Tag Archives: France

The smell of dry leaves

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Autumn has crept it. Or barged in. It’s so difficult to say this year…

Three weeks ago, we had 29°C in the shadows, a bright blue sky above, not a gust of wind – full summer in October!

Today, we had 1.5°C this morning… and a bright blue sky above and just a little breeze. It looks like summer… until you step outside – and then it feels like winter.

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I remember, when I was a kid, autumn was associated with clouds, drizzles, occasional storms, and coolish temperatures (around 12°C).

Feeling sleepy earlier.

Snuggling up and reading a book next to the fire in the real-stone chimney in the living room.

Opening chestnut burs with my sneakers and coming back home with a plastic bag full of them. Letting them dry in a wooden crate in the attic, getting rid every day of the ones eaten by a worm.

Running on the dunes with eyes wide open at the gigantic waves crashing on the rocky coastline.

Shuffling my feet in the dry brown leaves, wishing I would have the sharp eyes of my grandparents, who would never fail to spot a boletus (an amazing mushroom).

Unidentified mushroom – I also wish I had the encyclopedic knowledge of my grandfather!

Fallen leaves in a pond – Cevennes

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Things change, don’t they?

While temperatures have fallen sharply and chestnut burs cover the ground, I still feel in an in-between season. The transition between summer has either been too slow (no change of weather, no rain), too fast (25+°C drop), or slightly normal (the fruits & leaves falling).

In a background part of my mind, I feel confused. Which season is this?

The only thing that will never change, in a way, is the shorter time we have of daylight every day. The sunlight has been magnificent these last 2 weeks. Horizontal, hiding, subtle, golden.

I am in love with light.

Even on this picture, taken at 10.30am, you can see how horizontal the light is…

Light… That was actually the reminder. We are in autumn. Getting up in the morning is more difficult, even when you got your usual amount of sleep. Your body goes into sleeping mode before dinner.

Snuggling next to the fire still feels like the best thing ever.

Chestnuts are still as difficult to open.

You still feel grateful at the amazing light offered by a one-hour sunrise.

In the end, things don’t change that much…

Dry leaves, fire, chestnuts and acorns, the crisp cold in the morning.

I love autumn :)

Moss and leaves – Huelgoat forest

Acorns by the thousands

Old couple’s walk in the low light of mid-afternoon – Huelgoat forest

For the smile of a Roma

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I saw her from afar, and I knew what was coming. As I drew nearer, I stole a glance at her. She was sitting directly on the cobblestones, in a black dress, a colorful scarf wrapped around her head. Maybe in her 50s? It was difficult to say at a single glance.

It is the glance that singled me out though, in the crowd of passers-by. She looked up and called out with a smile in her voice: “Bonjour mademoiselle !” (Hello miss). I threw a quick uneasy smile back and walked away, in shame.

I had decided. I knew I wanted to get to know the homeless & the beggars of my own country. To make a connection, to give money whenever I had coins in my wallet. To give them a smile and a human connection, as I do with the homeless in Kuala Lumpur.

And yet, at the first sight of the “confrontation”, I shied away. And, as before, as most French people do, I gave myself the same old excuses. “She is a Roma.” “She belongs to a mafia-style group.” “The money is not going to her, she will have to give it to someone else at the end of her day.”

I walked to the corner of the street… and stopped. That was not me. Seriously? What was I doing? In my own country…

I took a 50ct coin out of my wallet and turned back.

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Beggars see people every day, they look at passers-by’s face all the time in the hope of catching their eyes. As soon as she saw me, she recognized me. Or maybe it’s my skirt, flying everywhere as usual, that drew her eyes. She watched me coming back, a smile on her face.

“Merci, c’est gentil” (Thank you, it’s nice)

I gave her the coin.

And it was not enough. I wanted to talk to her. I had nothing to say. I went ahead, feeling stupid at the generalities I was giving in the hope of creating the connection.

“Do you stay here all day long?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh wow, time must feel so long sometimes.”

The stupidities we can say too often…

“Where are you from?”

“Romania.”

I could only sigh. I knew, and I knew the difficulty of her life here.

“Good luck, I hope everything will be fine.”

“Thank you, it’s really nice.”

She had such a musical voice, full of kindness, just the slight trace of a foreign accent.

She sounded like a mother.

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I walked away, smiling, feeling lighter, knowing I had done the right thing… and yet something was amiss. This random connection had not been complete, I felt unfulfilled.

And while I was walking on the cobblestones, under the sun, wondering what it was (Too small a coin? Not enough time talking? Should have I sit with her?), it suddenly felt really important. What was I missing?

