My name is Elizabeth. I moved to France in July 2019 from the United Kingdom. I've always wanted to live in France, but Brexit gave me the excuse to get on with it. No country is perfect. France like most other European countries has its problems, but right now it is good for me.
This is my love letter to France.
I became infatuated with the country after a school trip in 1973. Although the French town we visited was a mere 30 or 40 miles from the south coast of England, it struck the 13 year old me as exotic, extraordinary and distinctly foreign.
French culture offered alternatives to the things that defined my 1970s home counties village life. Cricket greens, ploughmans, Girl Guides, Sunday roasts, Sunday school, my otherness and the Thames estuary-ness of my preposterous, riverside, half-Jamaican, fatherless childhood.
At home in England, as a mixed-race child, I always felt as if I were looking in. On the edge, never quite of it, but nevertheless, unbeknownst to the deniers, profoundly of it. It was an uncomfortable way to grow up. I remain perplexed today by those contradictions.
The school trip took us to Rotheneuf in Brittany, close to St. Malo. Not far from my home in Essex.
I felt like a Martian might feel on visiting Venus. France seemed beautiful, but offered an alien atmosphere that for survival, required a very different DNA, a different way of breathing. But I had that DNA and I believed I could breathe without assistance.
Whilst in Rotheneuf with my school friends, my close friend Jane (we were both flautists in the school orchestra) became infatuated with a French teenage boy called Jean-Luc.
I ended up being left to chat with his friend Antoine. It turned out well and we enjoyed our time together. Antoine was clever, freckled and anxious to speak English. I do remember his surname, but won't write it here.
After my holiday we wrote to each other, for about a year. He was a bit older than me and probably liked having a pen-friend with whom to practice his English. When I met him as a 13 year old girl, he was already 17 and in his first year at university in Rouen studying medicine.
I typed his name into Google recently and discovered he runs cancer research for France now. Good old Antoine.
After that I visited the south of France, close to Biarritz, again with the school in 1976. That was a wonderfully fragrant holiday and I'll never forget the openness of the locals and the spontaneity of their hospitality.
That holiday was the first time I ever felt that the colour of my skin did not precede me. Perhaps the French I met were all intelligent people who didn't discriminate, or more likely I just didn't understand what they were saying. Either way, the result was that I didn't feel singled out.
That period is wrapped up in memories of nectarine orchards, searing heat, cool stone houses whose primeval scent reminded me of everything past, yet nothing, dusty roads and swimming pools.
My love of the French language started with my French teacher, Monique. A liberated, intellectual Parisienne who taught me how to appreciate beauty and how to withstand the loneliness of a solitary childhood.
I went on to do an 'A' level in French due to her influence. But I never used it much in my job.
I'd started reading Dennis Wheatley novels as a teenager because I discovered some were were set in the South of France. Although he wrote about terrifying things like the occult and devil worship, I found that I could put up with the slew of debauchery and ritual sacrifice if it meant I could vicariously experience France.
When I was 27, I left the UK to work in Ferney-Voltaire, a border town in France that is a couple of miles from Switzerland, and within easy reach of Italy.
On my first night there, I was asked to attend a team meeting in a Geneva. Geneva is intriguing. Old money, old style, and the faint memory of second world war complicity permeates everything.
Geneva maintains a stasis of safety, with an undercurrent of James Bondesque elegance and quiet, dinner jacketed, roulette table risk. With the United Nations, world conferences, political unions, Expos, and veneer of Glasnost, you get the feeling that everything will all be alright just so long as you keep up the pretence that everything will be alright.
So, in late 1987, I arrived at Geneva airport with my suitcase, and took a taxi to my hotel; the Hotel de France in Ferney.
Outside the hotel, I put my suitcase down and stopped for a moment to consider the landscape. In the dark, the picturesque but functional Alpine town, circled by magnificent snow-capped mountains appeared, in the icelight to be both awful and inviting.
The understated intensity of this place was palpable, and at that moment I panicked and wanted to go back to London.
I quickly got changed and jumped back into a taxi and asked to be taken to the restaurant I'd been instructed to turn up at, Les Armures in Geneva's Old Town.
At the restaurant, a beautiful place with gracious waiters and flickering candle lit corners, I was greeted by my new colleagues. They were a group of French and British software engineers of all ages. Russell, a young Scot was one of them and to cut a long story short, we later got married.
I think I've been trying to be in France all my life and it's taken me a very long time to finally arrive.
Apart from the summaries on the blog page, and my responses to any comments I receive in English, this will be the only English text on this site. Let's see if I can improve my French.
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