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Posts tagged ‘Alps’

How it feels to be this alive

My spouse, who I generally refer to as ‘The Husband with Two Brains’ or HB² lived in Grenoble throughout the 1980s and regularly used to say to himself when he looked out of the window of his house that he must never take the view for granted because one day he wouldn’t be there any more.  I feel exactly the same way.  I love this place, experience it as the most natural of alignments as though I was born to be here and having the mountains so close by to explore freely and at will has been the greatest of gifts.  One day this time will simply be a memory, as indeed will be every moment of this little life I lead, but surely the silver lining is that I had this time, that I was granted the rare delight of living here, and the opportunity to get out whenever I want to and explore the other-worldly delights that such a naturally stunning place affords free of any charge.

The picture was taken in les Alpes Belledonne last summer.  It was an eerily beautiful day …. by turn brightest bluest sky with flouncing little fluffs of low cloud and a sudden mantilla of mist lending an ethereal atmosphere to the sturdy peaks and an irridescent sheen to the water.  It was unforgettable, I hope … for who knows if I will always have the gift of easily bringing memories forwards.  Who knows how motheaten my mind may become and how many moments will simply be lost like so many fragile bubbles too delicate to do anything but pop and fragment into the ether of my psyche, that curious morass of matter weightily wedged in my skull.

I share the moment with you in response to the weekly challenge tagged ‘Out Of This World’the many laudable entries to the gallery found here

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PS:  The title is from The Cure’s song ‘Out Of This World’ which instantly popped into my still vaguely functioning brain when I saw the challenge.  I can only hope that I will always remember how it feels to be this alive because I know that I am prosperous indeed.  I chose the clip simply because it was shot in Nyon which is not far from here just over the border in Switzerland on Lac Genève.

My first husband went to see The Cure in Amsterdam in the same era as HB² was living in Grenoble first time round.  He secured himself a fine viewpoint in front of everyone but regrettably failed to realise that he was standing precisely on the spot where the safety barriers would rise out of the floor as the show began.  As Robert Smith, wax faced and angsty with his extra-long pullover sleeves all ready to flop foppishly at his thighs as he performed, took to the mic, the aforementioned husband that would be for a while, was raised almost messianic in front of him …. I believe the stunned expression on the artist’s face was worthy of one witnessing something quite out of this world …..

When we look back at it all as I know we will
You and me, wide eyed
I wonder…
Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?

And I know we have to go
I realize we only get to stay so long
Always have to go back to real lives
Where we belong
Where we belong
Where we belong

When we think back to all this and I’m sure we will
Me and you, here and now
Will we forget the way it really is
Why it feels like this and how?

And we always have to go I realize
We always have to say goodbye
Always have to go back to real lives

But real lives are the reason why
We want to live another life
We want to feel another time
Another time…

Yeah another time

To feel another time…

When we look back at it all as I know we will
You and me, wide eyed
I wonder…
Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?

And I know we have to go
I realize we always have to turn away
Always have to go back to real lives

But real lives are why we stay
For another dream
Another day
For another world
Another way
For another way…

One last time before it’s over
One last time before the end
One last time before it’s time to go again…

But are not all things beautiful?

I have a theory that we are each of us born an age which is our default real age  our whole lives through.  For example, I have known babies and toddlers like tiny old men and women and equally I have known consenting adults of several decades who are consistent in their infancy.   My age, I am sure you are fascinated to know, is six.

At six years old I was taken on my first skiing holiday.  We travelled on what used to be called ‘The Boat Train’ from London Victoria leaving at night, to Dover whence we boarded a ferry and then another train to take us across Europe.

I don’t remember much about the first train, I do remember my mother getting increasingly taut when my father refused to stop and ask directions despite having no clue where on earth he was going in a vast after dark London.  I now know this is a cliché of male-female behavior but at six years old I merely thought it hugely entertaining that my mother was making hissing noises like a deflating bike tyre and gradually turning purple under her (entirely natural if you please) platinum blonde coiffeur,  my father seemingly oblivious (which remained his constant default) to the combustable woman beside him.  I suppose he must have found the station and parked the car and we must have taken the train to Dover but I don’t remember it at all.  I remember a dead dog floating in the dock at Calais the following morning which instilled an unfair prejudice to the place that lasted over thirty years until I visited on a whim and found it to be not unpleasant at all.

