Sunday, 21 May 2017

Death of a dream

I've tried so hard for so long not to make this decision. I've looked for last minute reprieves, signs of a positive change in the wind. I've cried oceans of tears for years but there's always been plenty left to cry. Yet, here I am in this 'place' I don't want to be, making a decision I never wanted to make.

My dream of living and working in France took years to develop and eventually became irresistible. When, through a combination of my own efforts, imagination and what I thought was 'luck' at the time, I was offered a great-sounding job here, I discovered there was a hell of a price to pay and the job proved to be a horror.

I thought the price for coming to France was losing my worldly goods and regular contact with my daughter, but that was only the start of it. After arriving I found myself trapped in a whirlpool of corruption and manipulation, harassment and abuse with nowhere to turn. Somehow, determined to find a way out and stay, I have survived. I felt getting thus far must mean something.

Once I set foot in France I realised I needed to stay here. My soul was so obviously at home. I needed to put down roots but that was never possible. For me to make a life here I needed at least one of two conditions (preferably both):

Condition One: A stable, fulltime job. It's not much to aspire to but I never had one despite my best efforts and good performance and around one thousand job applications over 7 years within France alone. Each year my employment situation here was totally precarious and has deteriorated. In 2015 I lost the battle to live independently. I knew at that point it was probably all over. Unemployment, suggests JC? That would amount to 65% of a sum already well below the minimum annual wage. Unemployment wouldn't cover basic personal expenses let alone any living expenses and would only be available for 3 years. Retirement in France wouldn't start for me before age 67 and would be unliveable as it's based on lifelong contributions.

Condition Two: Have a relationship with a man who wants to construct an equal life together, buy a house, have security of lodgings in old age. I told JC I could sell my house in Auckland, contribute equally to a house with him in France and use the balance for my retirement. "That will never happen" he said. He doesn't want to change his life and I understand that because his home means the world to him. He won't let me contribute financially to the property because I'd never have the money or technical expertise  to manage this large, expensive terrain if he was gone. And anyway, everything goes automatically to his kids. That's how it works in France.

 I am currently dependent on JC for a roof over my head so the moment he changes his mind or gets really sick and has to move out or even dies (he's much older than me) I will instantly find myself a sans abri - a homeless person standing in the road with my suitcase and no resources to save myself. I'm saddened after nearly seven years that having a roof over my head and food on the table and interesting company from JC is the extent of what I can look forward to here in France. I've been existing and not living and it's destructive of the spirit.

Through a particular set of circumstances France has been, on balance, a very painful experience. I do love France and just one of those conditions appearing would have changed my life here completely. I thought anything was possible in such a big and interesting country but it's not possible if you are not allowed to have it. My experiences here have not been typical expat ones, I could not have known what would be in store. Life is short and another year of barely existing with no hope for improvement or security is something I can't face, despite my feelings for JC.

I have to do what was unthinkable and leave France because, without at least one of the conditions, it's not possible to stay. I'd rather jump on my own terms than be pushed. I've swallowed my disappointment and hung in here to get my citizenship, passport and ID card in case a miracle occurs one day which could see me return, and I've voted in the elections. My dream is the past. I have to find a new dream and move forward. It's going to be scary jumping into a void, arriving back in New Zealand even older, with a suitcase and little else to start all over again. I don't know where I'll go or what I'll do but I'm going to work towards a better life with more social contact where I can make a contribution somewhere and actually put down roots. I'm heartbroken and there will be scars that may never heal (every time I miss JC). I sincerely hope I will have the opportunity to spend time with JC again in France one day even though our circumstances may be different and the potager we built together will no longer exist after I leave. In the meantime we will try to make the most of what time is left to us.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Amboise and da Vinci - the return

The annual bus trip for members of a local historical society came around and this time we were visiting Amboise - a royal town, palace and location for Leonardo da Vinci's last three years.
JC and I had been there before but decided a bus trip where everything was organised, including a guided tour of the palace, might be a pleasant way to pass a Saturday. We did learn a few new things from the guide.

