The Saga of Starting Afresh in the Old Country

I’ve moaned about it whenever I had a fasciculi(?) of internet connection. I’ve gone all dark and dramatic, hinting at technological conspiracies and unfinished business involving trained assassins sent by the French tax authorities. I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of utility companies, local councils, applications for local schools and goods damaged in transit.

So yes, I think you might have gathered that I’ve moved between countries and that I’ve not gone quietly or elegantly.

The carnival of moving...
The carnival of moving…

After 12 international moves and having lived in 20-30 different houses or flats over the years (I’m not counting the places I have lived in for 2 months or less), I have the feeling I never want to move again. Nomadism is for young people, I tell myself. So much easier to do with a couple of suitcases (filled with books and shoes, naturally) than with children, furniture, kitchen ware and everything else.

I know other people’s house moves are deadly boring, but bear with me for one last whinge and I promise afterwards to turn forevermore to reading and other, more interesting and intellectual occupations.

Low points:

  • Leaving a very beautiful location before I was quite ready to let go
  • Moving to an older, more decrepit house which requires quite a bit of renovation (for which I don’t have the money). The first time I touched the kitchen drawer, the front came apart in my hands. Finding all sorts of little things wrong with the house after 3 sets of tenants in 5 years.
  • Not having phone or internet for 2 weeks or more – and realising that you can’t apply for or order things if you don’t have a phone number
  • Not being able to find the most important stuff, while finding pretty much all the useless stuff which you should have thrown out before moving
  • Not having enough UK plugs or adaptors. Remembering they are up in the loft somewhere but being unable to find them in the forest of boxes quietly crumbling away up there. Learning to live once more with unmixed taps.

unmixed

  • No storage space to unpack all the boxes and therefore no easy access to clothes and other items. (Those built-in wardrobes in France covered a multitude of sins).
  • The first time I plugged in my laptop in the UK, it died. Same thing with my tablet. I also had to get a new phone. So that meant no writing, reading, tweeting or administrating … because yes, I couldn’t remember my passwords and I had to log on from other people’s devices and I must have been driving everyone (including myself) crazy with finding quirky new ways to prove my identity.
  • Starting to look for permanent positions in my field and realising that I will be sacrificing either my time and soul or else money (and my children’s welfare) doing work I no longer quite believe in.
  • Being really tired all the time and anxious about losing track of something important

But it’s not all noir (despite my fondness for the dark side). There have been some highlights too:

  • Our friends in the local area are very excited to have us back and have made us feel very welcome. There are advantages to moving back to a familiar place rather than somewhere completely new.
  • We are close to London and I’ve already had a wonderful day there, watching ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the National Theatre, and mooching around on the South Bank. After years of living in a rural backwater, you can’t help but be energised by London’s cultural life and metropolitan vibe (as long as you avoid rush hour, of course).

London

  • The countryside is close by if you do get tired of the city, and we are fortunate enough to live in quite a pretty area, reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows. Best of both worlds!
Finding Mr. Toad and his motor again at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
Finding Mr. Toad and his motor again at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
  • It’s so easy to set up services, complain about things and do all the administrative twaddle in English rather than French. I feel I actually know what I’m talking about!
  • Being reunited with old possessions (I am referring, of course, mainly to books, but also my elephant collection or my children’s early artworks and photographs).
  • Closer to publishers, literary events, English language bookshops and libraries. My children nearly fainted with excitement at seeing a whole library full of books in English, instead of just the 1-2 shelves they would see in the local libraries in France.

Still, for the time being, this is how I feel most evenings…

After her long road trip, our cat collapsed in her new home, in the conservatory.
After her long road trip, our cat collapsed in her new home, in the conservatory.

Getting Your Priorities Right: Moving a Library

The most important part of the moving process (other than the emotional impact on the children and the cat) was the library. How do you weed out the books you simply must take back to the UK? You may think it’s easy. After all, it’s a case of moving from less to more…

Shelves in France - just two.
Shelves in France – just two.
Shelves in England: three and a half. Still Billy, of course.
Shelves in England: three and a half. Still Billy, of course.

But that does not take into account the books I had double-shelved or set in careful piles on the floor and the filing cabinet. ‘You do have a lot of books…’ sighed the removal men (and I don’t think it was wistfulness I detected in their voices).

I did donate some to the local libraries in France, but I ended up with many more than I had originally come with to France. As any book loverwill understand. So somehow, all of the contents of these boxes…

Boxes1

…have to find a home in the new house. Yes, the study might be bigger here…

Boxes2

… but did I mention that I have twice as many books in the loft, waiting to be rehoused together with their more travelled cousins?