We were greeted by our ‘courier‘ who was Austrian and called Ernst, had blonde hair, was very kind and thoughtful and whom I liked tremendously – in fact, if I close my eyes, I can still see him in his bright blue turtle neck which matched his eyes and jeans a shade or three darker.  I imagine he was in his just-crowned twenties and so, to a six year old with an array of older male cousins, he fit nicely into a niche that I was comfortable with. For reasons I cannot discern I remained convinced that he was Norwegian for many years until, in my forties trotting out a memory or asking a vital and, til then dorment question or idly wondering if Ernst would still be waiting for me, I included this erroneous fact in my chatter and Mother corrected me.  I admit to feeling momentarily crushed. I haven’t any idea why I thought he was Norwegian – I’m not even sure I really knew where Norway is.  But he was so nice and smiling and friendly and he wore a large shiny badge loudly declaring the firm he worked for, all beguiling features to a six year old girl positively beyond effervescent with excitement.  He ushered us onto the train and into our compartment which had, joy of joys, ‘couchettes’.  This meant that at night we could turn the deep leather bench seats into bunk beds.  Imagine the absolute heaven of that!  I fancy we must also have slept on the ferry but sadly the shocking incident of the deceased dog at dawn eclipsed all else and I have no recollection at all of a cabin.  After some while there was a mighty wheezing and blowing and the noise of metal being tapped upon metal and a scrunch and a lurch and off we groaned gradually, gradually gaining momentum.  I can still remember the sound – not so much the rhythmic slide and clatter of the wheels on the rails but the chuff-puffing-puff-chuffing.  Because we were being pulled by none other than a steam train.

I had only ever been conscious of one steam locomotive before (this was 1967) and that time we had been standing still and chill on the platform of our village railway station, my father, older brother, granny and I, solemly waiting with a crowd of others for Winston Churchill to pass on his final journey to burial after his funeral in London.  He had died the day before my younger brother was born.  I was four and even at that age I understood that this was momentous and I remember peeping through the steam and knowing the train was carrying a most important cargo and that it was extremely sad.  Of course in my reality I was a very grown up six rather than the four any notional calender assumed me to be, which may account for this mature attitude to treating things with respectful gravity and deference.

This steam train, though had my now two year old brother aboard and he was extremely over-excited and equally over-tired.  We were subjected to him repetitiously singing ‘I Did It My Way’ (not the whole song, just that line) having been so moved by Frank Sinatra,  with whom my mother was smitten, singing on the television, at yet another final concert that wasn’t, when we were waiting in the night to get in the car and set off on our tremendous adventure.  Bedtime at that age was six o’clock, except on Tuesday’s when I was allowed to watch ‘Bewitched’  meaning I retired at seven,  so the fact that we were catching a night train in London meant we were up giddyingly late.

The journey passed as journeys do with cards and colouring and playing games that involved looking out of the window and spotting things to fit whatever theme my mother had invented in her desperation to keep us amused.  Far too often, the bumptious brat would chime up with another chirpy chorus of ‘I Did It My Way’.  At regular intervals, possibly to try and stem this vocal flow, Ernst would appear with refreshments in boxes or on trays depending on whether it was a cold or a hot repast.  Having never eaten anything from a box before it was beyond exotic and things like cold chicken and salad took on a whole new allure that was positively glamourous to a six-year old.  And those little packets of salt and pepper?  Thrilling! I didn’t actually use them, you understand and I think I may have been thirty-five before I finally conceded that my little collection of identical squares was serving no useful purpose in my life. When they gave us warm croissants and other viennoisserie for breakfast a life-long and unquenchable obsession with pâtisserie was born.

