Sunday, 29 May 2011

Blowing in the wind

It takes a fair bit to stop me getting out into the French countryside if I have the chance.I love it. There's always something interesting, no matter how modest.

Really quite sick with a nose, throat and ear infection I visited a doctor in Gallardon which is a village near to Jean-Claude's village. The usual french doctor experience. I managed most of the necessary discussion with JC chipping in where useful. She is one of his neighbours. It's not easy to find a doctor on the weekends. There's nothing like I had in Auckland- 24/7 service so it was a big relief to be seen at short notice. Armed with anitbiotics I seem to be improving so I toughed it out and we drove about 20kms south of Chartres to see an ancient windmill.

Le Moulin Pelard-Bois de Feugeres is on the N10. It's unusual in that it's a pivot windmill where the whole thing pivots, not just the top section. It's typical of the Beauce region and dates from 1796. Until 1941 it belonged to the Pelard family who had been millers for generations. It was then bequeathed to the local authorities when the family line died out.

It was abandoned for several years before volonteers began renovating in 1976 with the help of gifts and grants. In 1977, before the renovations had been completed, it was destroyed in a violent storm. Fortunately, work resumed immediately and it was completed in September 1990 when the red sails were put in place. It's in full working order and is open to the public. Though it has no commercial activity it does mill wheat. The flour is sold in the mill itself. We climbed up the stairs which are somewhat unsteady as the whole thing responds to the wind. Standing inside is like being inside a boat with the constant motion. It has an anchor which is used to position it in the best angle to catch the wind.

Two of the arms have half sails otherwise the wind whould get too strong for it- a bit like the situation for a sailing ship. There's an old-fashioned bell to sound the alarm when the wheat supply is running low and brakes too. There remain some of the original timbers from the eighteenth century with some names carved in by those slightly literate in the nineteenth century. The engineering is rather clever for its time, I thought. The wheat box shakes the grains down to the milling stones, one only of which turns, the other remains stationary. The flour comes down into a long vertical box. There's provision for sacks to be lowered to the ground instead of humping them up and down the narrow wooden stairs.

Everywhere there is dust and flour particles so it's not good for your lungs or camera. Imagine the health problems of the ancient workers! We were guided in our little tour by one of the old volonteers who immediately forgot to speak slowly so I will have missed a bit of interesting information but I've come away with two plastic bags of whole wheat flour. Just alongside the mill are fields and fields of various types of wheat. This Beauce region is famous for cereals.

There are other windmills in the district but many are ruins now. I wonder what I'll discover in Brittany next weekend. JC is taking me to the family home in Binic where I will meet his 90 year-old father. I always enjoy Brittany.

Photos show the mechanism attached to the sails which turns the stone grinder, the flour box where the milled wheat ends up ready for bagging, me and our guide, the wheat fields.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Modesty does not exist

Oh I do hope that's the last medical procedure or test I have to have for a long time. I've had enough. OK, it's for my own good but it gets costly and every time I do something for the first time here in France it's always different to the equivalent experience in NZ.

One of the biggest differences here is the lack of provision for modesty. If you question any french woman she wonders what the heck you are on about and you get the 'prudish anglo-saxon' label.

A couple of months ago I decided to have a gynaecological checkup- it's been a while and at my age things don't necessarily work properly and create all sorts of health problems. I located a nice lady doctor here in Cafeolait. That's where I was introduced to 'The Chair' and french mammograms and ultrasound. That's when I started to learn the new rules.
1. You will never be given a sheet or blankie to cover any of you up
2. If you feel 'exposed' don't mention it
3. You will be expected to walk around topless or naked
4. If having a male doc look at your female bits there will not be a female nurse in the same room
5. You may feel completely vulnerable and helpless-too bad, that's irrelevant

In NZ if you're having a smear test you are under a sheet and or blanket, sometimes on your side and it's all very sensitive and modest. In France you will be told to take everything off and walk into a room that looks like a torture chamber and you will be confronted by The Chair. Hideous thing! So there I was, without a stitch, feeling a bit chilled, sitting in the chair with my legs in those ghastly stirrups with my knees apart. What a sight! It didn't make the process any more comfortable or efficient than the Kiwi version but there is no option and no sympathy.

