So here I am in Provence- Provy! Vence to the Pro, the Pro Vo. Am I really in the south of France? Is that really dog poo on every pavement? Sometimes I just need to pinch myself.
So here we are living La vie Provencal, the path most trodden, the beaten track, the ex pat dream. Éguilles to be precise. How Éguilles is pronounced is beyond my family and I as each Aixois (Ex wah) and everybody local to it pronounces it differently. So I am going to make it up too (makes sense considering I speak Franglaise anyway) How will I remember my version? Well it’s simple “Eggwee”.
So to bring you up to speed… mum and I arrived in France, with mum remarking as an aside, by the baggage carousel, “You know they lost your dad’s bag here in Marseilles”. Almost on cue, having just made a point of rebuking mum for, I conceded, ‘looking at the glass half empty’, the carousel halts suddenly and we are ushered quite rudely “Allez allez and other French words” into a small room to be told that Mum’s suitcase is still in Amsterdam… great (“I told you”). So we see Dad, give the airport peeps the address to our new crib (should that be basonette?) and are told a courier will deliver it tonight or tomorrow. Dad had picked us up in mum’s German registered car so we arrive in Éguilles and the Gendarmerie pull us over and ask to breathalyse my dad… so as well as being suitcase-less hobos (well mum anyway) Dad is presumed to be a German, beer swilling drink-driving tourist. Bienvenue en France. We arrive to many boxes and a house, that appears on first impression, to be where hornets come to buzz derangedly, breathe their last breath and die….
I will concede the house is a beautiful house. It is, we have decided, somebody (somewhere's) dream house…. Mum originally ventured it was very 80s style but I recognised this was a move/jet-lag hazed concession, as the Provence daylight streamed through the house we realised that was a tad generous… 60s or 70s was far more realistic and blindingly accurate. Though it is what I will call a 60s/70s/21st century mash-up, if you will. To be fair it has brand new windows and modern bedrooms, electric blinds outside but then upstairs hallways lined with hessian wallpaper, a peach bathroom suite and a fold up, battered, pull out of a faux drawer ironing board as part of the (decidedly less than modern) kitchen units. Mostly when the French move they have the gumption to take their kitchen with them, I can’t imagine what possessed them to leave this one behind!
The landlady, a friendly wealthy lady, is very well preserved– to see her you wouldn’t believe she was in her eighties (it was at this moment I realised I could quickly learn to love this Provençal life) bless her she spoke V-E-R-Y slowly to us in French (well you would wouldn’t you?!) when instructing us that the blind guys were coming (I was shocked days later, when caught half naked, to realise they had come to fit the blinds!) Jokes! She enunciated as one would with a young (read: after school special) child “Lundi” got it “midi” yep “blah blah French words, more French words, déranger” got it- Monday, midday, deranged. A shake of the hand, smiles, smiles, waves and an“Au revoir!” and off she went. Luckily Mum’s school French was beginning to kick in, ‘déranger’, she recalled, meant ‘won’t disturb’. Well, phew, thank goodness for that I was not ready for a mad axe-wielding maniac to come on Monday at midday… heck I am only truly waking up at that time, after my third cuppa.
Mum’s errant suitcase turned up the following day as we were unpacking the muh-huh-huh-hany boxes. As he drove away she said the young French man who delivered it was very nice looking and polite and said I should have gone out to get the suitcase, somehow (through only a mother's set of eyes) she overlooked how the purple jogpants and mustard yellow hoody, that I had clearly donned in the dark, would not have had the desired, ‘look at me aren't I gorgeous’ effect she would desire or had him falling over himself to ask me out for escargot and frog legs in s-l-o-w enunciated French.
A few days in and I start to familiarise myself with the beautiful city that is Aix-en-Provence, affectionately called Aix, pronounced as in ‘X’ marks the spot – not Aix as in ‘aches and pains’. I have navigated my way to the town on the bus (when we didn’t have a printer my dad drew me a very good little map to the bus-stop so I looked like a right saddo) I started ambitiously with “Bonjour monsieur, ca va? Ca va bien merci, Je m'appelle Louise! Je voudrais un billet pour Aix s’il vous plait” which I then shortened to ‘Aix’ and now I have a bus pass it is merely “bonjour”- but only if the driver says it first.
As for my French, it is being dragged along quite begrudgingly, thank you. I got pulled (like teeth) into a conversation in an art gallery within my first week, the man was clearly an 80s lover (I failed to notice this as immediately as I should have) I hadn’t the heart or advanced French language skills to tell him I loved the 80s but it was a haze of care bears, my little ponies, happy eater, games in the playground and playing in the park. I also suspect that somehow blustering “J’aime mon petit ponies et bears de care” miming swinging on a swing, running around and eating hamburgers just wouldn’t have cut it…
This man, on learning I was English, wanted absolutely nothing (in the world) more than to wax lyrical about 80s music, focussing predominantly on British 80s music (naturally). I dusted off the 80s music files of my mind, conjured up images of me dancing in front of the TV in my underwear to Diana Ross’s ‘Stop in the name of love’ on Top of the pops (once I had got over the gripping fear that if I could see people on TV they could see me too) This man spoke little English and as you know from reading the above my French is tres de base to say the very least (which is as much as I try to say in French) so the conversation sounded very much like “frenchy frenchy french french, Nik Kershaw, french french french, Phil Collins, french french, Peter Gabriel, french, frenchness, frenchy, frenchier Duran Duran french french FOR-MI-DABLE!!” He then stumped me by asking me a question in English… I awoke at this point to search the archives of my mind. I cannot for the life of me remember the question but I do distinctly recall the, right I will have you know, answer I gave was 'Kim Wilde'- well why wouldn’t it be? (Geez, where do I pull this stuff from?) moral of this story learn French (and mental notes: brush up on your 80s pop music and avoid art gallery in park)
On the quest to learn French (subliminally and in my sleep) I have, of course, established myself at an international church and am sure to surround myself with Anglophones (read American, British, Aussie and South African) who, of course, speak English. Number one most asked question is whether I speak French followed by how long have I been here? (the second is usually in response to the negative answer to the first question) Now, at this time, there is an -albeit forced- level of acceptance, I bet they’ll be a tad less forgiving and way more judgemental when I proffer the answers ‘ummm un petit peu and 2 years’.
The bonuses to living in a multicultural city with a large student population has meant I fit in perfectly as a student (which I am not) most people I have met have asked what I study and I gracefully answer how old I am not and then go on to explain I have moved here with my parents -just to throw them off scent (lest they learn I lived a retired life when really I should be working or at least contributing to society, not lounging about Roman-esque streets supping coffee and catching up with friends who include many students and stay at home mums)….
The temptation of course is to start making up seemingly ridiculous course names next time I am asked what I study… ‘80s pop music majoring in Madonna’ ‘The out and out religious extravagance of the hugonauts’ ‘Berets and their immense effect on French economics’ ‘The workings of a French man’s mind- intensive course’ or ‘Advanced French literature with a focus on le chat dans le chapeau by Doctor Seuss’
That is you, my faithful blog reader (singular), up to speed. Although I would like to add (boast) that an unusual and a rather fortunate bragworthy twist of good fortune meant that my third and fourth weekend after arriving, were spent in gorgeous Châteaus nestled in the stunning French countryside. Naturally, as myself and two other Brits stood in a high ceiling-ed castle, in a drawing room with a grandiose fireplace we breathed in, exhaled in unison and together exclaimed “I feel right at home” (thus further perpetuating the myth that all English people live in stately homes)