Whenever the train stopped we were allowed to get off and walk around.  I have no idea now where we stopped but it was quite often and it was quite fascinating … up until then I really had no notion that the French Miss Scrivener taught us at school was actually relevant, that people really spoke it.  I had no idea that grown men might wear berets just like the one I had to wear to school. And all the while there was Ernst elegantly and seamlessly looking after us, making sure my nine-year old brother who preferred not to be seen anywhere near his siblings  didn’t wander off too far and that we were all back safely on the train in good time for the whistle to blow.  I was certainly in love with him and convinced we would get married when I grew up by the time we got to what I imagine may have been Strasbourg.  When it was night we slept, or tried to, with the increasingly bawdy toddler still shouting ‘I did it my way’ every time morpheous silently, smoothly snuck in with her soft arms ready for the fall.  I decided that I positively did hate him and made a mental note to ask Daddy if it honestly was too late to send him back.

Eventually after what seemed like a month but was probably a day and a half, we reached Innsbruck where we had a break of some while before boarding our onward train.  Looking back  from the lofty position of having mothered several children, I imagine our mama must have been sleep-deprived and virtually desiccated by this point.  Therefore, when she rattled into the cafeteria to extricate my father and I, he in the process of buying my first ever bar of Ritter Chocolate, a hallowed moment to be savoured, not interrupted, it is fair to say that brittle would be the word that described her mood best.  She was shrill in her insistence that we were about to miss the train and dragging my older brother and carrying the tot she advanced purposefully towards it and, in fairness,  it did indeed appear to be revving up for an imminent departure.  My father didn’t question her (he knew his place) and we all boarded and sat neatly in rows. Even the blessèd bellowing boy was decorously calm and still.   As the platform official raised his flag and puffed his whistle-blowing cheeks in readiness for the off, all hell let loose and suddenly there was the heroic Ernst banging on the window with one hand and yanking at the carriage door with the other.  My mother stared at him glassily as though she had never seen him before in her life and my father didn’t notice at all.  But I did notice.  I noticed because, be reminded, this was my husband-to-be.   I tugged coats and bounced and squeaked and eventually my parents collectively engaged their brains and peered at the apperition now almost glued to the window.  He was mouthing something urgently.  Father stood and pulled down the little openy bit of the window through which, if tall enough, or lifted by someone who was, you could wave to your adoring public on the platform as you departed.  The now near hysterical Ernst managed to emit the word ‘Budapest’ before collapsing.  My father gathered us all and shoved us through the door that had dangled Ernst, calling on all his skill as a one-time rugby player of some talent, before it slammed shut behind us, the platform official looked at this disgraceful tangle of gaping fools in disgust and blew his whistle, dropped his flag and the train departed for Hungary.

The actual train was barely a train.  It was tiny and the seats were wooden slats but I was certain it had taken us to heaven.  So high above the world, so clear the air, so blue the sky, so diamond sparkling the snow.  Actually it took us up into the Tyrolienne Alps with which I fell in love as instantly and as deeply as I had with Ernst.  The difference was that Ernst, I am ashamed to say, would be replaced many times over as my one object of undying love,  but the mountains never will be.  And neither will Ritter chocolate which remains a guilty pleasure to this day.

The picture was taken at Les Lacs Robert in the  Alpes Belledonne, one of the three mountain ranges, two of them Alps, that surround Grenoble, where I live.  We enjoy walking up there.  The shot was taken in June.  Today being January it is thick with snow and peppered with skiers.   The Alps are relatively young mountains as you can tell from their sharp silouette, older mountains have been eroded more and are less craggy, more buxom in appearance.   It was the Weekly Photo Challenge labelled ‘Weathered’ that prompted me to post the picture.  The gallery is brimming with admirable entries, should you be minded to take a browse. 

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PS:  The title comes from Jerome K Jerome, he who is best known for his wonderful ‘Three Men In A Boat’.  This is taken from a short story, ‘The Passing Of The Third Floor Back’, a slightly strange and whimsy tale told with his usual acute eye for characterisation and wry humour.  I recommend it if you have an idle half hour – it isn’t arduous nor long.  In it, the main character, referred to throughout as ‘The Stranger’ says ‘Nothing, so it seems to me, is more beautiful than the love that has weathered the storms of life, the sweet tender blossom that flowers in the hearts of the young, that too is beautiful.  The love of the young for the young, that is the beginning of life.  But the love of the old for the old, that is the beginning of  – of things longer’.  Miss Devine responds ‘‘But are not all things beautiful?’  I find the observation of the stranger quite lovely and something one can only hope one is fortunate enough to attain.