If you are having an Xray or ultrasound of your breasts you will NOT be given a robe. You will walk about topless and it's likely that a guy is going to rub gel all over your boobs and explore them with a sensor-thoroughly. It's you, and him in the dark room. Thank goodness you're allowed to clean the gel off yourself.

The french are comfortable with bodies. Modesty is not an option. Hey, I'm trying to be cool about this but it takes a little getting used to.
The results are: smear test good, breasts OK, cholesterol a wee bit high (but a lot lower than it has been in the past). That should hold me for a bit. So ladies, if you think it's a hassle in NZ having these things checked, suck it up, it could be worse.

Images are off the internet- I was NOT in a 'position' to take photos myself.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Rubbing the wrong way

As a departure from the usual routine, JC and I went to the movies in Chartres on Friday evening. It was lovely to do something together during the week; in fact we had met over a meal at Buffalo Grill on the Wednesday evening.

JC had chosen Woody Allen's latest offering Midnight in Paris which stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody. It focuses on the stereotypical favourite spots in Paris and adds in a bit of historical time-travel. Amusing to recognise the famous figures in painting and writing. Not a great movie of course but diverting nevertheless, a bit of fun.

We followed that up with, what was for me, our own bit of time-travelling. JC brought out his fondue set and we set to combining chunks of bread and melted cheese. It's decades since I had a fondue-most of which were the chocolate variety. Yes, it must be a good 30 years since I've dragged out my own fondue set for some serious melting. It was only last September that my two fondue sets were given away before my shift to France.

This last weekend JC's son and his girlfriend  joined us. Family and friends are very important in French society. Sure, they're important in other countries but its particularly marked in France. We had a BBQ even though the weather was a bit fresh. Of course it was challenging and tiring for me trying to keep up my focus and comprehension when native speakers get together-nothing new there. It gets particularly tricky when I am trying to defend my point of view when I feel I am being attacked, even if some of it is in English. I have been told in the past that some French people can be pretty full-on and in your face when discussing things. I can say that this is certainly fair comment and there were a couple of times that I felt uncomfortable and unhappy being told what I would be expected to do and think and how I would change my mind about things.

I don't mind debating things on a level playing field but I do appreciate it being done respectfully. Apparently some french people equate activists with terrorists. Greenpeace seems to be the whipping boy in this respect. A bit rich really when France displayed it's blatant state-initiated terrorism against a friendly country when it's secret service agents bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985 and killed a man. What's the difference? Well for starters dropping nuclear bombs in the Pacific is just plain evil as is bombing a ship in another country's harbour and on a completely different political and destructive scale to anything I can imagine Greenpeace doing.

Some activist groups do silly things which I wouldn't agree with and I don't financially support any groups, but I don't think all groups trying to draw attention to injustice in the world should be written off as terrorists. As part of a work project it's important that I monitor what's happening environmentally around the world, what the issues are and what could have an effect on our own communication efforts. So I trawl the internet to learn. What I learn isn't pleasant and I have admiration and respect for many of the groups who try to fight murder, corruption, pollution and corporate arrogance.

I will need to be careful in what articles I write for the
 project and will avoid the 'A' word so as not to provoke negative responses from the seemingly rather blinkered french. In many countries, organisations which fight injustice are considered heroes because who else dares to brave the horrid process and consequences?

In NZ we have a government that wanted to mine our National Parks and most fragile ecosystems. Quite a lot of NZers needed to be activists for a short time to stop that. It worked - 'this time'. There's the famous environmental struggle to stop Lake Manapouri's destruction just to generate some electricity. NZers got active and eventually the politicians got the message. And there was also the Springbok tour activism-violence on both sides but often from the police. Sometimes the odds are stacked so much against justice that unsavory methods get used.

My own past includes fighting for a precious ecosystem at the back of my street. I won a battle, lost the war, inspired others to get involved and wore myself out with the effort. But we do need individuals and groups to get passionate and effective and not lie down and say- too hard or, it's someone else's problem or, it's just political crap to manipulate us. Cop-out!