After a week or two of utter panic (not finding the legs for the desk, not opening the right boxes, laptop dying and then the e-reader/tablet dying, I finally managed to get things somewhat presentable (though not arranged yet according to subject, language and other esoteric criteria).

ArrangedShelves

Time to be reunited with some old friends from the loft.

REunited

Sadly, my copies of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and ‘Vile Bodies’ seem to have suffered from some warping in their box in the loft. But I have Jean Rhys’ unfinished autobiography ‘Smile Please’ to read for Jean Rhys Reading Week and Barbara Pym’s diaries and letters, as well as Dostoyevsky and other Russians (short story writers) to keep me company. Plus a few of my favourite children’s books, which I brought back with me from Romania: Arthur Ransome, Paul Berna and Eleanor Farjeon’s collection of stories ‘The Little Bookroom’.

There is more digging to be done, as well as more writing and reading, but for now, this was just a post to let you know my books and I are alive and well.

 

 

Friday Fun: Farewell, Ferney and Voltaire!

We leave this weekend. Here’s a pictorial goodbye to Ferney, Voltaire and a few of my favourite local places. I will now be offline for several weeks.

The Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, from EPFL website.
The Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, from EPFL website.
On the banks of Lake Divonne in autumn.
On the banks of Lake Divonne in autumn.
The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden of Vaulx
Spring on the lake.
Spring on the lake.
Voltaire's shady path, lined with trees planted by himself.
Voltaire’s shady path, lined with trees planted by himself. Apparently, Gogol carved his initials on one of these trees.
The more formal chateau gardens.
The more formal chateau gardens.
The main street of Ferney. The house on the corner, currently a hotel/restaurant, was built by Voltaire for his personal secretary.
The main street of Ferney. The house on the corner, currently a hotel/restaurant, Hotel de France, was built by Voltaire for his personal secretary. My dream job…
Knitted decorations for the Fete de Voltaire.
Knitted decorations for the Fete de Voltaire.
Weather watching from the bedroom window.
Weather watching over the Jura from the bedroom window.
I'll most likely never have such a glorious view from my house again.
I’ll most likely never have such a glorious view from my house again.
At any time of day or night.
At any time of day or night.

Thank you, France, Rhone-Alpes and Lake Geneva!

P1040005

 

 

In Case of Emergency…

I doubt anyone will even notice I am gone during the next few weeks, but just in case you are not away on holiday or if you have a bit of time on your hands, break the safety glass and get your hands on some of my favourite older posts.

Hanging my (writing) clogs up for a few weeks... Wish me luck!
Hanging my (writing) clogs up for a few weeks… Wish me luck!

My first book review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

My first Japanese poetic love: Tawara Machi

Rereading one of my favourite books: The Great Gatsby 

The first time I finished writing (instead of reading) a novel: This Is the End

One of my snarkiest posts, about Overrated Books

Finally, an unforgettable walk on the Franco-Swiss border

Tomorrow’s post Friday Fun will be scheduled, as I’ll be busy wrangling with boxes, burly removal men and irate neighbours unable to get out of their driveway because of giant lorries.

So next time I post live, it will be from England.

 

Friday Fun: Two Artistic Discoveries

Everyone has heard of Lalique and his famous glass creations, but have you ever heard of equally gifted and far less well-known Maurice Marinot? He was a painter and artist in glass from Troyes (1882-1960), but his glass-making period was relatively short. He only discovered the medium in 1912 and stopped working in it in 1937, when the glass factory that he had been working with closed down.

Another reason that his output wasn’t huge was that he was quite experimental (and not all the experiments went well) and a bit of a perfectionist, sometimes taking as long as a year to produce one piece. To top it all, his workshop suffered a direct hit during the Allied bombing, which destroyed most of his glass and paintings.

Here are some captivating examples of his work in the Lyon Museum of Art. Of course, glass through glass is notoriously difficult to photograph, so I apologise that you cannot see the beautiful shimmer and reflexes on these creations.

P1040530

The second artist I discovered at the Art Museum in Lyon is Louis Janmot, a 19th century Lyonnais artist whose style is oddly reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites. An ardent Catholic, deeply affected by the childhood loss of his siblings, his work is romantic and profoundly spiritual.

I fell in love with his Mona Lisa equivalent, a painting entitled Flowers of the Fields, featuring the Bugey landscape around Lyon in the background.

P1040532

However, he is best known for his magnum opus Poem of the Soul (Poème de l’âme), which he spent nearly 50 years on (and which was still not complete at the time of his death). He also wrote a lengthy poem (2800 verses) to accompany it. It’s a sort of reinvention of Catholicism, showing the life-cycle of a human, accompanied at all times by his/her soul. The first series of 18 paintings are displayed in a room in the museum.