To square the circle, when I saw that very first steam train taking the greatest of men to his final rest, I was on the station platform of the same village in which Jerome’s Three Men noted that ‘the reaches  woo one for a sunny sail or for a moonlight row, and the country round about is full of beauty’.  And there, I shall always be six.

You set my soul alight

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Muse in the wardrobe.  A little creature that is hard-wired to your inner creative that you can take off its hanger and plug in to waft around your space like a visionary air freshener,  inspiring as you respire making the process of conceiving and forming as easy as pie.  Failing that, I suppose we all have a mechanism that works in a sort of a way and for me the sort of a Muse is generally a mountain or some water.  Up at 7,000 feet plus in the pre-Alps of the Belledonne mountains above Grenoble you find lakes.  The ones in the picture are called les Lacs Roberts.  Align them to a perfect sky (note the sticky candy clouds in the otherwise perfect blue – imperfection is perfection I always feel)  and something in me soars and sparkles and I feel the inspiration bubble.  Whether it makes any sense to anyone else or whether it is just garbled rubbish is neither here nor there – the fact is that my soul is free and light.  It’s a start.

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PS:  The title is from a song called Supermassive Black Hole …. My husband is another sort of muse for me though I don’t keep him in a wardrobe on a hanger – he of the two brains who has been working to get the first images of M87 a common or garden supermassive black hole and looks to the stars for his muse (when he’ not looking to me of course!)  The song is by The Muse … it amused me.  Here is is:

Many more fine interpretations for the weekly photo challenge entitled Muse can be found here

Something so right

The title is ‘Wall’.  I have a quiet obsession with walls.  When I meet someone new I have to own up to to this compulsion fairly quickly to explain my conversation discursively tailing off when I spot a lovely piece of brick work or, even better, a good effort at a dry stone wall.  I want to learn how to do it.  When I was a little girl our brickie was a displaced Glaswegian called, predictably, Jock.  He used to come and speak unintelligibly and make walls in our garden or for a new garage or such-like.  The house had been built for Mr Lyle known for his savvyness with sugar, to-wit Tate and LyleEdwin Lutyens had an influence in its design and construction and Jock was loyal to getting it right – not just any old bricks, not just any old cement.  The right stuff for the right place.  He was a tiny man with a large family living in a little house on a not so pleasant council estate some distance from us.  He taught me by osmosis that one should never ever judge a book by its cover.  He was a good man with a skill and not a deep pocket and looked after his own as best he could. A man of extreme moods, the world was either bright and sunny or dark and repellent.  I liked Jock and was happy to carry him a mug of stewed tea laced with 7 sugars and whatever mother had made for elevenses or tea (we were ‘posh’ so that was cake or scones, his ‘tea’ would come later and would be what we called ‘supper’).  Simultaneously, being a horse-mad youngster, I spent much of this formative period on a pony out in the wildest parts of Britain – moorlands, highlands and sparce wastelands and I developed this love of walling.

So when I saw this challenge, I was all over it.   And I sifted through and through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures of walls that I have and gave myself a headache trying to choose because I stubbornly refuse to use more than one that evokes the prompt each week.  Nose-face-spite.  But then, just as I was throwing my toys out of my pram, spitting my dummy and generally being childishly unpleasant,  something so right cropped up out of the blue driving home from Grenoble at the start of the week.  A wall on a wall – a man-made stone castle, now decayed, toothlike atop the rocks, imperious and impervious to the elements and ever driving off the scurmisher as they remain standing firm.  Nature – 1, human beings – 0. DSCF1410

PS:  The title is from Paul Simon and picked because he says in that song ‘I built a wall around me’ which has always echoed favourably with me.  Give me a wall any day …. keep em out for I embrace my hermitude.

