tourist I saw multitudes of art – some flaking some not. I was often dwarfed inside cathedrals, as I had hoped. I passed by the long queue of people waiting to go inside The Dome in Florence. I saw David – whose hands are too big Michelangelo! I walked around Rome. I know why people there drive mopeds – it is because there is no physical space left to park another car. My heart sank when seeing more and more graffiti, another grey rumpled form of a homeless person lying in the town park, the rubbish strewn everywhere. The Italians appeared to have stepped straight from a catwalk in Milan, into their shiny sports car, then out into a street full of cigarette butts. They live in an ashtray. It was Summer and each day was smog-filled; not one clear day despite the cloudless skies.

Sure I loved Venice. And Burano – is it even real or did I dream it? Who would not love the Isle of Capri? And Sorrento? Assisi? Florence – beautiful Firenze? I have not one bad photo from this trip. The camera lies obviously. Italy was overcrowded everywhere and lost to the hordes of passing onlookers. Queuing for bliss became the appropriate title for my unedited travel diary. Please note that my diary is a record only and not any attempt at creative writing.

Frances Mayes Italy and my Italy are at odds. We cannot compare the experience at all because hers is deep and all-encompassing, while mine was shallow and fleeting. She lives there, I visited. I envy her, that is certain.

She talks about falling in love with a place, or a thing, or a pursuit, such as Art. I understand this and share this idea completely. Art, music, and place have the power to speak to our soul and fill us with…..Love.

I fell in love in France; not Italy. It happened in St. Paul de Vence. This small medieval hill town near Nice is now a thriving artists community and a tourist magnet. We wandered in light rain along cobblestone walkways, too narrow to be streets, looking at art. Who wouldn’t fall for this place? By the time I sat in the town square in Beaune, between Lyon and Paris, I was cocooned and floating in a crystal bubble of LOVE. I floated and smiled like an idiot. I felt at home for the first time in my life. I had found my spiritual home. But not because of the food, language, culture, history or art. Nor because my heart had longed to go to France. Something deeper. Perhaps genetically transferred ancestral cell-memory? Life destiny calling me? Wish fulfilment? Perhaps just my vivid imagination.

Back home in Australia, Frances Mayes reminds me of my heart-ache; of my parallel-life in France. The view from my window across the roof tops towards the church spire in the town somehow reminds me of Nice. There really is no similarity.

Yet my sensible self reminds me of the crowds, the traffic, and the reality-check of what daily life in Europe in the 21st Century is in actuality. Frances, please cast your observant eye towards downtown Rome, or Naples. Can you edit out the grime?

Pursuing a life of “beauty” in the harsh Australian environment and lifestyle is a challenge. But I must try harder. This is my real home and I must face the fact that life in France, for me, is not for this lifetime. My task is to focus, and bring into my days, the art, language, music, literature, good food, and beauty that I crave and miss.

1 comment June 8, 2010

Belonging

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.

Add a comment December 22, 2009

Cheri

The movie Cheri starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea de Lonval and Kathy Bates as Madame Peloux was an awful failure in my opinion. Based on the book Cheri by Colette it focuses on a love affair between the fifty-something year old Lea and the young twentyish son of Madame Peloux, Cheri, played by Rupert Friend.

Set in the early twentieth century of Europe the location shots are sumptuous and beautiful. Michelle, Kathy and cast were lucky to have the privilege of living in such beauty, even if only for a little while. Aside from the unconvincing performances by both Kathy and Michelle, the actual story was superficial and trivial. I have not read the book Cheri by Colette and so can’t really compare the two in terms of depth of story and environment; however the era of the famous salons of France was exceptional in their pursuit of intellegence, ideas, enlightenment, and liberty. This attitude formed the backbone of the liberties with which these women lived their lives as courtesans. To gain popularity and stature in this community, women needed to have intelligence and the ability to hold ones end in a debate on sophisticated social issues. There was absolutely none of this in this movie. Such a missed opportunity.

I can only think that this movie would have been so much better in the French language, and indeed made by the French themselves. They must cringe at this English language portrayal.

Add a comment August 5, 2009

France at last

Me on ferry on The Channel 2008

 As an Australian with only one vague family connection with France this growing “homesickness” that I had been feeling for years was inexplicable. My only words of French were as a high school student. My only visit to a French community was to New Caledonia for 8 days in 1974 with my French class. And yet the older I got the stronger this yearning to go to France became. I know of others who feel this same strange pull towards France.

So we landed at Calais then immediately drove to Amsterdam and out of France. Our bus tour was to take us to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy before we were scheduled to visit France. A fantastic trip for sure but too fast to soak in the atmosphere. I was merely a tourist; one of thousands; following the tourist trail like mindless sheep in a production line. Nevertheless it was still fantastic.

 

We arrive in France via Nice and stay on the Cote d”Azur for 2 nights; then to Lyon and Paris. We stopped at the medieval hilltop town of Saint Paul de Vence and I begin to fall in love. By the time I am in Beaune I am cocooned in a veil of bliss; I feel like I have fallen in love. The yearning is fulfilled and the Frenchness has penetrated my soul leaving me smiling with joy. What is this? How can it be? C’est quoi exactement? In Nice I see the modern library building modeled to represent a human head and understand and appreciate the design immediately. Other cultures would think of the idea but only the French would build it. In Paris I go to the cabaret and laugh until I cry at the antics of a comedian acrobat. I have not laughed like this for perhaps 30 years. I get their humour. I agree with their reluctance to speak English because French is a beautiful language so why should they be expected to speak English in their own land? I attempt my high school French wholeheartedly and make no apologies for my halting mistakes. At least I try and realise I would quickly pick it up were I to stay longer. If only I could stay longer!

 

Me at Le Louvre in Paris 2008

Me at Le Louvre in Paris 2008

We visit Le Louvre, Versailles, and Le Tour Eiffel but too soon we leave France and return to London and then Australia. Was it a dream? I have not experienced Paris at all. I will have to return. But I realise I won’t be back there again for a long time; if ever. So my plan is to bring something of France, however small, into my life here in Australia. This blog and my accociated wiki are to be the vehicles for that quest.

 

 

 

Add a comment October 30, 2008

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