So if you want to rub me up the wrong way: assume you understand all my motivations, accuse me of not understanding things, be black and white judgmental about groups that deliberately court the media, and tell me what I should think and do. Sometimes people's passionate ideas can come across as bullying. I hope I don't fall into that trap myself.I'll keep an eye on that and work out how to get the message across anyway.

Photos show JCs cheesy efforts and a flaming french BBQ, the Rainbow Warrior sunk by the french in Auckland, the memorial in Northland, NZ.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The cradle of my family

The story of my family and the establishment of New Zealand’s only French settlement begins in 1840 on the banks of the Charente River, Rochefort, France.

Joseph and Madeleine Libeau and their children would have stood on the deck of the Comte de Paris watching the preparations for casting off. They would have seen the old naval buildings and the Corderie Royale and hoped the voyage of at least 3 months wouldn’t be a nightmare. But it didn’t start well.

Before they reached the open sea of the Atlantic the pilot stupidly beached the boat on purpose in order to get home, thinking the next high tide would refloat the boat, but it didn’t. The passengers and crew had to take everything off. A woman drowned herself in despair. Two weeks later they finally left France, arriving in Akaroa August 1840 only to discover that the South Island of New Zealand was now British. Along the way their family had increased by another child.

Joseph had two wives: his French one (who died as a result of a later childbirth) and then an English one who ended up in a mental institution. Eighteen children in total were born and seventeen survived. Oddly enough I am descended from both wives: Julie from his first wife was my maternal grandmother’s grandmother and Josephine from his second wife was my maternal grandfather’s grandmother.

Joseph and his first wife were both gardeners. This passion for growing things runs strongly through my lineage and is my strongest interest. The two pioneers did well in creating a successful new life for themselves at the end of the world, taking on market gardening, wine-making and dairying. I’ve known I had French ancestry all my life but that heritage was never very evident in my childhood. Still, there was a tug on my heart, even a subtle one, which saw me study French for five years at High School, one year at Canterbury University, three years at Teacher’s College and then initiate a programme of including French language into my teaching class at Tawhai School in Wellington.

The parents were so pleased with results that the inspectorate allowed my French lessons to continue the following year. And then my interest in France languished for many years while I changed careers and partners. It took off again as the 20th century drew to a close and was at fever pitch from 2008 onwards.

My tiny immediate family is dysfunctional and so my heart has crossed the oceans of the world in search of other family who might be interested in me. For almost five years I have been sending out emails to the Libeau Society and French family members in France to little avail. In the past month I received encouraging definitive responses from Alain Boussiron. He organised that I meet up with another of our mutual cousins Gilles and also Michel, yet another cousin living in the Charente area.

June 18 is the day I spent exploring the birthplace of Joseph Libeau and the neighbouring countryside. It’s also the day I spent with my two cousins Alain and Gilles along with Peter Tremewen, the New Zealand author of a well-published authoritative book on the French at Akaroa. What an amazing serendipity that we would all end up in the area on the same weekend.

In a two-car convoy we travelled north towards Nantes: Jean-Claude and I with Alain and Annick, Gilles and his wife Micheline with Peter Tremewan and his wife Christine. The countryside changed to viticulture (Muscadet) as we approached the tiny village of L’Elaudiere - birthplace of Joseph Libeau. We have no idea which ramshackle building he lived in as a child, maybe his home is just a pile of rubble or maybe it’s one of those still standing.

We looked through the gate at the only mansion and large garden in the village. Perhaps he tended the garden there? The main thing I noted was the excitement we three cousins felt to be together…there. My cousins are descended from one of Joseph’s daughters who returned with another French couple to France. She stayed in France and it is through her that I am related to these cousins. The French members are very small in number but the Kiwi members of the family number in the thousands.

I feel very proud of my very direct lineage to one of the founding families of Akaroa, a settlement which was established ten years before the English established Christchurch.