And I got a wall around me
That you can’t even see
It took a little time
To get next to me

And one last thing …. in answer to the request to find out more, I have discovered that this is actually Chateau de Crussol in Ardeche …. I believe the border with Drome is the Rhone which skirts Valence over which the ruin still watches

Awards season Part 2 ….. Second Time Around

Yesterday I just snuck in before the Oscar ceremony with my acceptance of and nominations for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  Hot on the heels of that award last year, I was also nominated a second time for a Liebster Award.  Now I don’t consider myself a greedy girl but I do like to engage with these awards because I believe I can help others in so doing.  So I graciously accepted it and three months later here I go with my little ceremony.  Less glitz than Beverly Hills but nonetheless a huge tantarra, and a huge boost for a newcomer to the heady world of blogging.  At this point, I would like Julie Andrews to step onto the stage and sing the song I used to threaten my daughters with when they were dragging their heels on the walk to school.  ‘The Hills Are Alive’ sung slightly too high and certainly too loud more in the style of Gracie Fields than Maria had them trotting along begging for mercy EVERY time – but absent Ms A’s beauteous presence you will just have to make do with me and I promise, no song.

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Just the place to sing The Hills Are Alive – plateau de l’Artense in the Belledonne above Grenoble

The Liebster is an award for newcomers.  There is a  criteria for followers but to be frank I ignore it partly because of my innate maverick tendencies and partly because on many sites the blogger doesn’t display a counter for number of followers.  So I am going my own sweet way and nominating blogs that I like irrespective of their pulling power.  Gill who writes Blog sur Aude nominated me and I do urge you to take a look at her blog.  It follows the trials, tribulations, triumphs and frustrations of renovating a village house in Southern France.  Fortunately, though not a professional, she is passionate and clearly talented with interiors.  This, though,  does not render her immune from the inevitable difficulties attached to working in a different country, much of the time remotely.  I’m a sucker for pretty things and I enjoy reading about her journey probably more than she enjoys being at the effect of the deep desire to just get her place finished!  So thank you Gill – I am very touched that you thought me good enough.

Here are the rules of engagement:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog to your post
  • Answer 11 questions they have asked you
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who have 200 followers or fewer for the award
  • Ask 11 questions of those bloggers
  • Let your nominees know you nominated them
  • Add the Liebster Award logo to your blog

And here is the pretty award which this time I will add to my blog along with the other award … I shall have to ask for help from Two Brains though because it’s all a bit beyond me when they start talking about code and widgets!

 

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Gill asked me these questions and I have genuinely enjoyed thinking about my answers (for 3 months …)

1. What is the best thing about blogging, for you?

It’s slowly slowly ever so slowly increasing my self-confidence.  This in turn has made my husband happy … he is my biggest advocate and support and is quite determined that I am smart and talented.  I may not be either of those things but I do now understand that out there are some people who I please with my words.

2. Do you ever read your old posts and cringe? (no, that’s just me then..)

Not really – sorry but to be fair I very seldom re-read any of them

3. If money was no object, where would you live and why?

Right here.  In my coin perdu.  Because it is beautiful, because the people have just accepted the oversized English woman with the French of a Spanish Cow into their fold with no questions asked but mostly because for the first time since I left the house I grew up in, I am home and I can put down roots

4. What book can you read over and over again and still love it?

Apart from any one of my far too large collection of cookery books (my children cruelly took 9 boxes full to a charity shop 5 years ago leaving me with less than 100 but I am slowly replacing every one of my lost boys ….) there are so many – I love poetry and often read it out loud to anyone prepared to listen or just to myself … Yeats, Neruda – far too many to mention.  I love to read Shakespeare and then there are lists and lists and lists of books I have read and re-read.  The Master and Margarita stuns me every time.  Oh, and Winnie The Pooh …. which I still think is one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th Century literature.

5. What was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you? and

Just do it … my boss and mentor when I was a wet-behind-the-ears trainee in the industry that brings us the Oscars, whenever I was looking for affirmation would simply say ‘Just do it’  A few years later, Nike stole his strapline …

6. Did you follow it?

Yes – and I fell on my face and I got bruises and lesions but I have never regretted a single time that I followed those words

7. What was your favourite lesson at school

I loved learning and of course I preferred the things that came easily – which was most things except Maths.  I was good at that too until they brought letters into the game … algebra and I were not friends and have continued to ignore one another quite happily ever since

8. Who is your best friend?

My husband – he of the Two Brains.  And The Bean.

