My first rendezvous with Paris blossomed into a lasting love affair, carving an indelible mark on my mind, body, and soul. Few cities are as fabulous as the City of Light, and over the years, many, including artists, writers, and actors have tried and hoped to capture its essence. (Ref)
Our Journey in France comes to an end but the love affair continues….
As we speed through the French countryside on the Euro Rail to Paris, we say good bye to our 7 weeks spent in the South of France. I have learned much from this French journey and our rural village. Upon reflection I realise that France is a nation steeped in history and war. From that has come a solid sense of who they are as a people and how they should live. Their approach to life can be mistaken for nonchalance but it overlays a deep sense of community and a calm respect for time.
Time to spend with family and friends, time to eat meals together, time to walk and ride, time to sit in a bar over an espresso chatting at the end of the day and time to enjoy life. This then of course reflects our crazy pace of life which had my husband wondering why? Why do we work as hard as we do, why are we so time poor?
For instance, yesterday afternoon I bumped into Marie from the Art Association. Marie and her husband were walking arm in arm through the village square. They would be in their late 70’s. We smiled and nodded our Bonn Soir’s (Good Afternoon) which is about all we understood. After a bit of miming she informed me that they were ‘promenading’. Together they were going on their evening walk. I bumped into them about an hour later and they were sitting in the setting sun with about 6 other village elders chatting and cackling with laughter. They are found in this spot most evenings when it is not too cold. Village life meant that instead of sitting at home alone they could venture out and connect at the end of the day with their peers.
Oh how I longed for my father to be in a similar situation. I knew that the quality of his 87 years and the length of his days would be vastly improved if he could chat each evening with a group of friends and promenade in the twilight. Instead, he sits alone in his rural expanse with his wife who cannot drive. They are isolated and alone.
In Autignac we wake, eat, come and go to the sound of the bells. Each morning the core of the village collect at the Cafe for a morning espresso, maybe only for 20 min but they all say good morning, do a crossword, read the paper and then go on about their day after they have collected fresh bread and croissants from Stephanie at the patisserie.
At lunch the cafe opens for a three course meal. Lunch in France is strictly between 12 – 1.30pm. Even the children break from school between 12 and 2pm to come home for lunch. At 5:30 the cafe de Commerce opens again and everyone pops in on the way home from work for a Rose’ or cafe’.
The French live in very small apartment, usually two or three stories high and usually inherited. They are also all very old. Very rarely you will see a house on a block of land and only then in a rural setting unless you own a Chateau or a Mansion! They don’t need land of their own, that is a strange concept. They have parks and village squares where all the children come to play and parents come to promenade, push prams and chat whilst the children play and kick a soccer ball.
In Paris, the parks are very large and have many amenities like pony rides, chess sets, card tables, roasted chestnuts in winter and glazes in summer. The elderly come to play chess and feed the pigeons and laugh at the small children. There are often ponds and lakes for the children to sail small boats and miles and miles of pathways for scooters, skateboards, skates and bikes. Play time is community time for everyone every day.
I think a lot of the blame for our anxiety in Australia as a Nation lies at the feet of the ‘Great Australian Dream” – To own our own home. What this has done has caused a huge urban sprawl which in turn means we have to drive miles and miles to get anywhere. We no longer live in small communities, the elderly are shipped off to nursing homes, we barely know our neighbours, we barely eat lunch and the working day gets longer and longer to pay for the dream that is isolating us and causing us to be so time poor. We don’t want smaller! We want bigger and more and this consumer mentality has caused us to be anxious and isolated. This isolation makes us draw back from people. The French are exquisitely polite, almost formal and very engaging when it comes to language. You would never dream of entering a shop or bumping into someone without saying Good morning, or good afternoon, or good evening. Then you say thank you for everything, several times and goodbye several times.
E.G.: After a purchase of a coffee: Thank you Madame, Thank you very much as you are paying. “Good bye and Good afternoon” Then “Thank you – Good Bye”. Just to leave the shop.
Having a smaller apartment means that there is not much room to have people over so you meet in cafes and bars and parks. This means that you don’t have to worry about image or how clean the house is you just go out. It also means a smaller earth footprint. Most people walk or ride bikes everywhere so they are fitter and the children are playing outdoors with other children so are active and don’t spend as much time in front of a TV.
One of the greatest joys on my trip to Paris last September was to see throngs of children, parents, prams and dogs all making their way to meet at the park in the afternoon. Some carry skates, some balls, some had bikes, hoops and scooters. Skipping and marching in small groups to the park. Calls ringing out Bonjour! How are you today? Kisses in greeting, two kisses of course on each cheek.
Even language and food reside around time. There are different questions around what fruit to buy. Do you want to eat it now, tonight or tomorrow? Not many people would buy food weekly. Firstly there is no where to store the food or bulk purchases in tiny apartments. Secondly food should be eaten fresh not kept indefinitely. Bread is purchased and eaten daily – only what you need. This means that there is not much waste because food is bought and consumed immediately. Not like me who does a weekly shop, guessing what I need and at the end of the week I am left with vegetables that I forgot that I had or dip that we never used which all ends up in the bin. Also France has made it illegal for supermarkets to throw out food that is past use by date. It all has to go to charity. It is a no bin policy.
I particularly love their appreciation of art. Great care is taken just to display fruit and vegetables. I mean come on how amazing is this? Taken in Saint Germain.
So upon reflection upon my return to Melbourne I will endeavour to: scale down possessions and things, purchase fresh food only when I need it, meet friends out more rather than not at all because I can’t be bothered cleaning or cooking. We have already downsized our house and I would never have a big home again. I just spent my days cleaning it. I hope to walk more, to slow down at meal times and to be more engaging and more polite instead of head down and keeping to myself in the shops.
Who knows, it may be a bunch of mid-year resolutions but I will try to be a little more French. I am sure that you could tell me many negatives about France and the French, but at the moment I am in love and love is blind. xxx Lisa.
“… you’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.” E. Bucchianeri