We wandered around the neighbouring town of Loroux Bottereau where we viewed one of only two surviving statues of Louis XVI in France, while a wedding was taking place.
We lunched together and set off to view the mighty Loire River and the destroyed fortified village of Chateauceaux (now Champtoceaux).

This was one of the most important fortresses during the Hundred Years War. It used to comprise 30 hectares but was constantly under siege from 1141 and was finally destroyed completely in 1420. It’s located 25kms east of Nantes and when you stand on the lookout you can see Ile de Neuve island in the middle of the Loire. The water level is rather low at present.

After some rather strenuous exercise we all departed back to Alain’s place for champagne and dinner. A wonderful family day.

If you’d like to know more about the French government’s attempts to settle and take possession of the South Island and the settlers from France and Germany who came with their hopes on the Comte de Paris you can read Peter’s book French Akaroa available from Canterbury University Press.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Royal Farm

As you know, I like to travel to Rambouillet from time to time and explore.

The Bergerie Nationale was established by Louis XVI in 1784. He imported a herd of Spanish merinos whose genetics have been preserved. There are currently 3 races of sheep, milk cows and meat cows, donkeys and horses, pigs, goats, chickens and pheasants, rabbits.

Earlier this week I walked around the complex, exploring for interesting things. I found a large potager and a retired man who was probably close to 80 working in the very dry soil. He had a wonderful knowledge of the place and I enjoyed my brief conversation with him. I don't imagine he'd meet many New Zealanders at the Bergerie. The potager is full of flowers and vegetables and fruit tree cuttings as you can see from the photos.

School children visit the farm regularly and get to sample the produce and work there too. Open days for the public see displays of sheep-herding and animal husbandry. Also on site are lectures for students on forestry and artificial insemination amongst other stuff including sustainable agriculture.

There's a pond sort of lake enjoyed by ducks and geese and there's something(s)else living in it which can stay underwater much longer than any air-breathing creature could. It splashes and makes a big ripple. I think there are two of them. I suspect little Loch Nessies may be resident but no matter how long I waited for them to perform they only did so out the corner of my eye. I'm convinced they are there.

The breeze, the smells of compost and animal manure, the sounds, the colours, the peacefulness and the ancient history; that's an intoxicating mix.

Photos show the environs, you can see my big building in the distance from the potager, the kind old man, animals, the complex.

Below are some videos relating to the Bergerie

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A monument to glory and Napoleon

I'm fascinated by Napoleon. Born simply in Corsica, clever with his battle strategies, ends up Emperor, loses an important battle and gets demoted and exiled, escapes and raises an army, gets defeated again and is exiled permanently, his son dies very prematurely in exile in Austria. Well, it's all stirring stuff and so I wanted to visit the Chateau de Fontainbleau; a magnificent place set in a magnificent forest. A monument that has survived the ravages of time and history better than Versailles.

The first references to the chateau date back to the 12th century. Since then, all the great Kings of France have lived there. It's a residence that has been cherished and inhabited for eight centuries.

Napoleon has contributed much to Fontainebleau: there's a museum in his honour which has interesting exhibits such as his clothing, army bed, weapons and a rather horrid contraption for dealing with constipation while on campaign. There's also his magnificent throne room.

JC and I visited Fontainebleau on a day when they were having an exhibition dedidated to his ill-fated son the King of Rome. Amazing to see the young son's clothes, bassinet, paintings.I also love the emblems Napoleon chose to decorate his interiors and furniture: bees and eagles and the big N.

You can check out the the Small Apartments on the ground floor which were used by Napoleon and his wives Josephine and Marie-Louise. Also of note are Marie-Antoinette's Boudoir, The François 1er gallery, the ballroom.

The State Apartments have retained their stunning frescos, paintings and tapestries. The detail is incredible, the luxury is awe-inspiring. The colours are bright, the fabrics intricate and everywhere gold, gold. I really enjoyed this visit. We used audio guides in our respective languages but you need to allow at least two hours for the interior.