9. What is the best gift you ever received?

Self confidence.  It’s a work in progress.

10. Coast or Country?

The country so long as I am close to water

11. Now or later?

Now – preferably sooner which may seem odd given that it has taken me 3 months to address this … but I can honestly say when things are not done they niggle me to the core

Now for the best bit … 11 nominations – passing the love to:

1.  The Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet – Cameron is in his own words ‘a fatty’ and he is about to have surgery which will change his life.  Funny, touching, informative, sometimes uncomfortable but hugely readable personal take on what is one of the biggest epidemics in the western world – obesity

2.  Storing Hope – Wilson Agaba believes that love is the answer.  His blog is full of lovely stories that prove his point

3.  It’s a Wonderful World – Can’t argue with that!  Shikha has a fabulous blog about her travels and hopes for more travels illustrated with some really stunning pictures

4.  Santosh Namby is a civil servant in India and loves photography … I have linked to his Gravatar rather than pick one of his blogsites – there are three and I leave it to you to explore and enjoy the beautiful images and the wisdom with which he accompanies them

5.  Travels with Choppy – written by Sarah Ferguson and following her life and travels with the dog she brought home from a pound as a 12 week old puppy some 6 years ago

6.   Yelling Rosa – is a Finnish Poet, has more than one volume under his belt and is interesting as a writer of poetry and songs from a culture I know virtually nothing about, but want to.  That’s me in a nutshell really – I want to know all about everything.  Life’s too bluddy short!

7.  Le Drake Noir – takes stunning photographs and has a slightly lateral take on the world … spending part of the year on Merseyside and part in Alsace is immediately appealing to me given my family links to both.

8.  Another Cup of Coffee – Margaret came to the US from Cuba where a childhood in the 60s as a Catholic with a conscience was maybe less than straightforward.  She is a sensitive and beautiful photographer and has a lovely self-deprecating style when she writes

9.  Minding my Ps with Q – the Q is for Quirkiness and I suppose most would think it quirky for a grown human to believe that toys play when we are not looking and fairies live at the bottom of the garden … but I believe both those things and I could fly as a child, so I should know

10.  Anita is another where I am linking you to a Gravatar rather than a website … she has three and they are all rather gorgeous – one for her stunning photographs, another for her lovely beads and jewellery and my favourite of all the one devoted to all things yarn

11.  Dunelight when questioned as to why she had settled in Michigan said ‘it’s the light’ and she is all about light … beautiful often stunning photos and well chosen words to accompany.  Besides, she defended The Bean when photographed sitting so patiently outside the door in the snow recently so she has to be on my list!

Now, I appreciate that some will see this as a double edged sword, I understand that most of my list do not need my help in raising their profile but I was thought of and I can think of less offensive things to do than say I think someone is worthy of recognition outside of their normal circle of trust so here are the questions I would like answered by those that choose to do so:

 

1.  Where in the world would you like to go that you have not been so far?

2.  Dog, cat or something else entirely?

3.  Last supper – food and guests?

4. What would you do differently if you knew no-one would judge you?

5.  The one inanimate thing you would save from your burning home?

6. What do you think is your greatest strength?

7.  And conversely what would you say is your greatest weakness?

8.  What is the best compliment you have ever received?

9.  Which character in literature could be you?

10. In the film of your life, who would play you?

11. And what would the title of the film be?

Off you go if you will and I will not be offended if you won’t.  The fact is that all the blogs listed give me great pleasure and I hope mine gives a little too.  Now I’m off to try and pin these awards on the left lapel of my blog.

PS:  Rather fittingly the title is a Lady GaGa song … she who wore an entirely normal ensemble to belt out a medley of Sound of Music songs at last night’s Oscars to mark the 50th anniversary of the film that I must have seen at least that many times ….

Sounds like a whisper ….

