Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A long-awaited party...

I looked across at my alarm clock. It said 4.05am. Today I would not be rolling over and settling in for a few more hours sleep. Instead I was out of bed, collecting my laptop from my office and getting a little fired up.

Today was the day that the world premiere of the movie The Hobbit would be happening in Wellington, New Zealand.I’m a Hobbit fan, a Tolkien fan and a serious Lord of the Rings fan but I was 18,000 kms away in France.

 Such an event. Such an atmosphere. Such a lot of time and money spent on it. For a little country of only 4.3m people, they had really gone all out and thanks to the wonders of live-streaming online via TV3 I could watch it from bed in Epernon, France.

Clearly, I had entered the competition to win a trip to NZ and attend the premiere in vain. Hot knee voyeurism was all I could muster up. The enthusiasm of the event participants, stars and media was rampant and even Wellington put on her sunniest and least windy attire. The only niggles I had were the Prime Minister’s usual slurring and silly tie, and the transmission being interrupted for a considerable length of time by the News. By the time they got back to the event it was all over. The speeches were done, the guests had entered the Embassy theatre and the crowds were starting to clear the red carpet.
Good effort NZ and I really liked the 777-3000 low-level flyby.

I’ve been thinking about NZ lately, not in nostalgia or homesickness, just thinking and wondering what’s in store for it and me. As I watched the ad breaks for the Warehouse and other businesses I knew there were things back in Kiwiland I don’t miss at all. I spent 55 years in NZ and I can say I took anything positive it offered me. It wasn’t enough. NZ couldn’t ensure my survival by letting me have a job that suited my talents. I doubt it does even now. If I’d had a great job I’d never have left home for France.
I’m a Kiwi, it’s even the nickname Jean-Claude calls me. I read the NZ Herald online everyday and read the news on TV3. I keep an eye on Rise Up Christchurch Facebook and tweets. I don’t forget my country and I hope I’ll get to come back from time to time when money can permit but I no longer live there and I no longer need to.

France is fascinating, interesting, beautiful and irritatingly and frustratingly backward in so many ways but it’s a place that has given me the chance to continue to work, to explore parts of the world, to try a lot of new things. Stress aside, I still marvel that I’m here. Looking at NZ almost every day, as I do, there’s nothing new there to offer me right now. I know NZ so well and I remember the struggles to survive there. I’m struggling to survive in France too but it’s more stimulating here. Most expats have much better jobs than me, heaps more money and financial safety nets. Most of them never come back because it’s too difficult to find an employer who will hire them. Being a member of Kea network has taught me that.

So, a very proud Kiwi thoroughly enjoyed watching NZ, Wellington (where I lived for 5 years and made other visits there from time to time).  I was charmed by the genuine affection that international guests seemed to have for Kiwiland – folks like Royd Tolkien (great-grandson of the great author).

Today I celebrated being a Kiwi. One who loves the country but doesn’t need to live there. It’s liberating and exciting. What’ll happen to us next? Will I be back? I don't know but I count myself lucky to have the best of both countries in my life each day.

Photos courtesy of Classicfm and Stuff.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Appreciating that special person

Jean-Claude has been a godsend over the past year. There have been so many difficulties and frustrations with French administration and systems, moving home debacles, many missing parcels a la poste and stresses at work. Leaving the later aside, it's clear that without a French friend available to help I'd have been in impossible situations, unable to help myself. These challenges have been tricky to sort out even with his aide. Indeed, some of them are ongoing still to this day such as my titre de sejour, my health card, my furniture. So as his birthday approached it was natural for me to consider how I could do something for him to show he's special and appreciated.

Christmas and birthdays are not important events in his life. He grew up not having a lot of attention paid to them and so it's not a big deal to him, his or other people's birthdays-just another day of the year. I pointed out that these are occasions to take time out and celebrate, to add colour to the year and he agrees with this-it's just not his practice, not important to him. I organised to celebrate his 68th birthday as an evening at my apartment.

It consisted of arranging a rather unconventional 'variety concert', a meal, romantic surroundings and a pressie. He'd never spent a night at my apartment in the 4 months I've lived here, despite previous invitations, so that was specified. Heart in hand I plucked up the courage to commit to playing two pieces on my violin to kick things off. Lots of practice required, lots of nerves when the moment came as the violin is very technical and I'd only had 6 lessons after a hiatus of 40 years. One of the pieces was chosen because it features on one of his Corrs CDs.

This was followed by a couple of videos of my performing bellydance in the past. He seemed to enjoy these a lot but I realise I have very little of this sort of thing of decent quality and that I miss the days when I could perform professionally and have private lessons, back in NZ.

Jean-Claude likes to listen to music but doesn't retain the names of artists or their songs, but I do. I took note what what songs he likes to play on his car CD so I programmed several YouTube viewings of artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and threw in others of our generation like Lionel Richie, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb, finishing with a French artist Etienne Daho. He recognised some of the music but in most cases had never seen a video of them in action. Downloading the tracks can be tricky with the buffering problems but we got there.