We ran out of time to see the gardens but they are rather simple and not as impressive as those at Versailles. The forest would be worth a trip and a picinic though its more than 1.5 hrs by car from where I live. You can take a train from a major Paris station if you want. Once again, I have a lovely book of text and pictures to digest at my leisure on this supurb monument, thanks to JC. The outside of the Chateau, especially the unusual staircase, is grimy and in need of cleaning but the upkeep on properties like this must be horrendous. As we left we found a bridal party having their photos taken out the front. The chateau is closed on Mondays.

After this visit I'm still interested in the little man who liked to take baths, aimed so high and fell so far, so quickly. I shall explore what books are available in English on the internet.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday it was my responsibility to cook lunch, a kiwi lunch. It had to be roast lamb and vegetables but it was tricky finding the right vegetables- no pumpkin or parsnips or kumara available so I had to settle for spuds and carrots with fresh peas. The mint is a different flavour (too harsh) so I felt the mint sauce was not a success. The lamb is different too and even allowing for the fact it was a bit overdone (JCs oven is new and super-efficient) the meat was dense and tough and not fibrous and tender. Normally my roast lamb just falls off the bone. That was disapointing.

It's very difficult to be a Kiwi in France without the right ingredients or implements. Cuts of meat in France are not what I'm used to generally. They tend to cut the meat in a different direction, it tastes different and I can't find the same types of cuts. So I eat less meat. However the wine was a lovely white Bordeaux, very drinkable.

Tomorrow I'll be on my bike, trying to end up on the right side of the road, not get too cold and trying to find something to chain it to at work. On Friday I carried it up some outside stairs to keep it safe-very bad for the back. Once again, I'm dealing with changes. I'm always surprised to discover that even reasonable changes can be tiring and unsettling and have unwelcome effects on one's body. Our new work location is pretty but isolated. More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Of Scientists and Activists

I have just started working on a European project which recently launched to empower community organisations and improve collaborative research on environmental problems. It is funded by the European Commission and involves countries throughout Europe, the African continent, Asia and South America. I'm always interested in helping the world's citizens become aware of environmental issues and help those prepared to stand up and do something about it.

Many organisations locally or globally are involved in conflicts over resource extraction or waste disposal. Such conflicts are increasing in number as the world economy uses more materials and energy. These organisations focus on the link between the need for environmental security and the defence of basic human rights. The  project unites a consortium of international members to promote mutual learning and collaboration among stakeholders who make use of Sustainability Sciences.

A primary goal of this project is to empower  small organisations and the communities they support that receive an unfair share of environmental burdens to defend or reclaim their rights.

Throughout this project, scientists and activists share knowledge and support each other through training, the use of best practices and policy recommendations. They do this by building on the activists' knowledge of environmental risks and legal mechanisms and the translation of their research findings into the policy arena. In the process, the project enriches the sustainability sciences through the accumulated knowledge of the activists which leads to enhanced application of these sciences to real-life policy questions.

My particular role in this project is to assist with providing communications advice and produce online materials for training and teaching. I'm keen to help with the communications stuff because that's my field of expertise and experience but I'm not in charge of it and already I feel frustration and disappointment because some involved don't want to be professional about the tasks required. Ignorance and mediocrity are enemies of effectiveness and success but there's little I can do about that. In the meantime I'll contribute what I can (most of the comms plan)and focus on what my boss wants me to do with the training materials.

It is a good opportunity to learn about the serious issues facing communities and our environment and to be part of a European project. Hopefully I can stay with this for the next few years but that will require me to have a new contract. Fingers crossed for that.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Making a spectacle of myself

What's the most romantic thing you have done for someone? For me it was creating an evening for the two of us (that's Jean-Claude and me) with a theme and my undivided attention. I wanted to show him that he's very special so I created an invitation to a special event and set about creating it. This meant I needed to brush up on some of my bellydance choreographies, design a programme of dances, check costumes , decide on food and especially to decorate my studio in a Middle-Eastern Harem theme. This wasn't easy to do with my limited resources but I had enough.

JC arrived looking fantastic in a suit and tie. He'd made a great effort and accompanying him was a bottle of champagne and yet more perfume for me to use liberally everyday. Very unexpected, unnecessary but thoughful and kind. We explored my efforts at transforming the studio and then settled into the champagne and nibbles. There were fresh dates and dried figs, hummus and chips and pita, dried mango, sausage nibbles, the ever-scrummy peach flavoured heart lollies. We didn't eat much, too busy talking.