When I was at school I learned French. In fact I began learning at the age of 8 in Mrs Noble’s class. Mrs Noble liked me, having despised my older brother (the loathing was mutual). Given that I generally hated my brother (also mutual and absolutely compulsory at the ages we were), I loved Mrs Noble, which might have been why she liked me. Life is like that. We tend to like those that love us. Unless they are insane stalkers.  But that really is another story.

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I adored the sounds of the words and I enjoyed learning. At secondary school I was, to be fair, generally mediocre at the grammar and indeed only actually began to make friends with conjugating after moving here in September last year. But I perfected my accent and frankly I was waiting for the call to star in the remake of 80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo. I listened to Jane Birkin breathing her way through Je t’aime  and wanted to BE her.

Adulthood and a cheese business that took me back and forth to Paris to the gastronomic chaos that is Rungis Market.  Ad hoc travels to Provence, Normandy, The Auvergne in search of the perfect morceau to bear triumphantly back to Berkshire in the overstuffed boot of our car and present to our customers who would sigh in ecstasy and run home to devour their new best friend with gusto and self-congratulatory glee that they had found this ‘maaaarvlus little place’ which sold all things French-Cheese without their having to bother at all with la manche.

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During all this time, I listened French. I loved the sound. Compare the way that airport is said in English – two clipped syllables uttered in a reasoned monotone – with the same word in French. L’aeroport. The aer has the lightness of a soufflé and that for me is French. That for me defines what I adore about the language. Of course regionally and even more microscopically the way words are pronounced, the way sentences are constructed, varies. Standard French, the same as BBC English is not the standard at all. My radio station of choice when out in my car and indeed in my home, now that I have discovered the joys of listening on-line to the wireless, is RBA 104.4 Bort les Orgues. The main reason for my slavish devotion is the woman I know as ‘Over Enunciating Announcer Lady’. She is bliss. When she does her petits annonces I am captivated by her emphasis. ‘PerDU, un beagLE tricoloooooR a Bort les OrgUH’ or even more deliciously the moment when behind the wheel shortly before Christmas I heard her utter ‘Soob Millie Mettre aRAY ….. a Champs sur TarentaiNUH’ and realized it was a shout out for The Husband with Two Brains’ presentation on trous noirs and his observatory in Hawaii. Her fabulous iteration gilds my days and she has unwittingly helped my French from stuttering to fluttering over the last six months.

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That moment driving to Lyon in April when I realized the strange sensation I was experiencing was seeing Spring burst forth to greet me with its bumptious greens and yellows and pinks and whites and mauves in great swathes before my eyes is replicated in my sudden ability to assimilate and respond to a barrage of French with relative ease. But even in areas with harsher tones the words have elegance to me. Somehow Tortue sounds so much more evocative than Tortoise particularly if you can perfect that mysterious swallowed ‘r’ that the French absorb by osmosis in order to bewitch dull English girls like me later in life.

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I have lived in Italy and speak decent Italian, I learned Russian for six years at school but for me French is candied grace and refinement. If it were a scent it would be captured in a bottle made of a glass so fragile that you would think it was a bubble. Even in Cantal where we live. THAT Cantal recently described as le trou (the hole) by a friend in Grenoble … repeat after me. – Non, il est pas le trou! It isn’t. Fact. But that is not what we are talking about here and despite being innately discursive I am determined to stay en piste for this moment. No. Say Grenoble. Gren. Oble. Now say it with a French accent (it is after all French). Can you hear the chicly swallowed G? The way the ble whispers away at the end? That’s French. I speak it comme une vache espagnole but I hear it fluently. And it is music in my ears.

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PS: My title is taken from a song by the brilliant Tracy Chapman. She was Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – something else the French do rather well ….

It should be noted that this piece was originally written for a writing competition … it didn’t make the cut but I rather felt it worthy of a place here nonetheless …. you are free to agree or disagree or remain Swiss and neutral.  And the photographs of mountains?  For me learning the language is like walking in the mountains: sometimes the climbs seem endless and the struggle never ending, you feel you won’t ever reach the top, you feel the task impossible but when you turn the corner on the path and take stock of how far you have climbed and breath the air and survey that vista, the effort evaporates.  And  aside from that, I simply love them.