Thursday, September 4, 2008


I'm navigating the treacherous waters of French bureaucracy. Next year I become eligible for two small pensions as a result of the years that I worked there. No doubt this partly accounts for the current bout of nostalgia.

Lots of forms to be completed. In French. Amazing that I had the wit to keep all the documents that are being photocopied and sent to Yannick at the Centre Nationale d'Assurance Vieillesse over there in Tours. Twenty years ago the idea that I might ever need a pension simply didn't enter my head. Growing old? Moi?

I went to France looking for a fix. I came back without one. No denouements, just a melancholy petering out. Much of the story isn't for the blog. Yet it was a rich time.
  • All that travel. It came - unexpectedly - with the second job and continued into the third and final one. I wrote about one trip here.
  • The piercing, damp cold. Mornings of freezing fog, the cobbles slippery and treacherous with black ice.
  • Small children speaking French. Totally delightful. Normally I'm not a huge fan of small children.
  • The river on hot summer nights. No wind. The lights from the Ile de la Cite and the Ile St Louis reflected, shimmering. Shouts and laughter echoing faintly across the water.
  • The local boulangerie, and the seemingly ever-smiling femme du boulanger who served behind the counter.
  • The question: C'est pour offrir, madame? (Is this a present?) If the answer was yes, the just-purchased flowers, or the chocolates, would be wrapped beautifully, with pride and care, the whole thing finished off with a ribbon. Part of the service.
  • The sound of the dustmen in the street below c. 6am. daily. My alarm clock. Jacques Dutronc's Il est cinq heures Paris s'eveille describes these early mornings well. Good song. The lyrics are here.
  • Jurgen, the Austrian painter. Big and brawny and shy, he drank like a fish and produced light-filled paintings of pale yellow and gold. For a long time I was smitten.
  • Waterlilies. The vast Monet canvasses at the Musee Marmottan.
  • The whole beautiful, ugly, achingly lonely, dirty, frightening, marvellous city. Home to an international ragbag of seekers, looking for something we couldn't find where we came from.
  • Mme R, in her 80s, my voisine d'etage, who took both my hands in hers when I knocked on her door to say goodbye the night before my final departure. The van was loaded and we were leaving for England early the following day. We embraced and her eyes were filled with tears.

I'm just visible in the photo at the window on the second floor of the building on the right hand side of the road above the car parked on the pavement.

A part of this story fades with each day, the memories thin and friable, curling at the edges.


This morning, after rain, the scent of lavender hangs in the air. The pale orange berries of the rowan tree are wet and shiny, the leaves a burnished red-brown.

A sense of optimism. In spite of it all. Because of it all. Glad to be here.


Dale said...

I was surprised when you first mentioned how much time you'd spent in France. But then I thought of how you remind me (in a number of lovely ways) of a number of your countrywomen who wandered over there for a considerable time: there's something missing in England that people find in France, and bring back with them: what? A delicacy? A willingness to yearn? I'm not sure it's something that the French have themselves; it's not as simple as that. But it was easy to place you, in my mind's eye, in that city of exiles.

herhimnbryn said...

Good words mm. Do you have any of the Austrian's paintings?

Sky said...

I love reading the little bits and pieces about your life in France which you have written recently. I hope some day you will write more about these days, little details of life as you knew it there, the romance and the loneliness of the city, the searching for a new life, for love, etc. It is all fascinating to imagine and would be so interesting to read.

How exciting to find you are eligible for these small pensions - who can't use extra money?! Wish I'd run across a new source of income here! :)

Your writing about the morning brings my own awareness of the wet fall mornings we have. Sometimes I purposefully walk too close to our lavender plants just to force the entrancing scent into the air. This weekend we harvested 20 or more bunches of stemmed flowers to make pomanders for closets and drawers.

So glad you are happy there! :))

mm said...

Dale. I agree. In my mid twenties Paris did seem like the promised land and being an exile seemed to suit. I would say though that there is something missing in Anglo Saxon culture, rather than just in England. The city seemed to be home to a very large number of American expats as well .. :-)

HHB: Alas no! I've had a google around and can't find anything on line either.

Sky: Thank you. Who knows, I may write some more. Personal blogging is such an intuitive thing.
I'm more than grateful for the bit of extra cash. The sterling/euro exchange rate is unfavourable right now but these things are always changing .....

Dick said...

As a francophile and a son of francophiles, this was a delight to read. Such is the atmosphere evoked, I feel nostalgic from another's experiences!

mm said...

Dick: I had picked up that you are francophile .... :-)