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Who’s gonna drive you home ….

I’ve spoken before about the number of miles I drive, we drive – The Bean and I and whenever possible my Two Brained husband too.  But there is a fourth crucial element without which it would not be possible to even leave the house here except on foot (or pedal power which is another story entirely).  That is the car.  The car that since we moved here (and including the long drive from Oxfordshire) has covered an eye-watering 30,000 miles – that’s in one year and a handful of weeks.   I have been remiss in not speaking of this wonderful little beast – bright yellow and Spanish (SEAT) it was originally called Devendra Flan when I got it 2 and a half years ago.  My mother helped me find it and wanted to call it Buttercup (in fact she insists on calling it that to this day and I don’t correct her).  The name came from a Devendra Banhart song called Little Yellow Spider and the ubiquitous Spanish pudding found on virtually every menu across that great country’s girth which is actually Creme Caramel but which the Spanish always refer to simply as Flan (or Flarn ‘you don’t know flarn’ – Ben Stiller and Jack Black know).  Anyway since becoming French the car is known as Fronk and his voice, courtesy of the TomTom is beautifully gaelic.

Why now?  I hear you ask … why the sudden reverence to this 4 wheeled delight?  I’ll tell you … they say that you only realise you love something when you are about to lose it.  Fronk has had his share of scrapes this year including a broken wheel when I frappéd a concrete pillar in a blizzard but I knew he would pull through and he did.  He’s driven to and from England 6 times since and had a service there in May followed by a new drive shaft (cambelt) and a bit of surgery to replace something in his ignition timing in September when he went into Limp Mode (yes, honestly that’s what it’s called) on the M4 to Bristol.  New tyres to complete his all weather set (which took some ordering in the UK in September ‘no, madam – they won’t be available til November’ but were eventually tracked down and fitted and the English tyre man paid tribute to the French workmanship on the front wheel (from the frappé) which was a moving moment in my personal journey of entante cordiale.  He seemed so well on the trip back earlier this month, so well when I drove to Clermont to meet The Brain from his plane the following week, so well as we travelled the typical couple of hundred km around the place to walk and visit houses and just generally potter around.  The shock when we sashayed out in the late Autumn sunshine last Thursday to drive a few km to do a couple of hours walk and settled behind the wheel, turned the key and nothing, absolutely nothing happened was a fully armed body blow.  Panic!  Rush back indoors, Google  wildly for homestart information when you don’t have roadside assistance …. blank, zippo, Google say ‘no’.  Fortunately The Brain was calm and I have a good filing system – a call to the insurance company revealed that homestart is part of our policy with MAEF and half an hour later the cavalry arrived.  The car started – I was watching from our balcony – smiles all round.  Then confusion (me) as the car was loaded onto the breakdown truck (Depanneuse) … phone calls were made and the men stood round in a circle being well … men.  The truck was driven away with Fronk on top, I was beside myself – he had clearly died and I hadn’t even said goodbye. Tears were soothed  by The Brain – apparently it was the spark plugs, the man had ordered them and they would be fitted the following day when they arrived (French for spark plug is Bougie incidentally which is the same as candle so it was fortunate that it wasn’t me doing the talking because that really would have been an invitation for misunderstanding …)

The following day the car was returned.  Humming, frankly and I was singing along.  I love that car.  I don’t care who knows it and I will never again commit the sin of omission and fail to mention the crucial part he plays in my life.  Thank you French insurance, thank you French garage.  I love you all.

PS:  You might like to take note that according to the garage here, it is common place for garages not to bother to change plugs when they service a modern car … these had never been changed and the car has done 135,000 miles in total and had a major service in the summer.  You might like to make sure your garage does bother.  Just a thought 😉

I’d like to dedicate this award to ….

This is where I say thank you to the lovely Bendilyn Bach, writer of a blog that I read and unfailingly enjoy, by the name of ‘Loving a Frenchman’.  I’m saying thank you to Bendilyn not just for writing words that never fail to please me, for making me smile or think or both but also for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  The Liebster, as you may have found out on your blogly travels is a way of paying it forward and saying ‘take a look’.  The formula is simple – I now answer the questions Bendilyn set for me and her other nominees and then I nominate 11 Blogs which I love for the award and ask them 11 questions which they in turn answer.  I have laid out the rules below.  And in case you missed what I said THANKYOU BENDILYN!

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The rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you for a Liebster Award and link their blog to your post.
  • Answer the 11 questions they’ve asked you.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who have 200 followers or fewer for the award.
  • Ask 11 questions to your nominees.
  • Let your nominees know you nominated them once you’ve posted about your Liebster Award.
  • Add the Liebster Award badge to your blog!