Spring of the Soul.
4: Spring of the Soul.
The Wrong Path
7: The Wrong Path
Up the Mountain
14: On the Mountain
The Ideal - and no, this is not the final one in the series. No. 18 is called The Reality.
17: The Ideal – and no, this is not the final one in the series. No. 18 is called Reality.

 

 

City of Books: Lyon

Lyon has an impressive number of independent and chain bookshops, antiquarian and plain second-hand bookshops, as well as a thriving books on the quay (bouquinistes) lifestyle in summer.

Bookstands on the Quai de la Pecherie, on the Saone.
Bookstands on the Quai de la Pecherie, on the Saone.

Although I did stop to peruse outdoors, I was heading to a specific location: the second-hand bookshop Le Pere Penard on the Quai Fulchiron. I had met the owners at the Quais du Polar, and discovered they had a fantastic selection of noir and crime fiction, as well as BD. So I ordered some Jean-Claude Izzo through them. However, the shop is huge, stuffed to the gills with books in all genres, including cookery, history and coffee-table books.

Something for everyone here.
Something for everyone here.

It was set up by a group of friends in 1994: members of the group have changed over the years, but the passion for books has stayed the same. It’s a real treasure trove of a place, to explore at leisure, over many hours.

Upstairs, downstairs...
Upstairs, downstairs…
... and in my lady's chamber...
… and in my lady’s chamber…
... where I found...
… where I found…

a title by Pascal Garnier that I was unfamiliar with, a short novella called Nul n’est a l’abri du succes (Nobody’s safe from success). Then, to my utter surprise and delight, look what I discovered when I looked inside!

Garniersignature
Allons, ca de fait pas si mal que ca, parce que…. Amicalement, P. Garnier.Translation: There, there, it’s not that bad, because… With friendship, P. Garnier.

Yes, it’s a signed copy and it’s as if the author (whom I only discovered about 4 years ago but who’s since become a firm favourite) is talking to me from beyond the grave.

For more Lyon bookshops, see this earlier post. And no, the Lyon Tourist Office is not paying me to promote their city!

 

Nearly Perfect Weekend in Lyon

Lyon is one of my favourite cities, not just because it hosts the annual Quais du Polar crime festival. Yet, no matter how often I come here, I never seem to have enough time to visit everything. So I was determined to do two completely new things this ‘weekend of adieus’: see a show in the Roman amphitheatre for Les Nuits de Fourvière festival; and get to see the Brothers Lumière Museum about early cinema. Well, one out of two is not bad…

The stage is ready in the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France.
The stage is ready in the oldest Roman amphitheatre in France.

The Blues Night featured American blues music legend Taj Mahal; a ‘Mali meets New York’ session with guitarists Habib Koité and Eric Bibb; and local boy (relatively speaking), saxophonist Raphaël Imbert and his band. The atmosphere was very special (at least until the cushions went flying onstage), and it was delightful to see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying this kind of music. Thank you to Emma from Book Around the Corner, who suggested I join her for this event!

But the rest of the weekend involved doing a few of my favourite things.

Some eating at a traditional Lyonnais bouchon may have been involved...
Some eating at a traditional Lyonnais bouchon may have been involved…
Wandering through some of the spectacular old traboules.
Wandering through some of the spectacular old traboules.
One of my favourite 'hidden gardens': the cafe at the top of the Gadagne Museum.
One of my favourite ‘hidden gardens’: the cafe at the top of the Gadagne Museum.
Visiting the Art Museum, with its beautiful shady gardens.
Visiting the Art Museum, with its inner courtyard, a haven of peace.
I didn't go to see a Guignol show this time, but I do like the French equivalent of 'Punch and Judy'.
I didn’t go to see a Guignol show this time, but I do like the French equivalent of ‘Punch and Judy’.
Popping into the boulangerie for a croissant (old shop sign in the Old Town).
Popping into the boulangerie for a croissant (old shop sign in the Old Town).
Looking through the second-hand books on the quay.
Looking through the second-hand books on the quay.

Of course, it’s the last thing I needed right now, but a few books just seemed to sneak their way into my bag. I will write more about the bookshop I got them from in a follow-up post.

With HUGE thanks to Emma for the Romain Gary book.
With HUGE thanks to Emma for the Romain Gary book.

So what prevented it from being the perfect weekend? Not the fact that I didn’t make it to the Lumière Museum, but that when I sat down for breakfast at a local café, there was a disturbance outside. A group of diverse young men, some black, some white, some drunk, some sober, started making a great deal of noise and one of them grabbed another by the neck in what looked like a rather violent incident. The police were called and managed to walk one or two of the worst troublemakers away. Then, as I passed in front of the remaining group, I heard them speaking Romanian.

I wanted the pavement to open up and swallow me right then and there.