The meal identified the restrictions of my little kitchen. There's little space for equipment as such. I don't have a real oven. Instead I use a combination microwave and oven which is not all that powerful, or large. The pyrex dish I bought to roast the vegetables proved a wee bit too big for the oven. Impossible to cook a casserole and vegetables at the same so I improvised.

 It wasn't ideal. I have a mobile induction cooktop- it's not built in so it takes up precious bench space and it means conventional cookware doesn't work. Even some pots that say they are compatible with induction cooking can prove competely useless. Unless a pot is designed for induction cooking it never heats up and instead the cooktop switches itself off. Tricky when trying to cook several items and courses.

We ate but it wasn't what I had in mind. Lessons learned- must find ways around these limitations, especially lack of a powerful oven of a decent size and don't have a lot of guests. One's about the limit.

But it was great to share my environment and a bit of my culture and life with him, otherwise it gets pretty one-sided at times. It was also good to have him over where he didn't need to do handyman stuff. However, he just couldn't help himself in his urge to change the height of one of my dishwasher drawers or remove a defective light bulb.

As a pressie for the man who wants or needs little I gave him a large digital photo frame and a USB stick loaded with photos to enjoy.

So, we had a lovely, relaxed evening pottering around with what I'd organised, and some time spent in my candlelit bedroom. Viennoiseries for breakfast and then he had to leave to feed his dog.

We lead separate lives that are interconnected at times. I'm learning to lead this sort of life and relationship. It's not what I had envisaged finding but is the current reality. He's a lovely guy who operates differently from me which is not a bad thing. He came into my life at the right time and we each offer the other something important I believe. I'm looking forward to lots more weekends together. He's always the bright spot in my week.

Monday, 12 November 2012


After being subjected to having to empty my belongings out of my bedroom yet again, thinking that finally a guy with half a neurone would arrive as scheduled and put it all right I was grossly disappointed again. JC took time out of his day yet again to wait in my apartment for a guy who could only manage to screw on a drawer handle before leaving. Worse, in trying to fix the armoire door he made it worse. So pieces of my bed, and other furniture is still propped up around my walls

 It's November. I bought and paid for the furniture AND the installation back in June. I was fuming and told JC that behaving typically French, shrugging shoulders and saying 'c'est la vie' doesn't cut it. Noise, action. Jean-Claude rang the service manager of BUT and thinks that the NEXT time someone comes to fix it all it WILL be done. I do hope he's not disappointed. I hope I don't have to seek out a consumer protection organisation in France.

Trying to put all that behind me for a bit we headed south to Surgeres to spend a couple of nights with my very distant cousin Gilles and his wife Micheline. I was delighted when they suggested we visit. I've always been looking for a family, somewhere to belong and, although this distant French family will never be the family I needed all my life, I'm happy to be recognised, invited and to share stuff.

We shared meals and a trip to Saintes. In Roman times, the city was known as Mediolanum Santonum.

Saintes is the second city in Charente-Maritime, with 26,470 inhabitants in 2008; its metropolitan area, the second urban area in the department, counts 56,598 inhabitants. The city is located 60 km southeast of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, and not far from Rochefort where my ancestors left to found a colony in Akaroa, New Zealand. The A10 autoroute (France), operated locally by Autoroutes du Sud de la France, passes through the commune in its western part, in a north-south axis. By the A10, Saintes is 125 km from Bordeaux, 140 km from Poitiers, 470 km from Paris.

It was the centre of Roman civilisation for Aquitaine and also a stopping point for the pilgrims en route for Santiago de Compostella.It was one of three great regions conquered by Julius Caesar. There remains a well-preserved amphitheatre, thermal baths and triumphal arch. The cathedral is having some renovation done. We visited the amphitheatre, a women's convent, the arch and part of the archaeological museum.

The arena was completed around 40 AD and had room for 15,000 spectators who came to see circus games and fighting. It must have been magnificent in its heyday as it had very high walls. Women had to sit in a separate section.

The Germanicus arch was built 18-19 AD at the point where the Romand Way from Lyon intersected and was the gate into the town on the bridge over the Charent River. Demolished in 1843 it was rescued and re-erected on oneof the river banks of the town centre.

The museum of Gallo-Roman civilisation presents objects from everyday life. We visited an annex that was open and free to see statues and carved blocks.

On Saturday evening another related cousin, Alain and a not-directly-related cousin Michele arrived to share dinner with us. It was a lively affair with bold and interesting conversations. The only downside for me was all the food I can't eat, like fish, seafood and chicken. I got by though with the champagne and wine.

We also discussed the latest and revised edition of the Libeau family genealogy book. It's a disaster - full of mistakes, some of them very serious, like getting the head of the family wrong. I discovered I'd been married to someone I never married and there was a date given. Surely I'd have remembered that if it had happened?  Each one of us found glaring mistakes.

We  visited a tiny fishing port on the banks of the Charente. A really working fishing village specialising in oysters. The oyster shucking team showed us their moves and micheline got to eat an oyster raw, straight from the sea. Gilles and Micheline will be visiting NZ early next year and are hoping to swallow a few famous Bluff oysters.

 Photo below: Me and Michelle at the little fishing port.

It was a four-hour drive back to the Chartres area of France. I enjoyed watching the beautiful French scenery changing. I hope my cousins can come and visit us one day.