The questions asked by Loving a Frenchman and my answers:

  1. Why write?
    Because it needs to come out
  2. What is one item on your bucket list?
    To drive an ice truck
  3. What historical figure would you most like to meet?
    William Wilberforce
  4. Favorite book.
    Le Petit Prince, Antoine de St Exupery
  5. Favorite movie.
    It’s A Wonderful Life
  6. Favorite song.
    How Can I Tell You, Cat Stevens
  7. What is your biggest regret?
    I don’t have them – no rear view mirror or I would eat myself up with guilt and remorse
  8. What will you never do?
    Knowingly eat Andouillette (the dish of death)
  9. Dogs or cats?
    Dogs (but I don’t hate cats)
  10. Whom do you admire?  Why?
    The Queen (though I am not a Royalist) – she has the most difficult job, had no choice as to whether to take it and has carried it out for decades with dignity and aplomb
  11. What can we do to make the world a better place?
    Be mindful

Drum roll …. my nominees are:

  1. The Mindful Expat … I love this blog written by an American Psychologist who, for the love of a French Engineer has found herself in Lyon
  2. 750 Metres …. the husband of another blogger I follow and love (La Petite Maison Bijoux) writes about gardening in Haute Loire at altitude – lovely pictures and clean, clear script make this a favourite
  3. Ditzy and Disapproving … the new kid on the blog this is a funny irreverent blog which alternates between the Dizzy lover of all things and the grumpy old woman in the making.  The author to my certain knowledge is 24!
  4. No Blog Intended … another young woman blogging about life in Belgium and the aspiration to study in Russia
  5. Carls Crafty Kitchen is my favourite food blog …. Carl is a wonderful cook, a great raconteur and a closet comedian
  6. Create and Consult … Peronel Barnes is a very talented artist and a very smart business woman – her words are worth reading
  7. Femme au Foyer ... the writer lived in Clermont Ferrand capital of The Auvergne, France with her husband and tiny children and is now back home in the USA with the same husband and an extra even tinier child … this is a warm and lovely journal
  8. Diving for Pearls – the blog of a one time professional photographer who makes you wonder at her skill and long for her to be professional again.  She blogs in a wonderfully conversational way about creating and creativity and peppers her site with the most beautiful photographed images.
  9. Michael Gordon online is all about the healthier way to be – from barleygrass to magnets, Michael covers it all.  And water.  And as a BOGOF Michael is an independent celebrant whose other blog Vows that Wow is a great introduction to the alternative means to a baby naming, a wedding or a funeral.
  10. Living in Light – Bobbi Kumari is the lightest brightest of shiny stars and her fashion designs are wonderful.  That she is a Christian underpins her work, her life and her writing.
  11. The Politics of it All – Another bright young thing – this time Alfie Lambert … smart, contentious and articulate his writing never fails to prick my grey cells in a good way

And here are my questions to the nominees:

  1. Why should people read what you write?
  2. Fruit or cake?
  3. What is success?
  4. Advice to your 14 year old self
  5. Favourite place on earth
  6. Pictures or words?
  7. If you could spend an afternoon with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
  8. First love
  9. Town or country?
  10. The greatest invention of the last 100 years
  11. What is content?

If blogging be the food of life, write on 😉

PS:  The title says I would like to dedicate this award to and I do dedicate this award to my husband (he of the Two Brains) and The Bean.  One got me through the early days of being alone in the deepest depths of a foreign land and the other makes me a better person – I’ll leave it to you to work out which is which ….

 

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From Russia With Love, Part 14: My fate is to see everything and take it so much to heart

The full sentence in the title is ‘And why is it, thought Lara, that my fate is to see everything and take it so much to heart?’  Pasternak’s Lara, of course in Dr Zhivago.  My father first saw David Lean’s masterpiece film of the book that he had read some time before, in a tiny cinema in Andermatt (Swiss Alps) in February 1966.  He reported that his nose and his toes were cold throughout.  He was wearing gloves and a bobble hat.  I was only 5 at the time so I didn’t see it until much later in the comfort of our drawing room and was I captivated.  The book I read soon after.  The story set the bar for the Russia that I wanted to find.  The politics, the literature, the love, the soul.  I waited what, had I been told I must, at the age I was then, would have seemed an impossible time to visit for the first time (for I am quite determined to go again and see far, far more of this vast and extraordinary place) and she didn’t disappoint.  Not even slightly.  I loved the people, as I knew I would. I love their relationship to art and dance and literature and science and intellect. It is quite captivating.  Their frankness, their ability to feel to the depths of their soul and not be ashamed of feeling so.  To be able to laugh and cry willingly. It is quite beautiful and at odds with the image of the stony faced, ice-eyed KGB torturer of cliché.  We went and we scratched the surface and we returned home a little changed. As you always should be when you have seen something and taken it to heart.

Here are my best bits – each one a character in the little story of my stay:

 

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And some of me enjoying my favourite bits:

 

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Za zdorovje!

Za zdorovje!

 

PS:  At lunch in the summer with local friends back home, we were assaulted with a barrage of the most appalling and misinformed propaganda gleaned from stories on the internet.  Drivel it all was but the venom with which it was thrown at us left us breathless with rage.  Politics is politics the world over and the globe is an increasingly small place but to tar a population with a filthy brush based on no more that what you have read is quite quite wrong.  In any language.

 

From Russia with Love part 12a: But Baby Its Cold Out There ….