Then it was time for me to perform. I'd turned my bathroom into a changing room and timed the CD I'd burnt to allow time for costume changes. The programme had a variety of styles including veil and fan. I was nervous before JC's arrival but as soon as I started dancing I felt comfortable. JC's a respectful and attentive audience.

 My orginal plan had been to cook a meal after the show because I can't eat a lot before dancing. As it turned out, we never got around to cooking and eating a meal. We picked at some fruit and discovered that one of my candles was seriously on fire.

I'd decorated the candles with old bits of dance jewellery and had placed them where they wouldn't be knocked over. Perhaps the air movement from my veil made the candle burn unevenly. The result was that the glass decoration caught fire and needed serious dowsing. That large candle-holder didn't survive the move from NZ very well. Now it's rather black but I've managed to salvage it. We could have had a catastrophe if JC hadn't been observant but the room smelled for a bit afterwards.

JC is lending me a very old bike he had in storage, It works, needs some minor attention and should be of temporary help getting around Cafeolait until I know if I can stay in France. When that happens I can make some more important decisions such as buying a car.

There he was, water-blasting it clean, with me testing the brakes and learning that helmets are not compulsory in France. There's still the problem of where to keep it. I have nowhere under cover-it's too big to put in my one little room beside the bed or in the kitchen section. JC has advised me to chain it to my windows somehow and if anyone complains about the visual eyesore to explain that others have space for a bike but I don't. Maybe someone would let me keep it near their's? Who knows but I do know I have to get to work each day.

Then it was time for me to go home. It's getting harder and harder to say goodbye each Sunday. I have to make an emotional adjustment and that is getting painful. The weeks are long and the weekends are short and we don't have much time together. We don't live in the same town and my need to work puts the usual constraints on things. So, despite my smiles and blowing kisses I was not a happy chappy inside. Of course I adjust back into my solo lifetyle and I keep myself busy but I'm missing him during the week. It's not just his good company, it's everything about him and I'm surprised to discover that it's hard to find fault with him. So I think about him often during the week and am impatient for Saturdays but am sad on Sundays.

I received a lovely message from Laura to celebrate Mothers Day. We're apart but we're in each others thoughts. It's very important for me to have such contact because it's still difficult being completely removed from everything I've known and that was important to me and it's hard being strong all the time. I hope she's ok in her life. I don't know much about it now, unlike the way things were 8 months ago. Still plenty of adjustments to make, even now.

So this weekend was spent being romantically creative and remembering that before I came to France I had a life as a Mum to Laura. I have a few other romantic ideas in my head that I can explore from time to time and I'm looking forward to Laura's visit in just a couple of months.

Photos of my decorating efforts and the view outside my window.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The other anniversary

If you've been with me all the way so far this post won't contain much that's new but I'm moved to acknowledge that this blog is a little over 1 year old so here's a belated birthday wish and celebration of the intense and unexpected life I have had for the past 12 months.

Financially I am much worse off. I have almost no belongings, certainly no furniture or appliances, not many clothes. I didn't have much to start with and I'm a little sad from time to time when I remember the things from my past I have had to give up. I'm sentimental rather than materialistic but there was no choice.

Originally I had thought to put a few things in storage in Auckland, just in case, and then come back in a couple of years time and sort it all out or move it. Unfortunately I had no space in my abode in France and no money for storage. I also ended up making a strategic decision to make it very, very difficult for myself to come back to NZ, even if it got tough or my job ended. I would just want to come back to see Laura and some friends, that's all. I can't do that for some time-I'd need quite a bit of money for that and my salary doesn't support it.

Healthwise over the past year I've had some difficulties; aging isn't dignified or enjoyable in my opinion. I'm more prone to accidents or other things going wrong that don't heal completely. That's a little unnerving and so is the chronic pain but it doesn't stop me finding ways to enjoy myself. It's just that I'm having to learn to live around the limitations of aches and pains and becoming more fragile than I remember.