I stopped on the next Square, settled in a corner & watched people go on their life, thoughts floating in my head.

And then it struck.

I wanted to ask her for forgiveness.

I wanted to say sorry for all the horrible things my country is doing to Romas, for the way France is treating them, for the random deportations, for the racism, for the families separated, for…

That’s when I started to cry, in the middle of Rennes, feeling empty inside.

The sun kept on shining above…

Finding France back in my garden

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A few steps out of the airplane, and France greets you in a most fitting fashion. A passport control, 10m out of the plane gates, conducted by two fully uniformed policemen. You observe them and, in an almost absent-minded way, a song plays in your mind. “La France est un pays de flics. A tous les coins de rue, il y en a 100.” (France is a country of cops. At every street corner, there will be 100 of them).

Welcome in France!  Welcomed by policemen, what are the vibes I got? What were the symbols they conveyed? Lack of trust, need for safety barriers, a police state, and a rejection of foreigners. They are just symbols, but they were there.

A fitting welcome, indeed.


Every time I come back to France, sights jump at me. Things I had forgotten, things I had always overlooked, suddenly stand out against the background of familiarity. Why are tree leaves already brown by mid-September, when the temperatures are still warm? Why is the sunrise light taking so long to give way to the “full day” light? Why do people answer in French when I talk English to them? (I love this part!)

People strike me. My first thought was “Oh my god, French people look so French!” Obvious, you would say? It was actually just the first overlook of the crowd, when this familiar mix of French features could be found on so many faces.

And then you start taking into account this whole melting pot around you. Every time, I rediscover it. Brittany is a peninsula, isolated, with its own people and culture. We’re mainly white crepes-eating Christians. The Parisian crowd is, by contrast, so heteroclite. So many black people. So many Maghrebi. So many Middle East features. So many Asians. So many white faces with a few foreign accents.  So much diversity…

I sit on my small sit as the subway rolls its way towards Montparnasse train station, and I stare. I smile at the obvious habits, at the gossips exchanged between friends, at the sleepy eyes on the way to work. French people have a special way of speaking, something so familiar and yet slightly irritating to me. I guess it’s just this stupid teenager-like rejection feeling that speaks in me. But, while I used to put a barrier between me & “the others” around me, I now look at them with compassion and a feeling of connection. Staying in Asia has made me a better person already.

Finding familiarity in the unfamiliar, finding unfamiliarity in the familiar. I don’t know what it is anymore. But I can’t help smiling at this feeling of rediscovery of what is somehow still mine. At the people that are still, somehow, my own.

Come on the journey. I’ll make you discover France through my renewed eyes.


Brittany countryside flashing by the train windows

Clear blue skies above and the church of my village

The roof is full of lichen & moss as the village office doesn’t spend much money on it anymore.

In an increasingly atheist country, villages have new priorities.

National dish in Brittany: crepes…

… and they always come with cider. Always :)


Snapshots of my “What…?” moments:

– Staring at a plug on the wall, wondering where the plug switch went. We don’t switch off/on plugs here…

– Hitting the wall 5 times before finding the light switch. They are about 30cm lower than in Malaysia.

– Wondering why the sunrise light lasts from 7 to 9am, instead of just 30min.

– “Hi, could I get a cappucino?” “Oh… Heu, oui, bien sûr, mais attendez un moment, je ne sais pas les faire, je vais demander à mon collègue.” “Errr… Ok?”

– Thinking a road in my village is now a one-way street because I saw a car driving on the “wrong” side of the road…

– Discovering that croissants bought at my local bakery are about 12x better than the ones bought anywhere in Malaysia :)

– Witnessing the constant change of light & weather in the sky. The wind is so strong up there that coton-fluffy clouds race by. Low dark gray blankets of mist give way to radiant blue skies.

– French people don’t feel comfortable with hugs… *big disappointed face* They give you a distant hug while trying to kiss you on the cheek at the same time.

– It’s 14°C (morning & evening) to 19°C (afternoon). Rainy, sunny, windy, all together.

– Banks open only 4.5 days a week (closed on Monday & Saturday afternoon), and close by 4.30pm. Lazy useless people. Yeah, I have a grudge against my bank. They steal too much of my money.

– Motorbikes are 50cc with miniature wheels, or full-sized big ones. No 100-125cc… And they always come with a baby-face teenager :p

– News on the radio in the morning are only local crime & incidents. Depressing much at 8am!

– Crepes are the best dish ever in the whole world. I withdraw any comparison I might have made with tosai :)

Acorns. Autumn is coming :)