After travelling 2.5 hours we needed a pit stop and where better than an ancient cafe which has been in the one family for several generations. Bigot is known for its patisseries (pastries) and was founded in 1913. JC declared his pain au chocolat delicious and I certainly enjoyed my pain au raisin, washed down with a real hot chocolate (not made from powder). You'll find it across from the street leading to the royal palace of Ambroise. From the castle you have panoramic views over the Loire River and the countryside. Somewhere nearby in those tree covered hills in the distance lives Mick Jagger in his chateau La Fourchette in the village of Pocé-sur-Cisse (see photo of his chateau). He describes it as his “haven of peace in the valley of kings”. I like the Loire Valley area too and would love to live there though it's unlikely to happen.
There has been a building on site for many centuries. Its strategic position has always attracted wealthy opportunists and kings including Clovis in 503 or Philippe-Auguste in 1214 but especially Charles VIII and his wife Anne de Bretagne. All their children died young. Charles ruled until 1498 when he hit his head on a low doorway while walking to a tennis game in the palace courtyard and put himself into a coma from which a few hours later he died. He was only 28, rather ugly but often successful militarily, especially in Italy during the time of the Borgias and other leading families fighting for control of the Italian peninsula. His widow was obliged to marry his cousin who became Louis XII so Anne became queen of France twice in a row.

Before he died, Charles had constructed a solid wing of the palace and it is this wing plus one other which is all that remains of this once amazing place. Most of the palace was demolished in the nineteenth century. In this diagram you can see which parts once existed and all that remains today (black). Sad. I would have loved to see it and its gardens at the height of their splendour.

Many French monarchs stayed at Amboise for varying lengths of time: Henry IV who was assassinated in Paris, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and very notably Francois 1 who refurbished the Renaissance wing and added Italian flavours. (See bust of Francois beside a tapestry in the photo). Francois had spent his childhood here and years later invited Leonardo da Vinci to spend his last years in Amboise as his friend, confident, engineer and special event designer. Francois I died at Rambouillet, some years before his great rival Henry VIII of England died.

As I entered the council chamber with its fleur de lys columns and stained glass windows I was surprised to see a fire blazing in one chimney. It was magical to see it still working after all those centuries and it was most appreciated in the cold temperatures during our visit.

The palace is a museum containing furniture and furnishings from many periods. Of note is a French-manufactured piano, tapestries from the sixteenth century, one of the first extendable tables, a room devoted to Louis-Philippe last of the Bourbon kings of France who ruled for only 10 years (1840-1850) until he was ousted and spent his last years in exile in England. He signed off on the failed attempt to colonise Akaroa and the South Island of New Zealand.

Leonardo's remains were buried on the grounds in a church in 1519 but that was knocked down and so he was reinterred in the ancient chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1871. This chapel, built in 1493 has outstanding stone sculptures over the door and inside the lace-like stone carving is impressive. The windows, though beautiful, were installed in the 20th century because the originals were blown out by German bombing during WW2.

A short walk from the palace you can visit Clos Luce, da Vinci's home for the end of his life. We were supposed to have a guided visit but there was chaos. I felt the management was poor. Our group had to be divided into 2 so some of us waited. JC and I thought a drink while waiting would be in order but the café on site offered no interest in us and no service and so we lost a lot of time waiting to have an order taken. Like too many places in France, staff put their other chores ahead of serving waiting clients. They'd rather not be disturbed by money-paying customers. With no time left to explore the grounds and gardens and models of da Vinci's machines we eventually sculled a drink and moved into the chateau. Despite our guide, dressed as da Vinci's cook, and her efforts to show us around we missed half of what was to be seen. Again, the management are not efficient and can't cope with crowds.
We looked out a window to see the same view of the palace, so close, that Leonardo would have had. We saw the main dining room cum meeting room and the kitchen and a few scale models hurriedly walked through but not his bedroom and other places, before we had to leave to retake the bus. JC and I felt a bit short-changed. Luckily we were not first- (and only) time visitors. For more information and photos of Amboise and Clos Luce visit