Love has eluded me for a long time. I thought I had met the love of my life back in 2008. Nicolas created such hope for the future I'd been dreaming about: handsome and intelligent man, hard worker, lives near Paris, similar tastes to me, willing to sponsor me into France to live with him. Alas, it was a mirage and the cruel discovery really took me down. From time to time I have a momentary thought of him, not often now, and I wonder what has become of him but I have never made an attempt to contact him since I have moved to France. Not by phone or email or even by visiting. There's no point. The loss did harden my resolve to get to France, without him. I just had to use a different path.

I knew I was going to lose my job as a public affairs advisor in 2010 due to political machinations so I decided to try to future-proof myself by obtaining a TESOL qualification. With that I could teach in many places around the world. I wanted to teach in France but at that stage I didn't realise how impossible that would be.

I enrolled in a residential course in Brittany. It took all my financial resources and a loan but I had to do it. Things did not work out as I had expected. This blog chronicles the process my life has gone through to get from where I was in Auckland to living here in Cafeolait. Mostly it's been really tough.

 Right now things have settled a bit and a wonderful man and I have found each other via the internet. That's an adventure in itself.

I have no guarantee that I can stay here past September but I'm hopeful and trying not to think about the consequences if I can't. So the goal of this blog isn't over even though I'm now in France and have found a lover. What's going to happen? I hope there's lots of magical happy things. I hope I can find lasting love and a lasting way to stay here. I hope my work can become meaningful and more supportive of living here but I do know it's been a hell of a ride this past year and I will always be able to look back and say Shit! But I did it! Good decision.

A mini Chronology

23 April 2010 I expressed my life's dream publicly on this blog.
May 2010 I worried about the Icelandic volcano destroying my travel to France
I finally left for Brittany where after a gruelling course I obtained my TESOL certification.I met Pascal and his family and explored Brittany.
June 2010 I emailed Nicolas to say I was in France and arriving in Paris but there was no response.
I tried to arrange job interviews in France but the doors all slammed in my face- except the one at REEDS.
My first experience of Paris and my trip exploring Provence, meeting Bill Clinton and a perfume designer.
July 2010 I had only 2 months to dismantle my life and move to France, sacrificing daily contact with my daughter, almost all belongings, workmates and friends and pets. Difficulties with the French Embassy.
August 2010 Hassles with my bank over my mortgage, giving up my hobbies.
Sept 2010 Sad goodbyes at the airport and giving up my home and garden. Laura getting fulltime work. Arriving in a new country.
Oct 2010 Getting to know my studio and Cafeolait. Learning how to live here and use french transport. Starting my new job and struggling with a new language.
Nov 2010 Coping with freezing temperatures and huge snowfalls, french gangster and meeting other guys who are not viable.Buying a car. Robbed in the metro. Feeling alone, broke.
Dec 2010 Selling a car. Spending Christmas with Pascal's family in Brittany. Becoming ill.
Jan 2011 Admitted to emergency department at hospital. Having to move out of my studio temporarily, meeting Damien briefly.
Feb 2011 Exploring Rambouillet. Exploring Paris alone. Saint Valentines day - still no lover.
The Christchurch Earthquake destroys my birth city and still no news of my Mother or Brother.
I meet Jean-Claude.
March 2011 Jean-Claude and I spend weekends getting to know each other and explore the countryside together. Paris memorial service for Christchurch victims.
My daughter Laura turns 20 years old. I have a house-warming.
April 2011 JC and I visit Mont St Michel and Normandy. I turn 56 years old in Brittany. We visit Monet's garden at Giverney.
I visit Barcelona, Spain for a project launch.

Most of the above was completely unpredictable. What on earth is around the corner? I have no idea how many people read this blog or who they are. I'm aware of some of you if I get a message but I think more people read it spasmodically than I realise. Well, I hope so; it's my way to keep in touch and to let folks I've never met know a little about the adventures of a middle-aged woman called Frances Lawson. A woman who is only now beginning to know and understand herself.
Photos show me as interpreted by Jean-Claude (demon photographer), my old life, Laura.