You may remember that we spent some time in Moscow and St Petersburg earlier this year and this is the penultimate part of the story.  Part 12a because I just can’t rid myself of silly supersticions and I am wholly triskaidekaphobic (that’s afraid of 13s before you look it up).  Part 14 will follow hot on its heels and then my first Russian odyssey will be neatly parcelled off.  The tardy nature of this last but one is not entirely due to inefficiency or laziness.  I felt that my timing needed to be a teeny bit diplomatic since, as will be revealed, some might have felt it inflammatory had I posted it earlier.  They may still but I can’t help that.

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You might also remember that we were in Moscow for the May Day celebrations and that I noted these are not in any way a show of military force as they had been under the old guard but rather a celebration of the worker and an opportunity for demonstrators to demonstrate about whatever they feel they need to demonstrate in Red Square.  However, May 9th (Victory Day) is another matter and we were priviliged to watch several rehearsals for the Military Parade as it processed past our hotel in readiness for what, as it transpired, eclipsed the parades of recent years.

That Mr Putin used the opportunity to demonstrate his country’s strength and to leave the world in no doubt of how strong she is was not a small surprise given the caning he and Russia were, at that moment, taking on the world stage.  A stage full of those who will always throw a rock when facing a glass house.  Those who will invade and interfere at the drop of their own hat but who flew into a frenzy of screeching disapproval when The Bear roared.  It seemed to me that many had not even looked at the facts nor examined the history books.  The invasion and annexing of Crimea was inevitable.  It should have been included in Russia when the USSR was broken up but had been parcelled into Ukraine in 1954 because Mr Khrushchev was Ukrainian.  That Ukraine has been a sorry and angry mess for 20 years is surely an unmissable fact.  I try to be Apolitical on this blog but surely reason dictates that what Russia did was not more nor less than her Cold War foe the United States of America has done on a regular basis whilst The Bear slept.  And why on earth does it have to naturally extrapolate that this means that Russia is set to take over the world?  Really?  Nonsense.  I believe it is blather and nonsense.

So we watched the immense cavalcade of tanks and armoured vehicles rehearse the route that went past our hotel more than once.  No one stopped us from taking pictures.  The police were happy for us to stand and watch and many did – both citizens and visitors stopped to enjoy the free floor show.

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On our last morning we went shopping for souvenirs.  It was a challenging journey because Red Square and its surrounds were entirely closed off and Police guarded every attempt to exit the Metro within hundreds of yards.  It was May 9th.  After a convoluted agility test in Metro hopping we managed to find Old Arbat the street which Sergey (he of the Dukely perfect English) had recommended.  It should be noted that the day before we had gone to Izmailovsky Market where you will find the best bargains but sadly May is too early in the year and the market was no-where to be seen … we strolled in a ghost park where the mothballed fairground was just being unwrapped and not even the kiosk was open for business … the birds and squirrels, eager for a treat were disappointed.  Sergey had also recommended a particular shop so we walked past all other possibilities (and this is the Piccadilly Circus of Moscow in that it is tourist nick-nack central) and headed purposefully into the shop of the name he had carefully written on a piece of paper the night before at dinner.  It quickly became apparent that Sergey has never in his life set foot inside a souvenir shop in his city, let alone this two floored monstrosity.  In fairness that is hardly surprising – I don’t frequent the aforementioned purveyors of Beefeaters, Union Jacks and Royal Family memorabilia in London and wouldn’t know which were good, which bad and which horrid.  As we stepped through the door we were cast back in time to the communist regime and confronted with a shop assistant (all on her own in this monolyth of a store)  who had not caught up with Glasnost in any way or blinked at all in the sunlight of the new-born glossy Moscow that now surrounded her throwback-to-the-fifties-in-no-way-that-was-good shop.  No matter how cheerily we smiled her face didn’t flicker, her unblinking ice-cool exterior never once waivered with even a passing nod to warmth.  We beat a hasty retreat clutching a tiny bag of overpriced trinkets – naturally, being English, we were far to polite to just say good day and walk out.  As we walked back up the street passing another and another and another shop we decided to brave the last one and, baiting our collective breath for another freezing were greeted with two funny charming smiling young girls who made far more money than Iron Icicle Babushka from our visit.  Our purchases included a hat of fox-furred deliciousness which, I am shallow enough to admit, made my trip complete.  We strolled back to the Metro in bright warm sunshine, me insistent on wearing the hat and doing a little light modelling for the camera en route.

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Back at Pushkinskaya we hurried past the underground boutiques (there are scores of them – tiny little shops selling everything from dumplings to diva handbags) eager to grab brunch at our beloved Paul one last time.  A freezing wind bit us as we ascended the stairs and as we alighted on Tverskaya we were blown back by a blizzard.

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In 15 minutes Moscow had gone from summer to winter – it was like walking out of the wardrobe into Narnia except that there was no forest, no strange mythical creatures but rather tanks and armoured vehicles splendidly processing through the snow.  It was a fitting end to a fabulous stay.  Russia came in from the cold just over two decades ago.  The world put her back there in the Spring.  I say look in the mirror, Baby – you might not feel comfortable with the reflection.

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PS:  There is an old joke from The Second World War that Russian tanks have only one gear – forward and that they are fuelled by vodka – I have no idea if this is true but can state with authority that they work in all weathers ….

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